SEO: What You Should Be Measuring to Track Success
By Ben Johnson on November 12, 2018 in Digital Marketing
Search engine optimization (SEO), like many professions, is easy to learn but to truly master it can be very difficult. One of the first steps to becoming a great SEO is understanding what KPIs (key performance indicators) or metrics are important to your site. This is not as simple as watching Google Analytics for positive and negative traffic growth or googling your name to see where you rank. It can be a complicated decision, and it will have a reverberating impact moving forward.
Your choice of metrics is incredibly important to the success of your site and should not be taken lightly. They will help guide your optimizations and any potential shifts in your strategy. If you choose metrics that are irrelevant or not in line with the business KPIs, you may miss important signals or systemic problems with your site strategy. This will have a significant impact on the health and success of your website.
SEO Strategy and Goals
The first step and single most important part of deciding what metrics to track is outlining an SEO strategy. Now, an SEO Strategy can take many forms, but primarily it’s going to help guide you on what SEO tactics (on-page optimization, backlink outreach, content creation, etc.) you should implement to improve the site to meet your organic goals.
Now, what are your organic goals and how do you decide what is important? A great starting point is to ask yourself, “What are we looking to get out of the website? Direct sales? Leads? Organic traffic?”
Your organic goals should be based on what you feel is the main purpose of the site and are what you're going to be measuring your site’s SEO metrics against. This will let you know if your site is performing above or below expectation. You can have many different goals for your site, ranging from increasing organic sessions so more people see your content to earning more leads.
Just remember, these goals should have a business-centric purpose or else they are just numbers moving up and down. For example, “improving organic product rankings by five spots for an increase in organic sessions and conversion” is a clear goal. Don’t pick goals like “Increasing sessions by 25 percent,” Unless there is a specific benefit for the business, you should avoid this type of goal.
Once you have an SEO strategy and realistic organic goals in place, you can pick which metrics will fit that need. You can measure almost anything on your site, so be liberal with the metrics you follow. Just make sure they are aligned with your organic goals. Many metrics are specific to a type of SEO strategy or tactic you are implementing, while others are applicable to any campaign as a primary or secondary metric.
All metrics that are used for SEO should primarily measure organic traffic specifically. Lastly, many of these metrics are great to look at individually, however, they are best used in tandem with each other to show a greater picture of how the user interacts with your site.
There is one SEO metric that stands above all the rest:SERP (search engine ranking placement). This is the rank in which your site would show up in Google (or any search engine) when a keyword is entered that is relevant to a page on your site.
The rank in which your site shows up has a direct relationship to the amount of traffic and the rate at which users click onto your site. It is important to remember that your site can rank differently on mobile and desktop. This is why it's a must to track both mobile and desktop rankings, as it will give you insight into which device is a higher priority to optimize. This is due to mobile optimization becoming more important to search engines in recent years.
Rankings are not a “set and forget” type of metric. They should be continuously monitored week-over-week, month-over-month, and year-over-year. This allows you to understand the effects that seasonality may have on your rankings throughout the year.
Finally, it's important to group rankings together. For example, keep all keywords that rank 1–3, 4–10, 10–20, and so on together. This allows you to see more trends in your keyword lists. If you see several similar keywords ranking in the same group, you know where you stand on that topic. If it's in the higher end of the rankings (10–20s and above), you know you should work on moving those keywords higher to see an increased click-through rate (CTR) to your site via those groups.
LEARN MORE: Keyword Rankings Explained.
Although organic traffic metrics are among the most ubiquitously used in the digital marketing industry, they are an SEO staple — necessary to know how many users are viewing your content. These can be utilized in a wide variety of ways, including discovering broken pages, A/B testing content, finding the most or least popular content on your site, and much more. There are many individual metrics that are categorized under traffic, but the two below are the important ones to follow:
- Page Views: A single instance of a page being loaded in a browser window. One Person viewed one page. One person can have multiple pages views within a session.
- Sessions: This is a group of interactions that a single user can have on your site within a set time frame, usually thirty minutes. This is a metric that professional SEOs use as the method for measuring how many people are interacting on the site or on a specific page.
This is one of the most important groups of metrics to keep track of on a site and page level, as it will give you insights into how your content is performing and what the quality of the content is. A poor user experience (UX) reflects in this group of metrics, so if your users are not happy with changes to a page or the content on that page is poor, you will see fluctuation in these. Anytime changes are made to a page, this is a great set of metrics to use to see if it was received positively.
