If Google became AJAX-based, will your current campaign metrics be enough?

If you look in your analytics system and check your referring traffic from websites on February 4th, you will most likely see a spike in referrers from on that day alone. Unless you have a link from Google's homepage, you may have wondered, “How is this possible?”

Recently, Google has been testing a new way to deliver search results that can have a tremendous effect on the SEO industry. The current state of the SEO industry depends heavily on rankings and the search referrers as a metric to measure the success of an SEO campaign, but this could change. Google has been testing a new AJAX-based delivery of search results. There is speculation that this new programming would make it impossible for any search tracking software to recognize the keywords used by search visitors in their queries and all queries from Google would only look like it came from just (as shown in the Google Analytics screen-shot above).

Although Matt Cutts, head of Webspam at Google, issued the following statement, speculation among the search industry has continued.

We're continually testing new interfaces and features to enhance the user experience. We are currently experimenting with a javascript enhanced result page because we believe that it may ultimately provide a faster experience for our users. At this time only a small percentage of users will see this experiment. It is not our intention to disrupt referrer tracking, and we are continuing to iterate on this project.”

The SEO industry responded with much criticism of this new test, citing several grievances such as Google's threat of causing analytic software companies to go out of business as people may be forced to use Google Analytics to receive complete data.

This online discussion has since subdued but one of the positives of this discussion is that it forces search engine marketers to look more closely at the metrics by which we deem an SEO campaign successful.

If we were suddenly unable to automatically check rankings or know the search query used by organic search visitors, how will you know your SEO campaign is successful? Without the ability to track the referring keywords from Google search queries, the SEO industry will depend more on other metrics to track the success of an SEO campaign.

The most important will be to measure the total number and monetary value of each conversion delivered through the web. We must open dialogue with our clients in the early stages of a campaign and discuss all aspects of a conversion. Here are some questions we may pose to our clients.

How does your company currently track leads/conversions and is it easily transformed in a web-based format? For example, if a real estate company considers a lead to be a complete application form, is there a way to create a shorter form for the web? A search visitor will most likely be discouraged from completing a lengthly application and divulging personal financial information to an unknown company. A more productive web conversion may be to require the visitor to only provide minimal information.

What is your current lead to sale ratio? In other words, how may leads does it take for your client to make an actual sale? Knowing the number of leads the client needs to produce one sale will help the SEO team set the proper goals.

What is the value of each conversion and what are the different types of conversions? Customers will vary in profitability depending on the services or products they purchase. This holds true for B2B as well as B2C companies, therefore understanding the keywords that will drive more profitable sales will give your SEO team a starting point when optimizing. Focusing more heavily on these keywords first will help your client see their ROI quicker.

As a search agency, we understand that there will always be factors outside of our control that can effect conversion rates such as industry seasonality and major press which may negatively or positively affect an industry. Furthermore, not all clients will be able to provide conversion value data for multiple reasons including restrictions in company privacy policies. Even still, measuring conversions is rightfully becoming a larger part of SEO campaigns and a discussion topic among search marketers.

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