SEO has changed dramatically over the past few years, and measuring success through key performance indicators isn't as straightforward as it used to be. Not long ago, rankings and organic traffic were the primary indicators of SEO success. While rankings are still a good barometer of what's happening with a site's search visibility, they certainly don't tell the whole story anymore.
Today's SEO manager (or agency) must be able to understand a variety of data points, variables, and even search engine-related events as well as what strategies improve campaign performance over time. Below are the top three KPIs we use in my company to measure SEO success for our clients, and why they are important.
LPOV (Landing Page Organic Visits)
We started measuring LPOV a few years ago to understand the success of optimized landing pages. The idea here is that the landing pages across the site (all indexable pages outside the homepage that have keywords mapped to them) reflect the on-page SEO work. They can also help you correct crawl issues and technical errors and measure the impact of targeted link building. If you have optimized a site well, this metric should generally increase and produce more opportunities over time.
[Branded search primarily yields results for the homepage. Image: Google.com.]
Most landing pages will receive keyword-related visits. Branded traffic, on the other hand, usually arrives through the homepage.
[Hybrid branded/non-branded keyword searches can trigger landing page results. Image: Google.com.]
That said, hybrid keyword searches that include both company branding and target keywords (like "Nike running shoes") may direct users to an inner page on Nike.com for running shoes. This is an important variable to understand. Hybrid keyword search numbers usually increase alongside other KPIs. Co-branded searches are arguably SEO success factors that represent the campaign tie-in with brand visibility in search.
You can also often measure the amount of potential visits that come in through site links. These show higher traffic and a strong branded search volume. If a user searches "Nike," but then chooses the site link for "men's running shoes," this visit should be included in LPOV.
We have found LPOV to correlate strongly with other top SEO KPIs. And with the proper conversion optimization and user experience, LPOV can directly translate to increases in the bottom line.
Keyword Rankings as an SEO KPI
I know that some people in the SEO and digital marketing industry will disagree with using this metric as a KPI, but it is still relevant. There are a lot of factors that influence this data, including location and personalization. Google is big on providing the most relevant results, and the location of the user can be an important factor depending on the search term. This is especially true for searches on mobile devices and when searching for local businesses like contractors and restaurants.
Personalization occurs when users are logged into their Google account, and their search experience is altered over time to be in line with past search behavior. Certain sites may appear more prominently to searchers who visit them frequently.
Even if we know that the exact position of a keyword in search may have variance based on a few different factors, it is still very useful data. We track rankings daily to observe regular SEO trends and also watch weekly and monthly rankings trends. This is very helpful when we are performing website analytics analysis to better understand a distinct increase or decrease compared with other KPIs.
For example, if we see a sharp 20 percent drop in LPOV for a given month, we will look at rankings to see if it's a visibility issue or something else. We could potentially see a sharp drop in LPOV but maintain rankings if our CTR (click through rate) decreased because of missing meta descriptions or poorly written titles, or even if the page disappeared but is still indexed in search.
Conversely, if we see keyword rankings increase significantly but our traffic doesn't yield a similar pattern, we may have an issue with the specific targeted keywords. We could be misinterpreting user search intent, or it could indicate a mismatch between what the user is looking for in search results and the content being presented to them. SEO is so much more than keywords -- it's about understanding which keyword rankings actually translate as KPIs, and increasing visibility for those terms.
Goals in Google Analytics
Setting goals within Google Analytics to measure organic visitor conversions is a sound SEO practice. But depending on how you set them up, you may be measuring final conversions (like a "thank you" page triggered after a form submission). This is critical data to analyze, but we're also beginning to cross over into CRO (conversion rate optimization). You can have a successful SEO campaign but a horrible conversion funnel.
We perform CRO for some clients, but this involves web development and testing, so it's not necessarily a core SEO task. It depends on designated client versus SEO manager responsibilities. If you want to count final conversions as an SEO KPI, be prepared to allow your SEO manager to make changes to your conversion funnel.
If you set up goals for your contact page, trial submission page, and other conversion starting points, this is a fairly valid KPI for just about any SEO campaign (assuming there is a simple pathway to goal pages from SEO landing pages). The purpose of SEO is to increase visibility of a website in search for target keywords, increase relevant organic visitor traffic, and connect the dots to facilitate a conversion. We start to enter a gray area when we begin looking at how visitors behave after they have arrived at goal pages, because this is largely impacted by website design, messaging and user experience.
Google offers information on setting up goals, which is a fairly straightforward process. If you keep it simple and use URLs, it's easy. If you want to get more sophisticated, there are a number of features available to do so.
Measuring these KPIs over time and comparing against other variables such as site changes, traffic seasonality and trends, and search engine algorithm updates will allow you to accurately measure success and determine the best course of action. Unfortunately, measuring SEO will never be a simple endeavor. However, by setting up some basic tools and consistently tracking set KPIs, making informed decisions becomes much easier.
Chris Rodgers is CEO & Founder of Colorado SEO Pros, a boutique SEO agency providing a suite of inbound marketing services for small and mid-sized organizations. Chris has been working in the SEO and digital marketing industry for over 10 years and aspires to provide a better class of SEO and inbound marketing services to industry leaders across a variety of verticals. Connect with Chris on Twitter.