Mar 30 2011

How To Measure SEO Success

Category: organic seoTom Shivers


How do you know if your SEO efforts are successful or not? Rankings? Traffic? Conversions?

Just a few years ago measuring an increase in search rank for a keyword was the standard, but then Google introduced universal search, personalized search and local search. These three elements make it impossible to use rankings as an accurate measure of SEO success today.

Universal search results was introduced by Google in May ‘07 and Google described it like this:

“Google’s vision for universal search is to ultimately search across all its content sources, compare and rank all the information in real time, and deliver a single, integrated set of search results that offers users precisely what they are looking for. Beginning today, the company will incorporate information from a variety of previously separate sources – including videos, images, news, maps, books, and websites – into a single set of results.”

Personalized search was introduced by Google for the first time in November ‘05, but it has changed a great deal since then. In December ’09, Google described personalized search results like this:

“Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we’re doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser. It’s completely separate from your Google Account and Web History (which are only available to signed-in users).”

Of course you can disable these features for your own browser, but most people simply search with no concern whether they are logged in or out, or have cookies enabled or not.

Local search results came in April ’09 and Google described it like this:

“We like to make search as easy as we can, so we’ve just finished the worldwide rollout of local search results on a map, which will now appear even when you don’t type in a location. When you search on Google, we will guess where you are and show results near you. How do we guess your location? In most cases, we match your IP address to a broad geographical location.”

It’s likely today to see different search results for the same search terms on two different computers in the same office.

With relative search results, rankings don’t mean as much any more. Measuring traffic and conversions is great, but it doesn’t help you understand how well you are keeping up with keyword volume and changes in your industry.

John Marshall of MarketMotive recommends measuring Share of Search – also known as Share of Voice. Share of Search can be determined by dividing the traffic to your site by the total number of searches for your top search terms.

Google Insights for Search can be useful for spotting trends, seasonality and locations, but it is an index rather than an exact number.

Another way to measure Share of Search is with the free version of; it allows you to compare unique visitors with up to two competitors at a time. This can give you a better picture of the Share of Search you possess in your industry since organic search results are a zero sum game. When you win, your competitor loses and vice versa. Pick a few direct competitors to compete against for your top search terms to measure SEO success more objectively.


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2 Responses to “How To Measure SEO Success”

  1. Jenny says:

    I’ve pretty much given up on the whole race for the top in rankings and such. It was fun in the beginning and making money was good, but now it all seems to be going to the big bloggers, and the little people are getting nothing anymore. Oh well. No loss. I’ll just go out and get a real job!

  2. Tom Shivers says:

    @Jenny, I’m sorry you’ve given up on your SEO efforts; that’s not my intention with this post at all, just the opposite. My hope is that with this info, you now have a better strategy for improving your search rank rather than looking at rank alone.

    Yes, Google has made measuring rank almost impossible but some aspects of gaining more traffic and higher search rank are easier than ever now.