We’re going to talk about SEO key performance indicators (KPIs) and success metrics a little differently.
Instead of giving you 71 trash metrics to monitor, we’re going to keep it simple and give you the 5 main metrics you need to monitor.
This game of improving your rankings in the search engine results page (SERPs) can and does get very technical in terms of implementation, explanation, and measurement. It’s easy to get lost in all the noise and all the things you’re supposed to think about.
Other digital marketing programs like paid search have straightforward success metrics: spend, clicks, cost-per-click, conversion rate, conversions, and cost per conversions.
Similarly, tracking SEO KPIs doesn’t need to be complex.
Ultimately, the main goal of SEO is to drive business impact (revenue) so you want to be able to community how much your content and SEO strategy contributes.
To do that, you need the right KPIs in place to monitor and report on the impact of your SEO efforts.
In defining SEO metrics, it’s helpful to bucket your metrics into leading indicators and lagging indicators. Your main success metric is probably a lagging indicator like revenue.
We’ll go over both leading and lagging indicators to monitor to make sure your content marketing and SEO efforts are paying off.
We’ll also recommend simple SEO tools to monitor these metrics. Nothing fancy is needed.
Leading vs lagging indicators
A lagging indicator is a metric that measures the output. That naturally means it’s not an actionable metric.
A common lagging indicator is revenue. If you check your reports and realize you’re behind on revenue, there’s nothing you can do to fix that now. It’s too late.
That’s where leading indicators come in.
The purpose of a leading indicator is to tell you whether you’re on track to improve your lagging indicator metric.
The definition itself is straightforward but the challenge comes in choosing the right leading indicator for a lagging indicator.
Let’s say you want to grow revenue, a lagging indicator. In that case, a leading indicator is pipeline generated.
My measuring how much pipeline you’ve generated, you can calculate whether you’re on track to hit a revenue goal.
Let’s use an example scenario: Let’s say it’s September and you’re currently at $700k in revenue and your revenue goal is $1 million for the year. You have a pipeline close rate of 50% and you currently have $200k in pipeline.
If you close 50% of that pipeline, you’ll generate another $100k in revenue for a total of $800k, but you’d still be short of you goal by $200k.
Because you’re using the leading indicator of pipeline to tell you whether you’re on track to hit your revenue target, you were able to determine ahead of time that you wouldn’t be able to hit your goal with your current pipeline.
Because it’s September, you still have about 2 months to generate more pipeline. That changes how you decide to run your demand generation programs and what to focus on over the next 2 months.
Now let’s talk about leading and lagging indicators for organic search programs.
The 5 most important SEO KPIs
When it comes to SEO, there are four key metrics to watch. When you read through them below, try labeling if the metric is a leading or lagging indicator. Answers are under the toggle below 🙂
- Search impressions: How often is your website being seen in the search results?
- Keyword rankings: How well does your website rank for your target keywords?
- Organic sessions: How much organic traffic is coming to the website?
- Conversion rate: How well does your organic traffic convert into leads?
- Leads/conversions: How many leads is organic traffic bringing in?
See the answers
- Search impressions: Leading indicator
- Keyword rankings: Leading indicator
- Organic traffic: Could be both leading AND lagging indicator. It’s the lagging indicator to search impressions and keyword rankings, but could be a leading indicator for leads/conversions.
- Conversion rate: Lagging indicator
- Leads/conversions: Lagging indicator
So why do other blog posts say you should monitor bounce rate, search clicks, page speed, average time on page, number of pages visited, and a bunch of other metrics? It’s because they’re trying to meet a word count and make it a “comprehensive” article. There, I said it.
You really only need to worry about bounce rate in two scenarios: (1) You have an insanely high bounce rate across your website, like 90% or above, or (2) you’re sending paid traffic to a landing page and the bounce rate is high so your conversions are really bad. But this comes down to a page design and user experience challenge, not strictly SEO performance. Otherwise, it’s not a useful metric.
Measuring search clicks is also redundant with looking at keyword rankings and organic traffic. You can assume that if your rankings are closer to position 1 in the SERPs, that your share of clicks will increase.
Now let’s go through these metrics one by one.
SEO KPI #1: Search impressions
By tracking your search query impressions, you’ll get a pulse on your search visibility.
If you’re just getting started in building up your organic marketing engine, you might see 0 for a few weeks to months depending on your content publishing velocity.
As you start moving up the rankings, you might find that this metric can be quite volatile because you’ll jump around the search rankings until Google determines where your ranking should stabilize.
