As the old adage says, what gets measured gets improved. But in the world of SEO where everything gets measured, the number of metrics provided can feel paralyzing. You may think:

  • What metrics matter the most to my business?
  • How do I know if my site is performing well?
  • How do I quantify my SEO efforts?
  • Once I know what metrics to track, how do I apply the knowledge I gain to improve my site?

Thankfully, if you have a website, you can use free digital marketing tools like Google Analytics to help track your SEO metrics, Moz Open Site Explorer to measure the health of your SEO and check backlinks, and SEMRush to create SEO audits and find ideas for SEO improvement. Rival IQ is a great tool for measuring and quantifying how you stack up against your competitive and complementary industries in terms of engagement, keyword ranking, and social media efforts. Some of the best technology for helping you measure and track the relevant metrics of your website is easy to use and at your fingertips. We’ll talk more about these later.

While every company is different from the next, the “most important” metrics to track will vary depending on the goals you’ve set up. However, for the purpose of this blog, we’ll dive into the 5 key metrics you should generally be paying attention to, how to track them, and how to quantify them.

If you’re new to Google Analytics, or just want to further your understanding of the metrics provided, check out our blog, The Ultimate Guide to Google Analytics Terms

5 Most Important SEO Metrics

It goes without saying that every business is unique, and because of that, some metrics are more important to certain businesses than to others. Although the ranking of importance varies, there are a few key metrics that are important for any business to pay attention to.

1. Conversions

Goal: Increase your conversion rate.

This metric is perhaps the most ambiguous metric to measure because it is entirely dependent on the goals of your company, or what your company considers to be a conversion. What action do you want a visitor to take? Whether your company determines your goal to be a form fill, a sale, a survey, a phone call, or something different, a conversion is the number of visitors who complete that goal action.  

For example, if the goal of your landing page is to have users sign up for your newsletter, then a conversion rate would be the percentage of people that visited your website and signed up for your newsletter.  A conversion rate refers to the number of people that completed the action you wanted them to complete. A high conversion rate signals that you’ve built a clear, well-designed website or landing page, that’s easy-to-use and that provides visitors with something of value.

If you aren’t getting the conversion numbers you want, check out your goal path in Google Analytics to see where you’re losing your visitors. If you can determine what is causing them to leave before converting, you can revisit that section of your website and make the necessary changes to keep their interest. If you need help building a landing page that is tested to convert, visit our blog, How to Design and Optimize an Effect Landing Page.

2.   Traffic

Goal: Increase traffic to your site.

Traffic is one of the most important metrics you can measure because it shows you how many people are visiting your site, and where they are coming from. Your goal for site traffic is to have the total number of users increase. Tracking this metric will give you an overall idea of site performance, popularity, and growth over time.

Growth in traffic over time can come from:

  • Optimizing your site for your keywords and key phrases.
  • Gaining brand awareness and popularity.
  • Building healthy links & backlinking.

Arbitrary website traffic numbers are pointless if you do not have a clear goal in mind. Keep in mind, it can actually hurt your site and increase your bounce rate if you are driving traffic to a site that:

  • Has poor-quality content.
  • Is a poorly designed or buggy website.
  • Is irrelevant to the traffic coming in.

All traffic is good traffic, right? Well, not exactly. When you’re driving the wrong traffic to your site, it can greatly alter your metrics, and make it difficult to understand what your actual target audience is responding to. In addition, it can hurt your SEO score, and make Google de-prioritize your site because it appears that visitors aren’t interested in your content.

You may be driving the wrong traffic to your website if you notice a combination of the following:

  • A high bounce rate. This metric shows that after people land on your site, they only stay on the page on which they entered and do not navigate to other web pages on the site. This may show disinterest in the page content or poor onsite navigation.
  • A low conversion rate. This means that the people who land on your page aren’t interested in what you’re offering and don’t convert, whether that’s a sale, a form fill, or other desired action.
  • A high number of pages per session with a low time per session. When this combination happens, it indicates that a visitor lands on a page and clicks around to other pages to find the information they were originally looking for.

Any one of these metrics alone can indicate a number of different things, but in combination with each other, these metrics indicate that you may be driving the wrong traffic to your site.

If you’re just starting out, your main goal should be to increase traffic overall. If you’re curious about a healthy amount of site traffic for websites in your industry, you can check the Google Analytics Benchmarks metric. 

Overall, look for trends and changes in site traffic over a range of time. For most small or mid-sized companies, monthly or quarterly traffic comparisons are good measurements of success and growth progression.

Organic Traffic

Overall traffic is a good indication of website performance, but the highest indicator of SEO health in the traffic category is Organic Traffic. Organic traffic is the metric that shows the number of visitors that arrived at your webpage through a search engine like Google or Bing.

When you have a website with healthy SEO, Google prioritizes your webpage to appear within the first pages of a search engine, depending on the relevance to the search. If you’re getting high organic traffic, it shows that people who are searching for you or your services are finding your site through their keyword searches.

