If something can be measured, it can be improved.
By carefully measuring your SEO with metrics that matter to your business, you can understand where you are currently and what value SEO brings to your marketing.
SEO KPIs bridge the gap between your business and marketing objectives and the data available in SEO tools and web analytics.
This article outlines the many SEO metrics and KPIs and how to tailor a set of SEO KPIs to your business.
What are KPIs?
A KPI is a key performance indicator. This is a quantifiable measurement of performance in relation to a specific objective. KPIs help you define targets and milestones and measure progress toward those goals.
What are SEO KPIs?
SEO KPIs are metrics used to measure SEO performance.
Typically, SEO KPIs track visibility or traffic and how it fares in relation to your goals.
Such metrics will quantify traffic from major search engines like Google and Bing and the real-world results of SEO strategies and tactics (leads and sales).
Using SEO KPIs
Careful measurement and tracking provide a control system to ensure your tactics deliver results and your time and effort are spent on productive tasks.
Diligent measurement also provides feedback if your tactics are not working and inform you of how changes in the search landscape or algorithm impact performance.
KPIs can be tiered to provide understandable metrics for all stakeholders. The marketing team will need more detail to ensure time is spent wisely on SEO vs. PPC, but the board may only need to see top-level performance figures.
Tailoring the KPIs to your situation is the key to creating truly useful SEO KPIs.
Objectives and KPIs
Your SEO KPIs should act as an extension of your overall business and marketing goals.
You ensure you aim at relevant goals by considering your SEO goals as an extension of your overall marketing goals. Your SEO KPIs then track performance toward that goal.
The key is in the name (literally and figuratively): KPIs are key performance indicators.
They force you to ask whether your SEO approach drives performance. If not, what can you do about it?
This is really important but all too often overlooked.
SEO can be so complex that you need clear objectives and ways to measure progress toward those goals to ensure your time and effort are spent wisely pursuing the right goals.
SEO KPI Process
The following is a simple process that you can use to determine your SEO goals and KPIs.
Step 1: Determine your SEO goals
The first job is to identify your SEO objectives. What are the important tasks you need to achieve now, in a month, three months, six months and a year?
The SEO goals should connect to established organizational goals, and you should clearly articulate how the SEO goals drive the overall business goals.
I suggest three to five goals initially to keep focus.
You should then define your SEO goals using the SMART goals system.
Alternatively, you can use the OKR approach to objectives and key results detailed in “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr. This simple system was used by Google, Microsoft and many other huge companies to simplify goal-setting to drive massive growth.
The right approach will depend upon your business, but whatever you choose, your goals should be relevant, measurable, achievable and time-bound.
Step 2: Define what you will measure
The next step is to define what you will measure.
Your measurement metrics can be thought of as steps, and each should take you closer to the overall goal. As with the goals, you want, at most, three to five measurement metrics for each goal.
When your goals are achieved, you should be able to measure performance to determine if your strategy here is valid.
Step 3: Decide on the length of your cycle
As a general rule of thumb, SEO metrics are tracked monthly.
There are exceptions to this rule. Keyword rankings may be tracked daily (but reviewed monthly), and you may also want quarterly, bi-yearly and annual reports.
Remember, with SEO, you may only see tangible results like leads and sales when your keywords rank highly and drive traffic. Factor progress toward the goal into your overall cycle length.
Step 4: Review and reflect
The goal is to review each KPI and, ideally, score performance.
- What is working?
- What can you do differently next month?
The purpose of KPIs is to help you review your approach and think critically about what is or is not working.
A highly ranked organic keyword in modern search may not drive the expected traffic numbers.
Think of this as an experiment. Your KPIs are there to test the validity of your hypothesis.
Be flexible, and be ready to adapt and adjust your tactics based on the results.
- Objective: To sell more kitchens.
- KPI 1: Increase rank for kitchen keywords.
- KPI 2: Increase organic traffic on kitchen pages.
- KPI 3: Improve engagement rates.
- KPI 4: Increase organic conversions.
Here we have a simple objective measured with four simple SEO KPIs. This does not have to be complicated!
Following this approach, you will create three to five relevant SEO goals that you can easily measure with three to five SEO KPIs each.
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Example SEO KPIs
There is no shortage of SEO metrics for tracking your campaigns.
You can find data points from free SEO tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics to the many commercial SEO tools.
Unfortunately, while we have lots of data in its native format, commercial SEO tools and even Google Analytics often do more to confuse than deliver insight.
