Skip navigation
newsletter signup

Measuring Success Beyond the Search Engines

September 10, 2008

I admit it. I'm a Google Analytics junkie. I try to stay away, but every now and then I hear it calling my name and I break down and log in. I feel the familiar rush of excitement running through my veins almost instantly. And I know anything else I may have planned to do that day won't get done because I'll be in my own world for hours. My analytics world. Just me and my stats. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh…

Sad, huh? Well, not really. I get a ton of great information out of Google Analytics that can later be put to good use in many ways for my business. For instance, I've been writing monthly columns for Search Engine Land and TalentZoo for quite some time now, and it gets tedious. It's not easy thinking of topics to write about that not only fit the target audience of each publication but that haven't already been written to death. Being the lazy toad that I am, I sometimes just don't want to do them. When that happens, I wonder if it's really worth it and ask myself what exactly I get out of writing these columns? And being the good sport that "myself" is, it answers me back with "I don't know, why don't you consult your precious Google Analytics?"

So that's what I do.

I use Google Analytics all the time to see what keywords people are finding our clients' websites with, and I do the same for our own website. But I don't always think to use it for other information, like looking at where else (besides the search engines) traffic is coming from. After all, online marketing isn't just about search engine traffic. (Heresy, I know!)

It's a bit tricky to get information regarding articles that are not on our own High Rankings website. Ideally, it would be great if we had access to the other sites' analytics to know how many reads the articles are actually getting, but alas, we don't. Thankfully, the columns I write do have bio links back to our website, and many of them have links to other articles that are published on our site. So what I need to look at in Google Analytics is the traffic that comes from the sites where my columns are posted.

Digging In

To do this in Google Analytics, I simply click "Traffic Sources," then "Referring Sites," and then either browse through the listings until I see the domain I'm looking for or scroll to the bottom of the page until I see a search box. It says "Find Source" and has a drop-down menu with "containing" or "excluding." In the search box, I type "talentzoo" and click "Go." This takes me straight to the page with information about referrals to our website from my TalentZoo articles. I can see how many people visited from TZ, how many average pages they looked at per visit, the average time they spent on our website, what percentage of them were new visitors as opposed to returning visitors, and I can see the bounce rate – i.e., what percentage came to only one page and then left.

It's pretty cool info.

And sure enough, there were a number of visitors from both TalentZoo and Search Engine Land! Not millions, by any means, but hundreds. Certainly enough to at least keep me writing each month. One of our marketing goals at High Rankings is to continuously try to get the word out about our free SEO information and resources, as well as our SEO services, products and SEO classes to people who have never heard of us. Along those lines, Google Analytics showed me that approximately 75% of the people who click through to our site from my columns are new visitors.

Not only that, but some of them convert into newsletter subscribers. We had a 5% conversion rate from SEL and a 1.5% conversion rate from TZ. Again, it's not huge, but we've already figured out that newsletter subscribers are our most valuable asset in terms of long-term conversions – that is, they eventually sign up for a class or some SEO consulting.

While I was reviewing this info, I had a look at some of our other referrers. I had a number of them from Sphinn, where I've had newsletter articles posted, as well as a bunch from SEOmoz, Search Engine Guide and Search Engine Roundtable. One of the largest groups of visitors came from StumbleUpon. While I don't "stumble" very often, now and then a newsletter reader will submit an Advisor article to them. Very often, these stumbles take off and we can end up with 1,000 visitors over the course of a couple of days. Unfortunately, while they are generally new visitors (more than 97%), stumblers are the worst converting visitors out there. They provide exactly ZERO conversions! Not a newsletter sign-up, not a forum registration, nothing.

But What About Links?

Interestingly enough, soon after I had gathered all this cool info from Google Analytics, I had just happened to come across an interview with social media expert Brent Csutoras that was talking about social media sites such as StumbleUpon, which said that it's not the conversions that are important, but the resulting links you get.  So I fired up my Google Webmaster Tools and checked out the links received from one of my articles that had a lot of StumbleUpon traffic. It was the Linkbait-gate one.

At first glance, it looked good. Webmaster Tools said I had 154 links – nice! But on further investigation I found that most of those were just spam links from just a couple of sites. There were a few from some from Sphinn user profile pages as well. In terms of real links, there was only a handful. (I don't go soliciting links, and perhaps I'd get more if I did, so keep that in mind.) But the moral to this part of the story is that I will continue to measure the success of my articles by conversions, not links – although I do see the value in looking at both.

