🗺️ How to Map SEO Outcomes
A framework to map out outcomes and impact metrics
A weekly newsletter that provides practical advice for SEOs on how to work with product and development teams.
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Understanding outcomes can help SEOs drive business results.
Successful product teams use outcomes to identify opportunities to solve customer problems that drive business results.
In the past, I’ve found it difficult to discover and identify outcomes for SEO projects. It can be difficult to get a good understanding of a company's website, analytics and different metrics to track success.
Until I discovered the user story mapping technique.
In this newsletter, I want to show you how I’ve adapted a user journey mapping technique to make sense of complex websites and systems.
In this newsletter, we are going to cover:
What is an outcome?
What is outcome mapping?
Why is outcome mapping important?
How to map outcomes on your website?
📤 What is an outcome?
The definition of an outcome is to change user behaviour that drives business results. It is a way of measuring success based on positive outcomes, rather than the number of outputs.
The behaviour we want to change to drive business results might include:
Customers signing up for a newsletter
Customers purchasing a product
Customers submitting a lead gen form
Customers are satisfied that the content has answered their questions
Example: Yelp Engineering Team
The Yelp engineering team focused on improving the bottom line when judging the success of reducing page load speed on parts of their platform.
They invested in an experiment which showed the value of improving page load speed and got them a budget for further improvement across the platform.
In other words, they focused focusing on 1-2 key business metrics that show a positive change in user behaviour to show value.
When looking from the outside, it might seem easy to spot outcomes. Yet, if you’ve ever worked in-house you’ll release quite that there are a lot of metrics, platforms and analytics stitched together.
It becomes even more complex when individuals in teams own the knowledge keys to different parts of the platform (even in small organisations).
It can be very difficult to try to figure it all out.
Luckily product, agile and engineering teams have been working on complex systems for decades. They use a technique called User Story Mapping to spot outcomes we want to achieve by changing user behaviour.
🤿 What is User Story Mapping?
User Story Mapping is a simple technique used by product and engineering teams to develop a shared understanding of a new (or existing) feature.
The clue in how it works is in the name. It is a map of the user’s journey through the system which helps technical teams identify user stories and epics.
We used this technique all the time at DeepCrawl to map out new features and to help slice feature releases. It also helped the team get a better understanding of the user journey or flow when using the feature.
I’ve been using this technique for a while with development teams to help get a better understanding of the complexities of new features to be added to systems.
Even small things can become complex, so it is important to make sure the team (and you) have a shared understanding of how the whole system works from a user perspective.
It is this same technique to map out complex systems, that has helped me work with teams to better discover and identify SEO outcomes.
I call it SEO Outcome Mapping.
❓ Why is SEO Outcome Mapping important?
As an industry, we focus heavily on SEO traffic, clicks and impressions to indicate that we’re driving business results.
Many SEOs measure positive behaviour changes in visiting pages by using:
Google organic search visits
No. of queries
The problem is that these traditional SEO metrics are a sign that users are viewing and clicking on pages in search engine results. It’s a sign of traffic growth but not always a sign of business growth.
I’ve been working with a B2B client who had seen SEO traffic spike but the visits did not result in high-quality leads. The previous had focused on “optimising” the website for high-volume keywords but had not taken into account user behaviour that had driven business results.
It can be very difficult for an SEO to identify the right outcomes which drive business results, let alone make sure that the right metrics are being tracked to measure success.
This is why SEO Outcome Mapping is important.
It can help SEO, development, and other product teams get on the same page around the SEO/business outcomes to measure the success of an SEO campaign.
I’ve been working with the B2B client to help map out user journeys from Google Search, landing page and all the way through their system. It turns out it was pretty complicated. The SEO Outcome Map workshop helped the team discover, identify and pinpoint the outcomes/metrics that will drive business results.
From this outcome mapping, the team were able to put together some custom dashboards using MongoDB (metrics from the system) + DataStudio (Google Anlaytics tracking) to track if any changes positively affect user behaviour.
🗺️ How to Map SEO Outcomes
So, let’s create an SEO Outcome Map to help identify those key outcomes.
I’m going to take you through it step by step using a template in Miro.
If you want to use the template then you need to click the link and copy the template into your own Miro board.
Step 1: Identify the user and goal
The first part of creating any map is to start by identifying the type of user you want to target.
I know that personas are a touchy subject for many but it is important to identify:
The user you are trying to target
Their goal or task you want them to complete
Personas are a touchy subject in many marketing, SEO and product circles.
I use what is called a “proto persona”. These are lightweight persona templates that are a “best guess” for the target user.
The strength of this approach is that the team are thinking about users as an experiment. The point is that you are making a hypothesis about the user and then going out into the world to discover if this best guess is correct or (in most cases) needs to be revisited.
For Example: iPhone 6 Seller
In the Music Magpie I have created a “iPhone 6 Seller” user. This is just an assumption that someone who is searching for [sell iphone 6] is someone who wants to sell their iPhone 6.
