Here at GrowTraffic, we like to position ourselves as the antidote to SEO companies.
We do say that slightly tongue in cheek – we’re not that big headed really – and it’s not that we think we’re a million times better than any other SEO agencies out there (although, we do think we’re a little bit better than a lot of SEO companies out there! Just a little bit.).
No, one of the main reasons we say that we’re different is because of the fact that we give our clients measurable KPIs, so they can assess what we’re doing and how well we’re doing it.
But if you’re trying to do SEO by yourself, or if you’re working with an agency that hasn’t told you what you’re supposed to be watching out for, how do you know which metrics to keep an eye on? Well luckily for you, GT have come up with our handy little infographic on The Top 10 SEO KPIs to Monitor (below), so you can see at a glance what you’re supposed to be checking, why you need to check it, and where.
And to accompany the infographic, I’ve put together the below guide, which offers a little more detail on why you should be monitoring these factors and where exactly the find the information mentioned. It’s not short, so you might want to grab yourself a nice cup of tea now. And probably a light snack too. And maybe a blanket.
Here we go…
What Are SEO KPIs?
Now before I go any further, I’m conscious that I may be slipping into jargon territory here, so let me first of all explain what I’m on about.
SEO is search engine optimisation. To be honest, if you don’t know that by now, you’re reading the wrong blog.
KPIs are Key Performance Indicators. Generally speaking, they’re the things you measure to tell whether or not the activities you’re carrying out are having a positive effect on your business.
A KPI could be your bottom line, it could be the number of staff you have, it could be the conversion rate you have on a specific marketing activity. It could be almost anything, but what it always is, is a way of measuring what you’re doing, so you can tell whether or not it’s having the result you wanted.
Why Do We Need SEO KPIs?
KPIs are crucial in business. Without setting, and then measuring, KPIs, how do you know if what you’re doing is working or not? You could just carry on forever doing something because you ‘have a vague feeling’ that it’s working, even if it isn’t. You could scrap a perfectly good strategy, even though it might have been the best thing you ever started.
If you set and then check your KPIs, however, you will have firm data to work from when making your strategic decisions going forwards.
Specific to our industry, SEO (and digital marketing more generally) can be such a nebulous thing to work from. There are very rarely direct correlations, where you can say ‘I wrote this blog post, and thus made this sale’. It just doesn’t work like that.
Instead, we have to monitor much more specific metrics, and put all of them together to form the bigger picture, before we can tell whether the optimisation and SEO marketing work we’re carrying out is having the impact we want it to. Or isn’t.
How Often Should I Check My SEO KPIs?
Finding the right frequency to monitor your SEO KPIs is key; over-check and you’ll end up going crazy. Under-check and you’ve lost all control.
Time and again, our clients come to us saying “we’ve been paying our old SEO company x amount of money every month for the last 2 years, and we have no idea what they’ve done”. Obviously, this is the very definition of not checking often enough.
You should know whether or not what they’ve been doing has been working, because a) they should have been providing regular reports and b) you should have been checking. If you’re paying a company to optimise your website, or if you’re doing it yourself, then Google Analytics should become your friend. You need to take ownership and be checking it at least once per month, if not more frequently.
One word of warning though; don’t allow your KPIs to become the be-all-and-end-all of your digital marketing strategy. Results can take time to bed in, and metrics should be measured over a period of months, rather than days or weeks.
Constantly checking and then tweaking your campaigns could result in unnecessary changes being made before actions have had time to bed in and take effect. Remember that algorithms aren’t instant; it may take a while for a search engine algorithm to crawl, index or reclassify your website. Rankings take time and fluctuate often, so take your time in return and don’t make rash decisions.
Here at GT, we report thoroughly to our clients on a quarterly basis, as we believe that 3 months gives us a good enough time period to implement changes, then enable them to bed in, then see the result and make a decision on the action for the next 3 months. Obviously, we check the metrics more frequently than that, but the decisions are made on the basis of 3 months’ worth of data.
Which SEO KPIs Should I Monitor?
And so we come to the list of the top 10 SEO KPIs that we monitor. These are the main ones that you should be keeping your eye on, as – when all connected together – they will give you a very good picture of how successful your SEO activities are being.
Here, and on the below infographic (which you should save btw, it’s a very handy little guide to have to hand), I will briefly explain what each metric is, why it matters and where you should check it. So here they are, in no particular order;
Organic sessions are the number of visitors who find your website via a search engine. So that’s the people who have typed a search query into Google and your website has come up in the search results, so they’ve visited it.
