Robbie Richards shares why (and how) Databox is the most powerful tool his agency uses to share and improve SEO and PPC performance for clients.
Case Study | Apr 1
Jessica Greene on May 8, 2019 (last modified on February 13, 2020) • 42 minute read
Note that “in the right way” is emphasized: SEO metrics can be deceptive.
You can earn high rankings that drive lots of traffic, but that doesn’t guarantee the traffic you’re seeing is qualified. On the other hand, you can generate small traffic increases that lead to significant jumps in revenue.
That’s why it’s crucial to have a wide variety of metrics in your back pocket as an SEO. The ability to track multiple metrics gives you the evidence you need to prove the value of your efforts when standard metrics don’t paint a complete picture.
To uncover the most important SEO metrics, we asked 129 marketers to tell us more about the metrics they track—and how they track them.
Next, we wanted to know what metrics SEOs track with these tools. And why are those metrics important?
The 49 metrics our respondents recommended are below, along with details on why they believe each metric is important to track.
Editor’s note: If you need to track multiple SEO metrics across multiple tools, use Databox to consolidate all of your metrics into a central dashboard. The free SEO Overview dashboard below is a great example, showing key metrics from four different SEO tools.
Want to know the most important marketing KPIs to track across all functions (i.e. content, SEO, email, social, etc.)? Check out the definitive list of marketing KPIs all marketers should be tracking according to 400+ marketing professionals.
“An essential SEO metric to measure is organic traffic,” says Boni Satani of Zestard Technologies. “Organic traffic is the traffic that you earn from appearing in search results without paying for placement.”
“Organic traffic is a great benchmark for SEO performance,” says Energy Seek’s Ollie Smith.
Online Optimism’s Sam Olmsted agrees: “The whole point of SEO is to increase your company’s search visibility and attract new visitors without paying for advertisements, so you want this number to increase consistently month over month.”
“Receiving a lot of organic traffic can be an indicator that the SEO work you’re doing is showing positive results,” says Samantha Simon of Roger West. “If you’re not receiving much organic traffic, you should consider changing your SEO techniques.”
“If your business has any sort of local or physical presence, you should be tracking local organic traffic,” says Hailey Vasquez of Odd Dog Media. “This is an essential metric for anyone focusing on local SEO or local marketing.”
“Using UTM parameters on your Google My Business page gives you a way to differentiate between traffic from general search and traffic from the ‘Local Pack’ and/or Google Maps,” Vasquez says.
SEO Tribunal’s Sheila Rae Opulencia says that monitoring traffic by location can also help you find ways to expand your business:
“Knowing whether or not you’re receiving organic traffic from different parts of the world is a game-changer, especially if you run a SaaS business. You can rethink your business plan to cater to the global market if you see that you have a pretty significant amount of organic traffic from overseas.”
Morgan Lathaen of thumbprint recommends tracking organic traffic from mobile devices. “Nearly 60% of all searches from mobile. Keeping track of your mobile traffic can help you identify mobile-friendliness issues, usage patterns, and mobile-only search terms.”
In addition to measuring organic traffic volume, Dennis Sievers of Webiteers also recommends measuring how many of your pages drive organic traffic.
“If you have 1,000 pages—but only 100 attract organic traffic—then you need to look at the other 900 pages. What’s their purpose, and how can you implement SEO improvements to gain more visibility and traffic from search engines?”
Chris Mechanic of WebMechanix says it’s important to measure your “net new addressable organic traffic: organic traffic minus repeat visitors and irrelevant traffic like internal traffic, bot traffic, international traffic (if you’re domestic), or even out of state/region traffic (if you’re local or regional).”
“A good way to think of this is: ‘How many relevant new connections have we made this period?’ This metric is important because it offers the most accurate indication of your flow of prospects to your website and inbound performance.”
“Measure total organic impressions: how many times a user saw a non-paid, organic result for your site in the search results,” says Giselle Bardwell of Kiwi Creative.
“Being found online by prospective customers is a basic goal of a comprehensive marketing strategy, and total organic impressions is a great success indicator in being found via organic search.”
“You may have completed extensive keyword research, formulated a killer keyword strategy, and executed optimization techniques flawlessly, but if no one is searching for and seeing your optimized content, then valuable time and resources have been wasted.”
“Total organic impressions help you validate if you’re making the right choices in your content and SEO strategy: if organic impressions are going up, it means your content is ranking well and you’re hopefully being found by more prospective customers.”
Average time on page metrics tell you the amount of time users spend on a specific page of your website—on average—after arriving from any source.
“The number-one metric that every marketer should be tracking is how long users stay on the page,” says Thomas Adams of Tech Prosperity LLC. “This is important for two reasons:”
“Focusing on overall usability—which plays into how long a user spends on your page—is key,” Adams says.
And Ivan LaBianca of The Seventh Sense says that high time-on-page averages can also indicate future ranking increases: “We’ve found average time on page to be the most reliable indicator of how a blog post will rank long-term.”
