SEO Metrics to Monitor
Now that you’ve decided that you want to focus on an SEO project, how do you measure your success or your failure with the project. Before starting an SEO campaign, you will want to understand what it is that you want to accomplish. The duh! moment is when you say to yourself ‘I want more traffic from search’. If you go through a lot of effort and you get more search traffic, before you claim success, you really need to check to see if the efforts that you made are the reason for the increased traffic.
While more traffic is a good thing and a great start to thinking about tracking your success, that’s just the beginning. I’ll make the assertion that you aren’t an SEO person and you have basic (free) tools available to you like Google Analytics and the Search Console. Everything that I discuss below is based on these reporting tools as well as couple that I’ve put together on my own. First, I’ll start off with some of the basics that you need to know.
We’ll start this section off with describing some of the information that you have at your disposal and how to get there. The first thing that you’ll want to see is how you get your traffic. When you first open up Analytics (GA) you’ll want to look for “Acquisition” on the left navigation. Click on that to open up this section of the reporting and click on “All Traffic” so that you can click on “Channels”. The Channels report gives you a summary of your traffic based on how you are getting your traffic — from a very high level. The typical channels are “Direct”, “Organic Search”, “Referral”, “Social”, etc. The initial screen that you get will tell you how much of your traffic (over the last month) has come from each of these channels. [quick note – don’t pay too much attention to “Direct”, that’s a future post though.]
Since you are going to be doing an SEO project, you’re going to want to focus (at least initially) on “Organic Search”. Clicking on Organic Search will give you access to more detail regarding key terms/keywords and the different search engines that you are getting traffic from.
The information that you have access to here is not the greatest because a lot of the visits are actually blocked from getting information recorded here. The arrows in the image allow you to switch what you are looking at between the Keywords, the Search Sites and the Landing Pages. These are really the 3 things that we’ll want to focus on and understand as we delve into these metrics.
The illustration to the left is fairly typical in that Google is likely going to represent a high percentage of your search traffic so a lot of what we will look at is related to doing well with Google. The other ones will follow, or not but working and thinking about Google is strategically what you should be doing.
In this navigation over on the left in the “Acquisition” section is a link for “Search Console”. If you have integrated search console data into Analytics then this information will be available here — if you haven’t done this, you’ll have to connect your Search Console to your GA account. In all honesty, I’ve met some resistance to getting this to work well, so if it doesn’t work for you, keep at it or you can use the Search Console, which you’re going to want to do anyway as there’s much more information available.
The information that you can get in Analytics is good enough to give you a high level view of what’s happening. GA allows you to compare one period (week or month) with the current week or month. This is useful and can provide you with some directional information to get you started. This gives you the first set of metrics that you will want to include in your campaign analysis –> total visits and page views from search activity.
Now we will want to look over in Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools). I will assume that you currently have access to the Search Console and that your site is attached to your account. Search Console, i find to be an invaluable resource because of the information at your disposal. You can monitor your keyword activity, your landing page activity, the combination of keywords within your Landing Pages as well as manage and understand how Google is crawling your site as well as how other sites are linking to you. All of these are ingredients in the Ranking Soup.
The first place that I always go to in the Search Console is to “Search Traffic | Search Analytics”. In this section there’s a great interface that allows you to see data relating to the clicks and impressions you receive as well as the average click thru rate and average position. This provides information of all of the activity on Google searches. The impression figure represents how many times one of your pages appeared in a Google Search (the clicks represent the clicks on those impressions).
There are a lot of different ways that you can drill into details with the Console. You can choose to look at Keywords (Queries) or the Pages, but you can also look at how you perform in various countries, on particular devices, what type of search (Web, Image, etc.) and different date ranges. Something for you to keep in mind is that the Search Console only keeps 90 days of data and if you want to understand how things perform over time, you’ll want to capture (and save) the data that’s most important to you. [The High Peak Media client platform does store this data for you and provides reports and analysis based on the data available.]