If you’re carrying out work to optimise and market your website, organic visitors should come pretty high on your list of priorities. Essentially, everything you’re doing is to increase these people who find your website naturally, so you need to know whether your total number is going up or down, plus when the peak times are and if the traffic is responding to activities you are carrying out (for e.g., does your organic traffic go up after you’ve posted a blog post?).
Obviously, you want your organic traffic to be increasing over time, so look at the overall trend and accept that there might be peaks and troughs within that. As long as your traffic is growing, that’s all that matters. In fact, you could say that the goal is to just grow traffic. GrowTraffic. We don’t just throw this stuff together, you know…
You can track your organic traffic via Google Analytics; go to Acquisition > Channels > Organic Search and enter your date parameters.
TIP: each time you carry out a major change to the website or publish new content, mark it on Google Analytics as an annotation. That way, you’ll be able to quickly see if your traffic is responding to your marketing activities without searching back through the website or your change log.
The bounce rate on your website is the number of people who have visited your website and have then clicked straight off it again, usually almost immediately, without taking any further action. So that means they have found your website, usually via a search engine, and then done nothing else; they haven’t clicked through to any other pages, clicked a ‘read more’ tab, haven’t stayed on the website long enough to read anything, haven’t filled out your contact form or their details etc. etc.
For a while, the definition of what the bounce rate was and how it was calculated caused some discussion amongst SEO experts, with some asserting that it was those visitors who clicked on and clicked off again within a few seconds, whilst others asserted that the bounce rate was just those visitors who took no further action. Recently, however, Google have themselves defined the bounce rate as follows;
“Bounce rate is single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server.”
The reason your bounce rate matters, is because if vast numbers of visitors are finding your website but then taking no further action, there is likely to be a serious problem with the way your website is operating.
On the one hand, a very high bounce rate could be an indication that you are targeting your website incorrectly i.e. all the people finding your website were actually looking for something else entirely.
This happened to a client of ours recently; they had a sales agent in the Czech Republic, so had created and optimised a web page for the term ‘Czech Agent’. Unfortunately, Czech Agent is also a porn site, so at least a third of the traffic visiting their website was looking for something totally different to what our client sold, hence their bounce rate was disproportionately high. Whilst it gave us all a good laugh – including the client, who fortunately saw the funny side – it also gave us a tangible problem to solve.
If you know your targeting is correct but your bounce rate is still high, then you need to investigate the design, layout and user experience of your website as part of your ongoing optimisation strategy. Change things, starting with the easy solutions first, then monitor your bounce rate in Google Analytics (go to Audience > Overview > put in your date parameters) to see how its effected by what you’re doing. You could even do some A/B testing, if needs be, to find the best solution quickly.
TIP: a good bounce rate should be lower than 50%, but bear in mind that, if you rapidly increase your traffic in the short term, your bounce rate is likely to rise to begin with also. Keep an eye on it over time, and only panic if it remains persistently high (above 70%) despite your efforts to the contrary.
Drop Off Rate/Exit Pages
Your drop off rate is the number of people who leave your website, whilst the exit pages are the specific pages that resulted in them leaving.
It’s tempting to think that these are the same thing as your bounce rate, but there’s a subtle difference; your bounce rate is the number of people who have entered your website on a single page and left from that same page, whereas your drop off rate is visitors who have been browsing your website and have then left.
In an ideal world, your highest ranking exit page would be your Contact page, because that would mean visitors have acquired your phone number and have thus left the website with the required information. Alternatively, if you’re running an e-commerce website, then your exit pages should be the cart.
However, if your drop off rate is particularly high on certain pages – and not the ones you want – then you need to investigate to find out why your website is losing traffic at those specific points and take steps as part of your SEO strategy to remedy the problem. Similarly, if your exit pages are your blogs, why are visitors not moving through the website further after reading your content? What could you do to make them stay and browse for longer?
If you monitor your drop off rates and exit pages regularly, you will be able to see where your website is losing visitors and mitigate those actions, thereby increasing your chances of converting your traffic into leads and sales.
The easiest way of monitoring these factors is to check in regularly with your Behaviour Flow chart in Google Analytics (Behaviour > Behaviour Flow > Date Parameters); this shows you quickly and easily how visitors are moving through your website and where you’re losing them. Alternatively, you can go to Behaviour > Site Content > Exit Pages to look at the specific exit pages.
