Imagine this. You’ve put in the hard yards optimizing your on-page SEO. You’ve conducted solid keyword research. You’ve created SEO-focused content, built up a great backlink profile, and even learned the ropes when it comes to technical optimization.
But how do you REALLY know if your search engine optimization is working?
And most importantly, how can you keep refining your campaigns to get an even better ROI?
You need to measure the SEO metrics that matter.
Getting to the top of page 1 is all well and good — but if it’s not translating into more qualified organic traffic, more leads and more conversions, then it’s simply not enough.
And, given SEO is all about the long game, you need to be patient and strategic if you want to reap the full rewards of your efforts.
So, how do you truly measure the success of your SEO efforts in a genuine and meaningful way for your business?
That’s what we’re going to take you through in this post.
How SEO is measured
8 essential SEO metrics that you should be tracking
How to define your KPIs in SEO AND link them to your business objectives
How to set up your own SEO tracking report
Let’s dive in.
What is KPI in SEO?
KPIs in SEO are the metrics or values used by digitals marketing teams to track and measure the performance of their website in organic search campaigns.
Here’s a question...
What's your SEO goal and how does it align with your business objectives?
Before you say ‘higher rankings’, stop — and go a little deeper.
What do higher rankings mean for your business?
Is it greater brand awareness? More traffic? More leads? Better ROI?
When you take the time to reflect on how your search goals tie back into your broader business objectives, you can tie everything back to a bigger purpose — and track your progress using the right SEO metrics.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common SEO goals, and how they align with your broader business objectives.
Increase rankings for select keywords ➤ Drive more qualified organic traffic to your website
Boost overall search visibility ➤ Build up brand awareness and preference
Generate more inbound links to your website➤ Bring more qualified leads to your pages
Increase organic traffic to your pages (vs. paid or social)➤ Improve ROI from digital marketing
Increase monthly revenue ➤ Increase your bottom line
Once you do this exercise, it becomes easier to identify WHAT you’re trying to achieve and WHERE your SEO efforts will impact your business the most.
From there, you can start looking at the right metrics to guide your success.
How is SEO measured?
Here’s the deal: success isn’t measured in just one SEO tracking metric.
There are a number of different factors that you need to take into account if you want to get the whole story on your search engine optimization efforts, from traffic to dwell time and organic click-through rate.
If you only track a couple of metrics, you might end up missing the bigger picture — and investing time and budget into tactics that aren’t going to deliver real revenue results.
Let’s take a look at this in action.
For example, let’s say you’re a premium activewear company based out of Los Angeles. You’ve finally made it to number #1 for the keyword “buy activewear online” and you’re seeing truckloads of organic traffic to your website.
That should be a success story. But if you dive a bit deeper, you might find that the search traffic to your pages isn’t converting, or you’re not seeing the same spike in sales as you are in site traffic.
Dig EVEN deeper, and you might find the majority of the organic traffic you’re getting to your pages is from the U.K. — even though you only ship to the U.S. Once you know this, you might choose to focus on targeting more location-specific keywords, such as “best activewear in LA” to bring more targeted traffic to your pages.
Moral of the story is, on the surface it looks like you’re smashing your goals. But at the end of the day, if it’s not giving you the ROI you want, you need to switch tactics STAT.
So what are the essential metrics that you should use for tracking SEO performance on your pages?
These 8 SEO metrics will help you accurately gauge if your hard work is paying off, and identify areas for improvement if needed.
Essential SEO metrics to track
1. Quality backlinks back to your pages
Links are CRITICAL to search engine optimization.
Google uses quality backlinks as a ranking factor to determine whether your site is an authority in your industry, and whether your content is useful to searchers.
The more high-quality, relevant backlinks you have back to your web pages, the more likely it is that Google sees you as an expert and the higher you rank on search engine rankings.
But as we touched on in our guide to off-page link building, it’s about quality, not quantity. Your focus needs to be on building backlinks to your pages from trusted websites with high domain authority.
In other words, you need to track your success by the quality of your backlinks over the quantity.
Thankfully, there are plenty of tools to help you do this:
Ahrefs’ Backlink Checker
Google Search Console
Moz’s Link Explorer
For example, you can hop onto Ahrefs and type in your domain. The tool will then return a list of your backlink profile and your URL rating distribution:
The goal here is to track your URL rating distribution. The more referring domains you have in the green range (50 and above), the better.