The purpose of SEO KPIs is to make those metrics useful.
We do that with the four-step model, where we connect SEO metrics to SEO goals connected to the broader business and marketing goals.
The following is a categorized list of SEO metrics to build your SEO KPIs.
Remember, don’t just blindly use the metrics below. Connect them to your SEO goals in groups of three to five to drive insight and understanding.
1. SEO keywords
First up is the old SEO stalwart of keywords.
Tracking keywords for SEO is complicated nowadays as search results have so many elements.
But it is still important to show progress toward your goals and get a sanity check on how much traffic a given keyword will deliver.
Track keywords for progress and verify your strategy.
Modern search results will include:
- Local pack
- Organic listings
- Featured snippets
- Knowledge cards and panels
- People also ask
- Video previews
You may also want to consider:
- By location
- By country
- Search Console CTR
- Search Console Average Rank
- Search Console Clicks
- Search Console Impressions
When tracking keywords, combine multiple factors to give the complete picture.
At the very least, track rankings, organic impressions and clicks (from Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tool). Depending on the SERP layout, a top 5 keyword can still do very little in actual clicks.
As time progresses, with this level of detail in your keyword KPIs, you will learn what works and what does not, which will feed into your strategy and goal setting.
Tip: Remember rankings are just one factor, and ensure when working on your web design and SEO that the content that ranks is a good fit for the intent behind the keyword!
2. SEO metrics
These are the traditional SEO metrics provided by various SEO tools.
Most of these metrics grew out of the hysteria around Google PageRank and aim to provide a general authority score at a site and page level.
These metrics can be helpful, but they mean very little alone, and they need to be compared to competitor values to provide accurate context.
You should measure that your site’s perceived trust and authority will correlate with an increase in the rank for your main search terms and the amount of organic traffic received.
These metrics are important but do not talk in the language of the business, so their prioritization in your reports will depend upon the stakeholder’s understanding of SEO.
- Majestic Citation Flow
- Majestic Trust Flow
- Majestic Trust and Citation Balance
- Moz Domain Authority
- Moz Page Authority
- Moz Spam Score
Tip: Remember that these specific SEO metrics should be tied to the overarching goals and strategy.
For example, suppose you want to build traffic to your upper-funnel marketing content. In that case, you may want to improve site authority but remember to sanity check improvements against real-world metrics (rankings, traffic, etc).
3. Real-world SEO KPIs
While many SEO KPIs relate to perceived authority and keyword rankings, what really matters is whether this is making a difference.
- Are we getting more traffic? Is that generating more leads?
- Is the cost per lead coming down vs. other channels?
- Are we seeing more branded searches due to raised awareness?
This is where the SEO rubber hits the SERP road, folks, so these metrics are essential.
- Increase in organic traffic
- Increase in the number of pages on the site that generate traffic
- Increase in non-branded search traffic
- Percentage increase in traffic from specific geographic regions
- Organic Impressions (Search Console)
- Organic Click-Through Rate (CTR) (Search Console)
Tip: We would also like to see real-world SEO metrics increase as SEO metrics improve.
This ensures the work you do is helping move the dial rather than just satisfying the whim of an SEO tool.
4. Conversion KPIs
The most important SEO KPI, in most cases, is conversion. Tracking conversions from organic search should be at the top of your list.
These KPIs need to be customized around your specific goals. Some examples here include:
- Conversions from organic search
- Percentage increase in conversion rate
- Organic search conversion rate
- Sales conversions
- Lead conversions
- Email clicks
- Phone number clicks
- Form fills
- Cost per acquisition (CPA)*
Note: Calculating and tracking CPA for organic search allows you to compare the return from organic with other channels. This helps determine if you are spending your precious marketing budget wisely.
Tip: The specifics here really depend on the specifics of your business and your marketing objectives, so ensure you track these in GA4.
5. Engagement KPIs
Google Analytics 4 has three key engagement metrics:
- Average engagement time (over the date range)
- Engaged sessions per user
- Average engagement time per session
Tip: Tracking engagement as a general KPI but also for all channels allows you to evaluate the quality of traffic from SEO vs. PPC, social etc. Again, this helps determine if you are spending your time and efforts on the right tactics!
6. Referral traffic
A solid SEO campaign can impact your business beyond driving more organic traffic.
If content and links are a vital part of your strategy, then this exposure can drive more high-quality referral traffic, so it is prudent to demonstrate the extra value here.