“Even if a blog post ranks on page 10 for our target keyword, if our average time on page is 10 minutes and competing posts are only 700-1,200 words, chances are we’ll be ranked on the first page of the search results for that keyword in a few months.”
“If users are spending as much time as it takes to read the word count on your page—and the word count is higher than your competitors’ higher-ranking posts—that’s a good sign to Google that your post fits searcher intent for a given keyword,” LaBianca says.
Scroll depth is another way to measure how well your content is engaging your visitors. It measures how far down your page visitors scrolled. You can measure scroll depth with a trigger in Google Tag Manager or a scroll-mapping tool like Crazy Egg.
“You should always aim for at least 70% scroll depth,” says Liraz Postan of LP Marketing Services Inc. “An engaged user is a buying user, a returning user, a sharing user, and a referral user.”
Attio’s Alex Vale recommends measuring the length of your content. This is important, Vale says, because “articles with over 1,000 words perform significantly better than shorter articles in Google’s current algorithm.”
While average time-on-page metrics measure how long a visitor stays on your page when arriving from any source, dwell time metrics tell you the amount of time users spend on a page after arriving from search and before clicking back to the search results.
“Dwell time plays a big part in helping RankBrain understand which results to rank higher than others,” says Jonathan Gorham of Engine Scout Digital Marketing. “Generally, higher dwell times suggest that a result offers more value than other, similar pages in the same search results.”
HostSorter’s Lewis agrees that dwell time is a key metric to measure: “As a good rule of thumb, you should aim for at least one minute of dwell time per page.”
Session duration metrics tell you how much time users spend on your site overall, which could include time spent on multiple pages.
“All marketers should track—or at least pay attention to—session duration,” says Niles Koenigsberg of FiG Advertising + Marketing. “Ideally, you want your consumers to be on your site for as long as possible.”
“If you have a lengthy session duration (>75 seconds), then it’s safe to assume your content is engaging. But if the average session duration is low (<30 seconds), then your website has one of two problems:”
“If you’re not sure, examine the user journey for insights on how you can make your website and content more engaging. Usually, you will see a short session duration and a high bounce rate paired together,” Koenigsberg says.
“Session duration is a huge metric because it’s a direct ranking factor,” says Christian Carere of Digital Ducats Inc. “The more time users spend on your site, the better: there’s implied value through user engagement.”
“If users are spending 10 seconds on your site, it’s a sign that although you’re driving traffic, your content isn’t resonating,” says Kevin Peguero of Astro Pak.
“For our client sites, there is a direct correlation between average session length and ranking,” says Jake Fisher of Bridges Strategies & Digital Marketing.
“The pages-per-session metric will give you insight on how many pages a user visits, on average, within one session,” says Laura Gonzalez of Mercedes of Houston North.
“This is a helpful SEO metric to look at because it can either mean that your internal linking efforts are paying off (high pages-per-session rates) or that users are having difficulty finding the information they’re looking for (low pages-per-session rates).”
“By taking a look at the behavior flow in Google Analytics, you’ll be able to see exactly where users are navigating to. This information will inform you on what is working and what’s not.”
“Bounce rate tells you how many people left your site after only viewing one page,” says Your Parking Space’s Ryan Underwood. “It’s measured as a percentage of visitors, and the lower the percentage, the better.”
“You can have the snazziest, most optimized website out there, but if your bounce rate is high, all that effort is for naught,” says SEO.com’s Sarah Snider. “When a ton of people go to your site and immediately click away from it, you lose out on precious revenue and business.”
And Keith Butler of EvansHardy+Young says that a high bounce rate “has a cascading effect. Examples include shorter average session durations, more top exit pages, and, ultimately, lower page engagement. Each of these negatively impacts search rankings.”
“Bounce rate measures the amount of traffic that is actually interested in consuming your content,” says Beacons Point’s Max Reinhardt. “By tracking your bounce rate over time, you can ensure your marketing efforts are targeting the correct traffic.”
In addition to measuring the overall bounce rate of your website, you can also measure the bounce rate of your individual blog posts and landing pages. Measuring the bounce rate of specific pages of your site helps you uncover which pages have issues that need to be addressed.
However, VizConn’s Deepak Kumar Tamil Selvan recommends taking it a step further and measuring your bounce rate in segments:
“Segment your audience by source, and measure the bounce rate for each source. Or segment your bounce rate by topic, and measure the bounce rate for each topic. This will help you determine which of your topics should be your main focus.”
“Measuring bounce rates by source, demographics, and topics provides deep marketing insights that will help you optimize your strategy and digital campaigns.”
“Bounce rate indicates the user-friendliness of your content,” says The Advisor Coach’s James Pollard.
