So, once you start writing great SEO content and taking all of these steps, how do you know if it’s working?
On the surface, the answer to this question seems simple, with some key SEO metrics to focus on. However, with each metric, there are some important things to think about when measuring your site’s SEO performance.
Looking at where your site ranks for a list of keywords isn’t the end goal. You can’t pay your staff based on rankings, and personalization in search results has made them different in different places, making them hard to track.
Rankings also only show where you show up in search results. Some people would even say that they were dead. But getting a rough idea of where your site ranks for key terms can be a good early sign of how healthy your site is. High rankings for a number of keywords is a good sign of how visible you are in organic search.
This doesn’t mean you should focus too much on rankings for any one term, though. Remember that your ultimate goal is to get more relevant traffic that leads to more business.
If you sell blue widgets, is it more important to rank for “blue widgets” or to plan and implement an SEO strategy that helps you sell more blue widgets in the most cost-effective way possible? Use rankings as a general health check, not as a KPI for plotting a course.
Several tools can help you find out where you stand. Most of the tools do pretty much the same things, but some have unique features like local or mobile rankings.
If you’re a small business or just starting out with SEO, I’d suggest picking a free, easy-to-use tool and just keeping an eye on a few of the core terms you want to track to measure your progress.
Organic traffic is a much better early sign of how well your SEO work is going. By looking at your site’s organic traffic, you can get an idea of how many people are actually coming to your site and where they are going.
Most analytics tools make it easy to track your organic traffic. Since Google Analytics is free and the most popular, we’ll look at how to do this there.
For a quick check, go to your site’s main reporting page and click on “All Sessions” to filter for organic traffic (search engine traffic that isn’t paid for):
You can also look at the specific pages that bring in traffic and help you reach your goals by making a custom report and making users and goal completions your metrics and landing pages your dimension:
Note: When you look at this report, make sure you choose the organic traffic segment again. If you don’t, you’ll see all of your traffic by page, not just the free traffic that comes from search engines.
This can be helpful for sites just starting out with SEO, because most of your site’s traffic will likely come from “branded queries,” or searches that include your company’s brand name. For example, a branded query for WordStream might be “WordStream PPC,” while a non-branded query might be “pay-per-click software.”
You want people to search for your brand, and when they do, you want them to find you. However, unless Google has penalised your site, you will almost certainly rank for your brand and have that traffic go to your home page.
Most of your ongoing SEO efforts should be focused on getting more people to visit your site (people who might not have found and engaged with you otherwise). As I said in the section of the guide about keywords, Google has made it hard to get data about the actual keywords people are searching for.
However, if you look at page-level traffic (that is, traffic to pages other than your home page), you can start to get an idea of how your SEO is going as a whole.
You can also learn more about the terms that are bringing people to your site by looking at rank data and using the techniques described in the keyword section of this guide (and whether your SEO growth is being driven by optimization efforts rather than off-line marketing).
Organic Leads & Sales
Obviously, real leads, sales, revenue, and profit are the best ways to measure how well your SEO is working. Just like with any other business activity, you need to ask yourself how the activity affects your bottom line.
The easiest way to do this is to use a tool like Google Analytics to set up goals or track e-commerce. You can use the above report to look at organic traffic and goals (or other e-commerce metrics) by landing page.
This lets you see who converts among the people who find your site through a search engine (versus people who may have come to your site from PPC or another channel within the window that your analytics tracking can track, then searched for you, then converted).
This seems pretty straightforward, and for most businesses, it’s a good way to start measuring how well your SEO efforts are working. However, there are a few things to keep in mind about this data:
Analytics done on the web are never perfect. If you’re switching from billboards or newspapers to online marketing, you’ll probably be impressed by how much and how accurate the data is.
However, there are often tracking problems that can make the data you’re seeing anywhere from a little bit off to a lot off. Always be sceptical about data that doesn’t seem to make sense, and do what you can to make sure that your analytics data matches up with your actual revenue and spending data.
Your system might make it hard to keep track of things. If you have a back-end system that you can’t quite connect to analytics for some reason, there may be some gaps between what you can track as goals and what your actual sales are.
Metrics for attribution and life-time value can be hard to figure out. This is more of a business and web metrics problem than something specific to SEO, but it can be hard to figure out how to attribute sales to different channels and calculate the life-time value of your site’s traffic. Make sure you ask SEO the same hard questions and try to measure it the same way you would any other marketing effort.
- In Avinash Kaushik’s detailed guide, you can find out more about multi-channel attribution.
- KISS Metrics gives a good overview of cohort analysis and multi-touch attribution.
- Omniture is a popular paid web analytics platform with a steep learning curve. These two resources have some good tips for making useful SEO reports.