With any long term initiative, it can be a challenge to know if you are on the right path towards success or if you are not making enough progress toward your goals. At times, SEO and content initiatives can fall into this bucket. You may have a great strategy, be executing according to your plan and feeling like you’re on the right path, but how do you know for sure? You’re not going to see the traffic, conversions, and revenue until further down the road, especially if you are in a B2B industry with a long sales cycle.
This is where the concept of leading and lagging indicators plays a critical role. Leading and lagging indicators are a common tool used in many fields such as economics and are even espoused by OSHA to improve safety and health outcomes.
The ultimate goal of your SEO and content efforts should tie into KPIs that move your business forward (being focused on improving metrics as close to revenue as possible). However, using revenue as a measure of success too early on in the process is going to set you up for failure.
Let’s look at a quick example to demonstrate this. Let’s say you are well on your way to having your SEO efforts yield improvements in revenue. You’ve got a great strategy in place and you made technical and content changes last week to improve one section of your website. However, you haven’t seen any change in revenue yet… At this point, the work seems to have been made in vain, so you stop the SEO efforts on the next phase and section of your website. However, you notice two months later that organic traffic and revenue have increased to the pages where you made updates based on your SEO strategy and you decide to pick back up the SEO efforts on the rest of the site. You now have lost precious momentum and two months of time that could have been used to keep making progress. How did this happen? It was the result of focusing on the wrong KPIs (traffic and revenue) at the wrong stage.
Since SEO & content initiatives take time to generate returns, it’s critical that you focus on leading KPIs first and lagging indicators later. Like a map, you need to know if you are heading in the right direction before you can decide if you’ve reached your destination.
- Leading indicators are defined by Investopedia as “any measurable or observable variable of interest that predicts a change or movement in another data series, process, trend, or other phenomenon of interest before it occurs. Leading economic indicators are used to forecast changes before the rest of the economy begins to move in a particular direction and help market observers and policymakers predict significant changes in the economy.”When it comes to SEO & content, leading indicators should focus on process first (like keywords mapped to pages and content that has been optimized) and leading metrics second (like organic rankings and impressions).Organic rankings are a valuable metric at this stage, because they will show improvement (such as rankings improving from the fifth page in search engines to the second page) before you see the outcome in traffic and conversions.
- Lagging indicators are defined by Investopedia as “A lagging indicator is an observable or measurable factor that changes sometime after the economic, financial, or business variable it is correlated with changes. Lagging indicators confirm trends and changes in trends. They can be useful for gauging the trend of the general economy, as tools in business operations and strategy, or as signals to buy or sell assets in financial markets.”When it comes to SEO & content, lagging indicators should focus on reach and engagement metrics first (like organic traffic and scroll depth) and conversion metrics second (like goal completions, MQLs, and revenue).
Over the years, I’ve seen companies that consider pausing their efforts too soon, even though they have made strong progress towards their goals, simply because they were looking at the wrong KPIs at the wrong time.
For your next SEO or content initiative, take the time to define your organizational goals, and consider mapping out leading and lagging KPIs to ensure you’re on the right path first, before deciding if you’ve reached your ultimate goal and destination.
If you have additional questions about how you can leverage leading and lagging KPIs to ensure you are on the path to success with your SEO and content efforts, you can reach us at [email protected].