If you don’t have a paid Ahrefs account, you can also find similar information in Google Search Console.
Simply open up your Links Report in Google Search Console. From there, you’ll see a list of your top linked landing pages and top linked sites, like so:
Image source: Search Engine Land
You can then export the data and manually find the domain authority for your top backlinks from referring domains. Of course, this process is slower — but the upside is that it’s free.
2. Click-through rate (CTR) from organic traffic
Most marketers already track click-through rate on a handful of digital marketing initiatives, such as paid search or eCommerce product landing pages. However, they overlook these crucial metrics when tracking their SEO efforts.
Search click-through rate is the percentage of users who clicked through to your pages from organic search results, relative to the total number of people who saw the results.
Let’s get one thing straight: search CTR is WAY more important than your ranking position on Google.
Think of it this way. If you rank in position 1 for a keyword that nobody clicks on, then all of your SEO efforts have essentially gone to waste.
But how can you measure search CTR and, more importantly, benchmark your performance metrics?
Start by going to Google Search Console. On the homepage, you’ll be presented with this:
Image credit: Search Engine Journal
This clearly shows the number of clicks to your site from search results, relative to the total number of impressions your result received.
You can also see your average CTR and average position.
Once you have this number, it’s time to see how your CTR stacks up.
Take a look at this graph:
Image source: Backlinko
From here, we can see that the average CTR for a ranking in position 2 of Google is 24.71%.
If your average ranking position is 2.2 and your average CTR is 5.8%, it’s a clear sign that your CTR is underperforming — and it might be time to update your headline or metadata.
3. Conversion rate from organic traffic
Your conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to your pages that take a specific action, which is tracked as a goal in Google Analytics.
Your goal could be any action on your site that indicates a user is progressing through your customer funnel, such as an email sign-up, eBook download or a click on ‘add to cart’.
This number is one of the most valuable metrics that you NEED to be tracking in your SEO report.
Knowing your organic traffic conversion rate gives you a strong idea on the ROI that your campaigns are delivering. It’s an indicator of the amount of qualified organic traffic that your site is receiving.
For example, let’s say you’re bringing in 1,000 visitors a day from Google. Of this organic traffic, 150 users have made a purchase — giving you a conversion rate of 0.15%. However, your average conversion rate on this page from all marketing channels (such as social media, email marketing, and paid search) is 0.3%.
This clearly shows that the organic traffic to this landing page may not be qualified. It could be that the page is ranking for keywords that aren’t relevant to your product, or that the user’s search intent is different from the information that’s provided on the page.
So how do you track organic search conversion rate?
It’s as easy as setting up a goal in Google Analytics.
Google Analytics lets you track and measure your site’s success using “goals”. When you set up goals, you can measure how well your site is performing against these objectives.
For example, if the objective of one of your pages is to get visitors to fill out a form for an ebook, you can set this up as a goal. When a visitor fills in the form, you’ll see this data reflected in your reports.
Start out by setting up a goal in Google Analytics Admin:
Image source: Search Engine Journal
Once you’ve created this, Google Analytics will automatically show you the conversion rate against your goal like so:
The key here is to ensure that your organic search conversion goals align with your business goals.
If you’re an eCommerce-based business, the main metrics you should be tracking are transaction-related actions, such as confirming a purchase or adding an item to the cart.
If you’re a lead-based business, go back to your marketing funnel. What are the key actions you want visitors to take? Is it downloading an eBook, signing up for your email newsletter, registering for a demo, or contacting your sales team?
Last but not least, if you’re a brick-and-mortar business (such as a restaurant), your goal might be to see how many people make a reservation on your page.
By linking your conversion goals with your business goals, it’s MUCH easier to quantify your campaigns in terms of return on investment — and know where there’s room to improve.
Check out our Guide to Google Analytics for SEO to learn how you can measure and optimize your goals.
4. Dwell time
Dwell time refers to the length of time a visitor spends looking at your pages after they’ve clicked through from a search engine like Google, before they click back to the search engine. This is one of the top engagement metrics, as it shows how effective your content is at solving a search query.
After all, if a visitor spends a long time on your landing page, that means they’re interested in what you have to say and that you're delivering a fantastic user experience. That's a surefire sign to Google that you’re bringing relevant organic traffic to your site.
So how do you calculate dwell time?
