How to Measure SEO Performance: 5 KPIs [and how to track them]

by | Jun 5, 2020 | SEO

Joe

Joe

I’m the director of Amplified Marketing and have been working in digital marketing for over 8 years. I love helping small businesses grow online with smart and effective digital marketing.

Tracking and measuring your SEO performance is arguably the most important aspect of any SEO campaign.

It makes sense – if you don’t know whether your SEO is delivering dollars to your bottom line, there’s no way of determining if it’s working for your business.

Think about this:

Would you invest money in the stock market if you had no way of telling whether you’re going to make a return?

Probably not.

So why would you invest time and money in SEO if you’re not getting a clear indication of the return (or lack thereof) in your investment?

In other words, you need to know if your SEO efforts are paying off.

So, how do you know if your SEO is producing an ROI?

Great question! The answer?

You need to set up and measure some important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will determine how successful and profitable your SEO campaign really is.

In this article, we’re going to look at 5 essential SEO KPIs to help you track, measure and analyse your SEO results, and also some tools you can use to help track them.

First things first: What is a KPI?

First off, let’s actually consider and define what a KPI actually is: According to Klipfolio:

A Key Performance Indicator is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives.

Make sense?

Any business will have a number of KPIs, from sales to marketing to product development and customer satisfaction. In fact there’s probably a KPI for almost every single action in your business.

But the important thing is to track the most important KPIs – the ones that actually make a difference to your bottom line.

An example of a KPI would be your business’ total revenue, or your business’ total profit. Or, if we look at something more granular – your business’ total organic search traffic.

These 5 KPIs outlined below apply to your SEO campaign whether you’re conducting it ‘in-house’ or paying an SEO agency to run your SEO for you.

SEO Benchmarking

A benchmark is essentially a starting point, or reference point for what you’re measuring. In terms of SEO, a benchmark might be something like:

  • how much total organic website traffic you’re currently getting
  • the amount traffic to a particular page on your website
  • the number of contact form enquiries you receive from organic traffic.

An important element of tracking KPIs for any campaign (not just SEO) is to set benchmarks before you start, because this allows you to measure your progress, and more effectively track your KPIs over time.

For example:

If you invest money in the stock market but don’t record how much money you invested originally, how are you going to measure the return on investment in 6,12, 24 months time?

You won’t have a benchmark to compare to, which makes it very hard to measure your return. So the best way to measure and understand your SEO results is to focus on the high-impact KPIs.

You don’t want to measure any more than 5 because you’ll just end up with information-overload and become overwhelmed by too much data. So let’s crack on…

KPI #1. Revenue from organic search traffic

What’s the end goal when running an SEO campaign?

This should be pretty obvious – to grow your business’ revenue.

Yes, you want to increase rankings and grow your organic traffic, but these measurements are a means to an end… The ultimate goal of SEO is to make more money for your business.

You need to think of SEO from a top-level view as a marketing channel that is designed to help grow your business. So in order for your SEO campaign to be successful, you ultimately need it to be bringing in revenue for your business.

Measuring your revenue from organic search traffic (and the complexities of it) will vary depending on your business, website, knowledge and resources.

And to be honest, you’re never really going to know the exact dollar value that your SEO campaign is generating – but you can get pretty close!

For example an online eCommerce business will be selling products online straight through the website, which would make it reasonably easy to measure the revenue from organic traffic through Google Analytics eCommerce tracking.

Whereas a service-based business such as a tax consulting or law firm will receive a lot of leads via organic traffic, however not all of these leads will result in paying clients. In this case, you’d need to calculate your lead conversion rate, along with their average customer value to determine the estimated revenue generated from organic traffic.

The specifics on how to implement measuring revenue from organic traffic are beyond this article, but Prateek Agarwal from Optimist gives a fantastic breakdown on how to measure organic traffic value in this article.

Tools to measure your revenue from organic search traffic:

Google Analytics is the obvious choice here, and to be honest it’s really the only one you need.

KPI #2. ROI from SEO spend

Are you getting a return on the money you’re investing in SEO?

If you’re not sure, then you need to start asking this question!

Like any other form of marketing, it’s critical to understand whether you’re seeing a return on your investment.

Going back to our stock market example from earlier – if you’re investing money in buying shares, but you’re not tracking whether you’re getting a return on that investment, then you’re not really able to tell whether you’re making good investments.

Same with SEO… if you’re not seeing an ROI on your SEO spend… you need to do one of two things:

  1. Consider whether SEO is a suitable marketing channel for your business, and if it is, you need to examine how you can improve the performance of your campaign to make it profitable
  2. Review your SEO strategy to understand whether or not it’s actually effective in driving qualified organic traffic that converts.

