What are SEO metrics the best to track?
If you work in SEO, you know just how difficult it can be to prove your progress to your client, your supervisor, or whoever else may be interested in your results. SEO metrics are a must!
There are some people who won’t even look at a report – all they will want to see is results. To most, results equal rankings, and that’s that.
Unfortunately, there is much more to SEO than boosting rankings, and knowing how to convey that requires experience and confidence.
Even more importantly – before your report ever reaches management – how will you know the campaign you have plotted out and set into motion is working?
I realize that we all track rankings. As we should. But rankings, domain ratings or authorities and numbers of visitors alone will not do much for your future campaigns. In order to be able to build on what you already have, and find better ways to achieve your SEO goals, you need to find an integrated system of tracking different metrics that will show you where to invest more, where to stop investing, and point out all those untrodden avenues you have never thought about exploring.
Note: The list of metrics I am about to provide is not the complete list I use. Depending on the client and campaign, I will tweak this as needed. I am not saying this is the ultimate list either. All I am saying is it works for me.
Backlinks and Referring Domains
No matter how disputed link building gets, links are still what matters. I cannot in all seriousness envision a time when they don’t. After all, links are the web.
As the now-famous Backlinko study confirms, your backlink portfolio is very important. And keeping track of who is linking back to you (and how these links are influencing all the metrics I list below) is what I love about SEO. I could write an entire separate piece about the theory of backlinks – and how they can help you or harm you. But let’s stay on topic.
Image Source: Helplogger
There are a bunch of ways to keep track of your backlinks – Google Search Console still coming out on top. Never forget to also use tools like Ahrefs or Majestic (ideally both!) to check out what your direct (and indirect) competitors are also doing in this department.
Don’t feel you need to disavow every spammy link you acquire inadvertently – Google is all about keeping things real, and we will all have very “good” and very “bad” links pointing back to our sites. As long as you don’t build anything of a questionable nature intentionally, you are fine.
Organic traffic is often called the “purest” of SEO metrics, with very good reason. If I was stuck on a deserted island and had to track only one metric, this would be it.
What I am not trying to say, however, is that organic traffic is more important than any other kind of traffic – but it can give you a pretty decent picture of your relationship with both search engines and users. If this number is on the increase, you are doing something right, most likely.
Word of Advice: Don’t track these numbers in Google Analytics every day, as there is no point. You will be losing sleep for no good reason. Look for month-to-month numbers to track growth trends that tell the whole story.
Word of Caution: A lack of growth in organic traffic can be used against you. Your defense is everything else I am covering here.
With mobile overtaking desktop search, you simply can’t afford not to track mobile traffic. You can also do this from your Google Analytics account to see how you are ranking for mobile.
In 2018, I am not even going to point out that you need to be mobile-friendly. I am also not going to be talking about image sizes, page load speeds, AMPs, and everything else you probably know about the shift Google is making toward mobile search. I am also not going to try and scare you off by mentioning those dreaded words “mobile-first index.”
What I am going to tell you is that depending on the kind of website you run, you might want to prioritize mobile over desktop search. Or vice versa. What matters is where your target audience is, not what you read online about how search is evolving. After all, it’s all about user experience, not about accommodating the crawlers. They can fend for themselves.
Note: Never forget how different mobile search is from desktop search, and bear in mind all the intricacies of voice search as well. OK, Google.
Image Source: Business 2 Community
Just a small side note on referral traffic: this is not usually a metric you are trying to chase, and rightfully so. However, the right referral traffic can bring in more value (in terms of brand awareness and visits, even engagement) than organic traffic, in a smaller segment of time.
The reason I find it so important is that it can tell me a lot about the websites we are targeting in our link building and content marketing campaigns. Getting a link to your valuable resource in front of the eyes of your target audience, from a trusted source, can help you win big SEO points. Keep that in mind when making friends online.
For example, if your ideal audience is millennial women who are highly interested in make-up and you are getting a lot of referral traffic from publications and websites like Cosmo and Refinery29, you’ve nailed your linking strategy. These reliable sites are constantly being read by your target audience, so attracting their audience to your site is a sign of success.
When I say domain authority, I don’t necessarily mean Moz. You can use the Ahrefs domain rating too (even after their recent DR update has left quite a few bruises in the industry, yes!), or Majestic’s trust flow. Just pick one, and stick to it.
These metrics are not, and I repeat, not in any direct correlation with the way Google ranks and sees your website. What they do rank you against are your competitors, and that is what you use them for. Apart from giving you a very decent sense of a website’s quality (for link building purposes), you will also see what websites in your niche who have a higher domain authority are doing better, and how you can improve your own campaigns.
I know they are often used in reporting – just make sure all parties involved are aware of their nature. A drop in domain rating does in no way mean you are dropping in rankings. Or that you are losing money.
Here you are actually tracking more than one metric: bounce rate, pages visited, time on site, and so on. They will tell you what the people who do reach your site are doing, and what you need to fix.
After the Pandapocalypse, engagement metrics are more of a ranking factor than before. As user experience is what matters most, by improving user engagement, you will be improving your rankings. A high bounce rate speaks volumes about the quality of your pages, so take that into account when ranking them for certain keywords, and building links back to them.
Image Source: Neil Patel
The way to improve these metrics is quite clear: your pages need to be about what the visitor feels they will be about; your content needs to be well-written and edited, easy to read through; your images need to be appropriate and load fast; your internal linking structure needs to make sense; and so on.
This is a purely engine-oriented metric, but I find it fascinating, so I track it. You can see the number of pages Googlebots crawl on your site in your Search Console. Read more about crawl budgets here.
You don’t need to track this – but if you are, like me, fascinated by the crawler and how it thinks, you can go to town here. This is also the time to fix any crawl errors (also highlighted in your Search Console) and make the little spiders as comfortable as you can. Since you can’t offer them a cup of coffee or a stiff drink, the least you can do to accommodate them is to make your pages easily crawlable.
Finally, here they are – your rankings. The only two pieces of advice I have here are:
1 – Remember RankBrain. Remember it well, and forget everything you learned about ranking for keywords three years ago. This is the new Google.
2 – Choose wisely. Selecting keywords to chase is what got me interested in SEO in the first place, and there are hundreds of ways to find keywords to rank for. Remember that SERPs take time to get updated, so give your strategies time to work. We’ve all seen websites that are ranked first for a certain keyword, even when they seem to be doing nothing to rank for them. Takeaway: there is more than one way to rank no.1 – you just have to be diligent enough to find it.
3 – Actually, I have a third piece of advice. Don’t be bullied into chasing rankings. Rankings are secondary to…
And here we are: the one metric, and ultimately the only metric, that makes any difference to management (and to all of us who run our own websites) is the bottom line at the end of each month.
I am by no means trying to say that revenue is all that matters and that you should use any and all means to increase it through your SEO tactics. What I am saying is that SEO is a marathon (bet you’ve heard that one before), and a slow start does not mean you will not get there. It’s all about a steady, sustainable, scalable plan to climb – and I do hope this personal take on how to better it was an enjoyable read.
This is a guest post by Michael Deane.