As an SEO, one of your hardest jobs is measuring the success of your work.
One of the hardest parts about SEO is that you can’t always rely on search engine movements to track your progress. Search engines can take weeks, even months to update SERPs. And when they do, ranking improvements are seldom uniformly distributed across your target keywords.
This is why you need a more cohesive methodology to track SEO performance.
Instead of tracking individual metrics, like backlinks or rankings, you need to shift to a multi-metric tracking system to determine SEO success.
In this article, I’ll show you which are the most important SEO metrics that you need to track and exactly how to track them.
1. Organic Traffic
All the SEO effort in the world is useless unless it actually brings you traffic.
Tracking your organic sessions over time is one of the strongest indicators of SEO performance. A month-over-month increase in visitors through organic search shows that your rankings are improving (even for keywords you weren’t targeting).
While other metrics might show a trend, this metric gives you quantifiable proof that your efforts are actually bringing in more visitors.
The quality of the search traffic, of course, will depend on which keywords you’re ranking for and how you define conversions, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
How to Track Organic Traffic
Tracking organic traffic is easy enough in Google Analytics. Just log into your dashboard and click on “Add Segment” in the default audience overview.
Then choose “Organic Traffic” and hit ‘Apply’.
You’ll now see organic traffic as a percentage of total traffic.
2. Organic Conversions
Now that you see organic traffic coming in, the next question to ask yourself is: what is the quality of that traffic? As you probably know, organic sessions alone aren’t enough. You could be generating traffic from irrelevant terms that never turn into a sale or lead.
To measure the quality of your traffic, you need to be tracking organic conversions.
How to Track Organic Conversions
In order to track organic conversions you’ll first need to set up your “Goal” or conversion events in Google Analytics. Examples of goals you may choose to track include:
- Making a purchase
- Email signups
- Phone calls
- Form submissions
Once you’ve defined the goals you want to track on your site, you can easily monitor them in Google Analytics.
Add the organic sessions segment again to see organic metrics specifically. Then navigate down to Conversions -> Goal Overview.
3. Keyword Rankings
With Google’s AI-based search algorithm RankBrain, a shift towards personalization, and continuously changing search results, should you even bother tracking keyword rankings?
Even though search results are seldom the same at the user-level (thanks to personalization), and 20% of searches are entirely new, tracking keyword rankings tells you two things:
- The general direction of your SEO efforts: Better rankings for one keyword usually indicate improved rankings overall, especially for related long-tail keywords. Tracking keywords shows you the effectiveness of your current SEO plan.
- Keyword selection: If your other SEO metrics improve (such as domain rating or organic traffic) but you don’t see an improvement in target keyword rankings, it usually indicates poor keyword selection. In such a case, you should choose a less competitive keyword and try to rank for it first.
4. New Backlinks and Referring Domains
While on-page factors matter, strong SEO performance is still by and large determined by backlinks.
Between two pages with similar on-page metrics (bounce rate, time on site, content quality etc.), the one with more backlinks from better domains will invariably win.
A recent study by Backlinko analyzed 1 million Google search results and found the same thing — there is a strong correlation between rankings and number of referring domains.
Keep track of your backlinks and referring domains to get a general idea of the effectiveness of your search engine optimization efforts. More backlinks might not immediately lead to better rankings (especially if the links are from low quality domains), but they do show you’re moving in a positive direction.
How to Track Backlinks
To track backlinks, you’ll need an SEO analytics and backlink monitoring tool. There are three things you want in a backlink tracking tool:
- Update frequency: The tool should index new backlinks as they appear online. If the tool refreshes its index too slowly, new backlinks won’t even show up for weeks.
- Accuracy: The tool should only show actual backlinks. It should also show follow/no-follow links separately. The ability to track anchor text and backlink source authority is a big plus as well.
- Trends: The tool should show you the general trend – whether you’ve lost or gained backlinks over time.
For free (but often inaccurate) backlink tracking, head over to your Google Search Console and click on your site name.
Next, navigate to Search Traffic -> Links to Your Site. This will show you the latest links to your site.
This list isn’t frequently updated nor is it terribly accurate. It also doesn’t show the backlink acquisition trend.