Additionally, something to consider with these metrics, as mentioned above, is to see them contextually, rather than individually. A perfect example: when you’re looking at a page that may have a high bounce rate, based solely on that, it would be a bad thing, right? Wrong. Because when you look at other metrics like sessions duration or conversion rate, the average time on the page could be three minutes and it could have a high conversion rate. So although people bounce from the page regularly, they are consuming the content on the page and converting from it. When you look contextually at all these metrics together, you can find a very different picture.
- Bounce Rate: This is the rate at which users only trigger a single session on your site. If a user enters your site and leaves without interacting with the page or moving to the next page, it’s triggered as a bounce.
- Exit Rate: When a user leaves the site, it’s triggered as an exit from the page they left. This only triggers if they have more than one page in their session, otherwise, its counted as a bounce.
- Sessions Duration: This is simply the average time a user spends on site in a single session.
- Pages Per Session: This is a measure of, on average, how many pages a user visits in a single session.
For any site, but especially e-commerce sites, this is an important group of metrics to use. These help tell you how many users you have and where they are converting. The beauty of these metrics is the versatility they can have, almost any action taken on a site can be counted as a conversion.
Want to see how many users are signing up for your email newsletter? Set up a conversion to measure that and you will be able to see at what rate users convert, giving you insight into how effective your call to action (CTA) is. Additionally, you can use micro-conversions to measure small actions that users may take to get into in your sales funnel.
- Conversion Rate: The rate users convert on a specific goal, ether site-wide or on a per page basis.
- Total Conversions: The total amount of conversions for a goal (sale of a product, newsletter sign-up, internal link from one page to another, etc.). Remember, a conversion only has as much value as you assign to it.
In recent years, this has become a more important metric set to use, especially with the rapid growth in mobile searches and users. The device ratio at which users use your site can also help to direct priorities. If you find that a large amount of your user base is mobile, you can prioritize mobile optimizations over desktop to keep the mobile experience top notch.
It’s imperative you track both organic and referral sources driving the most traffic by device. This, in combination with what search engines tend to bring in the most traffic, will allow you to fully understand the user path taken to your site. It is not uncommon for Google to own more than 50 percent of the organic search coming to your site, both mobile and desktop. But if you find you have significant traffic from a non-Google search engine (Bing, Duck Duck Go, etc.) or a set of them, it’s worth keeping track of that for fluctuations and opportunities. Another Google search engine to investigate is Google Image Search, as it tends to have considerable traffic associated with it. Essentially, this group is important because it illuminates the user path, enabling you to see where you need to improve your UX.
- Device Ratio (Mobile vs. Desktop vs. Tablet): The ratio of devices chosen by your users to access your site.
- Google vs. Bing vs. Other Search Engines: The ratio of users that used different search engines to access the site via organic or referral methods.
Local SEO Metrics
Local SEO strategies are a very popular method of increasing local search rankings and increasing overall local traffic to your site. But one thing even professional SEOs may not track is how your site interacts in the overall local market on Google. Now, what in the heck does that mean?
Well, there are a few different aspects to consider when it comes to local SEO rankings. Do you have Google My Business profiles set up for your locations? Do they rank within the three pack? How does your site rank locally in each market you serve? How does your competition rank locally in each market you serve? All these are important questions that help give you a clearer picture into the local SEO rankings.
Consider not just measuring where you rank at, but look at how your site ranks within each market you serve. You should, in addition to tracking local site rankings, track where your Google My Business (GMB) profiles rank within Google Maps and the Google search three pack. It is also a good idea to track how effective your GMB profiles are at generating clicks, calls, and requests for directions to your business or site via GMB Insights. GMB Insights shows you how the user found your profile and in what volume users see your profiles.
Now, when you blend all these metrics together, you get a clear map of where and how much search real estate you “own.” This combination will also give you an idea of how effective your business is at reaching targeted local users. With this information, you can adjust your local strategy if one market is underperforming.
Lastly, you should track how your competitors are ranking against your site to see who the main competition is in a specific area. Especially when you do this by market, you can get a great idea of who your main competitors are in each market.
Look at these metrics in your GMB Insights:
- Direct Searches: A user searched directly for your business name or address.