There are a number of factors that impact how user-friendly your site is:
“If people are bouncing from a high-traffic page, there’s no point applying additional marketing strategies to that page,” says Ashok Sharma of Wealth Words. “Focus instead on improving the overall page structure and satisfying user intent.”
Of course, a high bounce rate that’s not caused by the issues above can also be an outcome of not giving your visitors anywhere else to go on your website.
“Put in links to related pages like blog posts or content offers,” says SEO Tribunal’s Sheila Rae Opulencia. “You may also want to add text CTAs on the page. The goal is to keep your visitors clicking through the pages on your website.”
“If you have a high bounce rate from search engines, consider performing a content audit to see if your content should be updated, removed, or condensed,” Marcel Digital’s Patrick Delehanty recommends.
“The trick,” Lab Society’s Ross Palmer says, “is not just to get more organic traffic, but to get more relevant and meaningful traffic.”
Signity Solutions’ Hima Pujara says that a good benchmark for bounce rates is anything below 40%. “If your bounce rate is more than 40%, it’s clear that your content isn’t relevant to your audience.”
Efferent Media’s Joe Czarniecki recommends a slightly different benchmark: 30-55%. “Once you get in the 60% range, you should start making some changes,” Czarniecki says.
However, Fundera’s Ricardo Velez says that “there is no standard benchmark bounce rate. It varies wildly by industry, country, and browsing device.”
Advice Media’s Dylan Myatt provides an example: “My clients are all in the medical field, so the average we see is anywhere from 60-70%. Anything around 50% or lower is amazing.”
And Appleton’s Doug Stewart notes that bounce rate can also be higher for different types of campaigns: “With landing pages that are a part of a paid campaign, bounce rates are typically much higher (can be upwards of 90%) and should not necessarily be considered a negative thing.”
Velez recommends “using the Google Analytics benchmark feature to see how your site’s bounce rate compares to others in your industry.”
“You exit page rate is the number of exits divided by the number of page views for a particular page,” Alex Hooley says. “It indicates where traffic is leaving your site. Pages with a high exit rate could indicate people are leaving your site to look elsewhere for their answer.”
“Monitoring your top exit pages can reveal issues on your site that you didn’t even know existed,” says Jason Yau of CanvasPeople. “Putting aside bounce rate, look at which pages are most commonly the last page someone visits before leaving your site.”
“Depending on the page, it could tell you that your product descriptions are vague, your site loads slowly, your UI is clunky and unattractive, etc. Aim to have less than half your visitors immediately exit your landing pages,” Yau says.
“An important metric that almost every website is failing on is site speed,” says Ryan Johnson of Critical Mass. “Now that Google indexes using a mobile-first approach, the speed at which the mobile version of your website loads is a factor in rankings.”
“Loading speeds are crucial,” says JetRails’ Robert Rand. “They impact bounce rates and other metrics that can have a big impact on your long-term search engine rankings.”
“Page load speeds are important because they relate directly to the user experience,” says Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design. “If a customer lands on your website and it takes longer than three seconds to load, most of the time they will leave.”
“If you use a lot of large images, GIFs, and videos, it will have a negative impact on your page speeds,” says The Slumber Yard’s Matthew Ross. “The pictures and videos might look pretty and appeal to your audience, but if the page doesn’t load quickly, the viewer will likely click the back button and move on to a new website.”
To test your page speeds, LyntonWeb’s Roman Kniahynyckyj recommends using PageSpeed Insights. “With PageSpeed Insights, you can check your load time across multiple platforms and see what’s contributing to slow site speed.”
“A good rule of thumb is to have a page load within 5 seconds or less,” says Suddora’s Joe Flanagan. “Google says two seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability.”
“Knowing how many repeat visits you get is important for understanding how well your website is resonating with the market,” says Aaron Wall of SEO Book. “If people repeatedly use a service, they are effectively vouching for its quality.”
“The ratio of repeat visitors to unique visitors will depend on a site’s vertical and business model, but you can track if such a number is improving or getting worse over time. As an added bonus, the people who regularly use a website are also the most likely to mention it on forums, in blog posts, or on social media channels.”
“If you’re doing SEO, you should be able to list keywords that are on the front page of Google,” says Empathy First Media’s Daniel Lynch. “I check Ahrefs every day to see what keywords are in my top 10, and I report that to my clients so they can see the results they’re paying for.”
Lauren Nettles of VIEO Design agrees: “Tracking keyword rankings helps you check that your SEO strategy is headed in the right direction. You’ll know if you’ve chosen the best keywords to keep working towards—or if you should consider adjusting what you want to rank for.”
“If you can maximize the number of keywords in the top three search results, you’ll guarantee a large amount of traffic because those are the results that 80-90% of searchers click on,” says David Sanchez of Mammoth Web Solutions.
“You have to know where you stand before you can assess what to do next, whether it be addressing on-page SEO factors or working on off-page efforts such as link building,” says Launch Marketing’s Jeff Raymond.
