Tracking Results and Measuring Success : Tying SEO to Conversion and ROI

10/8/2012 7:39:36 PM
It is important to tie your SEO campaign to the results it brings to the business. A fundamental piece of that is measuring the conversions driven by organic SEO traffic. Here are some of the most common types of conversions:

Sales/sales revenue

This is the one that everyone assumes is part of conversions. Sales and sales revenue (or better still, margin) conversions can be the simplest things to track, except when you are selling many different products at different price points and in different quantities. In this case, the process would need to be a bit more sophisticated.

If your site is advertising-driven, you need to look at the impact of organic search traffic on advertising revenue. If you have no financial goals for your site, you need to look at some of the other types of conversions.

Email/blog/newsletter subscriptions

Anytime a user signs up to receive regular communications from you it is a win. Even though there are not direct financial consequences to this it is still a conversion. Someone who has subscribed to something you offer is more likely to become a customer than a first-time visitor to your site, so you need to credit this type of conversion.


Closely related to the notion of subscriptions are other types of sign-ups. Perhaps you offer a service such as a tool that people need to sign up for to use. Even if the tool is free, you should track this as a conversion.

You most likely received the person’s email address in the process, and even if she indicates that she does not want to receive commercial communications from you, you should be building loyalty with the tool you provided her access to (or whatever she signed up for); otherwise, why would you be providing her that service?


Many sites offer free downloads, such as white papers, or free downloadable tools. Even if you do not require a sign-up of any type, you should still count this as a conversion. You are getting your message out there with the downloads you offer.

Contact forms and phone calls

This is when someone requests that you contact her, or she contacts you.

Visitors who share

This conversion happens when a visitor shares the information she found on your site with someone else. For example, if your site has a “share with a friend” or an “email to friend” feature, you could keep track of conversions by noting each time a user used that feature.

Visitors who link

A user who links will visit your site and find its content useful, entertaining, or otherwise compelling enough to link to it from her own site.

Visitors who publicize

Visitors can publicize your site by mentioning it in forums, blog comments, or social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, or by writing about it on their own site.

You should place a dollar value on every type of conversion you receive. Even a white paper download has some value to it. Perhaps it may increase the potential of a future sale to that user. For example, if 100 people download your white paper and two of them become customers and buy a $100,000 consulting contract, you can estimate the value per download at $2,000.

1. Attribution

Another issue to be aware of is that of attribution. The issue is that there is a tremendous amount of interaction between types of media. Here are some examples:

  • A user does a search, clicks on an organic search result, and then reads a few things and leaves. The next day, she remembers what she read, does another search, and this time clicks on a paid search ad for the site and buys a product (organic search should receive some credit).

  • A user does a search, clicks on an organic search result, and leaves. A few days later, because of what she learned, she goes into a store and buys a product (organic search should receive some credit).

  • It goes in the other direction too: a user sees a TV ad, then does an organic search to find the website, and buys the product (the TV ad should get some credit for the sale!).

Similarly, a ScanAlert study of a large number of e-commerce sites showed that 30% of transactions took place one to three days after the customer’s initial visit. So, the problem of attribution management is a significant issue!

It is not always easy to track multivisit conversions in detail. Certainly, a direct interaction between TV/offline stores and a website is very difficult to track in detail. But even looking at multiple site visits with an interaction between PPC and organic search can be difficult, partly because the tracking systems rely on cookies, which users have a tendency to delete.

So, attribution is something you should be concerned about, and ideally you should attempt to track the impact across multiple site visits. However, the methods for attributing sales across multiple site visits are imperfect. One thing you can do to minimize the impact of that is to count different types of conversions, such as filling out Contact Us forms, downloading a white paper, visiting a key product page, and so on. Tracking a larger number of events that are indicators of progress toward a sale (or whatever your end goal may be) can help you identify important helper keywords that are playing a key role in generating results further down the line.

2. Setting Up Analytics Software to Track Conversions

One of the great things about tracking conversions is that you can use the resulting data to focus your efforts. If a given keyword, page, or referrer is showing much higher conversion rates than another source, you may want to focus more of your SEO efforts on those rather than on something else that does not convert as well.