This helps to illustrate how your SEO strategies have multiple marketing benefits.
Often, solid referral traffic can convert at a better rate than organic search traffic, so ignore this at your peril.
- Percentage increase in referral traffic
- Percentage increase in referral conversions
- Percentage increase in engagement metrics (bounce, pages, time)
Tip: The links that will build authority will also drive referral traffic, so factor this into your qualitative measurement.
7. Brand impact
Improved search visibility equates to improved overall visibility – advertising by another name. So we should also look at the increase in branded search traffic and brand mentions and how this correlates to your work.
- Percentage increase in branded search traffic
- Percentage increase in brand mentions
- Visibility on third-party sites *
The visibility on third-party sites is another way for your audience to discover you.
For example, more people will discover me and my business by writing and publishing this article here on Search Engine Land.
If you do this kind of marketing, then ensure you measure the impact.
Tracking how many people search for you by name helps you understand and measure overall recognition. Comparing these values to your main competitors helps you measure relative market awareness.
8. Link building KPIs
Links are still one of the primary drivers of search engine visibility, and links (plus content) are often the main tangible element of a long-term SEO campaign.
Therefore, we must still report on the total number of links from authority sites and those from highly relevant sites. These will generally be pulled from our link wishlist and should be customized around your client’s industry.
- Total links
- Total links gained this time period
- Number of links from authority sites
- Number of links from relevant sites
- Links lost
Tip: To determine the relative value of your link building, compare your link profile with your competitors’ using one of the many SEO tools on the market.
9. Soft conversion KPIs
Leads are vital to your overall digital marketing, yet the classification of leads and the sales funnel gets ever more complex.
As such, we should measure our SEO efforts’ impact on lead generation, whether social signups, newsletter signups or some other download or lead gen specific to your business.
- Percentage increase in newsletter signups
- Percentage increase in social followers/likes and so on
- Business-specific lead generation goals (data sheets, white papers and so on)
Tip: Try to understand the customer journey and the steps required, from awareness and a visit to a paying customer and lifetime value.
SEO may drive most of your email signups, and the email campaigns drive sales. Customize this to your situation and measure what matters.
10. Business objective-specific KPIs
This category is a little more challenging to create a generic example for. However, it’s important from a reporting perspective.
We must do all we can to connect the business strategy with our SEO strategy via KPIs.
Often, the KPIs detailed above will give you what you want here, so this is more of a case of structuring them to align with your goals and reporting them meaningfully.
Remember, the higher-ups may only want a very low-resolution overview, but the marketing team may need more detail.
To provide some direction, if your goal is to build awareness of a new product, then you want to focus on awareness metrics: impressions, average position, keywords, clicks and so forth.
If you want to drive more signups, we want to track the number of people looking at the signup and pricing pages.
If we look at more traditional conversions, we must look at the total number of sales/leads/inquiries.
The point here is that you already have the SEO KPIs, but remember to:
- Frame them around your business objectives.
- Clearly highlight that you are helping move the business forward and not just providing a set of esoteric SEO tracking metrics.
Your SEO work has much more value than simply moving a keyword ranking. It adds real value to the business, reduces marketing costs, builds the brand and more.
Just remember to let the right people know in a way they can understand.
Tip: If you are struggling with how to categorize your SEO KPIs, there are two approaches that we have found helpful over the years.
The first is to group your KPIs along the marketing funnel:
An alternative approach is to use the VQVC model, which stands for:
If you are struggling, investigate these options to ensure you build truly insightful SEO KPI reports.
Understanding builds trust and confidence
It is tempting to think of SEO tracking as just another job, but that is underselling things.
You know that your work delivers real value to the business beyond just moving up the search results for a few keywords.
SEO KPIs provide a way to track and demonstrate SEO results and then communicate those improvements so everyone in the business can understand.
Key to this is to structure your goals hierarchically:
- Business Goals > Marketing Goals > SEO Goals
You can then clearly articulate how improvements in SEO metrics lead to improvements in marketing performance which drives business growth.
If you can create hierarchical goals and SEO reporting that feed into tha, then the reporting has real strategic value.
SEO KPIs help you:
- Understand what is working.
- Understand what tactical elements drive results.
- Build a strategic understanding of marketing throughout the business.
SEO reporting then becomes an actual strategic process. This helps develop critical thinking, a problem-solving mentality and a creative approach to your SEO.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.