When performing any SEO work, it’s important to be able to demonstrate improvements, whether that’s to clients or stakeholders within your own company. However, how do you measure success?
With SEO, there’s not one single metric you can use, and by focusing on just the one you may not be doing justice for the work you’ve done. Rather than just focus on the tip of the iceberg, it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
So what metrics can you measure? Below we look at seven (predictably) key metrics, how you can measure them, and potential caveats to bear in mind when doing so.
Everyone wants more traffic to their website, the general assumption is the more traffic you receive the more business it will result it in, whether that’s sales, leads, downloads etc.
This is easily measurable within Google Analytics, however what sort of growth should you be looking for?
Certainly, if you’ve been performing SEO on an established website which already has some organic visibility, and you’ve been rectifying onsite issues which may have been holding it back, then you’d hope to see some growth. However the exact amount is entirely dependent on how competitive the search landscape is.
There are also other factors which are outside your control, such as what competitors have been doing, and frequent algorithm updates which have a habit of coinciding with any website changes which are rolled out.
If on the other hand you’ve been doing SEO for a new website, which due to a lack of inbound links is not overly authoritative, then expecting a surge in organic traffic may not be realistic, especially in a highly competitive market. In this scenario you may be better looking at keyword rankings…
Organic traffic is the direct result of your website ranking high enough within the search engines for related keywords.
However, what if you rank 43rd for your target keyword? That’s way back on page five of the search results. If the old saying “the best place to find a dead body is on page two of Google” is correct, then who knows what lurks beyond. It’s unlikely you’ll receive any clicks ranking this lowly.
Yet if your website was previously ranking 75th before your SEO work then that’s still a positive improvement worth highlighting.
Equally, if you previously only ranked for a handful of brand keywords and your SEO work means you now rank for a lot of other relevant un-branded variations, then you’ve improved the likelihood of your website being found by a new audience.
If you haven’t already done so, then verify your website via the Google Search Console. This will give insight into which keywords you rank for, along with the average position. What’s more, this data now dates back 18 months making it easier to monitor improvements and trends.
SEO takes time, and there’s only so far onsite changes will get you in a competitive market, so you can then build upon these benchmarked positions by doing further SEO work to improve the authority of your website and propel these even higher.
High keyword rankings are great, although it doesn’t end there. People need to click on your website’s search result. For this, you want your CTR to be as high as possible.
When the organic search results are loaded, the only thing people see is a short snippet which consists of the ranking page’s meta title and description. You must use this to convince them the result is relevant to their search query, and that they should click it.
Google have repeatedly clarified that CTR is not a ranking factor in their algorithm, however by writing good meta data as part of an SEO audit you can make a big difference on the CTR. By doing, so it’s entirely possible to drive more organic traffic despite minimal changes in keyword rankings.
Again, the CTR data is available in the Google Search Console, and this is worth reviewing to identify any keywords which appear to be under-performing.
So far, the metrics we’ve discussed are geared towards driving more organic traffic to the site, but it’s just as important that this is the right sort of traffic which will lead to more business.
One way to judge the quality of this traffic is based upon a website’s bounce rate which can be found within Google Analytics.
The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who only looked at a single page before leaving, and who didn’t trigger any events on this page (e.g. clicking a mailto link or engaging with a video).
A high bounce rate is commonly seen as a bad thing, although it must be taken in context. For example, if someone searched for a simple question (e.g. what day is Easter?) and your page successfully answers this then you’d expect a high bounce rate.
If on the other hand you’re an ecommerce site then a high bounce rate is a bad thing, since you want visitors to not only view a product, but then add it to their cart and start the checkout process. This is a process which will involve multiple page views.
One big caveat here is that if your SEO work coincides with significant design changes on a website (perhaps it’s been completely redesigned), then UX changes can also impact the bounce rate, for better or worse, thus muddying the waters.
Avg. Time on Page & Session Duration
Similar to a website’s bounce rate, the average time on page taken from Google Analytics can also help indicate how engaged visitors are with a page’s content. If they spend a long time on a page this suggests it’s relevant to them and they find the content valuable.
However, it’s worth noting that Google Analytics calculates the time on page based upon the time stamps of multiple page views. If the second page in a user’s session occurred ten minutes after the first, then Google knows the user was on the previous page for ten minutes.
Simple enough, however what if a user only looked at a single page? In this case Google Analytics cannot calculate a time on page, so it will be recorded as 0 seconds – even if in reality a user spent several minutes reading it. Therefore, pages with a higher bounce rate are more likely to have a misleading time on page recorded.
In addition to looking at this on a page-by-page basis, looking at the overall session duration can also be helpful in judging how engaged visitors are from a more top-level point of view.
Whilst website engagement metrics such as bounce rate and time on site are useful, often goal conversions are a more tangible measurement for success. After all, what is the purpose of increasing organic traffic and people reading your website if they aren’t compelled to take action and convert?
In theory, an increase in organic traffic should lead to an increase in conversions – whether that’s leads, sales or downloads etc. However, this is reliant on the organic traffic being relevant.
An increase in traffic from irrelevant search terms may look good on paper, but will likely harm your conversion rate and not lead to an uplift in conversions. The inverse of this however is also true, and what’s ultimately most important is an increase in quality organic traffic helping drive more conversions.
As mentioned earlier though, if your SEO work coincides with a website redesign then this can also have a big impact on your site conversion rate. Despite a surge in quality organic traffic, if your enquiry form is impossible to find then you may not see the benefit of this as your conversion rate takes a nosedive. This is where Conversion Rate Optimisation comes in handy.
Link Quality & Quantity
Stepping away from what’s happening onsite, both in terms of SEO optimisation and also user engagement, analysing your website’s link profile is important.
Whilst onsite ranking factors are still very important to address from an SEO point of view, search engines still place a lot of emphasis on links to your website. It’s these links which they use to measure the importance of your website and help determine its authority and trustworthiness.
Google’s Search Console will show which websites link to yours, whilst tools such as Moz’s Link Explorer or Majestic’s Site Explorer will go further and try judge the quality of these links, assigning them scores based on perceived authority and trust.
Whilst it’s important to understand that metrics from third parties won’t necessarily match with how search engines interpret links, they can still be useful metrics for benchmarking when measuring the success of your offsite SEO work.
Ultimately, there are many metrics you could be using to measure the success of your SEO campaign. Which ones you choose depends on your situation – not all of the above may be applicable.
It’s also important to understand that improvements from SEO don’t happen instantly, they can take time to be detected and rewarded, whilst search engine results are prone to daily fluctuations due to algorithm changes. Therefore it’s often best to look at wider trends in performance.