I was recently having dinner with a friend of mine who is a marketing manager for a local business here in Chicago. As it's coming toward the end of the year, he was talking about his budgets for 2018 and looking at their current digital marketing efforts and where they could cut costs. We got on the topic of search engine optimization (SEO) and we began discussing his frustrations with their current SEO company and the lack of visibility into overall organic performance, wishing he could find a way to simply answer, "Is our current SEO strategy working?". He then said something that struck me...

"How can I believe and keep investing in SEO if I can't simply see the ROI in it?"

This got me thinking about how a lot of businesses and brands are in this position with their current SEO companies and being in the dark on the "strategy" behind their efforts. Getting insights into your SEO performance isn't rocket science and shouldn't be something you're pulling teeth to get a simple "yes" or "no" answer to. In fact, if you have access to your Google Analytics account (which if you don't, you definitely should), you can get the answer to that question relatively quickly. 

Here are 5 ways to tell if your current SEO strategy isn't working...

You're Not Getting Traffic

Usually the best indication that your SEO strategy isn't working is that you're not getting traffic to your website from search engines. Now, this could be for a multitude of reasons, but more often than not, it's because you are:

  • Not properly indexing your site
  • Targeting the wrong keywords or queries
  • Not taking advantage of title tags or other SEO best practices
  • Inadvertently blocking your website from search engines
  • Simply creating bad content (we'll touch more on this below)

A lot of these issues can be alleviated by hiring on a SEO professional that not only creates a comprehensive SEO strategy for your business, but also conducts regular audits of your website and finds where opportunities lie in gaining more organic visibility. These regular audits will tell you where your site's biggest painpoints are from a SEO standpoint and give you a prioritized roadmap on what should be fixed first, ensuring your SEO efforts are not only driving more traffic, but the right traffic.

You're Not Getting Conversions

On the flip side of that coin, let's say you are getting traffic, but none of the visitors coming from search engines are buying or becoming leads. If this is happening, it's usually because the content on your website doesn't meet the expectations or match the intentions of the users that are landing on your website. Other reasons could include your site lacks clear calls to action or next steps. It's important that when you're looking at pages on your website that are not converting, you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are we going after the right keywords or queries?
  • Does our content match the keyword or query type?
  • Are we being clear in what we want users to do on this page?

Remember, when users search, there are usually three main searches they could be doing that leads them to your site:

  • Transactional: This is where a user is trying to take an action. In this case, this could be making a purchase, downloading information, or more.
  • Informational: This is where a user is looking for a specific piece of information. In this case, this could be looking for information on products, services, or a topic.
  • Navigational: This is where a user is looking for a particular brand or website. In this case, it would be a user searching for a particular business to possibly learn more about it.

Always make sure that when you look at the purpose of a particular page, that it's matching the user's search intent, and that the end goal of that page satisfies that intention.

One highly recommended way of ensuring your site is matching both the user's intention for being on your site and is also providing them with clear calls to action to act, is to couple your SEO efforts with Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). Doing so will give you the ability to test different content, calls to action, layouts and more to see what results in more users converting on your website from search engines.

You're Creating Content in a Vacuum

We all know that content is king when it comes to your digital marketing efforts, but the type of content we create and our reasons for creating it need to match the reasons on why users would want to seek it out and read it. Most marketers these days are pumping out insane amounts of content that doesn't focus on our user's issues or only tells them what we want them to hear. What this effectively does is fall on deaf ears, because it translates to the user reading it as confusing, irrelevant, or overwhelming. When they encounter content like this, they go back to the search results looking for better content that suits their needs.

When you create content, make sure you ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are our users talking about?
  • What keywords or language are they using?
  • Do they prefer a certain content type? Video? Text? Webinars? Etc.
  • How long should the content be?
  • How often should we realistically be putting content out?
  • How can we differentiate ourself or provide real value in our content?
  • Do we have industry publications we can send content in hopes they'll share or link to it?

Once you create this new and improved content that is user focused, start taking a look at different metrics to see how it's performing:

  • Organic sessions: Are sessions from search engines increasing across key pages?
  • Bounce rate: Are users leaving your site as soon as they come in?
  • Time on site: Are users spending more or less time on your website?
  • Conversions: Are users taking actions that are most important to your business?

These are just a few metrics you can look at and are by no means the only ones. The metrics you look at will help you better understand if the content you are creating is providing users from search with the information they are looking for and also guide your content strategy moving forward.


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You Have Bad Backlinks (Or Aren't Getting Any)

We've all heard that in order to perform well in search engines, websites need to be pointing to your content through inbound links. Backlinks are a great thing because they are essentially endorsements. What I mean by this that when you create a piece of content, people hopefully engage with it and like it enough that they think other people should be reading it, too. When they link to your website, Google and other search engines crawl that link pointing to your website and view it as a cosign of your content. A huge part of SEO is creating a linkbuilding strategy that gets more and more of these "cosigns" from other websites.

Unfortunately, over time linkbuilding has built a reputation as a shady practice because some SEO agencies and professionals buy lots and lots of backlinks to point at their client's websites. Google and other search engines view this as manipulating search results and have invested a lot of time and effort in penalizing websites whose backlink profiles are filled with lots of low quality, irrelevant backlinks. It's important that if your website isn't ranking or garnering any organic traffic you review your website's backlink profile and remove backlinks that are considered spammy or irrelevant. Here's a quick list of links you don't want:

  • Directory links (example)
    • Usually these spam directories have the same template layout with
  • Inspect URLs with blatant spam words
    • Free
    • Porn
    • XXX
    • Submit
    • Directory
    • Paid
    • Links
    • URL
    • Sex
    • etc.
  • Check for multiple domains and URLs on the same IPs
    • This can usually be an indicator of link farms or spam
  • Irrelevant links
    • If you are receiving links from a shoe website and you’re a car dealership, it’s obviously not relevant

Remember, you want to be getting backlinks from authoritative websites in your industry or space. To do this, make sure that you are not only creating that great purposeful content we talked about earlier, but that you are also focused on a linkbuilding strategy that sees you obtaining high quality backlinks

You Don't Have Goals

The worst SEO strategy is one that doesn't have a clear goal in mind, thus making it hard to track if it is successful or not. When you can't track the performance of a SEO strategy, it's hard to see it's ROI. When you start a SEO campaign or sign on a SEO agency, make sure that you are clearly defining what success looks like to you and your business. For instance:

  • Is it more traffic?
  • Is it more leads?
  • Is it more revenue?
  • Is it building brand awareness?

Once you decide on a goal with your team and what ultimately your SEO expert or vendor will be held accountable for achieving, you can then settle on the key metrics that will be reported on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. Having a clear goal removes ambiguity in reporting and when you know exactly what you are getting with each report, you'll then be able to clearly answer the question of "Is our current SEO strategy working"?

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