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SEO metrics and KPIs: what to track and why

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Julia Jung
Jan 21, 2021 | 18 min read

There are two areas where you can’t guarantee or predict anything with 100% accuracy: your life, and SEO. But in both of these areas, it’s better to do the right thing.

If you think about it in terms of SEO, when you measure everything at your disposal, this means that you don’t know what to measure—and whether you like it or not, your clients will see right through it.

So, do you agree that measuring every possible metric or parameter is not the right way to go?

Ultimately, it’s much better to evaluate SEO performance by monitoring a customer-oriented set of metrics. Firstly, you’ll be able to show the results of your work; and, secondly, you will know for yourself whether you’re going in the right direction. Moreover, your clients will know what they’re paying for and how your SEO KPIs are aligned with their business KPIs.

This brings me to the main topic of this blog post—how to measure SEO, what should be tracked and why?

KPIs and metrics: what’s the difference?

Let’s start from one very common mistake that many people make: assume that KPIs and metrics are synonyms. As a matter of fact, they are not.

What is an SEO metric?

An SEO metric is a parameter or value that is used by marketing SEO teams to track, monitor and compare search engine optimization processes.

What is an SEO KPI?

An SEO KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is a measurable value that indicates SEO effectiveness and determines whether the set objective was achieved.

Let’s get one thing straight: all KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. KPIs should have business goals and be time-framed. For example, say you are tracking an SEO metric like % of keywords in the top 10. If you track SEO progress using this metric alone, you won’t know whether having many keywords ranking among the top 10 search results is good or not unless you look at the traffic they drive to your site.

Here’s another example. Say your site’s getting a lot of untargeted traffic but you’re not getting any leads from it. In such cases, it’s wise not to track single metrics, but to track them in relation to each other in the context of your client’s business objectives.

How to connect business goals and SEO?

In order to choose an SEO metric to track, you must start from the business goals. Spoiler alert: there is no universal one-size-fits-all list of KPIs that’s relevant to every business. All SEO goals differ from each other depending on the website type, business goals and objectives, resources and opportunities.

It should also be mentioned that not every website needs to track every SEO metric simultaneously and from the very beginning. Below, we’ve demonstrated the evolution of SEO KPIs—starting from search engine indexation and ending with transaction metrics. By following this guide, you’ll be able to track all the metrics one by one, adding more and more valuable indicators as you go along.

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To show you an example of the goals set by different businesses, we took 6 types of websites based on their functions and the types of problems they solve for users. In the table below, you can see several examples of business goals and SEO metrics that help evaluate SEO performance.

Website type Business goal SEO metrics
Ecommerce Increase sales Organic search traffic on target pages
Conversion rate
Number of leads
Transactions
Positions for product keywords
Business (corporate) website Increase brand awareness Traffic to the main page
Number of branded keywords (their search volume)
Direct traffic
Natural backlinks (mentions)
Referral traffic
SERP impressions
Business directory Get more signups Number of leads
Organic traffic to the landing pages
Bounce rate
Average session duration
Number of pages per session
Blog (personal website) Get more subscribers Keyword positions
Organic traffic
Quality backlinks
Referral traffic
CTR (click-through rate)
Bounce rate
Website review (affiliate) Get more visits Positions for high-volume keywords
Traffic
Number of pages per session
Number of pages that get organic traffic
Number of backlinks
Referral traffic
News websites Get more readers Organic traffic
Number of pages that get organic traffic
Bounce rate
Exit pages
New vs returning visitors
Average session duration
Number of pages per visit

20 most useful SEO metrics explained

Keyword rankings
Bounce rate
Organic traffic
Direct traffic
Referral traffic
Number of leads
Transactions
Backlink quantity and quality
Website quality metrics
Average time on site
Exit pages
New vs Returning visitors
Number of pages per session
Conversion rate

Keyword rankings

Monitoring keyword ranking positions helps you see how your site is ranking in search for specific search queries. Plus, they show your position in relation to your digital rivals. But as a matter of fact, it’s not just about getting that coveted Google top spot. It’s about having a very clear vision of what position you want to take, knowing where your competitors are and the ranking dynamics of everyone involved.

What to track:

  • High-volume keywords – these keywords have a high potential because they can potentially drive more traffic to your site, but are usually more competitive, and, as a result, are more difficult to rank for. It’s best if you bucket them into one group so that it will be easier to keep an eye on them and not mix them up with mid- and low-volume keywords .
  • Product keywords – monitoring their rankings helps you see how well your products are ranking in search, and what your chances are of getting target traffic, as in people who are highly interested in your products.
  • Number of branded keywords (search volume) – these metrics help us see if brand keywords (and thus brand) are popular in search. As a rule of thumb, companies have the top ranking positions for their brand queries, but it’s still worth monitoring them, focusing on the search volume (shows brand popularity) and the diversity of branded keywords in the process.

Depending on your website type, you will focus on some of the aforementioned SEO performance metrics. Note that monitoring keywords is helpful as long as you track keywords that are relevant to your business.

