How to Measure SEO Results
In an SEO campaign, measuring SEO results is nearly as important as achieving them. Measurement leads to insights about how to alter the campaign to improve results, as well as how much marketing budget to allocate towards it. Proper measurement requires two actions:
(1) Choosing the correct KPIs
(2) Tracking those KPIs properly
In this guide, we share the 5 KPIs that measure the success of an SEO campaign most effectively, as well as the proper way to track each one.
SEO is measured by creating many unique pages on your website (both lps and blogs), placing analytics code on each page, and generally not counting homepage organic traffic.
Top SEO KPIs
An SEO campaign is succeeding if the following 5 KPIs are achieved. They are in chronological order, and in order of ascending importance.
- First page results for commercially valuable keywords
- Organic traffic increase
- User engagement
First Page Results for Commercially Valuable Keywords
The earliest indication that your SEO campaign is working is the presence of your keywords on the first page of Google’s organic search results. Those keywords should have been vetted in advance via a strategic keyword planning process, so that when the rankings do appear, they create momentum for all the KPIs after them.
Properly-vetted keywords should then be placed into an editorial calendar that does several important things:
(a) rank orders them by revenue-driving potential;
(b) indicates the page type that the keyword’s search intent points to
(c) requires each keyword be assigned to a specific page on your site (whether it’s been created or not)
(d) describes the plan to create a maximally satisfying response to that keyword’s search intent
Below is a screenshot of an editorial calendar.
How to Track Keyword Rankings
When content has been planned in such an organized way, it makes measurement very clear. Each keyword in the editorial calendar should be manually looked up monthly and tracked via spreadsheet so you can see its fluctuations. The goal is a first page ranking for each keyword, which should take ~6 months at the start of an SEO campaign, and closer to 1 month after a year of consistent thought leadership marketing.
Keyword tracking tools like ahrefs or Moz can also streamline the process for you and generate automated reports, but this is more a matter of convenience than necessity.
Organic Traffic Increase
An increase in organic traffic is a sign of an SEO campaign’s success as long as the traffic comes from high rankings for commercially valuable keywords. Traffic in the first year of a properly executed SEO campaign tends to increase by average of 78% in the first year; 123% in the second; and 164% in the third.
Below is a chart showing a well-executed SEO campaign’s traffic over its first 3 years.
How to Track Organic Traffic
Organic traffic is probably the easiest KPI to track in an SEO campaign as it simply requires placing Google Analytics tracking code on every page, something most web developers and designers can do in a few minutes.
Google began factoring user engagement into its algorithm substantially in 2018, and defines it using two primary metrics: time on page and bounce rate. While both factors depend on what the searcher is looking for, bounce rates below 1.5% show strong engagement, and time on page of more than 2 minutes is strong in most B2B industries.
NOTE: In early 2021, Google Analytics replaced the term “Bounce Rate” with “Engaged Sessions,” or sessions where a visitor stayed on the site more than 10 seconds. It’s essentially the inverse of bounce rate, and as such an Engaged Session rate of >98% is a high performance benchmark.
How to Track User Engagement
User engagement metrics are usually tracked through the standard Google Analytics setup, just like organic traffic. There are also a number of SaaS platforms that track engagement on a more granular level, such as Mixpanel. Whichever user engagement metrics you use, the most valuable form of engagement is always a conversion.
Conversions include downloads, form fills, and phone calls — essentially, any website visitor action that adds a contact to your database. It’s typically measured via a conversion rate. If your keyword strategy is sound, your content ranks highly, and your content is engaging, you’re likely to have a high conversion rate (~2% is high in most industries).
Below is a chart of the average conversion rate in 20 B2B industries.
How to Track Conversions
It’s only possible to accurately track SEO conversions if you’ve created an individual page for every keyword you’re targeting (as opposed to targeting multiple keywords on a single page or targeting the same keyword on multiple pages). When each page has been assigned a single keyword, you simply need to ensure there is tracking code (e.g. from Google Tag Manager or Hubspot) on that page to gain visibility into the conversions it produces. The one-keyword-per-page strategy solves the problem of Google hiding the keywords searchers used to find your site, and makes it possible to know which keywords ultimately produced conversions.
Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) are the bottom line of an SEO campaign. All the other KPIs lead to this one. Even though producing revenue is the true ultimate goal of all marketing, the SEO team’s accountability ends at the MQL stage, as the leads are handed off to sales.
MQLs are measured via a conversion rate, either from website traffic (as shown in the chart below) or from the conversion stage (form fill or phone call). Looking at the former — website-visitor-to-MQL conversion rate — is probably the most intuitive way to measure the impact of SEO on MQLs.
How to Track MQLs
When a conversion is properly tracked via your marketing automation system, the user’s contact information is added to your database and, in the case of a form fill or phone call, sent to a member of your marketing or sales team to qualify. Parameters for “marketing qualified” differ, but it typically means that the person contacting your company is a member of your target audience who is inquiring with an intention to purchase. Once the lead is qualified, they become an MQL. Hubspot, Salesforce, and other marketing automation platforms have functions for tracking the qualification process of a lead.
The above KPIs allow you to see how well your SEO campaign is performing, but they don’t tell take into account the complexity of a prospective customer’s experience in real time. The way to do this is through marketing attribution, where you take educated guesses at what percentage of each sale should be ascribed to each marketing channel, and how you ultimately calculate the ROI of your marketing investments.
The two most common models used are first touch and last touch attribution. Both of these assign an entire sale to a single marketing channel—whichever channel is either the first one that the customer touched, or the last one, hence the names. The biggest advantage that either of these has is their simplicity and ease of use, but both suffer from significant drawbacks. First touch attribution heavily favors top of funnel activities without taking into account the conversion process, while last touch does the exact opposite. Neither paints the whole picture.
Accurately assigning credit for each marketing channel means creating a custom model that takes into account your industry as well as your sales cycles, along with the nature of your activities at each step of the conversion funnel. For example, if you’re a B2C company with a very short sales cycle, you may assign 70% of a sale to the first touchpoint, and divide the remaining 20% equally across the remaining conversion steps. On the other hand, if you’re in a B2B industry with a much longer sales period such as heavy equipment sales, you’ll assign a much smaller percentage to the first touchpoint, with the majority of the credit going to lead nurturing activities. Creating this model is part art, part science and relies heavily on the expertise of your marketing team but this process is well worth the effort as it will allow you to much more accurately determine each activity’s ROI, and therefore, how you should allocate your marketing budget.
Using SEO Metrics
Whether you’re running an SEO campaign in-house or working with an outsourced SEO agency, your SEO team should be able to justify their work using the above metrics, and explain their attribution model when calculating the campaign’s ROI. If they are unable to do so, this is a major red flag and you will want to consider other options.
If you have any further questions about how to measure SEO results, or if you’d like to work with a data-driven SEO company, get in touch. At First Page Sage, we have over a decade of experience using SEO to generate leads for both midsize and enterprise clients.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.