SEO is short for search engine optimization.
But, you already knew that.
You are here to read about the key performance indicators (KPIs) involved in SEO. If you are reading this article there is a good chance that you have discovered that SEO is a complex and ever-evolving discipline.
Measuring and tracking the performance of your campaigns is a critical component of SEO, but it’s also a challenge. That’s where KPIs come in…
When you track KPIs, you make SEO about data. This is a great thing.
That’s because when you make data-driven decisions you are actively making progress toward a set of specific goals and objectives.
Following KPIs over a sustained period of time will provide you with valuable insights into how your website is performing in organic search. From here, you will be able to better identify the strengths and weaknesses in your SEO strategy. As a result, you can expect to make positive decisions that improve your search rankings and drive more traffic.
Not only is this article going to look at the most significant KPIs you should be tracking, but we will also explain how to track them, and why tracking them is a good idea. Whether you’re a highly experienced SEO professional or just looking for some actionable strategies to optimize your website, understanding the power of KPIs will give you a step up.
Naturally, traffic matters in SEO, but by itself, it is purely a vanity metric.
With that said, knowing how many people are visiting your site and where they are coming from is useful.
Organic Search Traffic
Organic search traffic is often considered the best type of traffic in SEO. This is because people visiting your website through organic search are simply entering a query, going to the search engine results, and clicking on your article.
In other words, you don’t need to pay for ads and you don’t need to run a social media or email marketing campaign.
We like tracking organic traffic because it gives you a good idea of which of your articles and ranking well and brings in visitors (who are often potential leads).
You can easily track organic search traffic in Google Analytics. This guide shows you how to add Google Analytics code to your website. Don’t worry if you haven’t added Google Analytics to your website yet; it takes 15 minutes to set up.
Alternatively, you can use a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush to see how many visitors are finding your website organically. However, keep in mind that these are paid SEO tools, while Google Analytics is totally free.
Referral traffic matters too.
Although referral traffic isn’t strictly an indicator of how well your on-page SEO strategy is performing, it is a good way to measure how many of your visitors are arriving on your website from other sites.
This KPI is great because it shows to what extent your content is resonating with other websites, online communities, and forums. Also, tracking the source of your referral traffic is a good way to identify potential opportunities for niche-relevant backlinks and business partnerships.
Once again, the best way to track your referral traffic is through Google Analytics. This is because Google Analytics has some in-depth settings where you are able to analyze which specific web pages are generating the most referral traffic.
This is great because you will now have loads of extra data that you can use to make decisions about what sort of content you want to create in the future.
Direct traffic is another useful KPI to measure.
Because it’s a clear indication that your brand awareness campaigns are working.
Direct traffic refers to the people who arrive on your website as a result of typing the URL of your website directly into their browser, rather than arriving from another website’s link or from organic search.
An increase in direct traffic over time will show that your brand is becoming increasingly recognized and trusted by users.
While direct traffic isn’t the best way to measure the effectiveness of your digital marketing, it is helpful if you are using offline marketing efforts like TV, print, or radio advertising tracking direct traffic is a good way to see how well these efforts are working.
Once again, Google Analytics should be your go-to tool for tracking direct traffic. With that said, if you really don’t want to use Google Analytics, then other web analytics tools will work just fine.
Keyword Performance KPIs
Although a lot has changed in the SEO world over the last 5-10 years, keywords are still crucial.
But why exactly are keywords the foundation of SEO?
Simple. It’s because they determine how search engines interpret the content on your website. In layman’s terms, keywords help search engines understand websites.
Although search engines have less dependence on keywords than they used to be, they are still important.
Keywords act as the connection between your website and the user’s search queries. As a result, keyword performance is pivotal to your SEO success.
This is essentially where you appear in organic searches for specific search terms in the SERPs. As we briefly touched on, organic traffic is the preferred type of traffic for most business owners and SEOs, and better keyword rankings mean more organic traffic… It’s that simple.
You can easily track keyword rankings by position in Google Search Console (again, you will need to connect your website, this guide shows you how).
There are also a few fantastic tools on my list of the best SEO software for small businesses that will help you see where your website ranks for specific keywords in a bit more depth. These tools give good insights into how keyword rankings have changed over time.
This is great because it helps you to know when it’s time to update and improve old blog posts. Better still, it will help you know what content areas are doing really well so that you can fine-tune your strategy from here.
Click-Through Rates (CTRs)
Click-through rates (CTRs) are probably something that you are already familiar with.
If not, CTRs are essentially just the fraction of people who click on your website’s link in search results after seeing it displayed out of all the people who searched for the specific keyword. For instance, the number 1 ranked result usually gets a CTR of around 30%, whereas the number 2 result usually gets around 20%.
Tracking CTRs is important because it offers a “quick win”.
I say this because when you have a blog post that is ranking well but has a lower click-through rate than anticipated, it’s a clear sign that you should optimize your article’s title and meta description.
