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KPIs for SEO: How to Gauge Performance — and Act on the Findings

August 25, 2020
Michelle Martin
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There's no shortage of analytics when it comes to measuring your search-engine-optimization (SEO) performance. Conversion rates, clicks, keyword rankings, domain authority ... the list goes on.

But what does all that data really mean? And how do you use it to actually do something? You know, like achieving your marketing goals?

Analytics reports with positive numbers seem like progress until you step back and ask yourself, "How does this metric connect to my business?"

Wonder no more. We’ll cover all the top SEO metrics you need to monitor and how they connect to your business goals.

Measuring KPIs for SEO isn't merely about seeing charts trending upward and thinking you're on the right track. It's about how those changes impact your business. Let's get into which metrics to track, what they tell you and how to measure SEO performance.

Analytics and Performance Metrics

These are all about how people are interacting with your content:

  •  What pages are they visiting? 
  • What topics do they like? 
  • Where do they spend the most time? 
  • What calls to action (CTAs) are most effective?

Here's how to measure all of that.

1. Conversion Rate

Found in the Google Analytics Conversions tab, this is whatever goal you set it up to be. For example, you may consider a conversion a purchase. In that case, you would create a goal in Google Analytics with the end-stage being the order confirmation page. If a user views that page, it means they placed an order.

A "good" conversion rate doesn't really exist. It depends on a lot of factors such as your industry, what the goal is and so much more. But obviously you want to look for any big swings up or down month to month.

A dramatic change upward is great, and you should dig into why. Did you get more qualified leads that month? Where did they come from? How did they find you?

Found in the Google Analytics Conversions tab, this is whatever goal you set it up to be.

Likewise, a dramatic decrease in your conversion rate is something to be investigated. Did your website have a technical problem that prevented people from ordering? Did a large source of traffic disappear overnight?

2. Time on Page

Who do you think is a more qualified lead: someone who spends 10 seconds on your site or 2 minutes?

Of course there's more to it than that, but time on site gives you an idea of what people are thinking about you. As with the conversion rate (and most of these metrics), there is no "good" time to aim for. It's subjective.

This metric can be found under Behavior -> Overview.

If the average person spends less than a minute on your site, start investigating. What pages are they landing on? Does the content not match their search intent? Is there a clear CTA to move them through your site? Do you only serve your local city market but most of your traffic comes from throughout the U.S., so they're exiting before getting too far? Start digging and see what you find.

3. Bounce Rate and Pages Per Session

I put these 2 together because they're really 2 sides of the same coin.

The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who left your site after only viewing one page. Often, it's your homepage, but it could also be whatever page they landed on from search results.

Tracking pages per session is exactly what it sounds like: on average, how many pages someone viewed on your site. 

You can find both together on the Audience -> Overview tab.

Pages per session is exactly what it sounds like: on average, how many pages someone viewed on your site.

This neat little stack of numbers tells us a few interesting things:

  1. Most of the people visiting this site are new (3,810 out of 3,997 total).
  2. Each person spent an average of 1:49 seconds on this site (of course this varies widely among users).
  3. Each person viewed an average of 1.5 pages (obviously meaning many viewed just one while others viewed more to raise the stat).
  4. 73% of people left the site after viewing the page they landed on, without further exploration (bounce rate).

What those stats mean is going to be different for each business, but if this was an e-commerce beauty products website, for example, some lessons may be:

  1. Product pages need more content to keep visitors on the site longer and encourage them to buy.
  2. Our ad targets may need tweaking; most people visiting the site leave after only one page (in e-commerce, signifying they aren't a good target market fit).
  3. We need to work on a content marketing strategy to improve time on site. (The average time on site for e-commerce sites is 4-5 minutes, according to Statista.)

4. Organic Search Traffic

Connect your Google Search Console and Google Analytics accounts to be able to view organic search data from within Analytics as well. You can do this from Analytics under the Acquisition -> Search Console tab.

Connect your Google Search Console and Google Analytics accounts to be able to view organic search data from within Analytics as well.