“Tracking keyword rankings is a continuous process and requires effort,” says Weidert Group’s Stephen Fischer. “But with tools like Google Search Console and SEMrush, you can identify if certain results are dropping (and why) and explore other opportunities that arise.”
“Growth in SEO visibility is important to track as a KPI,” says Jumpfactor’s Zamir Javer. “If you’re engaged in ongoing activities to build authority and relevance with content, this should show through growth in overall keyword rankings.”
Editor’s note: SEMrush users can get a quick snapshot of their keyword performance with this free SEMrush + GA Organic Traffic Analysis dashboard that combines data from SEMrush and Google Analytics.
In addition to tracking rankings for individual pages on your site, MAXBURST’s Andrew Ruditser says “it’s important to keep track of the number of keywords your site ranks for in Google.”
“Referencing the number of keywords a site ranks for and watching how that is trending provides a good snapshot of site health at a high level,” says Kim Atkinson of Ontario SEO.
“If there are any changes on the site or in algorithms that negatively impact the site, that’s often the first place you’ll notice the problem—even before organic traffic is affected in many cases.”
“There are many reasons why the total keywords a site ranks for may decline—not all of which are bad—but it’s worth investigating if a drop of more than 10% over a month occurs,” Atkinson says.
Orbit Media Studios’ Andy Crestodina recommends “tracking the total number of commercial-intent keyphrases your homepage and product/service pages rank for.”
“If this number is going up,” Crestodina says, “you’re doing good SEO.”
“It’s important to track changes in branded search volume,” says Kyle Menchaca of WorkWave Route Manager.
“As your brand grows due to your efforts, so should your branded search volume. If it stays stagnant, then you know something needs to be done.”
“Everyone should be tracking the number of site visitors from non-branded search,” says Nikki Bisel of Seafoam Media.
“Often times, a large portion of organic search is made up of branded searches—people who already know about your company and are just trying to get to your site. While this is definitely valuable, it doesn’t help discern effective keywords for an SEO strategy.”
“By filtering out branded searches—usually any search term that uses your company name in it—you can see the number of visitors to your site who found it by looking for your products or services.”
ITProTV’s Viktoriya Caneva says it’s also important to keep an eye out for “competitors ranking for your brand name.”
“While many marketers track competitor rankings for their main seed keywords, few remember that competitors with larger budgets may try to rank for your brand name with comparison pages (brand 1 versus brand 2) or offers that rival yours, such as discounts.”
“SEO marketers should be tracking featured snippets because they can greatly increase high-value traffic to your website—even more so than ranking in position one,” says Ironpaper’s Julie Dietz.
“To target and track featured snippets, use a tool like SEMrush that shows which search queries have featured snippets and the elements they contain.”
“Identify your top featured-snippet keywords, and benchmark traffic to your website, specifically the page you’re using to target the featured snippet before and after you win it. Other benchmarks should include click-through rate and conversions to determine traffic value.”
“One additional metric SEO marketers should study is a keyword’s difficulty score,” says Keri Lindenmuth of KDG. “This can be gathered from Moz’s Keyword Explorer.”
“This metric is important to track because it tells you how competitive your keyword is. A high difficulty score may indicate that others in your industry are heavily using the word, meaning that it will be difficult for you to break into the top results. Of course, it isn’t impossible, but it will be a little harder.”
“It’s good to aim for a difficulty score that’s between 1-50. Alongside that, Moz also tracks search volume and CTR. If a keyword has a low difficulty score, a high CTR, and high search volume, it’s a keyword you should jump on before someone else does because it will yield the best results.”
“Not only does this take keyword rankings into account, but it also takes into account estimated click-through rates by position, while being weighted by a keyword’s search volume. It’s a much truer way of measuring a domain’s keyword performance.”
“I measure traffic value, as in what it would cost you to buy ad placements for the keywords you’re currently ranking for,” says Emma Valentiner of LeadCrunch.
“If you’re publishing content on a regular basis, it’s fairly easy to gain additional ranking positions. But whether or not they’re valuable in terms of driving qualified traffic to your website is a different story. By tracking traffic value, you have a much better idea of whether or not the keywords you’re ranking for have value in your industry.”
“If your competitors are paying for ad placements, it’s a reliable indicator that those ads are driving valuable leads to their site, so anything you can do to gain organic positions for target keywords will save you money in ad spend and drive the right kind of traffic to your site.”
“We monitor organic traffic, but what helps us to identify future opportunities is query impressions,” says Alex Thackray of Leadfreak.
“This helps us identify what keywords are being used, and then we can identify which areas of our content we need to improve on to deliver more organic traffic from these terms.”
“Click-through rate shows the percentage of users who visited your site after seeing one of your pages in search,” says Spreadsheeto’s Hannah Sharron. “For instance, if 10 users saw your page in search results, but only one clicked on it, your CTR will be equal to 10%.”
