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SEO KPIs for CMOs From the Operators Perspective – Tyson Stockton // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: Disagreements over how to best utilize SEO to leverage marketing endeavors happen frequently in companies, especially between CMOs and SEOs. KPIs are the key to understanding and formulating effective marketing strategies, and SEOs are essential in identifying the right KPIs to execute marketing initiatives. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ Director of Digital Services Tyson Stockton to discuss the KPIs SEO operators use to ensure organic growth strategies are effective.

Summary

  • Ranking data and SEO visibility vary in usefulness depending on the sophistication of the organization and existing awareness of the public about the brand or company.
  • Keyword rankings are an essential KPI of SEO visibility, and is one of the better KPIs because it entails multiple factors and elements.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                  Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. And today we’re going to be talking about what you need to know to make sure that your CMO really understands what’s happening in SEO.

Ben:                    Joining us today is Tyson Stockton, who is the vice president of services at Searchmetrics, which is an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. And outside of supporting Searchmetrics’ largest and most strategic clients, Tyson is going to talk to us today about why he disagrees with his CMOs about what other CMOs need to think about SEO.

Ben:                    Okay. Here’s the first installment of my conversation with Searchmetrics’ Vice President of Services, Tyson Stockton.

Ben:                     Tyson. Welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Tyson:                Thanks, Ben. Good to be back. See you on the screen once again.

Ben:                     Excited to have you here and get to chat, even though everybody else can’t see the podcast. I want you to know, we both got fully dressed up for work today, even though we’re all sheltered in place, but Tyson is still actually in bed as we record this podcast.

Tyson:                 I mean, fully dressed yes, but as far as not in a suit and tie.

Ben:                     Okay. He has pants on folks. That’s what really matters. On the flip side, we get to partake in one of my favorite pastimes, disagreeing with your CMO, Doug Bell.

Ben:                      A couple of weeks ago, we published a week of content where Doug and I talked about what CMOs need to know about SEO, where we talked about some of the myths that CMOs believe about SEO, what the realities are, where CMOs are getting into trouble with their SEO practices and some operational tips and KPIs that CMOs need to think about to make sure their organic growth strategies are effective.

Ben:                      Tyson, I’ve made a career and a pastime out of disagreeing with what Doug says at Searchmetrics, lovingly so, and you had some thoughts about what he was saying to the SEO community or to the CMO community about what SEOs need to think about. You work with lots of CMOs as a consultant for the services team at Searchmetrics. Talk to me a little bit about your view, about what CMOs really need to think about to make sure that their efforts are effective in SEO?

Tyson:                  Of course. And I mean, what better opportunity to join in this favorite pastime of ours, combating with Doug?

Tyson:                  So I think the first thing that really jumped out at it, and I think a lot of your conversation with Doug is more of kind of Doug setting the stage of, “Hey guys, if you don’t know what to do, here’s your most common or standard set.” And I think that can be helpful, but when you’re in the SEOs perspective, you’re also having to live within the existing framework or foundation of the organization reporting structures. And there are a lot of variances from different types of organizations, different types of websites. So I think the one piece is I feel you get a lot more variance in the KPIs and how you go about it versus having a one size fits all across all different organizations and business types.

Ben:                      In fairness to Doug, when we’re recording this piece of content, talking about what the KPIs are for CMOs, a not realistic, but probably true answer, is it depends on what your business is. And I think Doug’s point of thinking about what the KPIs are, where you think about SEO as not necessarily just as a direct response channel, as a brand channel, something that improves your visibility, trying to understand that you can build content that is going to become more valuable over time.

Ben:                      So you have to think about what the investment is over the long term, as opposed to immediately like PPC. Those are all real and true facts, but as you’re starting to see the differences between businesses, what are some of the ways that you advise CMOs to think about their specific businesses? Are there common trends and themes that you think are important?

Tyson:                 Yeah. And actually I think the first piece that I’d say before, even the recommendations to the CMO, one recommendation to the SEOs is to do your homework and understand what your CMO is already receiving and looking at across other brand channels.

Tyson:                  And I think understanding what the existing kind of reporting language terminology that’s being used, like that’s going to be an important first step because you want to have some sort of consistency with what they’re already looking at.

Tyson:                  So I think the first recommendation I would have for the CMO level is to think about it more of like a KPI funnel. And this is really important because as we know with SEO, it’s not an immediate of a marketing channel as your paid campaigns are. So it’s like you increase the spend you all of a sudden see the kind of return throughout the full funnel, SEOs are going to have these leading indicators and lagging indicators.