This will allow you to find some really juicy SEO info. (More on that below.)

The most valuable is the Queries section. This will show a list of keywords that brought people to your site. Things people actually clicked to visit your site.

That's valuable information because it likely contains new SEO keyword ideas for you to incorporate into your overall keyword-ranking strategy. Basically: if some people are already searching for that phrase and finding you, there are probably a ton more people out there also searching that phrase, but not finding you.

So, working on ranking for that keyword can bring in even more qualified leads.

Another KPI for SEO to track is the percentage of traffic from organic search. You want to know how many people are finding you this way and look for any significant changes over time. You can find this under Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels.

Another KPI for SEO to track is the percentage of traffic from organic search.

Like the old phrase, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket," don't put all your traffic in one basket.

A healthy site has a well-distributed mix of traffic coming from organic search, social media, email marketing, referrals and ads (if applicable). For example, if you send out a newsletter every week but your "email" traffic accounts for 1%, you may want to change up your strategy or content — or rethink if email marketing is even resonating with your audience.

5. Top Pages

This one is more about how your content is performing, which is the most important part of optimizing your SEO results.

Take a look at Behavior -> Site Content -> All Pages and make note of the top 10 pages listed. These are the most popular pieces of content on your site.

Take a look at Behavior -> Site Content -> All Pages and make note of the top 10 pages listed.

Logic would say if these pages are so popular, your ideal customer wants more content like this. If you play around with the "Secondary Dimension" tab near the top of the list, you can view more data about each page. You can select "Source" to see where people came from most often to visit that page or which device accessed that page the most. (Remember to always have a great mobile experience.)

Don't just look at the top 10 results and be done with it. Look at the behavior for each page. For example, check out No. 7 in the example image. Notice anything that stands out?

Users spent an average of 11 minutes and 19 seconds on the No. 7 page.

That's right: Users spent an average of 11 minutes and 19 seconds on the No. 7 page. 11 minutes. That's pretty much equivalent to watching “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy back to back when it comes to time on a site. Review that page, figure out which part your audience is resonating with the most and do more of that.

6. CTR

Click-through rates (CTRs) are most commonly talked about for paid ads but it's just as important of a KPI for SEO. Tracking the CTR of your organic search keywords can tell you how well those are performing.

You'll be able to tell roughly how much traffic comes from each keyword and the implications of dropping or gaining ranking with those keywords. For example, if the keyword phrase "best sushi new york" brings in 50% of your search traffic and you drop from first place to fifth in SERP ranking, suddenly you just lost about 40% of your traffic.

When you have data to pull from and extrapolate hypotheses from, it makes it a lot easier to justify having an SEO budget.

You can find your CTR in Google Search Console under the Performance tab. It gives you a list for all clicks and impressions for each keyword. Unfortunately, it doesn't calculate the CTR percentage for you, but you can easily do this by taking the number of clicks and dividing it by impressions.

Technical SEO Metrics

The higher you appear in search results, the better your content will perform, right? True — because the more eyeballs that see it, the more eyeballs that pull out their wallets.

These top 3 SEO KPIs shouldn't come as a surprise.

1. Page Authority and Domain Authority

You probably already know what these mean, but a quick recap if not: page and domain authority are 2 numbers that act as a sum of various SEO metrics to estimate how high a page or domain will rank in search results. It doesn't give you a rank position, but a score out of 100 that signifies how strong of a contender you are for the top spot.

Page authority is how "rankable" a specific page is and domain authority is the overall score for your entire site. You can check yours for free with Moz's Link Explorer and other SEO rank tracking tools have this feature, too.

It's really difficult to get 100. In fact, you shouldn't treat it like a video game. A high score isn't the point.

Your goal is only to have a similar or better page and domain authority than your competition.

YouTube has a perfect domain authority score of 100, but you aren’t competing with YouTube, right? So it doesn't matter. (Also, I doubt you have 34.3 billion backlinks.)

YouTube has a perfect domain authority score of 100, but you aren’t competing with YouTube.

