“What gets measured gets managed,” Peter Drucker said in his 1954 book, “The Practice of Management.” When it comes to SEO, this adage definitely applies.
Entrepreneurs track rankings, traffic, conversions and more to help them understand how their efforts are impacting the websites they work on. These and other SEO metrics can reveal what’s working that they need to maintain, and what’s not working that they need to correct.
Metrics also add transparency so executives can better understand the return on their SEO investment.
“What result is SEO producing, and does it outweigh the cost of my investment?”
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular metrics for measuring SEO performance, and how they can give you better insight into the way your audience is finding and engaging with your website.
Keyword rankings refer to a website’s position in search results for target keywords.
For example, the hypothetical company “Dave’s Bikes” might show up as the second result on the search engine results page (SERP) when someone searches for “mountain bikes” in Google — in other words, a #2 ranking for the keyword “mountain bikes.”
Typically, the higher the position a page occupies in the search results, the more people will click on it, which is why a main goal of SEO is to increase a website’s rank position for important keywords.
It’s important to note that not all keywords are created equal. Avoid pursuing rankings for keywords that don’t have any search demand or aren’t relevant to your business goals. Remember, the purpose of keyword rankings is ultimately to produce revenue for your business, so only spend time on keywords that will bring you qualified traffic.
Organic search traffic
Since the goal of ranking for keywords is to send traffic to your website, another critical SEO metric is organic search traffic, and that refers to people who find and click on your website from the non-ad portion of Google search results.
Typically, if a page isn’t ranking for any keywords, it won’t have any organic search traffic. To correct course, you can focus on improving the page’s ranking for relevant keywords.
Sometimes, however, a page can be ranking and still receive little to no traffic. This might happen because the target keywords have low search volume (people don’t search for them very often), because Google is answering the search within the SERP (via featured snippets or Knowledge Graph results), or possibly because the page’s title and description are unappealing.
To see how much organic search traffic the pages on your website receive, use an analytics tool like Google Analytics.
Conversion rate isn’t unique to SEO, but it’s important if you want to understand how many desired actions the organic channel is producing for your website. To calculate conversion rate, simply divide the number of conversions by the number of unique visits.
A conversion can be any desired action you want your website visitors to take, whether that’s filling out a contact form, signing up for your newsletter, or making a purchase.
Knowing what constitutes a conversion on your website, as well as how many of your organic search visits produce a conversion, is an important part of gauging your SEO return on investment (ROI).
Time on page
How long did visitors spend on your webpage? If you have a 1,500-word blog post that people are only spending an average of 10 seconds on, chances are slim that this content is being fully consumed. Low time on page isn’t all bad, however. For example, it’s normal for visitors to spend minimal time on your “Contact Us” page since it exists to be filled out quickly.
Time on page can be a helpful metric for understanding how your visitors are consuming or not consuming your content; just keep in mind that a “good” time on page is relative to the unique page type.
Pages per visit
If the goal of your content is to engage readers and guide them to additional content on your website, then pages per visit is a valuable engagement metric. If the goal of your page is independent of other pages on your site (ex: visitor came, got what they needed, then left), then a low pages per visit metric is okay.
“Bounced” sessions indicate that a searcher visited the page and left without browsing your site any further, with zero context as to why they decided to leave. Many people try to lower this metric because they believe it’s tied to website quality, but it’s important to look at this metric in context.
For example, we’ve seen cases of bounce rate spiking for redesigned restaurant websites that are doing better than ever. Upon further investigation, we discovered that people were simply coming to find business hours, menus, or an address, then bouncing with the intention of visiting the restaurant in person, which is exactly what a business like a restaurant would want.
Scroll depth measures how far visitors scroll down individual webpages. Are visitors reaching the most important content? If not, perhaps A/B test different ways of providing the most important content higher up on your page, such as multimedia, contact forms, and so on.
Also, consider the quality of your content. Are you presenting the bottom line up front (BLUF)? Is it enticing for the visitor to continue down the page? Work on making your pages more engaging so your visitors will read everything you have to say.
Domain Authority and Page Authority (DA/PA)
These authority metrics provide powerful insights at a glance and are best used as benchmarks relative to your competitors’ Domain Authority and Page Authority. To be clear: Domain authority is not a score by Google, and the search giant does not use it to determine ranking. That said, DA and PA are the best metrics the industry has to measure and predict search performance.
Number of backlinks
The total number of links pointing to your website or the number of unique linking root domains (meaning one per unique website, as websites often link out to other websites multiple times). While these are both common link metrics, we encourage you to look more closely at the quality of backlinks and linking root domains your site has. For more information, you can read this deep dive from my colleague Russ Jones on why quality backlinks are more important than pure volume.
While fairly comprehensive, this list is by no means exhaustive. The world of search engine optimization is complex and ever-changing, but you can easily understand the basics by starting with a strong understanding of these terms.
Once you’ve mastered these terms, I encourage you to check out the rest of “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO” to learn more about the world of search engine optimization.