Posted by Chuck Reynolds on November 10, 2016 - 7:03pm

Measuring and Tracking Success

They say that if you can measure it, then you can improve it. In search engine optimization, measurement is critical to success. Professional SEOs track data about rankings, referrals, links, and more to help analyze their SEO strategy and create a roadmap for success.

Recommended Metrics to Track

Although every business is unique, and every website has different metrics that matter, the following list is nearly universal. Here we're covering metrics critical to SEO; more general metrics are not included. For a more comprehensive look at web analytics, check out Choosing Web Analytics Key Performance Indicators by Avinash Kaushik.

Search Engine Share of Referring Visits

Every month, keep track of the contribution of each traffic source for your site, including:

  • Direct Navigation: Typed in traffic, bookmarks, email links without tracking codes, etc.
  • Referral Traffic: From links across the web or in trackable email, promotional, and branding campaign links
  • Search Traffic: Queries that sent traffic from any major or minor web search engine

Knowing both the percentage and exact numbers will help you identify weaknesses and give you a basis for comparison over time. For example, if you see that traffic has spiked dramatically but it comes from referral links with low relevance, it's not the time to get excited. On the other hand, if search engine traffic falls dramatically, you may be in trouble. You should use this data to track your marketing efforts and plan your traffic acquisition efforts.

Search Engine Referrals

Three major engines make up 95%+ of all search traffic in the US: Google and the Yahoo!-Bing alliance. For most countries outside the US, 80%+ of search traffic comes solely from Google (with a few notable exceptions including Russia and China). Measuring the contribution of your search traffic from each engine is useful for several reasons:

Compare Performance vs. Market Share

Compare the volume contribution of each engine with its estimated market share.

Get Visibility Into Potential Drops

If your search traffic should drop significantly at any point, knowing the relative and exact contributions from each engine will be essential to diagnosing the issue. If all the engines drop off equally, the problem is almost certainly one of accessibility. If Google drops while the others remain at previous levels, it's more likely to be a penalty or devaluation of your SEO efforts by that singular engine.

Uncover Strategic Value

It's very likely that some efforts you undertake in SEO will have greater positive results on some engines than on others. For example, we've observed that on-page optimization tactics like better keyword inclusion and targeting reap greater benefits with Bing and Yahoo! than with Google. On the other hand, gaining specific anchor text links from a large number of domains has a more positive impact on Google than the others. If you can identify the tactics that are having success with one engine, you'll better know how to focus your efforts.

Visits Referred by Specific Search Engine Terms and Phrases

The keywords that send traffic are another important piece of your analytics pie. You'll want to keep track of these on a regular basis to help identify new trends in keyword demand, gauge your performance on key terms, and find terms that are bringing significant traffic that you're potentially under-optimized for.

You may also find value in tracking search referral counts for terms outside the top terms and phrases—those that are most valuable to your business. If the trend lines are pointing in the wrong direction, you know efforts need to be undertaken to course-correct. Search traffic worldwide has consistently risen over the past 15 years, so a decline in quantity of referrals is troubling. Check for seasonality issues (keywords that are only in demand certain times of the week/month/year) and rankings (have you dropped, or has search volume ebbed?).

Conversion Rate by Search Query Term/Phrase

When it comes to the bottom line for your organization, few metrics matter as much as conversion. For example, in the graphic to the right, 5.80% of visitors who reached Moz with the query "SEO Tools" signed up to become members during that visit. This is a much higher conversion rate than most of the thousands of keywords used to find our site. With this information, we can now do two things:

  1. Checking our rankings, we see that we only rank #4 for "SEO Tools." Working to improve this position will undoubtedly lead to more conversion.
  2. Because our analytics will also tell us what page these visitors landed on, we can focus our efforts on improving the visitor experience on that page.

The real value from this simplistic tracking comes from the low-hanging fruit: finding keywords that continually send visitors who convert to paying customers, and increasing focus on rankings and on improving the landing pages that visitors reach. While conversion rate tracking from keyword phrase referrals is certainly important, it's never the whole story. Dig deeper and you can often uncover far more interesting and applicable data about how conversion starts and ends on your site.

Number of pages receiving at least one visit from search engines

Knowing the number of pages that receive search engine traffic is an essential metric for monitoring overall SEO performance. From this number, we can get a glimpse into indexation—the number of pages from our site the engines are keeping in their indexes. For most large websites (50,000+ pages), mere inclusion is essential to earning traffic, and this metric delivers a trackable number that's indicative of success or failure. As you work on issues like site architecture, link acquisition, XML sitemaps, and uniqueness of content and meta data, the trend line should rise, showing that more and more pages are earning their way into the engines' results. Pages receiving search traffic is, quite possibly, the best long tail metric around.

While other analytics data points are of great importance, those mentioned above should be universally applied to get the maximum value from your SEO campaigns.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor