Key performance indicators (KPI) are the only means by which any Web professional should be measuring SEO success. While some would say search engine optimization is one part art, one part science and a few sprinklings of magical fairy dust, it’s the importance of measuring your SEO campaign success (now and in the future) that leads to true success.
If you’re not measuring these KPIs, you should start–immediately.
Perhaps the most straightforward of the essential KPIs for SEO, the total number of pages in search engine indices and the total amount of natural/organic traffic (and which way it is moving), are also the most obvious – and simplest to understand. Knowing the number of pages that rank and are being found by search engine users provides insights into not only a website’s overall exposure but also reveals changes occurring in broader and even niche markets.
Of all the SEO metrics that matter, page speed is the one that resonates most with the other members of your enterprise. Why? Simple – it impacts everything from marketing and advertising to sales and service. There are a lot of influencing factors when it comes to page speed but having a KPI that enables your team to keep track of this important factor will most definitely benefit the bottom line of your business. If page speed is not something that has been measured previously, know that most analytics solutions provide some indicator out of the box.
Understanding which pages and categories already deliver the most search engine visitors provides SEOs and website owners with insights into what can be optimized (if not producing desired results) and which type of content can be expanded. For example, say that your website provides a forum for users to discuss topics related to your business or products. If the content from that forum is being found through the search engines and driving a good percentage of traffic to your site, ask yourself how that content can be improved to generate even more.
Discover how well developed the “long tail” is by determining the average number of keywords per landing page. It is also key to dig deeper to understand the popularity of the topics and information needs of users interested – explore the conversion rate for top keywords and identify areas of improvement.
Knowing the length of the keyword queries is a key indicator of the performance of long-tail SEO campaigns. Knowing the average number of words per query helps decision-makers understand the characteristics of the traffic. If more complex phrases bring more visits, then it is safe to assume that long-tail SEO performance is high.
Search engines tend to have different demographic user profiles. Taking this into consideration when analyzing bounce rate per keyword may help to understand how the website content is perceived by these different segments of people. Bounce rates on the keyword level specifically tell a lot about the quality of the keyword analysis phase.
Both the duration and the average length of visits are high-quality benchmarks for organic/natural traffic. If you can identify the pages and content types/categories that have the lowest average length of stay (and want to improve that), many powerful conclusions can be drawn about the SEO process.
This is another essential key performance indicator for SEO as it provides information on the characteristics of the organic traffic. The rate or percentage of new visitors is particularly important for community-based websites and shows if SEO is in line with other business and marketing goals. Consider analyzing keywords by visitor type as well so that the “loyalty” of users is examined on a granular keyword level.
There’s nothing more damaging to a search engine presence than having pages that the search engines believe are there but aren’t. While it’s almost inevitable that this will happen, a sound technical SEO presence will have a KPI for 404 errors that can be measured and used proactively to limit the impact. Ideally, it should be number of 404 errors per X number of pages (e.g. 100 or 1000 – depending on the size of your site). Once that information is in hand, it should be tracked on a weekly or monthly schedule. SEOs can take it a step further by offering some sense of context (why it may be happening) and then provide recommendations or resources to resolve the issue – setting up redirects (301 or 302) accordingly.
Sitemaps aren’t necessarily the most important practice of the modern SEO, as their use does not necessarily influence ranking. That said, they do matter. What their use can provide is a sense of just, well, that a site is being indexed by the engines. A KPI that is set up to track “sitemap coverage” should consider the number of URLs that are submitted in your sitemap and the number of URLs that are ultimately indexed by the engines (Google and Bing). Since you will constantly be creating new content (and submitting URLs as a result) the sitemap coverage KPI likely won’t change much but will provide a strong indication that something is broken or just not working in general.