The overarching goal of SEO is to make improvements to a website with the goal of boosting organic traffic and overall site performance. But how do you know whether or not your efforts are delivering results? By keeping tabs on a few SEO KPIs, you’ll have a better idea of how to track SEO progress and the impact your current SEO efforts are yielding.
KPIs for Tracking Efforts
One item to remember when viewing each of these KPIs is to understand that having a technically sound site will impact each of these. Use of indexable pages, unique meta and description titles, canonical tags, internal linking, and redirection cannot be overlooked in terms of importance when it comes to SEO. Foundational pieces like these should be fixed before moving onto more strategic efforts.
Many SEO tasks are done to prevent something damaging from happening to your site. You may not be able to see a direct positive effect, but the penalty that you avoided by following best practices make it well worth the time.
One of the most obvious KPIs for SEO is organic search traffic, or how much traffic is coming to your site from search engines. All indexable pages on your site have the opportunity to be included in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).
To get a more precise look at your traffic, you can use Google Analytics. You'll want to track trends by comparing data year-over-year (YoY) or month-over-month (MoM).
Keep in mind that search traffic trends have seasonal fluctuations due to holidays or other cultural events (like major sporting events or back-to-school). Comparing trends to the same weeks or months as the previous year effectively removes that seasonality from your analysis. For example, if you compared your November organic traffic to December you would usually see a decline because the December holidays cause lower search traffic volume. Just because traffic declined from November to December doesn't mean your SEO performance is tanking. To measure performance, compare December organic traffic to last year's December. Your goal should be steady year-over-year gains. If you are seeing 15% gains YoY one month that drop to 5% gains the next month, you should drill down to investigate which pages are page types are seeing the biggest declines.
Keep in mind that some events or holidays fall on different days or weeks of the year, like Easter, Ramadan or Chinese New Year. The best way to compare performance is year-over-year and over a longer time period so you can see if the yearly gain trend is headed in the right direction.
Splitting data by week is usually better than by month because months contain different number of days and different number of weekend days. A weekly data period will allow for more precision in identifying when a change is occurring as well.
With the ever-increasing popularity of mobile, it’s important to compare mobile vs desktop traffic to better understand how users interact with your site. If the majority of your visitors are now coming from mobile and your website isn’t fully functional in mobile or has a poor user experience on a phone, it’s time to work on improving this. Google has already announced their switch to a mobile first index.
Another factor to keep in mind is changes in search engine ranking algorithms. Google is by far the most popular search engine, so keeping track of announcements by them is important. Follow SEO news and other SEO communities to stay up-to-date on big changes people are seeing. Make sure to always keep track of Google's Search Central Blog, where they make major announcements and publish a library of best practices and guidelines to follow.
Perhaps even more important than traffic, is measuring what drives revenue or business goals. Google Analytics has Goals you can track online conversions, or actions that you want users to take. Most websites are designed to improve sales or leads of some sort. Form submissions, purchases, newsletter signups and phone calls are just a few goals you may want to track.
In order to track these actions, you’ll want to create goals in Google Analytics. There, you’ll set up your goals through a step-by step process.
To correlate the impact of your SEO efforts on goal completions, you can access your Goal Flow report. This powerful feature lets you see which sources of traffic drive conversions, so you can prioritize and optimize your marketing and advertising strategies.
If phone calls are a goal of yours, you can use call tracking to gain even more in-depth data about incoming calls. Call tracking makes it easy to designate and track calls as conversions, and it tells you where your calls are coming from. Call tracking enables you to swap out tracking numbers for each call source, allowing you to see which organic efforts drive phone calls and how they compare to other sources like paid and offline campaigns. Use this information to your advantage to prove and improve your SEO ROI.
Events track user interactions with your page. Unlike goals, events can be virtually anything. Button clicks, video plays and similar interactions are all worthy of event tracking. EX. If a site has a main goal of driving visitors to use a store locator, then you can set up an event to fire each time a user clicks and uses the store locator button (this is if they don’t get taken to a unique URL once the store locator tool is populated with nearby stores). You will be able to see how many ‘Events’ were completed from organic traffic and see which landing pages lead to the event completion. This is helpful when you are creating content specifically to try and get users to complete a certain event.
Revenue / Transactions
The ultimate goal of any SEO efforts is to boost revenue (either in-store or online if you’re eCommerce). Configure estimated Goal values into your Google Analytics goals so you can tie revenue to any marketing channels or specific pages.
And if you are in eCommerce, you’ll want to set up eCommerce tracking in Google Analytics. Once that’s set up, you can see your sources of transactions and revenue by going to Traffic Sources > Sources > All Traffic in your Google Analytics dashboard. This gives you a clear picture of which traffic "mediums" (organic search, paid advertising, social, referral, email, etc) are driving the most revenue.
Page Level Organic Statistics
Making changes to a page or a site, like updating content, adding links, changing the user experience, can all have a positive or negative impact on your organic traffic and conversions. To see the impact your SEO efforts have on your traffic, you can drill down by page in Google Analytics to see how well your page performs after making upgrades. You can view this specifically for organic traffic by navigating to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search > and choosing Landing Page as the Primary Dimension.
Make sure to take good notes on big changes you make. You can use annotations in Google Analytics to note when specific changes were made. These notes will come in handy later for analysis and reporting.
