If you've ever been asked to report on SEO, you have likely questioned which metrics to track.
There are a lot of options, because frankly, there are a lot of different ways to go about SEO. As we covered in a previous post on proving the value of SEO:
- SEO is long-term,
- SEO compounds over time,
- SEO increases user experience, and
- SEO needs to capture traffic from other ad campaigns.
… that’s not an easy story to tell!
Three major Google announcements in 2020 tell us a great deal about Google’s objectives, now and in the foreseeable future: Core Web Vitals, Page Experience, and Google AI Updates.
Taken together, these announcements communicate one overarching theme: Google wants to be the world’s premier answer engine with the best possible user experience (even when users click to other sites).
Your focus needs to also be on the search experience, which is why it’s crucial that you analyze your SEO metrics through the lens of user experience. .
We've pulled together the most critical metrics to track and organized them into 5 main categories:
This comprehensive list is sourced from what we see large, global SEO leaders doing. These SEOs win at SEO because they monitor their progress, and make subsequent changes to their strategy.
If you’re just getting started with SEO, we have a concise list of five key SEO metrics that you need to track!
Content metrics show you how your web pages perform on the SERPs, but more importantly, they show you how searchers interact with your content. Each of the below metrics is correlated with the search experience.
#1. Rank Position
Despite massive changes on the SERPs and the proliferation of SERP features, it’s still important to track keyword rank.
Content that follows Google’s E-A-T framework (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) tends to provide value to the end users, and so also tends to have a good rank position.
If you’re content ranks on the second page of Google, you can refresh the content to try to enhance the content to properly address the target query, but if you rank in a position higher than ~50, your content likely missed the mark.
These are insights your rank position gives you in relation to the user experience.
Authoritative, trustworthy content should also have a high impression count. This can mean that the content is relevant for a number of keywords (which gives it a greater chance to be seen) or that it’s relevant for a high search volume term.
Regardless, it confirms that users see your listing on the SERP, and with what we know about searcher behavior, hardly anyone navigates to page two of Google. So, a high impression count can help to confirm that your content offers valuable information, and is being presented to users, most likely, on page one of Google.
If Google finds your content valuable, users are likely to as well.
#3. Search Visibility
As mentioned, there have been many changes to the SERPs. This doesn’t mean that standard rank tracking is obsolete (see metric #1), it just means it has to be supplemented.
This is where search visibility comes in.
With personalized SERPs and search features like the Answer Box, images, ads, etc., it can be hard to get eyes on your content, even if you rank well organically.
This is why seoClarity introduced Visibility Share — a new way to track rankings based on actual pixel real estate on the SERP.
When Google recognizes your content as relevant and authoritative, it should not only offer it to users on page one, but ideally on the first fold of page one, so users immediately see it.
#4. Click-through Rate (CTR)
In order to have a user click through to your site, your search listing has to be appealing. This means including an enticing title tag and meta description, plus any applicable schema.
A high CTR shows that users saw value and relevance in your listing.
Recommended Reading: How to Improve Your Site's Organic Search Click-Through Rate
#5. Local Visibility
Relevancy goes beyond the search landscape at large and includes local search visibility, too.
Although this metric depends on your type of business, it’s important to monitor how the local audience views your content, and if your site is being shown in search features like the map pack.
Once users land on your site, it’s important to know how they interact with the content.
Engagement metrics can clue you in on how relevant your content is, but they don’t always tell the whole story by themselves. They should always be analyzed in relation to the type of page they deal with.
#6. Average Time on Page
A long time on pages shows that users find your page valuable, and decide to explore — most likely.
If your page is a blog post, for example, a long time on page can signal that users are actually reading the content.
Granted, some pages are more likely to have a shorter time on page because of the nature of the content itself.
If a user just wants to know the weather, for example, a page with the week’s forecast will likely have a very short average time on page, but it’s no cause for concern. The users get what they’re looking for and continue on their search journey.
#7. Dwell Time
Dwell time is often confused with time on page, but there’s one key difference: dwell time accounts for the amount of time a user spends on a page after clicking through from the SERP, while average time on page is simply the average time a user spends on the page coming in from any channel (organic, paid, social, etc.)
Despite their differences, the same analysis applies for both metrics.
If users find that your website properly addresses their query, they’ll be more likely to stay on your page for a longer period of time. So, you can correlate dwell time with value.
However, the same exception applies: some pages are designed to immediately answer a query, and will naturally have a low dwell time.
Analyze your dwell time through the lens of the searcher. What you may think is a poor response signal may not be a cause for concern after all.
#8. Bounce Rate
Your bounce rate tells you how many users left your site after viewing only one page — which can shine a light on the users’ overall experience on your site.
Do users see one page on your site, then bounce back to the SERP? A high bounce rate can imply that users don’t find your content to be valuable or relevant to their search.
But, like the time on page metric, bounce rate is subjective to its respective page and the content type.