What to use:

  • SE Ranking Keyword Rank Tracker allows monitoring both desktop and mobile search results in your target location with 100% accuracy.
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Bounce rate

This measure shows the percentage of users who viewed only a single website page and then left the site. Monitoring this SEO metric for all top-level pages that are supposed to drive conversions can give you a clue as to how users interact with your site and whether your site’s living up to their expectations. Isn’t it just a bummer when you put in the effort to drive people to your pages, and they leave them immediately after visiting? This definitely means that you are doing something wrong.

Monitoring the homepage’s bounce rate is of no less importance. Well, this page most likely does not give a direct answer to the user’s question, but should either way ultimately guide them to the necessary site section and not back to the search bar again.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

Organic traffic

This metric shows organic search traffic, or, to be precise, users coming from different search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc).

In most cases, exclusively tracking traffic won’t get the job done. It’s much more important to monitor the flow of traffic to certain pages, as well as its dynamics. Also, sometimes we need traffic from certain countries or traffic consisting of new users. When analyzing such traffic for reporting, it is important to consider the business objectives you want to achieve.

Analyzing traffic in relation to rankings allows you to understand which pages and keywords to focus on. For example, sometimes pages are not ranked at the top of search for high-volume keywords, but get a lot of traffic from low-volume search queries that can often be left unnoticed and even untracked.

What’s also important is to see how well the traffic you’re getting is converting. Traffic, alongside keyword rankings, is a good indicator of possible website issues. If the traffic rate drops, you can find the source of the problem and resolve the issue in a timely manner.

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  • Organic traffic on target pages

This metric shows organic traffic from different search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc) and its distribution across target pages.

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  • Number of pages that get organic traffic

To see which exact pages are getting organic traffic, you can use Google Analytics and Google Search Console’s Performance report.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics, Google Search Console

Direct traffic

This metric shows visitors that came on your site by directly entering your site URL into the search field, or through another undefined source either by clicking a link in a PDF, mobile app, email, etc.

Note that when Google Analytics is unable to define the traffic source, it falls under the direct traffic section. By clicking the Direct traffic button, you’ll see the pages visitors landed on.

This data helps you see which pages are accessed directly more often than others. On top of that, this metric shows your brand equity development: if you’re getting a lot of direct traffic, congrats—users know your brand.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

Referral traffic

This SEO metric shows visitors that come to your site by clicking another website’s URL. For example, if a news platform posts an article containing your website link, all users that come via this link will be marked as referral traffic in Google Analytics.

Monitoring this metric helps you evaluate the successes and shortcomings of your content strategy. Moreover, the growth of referral traffic will definitely increase the flow of leads to your website.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

Number of leads

Before starting to track the number of leads that your website’s getting, define what’s a lead in your case: a signup, subscription, download, view or another option. In other words, define the action that leads to a sale. And that will be your lead.

After that, you can simply track the number of leads by source to see which ones are sending the most qualified leads to your site.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

Transactions

This metric is a must-have and must be tracked for all e-commerce websites. In order to evaluate SEO and marketing performance, it may not be enough to monitor website traffic metrics and the number of leads. 

What about scenarios when one lead completes a transaction that amounts to 10 ordinary transactions? Or, for instance, a website can get a huge amount of leads, but, in fact, the company itself will get a small profit. For this reason, it’s very important to track transactions. Always keep in mind that business is not about the leads, but about the money.

To make your clients happy, show them how their SEO performance is affecting their revenue. The Conversions section and the Ecommerce subsection in Google Analytics is the perfect place to set and monitor transaction amounts. This should definitely be one of your business KPIs.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

Backlink quantity and quality

This metric directly affects your website’s possible rankings. The more quality backlinks you have, the higher your chances of boosting rankings. To get a complete list of any domain’s backlinks, you need a special tool like Backlink Checker offered by SE Ranking.

All you need to do is enter a domain and you’ll get a list of backlinks analyzed against 8 major SEO parameters—we’ll talk more about them in the next section. The broad-scale picture you get helps you see which backlinks are high-quality, and which ones need to be added to the Disavow list.

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What to use:

  • SE Ranking Backlink Checker

Website quality metrics: DT, PT, TF, CF, and Alexa

I want to point out straight from the top that you shouldn’t track these metrics 24/7, and, more importantly, they shouldn’t become your business goals. However, it is still important to continue tracking them, since they are closely related to building up your backlink profile and website authority, which, in turn, affect your SEO performance.

Forget about chasing particular scores. Just keep tracking their dynamics, and, ideally, strive to maintain stable growth.

