When it comes to metrics for SEO, you have plenty of options.
But knowing the available metrics and which ones are most relevant is essential to help you:
In this guide, we’ll run through some of the key SEO metrics out there, and then we’ll explain which ones are best to set as KPIs.
The term “SEO metrics” can cover a lot of different aspects of SEO.
For simplicity, we’ve categorized all the metrics in this guide as either a:
- Performance metric,
- Technical metric, or
- Authority metric
If you’re aware of what each metric means and how well you’re doing, it’ll help guide both your time and your SEO strategy.
You’ve spent time researching, building, and implementing a strategy, so what’s next?
It’s not as simple as just running with it; even the most effective strategies need regularly tweaking.
Monitoring performance is the best indicator of what’s working and what isn’t. It’s not just there to boost your ego when things go well; it’s also there to show you where things could be better.
Here are some of the top SEO performance indicators.
Organic traffic is the number of visits coming to your site from non-paid activity on search engines.
Ultimately, boosting your organic traffic is what SEO is all about, and clients will measure you on it.
To view organic traffic in Google Analytics (GA), go to the Reporting tab on the top toolbar, select Acquisition in the left navigation, and choose Overview.
Click Organic Search on the overview page to see a more detailed view.
Alternatively, you can also apply a Google Analytics segment found at the top of the page on all reports in the Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversion sections of the left sidebar.
Once you’ve gone to add a segment, you’ll find a predefined one called “Organic Traffic.”
When you do this, every report available in Google Analytics will show organic-only data, so arguably, this is a more useful way to see all your organic data.
Organic Conversion Rate
If someone visits your site from a non-paid search engine result and makes a purchase or submits a contact form, that’s an organic conversion.
A high number of organic visits is excellent, but it implies a lack of quality if the visitors don’t convert or perform your desired action.
While tracking these is essential, you need to do a bit of work to set them up. If you just want to see simple conversion data (leads, orders, form submissions), you’ll want to set up goal tracking. If you want to see ecommerce data, set up ecommerce tracking.
There are several ways to check your organic conversions; all are available in GA via the conversions sidebar.
There’s the option to view this by device, landing page, and location.
When you are visible on a search result, that counts as an “impression.”
It doesn’t matter whether you get clicked; what counts is that you’re showing up.
An impression can help you understand the search volume of a particular keyword you’re showing up for on page one.
It also indicates how visible you are within search results by telling you how often your SERP listing is seen by a user.
You’ll find this data within the Google Search Console (GSC) performance reports.
Click-through rate (CTR) is the percentage of users who click your link on a search result. This metric is simply the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions.
A high CTR suggests your title tags and meta descriptions are performing well and that you’re relevant to the search query.
If you make changes to the tags and descriptions, CTR is one way to measure the impact.
You will also find this metric within the GSC performance reports.
Number of ranking keywords
If your site is in the SERP for a query, then it’s a ranking keyword, regardless of its position.
Ranking keywords is useful to measure as an overall view of how many search queries you are showing up for.
You’ll usually get this metric from a rank tracker. In Advanced Web Ranking, you’ll find it within the “Ranking Distribution” report.
It’s important to understand that the number of rankings keywords shown within all rank trackers is limited to the number of queries you enter to track.
Some tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, and Sistrix monitor a broad set of keywords and report the number of ranking keywords, but this again is limited to the number of keywords they track.
Given 15% of all searches Google processes have never been seen before, third-party tools can’t report the number of ranking keywords accurately.
The only tool that can reflect the number of ranking keywords in Google Search Console, as that data comes directly from Google.
However, that data isn’t reported directly within the tool, so you’ll either have to use the API to download all your ranking keywords daily to a database or use a service like Big Metrics to do that for you. Here is an example of what that looks like within Big Metrics:
Where you rank for a query is your keyword position.
Your ranking position is a critical metric to monitor, as it measures your optimization efforts for a keyword and is the largest factor in determining your CTR.
Data taken from the Advanced Web Ranking CTR study report
You can track keywords with a rank tracker, which will help you get various insights, including data on competitors’ rankings.
And the SERP features available vs. captured.
Market share estimates how many clicks you get across a keyword set vs. the total number of clicks available. It does this by looking at the estimated search volume of a keyword multiplied by your position’s estimated CTR.
By subtracting that number by the total number of clicks available (the search volume multiplied by the CTR of position one), tools produce a metric showing how much you’ve captured vs. what’s available.
SEO tools usually present this metric as a relative number or percentage.
Being aware of your current market share helps you understand the amount of traffic you could capture but aren’t.
It also tells you where you sit within the market vs. other sites competing for the same keywords
While the total number of ranking keywords is useful, it’s more beneficial to have a breakdown of where you rank for each one.
Your ranking distribution provides just that, with a top-level overview of how many keywords rank within different groups of positions. Commonly, these groups look something like the below:
- First place
- 2 – 5
- 6- 10
- 11 – 20
- 51 – 100
- Not ranked
Traffic cost looks at where you’re ranking, the estimation of clicks from that position, and how much those clicks would cost if you paid for them via PPC.
This metric is useful to show clients the cost savings due to focusing on organic rather than paid search.
It’s useful for providing a business case for further investment into organic, as it’s a cheaper marketing channel in the long term.
When someone comes onto your site and leaves without viewing another page, it is considered a “bounce.”
A high bounce rate indicates something is likely wrong with that page. Some of the reasons include:
- Slow page loading
- Technical error
- Page doesn’t match search intent.
