If you’ve been working in SEO for any length of time, you have undoubtedly been asked the question: “How do we know if your SEO recommendations worked?” Or, “When will we know if our SEO campaign was successful?”
About once a quarter, I’ll still wake up in the middle of the night with a cold sweat because some C-suite stakeholders stormed into a meeting and demanded to know the ROI for SEO. But that’s not how SEO works!
There are too many other deciding factors at play. Not the least of which is the fact that Google tweaks its search algorithm thousands of times a year.
So, how do you measure SEO success?
Like so many other things in SEO, the answer is, “it depends.” There are several SEO metrics and KPIs that you can use based on the type of campaign or initiative you are running, but most SEO KPIs can boil down into four categories:
Technical SEO metrics include things like site speed, broken links, and indexed pages.
Engagement metrics are some of the most fundamental and include bounce rate, time on page, pageviews, and website conversions.
Traffic metrics measure the number of searchers you get to your site, including click-through rate from search engine results pages (SERPs), and the number of users and sessions in your analytics platform.
Organic visibility might be the easiest to understand for most people: search impressions and keyword ranking.
Rankings are a slippery slope for SEOs because there are so many ranking factors that are out of our control. Individual keyword rankings will become a point of fixation for most clients, especially those with just enough SEO knowledge to be dangerous. “How well is my website ranking?” “Are we in the top ten?” “Am I ranking number one for my favorite keyword?!” “How do I get to number one?!!?”
This is where the share of voice (SoV) comes in!
What is Share of Voice?
Share of voice has been a part of advertising for a long time. But as more and more ad dollars are spent in digital marketing channels, SoV has adapted. It has gone from counting up columns of newspaper ads and billboards along the interstate to calculating how visible a website is in the SERPs.
SoV is typically calculated as a percentage using a keyword’s search volume, organic ranking position, and the expected click-through rate (CTR) for that position.
STAT Search Analytics is my go-to keyword rank tracker, and they have an excellent knowledge base entry on how share of voice works in STAT. They also have my favorite working explanation that says, “… if your share of voice is 25 percent, you’re winning 25 percent of the eyeballs for a given keyword set.”
But, if you aren’t using STAT, calculating your own SoV is a pretty straightforward formula. First, determine the organic rank and search volume for each of the keywords in your set. Then, multiply each keyword’s search volume by the expected CTR for the ranking position to get the expected number of clicks through to your site and do that for any number of keywords. (Advanced Web Ranking’s CTR study is the best place to find CTR data for a whole bunch of different industries and searcher intents.)
Click-through Rate x Search Volume = Estimated Clicks
Finally, divide the total number of click-throughs by the total search volume for all those keywords to get a percentage.
Total Estimated Clicks / Total Search Volume = SoV
Boom, you just calculated your own share of voice!
Why is SoV a useful SEO success metric?
1. Share of voice is excellent for walking clients and stakeholders back from the edge of the we-have-to-rank-number-one-or-SEO-is-useless cliff.
Individual keyword ranks are far too narrow of a focus for the way that search engines handle Natural Language Processing (NLP) and their ability to determine searcher intent. If you focus too much on ranking number one for “wedding dresses” (broad and ambiguous), you’ll miss out on all of the long-tail opportunities.
2. SoV is a savvy way of keeping an eye on your competitors.
Share of voice is inherently a competitive metric, meaning it doesn’t mean much unless you compare it to something else. If you are tracking a set of keywords on a daily or weekly basis and you see another website starting to eat into your SoV percentage, you can take a closer look at their ranking page to see if they’ve made any recent changes and determine what you can do to stay ahead.
3. SoV allows you to focus on topically related groups of keywords, individual landing pages, or even connected groups of landing pages.
SEO doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Some pages will rank for multiple keywords, and some keywords will trigger multiple pages. If you are only paying attention to individual keyword rankings, you may not be able to see if keyword cannibalization is occurring, and miss the opportunity to differentiate your own content.
4. SoV is a more accurate, real-world look at the organic search landscape.
Most of my clients aren’t competing for customers with Google and Wikipedia. But they are in the SERPs! SoV can provide insights into which types of pages the search engines think are relevant for a target group of keywords.
5. SoV can protect and project the value of your SEO work.
We all know that keyword rankings can be made volatile by a number of factors outside of our control. By talking about an SEO campaign’s success with a broader scope, you can help ensure that SEO remains a vital part of future campaigns.
When the work is done, every SEO has to be able to point to their results and show the value of their work. Finding the right way to measure and report on those results is imperative. If your SEO campaign is focused on the visibility of an entire site, a specific landing page, or a high-priority section of the site, share of voice will be a great KPI to show your stakeholders.