You should already know that: Rankings don’t necessarily translate to traffic, which doesn’t necessarily translate to inquiries, which don’t necessarily translate into new clients.
Nonetheless, understanding how these metrics can work in concert is your best chance of answering the question: Is this working?
Let me make this easy for you: Don't focus on rankings.
Search rankings are in a constant state of flux. Search result pages are becoming increasingly personal and local. Spot-checking rankings for the keywords you think your potential clients are using to find you is largely a waste of time.
Instead, monitor general position trends.
If your pages are increasing in position across your target keyword universe over time, you are moving in the right direction.
If your pages' positions are trending downward, it's time to do some forensic analysis to figure out what's going on.
If you're holding your breath to "make it rain" because you rank prominently for your "10 top keywords," it's likely you're going to pass out.
After all, you can't pay your landlord with rankings.
Traffic paints a slightly better picture of what's going. But not all traffic is meaningful.
Attorneys send me Google Analytics top-line traffic reports to review all the time. They say:
Look at all this traffic I'm getting. Why isn't the phone ringing?
Sometimes, they have some conversion issue (i.e. slow page loads, difficult to find contact info, etc).
Usually, it has nothing to do with conversion. It's that the "traffic" they're getting is meaningless. Here are some examples of meaningless traffic:
If we're talking traffic in the context of search engine optimization and business development, one form of meaningful traffic is:
Organic search traffic that converts into paying clients.
"Just get the phone to ring."
Sounds great, right?
All you need to do is to get the phone to ring and the clients will come rolling in.
Of course if you rank for queries that drives traffic that converts into phone calls from people who:
Then it's still not "going to work."
Are you even tracking inquiries?
Hint: Asking people how they found you doesn't count.
Are you tracking inquiries by source?
Are you tracking inquiries by source to open files?
If the SEO "stuff" you're doing isn't translating into more or better clients, it's just "stuff."
But in order to even know what's going on, you have to have systems in place to track everything from visitor to fee.
Very few attorneys I know have such systems in place.
And those that do, often don't work them very well.
But if you don't, you'll always be measuring your marketing with your gut.
So, ask yourself (or your vendor) how you can track: