How do I Measure SEO Results? It’s not rankings!

How do I Measure SEO Results? It’s not rankings!
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA/USA - FEBRUARY 1, 2014: Exterior view of a Google's Googleplex Corporate headquarters. Google is an American multinational corporation specializing in Internet-related services and products.

It’s not rankings? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

After all, it’s completely logical to assume that the higher you rank for your “key terms” the more traffic you’ll get right?

Wrong. Fact.

I know what you’re thinking: “STOP! This is wrong! You’re an SEO, your job is do deliver high rankings, what is this rubbish you speak?!”

No, my job isn’t to deliver just high rankings. My job is delivering more conversions be them enquiries or sales and it’s not rubbish, it’s entirely logical. Part of this depends on being visible for search terms but whilst you’re thinking a handful of keywords that you believe to be mission critical, I’m thinking of the big picture and the big picture will power your growth and that’s fine, I’ve got your back!

I’ll explain: Let’s pretend you sell T-Shirts online. You’ve had a long hard think and you’ve used your super duper keyword research tool to formulate the perfect list of keywords:

  • T shirts
  • Tee shirts
  • Polo Shirts
  • V Neck T-Shirts
  • Cheap T Shirts

Ranking for these will really propel your business and you’ll be reaping the rewards. Not necessarily: Let’s drill down and look at what these terms represent




WOW! That’s amazing, if I rank on page 1 for all those terms we’ll make millions!

The Bad News:

Sorry to break it to you, forget ranking for T-Shirts or Polo Shirts. If you’re expecting this, you are going to spend a long time being disappointed. In a few years, if you do everything right then you’ll have a chance but take a look at those occupying the top positions. They’ll be more establish and further along the road and you’re unlikely to be able to get on terms for many, many years.

It’s a harsh truth but you better accept it now and focus on more realistic goals.

But, let’s put reality to one side and assume you are going to stick with these terms and due to a miracle you’re now on page one in position 1 for all keywords.


Let’s look at the results:

Total number of monthly AVERAGE searches = 41,500

Total number of potential AVERAGE number of daily visitors = 41,500/30.4 (average days in a month) = 1365

Now, you’re not going to get 100% of the traffic, that never happens. But let’s unrealistically assume you are position 1 for all terms and you get 40% of all traffic (that’s a realistic percentage by the way)

Your AVERAGE daily traffic is now 546 visits

Now, let’s look at how many people you convert, 2% conversion rate is generous given your broad choice of keywords so let’s optimistically stick with that.


That’s your AVERAGE number of daily sales (I’m not even factoring in seasonality…yet).

I’ve had a Google and it looks to me £15 is a good average for a t-shirt (Unless it’s designer of course, but given your keyword choices are generic, we’ll assume your products are too).

£15 x 10.92 = £163.80 AVERAGE turnover per day (not including shipping, we’ll assume you have unpaid storks delivering T-Shrts for now to keep it simple).

Let’s say you make a generous profit of £5 per T-Shirt (Not bad on a £15 sale!)

That’s £54.60 per day AVERAGE “profit”. Now obviously you have business costs, staffing, warehousing or other essential costs such as: YOUR SEO COST!


That 46,000 searches for these “big” terms doesn’t seem so big now does it?


To recap, that 46,000 searches for your 5 “big” terms equates to £54.60 gross profit per day on AVERAGE.

Combine the cost of doing business, the cost of your SEO then this isn’t going to add up, you’d be better buying lottery tickets with your SEO budget especially when you factor in seasonality: You’re not going to be selling many T-Shirts in the winter.

Even if you rank number 1 for the 5 “main” terms you want to, I absolutely, categorically guarantee that one day, you will realise that it doesn’t give the pay off you expect and you’ll be kicking yourself after realising how much money and time you’ve wasted!


Seasonality Graph:



Whilst there are many assumptions with the above, and I understand some (most) firms have higher product values but essentially, the effect is the same and is relative. I see this daily in various guises and situations but in the end it all boils down to the same absolute fact:

Obsessing on ranking for specific big terms always leads to disappointment.

So, let’s move on from this. What should we do?

Back in the day, we all focused on search engine rankings as the primary KPI. We kind of had too, we didn’t really know any better and it kind of worked. But it doesn’t now. Today, search engine rankings vary between region, town, city and country. We all actually see different results (personalisation) and combined with that the fact that 20% of search terms used every day have never been used before then it really highlights why rankings can’t be relied on by themselves (I’ll elaborate on this in a follow up blog soon).