A searcher may come to your site, immediately get the information they seek, and then leave.
There’s no reason for them to further explore your site.
So, keep this in mind as you evaluate your pages’ bounce rates, and don’t let it be a defining metric for your understanding of the end user experience.
Recommended Reading: What Your Bounce Rate Means for Your SEO
#9. Exit Rate
Exit rate tells you the percentage of users that left your site at any level of their search journey (whereas bounce rate is only concerned with the users viewing one page).
Google has a great reference on distinguishing between bounce rate and exit rate: Exit Rate vs. Bounce Rate.
This metric can help you understand where users decide to leave your site. Does one page have a higher exit rate than others? You may want to optimize it for the end users.
Like the other engagement metrics we’ve covered, a high percentage doesn’t always mean there’s a problem. A search journey has to end somewhere, and the users may be content on their way out.
All of the above metrics are relevant for desktop, but they’re important to monitor on mobile, too!
Mobile continues to grow and become more important in the world of search and SEO. Each content and engagement metric should be analyzed for both desktop and mobile to fully understand users’ behavior.
What works on desktop may not work on mobile, and this mobile audience has intents of their own that your content must deliver upon.
Your development team has specific metrics that inform their work that also impact the end user experience.
Before you can focus on content’s relevance and your overall site authority, you first need to address usability.
Content is meaningless if it doesn’t have a strong foundation to sit on.
#10. Crawlability Errors
Before a search engine can serve your content to users, that search engine’s bots need to be able to crawl your pages.
You may have a great site, but it goes largely unnoticed if it can’t be crawled or indexed.
We worked with a company that had unknowingly implemented noindex tags, which prevented their content from appearing on the SERPs.
Searchers can’t find value if they can’t find your pages.
Once the crawlability error was resolved, they saw an incredible, consistent increase in search visibility.
Recommended Reading: How to Find (and Fix) Crawlability Issues to Improve Your SEO
#11. Number of Pages Indexed
If your pages aren’t in Google’s index, that means users won’t be able to find value in your content, either.
Verify that the number of your indexed site pages aligns with the number of pages on your site. Of course, this won’t be an exact match since some pages, like log-in pages or security pages, don’t need to be indexed.
To get a quick understanding of how many of your site pages are indexed, type the following into Google search:
The number of search results is roughly the number of pages indexed.
#12. Page Speed
Page speed is a crucial metric to ensure a positive user experience. You’ve probably been there yourself: you land on a webpage that doesn’t load quickly, and you bounce back to the SERP to choose another search listing.
In fact, every second counts.
Nearly half of consumers expect a webpage to fully render in 2 seconds or less.
You can monitor your page speed with a page speed testing tool, but larger enterprise sites would benefit from an SEO platform with the ability to audit page speed at scale — especially when there’s a direct relationship between page speed and conversion rate.
Recommended Reading: Page Speed and SEO: How to Improve User Experience and Rankings
Links — both internal and external — can impact your SEO efforts. When you monitor your link profile, you take an extra step to ensure that your backlinks are healthy and authoritative, and that your internal links are relevant to their pages.
To evaluate your website’s authority, you’ll need to run a backlink analysis and monitor the respective metrics.
This shows you the number of referring domains and reveals the number of authoritative links that point to your site.
A high number of quality referring domains and links can prove that others find your content valuable enough to link to.
#14. Internal Linking Structure
Your internal linking structure can reveal great opportunities as to where you can provide more value to users.
Your site taxonomy and overall site hierarchy plays directly into the end user’s experience.
Do your internal links make logical sense and relate to the searcher’s online journey? Are you using the right anchor text to clue users in on what page they’ll land on if they click that internal link?
All of the above metrics relate directly to the end user experience. If you can meet the user along their search journey with a foundationally strong site with relevant, authoritative content, those searchers should convert and/or become leads.
These are the metrics that your executive team will care about the most, after all. They want to see how SEO is related to driving the business’s bottom line.
#15. Organic Conversion Rate
If you keep a close eye on the aforementioned metrics and optimize appropriately, your organic conversion rate should be in good standing.
This metric is crucial to monitor and improve, as it demonstrates SEO’s ability to convert searchers into customers.
#16. Return on Investment (ROI)
Similar to the organic conversion rate, the ROI is going to be the metric that has the most influence on proving the value of SEO to leadership.
Where does organic search fit into the company’s initiatives and goals at large? If you continually provide a positive site experience, the reward should be worth the investments.
#17. YOY Summary
Executive teams love to see wins, and they also like to see positive patterns — that’s to say, they like to see wins over time.
When you provide a YOY summary of your efforts and outcomes of organic search, you can prove that SEO is a long-term solution that has the power to compound its successes.
There are many SEO metrics to monitor to guarantee that your work is making a difference. However, it’s crucial that you view these metrics through the eyes of the end user.
It’s time to change the way you think of SEO from search engine optimization to search experience optimization.
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