Depending on how you’re running your SEO campaign (in-house vs outsourcing) it’s important to understand how much you’re investing vs how much return you’re getting.

For example, you might be running your campaign in-house and therefore not be investing a large dollar amount, but you’re still investing your time, which is obviously worth something.

So if you’re doing it this way then you need to understand how many hours you’re putting into your SEO campaign on a monthly basis, then figure out the dollar value based on how much your time is worth per hour.

If you’re outsourcing your SEO, then this may be a little easier to calculate, because you’ll be paying a specific dollar amount each month.

Ryan Stewart over at The Blueprint Training outlines a basic formula for SEO ROI: Measure SEO success: Ryan Stewart - SEO ROI Using this calculation, you can now determine your ROI from either your in-house search engine optimisation efforts, or from the provider you’re paying to do it for you.

Pro Tip:

Keep in mind that SEO is a long-term strategy, so if you started your campaign last month, you’re probably not really going to see much in the way of ROI just yet – give it at least 6 months and then calculate.

KPI #3. Organic search traffic

This is an obvious one, but surprisingly is often overlooked.

Your organic search traffic is a fundamental KPI when running an SEO campaign. You need to be consistently observing and measuring how your organic website traffic is tracking to gauge whether your efforts are paying off.

There will be months where you won’t grow, or you’ll plateau – but over the course of 6 – 12 months you should certainly see organic traffic growth. How much growth is heavily dependent on a number of variables such as:

  • Your industry, and the level of competition
  • Your resources – how much time, effort and money are you putting into your SEO campaign? As with most things in life, the more resources you can throw at something, generally the better results you’ll see (however this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to invest ridiculous amounts to see SEO growth)
  • Your existing website authority
  • Your existing leverageable assets – if you already have high quality content and assets, you’ll be able to move a lot quicker
  • The buy-in from management – the more people you can get buy-in from means the more potential your campaign will have.

Ultimately, when your organic traffic grows, you should be seeing growth in your company’s bottom line revenue.

Tools to measure your organic search traffic:

Google Analytics

You really only need one tool to measure your organic search traffic – Google Analytics (GA) which is free. GA will give you pretty much all the data you need to make very well informed and intelligent decisions when it comes to your website’s traffic and performance. Google Analytics organic traffic

Google Search Console

Another tool we use a lot for measuring organic search performance is Google Search Console (GSC).

Now, GSC won’t specifically tell you how much organic traffic you’re getting, but it’s great for understanding things like what queries are driving people to your website, what pages are performing best, and where your site has appeared in the search results. Google Search Console for organic traffic

How to view organic search traffic in Google Analytics

  1. Log in to Google Analytics
  2. On the left-hand panel click on Acquisition > Overview Google Analytics Acquisition Overview Report
  3. GA will then display all the top channels your website is getting traffic from. Now you want to drill down to just organic, by clicking organic search. Google Analytics - drill down to see organic search traffic
  4. Voila!

KPI #4. Specific keyword rankings

This is a bit of a controversial ‘KPI’ in the SEO world in 2020.

Ten years ago keyword rankings used to be the go-to metric for measuring SEO performance. In some cases it was the only KPI businesses and agencies really cared about!

However a lot has changed in the SEO world in the last ten years, and keyword rankings no longer carry the authority, importance or ‘accuracy’ that they used to. There’s a number of reasons for this:

  • Geo-location – Google will serve search results based on your actual location – meaning that someone in New York will get much different search results than someone in Brisbane – especially for location related searches..
  • Search history / personalisation – Google knows your search history, what you’ve been up to and what your interests are (yes, very creepy). This means that their results are much more personalised than they were ten years ago, so individual search results for particular keywords will vary depending on who’s searching.
  • Rankings don’t necessarily equal traffic or conversions – especially if you’re not targeting relevant or conversion-focused keywords.
  • We’ve also become a lot better at understanding how to measure and analyse online metrics and user behaviour, and software that allows us to access this data has also significantly evolved and improved.

Having said this, keyword rankings can still be a useful indicator of how your SEO campaign is progressing, but you need to be strategic about how and why you track the keywords you choose.

This is why I consider keyword rankings as a secondary KPI – meaning they are a good way of getting information about how your website is performing in organic search, however they’re really not that important – we want to focus more so on primary KPIs discussed above:

  • Revenue from organic search
  • ROI from SEO spend, and’
  • Organic search traffic.

Something to remember is that if you’re tracking a particular keyword for a certain page, you’re likely going to end up ranking for a whole number of related searches that include your seed keyword or variations of it.

For example, this article you’re reading now may end up ranking for its title: “The only 5 SEO KPIs you need to know” – however it may also rank well for synonyms or variations of that phrase such as “important SEO KPIs” or “how to measure SEO results”.