TIP: there’s no hard and fast rule about what a good drop off rate is for web pages, but think about what stage your visitors will be at for each web page they’re on and use that to set yourself targets. For example, the drop ff rate on your Contact page should be higher than the drop off rate for your Home page. And don’t forget to make sure a visitor can see your contact details regardless of which page they’re on, so that if they do drop off without continuing browse, they are at least more likely to be leaving with the relevant information.
The number of pages per session (or pages/session, as it is written in Google Analytics) is a pretty self-explanatory one; this is the average number of pages each visitor has looked at in a single session on your website. Or, to put it another way, each time a visitor has visited your website, regardless of how many times they’ve been back, how many pages on the website did they look at?
Going back to the motivations of search engines; they want to know that when someone has entered a search query, they are going to return the best website they have for that question. As such, they want to know that it is a website with lots of content on it, that is regularly updated and that is going to answer all the questions the searcher might have. One of the ways they judge this, is to see whether the website is currently being used in that way by its existing visitors i.e. is it being used as a resource?
So, if you have a website that visitors are coming back to time again and one where visitors are looking at multiple pages each time they visit, then you are indicating that your website is a good resource and will likely provide all the answers the searcher is looking for. As a result, you want the number of pages/session to be as high as possible, and to be going up as you add more and more content. Because naturally, you want your audience to be reading and engaging with all of your lovely online web content.
Your pages per session figure, like the rest of the other metrics, can be seen with ease via Google Analytics; simply log on to your analytics and click Audience > Overview > and set your date parameters; it will show in your statistics.
TIP: don’t forget that, in the short term, your pages/session might go down as your repeat customers increase, because visitors will look at fewer pages each time they visit. The key to combat this is to aim to add as much new content to your website as possible, so that even returning visitors have plenty to look at, no matter how many times they come back.
Average Session Duration
Again, this is a pretty self-explanatory one, as this is the average length of time visitors stay on your website.
Once again, the goal is to get visitors to stay on your website for as long as possible, as the more time they’re there, the more likely they are to be consuming all your beautiful, well-crafted content, looking at your products or services, or getting your contact details. The more SEO marketing you do, the more your average session duration should go up.
Like most of the other metrics, your average session duration can be viewed via Google Analytics and it will be in the same place as your pages/session information. And don’t forget to check how your statistics are changing, as opposed to just checking how they are now; use the comparison feature in Google Analytics to compare the current date range period with the previous period, or even the previous year, so you can see trends and make meaningful decisions about how your online marketing strategy is working.
TIP: on average, it takes about 2 minutes 30 seconds – 3 minutes to read an average length 500 – 1000 words blog post, so you want your average session duration to be upwards of the 3 minute mark. Remember too that this is an average though, so you need quite a few visitors to be staying longer than this to mitigate for those who only visit for a few seconds.
Page Load Time
Page load time is the length of time it takes for your website – or an individual web page – to load, once someone has been directed to your website. So it’s the length of it time it takes from when someone has clicked on the link to your website from Google (or wherever), to when your full website has loaded completely so the visitor can use all its features fully.
Obviously, there are about a billion factors that determine how quickly (or slowly) your website will load, such as what browser the visitor is using, whether they’re accessing from a laptop or a mobile phone, where in the world they are, how many images you have on your website, how big or old your website is etc. etc. Regardless of them all, however, the one thing to remember is that your page load time should be as low as possible.
Think about the way you use websites; if you want to visit a website – especially if you’re accessing it whilst you’re out and about, on the go – you want it to load quickly. You need the information fast. If a website takes more than a few seconds to load, you’re going to lose patience and click off to the next website instead.
Believe me, I do it all the time.
In fact, research has shown that “53% of people will leave a mobile page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load”. Three seconds is not long at all, especially when Google’s own data indicates that the majority of mobile web pages take an average of 22 seconds to load.
And the longer your website takes to load, the more your bounce rate will go up. In fact, according to Search Engine Journal, “a page that takes 5 seconds to load increases the probability of a bounce by 90 percent compared with a page that loads in one second”.
So, the long and short of it is that you need to consider the page load speed of your website to be one of the main pillars of your ongoing SEO strategy; get this wrong, and all your other KPIs will start to go in the wrong direction too. Again, you can check your load speeds in Google Analytics; login, then > Behaviour > Site Speed > use the variety of tools in there.
TIP: it is always better to think about your page loading speed as you create your website, rather than trying to retrospectively fix the problem. Talk to your web developer about ensuring you are on the right server and make sure the design and layout of your website will minimise the load time taken. There are also plugins and online tools you can use to help ensure your website is kept running smoothly and quickly.
