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Maybe it's recency bias, but it feels like SEO is changing more quickly than ever before. For Uproer and other SEO agencies, that’s a good thing. Companies need the guidance of search industry experts more than ever when things are changing.
However, it's sparked challenging conversations around measuring the value of SEO. It’s easier to measure the value of something when other variables in the equation remain constant. But in SEO, the current landscape is almost unrecognizable compared to where we were a year or two ago.
Search Marketing Trends with Big Implications for Your Measurement Strategy
Here are a couple of recent trends in search marketing that demonstrate just how much search marketing is evolving:
Trend #1: More dynamic search engine result pages (SERPs) that contain fewer traditional "blue link" organic listings
The prevalence of Rich Answers (featured snippets, knowledge panels, and other answer-based SERP features) more than doubled in 2019, according to a study conducted by Perficient Digital.
Trend #2: Google increasing its monetization of SERPs
In the past two years, Google’s ad revenue has increased by 40% which is supported by a 93% increase in paid clicks. This is according to data from Alphabet's quarterly financial results, which includes data from other Google properties like YouTube.
What Do These Trends Mean for Your SEO Performance?
Here's what your SEO strategy is up against. Organic search traffic is declining across all devices. Q3 of 2019 marked the fourth consecutive quarter of slowed or declining organic search growth, according to Merkle’s Q3 Digital Marketing Report.
With paid search ads capturing a greater share of the click volume, organic search click-through rates (CTR) are declining. This is especially true for commercial-intent keywords where text and Shopping ads can dominate the SERP.
We compared the CTR curve for an ecommerce client's top non-brand, commercial-intent keywords in Q2 2019 vs Q2 2018. Here’s what we found:
- The CTR for keywords ranking in the top 3 positions fell by 26%
- The CTR for keywords ranking in position 1 fell by 43%
Another contributing factor is the rise in "zero-click searches". 50% of Google searches do not result in a click. Google's rich results, like featured snippets, contribute to this trend by answering search queries directly within the SERP.
If SEO is Changing, Then The Way We Measure It Should Change Too
As you can see, earning organic traffic is more difficult than it used to be. Driving traffic from lower-funnel, commercial-intent keywords (which typically account for the majority of your conversions) is especially challenging due to increasingly heavier ad competition in SERPs.
Losing organic traffic at this phase in the customer journey can have a substantial negative impact on your conversion KPIs, like leads, transactions or revenue. Most digital marketing reports are built off of a last-click attribution model, which disproportionately rewards lower-funnel channel interactions.
To illustrate this challenge, here are a couple of actual scenarios that we're observing with our clients at Uproer:
Situation 1: An ecommerce company is seeing less revenue attributed to organic search compared to last year despite overall improvements in organic traffic, ranked keywords and average ranking positions. Their ecommerce business is growing overall.
Situation 2: A SaaS company is earning less organic traffic and lead conversions for their “money” keywords compared to last year despite maintaining or improving upon their ranking positions. Their overall organic search traffic is growing.
When these companies look at their bottom lines, they see that SEO is down. At the same time, their presence in organic search results is growing along with their businesses overall. How do we reconcile these conflicting trends and get closer to a more accurate measurement of SEO's value? We have to change the way we look at our marketing analytics data.
4 Ways You Can Measure SEO in 2020 to Better Understand its Value
1. Assisted Conversions & Alternative Attribution Models
If Google is taking away our lower-funnel organic traffic, then we should seek to better understand SEO’s role throughout the entire funnel.
You may be underreporting on the critical role that SEO is playing in the early stages of your customers’ paths to purchase. By reporting on assisted conversions and exploring other attribution models that credit earlier customer touchpoints, you may be able to tell a more accurate story of how SEO is driving value for your business.
For example, you may find that:
- SEO is facilitating brand discovery and helping paid media channels to build high-quality remarketing audiences that ultimately convert these customers.
- SEO is driving “soft” conversions, like email sign-ups, that lead to higher-LTV customers down the road.
Reporting on assisted conversions and exploring other attribution models can help you better understand SEO’s value in relation to the broader customer journey.
2. Share of Voice
Earning organic traffic is a zero-sum game. If you aren’t capturing search volume, then your competitors will (that, or Google is taking the volume for themselves!).
Let’s say you find yourself competing in a market where the overall volume of organic clicks is in decline, but your share of that volume is growing relative to the competition. In that case, your traffic KPIs are not telling the whole story.
Tracking and reporting on your organic share of voice (SOV) can help you better understand the value of top-line SEO gains or losses by benchmarking them against your competitors.
We use STAT, an excellent keyword tracking tool, to track SOV for specified keyword groupings. There are many other SEO tools out there, like Ahrefs, Moz and SEO Monitor, that provide similar competitive metrics.
3. Earned Media Value
Earned media value (EMV) calculates the equivalent cost of your organic traffic if you were to acquire that traffic via paid search advertising.
Google CPCs have increased on a Y/Y basis for the last 11 fiscal quarters, according to Merkle’s Digital Marketing Reports. All the while, organic clicks remain free. By analyzing EMV, you may find that the relative value of your organic traffic is rising as compared to increasingly expensive paid search clicks.
Caveat: While helpful, EMV isn’t a metric to apply against your entire set of organic keyword rankings. It doesn’t make sense to bid on certain keywords due to their search intent, cost or projected ROI. Rather, you should use EMV selectively to compare the equivalent paid search cost against organic keywords that currently are, or could be, bid on.
Ahrefs provides a version of EMV called Traffic Value. However, it’s probably best to calculate this metric using your actual organic and paid search data.
4. Combined Search Marketing Performance
Your goal is to maximize your visibility in SERPs to earn clicks for relevant keywords. Whether that click comes from a paid ad, a traditional organic listing, or a rich SERP feature may not matter so much if your entire search marketing program is profitable.
The search landscape is changing rapidly and, with it, the roles that SEO and paid search each play in your marketing funnel. Viewing them as two separate channels ignores how intertwined they are. Rather, it may be time to report on search marketing as one channel. Wherein, SEO and paid search activities represent tactical decisions to improve overall search marketing performance.
What else are you measuring to better understand the value of SEO? Let us know in the comments.