A lot of personas use marrigage status, age and gender attributes to segment their target audience. This isn’t always a good idea because the reality is that users can come in all shapes and sizes. It is the needs of the user we are trying to help them solve which is the focus, not their phyiscal attributes.
It is meeting the needs of the customer which is the part you should focus on for the SEO Outcome Mapping exercise.
In this case, it is making it as easy as possible to sell an iPhone 6 device.
Step 2: Map user activity to complete tasks
Once you’ve identified the user it is now time to map out their activities.
When mapping out the activities think about:
Every step the user needs to take to complete a task on a website
Every page or action that can be taken from one page to the next
I find taking screenshots of every page along the journey and capturing where the user needs to make a decision or make an action.
When starting to write down all the tasks, remember to keep the following question in mind:
The start of this journey is:
Using Google to search for an answer, and
The end of the journey is to complete an action that drives business results
It is as these two points that you must write the activities from start to finish.
Once you’ve captured all the activities of the user, you can now add tasks. These are the tasks the user can complete on the website.
The steps/activities are the detail the user needs to complete from one task to another.
In the Music Magpie example outcome map the user needs to:
Select the iPhone 6 model number when landing on the iPhone 6 page from Google Search
Once they’ve selected a model there are a number of activities:
Selecting the memory size of the phone
Select the network of the phone
Select the condition of the phone
Read the FAQs at the bottom of the page
View the item summary information based on phone characteristics
View the price that Music Magpie will offer them
This is even before the user has clicked on “Sell This Device” call-to-action (CTA).
If you navigate around the website you might think “users need to click on Sell This Device” and add the device to their cart.
However, if you start to map out the user’s journey you will soon discover there is more to it than “click on a CTA button”. The user’s activities to actually sell their iPhone 6 include:
Navigating to the basket
Save the device for later
Continuing to checkout to sell the iPhone
Adding a voucher code
Sign into a current account
Creating a new account
Logging into your account
Sending you iPhone to Music Magpie
The activity of the user is not as straightforward as one simple activity but many steps to convert a user into a customer. Mapping out each step and taking screenshots helps the team develop a shared understanding of the user’s journey.
Step 3: Think about alternative user paths
Now you’ve mapped a basic journey with activities and tasks. It is time to think about alternative paths the user might take when completing the task.
For example, users don’t click on the organic listing and purchase a product. They will:
Check customer reviews of the product
Check the review of the brand
Check if the website does free delivery
There are going to be activities the user does which will influence if they will purchase an item or complete a task that will drive business results.
It is important that your team recognise the different paths that a user can take.
As if your website doesn’t support or provide helpful content it could be the difference between them purchasing a product/service or going somewhere else.
In the case of Music Magpie, when the “iPhone 6 Seller” wants the sell their device they might:
Check the reviews of the brand
Check how the process works
Check for local Kiosk in their area
Email the selling price of their phone to themselves
These activities can be mapped in the SEO Outcome Map to help the team better understand the user journey.
Step 4: Identity analytics and systems
Once you’ve mapped out user activities, you can now start to identify the analytics and internal systems of your tech stack.
These systems and platforms might include:
Analytics platform (Google, Adobe, etc.)
External platforms (TrustPilot, Review.io, etc.)
Content Delivery Networks (Cloudflare, Fastly, etc.)
Subdomains (blog.example.com or en.example.com)
Throughout the journey your team will need to flag when your user interacts with (knowingly or not) a different part of your system.
This is a straightforward process where your team adds a new “user” for a task along the user journey that is related to that activity.
I would recommend adding small icons to each task to make sure it is clear the type of platform or system used along each step of the journey.
This helps to spot where one platform starts and another one beings in complicated systems. It also helps identify data sources to pull performance data.
When the user clicks on “Email This Price” they will be interacting with the email system that captures the email and sends them a reminder in the future.
Also, when a user signs up or logs into an account this is when (I’m assuming) they will be added to a platform/database that manages customer accounts.
Step 5: Identify metrics to track user behaviour
Once your team has mapped the activities it is time to identify the metrics that can help you measure success.
Don’t worry too much about if the metrics are correct ones, write down what you think is useful to track along the user journey (we’re going to split them out later on).
The metrics you track can include:
No. of queries
Google organic traffic
Pages per session
Ecommerce conversion tracking
The list is endless.
It’s important to get your team involved (devs, analytics, product, etc.) as they will have a better idea of certain parts of the system.
When mapping out metrics work with your team to think about:
Current metrics - The metrics from your current analytics platform that can be used to track user journeys across the platform.
Measurement gaps - New metrics you might need to add to measure changing the user behaviour to complete a task or a goal on your website.
I’d recommend reading The SEO Customer Funnel: KPIs & SEO Metrics Worth Monitoring by Tory Gray & Sam Torres. This a great article on different metrics you can track along the customer funnel.