- Discovery Searches: A user searched for a category, product, or service that you have, and your profile appeared.
- Branded Searches: A user searched for a brand related to your business or site.
- Visit Your Website: A user clicks from the GMB profile to your website.
- Request Directions: A user requests directions to your business via Google Maps.
- Call You: A user calls your business or site.
Technical Aspects of SEO to Measure
Here is where we get into the technical aspects of SEO and the metrics you should be aware of and checking regularly. This, in turn, helps reduce technical issues on your site and increases and maintains your organic rankings.
Let's get started with an easy one: page speed. This is a simple metric that measures how fast your pages load. Page speed is important to measure regularly because it impacts the UX of your site and how users may interact with your site. Additionally, it recently became a more relevant ranking factor as it has a severe impact on the UX of a site. For example, if a page loads very slowly, a user is much more likely to leave or bounce from that page before it loads. Well, in Google's eyes, that is a big problem. Because even if you have great content, if users have to wait for it load, they are much more likely to find another source.
LEARN MORE: How Increasing Your Site Speed Can Help You Win at SEO article.
HTTP Status Codes
This one is more complicated, as there is a lot of vocabulary to learn to understand what each status code means as it relates to your site. Now, an HTTP status code is a three digit code that is sent from a server in response to a user request.hey are separated into five classes. To make this simple, here is the list of the status code classes and their meanings to help you understand the individual status codes later on:
- 1xx: Informational
- 2xx: Success
- 3xx: Redirection
- 4xx: Client Error
- 5xx: Server Error
Individual Status Codes
There are many different individual status codes for an assortment of different requests that you can track in Google Search Console. So just remember, if you come across a status code you are unfamiliar with, bring it to your web developer for assistance. There are many different status codes, but the most important status codes are:
200: This is the easiest of the codes to remember, as it is simply a successful request going through to the server. No issues to report.
301: Here is where things begin to get dicey. A 301 means a webpage was replaced with a new page and that this replacement is permanent. This tells Google when there was a change from an old URL to a new one. In other words, it means Google can associate the old URL link metrics to the new URL.
302: This one is similar to a 301, except it is not a permanent change in URL. This status code means Google will keep the old URL in the Google index but will show the user the new one. If this redirect is kept for an extended period of time, Google will automatically associate it as a 301 redirect and update the index.
404: A 404 status code is used to signal that a URL does not exist on your site. This can be due to a variety of issues ranging from broken links that Google’s robots tried to crawl to intentionally remove a page from your site. This status code is widely used in the industry and should be closely monitored at all times through the the crawl errors report in Google Search Console. Too many 404s on-site can be a warning sign of something being systemically broken across the site, or it can be a list of pages you have removed. Now, it's important to mention you should not leave a page as a 404 if you have removed it intentionally. Instead, use a 301 redirect to send traffic to a related page.
Soft 404: This is a Google-specific code that only Google uses in its index. It is a code that returns a 404 to the user. But to the browser, it will yield a 200 status code. This can cause problems such as removed pages being indexed and added to Google search results. This takes away press crawl budget from the pages you actually want to show up in Google's search results.
500s: These are real problems to be worried about when it comes to status codes. Any 500 level status code is telling you that something is broken server-side and needs developer attention immediately. This can have long-lasting consequences if your site gets too many of these. If too many 500s stack up, you will begin to lose crawl efficiency on your site and Google could halt crawling altogether if these are not attended to regularly. Remember, if you see many of these showing up in search console, it's imperative you have your webmaster or developer take a look to see how to resolve them.
Last, but certainly not least, is the coveted sitemap. A sitemap is a file where you give information on all the pages and assets on your website for search engine robots to read. This includes how important pages are to you, how often you update pages on your site, and the last time you updated the page. You can even have separate sitemaps images and video. The benefit of having this on your site is that robots can more efficiently and intelligently crawl your site. You can submit a sitemap on Google Search Console to see how many pages have been indexed and if any of the links on your sitemap are yielding 404 errors. It is important to remove any 404-ed links from your sitemap to keep it as up-to-date as possible. Ready?
Now that you have a good understanding of what things you should consider measuring and monitoring for your new SEO campaign, you should be ready to get out there and start building your websites online with authority and credibility.
Just remember that the SEO metrics and goals you choose to follow should always align to your business goals. This simple idea will help you focus on what is the most important metric of all, your bottom line.