Normalizing Search Engine Traffic Reporting

We’ve all known about Google Trends for a while. I’ve had a thought about using Google Trends to normalize our search engine optimization campaign reports. Let me explain.

If your campaign is producing 1000 visitors per month in month 1, then 1100 in month 2, then 1200, that’s great. Let’s say that the trend in month 4, 5, 6 then goes 1200, 1150, 1100. Well, that’s not so good, it was going up ~10% per month, now it’s falling about 5% each month. Well, if the site is optimized around a set of target search terms, and then other traffic comes from halo terms, then to assume that the SEO is providing more or less traffic is also to assume that search volume for this family of terms is constant.

If we used Google Trends to normalize, we might find that the number of times a term was searched on fell 15% during those down months. So, the 10%/month upward trend was actually sustained.

google-trends

Another way to look at this is to simply ask, what percentage of potential clicks did you get? If this percentage is trending up, then you’re in good shape. This means you’re taking more market share.

Another way to think of this is the following: Let’s say that you’re doing search engine optimization for a site that sells air conditioners. Let’s further assume that you start the SEO campaign on January 1st. Well, no one is really looking for AC units in January. Then, in April, you start to see an upward traffic trend, it goes higher and higher and peaks in August. Then, by mid September, you’re not seeing any traffic from the search engines. You start Googling around and see your site, but no visitors.

Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that people just aren’t buying air conditioners in October. So, you’d pretty much expect to see less traffic. In this case, the best way to judge if the SEO campaign is succeeding is to either look a target terms and catalog placement in search engine results pages, or to normalize your numbers. Take a benchmark at the beginning of the campaign, say a ratio of traffic to searches, then, each month you’d want that ratio to climb. This way, you’ll know if your SEO is working, regardless of market trends.

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