We’ve all been there. You have this sweet SEO campaign planned out to the nth degree. You’ve put it into motion. You’re sure it’s going to:

  • Increase your traffic
  • Boost your ranking
  • Boost your ROI (Return on Investment)

Problem: After three months, your ROI is still a sinking ship. Your ranking seems to have a severe lack of motivation; it hasn’t even tried to move. Worse yet, your visitors have the attention spans of guppies, staying only long enough for the site to load – if you have visitors at all.

Let me repeat myself “one more time again”. We’ve all been there. Yes, even the SEO professionals get it wrong… occasionally.

See, SEO has this undefined human element. Yes, computer programs can do some of the grunt work for you, but eventually you cross a line where you have to actively make a decision. At some point, you have to decide whether you’re going to choose keyword A or keyword B, and then jump down the rabbit hole. Eventually, you, the human, have to act.

I believe the largest difference between the SEO professionals and the layperson is howyou act. When it comes down to the wire and you see the SEO campaign you spent so much time on isn’t working, what do you do?

  • The Layperson: In my experience, I’ve noticed that most laypeople tend to have a “shove all” approach. If the SEO campaign isn’t working, shove all you can at the site and see if it helps. Either that or they toss the campaign and start over. Sort of like tossing out the baby with the bath water (I’m full of clichés today).
  • The SEO Professional: The professionals seem to take a sort of laid-back approach. First, there’s an unsurprised, yet thoughtful, “huh…” We immediately know we missed something somewhere along the way. Rather than toss out the campaign and start over, we turn into perfectionist naggers, nitpicking at every detail of the SEO campaign. Our job now is to find out what part of the campaign isn’t working as expected.

How do we do that? With the Three T’s of Optimization, of course. We track, tweak and test the campaign. Notice that I started with “track”. You, on the other hand, need to start with a part of any SEO campaign commonly missed by the layperson: the benchmarks.

You have to start with where you are and add where you’re going:

“My site is currently ranking 47 on Google for Keyword A. I want to see position 1 -4 for Keyword A within six months. To do this I will…”

Decide what methods you’re going to use to reach your goals. Then, write down the metrics that will be affected by those methods. For instance, if you’re going to use link building as one of your methods, you need to know how many, and what kind of, sites are linking to yours – before you start your campaign.

So – benchmarks. Don’t forget them.

As your campaign goes on, track the changes in those benchmarks on a regular basis. If your analytics program shows you a new site referring traffic to yours, you want to make a notation. If your search engine traffic goes up, you want to make a notation. If you post an article, write a blog, change a meta tag… you want to make a notation.

When things change, in other words, it’s a sign that your pen needs to visit the notepad. Mark it. Write it down. Highlight it. If things go wrong you’ll then have a recorded history of changes, making it that much easier to figure out where it went wrong. If you know the “where”, it’ll be easier to figure out “what” and “why”.

Comparing After the Fact

Maybe you didn’t think about the benchmarks. With most web analytic programs, you’re given the ability to compare the past with the present. For example, you can compare the month before you started your SEO campaign with the current month.

In this way, you can find out if your keyword reach (how many keywords, relevance of keywords, traffic coming in from them) has changed. You might find that targeted Keyword A is bringing less traffic than before, while you now have two more untargeted keywords bringing a few visits each.

While it’s not as comprehensive as a benchmark report, it’ll do in a pinch. Any kind of comparison can give you enough information to go on.

A final note: don’t assume you know what’s wrong based on information from one metric. Before you change anything, look at the whole picture. Some things, such as search engine changes like Google Instant, are beyond your control. A serious change in algorithms can derail a whole campaign – or it can mean a longer time span before your SEO campaign takes affect.