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Search performance through the lens of market share

I was recently asked to take a look at how we might better benchmark and set targets for a clients website performance (see other post), however I was then asked to consider how we might better measure, attribute and forecast the benefits our SEO work brings to clients websites.

Now I am no SEO person.  In fact when I ran my own web agency (for 17 years!) I dismissed SEO as at best and after thought and at worse a parasitic industry bleeding money away from proper development budgets.

In my naivety, and my good fortune to work with such specific clients, I believed that you just made a site useful and performant and your customers would find you.

This approach is easy when you have websites like (for your buses), (for Sussex Police force) etc.  these sorts of websites, people that wanted your site could always find it, no SEO required.

Anyway I digress.  I now see that not everyone has the same lack of competitors and mental availability and that indeed most companies want to capture search traffic that is ‘non-brand’ traffic, instead using category specific keyword terms.

So this brings me to benchmarking SEO and then measuring performance of SEO efforts.

As someone who doesn’t know the world of SEO took a naive first principles approach and looked at it from the lens of how many searches should a site be expected to be getting visits.

First how many searches are actually performed that the site might reasonably expect (or desire) to get clicks from?  This is analogous to a market size.

Market size:  number of searches performed for any search terms that can be reasonably interpreted as people looking for the product or services in the category the company operates.

Okay, our site can only expect to capture (get clicks from) a subset of these searches.  But in an ideal system how many, or what percentage of these should it be expected to get?  Well that sounds like market share.  A company in a category with 70% market share should probably expect to capture 70% of searches.

Market Share:

The above is just a restating of Les Binet, Hankins et al Share of Search metric, albeit rephrased.  A companies market share correlates with the number of searches for that brand vs its competitors (its market).

Expected share of all searches 

If we accept that branded searches give a good proxy for market share, we can use the share of search figure and extend it to naively assume that a brand’s website should expect to capture the same percentage of all searches (not just brand but general category specific phrases).

So this gives us a naive benchmark of how many searches a brand should get traffic from if mate websites of all category payers were equal in terms of search engine visibility and click through.

So now we can draw the conclusion that any difference in real visibility or clicks (organic search traffic) is a measure of how well/poorly a websites SEO is.

This method provides a benchmark that all SEO performance can be objectively measured against.

Now this technique has 2 main things going for it4

  1. it is measurable from the easily obtainable data provided by Google (keyword planner for volumes and Search Console for visibility and clicks)
  2. It links SEO performance to wider concepts in marketing.  The Share of Search builds on the idea of mental availability – the more people are aware of your brand the more brand searches.  The visibility in search engine rankings can be seen as a measure of Physical Availability – how easily reachable is a brand for someone in market.

We are going to explore this technique and start to look at and track changes based on the SEO work the team do for clients.

It would be great to get the SEO industry to have a consistent way of measuring performance against industry benchmarks and bring it away from the realms of Leeches and into marketing science as it deserves.