Tyson:                  So the first piece I’d say is making sure that your KPIs, that you’re watching, are covering each stage of this KPI funnel. So then you see those early indicators, you see that then convert to your rankings, your traffic, and then later to your conversion and so you want to have this nice leading funnel. So the you know, “Hey, there wasn’t a change in our revenue”, but you can see, are we making progress? Are we taking one step closer to that goal? Versus just having like a lagging indicator, that’s going to have typically quite a long delay.

Ben:                      I can’t believe I’m going to do this. I’m going to stick up for Doug. Again, one of Doug’s major takeaways from our SEO for CMOs week was that you have to have an understanding of the time it takes to mature a channel. I always believe that SEO, when you’re starting a new content strategy or a new SEO strategy, expect it to take three to six months before you’re seeing a really meaningful impact.

Ben:                     Obviously there’s some micro optimizations that you’ll see almost in real time, but to really start from scratch and make a big impact, you’re talking months to even years at time before you’re really able to make significant traction.

Ben:                     The investment needs to be constant, but it also grows over time. And so I’d like what actually both you and Doug are saying where Doug is saying, “Understand that these channels take a long time to mature before you see real impact on the bottom line of your business.” And what you’re saying is, yes, it’s going to take a long time for you to see an impact on your business. However, you’re able to create a funnel. That’s going to give you an indicator of whether you’re heading in the right direction.”

Ben:                     So walk me through that funnel. What’s the first thing that you’re looking at when you’re setting up a new SEO strategy, your CMO, your organization is just starting to focus on content and organic growth. What’s the first metric you actually start to see the needle move on?

Tyson:                 Yeah. And I think it’s going to vary on the type of initiatives and obviously a little bit on size. I usually like to start the funnel with how Google is crawling and discovering your pages. Because if you think about it, as far as how you can improve rankings, your first steps, is Google seeing this page? Are they indexing it? And those more crawl ability or indexation KPIs.

Tyson:                So from that, I’d be looking at the crawl activity from Search Console. If you have crawl log files? Where within the site is Google spending its time? So understanding or having a KPI that helps bring line of sight into how Google is interacting with your website, I would say is going to be your starting baseline for having that really wide net of how our SEO efforts mature enough.

Ben:                    First thing you need to think about. Hey, are you able to get the information that you want Google to share with your leads, your prospects, even your customers to their platform, right? Can you submit your content step number one? What step number two?

Tyson:                Step number two. And just elaborate a little bit more on step one is you can use things like pages, craw logs, indexed URLs, and rallied URLs. And obviously you want the parody between each of those categories being rather consistent. And then I’d say going into the next KPI, that’s where you’re going to be looking at either ranking data or SEO visibility.

Tyson:                And I think this is where depending on the sophistication or the experience of organization comes in. So if you try to introduce something completely new, like SEO visibility, even though I would say, yes, that’s a superior KPI than ranking. If there’s no awareness to it, I might start with a ranking KPI and then slowly introduce something more involved like SEO visibility. So I think once you get past crawling, some sort of ranking type KPIs is going to be key.

Ben:                    And you mentioned that the nomenclature is very important because CMOs, traditionally don’t necessarily talk SEO. And so really what we’re talking about is can we get Google the information that we want them to share? Are they going to index our website? And the second is, is that information showing up where we want it to, right? Is the information actually ranking? So you’re talking about the difference between visibility and rankings. Let’s just spend a second talking about what the difference between those two terms are.

Tyson:               Yeah, so rankings, I mean pretty binary. Which keywords are ranking on which URLs? Which position. You could use things like weighted averages or averages. That’s a little weaker and you can use the things like number of keywords, ranking. And that’s going to be probably like your most basic piece of SEO visibility, and the reason why this is a better KPI to use is because it brings in those elements. And then it also brings in some other elements as far as like what’s on the surface.

Tyson:               So for your SEO visibility, you’re going to be looking at the number of ranking keywords on a domain, what the search volume of those keywords are, what position you are for those keywords. And then what other elements are present on the page that would impact click through rate.

Tyson:                So you’re getting closer to a trend line or things that would follow a little bit more of your general business trends from how traffic looks being that your traffic’s just going to be coming from that page one, essentially, this is going to allow you to detect movement on pages two, three, four, or five further down. Which can signify movements, but then it also has this component of search volume. So it’s also not treating all keywords equal. You want to give respect to a high demand, high search volume, more so than you would want to give some super long tail that’s not really going to drive much revenue to the site.

Ben:                    So as you start to think about the time it takes for these KPIs to actually mature for them to show an indication of success, how long does it take to understand whether your site is being crawled effectively and efficiently? How long does it take for you to start seeing what your rankings are and if you’re trending in the right direction?

