The number one thing to keep in mind when you’re analyzing SEO performance is that it’s all about continuous progress. While some actions like updating page titles and headings can move the needle quickly, other things take more time.
Especially when you’re just starting to optimize your content and/or are trying to rank at the top of Google for competitive keywords, there is often a lag time of week if not months between doing the actual SEO work and seeing results.
What matters is that you keep moving in the right direction.
Too often, marketing managers and executives shut an SEO project down right before it reaches its goals only because they’ve been tracking the wrong metrics. This article helps you prevent that mistake by showing you how to track SEO success in a meaningful way so you can make decisions based on the right data.
Here is an example of organic traffic development for a B2B software company selling to enterprise clients in 2020:
How to track SEO success
When monitoring SEO performance, it’s important to distinguish between metrics that track your progress toward success and metrics that demonstrate actual success.
To know whether your SEO approach is successful, you’ll want to track:
- organic traffic
- organic conversion
Articles that rank on the first page of Google for a certain keyword, receive 92% of all traffic for that keyword. In other words: ranking high is crucial and as a consequence, so is tracking your rankings.
But it’s not enough.
You could be ranking on the first page for 30 keywords but they may all be low-volume keywords that are rather irrelevant to your brand. In this case, those rankings don’t indicate true success.
If, on the other hand, you’re ranking in the top 3 for 5 keywords that are heavily searched for by your target audience, you can call that success.
While tools such as Ahrefs allow you to track all the keywords you rank for, you should focus your attention on those that will move the needle and that lie within your reach.
“Coffee maker” has a monthly search volume of 86k and so it might seem like a great keyword to go for if you’re selling coffee supplies. However, it’s also highly competitive, and if you’ve just launched your coffee eCommerce shop last week, you’ll get more benefit from ranking for smaller keywords such as “hand grinder for espresso” first.
Define the keywords you want to rank high for based on their relevance to your brand, their search intent, their volume, and the cost/benefit ratio of getting them in the top 3 results.
- Ranking at the top of the search results for those pre-defined keywords.
- Ranking for an increasing number of relevant keywords over time.
2. Organic traffic
It’s only when you target and start ranking for the right kind of keywords that you’ll see an increase in relevant traffic. How big that increase can be, depends mostly on two things:
- the size of your target audience
- the volume of the keywords that audience is searching for
If you are selling a subscription-based photo editing tool worldwide, your target audience is a lot bigger than when you are a local Boston photographer trying to get customers for wedding photoshoots. Similarly, there will be a lot more people searching for a tool like yours than there will be looking for a Boston photographer.
Relevant traffic is traffic that is interested in what your company has to offer. If you rank for a lot of content that is only mildly related to what you sell, you’ll likely attract readers that aren’t part of your target audience.
Here is an example:
If you’re a freelance book editor, it might make sense to write an article on “how to edit a book”. However, people looking for “how to edit a book” most likely want to learn how to do it themselves rather than hire you to do it for them.
If you run an online course teaching people how to book edit, though, it’s a great keyword to go for.
So how do you know if your traffic is relevant?
- They browse around your site (pages per visit).
- They spend a lot of time reading your content (time per page).
- They convert.
You can easily track your organic traffic by going to your Google Analytics dashboard > Acquisition > Overview > Organic Search
Aim for a percentage of increased relevant traffic based on the size of your target audience and the volumes of the keywords you’re trying to rank for.
Obtaining your desired relevant traffic increase.
3. Organic conversion
The best way to know whether the extra traffic you’re getting from your SEO efforts is relevant is by seeing it convert. Depending on your goals, you’ll track different types of conversions and you can do so by setting up custom goals in Google Analytics.
Here are a few examples:
Goal: to increase sales.
Track: completed purchases, number of refund requests.
Goal: to generate more prospects and marketing qualified leads.
Track: contact form submissions, quote requests, discovery call appointments, …
Goal: to grow your email list
Track: new subscribers through website forms.
In all of these cases, it’s important to not just track the actual conversions but also to filter out any conversions that don’t come from organic traffic. This can be easy to forget but can drastically change your data if you’re also, for example, running paid ads to certain pages.
Have systems in place to track every type of conversion that can take place on your website and make sure to filter out every conversion that wasn’t generated by organic traffic.
An increase in pre-defined desired conversions through organic traffic.
Increasing conversions is great, but like most things, SEO comes at a cost and so you want to know what your return on that investment is.
To do that, make sure you assign a monetary value to every conversion you track. You’ll also want to go beyond the value of a customer’s first conversion and take into account their entire lifetime value.
If you don’t do the latter, your numbers won’t accurately reflect your SEO ROI.
Say, for example, that a lot of your organic traffic signs up for your newsletter. By doing so, these people are put into a funnel that on average turns 4% of them into customers. You need to incorporate that second conversion into your calculations as well.
Assign a monetary value to every type of conversion you can get from your organic traffic and combine that with a customer’s lifetime value to calculate the ROI of your SEO strategy.
Having a return that is x% larger than your investment where x should be a goal set at the start of the SEO project and measured over time, knowing that there’s a lag time between SEO efforts and results.
Monitoring SEO performance: the top metrics to track
To achieve SEO success across the board, you need a clear plan of action and a way to monitor whether you’re staying on track. While there are a plethora of strategies you can implement to improve rankings, traffic, and conversions, you generally want to keep an eye on three things:
- Obtained high-quality backlinks
- Number of SEO focused blog posts published
- The absence of technical issues
1. Obtained high-quality backlinks
Backlinks from sites with a high domain authority/rating and that are relevant to what your company is doing will increase your site’s authority which will, in turn, help you rank faster.
How much time and effort you put into backlink building will depend on the stage your site is at and the competitiveness of the field it operates in but in general, you’ll always want to be gaining new high-quality backlinks.
A tool such as Ahrefs makes it easy to get a report sent straight to your inbox with your newly gained as well as your lost backlinks. The latter matters just as much as you want to see an overall increase in backlinks over time.
Ideally, you want to track the following on a monthly basis:
- total of new links built.
- domain rating of links built.
- anchor texts of links built.
- the number of links from high authority sites.
- the number of links from industry-specific sites.
2. Number of SEO focused blog posts published
While it’s important to focus on quality over quantity when it comes to the creation of blog content, it’s equally important to make sure you’re hitting your content calendar targets.
It’s easy to get behind on writing new content or publishing the content you outsourced to freelance writers, but unpublished content can’t rank.
Keep yourself accountable and have a clear target for the number of posts you want to publish every month.
3. The absence of technical issues
Just like a car without gas won’t go anywhere, your content is unlikely to rank well if your site is plagued by technical issues. Get a full technical audit done and have everything fixed from crawl issues to broken links, and redirect chains.
Once your site is in good shape, monitor it continuously so you’re able to address new issues as they arise.
Whether you decide to fix technical problems on a regular basis yourself or hire an agency to keep everything running smoothly, there are two things that should always be optimized:
- site speed.
Having a fast site that performs well on mobile is crucial to get some love from Google. If anything goes wrong there, you’ll want to fix it as soon as possible.
From progress to results
SEO is crucial if you want to attract leads organically but its results are rarely instant. It’s therefore essential to monitor SEO performance both in terms of progress and in terms of achieved success.
The former allows you to know things are moving in the right direction, and to course-correct where needed, while the former tells you when you’ve hit your goals and should move on to the next stage of your overall SEO strategy.