Capturing conversion data takes a bit of setup. Your analytics software does not know what you consider a conversion unless you define it. For example, in Google Analytics, you need to go into your Profile Settings to configure conversion goals and funnels (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Google Analytics goals

Once you click Edit (on the right) for one of the goals, you come to a screen that allows you to define a goal (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Google Analytics goals setup

In Figure 2, the primary data being tracked is when someone arrives at a given web page. These types of conversions are easy to set up.

Event tracking, such as someone clicking on a link, is slightly more complicated. Since you cannot count on a page load to tell you when a link has been clicked on, you need to add a bit of tracking code to the link itself. Here is what the tracking code looks like for Yahoo! Web Analytics:

<a href="" onClick="ACTION='05'">
Spend Big Money Now</a>


The key code is onClick="ACTION='05'. This tells Yahoo! Web Analytics to associate this event with Action #5. This requires some additional configuration within Yahoo! Web Analytics so that you can give Action #5 a label and a value, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Yahoo! Web Analytics action setup

As you can see in Figure 3, actions 1 through 4 are already set up. Now all you need to do is give Action #5 a label.

Form submissions are another thing you may want to track. This could include when someone has completed a request to sign up for a newsletter, requested or started a white paper download, or simply used a form to request that you contact her.

These are usually quite easy, provided that the result of the form submission is some sort of “thank you” page. All you need to do in this case is tell your analytics software that the loading of that “thank you” page is considered a conversion, and then give it a value.

Life gets more complicated when you want to track actual product sales on sites where products vary in price. Generally speaking, this will require putting some custom JavaScript on your order confirmation page.

In addition, you will need to have your web application populate certain data in the JavaScript before executing it, such as the total amount spent. Oftentimes, publishers choose to include a lot more data, such as listing all the products sold, the price per product, how many units, shipping costs, and so on.

Although this is a lot more complex than the other scenarios we’ve outlined, it is still achievable. Here is a link to the Google page that describes how to set this up for Google Analytics:

Although the preceding examples used Google Analytics and Yahoo! Web Analytics, any of the major analytics packages can do this type of conversion tracking.

2.1. Conversion tracking strategy

An important step in conversion tracking is deciding what you want to call a conversion. It is important to consider all types of conversions, such as sign-ups, contact requests, downloads, and so forth. There is one other decision you need to make: how to value each conversion.

What is a contact request worth? What about a newsletter sign-up? One way to back into this is to look at how many of your newsletter sign-ups become customers. For example, if 100 people sign up for the newsletter, 10 of them become customers, and the total dollar value of their orders is $200, the average value per sign-up is $2.

When you first set up conversion tracking you may need to estimate some of these things. But as your data improves, you can improve your calculation and refine the value you place on each conversion.

3. Segmenting Campaigns and SEO Efforts by Conversion Rate

Now that you have conversion tracking set up, how do you use it to focus your SEO efforts? One of the things you will want to do is to track conversion data in different ways:

Conversions by keyword

What keywords are bringing the best results?

Conversions by referrer

Which traffic source is offering the best conversion?

Conversions by web page

Which pages on your site result in the highest conversion?

Conversions by initial entry page

Which initial entry pages drive the most conversions?

Conversions by keyword and landing page

Taking into account the highest-converting landing pages on your site, what keywords are the big hitters for those pages?

For example, SEOmoz actively tracks its conversions using Yahoo! Web Analytics. Tracking by keyword can be a useful way to do this, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Yahoo! Web Analytics tracking conversions

You can see that the conversion rate on keyword-tool-related keywords is high. Perhaps an SEO campaign to improve the ranking of SEOmoz on these keywords is in order. Not only do you see high conversion, but you also see reasonable material volume.

Implementing an SEO campaign that doubles related traffic for this set of keywords will likely have a significant impact on the bottom line.

4. Increasing Conversion

As an SEO practitioner, you should strive to become an expert at conversion optimization, because higher conversion rates mean higher impact for your SEO campaigns. (Co-author Stephan Spencer offers a viewpoint in MultiChannel Merchant at

Nonetheless, the average site conversion rate for a typical merchant today is only about 2.4%. That’s pretty depressing when you think about it.

