Go to Google, or another search engine if you’re a rebel, and type a query into the search bar. The results you see are the outcome of a lot of hard work on the part of digital marketers just like you, all striving to get their websites to the top of search engine rankings. For many organizations in the digital age, those search results can make a big difference in the bottom line for their business—making search engine optimization, or SEO, a critical digital marketing tool.

Yet, SEO has become harder and harder to do. We have less real estate to work with, as Google has given more prominence to ads and decreased the number of organic search results displayed on a page. In addition, more marketers realize the importance of SEO: 61 percent say improving SEO is a top inbound marketing priority. That means more competition for you as you strive to win searches.

When the competition heats up, marketers need to up their SEO game to improve their chances of winning the search wars. Analytics can help. As a digital marketer, you’ve used analytics to review website traffic, but have you used that information in a strategic way to improve your SEO? If not, here are three ways to do so.

The Critical Part of SEO Often Overlooked by Marketers

There are really just two aspects of SEO: the actual SEO that gets your webpages ranked well in search engines and the content that keeps people there once they click on your listing in the search results (SERP). This second step is often a missing step. Marketers think they’ve done their job by getting a good ranking, but that’s not the real reason you’re doing SEO. The real reason you’re doing SEO is to get people to go to your website and stay there until they convert. That conversion might be an email sign-up, an item added to a wishlist, a purchase, or something else—even a social media follow. Something needs to happen in order for your SEO to have had a purpose. And that’s the missing step for many.

To know if you’re doing everything you can with regards to SEO, you must turn to analytics. Determine which of your pages are repelling people and why. Consider your bounce rates, speed, and mobile-optimization. Then, make improvements to get people to stick around, and watch your SEO ROI increase.

When Pages Fail to Engage or Convert

First, look to see where you might have dropped the ball by being too focused on the search ranking and not focused enough on engagement. For example, you might have a page that gets a lot of traffic, but visitors frequently click away rather than navigating to other pages on your site. This is what we call a bounce. It tells you someone “bounced” off a page once landing there, but it doesn’t tell you why. That’s what you need to figure out, and the possible reasons are many.

Sometimes people come to your page for the wrong reasons, typically because the keyword as they entered means something different to them than it does to you. You’ll know this is happening if you have a page that gets a lot of traffic but has a high bounce rate—something is getting them there, but it’s not where they wanted to be. Review the keywords they’re using and the possible intent behind those keywords. What is the intent of the person typing the query into the search bar? It could be your meaning and their meaning differ.

It could also be that your SEO was misleading—promising, but not delivering. People might click on a search result listing because of your promise, only to get to your webpage and to be disappointed. Or, it could be you are delivering, but your webpage needs work to make sure that’s immediately obvious to the site visitor. Content might be buried or navigation unclear. In other cases, you’ve simply failed to engage them so they will want to stick around, click on a link, and learn a little more. It’s up to you to determine what’s happening so you can fix the problem.

But sometimes a bounce is to be expected. For example, somebody looking for your company’s phone number could find your Contact page via search, get the phone number, and leave your site again. In that case, your SEO did the job because it delivered the goods. But our ultimate goal as digital marketers is a conversion, meaning that webpages with answers to questions that visitors may have should be tweaked to try and get those visitors to stick around a little longer. Using this example, you might reconsider your Contact page to see if you can engage a visitor once they land there.

You got a visitor to your webpage. Now you need to figure out how to get them to stay.

Slow Load Times Will Cause Bounces Too

In addition to looking at bounce rates to find areas that need improving, also look at the speed at which your pages load. Slow pages repel visitors! This is another case where you might do everything right to get the webpage to rank well, and you could even be delivering exactly the content that searcher wants, but the searcher won’t know it because a slow load time means they simply click the ‘Back’ button and go look for answers elsewhere.

How much does speed matter to Internet users? A lot. They will abandon a website that’s too slow, and they don’t give you much wiggle room in that definition of slow. According to statistics on page load speed published by Kissmetrics:

  • 47 percent of users expect a webpage to load in 2 seconds or less
  • 40 percent abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load
  • A mere 1-second delay in page response can reduce conversions by 7 percent

Your analytics will give you insight into page load times, and you might find a correlation between bounce rates and slow-loading pages. To improve your SEO, follow through on this next step, to ensure pages are loading quickly so that you can capture the visitors you worked so hard to entice with that high SERP ranking!

Why Mobile Matters Much More to SEO in 2018

In addition to understanding (and fixing) bounce rates and page load times, you can also use analytics to improve your SEO results by analyzing your mobile traffic—which makes up an increasing percentage of search engine users. As of December 2017, 52 percent of Internet use worldwide was done with a mobile phone.

In response to that shift, 2018 is the year Google is scheduled to roll out the new mobile-first index, meaning now is the time to ensure your website is ready for mobile SEO. Your analytics can help you understand how well your website is performing by showing you bounce rates specifically for mobile users. Once the new index is in place, your desktop site will be ranked based on the ranking of your mobile site. So make the SEO and usability of your mobile site a high priority, using your analytics to identify any glitches.

Gain a Deeper Knowledge of Analytics

Although Google Analytics is a popular tool for doing this research, several web analytics tools are available to you, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. It’s not the tool you choose that matters as much as how you use it, and SEO is an iterative process. You want to know what’s working so you can do more of it, and what’s not working so you can fix the problem. More importantly, you want to make sure you’re following through—not just winning searches, but also winning over potential customers by getting them engaged once they do click on a search result and land at your webpage.

We’ve only skimmed the surface of the types of insights you can gain from your web analytics. As you advance your skills as a digital marketer, you’ll find that understanding how to use and apply the lessons from analytics will increase your value as a professional in the field. You can choose online training to improve your skills in digital marketing analytics in general, or web analytics in particular. In either case, you’ll learn to make more sense of the numbers, understanding their meaning, and the implications for your digital marketing strategy so that you’re proficient in every part of SEO, not just the rankings.

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