5. Authority Metrics (DA/TF)
Tracking the sheer number of backlinks to your website isn’t enough. You also want to measure the quality of the backlinks you’re building, as well as the increasing authority of your own site.
As an SEO, you’re most likely already familiar with “Domain Authority”.
This is the term coined by Moz to to gauge the “authority” of a domain name on a scale of 0-100 (based on links, brand mentions, etc.). The higher this number, the more trustworthy the domain.
Facebook, for instance, has a Domain Authority (DA) of 100/100.
The DA is a logarithmic scale. That is, it takes much more effort to go from DA 70 to 80 than it does to go from DA 10 to 20.
Majestic measures domain authority through a metric called “Trust Flow”. This is similar to DA – a higher score equals more trust. Majestic updates its index frequently so this score is generally accurate.
An upwards movement in these metrics is a sign that your SEO efforts are bearing fruit. That being said, the system can be abused by spamming domains with poor quality backlinks.
How to Track Authority Metrics
These metrics can be attained through each individual tool. For example, you can go to the [Link Explorer] tool (https://moz.com/link-explorer) from Moz to find your DA or you can enter your domain in Majestic to get your Trust Flow.
6. Local Visibility
This metric is especially important for those of your managing local SEO campaigns.
You need to track specific metrics to ensure your organic traffic is coming from the right audience.
You can do this by tracking a few key local SEO metrics:
- Google Maps Rankings: Find a rank tracker (like AgencyAnalytics) that will track Google Maps rankings, as well as your Google 3-Pack results for your business location.
- Google My Business Insights: Setup Google My Business Insights to track how often your GMB page appears in search results, number of calls, and directions.
- Session Location: See the exact cities where your web sessions are to evaluate the amount of local traffic your website receives.
7. Organic Landing Page Metrics
Keep in mind that you don’t only want to look at these metrics across your entire site. You want to track organic sessions and goal metrics for specific landing pages as well.
To really understand your SEO performance, you need to have a clear understanding of how each page performs.
If you’re working on building backlinks to a specific page or improving that page’s content, you need to look at its traffic to evaluate your SEO effort.
Additionally, tracking landing page metrics is an opportunity to uncover your most valuable pages.
Do you have a page that converts above your site average? But it ranks at the bottom of page one? This is an opportunity to put extra effort into increasing the ranking for this high-performing page.
8. Page Speed
As you’re monitoring individual pages on your site, another useful SEO metric to track is page speed.
Page speed is a measurement of how fast the content on each page loads.
As you’ve probably experienced, a long page loading time leads to a bad user experience, so it makes sense that Google uses this metric in determining SERP rankings.
Page speed is not to be confused with “site speed”, which is the page speed of a sample of page views on your website. Page speed can be described in two ways:
- Page load time: This is the time it takes to display the full content on a page.
- Time to first byte: This is how long it takes for your browser to receive the first byte
9. Mobile Traffic & Rankings
Is your site ranking as well on mobile search as it is on desktop search? With Google’s switch to mobile-first indexing, optimizing for mobile is more important than ever.
Plus, nearly 60% of all searches are from mobile. Keeping track of your mobile traffic can indicate:
- Mobile-friendliness issues: Google prefers mobile-friendly sites in its mobile search results. If your mobile traffic remains traffic even as your overall traffic increases, it might indicate issues with mobile-friendliness.
- Usage patterns: If you see more and more traffic coming through mobile, it can indicate shifting usage patterns in your target audience. This can tell you whether you should invest more in mobile development (such as a mobile-first site or app).
- Mobile-only search terms: Mobile search is different from desktop search. For instance, 20% of mobile searches are voice only. Mobile users also tend to use fewer keywords than their desktop counterparts. Tracking mobile traffic can show whether you’re ranking for these mobile-only search terms.
Wrap It Up
As SEO has become more complicated, measuring SEO success has become harder as well. You can no longer rely on individual metrics to tell the story of your SEO efforts. Instead, you need to track multiple metrics covering everything from backlinks and rankings to engagement and conversions.
The 9 SEO metrics listed here will give you a comprehensive overview of your SEO efforts, regardless of the scale and complexity of your campaign.