If you’re running a digital marketing campaign, you know that you need to track and report your success metrics. Success metrics are the metrics that either prove or disprove that your strategy is working. Tracking and reporting on those help you understand what’s going on, and they help your higher-ups understand what effects you've had on growing the business.
SEO campaigns are no different. If you’re putting together a strategy to improve your website’s SEO, you have to track your success metrics. Figuring out which metrics are worth tracking is a task that creates a lot of debate. SEO, like most elements of digital marketing, can be tracked in multiple ways using different metrics and tools.
That's why, before you actually track a single metric, you need to identify the metrics you want to track, the tools you’re going to use to track those metrics, and the way you’re going to track each metric.
To put an end to the debate of tools and metrics, we’ve identified the five tools and seven metrics that you should use to track the success of your SEO campaigns.
Tools you’ll need
You’ll need a few tools to track your SEO metrics. It’s important to identify these tools ahead of time, because different tools will report different numbers for the same metrics. To have consistency, you need to use the same tools every time. Here are the five tools we recommend:
- Google Analytics: The OG of analytics tools. It’s used to collect a seemingly endless amount of data about your website. It’s also completely free. You’ll use Google Analytics to track where your website visitors are coming from, what they’re doing on your website, and whether the traffic you’re getting is valuable. Learn more here.
- Google Search Console: Another free tool from Google. Search Console helps you measure your website’s organic performance. This tool gives you insight into the keywords that people are using to find your website. It also helps you understand how your website is performing in the Search Engine Results Page, which is something that’s not available anywhere else. Learn more here.
- SpyFu: You’ll need a tool to help you track metrics that aren’t available in either of the two Google tools we’ve just mentioned. SpyFu is built to handle these metrics. You can learn a lot about the keywords that you’re currently ranking for and the websites that are linking to yours. Learn more here.
- MozBar: A free Chrome plugin from Moz that will help you with a few different metrics that other tools don’t track. This one is completely free and operates in the background of your browser. When you need it to review your success metrics, you can pull it up in one click. Get it here.
- Google Sheets: You’ll need a place to organize and sort all of your metrics. Google Sheets is handy for doing that. We like Google Sheets because it’s easy to share with anyone and you don’t have to worry about some people having older versions of the spreadsheet. Learn more here.
Those five tools will help you track every success metric that we cover in the rest of this post.
How to track and use your metrics
Before you start tracking your metrics, you need to decide how often you’re going to check and track your metrics, and where you’re going to track everything.
We recommend checking and logging your metrics once per month. Until that point, don’t even look at your metrics. Most SEO metrics won’t change enough day by day to make it worthwhile to check your numbers every day. On top of that, you might make knee-jerk decisions if you’re checking daily.
You should also take the time before you start your campaign to set up a spreadsheet where you’ll track everything. This is a manual process, but it gives you the greatest flexibility in how you can sort and view your SEO data.
When it comes to making decisions based on your metrics, don’t be too quick to react. If you see that organic traffic is slightly down one month, it might be an anomaly unrelated to anything you’ve done. Give it time to sort itself out; if it doesn’t correct itself, then you might need to take action.
The key to tracking and making decisions about any SEO campaign is that you have to look for trends. If you notice that organic traffic has a multi-month decline, then it’s time to take action.
We often compare SEO to commuting in heavy traffic: You’ll be moving at different speeds throughout your commute, but you will eventually reach your destination if you just keep working toward it. If you turn around at the first sign of traffic and start over, you’ll never get to your destination.
SEO metrics to track
Now that we've gotten through what tools you need to use and how you should track your metrics, let's move on to the metrics you should track. We recommend tracking seven different metrics.
These seven were chosen because they're the metrics that have the biggest impact on the success of your campaign. They're also the metrics that will most help your higher-ups understand how well your campaign is working.
Getting organic traffic is the whole reason behind SEO. Your goal is to increase organic traffic. That’s why this should be the first metric you track.
Where to get it: Google Analytics.
