The name North Star(*) is derived from Polaris, also known as the Pole Star. Polaris is the brightest star in its constellation and holds nearly still in the sky while the entire northern sky moves around it. Why is it important to know this? Similarly to Polaris, an SEO-focused North Star acts as a focal point and that SEO strategy should revolve around. Ultimately, a North Star provides direction and should be considered as ‘the only metric that matters’.
(*) Note: The term North Star may be used interchangeably with North Star Metric and North Star Goal throughout your learning.
A business-aligned North Star is critical for getting buy-in from stakeholders
A good SEO strategy can’t be done in a vacuum. Engaging critical stakeholders like the CEO, operations, customer services and development, relies on having them understand how SEO is contributing to the growth of the company. Getting buy-in from these stakeholders is something you’ll learn in a later module, but having goals they can easily understand certainly helps.
The types of growth figures that stakeholders might care about, depends heavily on what stage your company is at. For example, a new website might initially be focused on brand visibility to validate the idea that the website can gain traction and compete within search engines. At another stage, your company might care about engagement goals and collecting feedback to validate your product or service. Though ultimately, most websites will settle on goals which focus on how SEO impacts bottom line figures ie. sales or revenue.
In practice, what does a North Star look like?
In our world as SEOs, a North Star is a single performance indicator which can be used to measure the impact of SEO activity. Often the outcome of good SEO performance will be thought of as an increase in organic traffic. Some of the more granular SEO goals, like improving page speed or increasing click-through rate may even contribute to this. While an increase in organic traffic is in most cases a good thing, often the stakeholders in a business will care more about how that increase in organic traffic has impacted the wider business goals. For example, if your website sells t-shirts, stakeholders are more likely to be focussed on the 23 sales that resulted rather than the increase in impressions which never realised any traffic.
It’s important that only one North Star exists at a single time because ultimately, the North Star should be your guide. The moment you create multiple North Stars, your attention is divided which can make it difficult to prioritise tasks in your SEO strategy. This doesn’t mean the metrics that contribute to the North Star aren’t important, (we’ll touch on input metrics in a later lesson) but for now, let’s focus on how to create a good North Star.
Types of North Stars
The key to setting achievable SEO goals is to spend time evaluating your current position but more importantly, a good North Star is a metric that SEO can directly influence over time.
At Blue Array, we primarily focus on two types of North Stars:
Traffic-focused North Star
For some websites, this metric will be entrances (Google Analytics), clicks (Search Console) or unique users (Google Analytics). Depending on the website, we may also exclude the performance of branded queries or homepage / company pages, or we may only focus on certain dimensions such as specific countries or sections of a website.
In its strictest and more traditional sense (at least in the startup world), a North Star should communicate how the business is getting authentic value from the website. Some consider a purely traffic-focused North Star to be fruitless. But we’ve found this isn’t the case at all.
Many websites want a traffic-focused North Star for one of the following reasons:
- The SEO team collaborates with other functions like CRO and UX who have their own North Star which focuses on engagement metrics like conversions, leads and sales. The role of the SEO in these scenarios is often to generate the traffic, while other functions take care of how to convert or engage that traffic.
- The website is in a phase of growth. As we mentioned earlier in the lesson, a new website might initially be focused on brand visibility to validate the idea that the website can gain traction and compete within search engines.
Conversion-focused North Star
Alternatively (and preferably), a North Star will be created to measure the impact of traffic on conversions or revenue. At the end of the day, SEO has the potential to be a major customer acquisition method for most businesses and most clients will be seeking a profitable return on their SEO activity. Examples of conversions include form fills and check-outs. Typically, clients should already be tracking these within Google Analytics.
While SEO can increase the traffic (which may produce a conversion), there are a greater number of variables which may affect whether or not a conversion will happen. Think of a product being out of stock or weak brand trust. Therefore, if you measure conversions or revenue, you should also be aware of how much traffic is required to reach the North Star.