“Measuring your CTR can help you find where you need to optimize your page snippets to encourage users to click your results over those of the competition,” says Shawn Rosko of TSL Marketing.
“It’s not enough to show up on page one of the SERPs,” says Chris Steele of Knowmad Digital Marketing. “You have to give users a reason to click on the link to your page. If you aren’t actively tracking CTR and trying to improve it, you’re missing the point of SEO entirely.”
“It’s hard enough to get on the first page of Google, so you don’t want to blow that opportunity with a poor result snippet that people don’t click,” says ListGiant’s Steven Page. “Page-one rankings should have 20%+ click-through rates, so if you can get close to that without a top ranking, that can help propel you to the top spot.”
“People love to focus on rankings, but rankings are irrelevant if no one ever clicks through to your website to consume your content,” says The Blogsmith’s Maddy Osman. “With this in mind, it’s fair to state that your click-through rate from search results is important for judging SEO success.”
According to Haydeé Ferrufino of The Orange Box Agency, high CTRs can help you rank higher. “Google tends to see pages with higher click-through rates as more valuable to searchers, so increasing your CTRs often increases the ranking of those landing pages.”
And Michael Alexis of Library Jobs says that knowing which pages have the highest click-through rates in organic search can also be helpful when writing search ads: “One of our titles consistently has a CTR of 25% or higher. When we experimented with using this same title in ads, it outperformed the baseline alternative by 2:1.”
“Google Search Console gives you the ability to see the click-through rate of keywords that your site appears for in the SERPs,” says Richard Patey of Startup Norfolk. And if you have Google Search Console and Google Analytics connected, you can view CTRs in Google Analytics, too.
However, Colibri Digital Marketing’s Andrew McLoughlin says, “your CTR can be deceptive if your page is doing well at earning featured snippets, so it’s important to leverage other metrics to put your CTR in context.”
Ampjar’s Quincy Smith agrees and says that “CTR should be looked at alongside bounce rate. You don’t want to change your title to something that increases clicks but makes bounce rate worse, as that’s a signal that your users were expecting something else content-wise.”
“If you’re publishing great content that’s ranking well but seeing CTRs below 50%, your title and meta description need to be updated,” says Smallpdf’s Hung Nguyen.
“There are a host of best practices you can follow and tools like Google Search Console and SanityCheck that help you improve your CTR,” says Adrian Siuda of BEE Inbound. “Treat your SEO snippets like ad copy: make them high quality, emotional, descriptive, and relatable.”
“You should be continually split testing different title tags and meta descriptions to see if you can get better click-through rates—just like you would do with a pay-per-click ad,” says Store Coach’s Dave Hermansen.
“Given how simple it is to test title tag and meta description changes, it is wise to take the time to test many variations to find the best combination of highest ranking with highest CTR,” says Nozzle’s Boyd Norwood.
However, PressPad’s Wojciech Szywalski notes that low click-through rates aren’t necessarily a result of a poor search snippet:
“If you see impressions growing alongside a declining CTR, it may mean that your target audience blindly clicks on the top search result. In this case, optimizing your snippet is a waste of resources. You should focus on improving your position in SERP ranking for that phrase.”
“If you don’t keep an eye on the length of your meta titles (the title displayed in search snippets), it’s likely that your titles could be shortened and altered by Google, which will interfere with how searchers interact with your pages in search results,” says Finn Hayden of LRMovieStreaming.
“We review meta titles on a monthly basis and use tools to check the character length.”
“A backlink is created when an external website links back to your own,” says Elite Digital’s Megan Glover. “The more backlinks you have, the more popular and credible your site is considered to be by search engines, and the higher it ranks in search engine results.”
“When your website receives a backlink, the referring site is essentially giving it a thumbs-up, telling Google and other search engines that this is good, useful content,” says Bridget Poetker of G2.
Cass Polzin of Accelity Marketing recommends tracking “how many backlinks you’ve earned, where those backlinks came from, and the authority of the referring website.”
“You can create great, compelling content, but if your competitor’s article/page has more backlinks from better domains, that page will invariably win,” says Oksana Chyketa of Albacross. “There is a strong correlation between rankings and number of referring domains.”
“In terms of benchmarks, there is no general rule, but marketers should always do competitor research and find out how many backlinks their competitors have,” says Katharine Pebworth of Alexander Advertising.
“It’s important to set your own benchmark by doing in-depth competitor research—and repeating said research bi-annually. For research, we recommend SEMrush (number of backlinks, domain authority, and toxic score), and Moz (spam score).”
Instead of just measuring backlinks, WeSwap’s Max Robinsin recommends measuring the total number of unique domains pointing to your website.
“The more links your site has from unique domains, the more authority your site has, and the better chance you’ll have of ranking for competitive terms.”
“Too many marketers fixate on the number of links pointing at their site. In reality, it is the number of links from unique domains which will really push the SEO needle.”
