SEO Success: What Numbers Should You Look At?

Written by: Jason Bayless | February 08, 2017

Search Engine Optimization is a vital part of digital marketing, and digital marketing, in turn, has become vital for virtually every business. Whether you’re handling optimization for your own organization or selling optimization services to clients, you have to be able to tell the difference between effective and useless techniques. That means knowing what numbers to look at – a set of data usually referred to in the industry as Key Performance Indicators or KPIs.

Key Performance Indicators Defined

The first lesson you must learn about KPIs is that every site is going to have different ones. It’s true that there are certain metrics that provide useful insight into all SEO efforts, but the exact combination of indicators that will help you is going to depend on both the specific site you’re improving and the goals you set (see below).

SEO has evolved tremendously as a profession, and experienced practitioners have much more insightful numbers to examine now than the old standbys like search engine results page (SERP) position and total number of website visits. These figures are still important, but they can be enhanced and given better context by examining more precise KPIs.

The Importance of Goals

A basic rule of statistics is that numbers without context are meaningless. This certainly applies to quantifying your SEO work! A major part of assembling a useful “basket” of KPIs to track is to pick those figures that best demonstrate your progress toward meeting your optimization goals.

Speaking broadly, your optimization work typically falls into three categories: encouraging awareness, encouraging engagement, or encouraging conversions. To put it in real-world terms, do you want visitors to know about you, talk to you, or buy from you? Some overlap is common, but you should be clear about your top priorities.

Measuring Site Performance

You’ll find out which parts of your site are contributing to your work and which aren’t by examining your search analytics in greater detail. Which pages are attracting traffic? Is it coming from referral links or organic searches? Which keywords produce the greatest level of activity?

Assessing this data is where your goals begin to come into play. Is the most popular page on your site generating few conversions? If you’re looking for engagement, seeing lots of visitors bounce off your pages after spending just seconds there is a problem. If you’re trying to promote awareness, look at how many incoming searches mention your brand.

Assessing Keywords

Picking out the best keywords and concentrating your optimization efforts there is SEO 101. How do you know which keywords are “the best” for your site? That’s where KPIs come in. Once again, you need to use your goals to help you assess your data. The keywords that move you closer to your goals are the ones you need to concentrate on, even if they aren’t phrases that you would plug into a search engine yourself.

This is why continued monitoring of your KPIs is important. You need to track performance over the life of your optimization campaign and identify which keywords are making the most impact. If you’re a professional marketer, you’ll probably start off with a fair idea of which measures are going to work. Actually taking your campaign live is the ultimate acid test. You need to look at your initial results and adjust your focus on the fly in order to maximize the value you’re getting from your SEO work.

KPI Commitment

Earlier you may have noticed the term “basket of KPIs.” Part of setting a strategy for an SEO campaign is picking out your metrics. You need to do this early and invest plenty of thought in the process. While your actual optimization techniques can — and should! — change over time, you shouldn’t change KPIs unless you’ve made a serious error.

If you’re not getting the results you want, it’ll be tempting to start looking at metrics that paint your efforts in a more positive light. Resist this temptation! If you fail to move the needle, don’t start looking at different gauges; find out what steps you’ve neglected and realign your optimization work.

It’s difficult to pick out specific, helpful KPIs without a clear understanding of your site, your resources, and your goals. Hopefully, the guidance provided here should help you in your high-level strategizing and help you choose your own KPIs. When you’re looking at the right numbers, assessing the effectiveness of search engine optimization gets a lot easier.