So let’s take a more logical look at search terms:

We’ll keep your desired “big terms”. Of course we want to rank for them, but that’s a long term part of the plan. Let’s throw in some more, more realistic, search terms that are less competitive but we’ll use as a general barometer of progress.

A general barometer of progress – that’s how you should think of ranking positions.


Which Keywords to Track?

Before we go any further, we need to change your thinking on keywords or you’re going to spend a lot of time getting frustrated, confused, disappointed and perplexed. We can’t track every possible keyword, it’s just not possible. So we need to think of themes of keywords starting with a “head term” which describes all other terms associated with it in a broad sense :

  • Polo Shirts
  • Small Polo Shirts
  • Large Polo Shirts
  • Extra Large Polo Shirts
  • Red Polo Shirts
  • Green Polo Shirts
  • XL Pink Polo Shirts
  • Where can I buy extra large pink polo shorts made from 100% cotton?
  • Yellow polo shirts in medium sizes
  • 100% cotton XL polo shirts
  • Pictures of polo shirts with cats on (Not really, I just want to check I still have you, here? Great, I’ll continue!)


This list isn’t exhaustive – that’s kind of impossible, but take a look at it and imagine how many different search terms you can make from the above list – there are thousands of them with colour, sizes, materials, intent – it’s literally a never ending list.

Most of these terms are what we call long tail keywords. We can’t track every long tail keyword, it’s not practical or indeed possible, but by tracking the head term we know that more visibility for the head term will likely result in more visibility for long tail keywords. The head term isn’t going to move very fast, once it’s on page one it’s likely going to be up and down – much like a trace on a heart monitor but will slowly move up over a long period of time.

But there’s good news! If your head term moves even as little as 0.1 of a position (which isn’t a position at all) it’s likely your less competitive terms have moved up significantly more.


Why is this important? How many people actually search for these terms?

Hardly any is the answer. Here’s the data if you want the actual answer.


long tail search-volume


I don’t really care to be honest, I’m looking at the big picture remember! With some research I’ve found 800 variations of the above keywords (which are relevant). There are lots more of course but 800 will be enough to make my point here (not withstanding the 20% of searches being new every day).

So let’s recap: You wanted me to focus on those 5 individual keywords which are searched for 46,000 times on AVERAGE per month.


Now let’s look at my strategy (Which is based on doing this before many times!):

811 Keywords with *drumroll* 506,110 AVERAGE monthly searches per month.

All terms are long tail terms which are less competitive, will rank much faster and convert better (because they’re more specific).

So let’s repeat our simple profit analysis again but let’s conservatively assume we’ve added 1% to your conversion rate (remember, long tail keywords are more specific and convert quicker).


  • 506,110 potential monthly visitors.
  • 811 search terms
  • 40% of traffic (because we’re in position 1 – again not realistic but let’s compare “apples for apples” to the above)
  • 3% conversion rate
  • 6659 daily visitors, 199 orders per day, £2985 daily turnover and based on the profit margin above, £995 daily profit (Compared to £54.60).


Costs of business will of course be more, but still remain relative and guess what, your SEO cost is going to be the same, why? Because rather than spend 100% of your SEO budget on 5 highly competitive terms, we’re spending it on 1000’s of less competitive terms, in other words:

We’re working smarter, not harder and you’re making more money as a result.




Yes, I appreciate there are some assumptions, there had to be to display this in a relatively simple way but take it from me: I see this daily and the above is a true representation to varying degrees for all websites. Whether you’re selling holidays, t-shirts, legal services or flux captors the concept is the same.

Think about this for a while: If you’re using just rankings as a KPI (or worse) just a few terms to judge progress you’re not getting the entire picture and if you make business decisions on only a small part of the overall picture, you’re not fully informed and you’re going to make costly mistakes.

Remember, if we measure it we can improve it, and if we’re only measuring what equates to less than 10% of the potential, we can only improve on that 10%.

It sounds tough (and it is) but I’ve been at this game for a long time: Here’s a graph showing one of our long term clients using the strategy we advised:


 Sustainable, predictable growth.




Now this is a graph showing a client who followed the “handful of keywords” approach with his previous SEO agency (over exactly the same time period).


No growth.



I can give real life examples of this all day long to prove my point, but be objective, what do you really want from your SEO? Rankings or business? The second of the two graphs ranked top 10 for several targeted terms – but it just didn’t translate into the business they expected and as a result saw over 2 years of stagnant traffic. There are of course exceptions, of course there is, but they are few and far between.