While seeing your content spread far and wide on the web is thrilling and might give your ego a little boost, it's not the most important element of what you're doing.

While getting comments on a blog post or Facebook Likes bring a smile to your face, they're not really the goal you should be shooting for.

If you're involved in content marketing, you're really interested in generating leads and making sales. So, you need to determine whether your SEO is accomplishing those goals. And that requires measuring the right things.

1. Traffic from Organic Sources as a Whole

In order to understand if your SEO efforts are making an impact by driving traffic to your website, you need to measure traffic from Organic sources.

Organic sources are search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo!. To be sure you’re getting your share of web visitors from search engines, you need to use a tool like Google Analytics or HubSpot to measure visits from search engines.

As you steadily, methodically create new content for your website that answers people’s questions about your industry and products, traffic from search engines should be increasing each month.

SEO organic traffic graph Organic traffic graphs like this one from our HubSpot account help you determine if you are actually increasing visits over time from your SEO efforts.

2. Keyword Ranking

While it's not possible to get a perfect measure of your ranking for specific keywords (since everyone sees search results a little differently based on different factors), you can get a fairly good idea how you're doing for each target keyword phrase by using an average ranking.

The only way to accomplish this effectively is to use a keyword ranking tool.

  • SEOMoz Pro offers a quality keyword ranking tool that will provide your average keyword ranking across the major search engines.
  • Hubspot's Keyword Tool will also measure average rank and display it alongside the calculated difficulty rating for that phrase.

Either option should give you a general understanding of where your website is appearing for a particular search term or phrase. Your goal should be to appear within the top seven listings, since that guarantees placement on page one of the search results (until Google changes it again).

3. Lead Conversion Rate

The next measurement you need to capture and understand is the percentage of visitors that come to your website via a particular search term and end up accepting an offer or contacting you in some way. This is your visitor-to-lead conversion rate.

Tracking this measure monthly will give you insight into which of the keywords you are optimizing for are generating interest in the right kinds of people: those folks willing and able to move forward with getting to know you and what you have to offer.

Tracking visitor-to-lead conversion rate on a keyword-by-keyword basis prevents you from wasting time optimizing for a phrase that gets traffic to your website but not leads.

You don’t want to use time and resources on phrases that draw lots of visitors only to disappoint visitors because they're not interested in what you're offering them.

At the same time, you may find that there are searches that may be bringing in small numbers of visitors but are successful at converting visitors to leads.

Both Google Analytics and HubSpot have adequate reports you can use to determine this.

As you browse keyword reports, you may notice that many visitors show up as using keywords that are “not provided.” As this becomes more prevalent, it will be harder to determine what keywords are working best for you.

In the past, we’ve used Google Adwords not as a primary traffic driver, but a research tool. Using exact or phrase match, you can test phrases to see which have the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate, then optimize for those.

4. Customer Conversion Rate

Taking your research one step further, you need to determine how many leads that were generated by a particular search term actually turn into paying customers.

This may require combining online and offline metrics, especially if your sales process is a long one, or includes contact by a salesperson. Understanding which of your keyword phrases are bringing in prospects that are more than just “tire-kickers” will further narrow down where you should be focusing your SEO energy and resources: on those phrases that eventually produce revenue for your company.

Combining these four measures for each keyword or phrase you are targeting will increase the success of your SEO campaigns over the long haul, helping you get more customers from those that are using the web as a research tool.

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