So, how do you help your conversion rate by managing your content and refining your site design? Most web resources that give content advice are focused on blogs; specifically, what and how often you should publish. Those of us who use websites strictly for sales and marketing are equally concerned with good content, but from a totally different angle—one that traditional content advice doesn’t properly address.

What’s more, much of the design advice out there seems contradictory. The key to enhancing your conversions by adjusting your design and content is not in thinking strictly about the technology or the mechanics of site layout, but in understanding the needs of your visitors. In that, there are many different elements to consider. 

4.1. The link bait bump

A specific example of how to use action tracking by referral source is to track a link bait bump. The idea is that after successful link bait draws thousands of visitors to your site, a small percentage of those visitors will stick around and continue to visit on a semiregular basis (this is particularly true if you’re delivering fresh, valuable content on a regular basis).

4.1.1. Action tracking by referral source

Figure 5 shows a sample report from Yahoo! Web Analytics (which has been pulled after an article for SEOmoz made the home page of Digg).

Figure 5. Action tracking by referral source

In Figure 5, you can see a list of domains that sent SEOmoz traffic over a few weeks’ time, along with the number of resulting SEOmoz membership sign-ups. You can see some clear patterns, including the following:

  • Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit are sending traffic, but less than one-tenth of 1% of those visitors sign up for membership on the site.

  • The domains that point primarily to the SEOmoz tools (such as SEOCompany and WebRankInfo) are responsible for the highest number of sign-ups, but this is to be expected since one has to register to use Keyword Difficulty in particular.

  • SearchEngineWatch, Stuntdubl, and SEOBook are amazingly on-topic sources of traffic, which directly bears out in the higher percentages of referrals who become members.

Action tracking is one of the most valuable things you can do on any type of site. Most folks limit its application to e-commerce, but you can see from the data in Figure 5 how valuable it can be, even for a simple blog. Even if you do not have a membership sign-up, you could attach the action tracking to your “add comment” link in a blog or to a newsletter sign-up on a content site. Segmenting that data by incoming referrals (search engines, direct type-ins, and links) gives you an even better picture of who’s sending you truly valuable traffic. You can also get an indication of traffic quality by looking at bounce rate, time on site, and number of pages viewed for each referrer.

In Figure 6, you can see that around August 2006, SEOmoz published some successful link bait that helped bump up the site visitor count until October, when there was another big spike. This traffic “bump” after the spike is another great benefit of creating viral-worthy content, and is a terrific way to grow the popularity of a site.

Figure 6. Traffic report

The tricky part is to continue to deliver great content after a viral piece and maintain the creative energy necessary to prove to visitors that you’re worth coming back to again and again. It is not an easy sell—people’s time is valuable. You have to make your content so targeted, interesting, and worthy of their attention that they cannot look away. It is challenging and time-consuming, but it is a great way to build a successful site.

5. Determining Project ROI

An effective SEO process is one that continuously works toward a positive return on investment. A basic SEO ROI business case would include these elements:

Number of people searching for your keywords

This can be hard to estimate, because you cannot completely map out the long tail. One rough estimation strategy is to multiply the search volume for the top terms for your business by 3.3 (i.e., assume that the head terms are about 30% of the available volume).

Expected click-through rate from organic search

This relates to the position you think you can achieve . The #1 position can net you approximately 40% of the available clicks.

Average conversion rate

Once you have captured the visitor, how successful are you at completing a conversion? Typical conversion rates for a website might be between 2% and 5%. It should be easy to get this data from your analytics. You should already know what your conversion rate is!

Average transaction amount

Last but not least, factor in the average transaction value. Again, this is data you already have.

Ultimately, the formulas look like this:

SEO Revenue = People searching for your keywords * click-through rate * average conversion rate * average transaction amount

For example: 10,000 per day * 10% * 5% * $100 = $3,000 per day

SEO ROI = SEO Revenue / SEO Cost (use total $ spent for salaries and consulting, or number of hours spent)
For example: $3,000 per day / $500 per day = an ROI of 6X.
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