Bounce rate is a metric that measures the percentage of visitors who visit and then leave your website without browsing any other pages. There are several reasons why a page may have a high bounce rate:
- The page does not give the user information they were looking for. Try updating the title and meta description so that it gives a clearer picture of what users can expect to find on the page.
- The page may be confusing or unappealing. Consider improving the content on the page to create a better experience.
- The page satisfied the user and that's all they needed. A high bounce rate is not always a huge negative. Many users coming from search engines have a specific goal or intent. Once they solve that many users don't have time or interest to keep exploring.
Evaluate the user experience of the page to determine what might be causing people to leave.
- Where are they coming from?
- What are they expecting?
- What might be discouraging or disappointing them?
Removing negative experiences can help, like distracting ads or confusing presentation. Featuring relevant supplementary content around your main content is a great way to encourage people to keep exploring the site. Try to get in a user's mind and guess what they would want next.
Organic Keyword Footprint
Your keyword footprint is all the keywords your website pages are ranking for. You can see these keywords in Google Search Console Search Performance reports. Other more powerful tools like SEMrush or AHREFs will give you a more comprehensive view with history on your organic keyword rankings. SEO tools like those also show you which keywords your competitors are ranking. You can compare domain to domain to see exactly where your competition is outranking you. There’s always an opportunity for growth!
Page Load Speed
The speed at which your page loads can have a significant impact on the user experience. A fast page load speed improves the experience, while a slow speed can scare away visitors and plays a big part in search engine algorithms. Pay attention to your page’s load speed (using tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix) to see whether or not it’s impacting the performance of your site from both a technical, and user standpoint.
Everyone wants to rank on page 1 in Google, but that’s easier said than done. Optimizing your title tags, meta descriptions and on-page content with keywords should help to improve your organic traffic. Don’t get too focused on your page’s ranking for a certain keyword. You may miss out on noticing the other great keywords you are now ranking for, both long tail and short. Look for how rankings for a website improve as a whole, or in groups of related queries.
When reviewing the rankings, one helpful project is to look and see which key terms are in "striking distance." In other words, find where you are ranking near the bottom of page 1 or top or page 2. Improve pages by covering the topic in a more comprehensive way, improving formatting, or providing more clear takeaways and value.
It often helps to provide what the user is looking for right away at the top rather than burying it below lots of intro and explainer text.
Building link equity is vital for boosting organic traffic. Having high-quality links pointing to your website shows that other websites find your site useful, which lets the search engines know that your website is indeed valuable. A number of poor quality backlinks, including those from spam or irrelevant sites, can diminish your site's organic traffic and ranking in the SERPs.
This is especially true now that the Penguin update is part of Google’s core algorithm and updated in real time. It’s important to know what your backlink profile looks like. Make sure you are not actively building or pursuing paid links.
If you have had paid links built in the past, do you best to clean it up. You can use the disavow tool in GSC, but make sure any disavow is thoroughly reviewed. In general, Google's algorithms are smart enough to ignore spam links that might be created outside your control.
SEO Tracking Tools
There are so many SEO tools on the market that can help you track and improve your SEO efforts.
Google Analytics is essential for analyzing SEO and organic traffic. It gives you in-depth insight about goals, events, conversions, clicks and basically anything related to your website. The value of this data and the different ways it can be used will provide webmasters with insights that cannot be matched.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console shows which search terms drive clicks and impressions, making it extremely useful for keyword optimization and analysis. You access GSC data from your Analytics account by selecting Acquisition > Search Console from your dashboard. You can also login to the GSC account separately to gain access to even more information.
Other significant items that can be found in the platform are crawl errors, sitemap errors, mobile issues, manual actions, and many other helpful tools and reports you can use to improve your website.
SEMRush is a powerful tool that shows what your page is ranking for and how well you’re doing in the SERPs compared to your competitors, making it a great asset to have for keyword research and overall SEO optimization.
SEMRush also offers many other features to help your site including, but not limited to:
- Site Audits – Shows errors on your site like broken internal links, broken external links, duplicate title tags, duplicate content, etc.
- Domain comparisons – Shows your organic footprint compared to competitors and the keyword rankings for related keywords you’re all ranking for.
- Feature snippets – Shows the featured snippets a domain currently holds in the SERPs.
Other tools like Bing Webmaster Tools, Moz, Copyscape and Keyword Planner are all great for helping optimize and track your SEO efforts. Some other steps you can take to improve your site’s SEO include:
- Conducting keyword research. Use Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush or another keyword tool like Moz Explorer to research what users are searching for to better optimize your site.
- Content marketing. Writing blogs and white papers or developing infographics around popular keywords is a great way to boost organic traffic and enhance your credibility as a leader in your industry. You can also guest blog for respectable industry websites to build link equity.
- Checking for dupe content to prevent penalties from Google. Use Copyscape to scan your site for duplicate content, which can hurt your rankings in the SERPs and your organic traffic. If any duplicate content is found, adjust your content to make it unique and submit it for reindexation through Google Search Console. You can also use tools like Siteliner to check for internal duplicate content throughout your site.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint exactly what caused something to increase or improve on a website, just know that all SEO efforts are being done with the intention to improve the website for both search engines and users. Understand what Google likes to see, and what they don't like to see. If you can add more positive signals to your website and remove negative signals you know you're heading in the right direction.
By using a few powerful SEO tools and tracking tools to monitor some essential KPIs, you’ll be well on your way to a more powerful organic web presence.
Want to take your SEO game to the next level? Learn more about how call tracking can help with your optimization efforts.