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Searching for the Right Metrics

Search analytics suffers a similar fate to web analytics, in that a lot of confusion surrounds what to measure and how to measure it. Some of that is due to the mysticism behind the search engine companies themselves, particularly Google’s ranking algorithm, but the majority of it is due to search analytics being a relatively new field for many communicators because it’s not something one can develop deep expertise on unless it’s given a full-time focus.

For years, search analytics has been an area where specialists have come in and offered counsel to companies. Recently, a link has been created between social media and search analytics that makes it imperative for marketers of all disciplines to have at least a basic understanding of search data. This is imperative as search has only grown in significance. Since the original publication of this book in 2014, search queries on Google have only gotten longer and more specific as consumers refine their search intent. The data collection and metrics themselves are not so mysterious if you know how to break them down into manageable chunks. Search analytics is typically broken down into two categories.

  • Paid search—A paid search is any form of online advertising that ties an ad to a specific keyword-based search request.

  • Organic search—Organic search results are listings on search engine result pages that appear because of specific relevance to search terms.

Both types of search analytics have metrics tied to them. The following sections deal with each one individually.

Paid Search

As described earlier, a paid search is any form of advertising that ties an ad (creative and text) to specific keywords in order to appear more prominently in search results. It has often been the purview of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) professionals. But now that the communications disciplines (such as public relations, marketing, digital media, and social media) have come together, it is important for all communications professionals to understand the various metrics that can be tracked when executing a paid search.

We are going to sound like a broken record throughout this book, but the paid search metrics (assuming that there is a paid search component to a program) should align with the behaviors you are trying to change. Here are some of the most popular paid search metrics:

  • Impressions—An impression happens when a paid search ad appears on the search engine results page. This metric counts the number of such impressions.

  • Clicks—This is probably the easiest metric to understand. It counts the number of times a user clicks on an ad and visits the predetermined landing page.

  • CTR—The CTR is often expressed as a ratio, and it is the number of clicks an ad gets versus the number of impressions received.

  • Cost per click (CPC)—CPC is the average amount an advertiser would pay for a click.

  • Impression share—This is the ratio of the impressions your ad received to the possible impressions it could have received. This is similar to the share of conversation in social media analytics.

  • Sales or revenue per click—Quite simply, this is the amount of money generated per click received on an ad.

  • Average position—This metric measures where your advertisement appeared on the search engine results page.

You could use 10 to 20 additional metrics with paid searches, depending on your goals. However, the metrics listed here are the most popularly used and referenced. If your program has a paid search element, and you are not using one or more of those metrics, you should probably rethink your measurement plan of attack.

Organic Searches

Organic search results are listings on search engine pages that are tied to a specific keyword and are not being driven by an advertisement. The good part about organic search metrics is that even though users are not necessarily taking an action, through the use of tools, we can generally deduce what people are looking for by examining their search intent.

When a user visits a search engine and enters a word or phrase, there is likely someone on the other end analyzing that behavior. Understanding organic search behaviors is critical because some industries see very little volume of conversation online. The online community might not be participating, but they are most assuredly trying to learn something about the subject. That is where search analytics comes in.

Whether or not you have a paid search component to your program, you should be trying to understand the organic search landscape. What are the metrics that communicators can use? The following are a handful of the ones that are commonly used:

  • Known and unknown keywords—How many keywords do you know that are driving people to your website? How many do you not know? Is there an opportunity to optimize your content based on those unknown keywords? It is very possible that your unknown keywords are also unknown to your competitors.

  • Known and unknown branded keywords—Similar to the known and unknown keywords, communicators need to understand which words about their brand are being used most often.

  • Total visits—Ideally, you are tracking total visits to your website in your web analytics platform, but this metric could also fall under the organic search bucket as well.

  • Total conversions from known keywords—If you are properly optimizing your content based on known keywords people are using, then you should see an uptick in conversion. Again, in this case, conversions could be a dollar figure, downloads, signing up for a newsletter, and so on.

  • Average search position—Yes, this metric overlaps with paid searches, but it is important to know where you rank in search engine results pages, based on your top known and unknown and branded or unbranded keywords.

The search analytics tools might be complicated, but the individual metrics are not. Social, web, and search metrics are the three primary buckets that communicators need to be familiar with. We have identified the most popular in each of those categories, but you should not feel constrained to these lists. If there are two or three in each category that make sense for your program, use them.

After you have picked your social, website, and search metrics, then what? If you have been paying attention throughout this chapter, you will probably realize that we have left out one very important piece of the puzzle: traditional analytics. The next sections tackle this subject.

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