Measuring SEO Performance
After weeks or even months of hard work, and tens of thousands of dollars of investment in search engine optimization, how do you know if it was worth it? SEO can feel like a waste of time if you don’t accurately track your growth across the board. What was your digital footprint or SEO score in the beginning and what is it now? Is this translating into more impressions, clicks, leads, and sales?
How to Measure SEO Performance
There are ten core ways to measure the SEO performance of a site over time. These areas are important to track whether you’re an agency working on another company’s behalf, or if you are the in-house SEO specialist for a company.
At its core, SEO is all about organic traffic. Pay-per-click campaigns can get results fast, but they’re expensive and the leads from this part of the strategy end as soon as you pause the campaign. Organic traffic, which is traffic finding a website, social media, or directory through search, is more of a constant, and is a measurable piece of data that is directly related to SEO/content efforts.
SEO improvements last (at least until the next update). Although algorithms change, and it’s always best to have a live site that is regularly updated, you can generally expect a well-built site to continue attracting relevant visitors even after months without an update (which is not recommended). Google Analytics can track a site’s organic traffic over time, giving a 1,000-10,000 foot view of its SEO performance.
Organic traffic can’t be the only indicator of a site’s success, however. Traffic for the sake of traffic is pointless. A site needs to rank for specific keywords, generate leads, and lead to sales. We’re always asking the questions: who are they, how did they get here, and what did they do?
Backlinks are another great piece of data for measuring a site’s growth – although, there are some contradictory perspectives on their impact on rankings in 2021. For years backlinks were a massive contributor to a site’s domain authority. Getting a website listed on numerous databases and directories would almost immediately improve its authority and positioning in the SERPs.
The data still shows this to be the case – but certain engines continually come out and say backlinks are less and less meaningful (which should be taken with a grain of salt). We certainly understand why Google is trying to pull this ranking factor back some as black-hat SEO has forced Google to ease up on the value it places on backlinks. Due to PBN usage, spammy directories, and other techniques that are designed to trick algorithms versus provide a truthful picture of a website’s E-A-T. Always remember, content is king, backlinks are necessary, and focus on the end user’s experience.
Low quality backlinks will usually not improve a site’s positioning in the SERPs. High-quality, truthful links are still a great tool for measuring a website’s strength/growth, as they still influence rankings. The whole point of SEO is to package your highly-quality content that users find valuable, so that bots can also position your content/assets well for more users (searchers). When content is hitting the mark, people organically link back to those pages/resources. Thus, using a backlink checker like AHREFS can show you over time how many people are finding value in your site, how your link efforts are working out, how news/PR sources are changing your link graph, and where your website exists in the digital ecosystem.
Website Authority Over Time
Speaking of authority…
Page Authority and Domain Authority are basically the summary of a page or website’s entire SEO value. These values were created by Moz to assess how likely a page will rank in the SERPs. Moz bots aim to value your site in the same way a search engine does.This score ranges from 1-100 and is based on their Link Explorer web index. Although it is not a ranking factor, it does assign a value to your backlinking, site age, and content value that can be tracked over time and compared to your competition.
While a site’s overall organic traffic offers a comprehensive view of its SEO efforts, individual keyword rankings are another (KPI) key metric to track. Good SEO should be in tandem with well-researched keywords/topics and then followed by an increase in SERP positioning.
The first step to any SEO strategy is to identify the optimal keywords that your industry should target. Those short and long-tail keywords should be infused into every aspect of your digital footprint, from the content you write to the URL slugs, to the image names, to the meta descriptions, to the local SEO, social media strategy, hashtag strategy, video tragedy, to the ads strategy. It goes without saying, the goal of an SEO strategy is to rank better in the SERP for targeted keywords/phrases.
A 2020 study by Sistrix found that 28.5% of users click the very first result on a Google search. The click-through rate for the number two result is only 15.7%, and the tenth result is only 2.5%. Very few searchers ever reach page two.
Keep a list of the keywords you are trying to rank for and monitor how well each page moves up in the SERPs over time.
The amount of time that a user spends on a page is immensely important. It directly signals how well the content matches the searcher’s needs. A high dwell time signals that searchers are finding great value in your content, and that your investment in content has been well worth it. A low dwell time shows that somewhere along the line, you missed the mark (or content is a mismatch for the searchers intent – in which case the engines will reset the page’s SERP positioning).
It should be noted some high bounce rate, low dwell time pages are still capable of meeting a clients needs. Pages that aren’t capturing readers’ attention should be beefed up with more robust and relevant content. Time spent on page can be tracked through Google Analytics under Behavior Overview.