In Google Analytics, this is known as ‘average session duration’.
You can find it by clicking on Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages and creating a new segment that specifies you only want to view organic traffic.
From here, you’ll see the ‘average session duration’ metric like so:
5. Average time on page
There’s a thin line between dwell time and average time on page.
Dwell time refers to how long a visitor spends on your site before going back to search engine results. Average time on page, on the other hand, refers to how long a visitor spends on a specific page on your site.
For example, if a user clicks on a search engine result for shoes and spends 10 minutes browsing through different shoes before hitting the ‘back’ button, then their dwell time is 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the average time on page might be just 1 minute, because the user clicked away from the initial product page to browse other products.
Why does this matter?
Say you have a blog post that you know takes roughly 10 minutes to read. If your visitors are clicking away after 30 seconds, it’s a clear sign that your content (or user experience) is missing the mark.
You can find the average time on page in Google Analytics under its respective column:
It goes without saying, but the higher the average time on page, the better. It’s also worth keeping an eye on your bounce rate, which we’ll cover next.
6. Bounce rate
Bounce rate calculates how many searchers have visited your landing page and immediately left your site to return to search engine results.
Bounce rate is calculated using this formula:
Bounce rate = Percentage of single-page sessions / Total website sessions
Like average time on site and average session duration, this number can be found in Google Analytics.
Unlike other metrics, it's GOOD if your bounce rate is low. This is because it means that fewer people are visiting your site and clicking away immediately after landing on one of your pages. It means you're doing something right when it comes to your user experience, content, products and services.
However, bounce rate on its own can be misleading, so it’s best to look at this metric together with dwell time and average time on page.
7. Pages per session
Pages per session is another powerful engagement metric that works hand-in-hand with dwell time. Users that visit multiple pages on your site are clearly interested in your content, products or services — and over time, this search traffic probably has a higher chance of converting into leads or customers.
In Google Analytics, you can find pages per session in the same way you find dwell time. Just filter by organic traffic, and you'll see the results like so:
You can also see it on your Google Analytics audience dashboard:
8. Pages indexed
Your website’s Index Status is a handy way of gauging how well your site is performing from a technical SEO standpoint.
Once search engines like Google crawl your site, it takes all of the content that it crawled and adds it to a central Search Index.
When somebody searches for a term, Google’s algorithm scours its Search Index to find the best results to display to the user.
If Google can’t index your landing page, then your content won’t be in the Search Index. This means your pages won’t appear in organic search results — and your organic traffic will go plummeting down fast.
Here’s how to find your Index Status.
Hop on to Google Search Console and navigate to Google Index > Index Status.
This tells you which URLs the Googlebot has tried to index.
Image source: Search Engine Land
If you spot any errors, look into them straight away. Any sharp increases or decreases can have a MASSIVE impact on your SEO performance.
What is SEO performance?
As we touched on earlier, SEO performance is a critical guidepost for your digital marketing efforts.
But what does ‘performance’ mean?
In a nutshell: it's all about how your SEO efforts are performing against key tracking metrics and indicators that you have defined.
True performance goes beyond vanity metrics such as page ranking. It looks at how well your tactics are paying off for the things that matter: visibility, organic traffic, leads and sales.
So, how can you set up a report to track SEO campaign performance?
Setting up an SEO report
Now that you know WHAT your goals are and what performance means to you, it’s time to create your SEO metric report.
The key here is not to only monitor SEO rankings. Instead, you want to build a comprehensive report using a number of the tracking metrics outlined above.
This allows you to look behind the keyword rankings, in order to identify trends and explore WHY things are happening. With these findings, you can adjust and refine your campaigns, while showing how your SEO campaign has been on your bottom line.
These four steps will help you set up a powerful report that helps you reflect on your performance, and guides your actions in a meaningful way for your business.
1. Run a site health report
Technical issues, such as page speed or crawl errors, can have a huge impact on your SEO performance and organic traffic.
They’re the foundations of organic search, and you NEED to get this part right. Otherwise, you’ll end up investing copious amounts of time and money trying to understand why you’re not ranking, only to never truly pinpoint the root cause.
Set up a site health report and look for any technical problems and errors that may affect search performance and visibility.
These important SEO elements include:
Broken links or redirects
Low word counts
Missing or broken images
Our favorite SEO track tool is Ahrefs Site Audit. Ahrefs gives you a quick snapshot of how your site health is performing and how many of your URLs have been crawled, like so:
Image credit: Ahrefs
This is a quick way to pinpoint any issues in crawlability or indexability on your site.
