SEO can often feel like one big competition. With only so much room available on search engine results pages (SERPs), it can be easy to hyper-fixate on outperforming others. However, anyone who has ever run a successful SEO campaign knows that to get to those top-ranking positions, you have to first and foremost outperform yourself.
Identifying and tracking the right KPIs when working with an SEO agency can help you measure not just your progress on SERPs, but the behaviour of people visiting your website and the amount of new business attributable to your SEO efforts, painting a much more complete picture of your digital triumphs and pitfalls and giving you the tools to continually improve your strategy.
Search engine performance KPIs
SEO is all about earning the trust of a search engine by demonstrating the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (EAT) of your domain and its content. The more a search engine likes you, the higher you’ll rank and, contrary to what some in the SEO industry might tell you, you can’t cheat your way to the top. Not for long, anyway.
Tracking search engine performance KPIs gives you an idea of how a search engine sees your website. If you’re working with a good SEO agency, these metrics are your best evidence that the strategy is doing its job.
Ah, keywords. As search engines become more sophisticated in terms of natural language processing and interpreting search intent, keywords are sort of falling out of favour as the most important KPI to track as part of an SEO campaign. However, they’re not suddenly irrelevant. For the foreseeable future, keyword optimisation will remain central to any SEO process, as there isn’t yet a better method of user targeting; and if you’re going to bother optimising pages for specific terms, you should probably be measuring how you’re performing for them.
It’s all very well and good ranking on the first page for something, but what is this getting you? The answer should be traffic. The desired outcome of optimising your website is, after all, that a whole deluge of new faces come flooding onto your site, ready to be converted into leads and potentially into customers. It’s important to know how much of this traffic is coming directly from SERPs so that this can be attributed to SEO in the report.
Backlinks and referring domains
Remember what we said about earning a search engine’s trust? Well, arguably the most important trust signal in SEO is the quantity and quality of your backlink profile. Backlinks essentially act as a recommendation: if a domain earns lots of natural links from sites a search engine already trusts, it will be more likely to also be trusted by that same search engine. Link building agency and digital PR company campaigns are therefore crucial to any successful SEO strategy, and the number of links earned needs to be tracked.
Strictly speaking, domain authority (DA) or domain rating (DR) is not a search engine KPI. It’s a metric, a score out of 100, developed by SEO analytics giant Moz to estimate the overall EAT of a particular domain in the eyes of a search engine. Nonetheless, it has become an industry-standard KPI and is thought to be highly accurate to how search engines evaluate domains, as high-DA sites often rank highest on SERPs. Building the DA of your website should therefore be a top priority.
Organic click-through-rate (CTR)
Click-through-rate is a calculation of how many impressions your search result has - how many times it has shown up on SERPs versus how many of these impressions resulted in a user visiting your site from the results page. As you’d expect, the highest-ranking pages often have the highest CTR, with the top three results receiving 75.1% of all clicks. However, you can’t assume that you’re getting all the clicks you deserve because you’re ranking well. Tracking your CTR can alert you to potential issues with the appearance of your search result - such as unappealing title tags or URL structure - that are causing search engine users to go elsewhere.
Crawl errors, also known as coverage issues, are exactly what they sound like: problems that a search engine spider is running into while crawling your site. Search engine spiders like Googlebot are constantly crawling and re-crawling all the pages they can find in order to index and rank them. If there are pages it can’t reach or can’t index, you need to know so that you can fix the problem, or else your content simply won’t exist, as far as the search engine is concerned.
On-site user experience KPIs
SEO doesn’t stop when you leave the results page. Not only does optimisation need to follow through all the way to a conversion to generate revenue, but how your site visitors behave once they click through to your domain can impact your ability to rank. If people are experiencing issues and quitting your site before they have a look around, a search engine will interpret your result as being low-value and push you further down the results page. This is why user experience (UX) and SEO must go hand in hand.
If people can’t find the answers they’re looking for immediately or they don’t like what they see when they click through to your site, they’re not going to stick around. They’re going to click right back to that results page and go elsewhere. This is known as your bounce rate, as users ‘bounce’ on and off your page. Bounce rate is not a direct ranking factor, but it has been known to result in a search engine concluding that your page is not providing value to its users and pushing you further down the SERP. It’s also an important indication for you internally of whether or not your page is answering the query’s search intent.
