3 Important SEO Performance Metrics

Nice ranking report! Have you seen my fancy new Palm?

Like we’ve said before, keyword rankings are so 2004. If you still didn’t get your fill of Back To The Future Day, you may want to Google what people were using to communicate (see Palm pictured) in 2004. It’s quite interesting!

So if we’re not using the same phones and devices we did in 2004, then why are we using the same metrics to measure our digital marketing? Moz’s Cyrus Shepard talks about why the keyword ranking report may not be as important as they used to be several years ago.

Where Ranking Reports Fail

Google Analytics show very little keyword data and conversions like it once did. Although, you can add keyword hero to get additional insight. You can’t track conversions by keyword as well. A keyword ranking is just a ranking unless you have a better idea of what that ranking is doing for your business. Content marketing, which is designed to capture visitors with long-tail searches, doesn’t fit the traditional keyword reporting model of the top 30 or so keywords.

So what are some good performance indicators for SEO?


Key performance indicators, or KPIs for short, help a search engine optimization team measure and monitor their performance activity. KPIs can be specific groups of keyword rankings, user experience metrics like bounce rate or engagement, number of sales, leads generated and more. These metrics can be pulled from Google Analytics, Tableau, Pardot, or any other web analytics software. Assuming your tools are reporting accurate data, you can begin tracking website activity as a benchmark while making improvements as you execute on your campaign.

Below are just a few examples of metrics you may want to track each month:

  • Core non-brand, brand keywords
  • Cost-per-lead, cost-per-sale
  • Cost-per-action (PDF download, email, call, etc.)
  • Mobile vs. Desktop total keyword growth
  • Indexed ranking pages, total page growth
  • Content engagement (bounce rate, social proof, etc.)

In addition to these metrics, you may want to review trends, keyword depth, and include direct/referral traffic. Some of your direct traffic may actually be from search engines.

1. Organic Search Trends

The way keywords should be used and the top indicator of success (or future success) of an organic campaign is in the trends. Are there more searches for your products or are there less? If there are a growing number of searches, are you improving your organic placement for those keyword searches? If the search volume is decreasing, are you capturing a larger share of the market? Declining search volume and increasing competition is a recipe for disaster. Keep an eye on trends to spot opportunities and avoid chasing rankings for a declining product line.


As you can see in the chart above (not to pick on Palm) but if fewer people are searching for your products year-over-year, jumping a few keyword spots may not make much of a difference. Now Palm could go totally hipster like “vinyl records” and buck the trend, but its very unlikely.

Start by selecting a handful of keywords from each major product category. Are they going up or down over time? Spotting trends may change the way you do SEO once you’ve identified opportunities in your niche.

2. Keyword Depth

Using a tool like SEM Rush, how many of your keywords are you currently ranking for on Google? Since SEM Rush updated their database on October 1st, you have many more keywords to track at your disposal. Google Webmaster Tools is another good source of keyword depth, but they only show the last 90 days of performance. You will need to go into your GWMT account and download these numbers every month to keep historical records.

A couple metrics in Google Webmaster Tools worth tracking:

  • Total Clicks by Category (example filter: “SEO”)
  • Organic Impressions by Category (example filter: “SEO”)

Keep in mind, some of the keywords you rank for may be garbage. Simply having 1,000s of keywords isn’t going to translate into success.

Take the next step and sort those keywords into groups or categories:

  • Branded
  • Non-Branded
  • By Category (example: blog, shoes, hats, etc.)

Those categories should help you spot trends up or down. Most keyword ranking tools can help you sort the results, then drop those results into a spreadsheet. That should be good enough to give you an idea of where things are going. Growth by category could be a good sign things are working.

3. Track Organic + Direct + Referral

Some studies have shown that as much as 60% of Direct traffic may be linked to organic search. In some cases, Bing referral traffic grew as Bing search traffic declined in Google Analytics. Knowing the true measure of organic search visitors can be difficult to attribute accurately. Using the Google Analytics Channel report, create a custom report with Social and Paid traffic excluded.


I recommend tracking Organic + Direct + Referral. Pulling all of those channels together may be the difference between a profitable campaign and one that barely covers its cost.

Please Share

What other ways do you track SEO or keywords? If you have enjoyed this post please share on Google+, Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook. Happy tracking!