Once you improve your titles you will often notice that you are attracting clicks and driving more traffic. It’s easy to track, easy to improve, and very useful.
Neil Patel is one of the top SEO experts in the world and his guide to improving CTRs is so in-depth that instead of creating my own guide I will just link out to his.
Impressions are a much better metric to track than obsessing over search volume.
This is because impressions are a good way to see how much overall visibility you are getting as a result of targeting specific keywords.
If your keywords have a high number of impressions this is a clear signal people are interested in the topics you are writing about.
Impressions do not translate to traffic, but they are a good way to see that you’re moving in the right direction.
Again, Google Search Console is the easiest and most accurate way to track keyword impressions. After all, this makes sense. People are looking for your content on Google, so who is best placed to provide you with the data? Naturally, it’s Google itself.
User Behaviour KPIs
Website traffic and keyword performance may be the first ideas that sprung to mind when you heard “SEO KPIs”, but tracking user behavior metrics to get a complete picture of how your website is performing is also integral.
At the end of the day your website serves the purpose of connecting your business to consumers. So measuring the ways that users interact with your website is one of the simplest ways that you can make improvements to user experience, content, and design.
But, how do you actually track user behavior?
This is an interesting metric.
Some SEOs will tell you that having a low bounce rate is critical and if you have a high bounce rate people aren’t enjoying your content.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave your website after viewing only one page. Traditionally, people thought that high bounce rate was an indicator that visitors engaged by your content enough to keep them interested. However, this isn’t the case.
For example, suppose you searched for “SEO KPIs” and clicked on my article. You read and enjoyed the article and then closed the page and went about your day as normal.
This is tracked as a bounce in Google Analytics. So, according to some SEOs you actually didn’t like my article. But, this is not necessarily the case.
Measuring bounce rate as a black and white indicator will make you doubt your content. The truth is that people are busy. They don’t have the time to read through loads of different pages on your website.
My point is forget about your overall bounce rate… do this instead.
Look at the bounce rate of each page on an individual level. Once you have a list of every page, sort from high to low. Try and compare the page with the highest bounce rate versus the lowest.
Perhaps there’s something you are doing differently, whether that’s more images/multimedia, more internal links, the type of content, the search intent. Everyone will have different bounce rates and that is okay!
Once you have identified the factors that are preventing you from decreasing your bounce rate, implement the changes, and hopefully you will be able to see an improvement.
Time On Site
Time on site is a metric that new website owners and people who are just starting to dabble into SEO become obsessed with.
This isn’t a bad thing.
Time on site or engagement time is all about how long your visitors are spending on your website before leaving.
In my opinion, this is a much better measure of engagement than bounce rate or session duration (this sounds the same, but it’s different, trust me).
Therefore, tracking engagement time is a tangible way to identify the individual pages and topics that your audience is finding valuable. This can help you to inform content strategy decisions.
The average time that people spend on your website isn’t the be-all and end-all. However, when your potential customers are spending longer on your website it does increase your chances of conversions.
Like, basically everything else we have talked about Google Analytics is the best way to measure time on-site. While other analytics tools do “work” they are often reported to be quite inaccurate, so sticking with Google is your best bet.
Pages Per Session
Pages per session is an interesting KPI because it looks at how many unique pages your visitors are viewing on your website in one given session (period of browsing).
Although, you definitely shouldn’t dwell on having lower pages per session, increasing this metric is really good for businesses trying to establish significant topical authority.
Why? Because websites that are looking to build significant authority in one niche online should have a lot of content on that topic.
For example, we don’t exclusively blog about SEO, we also cover various business, marketing, and financial topics. However, we do publish a lot of SEO content, so in this article, it makes sense for us to interlink between different blog posts on the topic of SEO.
As a result, a lot of readers will navigate around the website via these internal links, and every time they do we will see an increase in the pages per session metric.
Generating high pages per session isn’t the most important thing in the world. However, it is a good KPI for people looking to measure the effectiveness of their internal linking strategies. A lower number of pages per session may also indicate that there are slight issues with the UX element of your website.
Conversion Based KPIs
What is the goal of your SEO strategy?
For most people, it’s conversions. After all, conversions mean revenue.
For some businesses, a conversion may be leads who sign-up, or it might be a visitor who makes a purchase. No matter what a conversion is to you, tracking related KPIs puts data at the forefront and will help you improve conversion rate optimization.
Conversion rate itself is the easiest KPI to track. But, it’s also one of the most important SEO metrics.
To calculate your conversion rate simply take the total number of website visitors who complete a desired action, such as filling out a form, making a purchase, or signing up for a newsletter, then divide this by the total traffic you received (finally, multiply by 100%).
Your conversion rate will give you a baseline. If you know that one of your blog posts has a conversion rate of 5% and each conversion is worth $10, then you have all the data that you need to make investment decisions for your business.
Some articles will convert better than others, that’s why you have got to factor in things like search intent, but in general, if you have a low conversion rate improving it should be your top priority.