  • DT (Domain Trust) is an aggregate domain quality score developed by SE Ranking. It is calculated based on multiple factors including the number and the quality of a website’s referring domains and backlinks.
  • PT (Page Authority) is a respective page quality score that measures the authority of a particular page.
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  • Alexa Rank is a website traffic metric that is determined by the total number of unique visitors and pageviews. The lower your Alexa rank, the more popular your site is.
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  • CF (Citation Flow) shows Majestic’s score (between 0-100) that predicts the strength of a URL from a particular site. It’s based on how many sites link to it. Citation Flow is used together with Trust Flow.
  • TF (Trust Flow) represents Majestic’s trustworthiness score (between 0-100), which is determined by the quality of external links linking to the site.

What to use:

  • You can check any website’s DA and PA metrics with the help of the Competitive Research tool, and then if interested click on the number of backlinks and go to the Backlink Checker tool to study the detailed report. Alexa Rank can be checked with the help of the SE Ranking Parameter Checker tool. For Majestic metrics, you can use the Majestic SEO Chrome plugin.

Average time on site (session duration)

This metric shows the time frame during which the user interacted with the website. If there isn’t any activity within 30 min, the session ends automatically. The average session duration is calculated by the total time on site for multiple visitors divided by the total number of visitors.

It’s vitally important to monitor this metric as it enables you to see how engaging your content is, lets you know whether it’s appealing to users, and whether it entices them to explore more pages of your site.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

Exit pages

This metric provides a list of pages people visit right before leaving your website. In order to increase your website’s conversion rate and identify user drop-off points, you have to find out where your potential leads are deciding to head for the virtual door.

With this knowledge, you’ll be able to optimize the user journey throughout your website and lead them toward conversion.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

New vs Returning visitors

This metric shows how many new visitors (those who are visiting your site for the first time) and returning visitors (those who have visited your site at least once before over the course of the past 2 years) are coming to your website. 

By analyzing this data through segments (traffic channels), you’ll see which channel is most loyal and which ones need a marketing boost. You can prioritize either new or returning visitors (or both), and direct all your efforts at the channel that gives you more of what you need.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

Number of pages per session

This metric shows the number of pages a user visits during a single session. In some cases, users can find what they’re looking for on the first page they visit, which it’s totally fine. But in other cases, your website visitors may go to see an undefined number of pages, making it useful to track this metric to learn how users explore your website.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

CTR (Click-through rate)

This metric shows the click-through rate that is calculated by taking the number of clicks and dividing it by the number of impressions and multiplying the result by 100:  Clicks ÷ Impressions * 100. This data helps see the percentage of impressions that converts into action.

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What to use:

  • Search Console

Conversion rate

This metric shows the goal completion rate, which is why it’s important to set the right goals—interactions that benefit you and/or your clients. The conversion rate is calculated by taking the total number of visitors and dividing it by the total number of conversions.

Monitoring this metric helps you see how well your incoming traffic is converting. Moreover, this data helps you assess the quality of traffic and adjust your SEO strategy accordingly. For this reason, it’s essential to not only set the right SEO objectives but the right conversion goals as well.

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What to use:

  • Google Analytics

How to track SEO metrics and report on KPIs

As was mentioned above, you need at least 3 SEO measurement tools to effectively monitor your SEO performance, including all the important metrics covered here:

Note that while Google’s services do provide a slew of data, SE Ranking gives you the opportunity to view and manage it all from a single interface. The best part is that you can also create and send out custom reports to clients via SE Ranking, automatically and on demand.

Now, when it comes to communicating data between agencies (SEO specialists) and clients, reports remain the go-to solution. And depending on how well you find your way around such SEO reports, you and your clients either love or hate them. 

This brings me to my point that  it’s important to know how to properly present information to clients in your SEO reports. Keep in mind that not only do reports help show the results of your work, but they help adjust the SEO strategy for the next month as well.

The good news is that nowadays there is no need to create SEO reports manually. With platforms like SE Ranking, you can get access to a reporting tool alongside several dozen other SEO tools. Having the option to periodically provide clients with SEO reports is a must-have feature that allows you to easily schedule a time when you want your clients to get their SEO reports. There is no need to create and send out daily reports anymore. You just need to make sure to report at least once a month so that your clients can see their SEO dynamics.

By the way, if you don’t have an SE Ranking account yet, you’re welcome to try the all-in-one platform out by starting your free 14-day trial.

Summing up: 3 tips on choosing SEO metrics and KPIs to track

When you measure everything at your disposal, this is a telltale sign that you don’t know what to measure. Here are a few useful tips to help you stay on the right track:

  • Find the balance between measuring everything you can and tracking several single metrics. Keep in mind that if you choose an SEO KPI that won’t be achieved, you will have wasted hours of valuable time.
  • Create KPI time frames as it’s very important to have a starting point and a deadline to reach set goals.
  • Find the direct connection between your business goal and SEO KPIs, but remember that different niches and businesses require different KPIs—there is no universally applicable list. There are no bad and useless metrics—only inappropriate usage.

And remember that to avoid tracking false SEO KPIs, don’t get obsessed with SEO metrics, but analyze them in relation to the business impact they give.

I’d love to know your thoughts on SEO KPIs. Which ones do you track and why?

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