Your landing pages are the pages visitors use to enter your website; again, another fairly straightforward one. For the majority of website, the most prominent landing page will be the home page, as this is how visitors are most likely to enter your website following a Google search. However, it’s not always the case.
Particularly if you’re bossing the content creation and including other strands in your SEO strategy (such as social media marketing and link building), then you should have a nice mix of landing pages drawing traffic into the website. For e.g., your blogs should be there, as should the more detailed pages about the products and services you offer.
It’s vital you keep an eye on the pages that are drawing visitors in, so that you can clearly see which pages are working and which are not performing so well. With those that are working well, you can emulate them and use them to create new content, whereas, for those that are under-performing, you can learn from them and either improve them or hide them from the front end of the website.
Either way, you can’t effectively improve your content marketing strategy without knowing your landing pages. As ever, Google Analytics is the best tool to track your best performing landing pages; simply click through via Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages and set your date parameters.
TIP: time and again with our own customers, we see that one the best performing landing pages on any website is the Meet The Team or About Us page; the golden rule that ‘people buy from people’ is never truer than online. Visitors to your website want to know who the people are behind the business; they want to break down the perceived barrier that the internet throws up by removing the human interaction element; they want to know if they can trust you, that there’s someone there should they need to pick up the phone and have a conversation with a real person, as opposed to an algorithm.
If you do nothing else on your website, make sure you have a great Meet The Team or About Us page, with photos of all the staff and information that makes them sound human.
Acquisition channels are the means by which a visitor has found and entered your website. So, for example, have they come from Google, after having done a search either for your business or one of your keywords, or have they come from social media by clicking on an ad or a link you have posted? Maybe they have come from a paid search, i.e. they have clicked on one of your AdWords ads. However a visitor has entered your website, that’s an acquisition channel.
There are a number of possible acquisition channels and the ones you see in your Google Analytics (Acquisition > Overview > drill down into the specific channel you want to look at) will depend on the types of SEO marketing you are doing. The main ones you’re most likely to come across are;
- Organic Search – this is the same as your organic traffic as discussed above in point 1; it is the number of visitors who have found your website after doing a search for a keyword. This is the non-paid version (i.e. not PPC).
- Paid Search – this is the number of visitors who have found your website as a result of a PPC (Pay Per Click) ad.
- Direct Search – this is the number of visitors who have found your website by going to it directly, either from a bookmark or by typing your URL, your company name or a variation of it directly into the search bar.
- Social – this is the number of visitors who have landed on your website via a social media platform, such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.
- Referral – this is the number of visitors who have come to your website via a secondary website, which has directly referred them to you i.e. from Wikipedia or by following a link in a blog post on another website.
The goal is to have a nice even distribution of acquisition channels, as this indicates to Google that you are using all the tools in your SEO arsenal to market the website, and also, again, that the website is being used as a resource by people who are finding it and engaging with it from all over the internet.
TIP: your organic traffic should always be the largest channel sending visitors to your website, as this means people are naturally finding your website and it’s performing well, however the other channels have value too, so you should aim to have the remaining channels split roughly equally also. For e.g., a good proportion of direct traffic indicates that there is good brand awareness amongst your audience, social indicates a strong social media presence, whilst a nice chunk of referral traffic shows that you are acing a high-quality link building strategy.
Keyword rankings are the position your website ranks in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the keywords you are targeting. Rightly or wrongly, keyword rankings have become the Holy Grail of SEO.
Often with of our clients, keyword rankings are seen as the be-all-and-end-all of SEO. Time and again we hear “I want to rank number in Google for all my keywords” from business owners, and it’s the benchmark by which they rate how successful you have been as an SEO agency.
Yet the rankings are just one factor in an SEO strategy, and as you can probably tell from the fact I’ve put them at number 9 in my list of top 10, they’re by no means the most important factor.
Yes, if you rank highly for your keywords, you will get more traffic to your website, which in turn will lead to more conversions, which in turn will improve your bottom line. However, the story of SEO is actually far more complex and nuanced than just ‘rank top, win at SEO’. And I don’t have time to go into it all fully here, but I will come back to it for you.
Suffice it to say, very broadly speaking, the overall goal you’re working towards will always be to rank as highly as you can for the keywords you have (very carefully) chosen, so it needs to be one of the metrics you check on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, this is the one KPI that Google doesn’t show you properly in Google Analytics. To get a very rough guideline on your rankings, you can use Google Search Console (previously called Webmaster Tools) and connect it to your Google Analytics; that way, you can access it via Analytics > Acquisition > Search Console > Queries. However, if you’re serious about tracking your rankings more precisely, you can use paid tools such as SEMRush or SE Ranking. We use the latter and can highly recommend it as an excellent – and very cost-effective – keyword rankings tracker tool.