In addition to tracking the overall number of backlinks to your website, Foundation Marketing’s Josh Gallant recommends tracking the number of backlinks to specific pages of your site.
“Maintaining a high-quality backlink profile across your entire site will help you climb in Google. Building high-quality links to the specific post you’re trying to rank will help you jump from page two to the top three.”
“Use a tool like Ahrefs to analyze how many referring domains your current ranking pages have, then set unique objectives for each post you’re trying to rank. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all threshold to cross—it will always depend on the competition level for the keyword and overall topic.”
Editor’s note: Want a quick view of all of your site’s backlink metrics? Download this free Ahrefs (Website Audit) dashboard for a consolidated view of your domain rating, top-ranked pages, referrals, anchor text, and more.
“While on-page factors such as topical authority and user experience are becoming increasingly important, backlinks are still a key determining factor in organic search rankings,” says Rob Powell of Rob Powell Biz Blog.
“New backlinks from high-authority websites tell you that your content is performing well. And if you are actively building backlinks, this metric will tell you whether your link-building efforts are succeeding,” Powell says.
Katherine Rowland of Your Parking Space agrees and says “a good way to keep track of these new backlinks and referring domains is to use tools such as Ahrefs or SEMrush.”
“These will show you any new links that appear online, their quality, whether they’re do- or no-follow, and overall whether you are gaining or losing links over time,” Rowland says.
“From outreach to onsite content creation, backlinks are hard-fought victories,” says Nextiva’s Yaniv Masjedi. “Each link represents time and budget your team spent. As such, every SEO should be tracking backlinks lost and investigating the reason behind that.”
“Did the host site re-organize and it was accidental, or did you get struck off of a guest post even though you’d agreed to an indefinite backlink?”
“Lost backlinks represent opportunities for link reclamation and recouping some of the budget your team may have lost in content creation and outreach.”
“These days, traffic is king,” says Jolly Content’s Morgan Taylor. “In reality, organic traffic is much more important than domain authority because it shows the amount of visits your site is getting.”
“Additionally, you can measure which backlinks are driving traffic to your site. After all, does it really matter if you have many inbound links and top-five keyword rankings if the traffic is low?”
“The number of inbound links to your site is obviously important, but you need to review the quality of your backlinks to determine your link-building areas of need,” says The Manifest’s Grayson Kemper.
Kemper says that a few things to explore are:
BestCompany’s Alice Stevens also says “it’s also a good idea to check your backlink profile to see if you’re getting a lot of spammy links. You can then reach out to these websites to request removal. Lots of spammy links will ultimately harm your rankings and website as a whole.”
And Miromind’s Agnieszka Podemska says that “if you notice lots of spammy, irrelevant links to your website, you may consider creating a disavow file so Google knows to disregard them.”
“In addition to domain and URL authority, you need to track backlink relevance,” says Dan Christensen of Morningdove Marketing.
“I use a simple 1-5 scale: 5 being in the exact same industry and/or location, a 1 being only a vaguely relevant link. If you do this, the focus will shift from quantity to quality, and your stats and growth will speak for themselves,” Christensen says.
“Don’t underestimate the power of local backlinks and backlinks from websites in the same category as yours,” says Caio Bersot of EnergyRates.ca. “The more high-quality backlinks you get, the better. But you can get even better results if you get good backlinks from authority websites in your field.”
“For an online clothing brand, for example, getting backlinks from high-authority, popular fashion blogs will be great for your performance on search engines.”
“Such an approach will tell search engines that authority publishers recommend your website and that it should be on top of the search results when people search for clothes online,” Bersot says.
Tom McSherry of Premium SEO Melbourne recommends measuring “your most valuable link versus the best link of each of your competitors.”
“Link value is a log scale, so the juice is disproportionately concentrated in the top end of a link profile. Looking at the whole link profile is often a waste of time as most of the rankings are explained by what happens at the top end.”
“As a bonus, it often turns out your competitor’s best link can be easily replicated.”
“Consistent growth in the number of backlinks you’ve won over time has a huge positive impact on your rankings and will keep you from being penalized,” says Kurt Uhlir of Showcase IDX. “If you build links too fast, then the algorithm sees it as link manipulation, and you could stay in the sandbox indefinitely.”
“In the beginning, keep it to 1-3 links per week. Once you have a decent amount of traffic, then the possibility of you ‘naturally’ gaining links increases. This is where you can turn up the velocity.”
“Sites with 50+ visitors per day can easily increase up to 5-8 links per week. Sites with 100+ visitors per day can pretty much build as many links as they want as fast as they’d like.”
“The number of backlinks a website acquires on a monthly basis is a very strong ranking signal for all major search engines—especially Google,” says Chronis Tsempelis of SEOExplode. “Maintaining and growing a website’s monthly link velocity is important because it shows search engines that the website is gaining in popularity.”
“Tools like Moz Link Explorer, Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Majestic show you your all-time, annual, and 30-day link velocity trend, new and lost backlinks, and the authority of the backlinks pointing to your website.”