If you sell computers, you should be much more concerned about the authority scores of Bob's Computers and Al's Computers in your neighborhood instead. With tools such as Moz, you can check your competitors' scores regularly.

2. Keyword Rankings

This is an obvious one and I know I don't need to explain to you how important keyword rankings are as a KPI for SEO.

But how often are you checking your rankings? Be honest.

If it isn’t at least once monthly, you need a system for managing your keywords. Take them out of that stale spreadsheet and start tracking them with Ahrefs or SEMrush.

There are a few key factors you should know about your keywords:

  1. Average Ranking Position

This is the average rank you hit on search results pages out of all the keywords you rank for. Don't expect it to be No. 1 but if you're in the hundreds, your SEO needs work.

  1. Position Distribution

How many of your target keywords are in the No. 1-3 spots in SERPs? How many in No. 4-6? Under 10? Under 20? You need to know this to be able to measure growth.

  1. Organic vs. Paid Clicks

For each keyword you're trying to rank for, know what percentage of clicks comes from organic searches and what percentage comes from paid ads (if you run ads). This can be a signal of an underperforming ad campaign or that you're relying too much on paid ads and need to up your content marketing game.

3. Backlinks

Baby got backlinks, right? You better, too.

Again, I know you know the importance of this, so I won't sugarcoat it: You need to be building backlinks every day.

Devote time for outreach and other link-building activities (or hire someone to do it for you), but remember to build quality backlinks by producing high-quality content. That's the secret. There are no shortcuts.

(And I don't need to tell you not to buy backlinks, right?)

Use a tool such as Moz to keep track of your backlinks and your net gain or loss per month, as well as backlink quality and your competitors' backlinks.

Taking Action

The worst mistake marketers make is to monitor all these SEO metrics but not act (or not act effectively). To do that, you need to prioritize your goals. Then, analyze these metrics for SEO through the lens of those goals every month.

Your CTR went up and your keyword rankings have improved. Great. Which ones? Are they keywords that matter to your audience? Are they ones likely to convert to sales? That's what you need to be thinking of, not only the numbers.

Here's an action plan to follow every month to see results:

  1. Track all the metrics above in your analytics tool (or spreadsheet if you're low tech).
  2. Revisit your goals and tweak if necessary. (What do you want — more sales? Leads? Brand awareness? Attract funding?)
  3. Spend 20 minutes analyzing these SEO KPIs as they relate to your goals.
  4. Make a list of notable achievements, things that are going well.
  5. Also, make a list of things to improve: metrics trending downward, lost opportunities, new ideas generated by the data.
  6. Write down 5 tasks to focus on for the next month.

A few examples of tasks that may come up, such as:

  1. Spend more time researching target keywords and analyzing competitor keywords to figure out my top-ranking priorities so I can attract an audience who is interested in _____. (Fill in the blank for whatever you do.)
  2. Create a content calendar for the next 3 months with topic ideas and keywords.
  3. Put together a Google Ads campaign with a dedicated landing page designed to get email subscribers.

Numbers Only Work When You Do

Numbers on their own don't matter. It's what they tell you about your business and how they influence sales that matters.

By tracking the metrics, you can uncover opportunities to build your business that you didn't even know were there.

An analytics report isn't going to welcome your customers into the door and sell them on your new video-conferencing app. But you know what will sell them? 

  • Small website tweaks made over time, informed by the data you collect
  • Strong content marketing driven by insights into what your target audience wants to see
  • Paid ad campaigns for keywords you know your ideal customer is searching for

A report alone won't magically make these website changes or paid ads successful. It's the foundation for you to act upon to make strategic decisions.

Make those decisions count and watch your sales, and SEO success, rise.

No time for decisions? Hate analytics reports? We have you covered with a complete range of marketing services personalized to your needs. Let us do the nerd work for you.


Michelle Martin

Michelle Martin is a freelance copywriter for business-to-business, software-as-a-service companies looking to stand out and scale up. She is an ex-agency producer and marketing strategist known for quickly understanding and distilling complicated technical topics into conversational copy that gets results.

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