CTR represents the percentage of users who visited your site after conducting a search. If a page shows up in the SERPs 1000 times a week but only 25 people click on it, that page has a 2.5% CTR. As we already discussed, 2.5% is the average CTR of a page in the tenth position on the first page of Google. It’s very important to move as high up in the SERP as possible to improve your CTR. Click-through rate can be checked in Google Search Console under Search Analytics.
It all comes down to the SERP. The search engine result page is what the searchers are looking at. They’re trying to find you, and either you’re on it or you’re not. If a website isn’t visible in the SERPs, then the SEO strategy needs to be adjusted. High dwell times, fast page speeds, low bounce rates – these will all be indicators that you’re doing something right in regard to the site experience matching a user’s intent. It takes lots of research, quality work, and adaptability to improve your ranking.
Bounce rate represents the percentage of users who visit a site but leave without clicking any additional pages or interacting. Sites should be immersive, with several cross-referenced pages that encourage visitors to dive deep into the content and investigate the site further. A quality website will have lots of easily discoverable content and a layout that is attractive, with page speeds that don’t turn people off. Google Analytics calculates bounce rate so you can make adjustments that improve the site experience for visitors.
How quickly a page loads has a direct impact on SERP performance, dwell time, and bounce rate, so it’s very important to optimize a site and all its images. Image SEO is time-intensive, but very important because searchers who visit a site and can’t get it to load quickly will bail and look for a better-optimized experience.
A study by Portent shows that faster load times directly correlate to transaction conversion rates (TCR). Pages with a 0-2 second load time have between a 4.64% and 8.11% TCR, while pages with a 3+ second load time are all under 3%.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool allows users to check the speed of their site and assigns a score of 0 to 100%. 90% or better is considered great, the 50-90% range needs further development, and a 50% or lower needs to be optimized ASAP.
Track your percentage over time and see how much your bounce rate, dwell time, and conversion rates improve. This is an example of trackable metrics that show how efforts are moving the needle – that will need to be visible or presented in other dashboards than Google Analytics. Hopefully we see the fruit of our efforts in Google Analytics, but occasionally, we don’t and need to have other documenting and dashboard views to provide those efforts/optimizations to managing partners/parties.
Here’s what it all comes down to, conversion rates. These equations show how our SEO strategies are impacting or will impact the bottom lines. How many people are finding your site through organic searches today? How are channel traffics now overlapping (organic and social media, organic and CPC, etc.)? Marketing efforts notoriously rely on Last Click Attribution – so often we miss out on the “marketing recipe.” This is why tracking marketing efforts and conversion rates are a good way to connect success dots. A marketing strategy is lifted by tracking. Marketing efforts can be doubled, doubled back, or iterated upon where we have conversion rate data in some form.
All data points are self-serving and almost meaningless without context. Additionally, you can divide anything and in essence you’ve created a conversion rate. There are some activities that are really strong indicators of a successful digital marketing strategy and can be found or created in Google Analytics:
- Destination – a specific page load. If your internal linking structure is set up to funnel people to a specific page on the site, then you can track how well it’s working here.
- Duration – the amount of time that users spend on a site. If the goal of a site is to be informative, such as a news organization, then increasing dwell time is possibly a goal to track.
- Pages per Session – the number of different pages throughout the site that a user is visiting during a single session. A travel site would benefit from this, because they want to show off multiple destinations within a city.
- Event – a specific action is triggered such as filling out a form, or making a purchase. Events are the most common type of goal to set. Whether you’re selling a product, building a newsletter audience, or trying to get a list of warm leads for your services, actionable events are important.
Using Google Analytics to track goals is paramount to ensuring that your SEO is actually doing what it set out to do. If your pages are ranking better and you’re getting more leads, but your conversion rate isn’t improving – that’s data that can be used to improve other aspects of your business such as product quality and sales staff training.
How Long Does it Take to See Results?
SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Think of the parable of the tortoise and the hare. Pay-per-click campaigns are the hare, and SEO is the tortoise. PPC can get you results fast, but they can be a costly acquisition strategy. SEO is the long game, and slow and steady wins the race and can produce great returns on the investment over time.
The amount of time it takes to begin seeing significant improvements completely depends on your industry, the competitiveness of the keywords you are targeting, the number of local and regional competitors in your field, your budget, the quality of your work (GMB reviews/word of mouth), the web infrastructure you’re starting with, etc. There is no set parameter on when to expect improvements, but if you’re doing it right, you will see gains.
It’s important to remember that SEO is only part of a greater digital marketing strategy, and that you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Social media, email, video, PPC, SEO, networking, and offline marketing efforts all work together to allow you to accomplish your business goals.