If next year’s SEO outcomes are shaped by your current actions, many SEO professionals are caught in a dilemma. They aspire to achieve lasting success but frequently fall for quick fixes that provide short-term gains.
Here’s why fixating on trailing indicators such as “traffic” or “trials” is a misstep and how you can enhance your ability to anticipate forthcoming SEO achievements by concentrating on inputs and leading indicators instead. For comprehensive insights into achieving enduring SEO outcomes, explore our digital marketing blog which covers everything you need to understand about SEO.
Why ‘traffic’ and ‘trials’ are terrible indicators of SEO progress
Traffic, trials, leads, and sales are undoubtedly appealing. They represent tangible success and revenue generation.
Seeing upward-trending charts is a surefire way for SEO professionals to earn recognition, not face demotion, by the end of the day. However, it’s precisely this mindset that can frequently undermine your long-term return on investment.
It’s akin to driving towards a new destination while continuously gazing into the rearview mirror. The problem lies in being overly fixated on the outcomes (like traffic) while neglecting the factors that truly steer future performance (the inputs).
Traffic, leads, demos, opt-ins, and sales are all lagging indicators, meaning they are the result of prior efforts. They represent the endpoint, much like the number displayed on a scale, rather than the factors that dictate your desired future state (such as calorie intake, sugar consumption, or miles walked).
And because they lag behind, it often means you’re examining outdated data by the time it begins to show results.
The additional challenge lies in the fact that “traffic” or “sales” don’t merely lag a few days or weeks behind, for instance, the release of a new article, but more frequently by a span of several years.
Allow me to illustrate this with a straightforward example.
No one on the internet requires an introduction to monday.com. They have essentially become the dominant force in the digital realm of “project management.
However, it still required them over two years, along with several unsuccessful endeavors, to ultimately achieve supremacy for the most profitable keyword in their domain, “project management software.”
This should come as no shock.
The same occurrence is even more pronounced for less well-established brands, which many SEO professionals often deal with.
Let’s now shift our focus to a more commonplace scenario.
Consider a relatively new application emerging from its beta phase, with some financial resources but almost no organic search traffic. This implies minimal unbranded/non-branded traffic and a lack of topical authority. At this stage, Google isn’t even aware of the existence of this website.
Nevertheless, over time, those familiar upward-trending charts that result in SEO professionals being compensated.
What does this signify?
Does it suggest that the initial year of SEO was ineffective, but the second year brought success?
Not at all. Nothing underwent any alterations, and that’s precisely why it seemed to “magically work” after more than 12 months.
Here’s the explanation and the steps to recreate this achievement on your website.
You can predict SEO success by concentrating on inputs, not outputs
No, you can’t promise SEO success, but you can absolutely anticipate it. The key, however, lies in knowing where to direct your attention. As we observed earlier, the solution doesn’t revolve around metrics like traffic, trials, or booked demos.
According to the Advanced Web Rankings CTR study, approximately 70-80% of users click on the top five search results. In other words, only the top five ranking results witness the subsequent surge in metrics like traffic, leads, and sales.
SEO operates as a zero-sum game, where one party’s success often means another’s downfall. This implies that only a tiny fraction of content creators will ever achieve significant outcomes.
Conversely, this also means that if you’re positioned in the 10th spot, you might capture less than 1% of the potential traffic.
It might seem disheartening, right?
However, this is perfectly fine. It’s an encouraging sign. Beneath the surface, your SEO strategy is at work. The underlying forces and trends are gradually aligning, virtually ensuring that it’s only a matter of time until your traffic experiences a significant boost.
Nonetheless, this is the very juncture where many individuals become impatient, lose focus, become engrossed in other superficial or trailing indicators, and prematurely terminate their projects.
Herein lies the profound SEO paradox that many are aware of but tend to overlook:
- You require a substantial website to rank for valuable keywords.
- However, you need to rank for valuable keywords to construct a substantial website.
Step 1: Identify and capitalize on what’s already showing promise
The “beachhead principle” is a straightforward strategy that aids mid-sized websites in competing with and ultimately dominating highly competitive categories.
It enables you to strike a balance between short-term and long-term results, simultaneously raising the bar for long-term ranking on a profitable pillar keyword or page while using supporting pages to achieve quicker rankings in less competitive variations or longer-tail concepts.
The key is that there are no hidden tricks.
You must pinpoint areas where you may already possess some established topical authority or have made progress and then work to expand upon that as fast as possible.
For example, when we acquired Wordable, we assessed which content pieces were already performing to some extent.
We specifically focused on traffic generated from organic search and immediately noticed a simple pattern:
During the initial stages, a substantial portion of our website’s traffic was being generated by articles concerning “Google Docs.”
The product’s association with Google Docs is certainly promising. However, it’s worth noting that most of the content and traffic related to these topics are primarily at the “top of the funnel.” In general, this means there’s limited buying intent, but the upside lies in higher traffic volumes and less competition, making it relatively easier to achieve favorable rankings.
This sets the stage for our beachhead strategy.
Step 2: Target the right keywords at the right time
If the strategy is to establish a substantial website before venturing into competitive territory in our niche, it implies the necessity of gaining traction by ranking for something – anything!
At this stage, you’re essentially managing your payback period. You need to secure quick victories and short-term returns, all the while ensuring you’re on course for long-term returns in the years to come.
To begin with, we’ll focus on intensifying the quality and quantity of content centered around our beachhead. Subsequently, we’ll target more competitive and commercially viable terms that will ultimately yield returns in the seven-to-eight-figure range.
How can you determine if you’re selecting the right keywords at the appropriate time? Take a look at the “time to rank.”
If you publish a page that goes from being “not indexed” to ranking fourth within a week or two, you’re on the right track!
Simple and straightforward.
Now, extend this identical effect over another year, and that’s when you’ll witness the delayed indicators finally coming into play.
Step 3: Drive long-term ROI with patience and process
Went from not being indexed to landing in the fourth position in about a week?
The prior example is an optimal situation that comes with years of refined SEO expertise. Let’s consider a more typical scenario.
You publish a piece of content, and within a week or two, it secures a ranking between positions 10 to 20. This is a positive development!
Based on over a decade of experience spanning numerous websites, I can confidently assert that progressing from “not indexed” to page two within a few weeks strongly correlates with achieving top SERP rankings in the future.
It may require additional time, so persistently follow the same strategy.
Here’s how this plays out in practice:
Observe the roughly six-month “wilderness” phase highlighted in the yellow box below, during which the page undergoes fluctuations in relative obscurity. It goes unnoticed; hardly anyone (except you and Google) even acknowledges its existence.
Now, fast forward to the present, and the green box demonstrates a consistent, enduring position within the top 5 rankings.
This is the case despite multiple SERP disruptions, such as the influx of low-quality AI-generated content and algorithm adjustments aimed at promoting valuable content.
The catch? It required just a little over two years!
So, it’s crucial to maintain trust in the process:
- Concentrate on inputs rather than outputs.
- Exercise patience as the swells gradually take shape on the horizon.
Here’s a final example that illustrates this delicate balancing act:
The beachhead principle, as depicted below, is beginning to yield results. Smaller, less competitive queries are starting to rank quite well, even as we await the larger ones to catch up.
The content highlighted in green represents your less competitive, supporting posts or top-of-funnel material, and they’re beginning to rank within the top five.
On the other hand, the content marked in yellow, which is more lucrative or boasts higher volumes, is still lingering just outside the optimal range.
So, if you’re solely focusing on trailing indicators, the former may appear to be a “success,” while the latter might seem like a “failure.
However, as you’ve now witnessed, this perception is either misinformed or outright incorrect.
The genuine success in SEO from enterprise seo expert, measured in terms of financial gains, emerges through consistent execution over the course of several years.
The return on investment (ROI) for SEO resembles a marathon, spanning multiple years. This is in stark contrast to the brief and transient sprints, such as referral or ad traffic, which lead to short-lived spikes in arbitrage that vanish almost as swiftly as they appear.
Your SEO is working – you just need to ignore ‘traffic’ and ‘trials’
Pursuing quick SEO victories is not only advisable but necessary. These victories instill confidence in your efforts and, more importantly, provide assurance to your superiors or clients that you are adept at what you do.
Nevertheless, it’s crucial to avoid fixating on traffic and trial metrics, as these are trailing indicators that merely validate what you should have already discerned a year ago when you embarked on this path.
Instead, emphasize the inputs and leading indicators that enable you to more accurately forecast when your campaigns are exhibiting promise.
To the untrained observer, initial results might appear to be shortcomings.
However, genuine failure only materializes when you terminate your efforts prematurely, before all those lagging indicators ultimately manifest themselves.
Would you like to read more about “Unlocking Long-lasting SEO Results” related articles? If so, we invite you to take a look at our other tech topics before you leave and use our digital marketing services to help you rank on the first page of SERP.