Deeper than Data: Exploring the Philosophical Side of SEO

By Mark Bliss

Data analytics for SEO is still a relatively new field, and as such, there are some philosophically intriguing areas of focus that anyone trying to improve their page rankings should be ready to lend some careful consideration to.

Goodhart’s Law

Professionals, analysts, executives, marketing managers, and anyone else involved in working with SEO are constantly faced with some perplexing challenges where algorithms and metrics are concerned. Among the most baffling can be Goodhart’s Law, which poses the theory that when a measure turns into a target, it is no longer a good measure. What this basically means is that once you become focused on a particular key performance indicator (KPI), the quality of that metric stands a good chance of deteriorating as you strive to hit the goal you’ve set.

Google was first faced with this issue in the 90’s when they first announced their SEO metrics. When people found out the algorithm for page ranking, they started creating a lot of fake links to link back to their original site. Many businesses were so focused on getting their sites ranked higher that they just created a lot of useless webpages that ended up hurting their brand in the long run. Even though the quantity of clicks was high, the quality was terrible.

Finding a Balance between Quality and Quantity

These days, Google updates its algorithms several times throughout the year in an effort to ensure that people are constantly analyzing and setting new metrics for their sites, which puts them as close to solving the SEO version of Goodhart’s Law as they can. If the law states that a measure ceases to be a measure the moment it becomes a target, then the best thing to do would be to change the metrics all the time, which is exactly what Google has been implementing.

Your business should follow suit and focus on constantly analyzing the performance of your website by monitoring metrics that are specifically tailored to your meet your own performance requirements.

If you never tweak the KPI metrics you set for your site on day one, and you only pay attention to Google’s algorithms for the week, something will always be missing or wrong. One way for you to try to beat Goodhart’s Law is by staying updated on Google’s algorithms while simultaneously keeping on top of your site’s specific performance and tweaking your KPIs as needed.

As a general rule, you should always be looking to improve on the following metrics:

Traffic

Traffic metrics deal with who visits your website and how they ended up there. You can gather enough information from one traffic report to set a whole bunch of new metrics goals for your site. Checking your traffic report regularly will help you tweak different areas of your site so that you can eventually find and set a strategy that works best for keeping your numbers growing week after week.

Impressions and SEO Queries

Impressions and SEO Queries metrics will show you not only how many times your website’s URL has appeared in organic search results, but why it has appeared there. It’s important to stay up to date on popular search terms so that you can tailor your SEO targets accordingly.

Conversion Goals

You’ll need to set conversion goals metrics for your site and follow through on them, not only to raise the numbers of people who help you complete the goals, but so that you can understand how and why they have completed them and set even more goals.

Blog Posts

Anyone involved in working with SEO knows that these days, content is king. Blog posts are essential for any website to get recognition and a lot of focus needs to be placed on this metric. However, this is probably the one metric that Goodhart’s Law applies to most. Knowing the most popular keywords, isn’t going to help you reach the top of Google alone. The content you post in your blogs needs to be engaging and unique in order to be recognized and accepted by Google, and to increase the number of visitors that actually click through your blog.

Bounce Rate

The longer the visitor spends on your site the better, so pay close attention to your bounce rate. This metric should be as low as you can get it, but since it’s virtually impossible to know with certainty the reason why this number might be high, the best thing to do is watch it when you tweak another metric on your site and see if you can find some correlation between a change and an improved bounce rate.

Dig Deeper than Data

Finding a balance between quality and quantity by keeping the focus on both and prioritizing each equally is the only way that we have a chance of overcoming the issues posed by Goodhart’s Law. Data analytics where SEO is concerned always goes deeper than the numbers alone. Success in this realm requires some careful consideration about the quality of your content, the behaviors of your target base, and some more philosophical questions as well.


Mark BlissMark Bliss is the Senior Manager in charge of demand generation at iDashboards. He’s passionate about all things sales and marketing, and he invests time each week developing important life skills like patience and resiliency by watching Detroit Lions football games.

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