Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the lifeblood of a website. Without direct transparency from search engines like Google about what can be done to improve search visibility, website owners find themselves in quite a mysterious situation. How do you know what to do to improve search rankings and how do you know if it’s working?
Understanding the ins and outs of which SEO performance metrics are important and can be tracked is a vital first step to achieving success.
The first thing to remember about SEO is that it is a long-term tactic that will show compound growth over time. The second is that Google owns 93% of search traffic online.
The main purpose of SEO is to increase search visibility. The intent is that by increasing search visibility, traffic will increase, and eventually lead opportunities will be generated.
SEO is not done in a vacuum and has many outside influences on its success as a tactic. It’s affected by competitors via their business’s age or activity online. It’s affected by search engine algorithms that change multiple times per year.
The process of optimizing a website is not accomplished in a single execution. It’s an ongoing process where teams like Luminus monitor page ranking performance, website speed, website errors, competitor movement, and content quality over time. Each piece of data tells a story of success to capitalize on or issue to improve.
Analytics tracking and reporting on SEO performance metrics are critical to understanding how to continually improve over time. Detailed reporting allows for both business and agencies like ours to make education decisions.
How can SEO performance metrics be used to improve success over time?
There is a common misconception about SEO that its success is entirely based on keyword rankings. This leads to a mindset of trying to rank a page rather than really trying to improve it and that’s the misstep.
The reality is, that the goal of a search engine like Google is to provide links to the highest quality content on the internet. This involves more than simply keywords.
Keywords and ranking are only a piece of the puzzle to having an optimized website. Proper optimization of a website improves all aspects of a user’s experience, which in turn earns a website or page the ability to rank.
There are primary and secondary SEO performance metrics that can be tracked over time to measure the success of both the execution and results related to proper SEO tactics.
Primary SEO performance metrics.
Primary metrics are the leading indicators of SEO being executed properly. These metrics show that the work is being done and the foundational work done to reach the ultimate goal of increased search visibility.
Rankings are the gateway to earning traffic. Depending on their competitive difficulty, they are the most direct metric of performance for an SEO effort. The highest performing keywords will be those that rank 1-10, but each segment (10-20, 20-30, 30-50) should be tracked as well. Most keywords do not simply jump to the first page, they work their way up the rankings over time and also slide over time.
Page Optimization Score
As pages are optimized for their target keywords, SEO tools can analyze the page to grade its possibility to rank. A high page score in a plugin like Yoast or an online tool such as Moz cannot predict if the page will rank, just the quality of optimization of the page to create the opportunity for it to rank.
Page Speed is an often overlooked performance metric that since around 2015 has become increasingly more important. This is the technical script, load, and rendering performance of your website’s pages. Google is looking to suggest fast and error free pages to its users.
Broken links and missing META data are page killers for optimization. Populating META data across a website page-by-page is a basic first step to proper optimization. Having broken links or missing files within a site is a traffic killer as well. A website with reduced errors improves its ability to earn traffic and retain it.
This metric only involves traffic generated via search because SEO execution almost exclusively affects this one channel. This is the ultimate goal of SEO, to increase organic traffic via rankings growth through site optimization.
Secondary SEO performance metrics.
Secondary metrics are indicators that the quality of traffic is improving by providing more relevant content and an ease of use. This is beneficial in that the quality of traffic increases the likelihood of converting that traffic into a lead.
Time on Page
The amount of time a visitor spends on a website’s page is a great indicator of two things. The page was relevant to their search and had high quality content to retain their attention. This indicates that the quality of traffic has improved due to optimizing for a relevant keyword.
Pages per Visit
The number of pages that a visitor views during their session is an indicator that content was initially relevant, but further, that there were ample opportunities to view more related information elsewhere within the website. Inter-site linking is not only a content quality booster, but a pivotal piece of retaining website traffic.
The amount of time someone spends on your website is a clear indicator of the relevancy of content and quality of that visitor to you. Through data, this metric shows that they’ve valued your site’s information, which increases the opportunity to value you.
The website bounce rate indicates the relevancy of page content to your visitors. A high bounce rate typically means that the page is ranking for a keyword that’s misaligned with the content or that the quality of content related to the keyword is poor. It could also mean that there is not enough opportunity for a second page to be viewed, which is where inter-site linking comes into play.
This metric indicates the number of websites that link back to yours. Inbound links are one of the hardest metrics to move when done properly. For a website to link back to yours you need to either have an established relationship with someone that is willing to link back or provide such high quality content or solutions to a problem that you are the best resource to link to. Despite Google’s claims that inbound links don’t heavily weigh in the potential for your site to rank, we all know it still matters
The Domain Authority metric is the absolute slowest metric to move. It is the all encompassing score that Google gives websites when considering the amount of inbound links, page scores, and domain age. It’s worthwhile to know this metric, but hard to change it drastically and use it as a real gauge when ranking and traffic successes can be had regardless of your website’s DA score.
How to track SEO performance metrics?
How should I be using these metrics to assess the success of our SEO efforts?
Primary SEO metrics should be used as a way to track progress in execution. SEO is similar to athletic training in that the amount of work put in regularly will pay off, but in time. To do that effectively, you need to track your progress along the way and create the opportunity for success.
Secondary SEO metrics are a way to show the benefits of the work done and qualify the relevancy of your primary SEO metrics. For example, it’s possible traffic won’t grow initially, but if the traffic is stable and increases time-on-page, pages per visit, and the site as a whole has a lower bounce rate, that would indicate you’ve improve the quality of traffic, which sets up your traffic growth phase to be more impactful.
Remember, SEO is not simply adding keywords to pages and tracking the ranking. It involves multiple elements of improvement page by page to show topical relevancy and a quality experience for visitors to earn rankings, especially in competitive markets.
Having organized, regular, and detailed reporting is absolutely necessary to successfully executing and growing SEO results over time. Without it, you’re shooting in the dark.
Lastly, perhaps most importantly, all of these metrics are the result of one thing that has to be remembered. Top search results answer questions. They do not sell.