They say that if you can measure it, then you can improve it. In search engine optimization, measurement is critical to success. Professional SEOs track data about rankings, referrals, links and more to help analyze their SEO strategy and create road maps for success.
Although every business is unique and every website has different metrics that matter, the following list is nearly universal. Note that we're only covering those metrics critical to SEO - optimizing for the search engines. As a result, more general metrics may not be included. For a more comprehensive look at web analytics, check out Choosing Web Analytics Key Performance Indicators from Avinash Kaushik's excellent Web Analytics Blog.
Every month, it's critical to keep track of the contribution of each traffic source for your site. These include:
- Direct Navigation: Typed in traffic, bookmarks, email links without tracking codes, etc.
- Referral Traffic: From links across the web or in trackable email, promotion & branding campaign links
- Search Traffic: Queries that sent traffic from any major or minor web search engine
Knowing both the percentage and exact numbers will help you identify weaknesses and serve as a comparison over time for trend data. For example, if you see that traffic has spiked dramatically but it comes from referral links with low relevance, it's not time to get excited. On the other hand, if search engine traffic falls dramatically, you may be in trouble. You should use this data to track your marketing efforts and plan your traffic acquisition efforts.
Three major engines make up 95%+ of all search traffic in the US - Google and the Yahoo-Bing alliance. For most countries outside the US 80%+ of search traffic comes solely from Google (with a few notable exceptions including both Russia and China.) Measuring the contribution of your search traffic from each engine is critical for several reasons:
Compare Performance vs. Market Share
By tracking not only search engines broadly, but by country, you'll be able to see exactly the contribution level of each engine in accordance with its estimated market share. Keep in mind that in sectors like technology and Internet services, demand is likely to be higher on Google (given its younger, more tech-savvy demographic) than in areas like cooking, sports or real estate.
Get Visibility Into Potential Drops
If your search traffic should drop significantly at any point, knowing the relative and exact contributions from each engine will be essential to diagnosing the issue. If all the engines drop off equally, the problem is almost certainly one of accessibility. If Google drops while the others remain at previous levels, it's more likely to be a penalty or devaluation of your SEO efforts by that singular engine.
Uncover Strategic Value
It's very likely that some efforts you undertake in SEO will have greater positive results on some engines than others. For example, we frequently notice that on-page optimization tactics like better keyword inclusion and targeting has more benefit with Bing & Yahoo! than Google, while gaining specific anchor text links from a large number of domains has a more positive impact on Google than the others. If you can identify the tactics that are having success with one engine, you'll better know how to focus your efforts.
The keywords that send traffic are another important piece of your analytics pie. You'll want to keep track of these on a regular basis to help identify new trends in keyword demand, gauge your performance on key terms and find terms that are bringing significant traffic that you're potentially under optimized for.
You may also find value in tracking search referral counts for terms outside the "top" terms/phrases - those that are important and valuable to your business. If the trend lines are pointing in the wrong direction, you know efforts need to be undertaken to course correct. Search traffic worldwide has consistently risen over the past 15 years, so a decline in quantity of referrals is troubling - check for seasonality issues (keywords that are only in demand certain times of the week/month/year) and rankings (have you dropped, or has search volume ebbed?).
When it comes to the bottom line for your organization, few metrics matter as much as conversion. For example, in the graphic to the right, 5.80% of visitors who reached Moz with the query "SEO Tools" signed up to become members during that visit. This is a much higher conversion rate than most of the 1000s of keywords used to find our site. With this information, we can now do 2 things.
- Checking our rankings, we see that we only rank #4 for "SEO Tools". Working to improve this position will undoubtedly lead to more conversion.
- Because our analytics will also tell us what page these visitors landed on (mostly http://moz.com/tools), we can focus on efforts on that page to improve visitor experience.
The real value from this simplistic tracking comes from the "low-hanging fruit" - seeing keywords that continually send visitors who convert and increasing focus on both rankings and improving the landing pages that visitors reach. While conversion rate tracking from keyword phrase referrals is certainly important, it's never the whole story. Dig deeper and you can often uncover far more interesting and applicable data about how conversion starts and ends on your site.
Knowing the number of pages that receive search engine traffic is an essential metric for monitoring overall SEO performance. From this number, we can get a glimpse into indexation - the number of pages the engines are keeping in their indices from our site. For most large websites (50,000+ pages), mere inclusion is essential to earning traffic, and this metric delivers a trackable number that's indicative of success or failure. As you work on issues like site architecture, link acquisition, XML Sitemaps, uniqueness of content and meta data, etc., the trend line should rise, showing that more and more pages are earning their way into the engines' results. Pages receiving search traffic is, quite possibly, the best long tail metric around.
While other analytics data points are of great importance, those mentioned above should be universally applied to get the maximum value from your SEO campaigns.
Google's (not provided) Keywords
In 2011, Google announced it will no longer pass keyword query data through its referrer string for logged in users. This means that instead of showing organic keyword data in Google Analytics, visits from users logged into Google will show as “not provided.” At the time, Google said they expected this to effect less than 10% of all search queries.
Soon after, many webmasters started reporting up to 20% of their search queries as keyword (not provided). Google responded by saying that the 10% figure was an average across all worldwide sites and that some differences would exist based on country location and type of website.
With the launch of Google+, webmasters fear that more and more users will create, and log into, Google accounts. This would result in an even greater percentage of “not provided” keywords.
How this will eventually play out is anyone's guess. In the meantime, smart SEOs and web analytics experts have devised workarounds to try and recover some of this missing keyword data, although nothing can substitute for the real thing. Read more about dealing with (not provided) keywords in this blog post.