The point is that while keyword rankings are an indication of your SEO results, you need to consider them as one piece of the puzzle – they’re not the defining metric on whether you’re running your SEO successfully.

How much attention should you pay to keyword rankings?

This is a conversation that I’ve had over and over with clients.

While keyword rankings are a good indicator of how your SEO campaign is tracking, I can’t stress enough how they are just that: an indicator of your SEO performance.

You don’t need to check them every day!

Keeping a pulse on your keyword rankings by checking them once a week is plenty – you don’t need to become obsessed with them because as mentioned above – they’re a secondary metric that are useful for getting insights over the long-term.

So, remember to focus on the important factors, rather than getting wound up and obsessing over less reliable metrics like keyword rankings.

Tools to measure your keyword rankings:

There’s a million tools to measure your keyword rankings. Some are free, some are cheap, some are expensive. Here’s some of the more common tools that we’ve personally used:

  • Free option: Ubersuggest (by Neil Patel)
  • Budget option: SerpWatcher by Mangools
  • Premium options: SEMRush, Ahrefs

If you really want to dive deep into the best keyword rank-tracker for your needs, check out this epic article by one of my personal favourite SEO gurus Robbie Richards.

KPI #5. Backlinks: linking root domains

As with keyword rankings, I also consider this as a secondary KPI, but it’s still a good indication of your SEO progress.

Why?

Because backlinks are such an important ranking factor, measuring the number of linking root domains can be a very helpful indicator and predictor of a successful SEO campaign.

Google wants to know how many unique websites are linking to your domain, because this adds credibility and authority to your website – it’s a vote of confidence from another website to yours, which helps Google understand that other webmasters respect your website.

The more votes of confidence from authority, respected, credible websites that you get will improve Google’s trust in your website, which will help build your site’s authority. Pretty simple (in theory!).

Building a solid link profile is hard work and takes time, effort and a lot of resources. If you ask any SEO, I’m pretty sure 99.9% of them would agree that building a quality backlink profile is hands-down the hardest element of a successful SEO strategy.

This makes it an important factor to measure and track.

How to track your backlinking root domains (using ahrefs)

I use ahrefs for this, as it’s my favourite SEO tool of the moment and from experience it produces the most accurate results. And it’s really quick and easy to use – that’s always a bonus.

There’s heaps of other tools you can use (see some recommended tools below) but for this article we’re going to look at how to use the ahrefs method.

  1. Login to ahrefs and plug in your website’s domain name into the search bar (use your root domain, or top level domain) ahrefs backlink overview
  2. You’ll then see an analysis of your link profile – something to pay particular attention to here is the referring domains growth. This is the KPI we’re discussing, and we want to monitor this over time to hopefully see a steady incline of referring domains.
  3. To drill down further and see recently acquired backlinks (that you or your agency have been working on), you can click on the backlinks > new section.This will show you a calendar view of all your most recently acquired backlinks, which can be a very useful metric to use, because you can then go and interact with bloggers or webmasters that have recently linked to your website or one of your articles.

Pro Tip:

Linking root domains is a particularly useful metric for checking to see if your SEO provider is actually executing a well thought out strategy, and continuing to work and build on your website’s authority.

If your SEO agency is building high quality backlinks from trusted, relevant websites in your industry, then they’re probably doing a good job on your campaign, because this is the hardest part of an SEO campaign.

As noted above, measuring your unique root domains is not an essential KPI, but it’s certainly worth monitoring especially to help correlate the connection and impact of a backlinking strategy with your organic search results.

Tracking unique root domains is a good KPI to be tracking because it will help build your authority over time.

Tools to measure your linking root domains:

As with any SEO tool, there’s plenty of great software out there to track your backlink profile. The industry standard is Ahrefs, however this can be expensive if you’re on a budget.

We use Agency Analytics which does a great job, but there’s also some free options on the market such as Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest, which now lets you track keywords, backlinks, and much more.

  • Free option: Ubersuggest
  • Budget option: Agency Analytics (this is the tool we use for client reporting – it’s great!).
  • Premium options: Ahrefs (my go-to these days), SEMRush

Wrap-up

As with any other service that you pay for – SEO needs to be measured and tracked so that you can calculate whether your campaign is making you money or losing you money.

And the best way to do this is to set up and measure at least the top three KPIs outlined above, so that you can make intelligent data-driven decisions about your SEO efforts.

One thing to remember is that SEO is a long-term marketing strategy, and results typically take anywhere from three to six months. So if you’re just starting out with your SEO strategy, give it some time for the search engines to understand and index the work you’re doing!

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