Search engine optimization (SEO) success is often measured with key performance indicators (KPIs). Even if you’re an eCommerce or marketplace platform, where performance is mostly tied to revenue and conversions, you must measure how much revenue and conversions are coming from your SEO efforts. Most of our clients have and maintain traditional websites and when they engage Digital C4 for SEO assistance they often ask how will we measure our program success? If that success isn’t a “sale” or “revenue” then what are we measuring?
The answer is KPI metrics that indicate SEO success. Here are some we keep an eye on.
This is the big one. Organic traffic (“organic sessions” in Google Analytics) is the traffic coming from searches in search engines and that’s the traffic that we can mostly affect with sound SEO strategies. Organic session improvements can be the result of increased traffic from keywords garnering searches or from brand searches conducted at Google, Bing, and other search engines.
As we work to improve the keywords ranking on your site organic traffic from these keywords will increase. You might notice if you check out what keywords you currently rank for, in Google Search Console, that most of them are brand related (your company name or variations of it, product names, etc.). So, while SEO is important for positioning your site for non-brand related searches, SEO and other marketing efforts can help extend your brand’s awareness and will improve organic traffic through branded search terms as well.
This is why, while organic traffic is an SEO KPI of utmost importance, Marketing needs to be holistic in their marketing strategies and tactics for traffic growth in general.
The other factor we need to consider when measuring organic traffic as an SEO KPI is the seasonality and trends that your site will naturally have. We have a client in education that sees very predictable changes in their site traffic depending on whether teachers are in school or not. In the summer and over the November and December holidays (as example) their traffic always drops. We also have technology clients that see predictable traffic drops over the summer months.
In these cases, measuring month-over-month traffic may not be best since traffic may fluctuate based on those seasonal trends. The best measurement of organic traffic, or SEO success, is to measure your organic traffic year-over-year. This way you’re comparing the same months – or apples to apples (as they say). The exception to this rule could be when your website undergoes a complete transformation over the course of the year. A change of focus, or the reduction of website pages, can affect your organic traffic considerably in this case.
At the outset of our client engagements we work with them to establish a core set of keywords that we want to target for ranking improvement. Before starting our SEO efforts on your site, we’ll conduct a baseline ranking of where the website ranks for these terms. We’ll then share rankings each month so we can see how our efforts are paying off.
It’s important to note that keyword rankings fluctuate throughout the course of a day, week, and month. The goal should be to see improvements over time.
Also, while we optimize your website around a set of core keywords, the best way to improve rankings is with a consistent, sustained effort of adding content to your site using those keywords. More on this later but know that the more quality content you have on your site, that utilizes your keywords, the better you’ll rank for them. Think keyword optimized blog posts and press releases!
The bounce rate metric tells you the percentage of people that visited a page on your website and then left (bounced) without doing anything else. They didn’t click to another page or complete a form or do anything but close the browser or click the back button.
Google doesn’t use Google Analytics data as part of their search algorithm, but when users return to the search results, from your web page, it shows Google how relevant your page was based on the search conducted, which probably wasn’t very relevant. If this happens often for a particular keyword search, your page may not show up again for that keyword search. If your organic traffic bounce rate is high, it tells you that the page may not be viewed as relevant to a person who finds it via a search. We don’t want that!
Making sure that your website copy reflects the keywords that are being searched can help with bounce rates. The same goes for well written Meta titles and Meta descriptions that do a good job in explaining the content on the page accurately.
Every client and industry are different, but we like to see bounce rates for our clients below 50 percent. It is worth noting, however, that blog posts often have higher bounce rates. Blog posts tend to have higher bounce rates because people typically come across a blog while researching something, or via a link in social media. They click the link, read the post, then head back to what they were doing. It’s possible to lower bounce rates, even on blog posts. Maybe that’s a post for another time.
Time on Site (Session Duration)
Time on site is just that… how much time, on average, a user spends on your site. Like bounce rate, SEO can have a positive impact on this metric by making sure that what people see in a Google search result is what they get when they click through to your site. This is a great KPI for determining whether our Meta titles and Meta description are well written and that our web pages are optimized for the correct keywords and phrases.
This measurement is also great at telling you whether the content on the page is engaging, easy to read, and is worth the user’s time.
Pages per Visit
As an SEO agency we don’t have a ton of impact on what a client’s web design looks like, but we always are proactive in recommending improvements in how content is displayed. Pages per visit is one metric that we keep track of that, along with time on site, can be an indicator of how people find information and navigate your site.
For example, if your site has a huge hero image at the top of the page and all the calls to action (CTAs) are below the fold, then people may not move around to other pages or click other content. Yes, we know people scroll, but some people won’t. It takes just a few seconds to turn someone away. Make sure you have viewable content above the fold, not just an image/title.
Offer the latest relevant blog posts in the sidebar of product pages. This not only introduces thought leadership content into the sales part of your site, but it gives people reason to dive further into your site when seeking products and services.
We also make anchor tag recommendations to our clients’ sites. These are the hyperlinks in your website copy that link to other pages of your site. These can help increase the number of pages a site user will visit, driving this metric up.
Goals and Conversions
As I mentioned when I started this post, unless you’re an eCommerce or marketplace platform it’s hard to tie SEO success back to revenue. But we can track conversions from organic traffic. Set up goals in Google Analytics so that you can track form fills, downloads, and other CTAs that you’ve set up on your site. You can then start building metrics on where the traffic is coming and how often it converts.
Like any paid search campaign, we can measure the number of visits to a page, see how many users complete a goal, like a form fill or link click, and then optimize the page based on the data. Conversion optimization is not just an activity for PPC campaigns!
There are some external KPIs that we monitor for clients as well. Like the Google Analytic KPIs above, we take a baseline or benchmark measure of these and then monitor them each month as part of our reporting.
Alexa is an online resource that ranks your website across all websites. Whether your site ranks in the thousands, tens of thousands, or in the hundreds of thousands, the ranking is still a benchmark.
Understanding where the site ranked when we started an SEO campaign can help us determine some level of SEO success moving forward.
Alexa, along with other online tools such as Sitechecker Pro and Small SEO Tools, can provide us with an SEO score that ranges from 0 to 100. Based on how well the website is optimized a score is created. Benchmarking this score before we start our SEO efforts, we can see how we’ll we’re performing with SEO best practices based on the audit results these tools provide.
Domain Authority (DA) is a score that is created by Moz that ranges from 1 to 100, where the higher score indicates a websites ability to rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). According to Moz: Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and number of total links, into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time.
Again, we benchmark the Domain Authority score prior to starting SEO and then track this monthly to see performance improvements to the site from our efforts.
Search engine optimization takes time and over time things can change. Google is constantly changing, how people search using keywords is constantly changing, an industry’s competitiveness may change over time, etc. That said we can track SEO success using the above metrics and help clients realize the value that SEO provides as part of their overall marketing strategy.