A lot of the business owners we’ve met over the years share stories of previous SEOs they’d hired and the types of reports provided. In so many cases the bulk of the deliverables were traffic reports that focused mostly on raw numbers.

Those business owners were confused why impressive-looking increases in overall traffic hadn’t affected their bottom line. In today’s post we’re going to look at why that often is the case.

SEO Red Flag 1: Traffic… From Where?

Your website’s goal is crucial here. If you’re a blogger who is looking for a larger audience, you may not care where your readers come from. You may even like the fact that 50% of your traffic comes from other countries for diversity in your discussions. But if you’re a business looking for local customers it’s a different story entirely.

Here’s a story we’ve heard many times:

Our SEO guy showed us reports saying he’d boosted our traffic 80%, but no one’s calling. We looked deeper at the reports and saw that (as a US-based company) a huge portion of our traffic was coming from the UK and Australia.

Readers from those countries might have found informational content useful from that business’ website, but they’re obviously never going to be customers for a landscaper (for instance).

Submitting your RSS feed to mass directories is a nice way to get a new site out there, but it can lead to a lot of traffic from places that may not be useful. It’s breadth but not depth.

This happens with long-tail keywords as well since they’re niche and specific.

SEO Red Flag 2: Ranking For Empty Keywords

Some of those SEOs would rely on filler traffic from above to cover for the fact that their clients weren’t getting traffic from the “main” keywords they ranked for.

“We have to show ranking for these keywords,” they probably figured, “but they’ll fire us if they don’t see some traffic figures.”

The problem with this whole approach is this:

  1. If your ranked keywords have no search traffic behind them, it’s a waste of time to focus on them. It’s an SEO’s job to convey to a client the importance of moving to keywords with meat to them rather than “feel good” words that don’t help.
  2. The filler traffic won’t convert, so it also isn’t helping the client.

Clients in this situation weren’t being shown the whole picture, which led to confusion. “How can I rank for these industry-specific keywords and even be getting traffic, but no phone calls?”

The answer is often that your industry keywords aren’t where your traffic is coming from, and the traffic is unfocused.

SEO Red Flag 3: Not Tracking Conversion

Where does all that traffic and ranking relate in terms of your actual conversions?

We refer to a conversion as any time a user takes an intended action that benefits the business. Sometimes that means they use the opt-in form to subscribe to your email list. Other times it means they pick up the phone and call you for a consultation. Or if you have an online store, it could mean that they’ve placed an order.

It’s great to see reports about how rankings for quality keywords have improved, and it’s efficient show traffic growth charts.

But somewhere in all that presentation there needs to be a show of how effective the website has been at generating business.

A lot of SEOs think of their job as merely to improve rankings and generate new traffic. But really what the customer is paying for each month is to acquire new business. If an SEO or web developer can’t look back after 6 months and demonstrate where their work has led to an increase there, it gets dicey to justify a paycheck.

SEO Red Flag 4: Not Capitalizing On Buyer-Intent Keywords

There’s a difference between the search string “used cars” and “2005 Toyota Camry for sale”. The second is far more specific, and conveys a different mindset in the user.

A lot of folks would opt for “used cars” because keyword research would show a much higher search volume. However, think of where someone is at when doing a generalized search like that. They don’t even have a specific make or model in mind yet, and are probably just window shopping to see what’s even out there. They may look at your site, but they’ll likely be looking at a dozen others as well.

It’s not to say that ranking for “used cars” would never lead to a sale, but if someone is looking for a specific year and model and your matching inventory ranks for that search there’s a much higher chance they’ll pick up the phone.

Digging into the intent behind keyword phrases can hone in the types of searches that are probably more information-driven from the ones that are more action-driven.

For your typical local business, action-oriented searches from mobile devices are where the money is. They’re already more prone to action if they’re searching on the phone since they have the ability to call right from there or use GPS to navigate straight there.

Taking that a step further to focusing on keywords people generally use when they’re close to making a decision, though it won’t target as many users, has a much higher success rate per user.

Looking for some hands-on advice for your website’s SEO and ability to drive leads? Check out my consulting page.

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