Average session duration
This is sort of the opposite metric to your bounce rate. We don’t want users leaving immediately: we want them to stay on the page for long enough to engage with the content and provide the most opportunity for hooking them into our product, service or resource. A good average session duration - also known as ‘dwell time’ - is around 2-4 minutes, depending on the length of your content. Even if you’ve provided a 3,000+ word blog post, a user is likely to scroll down to the part that’s relevant to them and spend a few minutes digesting it. This is still good! The objective is to answer their queries and earn their trust, which might prompt them to explore the site a little more or come back when they need some more information or help.
Pages per session
Following on from dwell time, once a user has found the information they came looking for when they typed their query into a search engine, the ideal scenario is for their interest to be piqued so that they spend a little more time clicking through more pages on your site. If a user is visiting multiple pages in a single session, this usually means you’re doing something right. More importantly, it can give you insight into how much time they’re willing to spend with you and what other information might be relevant to them. This can help you shape the user journey, guiding your organic traffic through your site and towards a potential conversion.
Unlike many of the KPIs in this section, page speed is a direct ranking factor with Google. Be honest, how much time are you willing to wait for a page to load on a website you’ve never visited before? If it’s more than a few seconds, most of us are likely to click that ‘back’ button and go to a website that’s more up to speed, literally. The faster you can get a high-quality page to load, the better. It’s important to track this as a KPI in your SEO performance report so you can immediately become aware of any decreases in page speed and step in to fix them.
New and returning visitors
As much as we’d all like every new visitor to immediately convert into a customer, client or subscriber, the truth is that this is rarely the case. More often than not, a user will visit your site multiple times before filling out a contact form, booking a discovery call or signing up to a newsletter. You need to build trust. Breaking down your organic traffic into new and returning visitors can help give you insight into how trustworthy search engine users feel your site is and how many repeat visits it takes before they fulfil your conversion goal.
If you’re struggling with a high bounce rate or low average session duration, you don’t want to be left scratching your head and taking shots in the dark as to where you’re going wrong. The good news is you don’t have to. Tracking scroll depth as an SEO KPI can show you exactly where you’re losing your web traffic. Are people arriving on your site, seeing the top of the page and thinking “no thank you”? Or do they start scrolling, see the amount of content there is to get through before they get to their answer and get bored? The difference between these two scenarios is the difference between knowing that your problem lies with something like page speed or design and knowing that it lies with overly long, unstructured content.
SEO business case KPIs
Of course, none of this means anything if it’s not paying off financially. We know you’re not investing in SEO services for the fun of it: you’re here because you’ve been promised it’s going to help grow your business. While it’s a fact that SEO is one of the most cost-effective and high-value inbound marketing strategies out there, you still need to be able to prove this to any stakeholders involved in order to keep the project going. That’s why it’s important that you take the time to calculate and track the amount of new business being generated by your SEO strategy.
What constitutes a conversion or a goal is different for every business and will depend on the objectives set for your project right from the start. It’s important to know exactly what you want the endgame of a search engine user arriving on your site to be so that you can measure whether or not your SEO strategy is doing what you want it to. It’s a good idea to track both macro and micro conversions as KPIs to get a more comprehensive picture of what your site visitors are and aren’t engaging with.
A macro conversion is the primary goal you want users arriving on your site from the SERP to complete. Depending on what type of website and business you have, examples of macro conversions might include:
▪️ Booking a free trial
▪️ Completing a contact form
▪️ Scheduling a discovery call
▪️ Purchasing a product
▪️ Signing up as a member
▪️ Subscribing to a blog
A micro conversion is a smaller goal you want users to complete on their way to the main goal. They often engage the user by providing them with additional information about your business and work to build expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness so they will be more likely to complete the macro conversion. Examples of micro conversions include:
▪️ Downloading an eBook
▪️ Watching a product video
▪️ Signing up to a newsletter or mailing list
▪️ Sharing a post on social media
▪️ Viewing a certain number of pages
▪️ Adding products to a shopping cart
Finally, the big one - at least as far as stakeholders are concerned. For SEOs, there are tons of different metrics that we use to measure success, but as far as building the business case for continuing to invest in agency services, there’s only one that matters: is the expenditure on SEO leading to an increase in revenue? All of the KPIs we’ve explained here are in some small way to calculating your return on investment, as they make increases in traffic, conversions and search engine visibility directly attributable to the efforts of your SEO agency. They’re the evidence. It can take around 3-6 months for the needle to start moving once you’ve implemented a new SEO strategy - depending, of course, on whether you’ve had to do major works, such as a site relaunch - but if you’ve got the right UK SEO company in place, you should see a consistent increase in ROI.