SEO Horror Story — Ghost Metrics

On occasion, the Straight North sales team hears tales of Internet marketing woe from prospective clients. We are retelling these stories for you here in this new blog series, to help you escape the horrors of making monumental marketing missteps.

Benchmark … Or Stench Mark?

The B2B company had gone through two SEO agencies; neither could live up to its expectations. The company’s CMO was emphatic:

  • Under the first agency’s watch, rankings had dropped for high-value keywords.
  • Under the second agency’s watch, lead production had plummeted.

Upon closer investigation by the SEO salesperson and a bit of back-end research, a surprising discovery was made:

The historical data on which the company was evaluating agency performance had more holes in it than a cheese grater.

To elaborate, as it turned out:

  • The keywords the company was tracking for rankings were popular within the organization, but had very little search volume in the real world — in other words, the keywords the company thought were the most important were not important at all.
  • The rankings for these keywords appeared high because the company leaders spot-checking these keywords were looking at personalized Google search results. Rankings for these terms — unimportant though they were — were much lower for people in other parts of the country and with different search histories. Perceived ranking declines were just that: nothing more than perceptions.
  • The lead production decline was more a matter of feel than a matter of fact — because the company had no process to track lead sources and thus no reliable data on which to base its evaluation. Instead, company leadership steadfastly clung to a shared memory that it had “more website leads pouring in in the old days.” Were there really more leads in the old days? When pressed, nobody could say for sure.

Garbage in, Garbage Out … Gold in, Gold Out

A company that evaluates SEO agencies and campaigns with the wrong data or no data always reaches the wrong conclusion. It emphasizes the wrong keywords, misjudges lead production and draws the wrong conclusions from ranking position.

But incorrect evaluations are not the most horrifying part of the story. What is worse, a company with bad benchmarks stops running good campaigns and prevents good campaigns from ever being run.

To avoid bad SEO benchmarking, a company must have reliable, thorough and granular data with regard to lead sources, keyword search volume, organic traffic volume and sources, and other SEO KPIs. However, this is easier said than done (another horrifying revelation to many companies) and requires a significant amount of Internet marketing savvy and web development skill to set up and maintain.

If your company doesn’t have rock-solid benchmarking in place, the only way to succeed with SEO is to start from scratch: Install the right tracking system, collect the right data, and wait patiently for data to accumulate over time.

The not-so-horrifying conclusion to the story: If a company patiently sets up and maintains benchmarking data, over time it will blow its less astute SEO competitors out of the water, earning more traffic, more leads and superior ROI.

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