Tyson:               Yeah. So a crawl activity, you’re kind of looking at it and change as far as like, what was Google doing last week versus this week? It’s pretty early on that you’re going to see that because every day you can get a new report of what Google visited. So, that’s probably going to be like your quickest one, and then it’s not looking as much of what did they do on one day, but what did they do over the course of a period of time? And how is that changing over time?

Tyson:               Then for SEO visibility for really dramatic increases that could be present right away from traffic. If it’s more, “Okay, we moved a lot of keywords from page four to page two.” Well, that still means you need to implement more items. So the lag, as far as visibility to traffic is going to be a little bit more, as far as what’s the type of initiative? Are there subsequent future roll outs that are going to continue that?

Tyson:                And a lot of times you’re putting in place an initiative, you might put it on some pages, whether it’s content, whether it’s enhancements the pages, et cetera. And then you’re going to keep implementing and having iterations upon that.

Tyson:                So we’ve seen cases where maybe it’s like a three week lead time with SEO visibility, but that’s really going to have some dependencies as far as the type of initiatives you’re doing. Where are most of your rankings on page one, further down, et cetera. So that one’s a little bit harder to put a whole one size timeline too. But I would say it could be anywhere in the range of like three weeks to a couple months.

Ben:                    So on both of these metrics, one you’re able to see within a few days, the other one, it’s a few weeks to understand where you are and get a point of comparison.

Ben:                    As we start to think a little bit down the funnel and we get into what business performance looks like. You get past visibility. What are the other KPIs that CMOs need to consider?

Tyson:                I mean, now you’re starting to get to the more traditional KPIs that I think there’s a lot more familiarity across organizations. So now it’s whether you’re calling it traffic sessions, et cetera.

Tyson:                So then you’re actually looking at the visits on the website and then ultimately what you’re wanting those users to do, whether it’s complete a purchase, sign up per lead form, whatever kind of conversion that you have for the site or goal for the site.

Ben:                    So as you start to think about traffic you’re generating and whether it’s converting, do you have a sense of how long it takes to mature? And when you start to see real business impact from SEO as a channel?

Tyson:               I mean that’s going to vary drastically depending on the nature of the business. ecommerce is typically going to be a more immediate one, but then if you’re looking at ecommerce that has a high ticket value or average order value, that’s usually being a longer timeline. So, that one I would say is going to be less specific on ICO and more dependent on the actual business and how they’re monetizing the online traffic.

Ben:                   Obviously this is dependent on what your business is. You mentioned that ecommerce, you’re going to see more of an immediate impact.

Ben:                   When you’re implementing a major effort, a large enterprise company, obviously, you want as much runway as you can, but you sit down with a CMO and you say, “Hey, we’re going to invest tens of thousands of dollars worth of resources and software to start building a content platform. We’re going to try to drive business results.” What is the amount of time that you really feel comfortable showing some business results? And when do you consider an SEO campaign to have reached maturity?

Tyson:              That’s a great question. I mean, maybe let’s keep it more simple. So let’s say with a content initiative of your launch, I don’t know, a hundred pieces of content or something. How long is it going to take for that? Usually like to give at least a month to two months on that. Usually, Google discovers the pages quite soon, you have a little bit of the calibration period. So, I mean, I’d say usually you can see some of the early signs within a couple of weeks with a content initiative, and then you might get the maturity stage after a month, in the maybe four to six week range. And then you have potential opportunities to do some additional iterations once that’s settled, which is typically a good idea too, especially if it’s a high value piece of content to revisit once a search engine has already gone through it and adjusted your rankings accordingly. I’d probably say kind of in that range of, you’ll start seeing some early indicators within a couple of weeks, and then to the maturity point a couple months.

Ben:                   As we said in our last episode, three to six months generally, is what I advise for CMOs to think about how long it will take to develop a mature SEO channel to start seeing content driving a lift in organic reach and conversions.

Ben:                  That said, as Tyson mentioned, there are some KPIs that you could look at to start understanding whether you’re moving in the right direction, in terms of how much content Google is able to crawl and how that content is ranking. And that helps your CMOs get an understanding of whether SEO is pointing in the right direction before you actually start seeing business results.

Ben:                  So that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, vice president of services at Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Tyson, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile and our show notes.

Ben:                  You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is Tyson_Stockton. Or You could visit his company’s website, which is searchmetrics.com.

Ben:                  Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                  Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter. And my personal handle is BenJShap B E N J S H A P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed. In addition to part two of my conversation with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ vice president of services. When we talk about how to teach SEO to your CMO, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the workweek. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, the answers are always in the data.