Just to note some other limits on the Search data available here is that you have access to the top 1,000 pages and the top 999 Key Terms at a summary level. If you want to have access to more key terms over a period of time, you do need to use Analytics for that (there’s other limits here but you do get a little more). Why there’s only 999 terms and 1000 pages, I’ll never fully understand but it is what it is.
Analyzing This Information
Now that you have a basic understanding of what information is available to you, I’ll give you some fairly high level things that you should measure and monitor, based on what your campaign goals are. I will also provide a little insight into how you can access that information. I also feel that I should state the obvious — you need to set some goals when you do SEO work with some stated targets for what you want to accomplish. As I said earlier, it’s not enough to just say “I want more search visits”. Your goals need to be fairly specific like “I want more search visits to THIS PAGE” or “I want to rank on THIS PAGE for more terms”. These are specific and easily measurable goals.
The way that I personally look at search data is that I look at it at a weekly level. I don’t particularly like to look at individual days of the week because some days are going to be higher than others and there can be a lot of choppy data that you have to try to visualize. I personally like weekly views because it does smooth out the day-to-day choppiness of the data making it much easier to visualize trends and progress. I also have a set of rules that I follow that are similar to looking at stock prices. If there’s a change for 1 week, great but that’s really the end of it. If there’s a 2-week change it’s a fairly good sign. A 3-week move in a direction is something that I do take note of, and after 4-weeks that’s what I consider to be a well established trend. [For many clients and bosses, it’s not enough, but that’s just how I gain comfort with the results.]
Some of the things that you can see and monitor with this data are:
- Keyword density of a particular page. How many terms do you rank for and receive impressions for on a given page. It’s best to rank for as many terms as possible – if 50% of your impressions come from one or two terms, you should work to rank for more terms as one or two minor changes can have a huge impact on your traffic. So for example, if you want more traffic to a page, you may want to add to the content of the page so that you have the potential to rank for more terms for that page, which can result in more search traffic.
- Page breadth. I actually couldn’t come up with a term for this that made sense but the way that I use this is to measure how much of my search traffic comes in on how many pages. For the same reason that I monitor keyword density on pages, if half of your traffic comes to 2 or 3 pages that’s potentially a problem.
- Change in impressions from week to week. This can’t be looked at in a vacuum and really needs to be viewed in conjunction with average position and the density of the keywords on the page. If your impressions (on a page) increase over a period of time you could have moved up a page so that you appear on say page 1 rather than page 2. That will get you a lot more impressions. You could also be ranking for more keywords or some combination of these two points.
- Change in average position. Again, this one can’t be looked at in a vacuum as a change in average position can mean a number of things ranging from an improvement on the terms that you rank for (a good thing), a number of key terms could have been dropped (a bad thing), so you will want to look at several pieces of information in this case. As a general statement, an improved average position (meaning a lower number) is a good thing.
- More impressions can be a good direction change that you will want to monitor. You’ll obviously want to understand where the impressions are point to (what pages and what terms) but more impressions is either a good sign for your search program or just an increase in demand. All things being equal, more impressions can and should be viewed as a good thing.
- Click Thru Rate. The click through rate is a simple measure calculating clicks divided by impressions. You always want to see this rate increasing or at the very least remaining steady.
We will be putting together more detailed posts on each of these, what they mean and how you can manage your performance in the next couple of weeks, but we feel that this is a pretty good primer for you to think about when it comes to monitoring your SEO campaign performance. The most important thing is to keep track of when you make changes or additions (or sometimes omissions) and look at your performance before the changes and then after the changes.
When you put your campaign together remember:
- set goals
- capture your pre-change metrics for comparison purposes
- monitor your post-change metrics
- compare apples-to-apples, comparing one metric before the change and a different one after the change may indicate something good (or bad), but it might not have anything to do with what you did, that’s why look at the apples.