If you can measure something, then you can improve it. Being able to measure your performance is extremely important when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Keyword rankings are nice and all but they’re just a vanity metric. The different between mobile ranking vs. desktop is dramatically different. Additionally, the variance that can occur for queries that are local in nature is astounding.
Who This Benefits
Knowing how to measure your SEO performance will allow you to make informed decisions regarding the type of content you create on your site, insight into your audience/customers, and most importantly: empower you to evaluate any third-party agencies or contractors you hire to provide SEO services.
Junior SEO Specialists
You’ll need to know how to measure whether what you’re doing is effective or not. Otherwise you’ll just be stumbling around in the dark (like a lot of SEOs). Being able to report how your efforts are adding value is how you can justify your position.
What Tools Do I Need to Measure SEO?
There are more tools to measure SEO performance than you can imagine and it seems like more are coming out every week.
For our purposes we’re going to stick to two tools every webmaster should have available to them (they’re free and easy to set up):
1. Google Analytics
2. Google Search Console
1. How to View Organic Search Traffic Only
To do this we need to open up our Channel Grouping report within Google Analytics.
Path: Acquisition → All Traffic → Channels
The Channels report will show you what channels are bringing traffic to your website.
The Organic Search channel is the one that reflects traffic generated from search engines.
You can dig into a more detailed report that only includes organic search metrics by clicking on Organic Search.
This more detailed view can give you a variety of SEO insights. You can determine things like:
- Top landing pages from search traffic
- Keywords driving the most traffic
- Which search engines are driving the most traffic
- Top exit pages
If you all of a sudden see an overall decline in search traffic don’t just assume it’s because you’ve lost organic traffic. It could easily be the result of your email marketing being flagged as spam, losing a link on a popular website that had a high click-through rate, your ads being rejected by Google Ads (or other platforms), etc. Check the channels report first before you jump to conclusions.
2. Measuring the Quality of SEO Traffic
Start by navigating to your Assisted Conversions report in Google Analytics.
Path: Conversions → Multi-Channel Funnels → Assisted Conversions
You can set your date range to whatever you prefer but I often analyze this report month over month by setting the date range to Last Month and the comparison period to Previous Period.
This will give you a summary comparison of how various channels contributed to your conversions. For our purposes, we want to focus on the Organic Search MCF Channel Grouping.
Note: A channel can play three roles in a conversion path:
1. Last Interaction: The interaction that immediately precedes the conversion.
Example: If someone Google’s your brand name, visits your site by clicking on one of the organic listings, and then makes a purchase (or any other conversion event, such as a submitting a form), then this will count as a last interaction for organic search.
2. Assisted Interaction: Any interaction that is on the conversion path but is not the last interaction.
Example: Suppose someone performs a search on Google and visits your site by clicking on one of your organic listings. They browse around for a bit, see what you have to offer and then leave without converting. Over the next few days they do some additional research, visit a few of your competitor’s websites and then finally decide you were the best choice and want to buy from you. Now, instead of searching for your brand name on Google and getting to your site that way, they remember your brand name and begin typing that into their address bar. Their browser cache remembers visiting this site so it populates your URL automatically for them. Once on your site they convert. Now, the last interaction would be attributed to Direct but since they first found you via Organic Search it will receive an Assisted Interaction attribution as well.
3. First Interaction: The first interaction on the conversion path; this is a kind of assisted conversion.
Example: Organic Search would count as a first interaction using the example from above. Now, suppose the user first heard about you while reading a website that referenced you and included a link to your site. They clicking the link to get to your site, leave, search for your brand a few days later on Google, and then finally convert. In this scenario the first interaction would be attributed to Referral and the last interaction would be attributed to Organic Search.
Use the Assisted Conversions report to check for changes in conversions from Organic Search. If you see a decrease in conversions from search but your overall search traffic is remaining constant then your traffic from search isn’t quality traffic.
You can address this issue by focusing on keywords more likely to lead to conversions (e.g. bottom-of-funnel keywords). Note, you’ll need to rank for these more tightly refined keywords before you can expect to see them converting well.
3. Tying Dollars to Organic Traffic
This is a good way to understand the value of your SEO efforts in a way other than traffic metrics: assign a dollar amount to your organic traffic. There are a few ways to do this but we’ll cover the easiest one that’s also free: SEMrush.
Using SEMrush to Estimate Traffic Value
- Visit https://www.semrush.com/dashboard/
- You’ll need to sign up if you don’t already have an account. They have a 7-day free trial but they also have a free option with limited access if you cancel your subscription. The free version is good enough for our purposes.
- On the lefthand navigation menu, click Domain Overview
- Enter your domain into the search box and click search.
- Underneath Organic Search check Traffic Cost, this indicates what your aggregate organic traffic from your keywords would approximately cost if you were to bid on them using Google Ads.
4. Identifying Slow Pages
Pages that load slow have a negative effect on your search engine rankings. Some people overhype the important of this though.
You want your pages to load fast primarily for user experience reasons (which do directly impact conversion rates), but a site has to load pretty slow to really drag down its rankings.
So use the page speed metric as a litmus test for assessing the quality of work your SEO (whether they’re in-house, outsourced, or even yourself) is doing.
There are some very basic things that can be done to speed up the load times of web pages and if they aren’t being done that may be an indicator that you might want to have the rest of your site’s SEO health audited by a separate third party.
To measure page load times at the page level navigate to the Page Timings report within Google Analytics.
Path: Behavior → Site Speed → Page Timings
Set this report to show you the average load time and exit percentage across all pages in the top row.
You can compare page load times to exit percentages to see if a correlation exists.
You can then have your developer optimize the page load times for all the pages on this report and then compare the before and after to see if exit times (and conversion rates) have increased for these pages.
I normally compare these month-over-month or quarter-over-quarter depending on the traffic volume the site receives.
If you’re working on a limited budget and need to conserve developer hours then prioritize which pages you have them speed up based on ROI.
I recommend reviewing the list of pages and identifying which ones have the highest margins and stand to significantly increase generated revenue as conversion rates increase.
5. Assess Your SEO Performance with Google Search Console
The Performance Report within Google Search Console (GSC) is an extremely useful report for assessing your site’s SEO health from a very high level.
The Performance Report displays 4 key site metrics as they pertain to Google Search Results:
- Total Clicks
- Total Impressions
- Average CTR
- Average Position (though this one is changing soon)
Assess Impressions Over Time
Set your date range to whatever range you want to analyze and then set the report so that you’re only viewing Impressions.
Impressions are calculated in a variety of ways but the general gist is that each time your website appears in the search results it will count as an impression.
If your site is on page 2 and for a search term and the searcher never navigates to page 2 then it won’t count as an impression.
Ideally, you would want to see your impressions increasing over time as this indicates that your site is ranking higher in the search results (vertical growth) or you’re ranking for more keywords (horizontal growth).
Note: The red trend line was added by me for this guide. It is not present in the Google Search Console Performance Report.
It’s normal to see some fluctuation in your impressions. The Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) can be quite volatile and GSC itself is known to have reporting errors at times. Approach this data holistically.
Now Keep Learning
SEO can feel intangible at times. The methods I’ve listed above are just a few of the many ways to track and measure the results of an SEO campaign. For those who want to really dig into the data and track performance there are several advanced techniques that can be utilized.
My goal here was to provide the average business owner or executive with just enough data to hold the individuals responsible for their SEO accountable.
If you have any questions, leave them below and I’ll do my best to answer them and update this guide as needed.