TIP: whilst it can be tempting to constantly check your keyword rankings, it’s important to remember that rankings fluctuate on a daily basis. There are about a gazillion factors that affect a website’s rankings, and only about half of them are to do with you, so you need to be mindful of trends, rather than daily performance. When making decisions on your ongoing SEO strategy, make sure you base them on several weeks’ worth of data, rather than just a few days.
And last but not least, we come to the entire point of SEO; to generate leads or conversions for your business. There’s no precise definition for this, as what a lead or a conversion means to you will very much depend on your business, your website, and what you want people to do. Speaking very loosely and generally, however, a lead is a potential customer, whilst a conversion is a visitor who has become a customer.
The reason I have lumped the two things into the same category here is precisely because of the very vagueness of the definitions. For example, for some business owners, a visitor to the website who has filled in their email address to find out more might purely have become a lead; someone whom the business will need to follow up with to continue the sales conversation if they’re ever going to convert. On the other hand, if the goal for your website is to get people to sign up to your newsletter, then the fact that they have filled in their email address means they have already converted. It’s all very personal and subjective.
And this is the very reason we always ask our clients, right at the beginning of the relationship, before we start anything, “what do you want to achieve with this website?”. It is only once you have defined what you are trying to achieve that you can then measure how effective your efforts have been.
Moreover, the very goal you are working towards will determine the actions you take to get there; there’s no point running a content marketing campaign around getting people to sign up to the newsletter if your business goal is to get people to buy shoes, for example.
Hence, you first of all need to define what constitutes a lead or a conversion for your business, then find a way of monitoring them when they happen. Again, however, there are a number of ways of achieving this, and how you record your conversions will very much depend – like everything else – on what your business does and how you operate.
For e.g., if you’re running an e-commerce store, then every completed cart is a conversion, and they’re easy to track. You can do it through the backend of your website and via Google Analytics. Email newsletter signups can also be easily tracked, via Mailchimp (or whatever platform you’re using) and Google Analytics again. On the other hand, if you’re an engineering firm touting for massive contracts, it may be that the only way you can track your conversions is by asking your customers how they found you.
Essentially though, it doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it. Track your conversions, then you know for sure whether or not your SEO strategy is doing what it should.
Keyword rankings may be the goal for business owners and marketeers, but conversions are the ultimate goal for SEO agencies. After all, if you and your business are doing well and we helped you get there, we’ll do well in return.
TIP: to begin with, you should set yourself small, tangible goals for what you want to achieve with your SEO strategy, then build it up as the campaign builds. Remember that SEO is a long game and there are few instant wins, so be realistic about what you are likely to achieve with your budget and go for the ‘low hanging fruit’ first. Once you’ve achieved the small targets, you can then go after the big guns.
Make Sure You Start With The Correct SEO Strategy
So that, in a nutshell (a 5,500 word nutshell!!), is my run-down of the 10 most important key performance indicators that you need to track in SEO. However, please remember that this list is not exhaustive; although you might have found it exhausting reading it! Oh, I’m on a roll today…
Again, it’s important to bear in mind the fact that SEO is not a precise science; there are no quick fixes and a lot of it requires a steady nerve and some trial and error. There are so many factors that the search engine algorithms use to place your website and probably half of them are out of your control anyway (such as how often your competition are posting content, to try and bag the same keywords as you), so all you can do is your best.
In the first instance, you need to intelligently audit your website and your online market and put a well-thought-out SEO strategy in place off the back of it. You then need to use the above metrics to monitor your campaign, to see what is working, what isn’t, what you should do more of and what you should stop wasting your time on. An SEO strategy should never be a static document, it should always be a work in progress, so tweak it as required and respond to what the data is telling you.
If you can do that, and keep it up, and never give up, you will see results in the long term, guaranteed. We can never tell you precisely what any of these KPIs will do – we will never promise to get you on the first page of Google in one week, for example, because we never tell our clients porkies to get the on the hook – but we can give you an indication of what they should do. And, to date, we’ve never failed yet.
If you’d like to find out more about how to measure your SEO KPIs, or if you’d like to speak to one of the GT team about putting the correct SEO strategy in place for your website, then please get in touch with us today. You can email us at [email protected] or call us on 0161 706 0012.