Back to Search Engine Traffic

After reviewing our referral numbers, I was curious how they compared with our search engine traffic. About 60% of the traffic to High Rankings comes from search engines, with most of that (51%) coming from Google. Referring sites make up close to 17% and direct traffic is just over 24%. The greatest amount of search engine traffic goes to a few of my most popular articles on our site. And a large chunk of search engine traffic lands on various High Rankings forum threads. Overall, when taken as a whole, search engine traffic doesn't have a very high conversion rate. However, not all search engine traffic is created equal. While traffic leading to my articles may not convert very well, traffic coming from people at Google looking specifically for SEO services or SEO training does indeed convert. But this is an article for another time!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Company.

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!



Update 4/29/09 - Please see this related article:

Is Your SEO Campaign Out of Focus?




Post Comment

 Jim Chavez said:
Hi Jill, as always I love your columns. I do have a quick question in regards to this article. I have been trying to get an estimate (for benchmarking purposes) of what portion of a sites search traffic should come from search engines. You mentioned about 60% of yours does and you are a search optimizer. I am a search marketer for a major branded site and am trying to set realistic goals for our company website for our SEM programs. Currently we are about 56% w/ about 35% of our traffic direct - meaning they have us bookmarked or type the URL.

Based on your knowlege is there a theoretical limit? In other words if I am a major brand globally (think IBM, HP, McDonalds etc.), what would be guidance on % of overall traffic we should expect from Search Engines?

Thanks for the article!
 Jill said:
Hi Jim,

Glad you enjoy the columns!

As to a specific percentage of traffic that should be from the search engines, it really does vary by the type of website, and also whether it is optimized. Generally around 50% of a site's traffic seems to be from search engines, when there's at least some optimization done. But then again, much of that can simply be branded terms.

When you're dealing with a big brand like you mentioned, I would certainly expect a much smaller percentage being from search, and most of the search traffic to be brand names and slogans, etc. But I tend not to work with those types of sites since they don't need much in the way of SEO.

It's really a "it depends" kind of question!
 Linn Barringer said:
Hello Jill,
As ever, JW hits the nail on the head.
ALWAYS useful, interesting thoughts.
And although I know I don't use Google Analytics enough, a short dip in does usually end up with an hour or few...

Almost totally aside but I'm sure the kind of feedback you would "enjoy" - I would recommend that your link text in the HTML version of your newsletters is a more distinctive, differentiated colour from plain text. (ME telling Jill Whalen how to do her job - wow!!)

It's logical, really! The links are there to be helpful and useful to the reader and to the linkee. If it isn't totally obvious that it's a link, the effort used in creating the link is wasted. I know I'm old and my eyes don't work as well as xx years ago but I can't be alone in nearly missing some of your useful links.
 Jill said:
Hey Linn,

The link text is supposed to be different in the html newsletters, but it seems to show up differently depending on what email reader you use. Which do you use?

I need to fix it especially for outlook 2007 where it is HORRIBLE!

 LizzyFin said:
Hi Jill,

Your post brings up a question I have about another domain that I've had for a year and am now considering dumping as I haven't done too much with it. The sites that are linking to this domain are a lot of porn sites. I wanted to add some articles and start using the domain more - it's a blog, but the porn links have scared me off.

Since I don't have too much to lose, seeing that I haven't put in too much work on this domain yet, would you say there is any reason to keep it - just for the established domain name? I'm thinking I should cut my losses and kill it because it would be near impossible to get rid of the porno links.

Are these unwanted links hurting the domain's ranking? Is there any way to get rid of the incoming links that aren't wanted? I don't know why they are linking there anyway!

Love your newsletter! Thanks for the tips!!
 Jill said:
Since you really can't control who links to you, I wouldn't worry about those links. You do want to be sure you have some real links too, however.
 Hemlata Sagar said:
Hi Jill,

Nice Post...I have a question about referral traffic. How does referral traffic matters in website rankings? Does it matter or not?
 Jill said:
Since the search engines have no way of knowing what your referral traffic consists of (unless you have Google Analytics installed), they probably can't use it as a factor.
 Hemlata Sagar said:
Thanks Jill..