Including a clear call to action (CTA) is a surprisingly easy and effective way to see an instant increase in conversion rate.
Cost Per Conversion
Cost Per Conversion (CPC) is about how much money you have to spend on marketing to generate one conversion.
For example, suppose you work out that each conversion costs you $20. That’s really bad if each sale only profits you $10, but really good if each sale profits you $30.
Tracking CPC gives you a bigger picture view of the efficiency of your marketing spend. If your CPC is quite high, then you will need to try and optimize your marketing budget for maximum ROI. You may decide to consider other marketing channels. This guide to SEO vs PPC is a good place to start!
Building an omnichannel marketing strategy is so important to your business. SEO is great, but doing it well in a competitive industry takes time (and it’s expensive). So, utilizing other marketing strategies to improve things like CPC is a good idea.
Revenue Per Conversion
Revenue per conversion or RPC is the total opposite of CPC.
Your RPC figure indicates how much money you can generate from each conversion. In other words, how much a sale is worth. This may sound obvious if you sell a digital or physical product where the price you sell for is the revenue you get, but it’s not always like this!
For instance, in some scenarios businesses may be selling a subscription based product where you pay a specific amount each month. In this situation you will need to calculate the total customer lifetime value. Suppose, you sell a product for $40 a month and the average customer stays for 5 months, then your true revenue per conversion is $200.
SEO is more fun when you’re profitable. Traffic metrics and how users interact with your website is interesting, but ultimately it’s the conversion-based metrics that are crucial to keeping a close eye on.
Authority Based KPIs
In addition to the KPIs related to website traffic, keyword performance, user behavior, and conversions, there are several other KPIs that are important to track for SEO. Here are three additional KPIs that you should be monitoring:
Domain authority is a metric developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank in the organic search results. Ahrefs have a very similar metric – Domain Rating. Although, DA and DR aren’t official ranking factors, the correlation is very strong.
When improved in a natural and genuine way, high DA/DR is a clear signal of a website’s ability to rank for keywords and bring in traffic. A DR60 website will 99% of the time be receiving more traffic and making more money than a DR20 website.
DA/DR is calculated based on the total number of backlinks to a website, the quality of said links, the age of the domain, the content on the website, the trustworthiness of the website, and the niche of the website. The higher the domain authority of a website, the more likely it is to rank higher for the keywords you want to rank.
Building backlinks is a crucial part of SEO. Whether you do it the free, organic way, or the paid way the results can be very impressive.
There are lots of free DA/DR checkers online, but I would recommend using the official free Ahrefs backlink checker.
Some bloggers will try to convince you that you don’t need backlinks to rank well. This is simply not true.
Backlinks help you rank.
While it’s possible to rank for keywords without backlinks, it’s much more difficult.
Therefore, building a natural profile of do-follow and no-follow backlinks from techniques such as guest blogging and HARO is really important.
Backlinks show the search engine algorithms that other websites believe your content is valuable and worthy of reference. Although the quantity of backlinks does matter, getting backlinks from relevant websites with high authority should be your top priority,
Backlinks improve SEO performance. How?
They can improve the search engine ranking of your individual pages, sure. But, they also can help you to obtain more organic conversions.
That is the power of link building!
Tracking SEO KPIs
Using a combination of SEO tools is the best way to accurately measure your SEO KPIs, especially over an extended period of time.
We have spoken about Google Analytics a lot in this article, but that’s for good reason.
Google Analytics is the ultimate free web analytics tool.
With Google Analytics, you can monitor many of the KPIs we mentioned, such as page views, bounce rate, time on site, and conversion rate. You can integrate Google Analytics also with the other Google tools, like Google Ads and Google Search Console.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console enables you to track metrics such as impressions, clicks, and average position for specific keywords and pages. GSC will also help you to quickly identify errors and opportunities for improvement.
Finally, GSC also provides you with data on your website’s mobile usability and notices of any penalties you’re facing.
Ahrefs or Semrush
Ahrefs and Semrush are both paid SEI tools.
However, these tools are very comprehensive and they have a lot of more complex functionality. For example, these tools are ideal for prospecting backlink opportunities. Ahrefs and Semrush can both help you to identify competitors with strong link profiles. Then, from here you can work on a cold email outreach campaign to gain fantastic backlinks for your business.
Additionally, these premium tools also provide you with the ability to do content research and technical site audits, this can help you even more with your SEO.
Building a list of KPIs for your SEO strategy and monitoring them will help you to gain valuable insights into areas where your business is performing well, as well as areas in which you need to improve.
You know what KPIs are and you know why tracking them is important.
You also know the specific KPIs that you should be following to supplement your SEO and the tools you can use to keep track of everything.
Although, the 14 metrics we have mentioned are the most important SEO KPIs they are far from the only ones. SEO is a complicated business, so being committed to learning is key!
If it’s possible, hiring a dedicated SEO team will help you to reach your business goals much faster.
Finally, make sure that you regularly review and analyze your KPI data. Remember, data helps you make good decisions!