The SEO Framework Part 1: I.R.T.A.

One of the challenges of managing an SEO program effectively is getting colleagues across your organization to understand, at the highest level, what the outcomes of a well-executed SEO campaign are. What defines success? The answer is I.R.T.A.
IRTA stands for:

• Indexation
• Ranking
• Traffic
• Actions

IRTA is the most high-level view of your site’s progress in organic search – the “stratosphere” view, above even the “10,000 foot” view. The particular genius of I.R.T.A. is that it applies to any web site, in any industry, operating with any monetization structure, and is therefore a universally useful mental model for web businesses. If your IRTA is good, your web marketing channel is performing well, no matter if you’re selling industrial equipment, or monetizing content via CPM advertising.

Once you dive beneath this “stratosphere” view, things get complex very quickly, and metrics that can seem obtuse or arcane to an executive-level audience start popping up, potentially putting a roadblock between you and your audience.

Focusing on IRTA avoids that complexity, and helps your team come away from a meeting feeling that they learned something substantive about your site’s progress in organic search, rather than shutting down when confronted by a blinding spreadsheet full of metrics they don’t grok. If you can communicate the concepts behind IRTA to a C-suite audience, you’ve made a significant stride toward achieving a meaningful level of understanding of SEO in your organization. Let’s take a closer look:

Indexation

Indexation is metric that tells you how many of your site’s URLs have been indexed by a search engine. The goal is to get as many of your site’s valid, valuable URLs into the index as possible. E.g. if your site can render 100,000 valid URLs, and you have 80,000 of them in Google’s index, that’s very good.

High Indexation numbers are important because organic search is like fishing with a drag net, where the size of your net is how many pages you have in the index – the bigger your net, the get more fish you’re likely to get.

Low indexation numbers communicate critical information, as well. Indexation levels are often closely tied to Information Architecture (IA). If you have a poor IA, or technical issues that are preventing engines from finding your pages, low indexation numbers are a canary in the coal mine telling you that your site requires technical SEO work.

Additionally, low indexation numbers can also occur if your site has insufficient link authority. Engines may be able to find your content, but don’t consider it “important” enough to warrant the cost of keeping in their indexes. Again, this is a very useful indicator that points to a need for content marketing activity to increase your site’s authority.

Ranking

Once you have your pages in the index, you have to get them in front of human visitors – they have to rank. Ranking for a given query is a function of your page’s relevance for that query, in addition to how authoritative that page is. If your site gets traffic from a very large number of keywords, that’s a very positive sign – it shows that you’re producing valuable, on-topic content (relevance), that is seen as trustworthy and important (authority).

There are lots of different ways to measure ranking, and only a few of them are likely to help you make meaningful progress toward your business goals. In a subsequent post, I’ll provide specific recommendations for metrics that you can use to track this at an aggregate level, and avoid the trap of focusing too much energy on a tiny handful of keyword rankings, when many thousands of keywords are driving traffic to your site.

Traffic

Once a URL is ranking for a visitor’s query, you need to entice the click. Solid on-page SEO provides good relevance signals to engines, and also to potential visitors. You want to make sure that your title tags and meta descriptions contain important keywords, and are also readable and compelling. They’re marketing copy, and you need to use that space wisely.

In a subsequent post, I’ll outline some quick segments that you can use to slice traffic and determine where the opportunities are for your business.

Actions

Increasing organic search traffic year-over-year is a great sign that you’re doing some things right in SEO, but traffic is not an end in and of itself. Actions are the name of the game. You want a visitor to download a whitepaper, sign up for a webinar, turn extra pages, share your blog post via social media, buy a product.

Focusing on actions makes you pay close attention not just to the amount of traffic that you’re getting, but to the quality of that traffic, as well. And if you’re getting highly relevant traffic, but still not seeing the business outcomes you expect, you need to start thinking critically about your site’s usability, and conversion rate optimization testing. Once you have a steady flow of qualified organic search visits to your pages, conversion rate optimization can be the difference to revenue numbers that are flat year-over-year, versus double digit growth.

By walking your team through these concepts, and explaining their importance, IRTA becomes a shorthand for “what does that massive spreadsheet full of metrics tell us about our progress in organic search?” Every SEO will remember the first time that their CEO asks them “how’s our IRTA?” Finally, you’re all speaking the same language.

*Hat tip to Derrick Wheeler of Microsoft, the guy I learned IRTA from way back in the day.