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Traffic Analysis and Rank Reports

By Terry Van Horne AKA Webmaster T

Value and success evaluation for a Search Engine Marketing Campaign can be measured in two ways: conversion or return on investment ( ROI ) and Rank. The simplest measurement is position or rank based on keyword choices. The method for collecting the data for evaluation is remote querying of search engines.

Traffic Analysis is the evaluation of referrals from search engines based on conversion of traffic for keyword choices. The data is found in the logs using log analysis software or a customized application to format referrer data for the site.

Rank Report Data

Rank Report Data Uses

Position or Rank reports indicate the listing status and position of the page usually the top 10-30 results, for keyword phrases, generally numbering from 50 to 1000's of terms for larger sites. This indicates the pages that are positioned to convert traffic for selected keyword phrases. Typically, the first 20-30 "non-sponsored" listings are considered to be the goal of optimization. ROI and conversion are unknowns without using log analysis. Rank Reports provide little useful information for choosing future content and refinement of the optimization and conversion strategies.


Many clients of SEOs' request or are provided these reports as part of the service. During my review of the two methods I found many reasons to doubt the value of a Rank Report to an experienced SEO or marketer and question the use of rank reports in determining campaign or optimization consultant effectiveness.

A rank report may be a fair measure for an SEO campaign that was given keywords and the goal of achieving certain rankings, such as top 10 on Google etc., without the option to edit or change the site. The SEO in this case would be responsible only for positioning the site for success and not for conversion.

The types of campaigns described above are exceptionally hard to gauge effectiveness because most of the "legitimate" optimization techniques the SEO can use to optimize pages have been taken away by the client. This leaves only linking and methods I personally wouldn't recommend to raise relevancy and visibility. At the very least the SEO should have permission to edit:

  1. file and directory names ( if already indexed it is advised a 301 be used to redirect SE to the new urls )
  2. titles and document structure ( if headings aren't in the page it is recommended to add proper document structure )
  3. link text

I would also strongly advise an extensive link campaign administered by an SEO or someone familiar with optimizing link campaigns. In this scenario the SEO has little to work with and links become more important to  overall success.

Driving a lot of traffic to a site is only the first step. The second step is converting viewers to buyers. The biggest drawback to determining campaign effectiveness using rank is it doesn't include any conversion metrics. In my opinion, rank reports don't measure true success -- only perceived success. It takes for granted there are no conversion issues and the keyword research used in the optimization strategy was targeting the right users for conversion of traffic.

Most rank reports are produced using software that does not follow instructions found in the robots.txt files of most search engines. A similar type of UserAgent is an email harvester. The Google Terms of Service does not allow remote querying, so any program harvesting SERPs is breaking Google's Terms of Service. Sites have been banned for abusive remote querying. Most sites, in my opinion, wouldn't be considered abusive enough for banning, however, this is Google's decision and should be considered a potential risk to success.

Traffic Analysis Data

Traffic Data Uses

Once the log analysis software has produced the traffic reports, the SEO can easily determine: ( indicates the service measured )

  1. which pages were found for which keyword terms ( optimization strategy )
  2. the amount of traffic that resulted from the keywords chosen ( keywords research )
  3. whether the call to action was followed for conversion ( conversion strategy and keywords research )
  4. whether the user found what they expected to find ( keywords research and optimization strategy )
  5. converted traffic ( conversion & optimization strategies and keywords research )
  6. user exit point for unconverted traffic ( conversion & optimization strategies and keywords research )

The evaluation of number 1 from above provides information for choosing future content development using the keywords analysis to determine keyword terms that warrant content development. Combining analysis from numbers 2, 3 and 5 from above indicates the effectiveness of calls to action, conversion for keyword terms chosen, and pages chosen for optimization. Data from Number 4 indicates conversion and/or navigation problems. Number 6 is a very important stat because that is the precise point where either navigation broke down ( the user gave up looking for what they wanted ) or the conversion decision was made indicating that possible product or price point problems exist.

ROI can be determined for conversion to sales, leads or taking a specific action such as requesting or reading a page, information or service. This is evaluating the SEO based on the SEO's ability to meet the goals or needs of the site. In other words, it measures the true value of the SEO service provided.


One of the biggest disadvantages of traffic analysis for an SEO vendor is first, convincing clients of its intrinsic value. Traffic analysis is beyond understanding for most layman. A rank report is easier to understand when evaluating services. It has been a few years since I left the industry. One of the reasons was most clients just don't get it. They think a few tricks is all that is needed and the sales just pour in.

Clients don't want to hear they have to remove that flash they just love or that the copy, that you'd think was written by ole' Willy Shakespeare himself by the way they carry on, just doesn't convert. They ignore the SEO's suggestions for improving conversion based on factual data. But tell the same client he's got 40 top 10 positions for some untargeted keyword terms and he's throwing his wallet at you, for a while, then the client realizes they are not selling anything and...............

Edited by Robert Gladstein

............... see ya at the top!
Da' Tmeister, Editor

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