And that’s just to name a few.
However, depending on the page, this metric isn’t always as useful.
For example, if someone searched for “how to back up my computer,” you provided the answer, causing them to exit the page.
Surely this means the page served its purpose? In this case, consider implementing an “adjusted bounce rate.” With adjusted bounce rates, users who stay on the page longer than a set amount of time will not be considered a bounce within GA.
To view your bounce rate in GA, go to Audience > Overview. You’ll see a scorecard metric below the chart.
Remember, the lower the percentage, the better.
It’s easy to get sidetracked and focus only on performance, but keeping an eye on technical metrics is just as important as they’ll directly impact your performance.
Google crawls pages and indexes them if they’re valuable, canonical, and there are no directives to prevent them from doing so.
You’ll want to monitor indexed pages, so you know Google is indexing pages you want them to and not ones you don’t.
View the number of indexed pages in GSC by heading to “Coverage” reports and selecting “Valid” URLs.
If you’ve submitted an XML sitemap of all the URLs you want Google to index, the “Indexed, not submitted in sitemap” area can provide useful information into pages Google has indexed that maybe they shouldn’t have.
Errors on your site can take all sorts of appearances. Some common issues include:
- Internal 404s
- Server errors
- Incorrect canonical tags
- XML sitemaps issues
- Duplicate content
Whatever the reason, errors on a site need monitoring, so technical issues don’t impact your ability to rank.
The best way to keep track of errors is by running a regular site audit. Most auditing tools summarize errors on your site by using a “site health” metric.
Health scores are a useful SEO metric to measure over time, as sudden unexpected changes suggest something isn’t quite right.
The above example is from Sitebulb. Other top tools include:
You can also monitor page errors in the GSC coverage reports.
While you’ll undoubtedly find useful, unique insights within these reports, they’re rudimentary compared to what a site auditing tool will discover.
Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics created by Google that indicate your site’s usability and speed.
A website with poor UX tends to have a higher bounce rate and lower conversions.
These metrics can help make it easier to monitor the experience users are having on your site over time.
You will find your Core Web Vitals within PageSpeed Insights. Simply enter your URL, and you’ll see how you’re doing.
Underneath the score, you’ll see the core web vital metrics showing real user data from the past 28 days.
Scroll a bit lower, and you’ll find a list of improvements you could make to both improve usability and site speed.
Authority metrics are indications of how popular and authoritative your site is. I usually measure this with link-based metrics then brand demand.
Most backlink tools have their version of a link authority metric. Popular ones include:
- Domain Authority by Moz
- Domain Rating by Ahrefs
- Trust Flow / Citation Flow by Majestic
These work differently, but they indicate how healthy your backlink profile is or how likely you will rank well.
All backlink tools use a logarithmic scale from 0 – 100 for their link authority metric.
While none of these impact how you rank, generally, high authority scores mean you’ll have an easier time ranking well for a keyword.
Number of referring domains/backlinks
Referring domains show the number of domains linking to you.
Backlinks are the number of individual links pointing to your site, including multiple links from a domain.
Monitoring your backlink profile is useful as it:
- Indicates where you’re creating linkable content
- Shows you which pieces of content get the most links
You can measure the growth or decline in referring domains in all the previously mentioned backlink tools.
At times the referring domains fluctuate massively. Sometimes, this is because of a successful link building or PR campaign; most of the time, it’s because of link spam.
As an example, I recently had a client gain 5,300 referring domains overnight, all spam.
Despite that, their traffic grew shortly after (thanks to some other SEO activity).
Link spam makes monitoring lost and new domains harder, but when you see lost valuable referring domains, reach out to the site owner to see if they’ll re-add them.
Brand searches refer to when someone directly searches for you or a branded product unique to you. It implies that you’re known, trusted, and the preferred choice over your competitors.
Brand searches are also a great way to measure your popularity against competitors; it can validate that the top-of-funnel marketing activity your doing is working.
You can find your brand searches in multiple ways. To compare against competitors, enter brand names into a keyword research tool and chart the differences.
If you want to see the trend of brand searches against competitors, search the brand names in Google’s Trends.
If you want live data on your brand searches for your site, use the GSC performance report and filter by query.
Then enter your brand name with a contains a match.
Setting SEO KPIs
Now we’ve gone through metrics that are important to monitor, the question is, what should your KPIs be?
KPIs enable you to measure how you’re performing, not just for you but for reporting back to clients.
I’d advocate for setting both hard KPIs and softer KPIs.
Sure, a boost in organic traffic and conversions are what you’re striving for, but don’t forget it takes several steps to get there, and those are worth acknowledging.
Hard KPIs are the ones that you’ll be genuinely measured on; they’re the ones that impact businesses the most.
So it will be metrics such as:
- Organic traffic
These are the money makers. You might get all keywords on age one, but if traffic isn’t increasing, resulting in boosted conversions, it will be more challenging to see the overall value you’re providing.
Soft KPIs are metrics that indicate you’re doing a good job, but improving them doesn’t necessarily mean business owners will care.
They include metrics such as:
- Traffic costs
- Click-through rates
- Keyword positions
- Site authority
If organic traffic and conversions are at a standstill or dropping, it makes sense to look at softer KPIs because performance here will speak volumes.
If the keyword position is low, it’s no wonder organic traffic isn’t through the roof.
Using soft KPIs is a good indicator of where your efforts need to be.
You should now have a plan on the metrics to measure for your SEO campaign.