Step 6: Identify SEO and business outcomes
Now it is time to identify those key moments along your user’s journey that you want to change to drive business results.
A lot of companies always try to identify one key outcome above all others. Well in my experience, particularly in SEO, there are actually two key outcomes.
These two types of outcomes are:
SEO outcomes (Acquisition) - We want users to visit our web properties from organic search results.
Business outcomes (Conversion) - We want users to complete an action that can drive business results (buy a product, submit an enquiry form, subscribe to a newsletter, etc.).
It is these two key outcomes we need to highlight in our SEO Outcome Map.
I like to use coloured boxes to really highlight to the team the key activities.
The Music Magpie SEO Outome Map there are two key moments.
User visits the page from the Google search engine result.
I think in most cases that Google organic traffic (brand or non-brand) is going to be the clear impact metric to track success.
It is hard to get away from traffic metrics as being a clear sign of growth but if combined with a business outcome would be a great way to track success.
User creates a new account to resell their iPhone.
In this example, it could be possible that Music Magpie SEO team are tasked with driving new customers to sign up.
From there the marketing team can use email campaigns to help drive new customers to sell their devices using Music Magpie.
The SEO Outcome Map would help to make it clear the paths a user needs to go through to achieve this goal.
Then use this map to help identify alternative ways they could track progress toward that business outcome using signal metrics.
Step 7: Slice metrics based on the goal
Once you’ve captured all the metrics and identified the SEO and business outcomes it is time to slice out your metrics.
You will need to slice your metrics into three main categories:
Impact metrics - The metric that will measure both the SEO and business outcome.
Signal metrics - The metrics that help to measure progress in a project.
Other metrics - The metrics that are helpful to know but don’t help you track progress.
How do you know which are the impact metrics vs signal metrics?
When choosing impact metrics only pick 2-3 which will help you communicate that you’ve changed user behaviour which will help drive business results.
As SEOs, we are already good at tracking metrics like non-brand SEO traffic which shows that users are clicking on a website’s listings in Google organic search results.
A good test to see if you’ve picked the right metrics is if your boss cares. Signal metrics are important to understand for specialists, it’s just that your boss/client will care more about reporting on impact metrics that help clearly show business results.
This isn’t about tracking every metric, it is about ruthlessly prioritising the right metrics to track if any tactical changes to try and alter user behaviour drive business results.
Step 8: Align and write down the outcomes
Once we’re happy with the SEO Outcome Map, it is now time to write things down.
A lot of teams lose the ability to align on what they’ve learned in meetings because nobody writes anything down.
When writing down outcomes with the team always make sure you have an SEO traffic/revenue model. The SEO Outcome Map is a way to make sure you and the team align on the exact outcomes which drive business results.
I recommend using the SMART framework to set achievable goals that will track and feedback on the performance of an SEO project.
I’ve created a template which can be used in the Miro board:
For the Music Magpie board I wrote down the outcomes and the metrics we’d use to track “success” for the SEO campaign.
The scope of the work is to improve new account signups by improving non-brand SEO traffic to /sell-mobile-phones/ PLP and category pages.
Bonus Step 😲: Identify pain points for the user
A trick that I picked up from User Story Mapping training by Jeff Patton is to use mark user pain points along your SEO Outcome Map.
You can identify pain points by:
Using tools like Hotjar to record user behaviour
Use Google Analytics behaviour flow report
Recorded customer support calls
Customer surveys or recorded support calls
All of this information might be buried within different teams (analytics, UX and design, customer support, etc.). So, working with these teams is critical to identify “pain points” along the user journey.
Why is it important to identify pain points? It paints a clear picture of where your team might need to prioritise their time to improve the user’s experience. Solving pain points can help change user behaviour that drives business results!
When using mapping SEO outcomes remember:
Think about outcomes - It’s important teams think about driving business results as a series of key moments when you want to change user behaviour.
SEO traffic isn’t the same as driving results - Reporting on organic search traffic does not always match up with driving business results.
Systems and tracking are complex - Most website systems are shrouded in mystery and the knowledge can be spread across multiple owners/teams in a company.
Mapping user journeys on a website - Using techniques like user story mapping and online whiteboarding can help SEOs and internal teams work to get on the same page around the website’s system.
SEO Outcome Mapping - I’ve used SEO Outcome Mapping as a framework to work with teams to spot key SEO and business outcomes that drive business results.
📚 Further Reading
These resources might be helpful when mapping out your SEO outcomes:
Read: User Story Mapping - The user story mapping method was created by Jeff Patton and this content hub has all the information you could want on using the technique.
Read: Outcome Mindshift in SEO - I have a detailed newsletter on the difference between outcomes and outputs in SEO.
Read: The SEO Customer Funnel: KPIs & SEO Metrics Worth Monitoring - A recent article by The Grey Company on the SEO customer funnel and the metrics that should be covered.
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