Another way to check your site health is in Google Search Console. Click on ‘Crawl Stats’ and you’ll get a chart like this, displaying which pages have been crawled and outlining where there have been crawl errors:
Your crawlability depends on how quick and search-bot friendly your site is. Tracking this over time is a good indicator of your site’s SEO health, and allows you to fix any crawl errors sooner rather than later.
Last but not least, check your page speed using Google’s Page Speed Insights. This handy tool analyzes how quickly your site pages load, which is a crucial ranking factor for search engines.
Just pop your URL in:
The page speed tool will then analyze your site speed and generate suggestions to make your page faster:
2. Review your backlink portfolio
As we mentioned before, the QUALITY of your website backlinks matters more than quantity.
The key is to identify whether the type and quality of backlinks pointing to your site are improving over time, and whether any backlinks are dropping off.
Use Ahrefs Backlink Checker to identify your domain authority and the total number of referring domains to your website, as well as the URL rating distribution.
Alternatively, if you prefer a more granular approach, hop into Moz’s Link Explorer tool and export your inbound links from referring domains as a CSV.
This allows you to get incredibly granular when it comes to analyzing the quality and quantity of your backlinks.
You can also find this data on Google Search Console. Just click “Links” and open the Top linked pages report.
Then, look for the box called “Total external links.”
The great part about Google Search Console is that you can delve even deeper to see which referring domains are linking to a specific page. This will give you an idea of the types of content that are generating the most link juice for your site.
When it comes to backlinks, you can use one, two or all three of these tools to report on your performance.
Regardless of how you play it, the idea is to track quality first — and quantity second.
3. Organic Keyword Rankings
Your position in search results is not the be-all and end-all, but it is one of the important SEO metrics to report on.
However, it’s not just about looking at where you’re landing in search results. You need to track and report on your organic rankings over time.
How are your organic rankings tracking as time goes in?
Are they dropping or lifting with different trends and seasons?
Which keywords bring in the most search traffic and have the highest CTR?
Are there some keywords that have picked up pace recently, and some that have fallen behind?
You can find these SEO metrics in Google Search Console.
Hop into the platform, then select “Search Traffic” and “Search Analytics”. Google Search Console will display something like this:
Notice the line graph? That shows how your keywords are tracking over time.
If your average position is rising but your average CTR is dropping, this might be a sign that you’re not ranking for the right keywords.
4. Return on investment (ROI)
Here’s the end-game of your SEO strategy: ROI.
This is where you bring all of your metrics together and link it back to your business goals. How is your campaign performance translating into revenue?
You can do this using your conversion goals from Google Analytics.
Run a conversion report to see the number of conversions and the value of these conversions. In Google Analytics, it will look something like this:
Find your ‘Goal Value’ for the period of time you want to track, then compare this to the amount of money you’ve spent on your SEO campaign over that same period.
This is one of the best ways to measure how much your SEO strategy is truly delivering on your bottom line.
A final word: you should expect your SEO ROI to change from month to month. When you first start setting up your SEO campaigns, it’s likely that you’ll see a negative ROI as you optimize your pages and build the foundations in terms of keyword research.
As time goes on, your ROI should even out — and eventually, within an 8-12 month time frame, you should start seeing the fruits of your labor pay off.
Over to you
Tracking your performance is an absolutely fundamental part of any SEO campaign.
Without a report, you’re shooting in the dark. You could be on the cusp of serious growth OR you could be sitting on a sinking ship without knowing it or having the information to improve your position.
Even if you do have an SEO metric report set up, you need to be tracking the RIGHT numbers to truly evaluate your efforts. Tracking vanity metrics will only get you so far — you need big picture reporting if you want to drive tangible outcomes for your business.
With the right data and the right insights, you’ll have the power to refine and improve your SEO campaigns to see some real revenue results.
Don’t worry. We’re here to help you do exactly that.
We’ll help you dissect your current efforts and tell you how your campaigns are REALLY contributing to your business goals. Just get in touch with one of our Gurus below, and we’ll conduct a free audit of your current digital marketing efforts. What’s more, we’ll extract key insights from the data and use this to create a tailored six-month SEO strategy for your online marketing — all for FREE.