Once you log in to Google Analytics, click on “Acquisition” on the left sidebar. Next, click “All Traffic” and then “Channels.” From there, click on “Organic Search” under the “Default Channel Grouping” heading.
Now that you’re there, make sure to adjust your date range to the month that you’re reporting on. You’ll do that in the top right.
How to track it: You need to track this metric in two different ways. First is overall. Second is by top pages.
Overall is good to track so that you can see how your efforts are paying off on a high level. Tracking top pages is important so that you can see whether your work is paying off on the page level or whether your top pages are experiencing any decline.
Overall: The number you’re looking to track is “Users.” That metric counts new and returning visitors who come from organic search. Log the total users for that month on your spreadsheet.
Top pages: Click “Landing Pages” as your Primary Dimension. Log the total users for the top 10 organic pages.
Now that you’ve logged these metrics on your spreadsheet, you’ll want to start looking for trends across months. In an ideal world, these numbers will always increase. In reality, that probably won’t happen. If a website has been working on their SEO for a year, their organic traffic might look something like this:
There are a few down months on that graph, but overall traffic is increasing. November and December were down months for this website, but that didn’t change the strategy. The website weathered the storm and, as a result, their traffic eventually increased.
If you notice that overall traffic is increasing, try to identify the biggest reasons for that increase and then double down on that strategy. Your top-pages report will help you find the biggest increases.
Again, a one-month dip might not mean anything, but it’s worth noting. If the trend continues downward after a few months, it’s time to come up with a new strategy.
Organic bounce rate
Organic bounce rate will help you determine whether your organic website visitors are finding what they expect to find on your pages. If your bounce rate is high, that’s a good indication that your content isn’t what visitors are looking for.
Where to get it: In the same Google Analytics view that you used for organic traffic.
How to track it: This metric can be tracked just by overall traffic. Your overall organic bounce rate can serve as your benchmark for other pages as you study your website.
In this example, this company’s organic bounce rate shot up significantly in November. This doesn’t necessarily mean something went wrong. This company simply changed their blogging strategy to capture more organic traffic.
Bounce rate on blogs is often going to be higher than the rest of your website because blog readers usually just want to learn something specific and leave. Seeing that kind of increase happen in November isn’t a bad thing for this website.
You should also dig into specific pages. If you notice a higher-than-average bounce rate on specific pages, you might want to examine the SERP for that keyword. Study what the other websites ranking for this term are doing with their content. It’s possible that your content isn’t matching what searchers are looking for.
What’s the point of getting more organic traffic if you’re not going to get conversions from that traffic source? For SEO to really work, you need to do something with that traffic once it hits your website. That’s why tracking organic conversions is crucial.
Where to get it: This is the last metric that you’ll get from the same Google Analytics view as the previous two.
How to track it: We recommend tracking this one by both overall and top pages.
The purpose of this metric is pretty clear: Conversions are an important part of any SEO strategy. Often, conversions are the only thing that your higher-ups will care about. They want to know exactly how your work is affecting the company. Conversions are an easy way to tie your work to company revenue.
If you notice that your organic traffic is increasing but organic conversions aren’t, it could be a sign that you’re attracting the wrong audience with your content. It could also be a sign that your bar for organic conversions is too high. For example, if your customer journey never goes from blog post to sale immediately, think about other steps you can add as conversions that might signal a potential customer.
Those steps could be ebook downloads, pricing-page visits, time on page, or something else entirely. Find conversions that make sense for your customer journey, and make sure you’re tracking them in Google Analytics as part of your SEO success metrics.
Organic click-through rate (CTR) will help you understand whether your content is matching the searcher’s intent. A low CTR could signal that something is off about your title or meta description.
Where to get it: Google Search Console. Once you log in to Search Console, click “Performance” on the left sidebar. Then, click “Search Results.” Next, adjust your date range for the month you're reporting on. Then, log the “Average CTR” for that month.
How to track it: Track this by overall and by different categories, such as blog posts, product pages, resource pages, and anything else that makes sense for your website. Your blog posts are going to have a very different organic CTR than your product pages. You should look at them separately to get a better understanding of how searchers are interacting with your website.
Your home page’s CTR will likely be very high because people looking for your home page most likely typed your brand name into the search box. Those people had every intention of visiting your website from the beginning of their search. That usually results in a high CTR.
Blog posts, on the other hand, will usually have a lower CTR because people are looking for answers to questions, and they’ll likely have a number of other blog posts to choose from in the SERP. That competition usually leads to a lower CTR.
Once you start tracking this metric, you’ll want to create benchmarks for each category.
Take your last six months and find the average CTR for your different categories. As you publish new pages and they make their way into Google’s search results, you’ll have an idea of what kind of CTR they should have. Lower-than-average CTRs could signify that there is something about that page that’s causing people not to click on it as often as you would like.
Here’s an example: Let’s say we know from the past few months of tracking organic CTR that our blog CTR, on average, is 1.5%. This month, our blog posts saw varying CTRs, most around 1.5%, but there are three that fall well below that. Blog Post 1 has a CTR of 0.46%, Blog Post 8 has a CTR of 0.52%, and Blog Post 9 has an organic CTR of just 0.12%.
Based on those much-lower-than-average CTRs, we would dig into those three blog posts to try to figure out what’s going on. The titles could be bad, misleading, or simply boring. The meta descriptions might have the same problems.
This metric is an indicator of whether your SEO strategy is working. Your keywords should increase as your SEO strategy matures and Google crawls more of your content. A higher number of total keywords means a greater number of opportunities to grab traffic from Google’s SERP.
Where to get it: SpyFu. From the SEO Overview tab in SpyFu, enter your URL. Take the “Organic Keywords” and log that number on your spreadsheet.
How to track it: Total keywords are best tracked by the overall metric. This is another number that should increase every month if your SEO strategy is working well. Consistent increases won’t always happen, though, so don’t panic over one-month dips. If the downward trend continues, you might want to consider your strategy to see whether there’s something different you should be doing to rank for more keywords.
Total backlinks will help you figure out whether your SEO strategy is paying off, especially if you’re using a content-driven approach to SEO. Your content should be unique enough that it gets backlinks, whether that’s through a link-building campaign or organically.
Where to get it: MozBar. Once you have MozBar installed, just navigate to your website with MozBar running. Click on the number of links listed there.
This will open a new page. On the new page, change your data from “exact page” to “root domain.” That will tell you your total backlinks for your entire website.
With this metric, you’ll be looking for trends. Take note of any big spikes in backlinks, and try to figure out what caused that spike. Was it a result of a new piece of content or a good press mention? Figuring out what caused your spikes will help you repeat those tactics and even build a whole strategy around it.
This metric helps you understand how much Google trusts your website. Even though this metric is made up by Moz, it’s still a good estimation of how Google views your website. Domain Authority (DA) is a 0-100 scale. Highly authoritative websites will be closer to 100. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has a DA of 94. Brand-new websites will have a DA of 0. Your domain authority climbs as your backlinks, keywords, and organic rankings increase.
Where to get it: With MozBar running, go to your home page. The number next to “DA:” is your Domain Authority.
How to track it: Track this month by month. It takes a lot of work to increase your domain authority, so don’t expect it to rise quickly. As long as you’re creating quality content that gains backlinks, this number will steadily increase.
Like the other metrics, if you see a large drop or if your DA declines over a few months, you need to dig into it to figure out what’s going on. It could be that you got a lot of spammy backlinks from one source. It could also be that Google penalized you for something.
Tracking SEO metrics is all about trends
With all of these metrics, you’re looking for trends. If you don’t look at the trends, you might become too reactive in your SEO decisions. Since any SEO strategy takes time to pay off, if you take action too quickly you might not know whether your original strategy was working. That’s one of the reasons we advocate checking and logging these metrics just once per month. That will help keep you from being too reactive.