“This is powerful information because you can use the same tools to analyze your competitors’ links, link quality, and link velocity to find out where high-ranking sites are acquiring their backlinks from. Then, a list can be curated, and you can obtain the same links and try to mimic the same link velocity on your own site.”
“A site that is trending down in link velocity may see a loss in rankings because that ranking metric will be a negative signal to search engines.”
“Domain Authority (DA) is a score on a scale from 1-100, where your domain is benchmarked in relative strength to all other domains on the internet,” says Tommy Landry of Return On Now. “The higher your DA, the better you will be able to grow your traffic. When DA increases, traffic follows.”
“We track Moz’s Domain Authority on at least a monthly basis,” says James Green of OTC Open House. “This helps us understand the health of our backlink profile and lets us know if it’s improving at a rate equal to our efforts.”
“If your domain authority is low, utilizing SEO, content marketing, and strong back-link strategies can boost your score,” says Osiris Parikh of Summit Mindfulness. “And while no specific score is required, active comparison with competitors can give marketers an edge in website maintenance.”
“Domain rating distribution—checking what kinds of websites are linking to your content—is necessary for technical SEO efforts related to content pruning and link disavowals,” says G2’s Alan Santillan.
“This is especially true for larger websites when crawl budget comes into play: domain rating distribution becomes much more necessary.”
“All marketers should track internal links with anchor text,” Dylan Max and Braydan Young of Sendoso recommend.
“Many SEO practices, like link building, take a long time. You need to spin out relevant high-quality content, build relationships with writers across the top websites, and cross your fingers to get a backlink. However, creating internal links is an SEO practice you can do immediately.”
“Internal links are hyperlinks you put on your website that link to another page on your website. This practice helps you rank for key terms without having to wait for other websites to link back to you.”
“Listing between one and three internal links on each of your pages with the keywords hyperlinked suggests to search engine crawlers that your pages are relevant. With a documented list of all your internal links and anchor text, you can see which pages start to gain more traffic.”
“Personally, I’d consider crawl errors to be the most important SEO metric marketers should be tracking,” says Samuel David of Smart Home Vault.
“This is because the success of other SEO metrics—organic sessions, keyword rankings, leads/conversions, load times, etc.—is strongly linked to how quickly and easily a search engine crawler can access and associate value or relevance to the content on a page.”
“Goals are one of the most important metrics to measure to determine if your SEO strategy is working or not,” says Sagar Prajapati of Global Vincitore. “You can set up goal tracking in Google Analytics to monitor all of your business goals for your website and marketing.”
“Goals let you track leads and sales—all forms of conversions,” says Shaun Chavis of Saltshaker Media. “You’re doing all this work to accomplish a goal, so you need to make sure everything is working to achieve it.”
“Whether it’s an email signup, a special download, or a lead form completion, your content should be supporting your business goals—which for most brands is more revenue,” David Hoos says.
“Good SEO generates new leads and sales,” says Diona Kidd of Knowmad Digital Marketing. “We want to see a return on investment for our work optimizing a page or site for search. Otherwise, why do it?”
“At the end of the day, brands typically want to increase their customer base and revenue,” says Natalie Athanasiadis of Ormi Media. “No one is investing money simply for pretty reports and ranking data.”
Editor’s note: View your goal completions alongside all of the other important metrics you’re tracking with this free Google Analytics Top 10 KPIs dashboard.
There are lots of reasons why goals and conversions are crucial metrics to track.
For marketing agencies, goal and conversion metrics help you prove the value you’re delivering to clients. As Revenue River’s Linda Le says: “Aside from pointing out improvements in organic traffic and keyword rankings, conversions can help illustrate SEO’s value to a client in a way they can better understand—a dollar amount!”
Tracking goals and conversions also provides insight into the quality of the traffic your efforts are driving. “If you have a lot of traffic but almost no conversions on your website, chances are this traffic is not really high quality,” says Pedro Campos of PedroConverts.
Low-quality traffic is something that Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray has seen firsthand: “A lot of marketers say that organic traffic is the top metric, but that’s not true. I worked with a website owner who was getting a lot of organic traffic. Unfortunately, these visitors were completely irrelevant to his business.”
“At the end of the day, organic traffic to your website is only as good as the revenue it generates,” says Brian Schofield of Market 8.
Finally, Kicksta’s Rafaella Aguiar says that tracking goal and conversion metrics “help you determine which SEO strategies are working and which aren’t. Tracking organic conversions by landing page will tell you which landing pages on your website are most appealing and which need some work.”
“When you’re getting leads from your website, you need to figure out how they got to the website, track what tactics are working, and continue to push your effective tactics,” 9Sail’s Bryan Pattman says.
Digital Dynasty’s Joe Lawlor says the best way to track goals is to “set up conversions in Google Analytics.”
