A SEO log that includes notes on all changes made to a Web site can be absolutely invaluable. One of the best reasons for this is that it can give you an idea as to the cause and effect of SEO, at least as it relates to your specific site.
At its root, SEO is an inexact science. It's a world where we follow best practices and use our best judgment to make decisions on what to do next. This is one reason why the SEO community is very open, with experienced SEOs regularly sharing their knowledge on their own blogs or on sites like Search Engine Watch.
To build on this theme a bit, SEOs are generally in agreement about what the top ranking factors are. These include on-page title tags, the nature, quality and quantity of inbound links, and the anchor text used in those links. For the most part, the SEO knows what their job is when they get up in the morning and go to work, and it usually falls into one of these categories:
Analyze the Web site or analytics data to spot new SEO opportunities.
Act on the results of such an analysis.
In a large organization, the task of building links may fall to different people than those who do technical SEO (the first two bullets above), but people know what they're supposed to do when they come in.
Management is a funny thing. They're responsible for managing money and making sure that the goals of the organization are met in a cost-effective manner. So when they spend money on something, they want to know what they got in return. To do that, you have to measure results.
In the world of SEO, this means measuring changes in organic traffic over time, and measuring how successful that organic traffic is in creating conversions.
One complication is that results are often slow. SEO changes can take months to bear fruit. This is especially true when launching a new Web site or a new section on an existing site.
SEO reporting often begins with activity-oriented reports, to show that things are being done. Keeping management happy at this stage depends on having gotten them to buy in to the overall plan, and to provide the SEO with enough time to show some results.
Often, results can show as a steady traffic growth curve, but they can also show up as a sudden spike in traffic (or sadly, it can also show up as a sudden drop in traffic, too). Another huge complication comes when search engines change their algorithms. Sometimes these changes can have a dramatic effect on site traffic as well.
SEO Log to the Rescue
Once changes start occurring in organic traffic and related conversions, you can look back at your SEO log and establish some basic cause and effect. If you're three months into an SEO campaign, you've probably made several different changes, so you'll probably be unable to nail this down to exact measurement. But you will see at a macro level how a series of changes had impact. Make sure to log all site changes, not just the ones that you requested for SEO purposes.
For example, you may have made a series of title tag and content changes on the site, while running a link campaign at the same time. In a lab environment, you might be tempted to make the title tag and content changes, and then wait for four months to see the scope of the impact before starting your link building. This would allow you to get a much more accurate understanding of the cause and effect. But life doesn't really work that way. You know link building is important, so you also know you need to get started on it -- and you should.
Because SEO is a best-practices game, it will always be difficult to have enough patience to perform isolated measurements. Nonetheless, knowing that your title tag, plus content changes, plus those three great links that you got gave you a 20 percent traffic lift is by itself valuable. Imagine that next what happens if that you get two more great links, and you nofollow all the links to a portion of your site that you really don't need the search engine to index, and traffic grows another 20 percent.
Now you're building a data set of experience. You can piece these experiences together and start developing an instinct for what's the most important for your particular site. This is great stuff.
Every Web site is different. What you learn on one Web site provides valuable input for use on another site, but there's rarely a one-to-one correspondence.
Each Web site project you work on should have its own SEO log, and that log should track all significant changes, whether those changes were made for SEO reasons or not. This can help you build an invaluable experience base that you can use to continue driving improving organic traffic results over time.
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By Eric Enge, Search Engine Watch, Feb 25, 2009