Because of the volatility, search impressions aren’t the best success metric, but could be a leading indicator for whether your rankings are improving.
The challenge here is just because search impressions go up, it doesn’t mean they’re going up for your target keywords. That could also be a good thing because you might find keyword opportunities you didn’t consider.
Tool: Google Search Console
SEO KPI #2: Keyword rankings
Keyword rankings will be a better leading indicator for your organic marketing program because it’s a good proxy for whether or not your rankings are improving for your the specific keywords you’re targeting.
Ideally, your content strategy has a good amount of bottom of funnel keywords that attract your target audience and are more likely to drive leads and conversions (your lagging indicator).
This is a great leading indicator because even if you aren’t bringing in organic traffic yet, you’ll be able to see if you’re moving up the rankings from page 8 to page 4 for example. That is still great progress.
If you see your keyword rankings aren’t improving over the course of a few weeks, that will signal that some changes need to be made.
Maybe there’s a technical SEO issue. Maybe you could improve your internal linking. Maybe you could build some backlinks to improve your domain authority. Maybe you could better optimize the content.
There are many diagnoses and solutions but the point is you would know to dig in and make changes because you had a leading indicator telling you that change is needed.
You wouldn’t be able to diagnose the issue or catch it earlier if you were only looking at organic traffic.
SEO KPI #3: Organic sessions
Very simply, you want to grow organic sessions. Is it increasing? Decreasing?
By measuring this metric, you’ll be able to dig in deeper. Whether it’s increasing or decreasing, for how long? Is it seasonality? Is it natural volatility? If not, why?
For many folks this is the only metric they measure which leaves them exposed to blind spots.
Because this is a lagging indicator, what often happens is organic sessions is flat or down, and there was no leading indicator to signal that there might be issues.
By having the leading indicators of search impressions and keyword rankings, you’ll have a chance to catch trends in organic sessions decreases ahead of time.
You could look at this in terms of organic sessions or organic traffic. We recommend looking at it at a sessions level as that avoids potentially inflated pageviews. For example, if one person views 100 pages that counts as 100 pageviews and 1 session.
Recommended tool: Google Analytics
SEO KPI #4: Conversion rate
Conversion rates are a lagging indicator but they give you another axis for understanding the levers you have to generate more leads.
For example, if your conversion rate is low, you might ask whether it’s because your website is poorly designed or if the content just isn’t suited for readers who are ready to use your product.
From my experience, it’s often the latter.
By measuring your conversion rates, you’ll also be able to segment by blog post or type of blog post and see what performs better.
Depending on how your website is set up, you might track your conversion rate in two ways:
- If you have a call-to-action on yoru blog post to a landing page, you’ll want to measure the clickthrough rate (CTR) from the blog to the landing page plus the ensuing conversion rate on the landing page to generate a lead.
- If you have a form on the blog post, then you’ll just measure the conversion rate from the blog to a lead.
By monitoring your conversion rate, you can benchmark yourself against how you’ve done in the past and improve from there.
Recommended tool: Google Analytics
SEO KPI #5: Leads and conversions
Leads and conversions are often the main goal for marketing teams and demonstrate the effectiveness of your SEO efforts. However, it’s a lagging indicator compared to the other metrics and it would be a mistake to only monitor organic conversions without monitoring any leading indicators.
Similar to our example of revenue being a lagging indicator, there isn’t much you can do to impact leads attributed to organic if that’s the only metric you’re measuring.
Bonus KPI: Revenue
As with most business efforts, revenue growth is the ultimate goal for investing in content and SEO. Depending on how simple or complex your attribution models are, you can decide how to attribute revenue to your organic program (we recommend keeping it simple and using a last-touch attribution model, the default in Google Analytics).
Even though revenue is quite distant from traffic, it’s ultimately how you’ll measure the return on investment of SEO. So it’s important to have some level of attribution to have a proxy for the impact of the program.
Set your metrics and build the program
Don’t spend too much time agonizing over the right SEO KPIs to monitor. Then you can always add more metrics to report on if you decide you want to get more complex in reporting.
By having a mix of leading and lagging indicators, you’ll get a holistic view of your content and SEO program and understand where you need to jump in and diagnose issues ahead of time.
To keep your content and SEO reporting simple, keep the total number of metrics to a minimum so you can focus on the key metrics.
Good luck in adding SEO program to your marketing strategy portfolio.