“For blog posts, it’s important to direct the user to take a specific action after landing on the page and reading the article. For example, you can have a call-to-action in the middle and at the end of the article. Then, track how many users click on those CTAs.”
“Regarding pages ranking for purchase-intent keywords, you want to make sure you’re tracking exactly how many people are clicking the buy button or filling out a form to purchase or inquire about the product or service,” Lawlor says.
When it comes to reviewing the data you collect with goal tracking in Google Analytics, Andrew McBurney of McBurney Marketing Optimization offers an approach that helps you determine exactly how many of those conversions were the result of SEO efforts:
“I’ve learned that reviewing goal completions through the dimension of ‘Google / organic’ and the secondary dimension ‘Landing Page’ that I am able to make high leverage decisions to improve SEO impact very quickly.”
“By identifying high-performing entry points into the site that support the website’s ultimate goals, I am able to optimize more efficiently and become more profitable,” McBurney says.
“Conversion rate is the number of conversions divided by the total number of visitors during a given timeframe,” says LogoMix’s Audrey Strasenburgh. “Keep in mind that your conversion rate may be different on a per-day, per-week, per-month, and per-year basis.”
“You conversion rate can include conversions from email sign-ups, form submissions, phone calls, direct purchases, and more,” says Andrei Vasilescu of DontPayFull.
And Jeff M. Moriarty of Tanzanite Jewelry Designs recommends tracking both your website’s overall conversion rate as well as the conversion rates of different landing pages.
“When looking at a website, we review the average conversion rate for the site as a whole. For anything that falls beneath that, we test different elements such as pricing, offers, reviews, the information we provide, and the images.”
“With a little work, we are usually able to improve the conversion rates for those pages, which, in the end, means higher sales for the company,” Moriarty says.
“It’s easy to get caught up in all the various metrics that are important to SEO,” says Chas Cooper of Rising Star Reviews. “But at the end of the day for most companies, it’s all about generating revenue.”
“All other metrics are just diagnostics to figure out how to improve the revenue per visitor (or per page view if your business model is more advertising based).”
“Revenue per visitor (or page view) is far more important than most other metrics because it reflects true business value. So you can treat it as a strategic KPI rather than just another interesting number.”
“If revenue per visitor is going down, that’s a very real problem that will impact the profitability of your business. If revenue per visitor is going up, that’s a very real accomplishment to celebrate because it will raise your overall profitability.”
“This metric may be easier to calculate than you might think. You probably already know your conversion rate for turning organic traffic into leads. And you probably also know your conversion rate for turning leads into customers.”
“Just multiple those conversion rates by your average revenue per customer. Voila! You have revenue per organic visitor.”
“For example, let’s say you convert 1% of your visitors from organic search into leads, and 20% of those leads become customers with an average lifetime revenue of $1,000. Great! Your average revenue per visitor is $2.00 ($1,000 x 0.01 x 0.20).”
“Return on SEO investment is the only metric that really matters,” says Tony Mastri of MARION Marketing Agency. “This is really the only way to close the loop and figure out if your SEO efforts are effective.”
“Whether you’re in-house and reporting to higher-ups or at an agency and answering to clients, you need to know if your SEO efforts are paying off. You can report on ranking and organic traffic increases all day, but if that doesn’t equate to revenue, then it’s not an effective performance indicator.”
“Return on SEO investment is difficult to track. To calculate this metric you need access to customer conversions and your average total customer value. You also need to consider a long enough timeframe to get an accurate idea of your return because SEO costs are front-loaded, while returns compound over time.”
“The one SEO metric all marketers should track is growth,” says Meg Raiano of reCreative. “That being said, growth can mean a lot of things. Are you growing your keywords? Are you growing rankings for relevant keywords? Are you growing the speed at which you are increasing rankings?”
“Growth is, in my opinion, one of the metrics that really dictate if your SEO is performing well.”
“When trying to figure out the right benchmarks for yourself and your business, you should take into consideration your competition, both from an SEO perspective and from a general business perspective.”
“Typically we track growth every month for our clients: lead growth, search engine market share growth, keyword density growth, and more.”
While each of our respondents had their own opinions on the most important SEO metrics to track, there really is no single most important metric for measuring success with SEO.
Imaginaire Digital’s Charlie Worrall says you should consider the goals for a specific page when deciding what metrics to track: “For a blog post, it makes sense to measure average time on page. For a service page, bounce rate is something that you should be focusing on.”
Christian Nahas of My Creative Mark says that the metrics you track should depend on the strategies you’re using:
“If you’re working on increasing backlinks, you may want to focus on referral traffic. If you’re working on attracting more guest writers, you may want to focus on domain authority. As an inbound marketer focused on lead acquisition, the most valuable metric to track for my clients is a combination of bounce rate and exit pages.”
As Techtic Solutions’ Rajat Chauhan says: “All metrics are important in SEO. The ones you choose to track should be based on your goals.”
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