A big part of getting good organic traffic to your site is optimizing your site for the best keywords that are most relevant to your business. Keywords act similarly to road signs; they point to the destination. When a user types in a keyword or search query, a search engine will scan your website for keywords to determine what each page is about, and if it is relevant to the user’s search. Keywords should be accurate and clear enough to help both the search engines and visitors who are searching for you, find you. You can begin measuring and optimizing your keyword rankings using tools like Google Analytics, or Rival IQ.

3. Keyword Rankings

Goal: Optimizing for the right keywords to drive relevant search traffic to your site.

Keyword rankings tell you what keywords or keyword phrases your organic traffic is coming in from, and how you measure against other websites for a particular search term. The closer your rank is to number 1, the sooner your website appears on a search engine results page when a user searches for a particular keyword or key phrase. If you have your website set up on Google Analytics, you should also invest time in setting up and syncing it with Google Search Console. Having Google Search Console, previously named Webmaster Tools, integrated with your Google Analytics account allows you to see every search query that a user types to get to a page on your website. This free tool is a great resource to use to help decide what terms to optimize your site for.

Another great tool you can use that will help you optimize your Keyword rankings is Rival IQ. Rival IQ partners with SEMRush to provide in-depth SEO analysis. Shown below is some actual data from an HR client shown with the client’s name removed and replaced with example key phrases to demonstrate how Rival IQ can help you optimize your keyword rankings.

In the example above, the HR agency was optimizing their site for the keyword phrase “HR agency”, where they were competing with thousands of other HR websites, and were ranking poorly when users searched that term. The client stopped optimizing for ‘HR agency’, and began optimizing for ‘Seattle hr companies’, and found that within a month’s time they were already ranked 20th because they were competing with a much smaller pool. It makes sense to optimize your site for keywords that are more specific to your industry and region, giving you a shot of being ranked on the first few pages of a search engine.

If you have keywords that you rank very high for, continue to maintain those and focus your efforts on improving your rankings in other relevant areas. Find a keyword that you feel is particularly relevant to your industry and that you rank lower for than you feel you should, and begin optimizing for that keyword. One of the easiest and quickest ways to improve your ranking for keywords is to tune up existing relevant pages and to write new quality content posts that include valuable keywords. Track your ranking month over month to track the success of your keyword optimization efforts.

4.   Pages/Session

Goal: Increase the number of pages/session

The pages per session metric shows how many users visit your page and click to other pages on your website during their session. This metric gives insight about the level of visitor usability and interaction with your site and shows how well your internal linking is working to keep visitors clicking through the site. You don’t want users to wander aimlessly, but you want to give them clear pathways to follow so they continue to interact. You want this number to increase over time.

If you notice low pages per session, try the following:

  • Use hyperlinks to connect relevant information on your website within the content of your pages and blogs. Add more enticing links in your sidebar or in the content of your blog posts. Linking to old blog posts in related new content is a great way to keep visitors engaged with your website.
  • Cut out any links that direct users away from your website (that aren’t totally necessary to support the content).
  • Consolidate your pages onto one website. If you’ve recently undergone a website redesign, you may have decided to keep some existing systems and rebuild others. Make sure all your pages are native on your current domain to get the most accurate pages per session metric.

For most websites, 2 pages per session is a reasonable goal, but this number can vary based on your industry. Make sure to take into consideration other metrics such as bounce rate and average time on site to get a better idea of a user’s engagement with your site. High pages per session or a high bounce rate can indicate site confusion or irrelevant content.

5.   Percent New Users & Returning Users

Goal: Know your industry standard and optimize for your marketing needs.

These metrics can be a little tricky. As a business, you want new users to be landing on your website because this means that new people are becoming aware of your company or product.  However, you also want users to return because this shows that your brand made a lasting impression on a visitor. Return users are usually warmer leads because there’s something about your site that interested them enough to come back; and, according to Bain and Company, converting existing leads is far more cost effective and profitable than acquiring new ones.

These metrics are particularly dependent on your industry. In general, you will almost always have more new users than returning users. However, there should be a healthy mix of both. Here are a couple examples of how you can quantify your marketing efforts using this metric:

If your marketing strategy is to generate leads and retarget to new users after they visit your site: You can measure the impact of your efforts by seeing if the number of returning users increases. If the number of returning users increases, and the percentage of new users decreases, this will indicate that your campaign is working.

If your goal is to generate as many cold leads as possible or build brand awareness via social media ads: You can measure the impact of your efforts by seeing if the number of new users increases. If the number of new users increases, and the percentage of new users increases, this will indicate that your campaign is working.

These 5 SEO metrics barely skim the surface of the insights metrics can offer. It’s important to mention that no decision should be based on one single metric alone; to get the most complete picture on how your site is performing, consider the relationships between metrics and your overall business goals. Not all of the metrics above will apply to your business, so when deciding on which metrics are most important for you to measure, always ask yourself “Does this support my goal?”.  For a more complete understanding of Google Analytics and how the metrics interact, visit our blog, The Ultimate Guide to Google Analytics Terms.