Why we need a better measurement than SEO

Many companies tell us wondrous numbers about how many hits they get on their site, all produced by their amazing SEO program.  But when I ask how many of those hits are real people and how many are spiderbots and how many are RSS reads, they have no idea what I'm talking about.  All they know is their site gets a lot of traffic.  That is not necessarily a good thing

There is a minor skirmish in the media metric world over search engine optimization (SEO), mostly between SEO and content marketing experts (I generally fall in the latter area). Yesterday I found a story in the obviously slanted Content Marketing Institute that actually explained where the lack is.

When you need to sell a bunch of products to a bunch of people.  SEO is your number one web tool.  You need to reach a lot of people and making it easier for them to find you on the web is a great idea.  But if your business is selling a few products and services to a small number of companies, those customers are not going to base their decision on how high up you show on a web search.  It's not even likely that those customers will do a search at all unless they are looking specifically for your company.  They are going to make the inquiry based on what thought leaders say about you and your business.

That won't be affected by SEO.  As the article states, that is all about the content.

Unfortunately, determining if you have thought leadership is hard to measure in web analytics.  it can be, but you have to look for it and then you have to optimize your analytics to give you the data.  One way is time spend on site and time spent on page.  Most tools I've encountered give you that data if you dig but it's not easy to get. And when you do, you generally have to do the calculations yourself.

Most companies I've talked to, though, don't make that effort.  In fact, when I do an initial consultation with them, their eyes glass over when I ask how much time to people spend on their site and content.  So let me say here, especially if you are thinking about getting one of our free consultations, you might want to have that data available before we get there. It's incredibly important if you are concerned about thought leadership.

If you get a hit from, say, googlebot, that means you got pulled up in a general search for a term.  That doesn't mean you actually got a human being to your site.  If it comes from a specific URL with 0:00 minutes of time on the site, that means you probably got picked up in an RSS feed, but it doesn't mean it got read.  If it shows that the eyeball spent a few seconds, that was a scan-and-go.  But if it says they spent a minute or more on the page, that meant they actually spent some time reading or viewing the content.  The latter one is the only thing that matters when it comes to thought leadership.

That's what most people don't measure.  It is possibly more important for you than SEO.

At Footwasher Media, we spend a lot of time studying that number.  It determines what we write about hear in Communications Basics, and at New Tech Press, and on the Footwasher Media corporate site.  in many cases, we can trace it back to a specific audience member, or at least the department they are in.  for example, we know that someone in the executive suite at Newscorp reads this blog regularly (Hi, Rupert!).

Thought leadership can be measured by the number of Facebook "Likes" or Linkedin connections, or Twitter "follows" but none of those measurements really determine if you are leading thought.  The time spent on the content, however, is enormously important.  You can determine more about your audience and what they really want, need and value easily.

The problem is that number is infintesimal compared to the number of hits and RSS links, which means your marketing and web teams are going to want to avoid talking about it.  It's not as impressive to the undeducated.  So that's why I thought it would be a good time to do some education.  As I've said before, the value of social media is not whether you reach a lot of people.  The value is in reaching the right people.

Here's Google's Matt Cutts on how to increase that time-on stat.