How to Measure SEO: KPI of Organic Search
SEO is by its nature a job that never ends. Rules change, competitors come and go and all of this and much more require marketers to monitor campaigns on an ongoing basis to identify areas which can be improved upon.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are of course a large part of this and can be used to determine how well the site is ranking and what can be done to improve on this. However, what once worked for SEO really doesn’t anymore; as Google has evolved so has the job of the SEO professional. This is especially true due to the ‘not provided’ issue which means that many of us no longer have access to organic keywords.
The image below gives a brief timeline/overview of how the search giant has evolved in recent years.
All of this means that the job of the SEO when it comes to providing proof of ROI is now that little bit harder. So what can you do to measure SEO when it comes to organic search, especially in light of the ‘not provided’ issue?
In order to do this effectively, you’ll need Google Analytics. This is probably the best free analytics package on the market and is very powerful. However, that’s not to say that it’s the only solution you should use, there are plenty of paid tools out there too which you can use alongside analytics, although some of these can be very pricey.
The KPIs you want to be studying initially are:
- Time spend on site
- Number of visits
- Pages visited
- Bounce rate
When it comes to the latter, it’s worth bearing in mind that the metrics can be misleading when it comes to a blog. By this I mean that it tends to be on the high side due to the way that Analytics counts a visit to the blog – which is a one page visit less than 30 seconds. So, if a visitor spends five minutes reading a post and then leaves afterwards, this will push the bounce rate up as it’s regarded as a visitor having landed on the site and then bounced right off again, no matter how long they’ve been there.
There is a way around this though and you can get a more accurate overview by altering the tracking code so that it executes an event when a user spends more than a certain amount of time on a page. There’s a great article which takes you through how you can do this step-by-step here.
For reference, these are the benchmark averages of what the bounce rates should be for different types of site according to Google Analytics.
- Content sites: 40-60%
- Lead gen: 30-50%
- Blogs 70-98%
- Retailers: 20-40%
- Service sites: 10-30%
- Landing pages: 70-90%
So as you can see, Google knows that it should be high for blogs and landing pages.
The site above is a blog so naturally has a high bounce rate – the metrics you want to be looking at are Sessions and Pageviews. The difference between these is that the sessions is the number of times a unique visitor has landed on the site, whilst pageviews is how many actual pages have been visited. So we can see here that on average, a visitor looks at one and a half pages.
You can break this down further by staying with the Audience menu and choosing Engagement, which will tell you how long people are actually spend engaging with the content on the site.
A look at the Users Flow metric will also help you to see where on the site visitors tend to be dropping off. This will help you to find the content that’s been the most popular and the pages that people seem to like the least. With this information, you can then go on to tailor your content so that it is better suited to what your visitors want.
These are great for retailers but can be a little less useful if you’re offering services rather than actual products. However, that’s not to say that they can’t be used if you’re a service provider, it just means that you will have to find something different to measure. Commonly, this is landing pages and pages which require some kind of action from the user as the starting point, with the ‘thank you’ page acting as the conversion.
For retailers, it’s more straightforward to some extent, as a conversion can be set up in Goals for shopping baskets and purchases, or even registration.
For a guide to setting up goals for conversions, take a look at the video below for a step-by-step guide to creating a custom goal and setting up conversions.
Analysing Content Performance with No Keyword Data
So since we’re rapidly approaching a time when keyword data for organic traffic is becoming less and less available, what other ways can you employ to analyse the performance of your content?
Firstly, you should monitor all organic traffic on an ongoing basis for specific time periods to see whether your content performs better as time goes on. Look at traffic month-by-month and also compare year-by-year to see if your campaign is working. It’s pretty simple doing it this way: if your traffic is dropping then you’re doing something wrong.
Look too at the conversion rates that you’re getting from organic traffic as this will give you an idea of the quality of traffic and whether you’re reaching those people that you want to. You should also use Analytics in conjunction with Webmaster Tools to see if you can identify any trends in keyword traffic.
When you set up your landing pages, it’s likely that you optimised these in order to attract leads. With this in mind, you should also monitor the organic traffic to these pages in order to determine if the keywords that you’re trying to rank for are effectively driving traffic to the site.
In Analytics, you can also use the content drilldown feature in order to see which pages are getting the most attention. Of course, most sites will have a home page that is the most popular and that’s not a bad thing, but perhaps in some instances you should ignore the home page when looking at what other content is popular.
Looking closely at the engagement that content generates is a good way of tracking your SEO efforts as it’s one of the KPIs that’s increasingly important to both Google and your visitors. This is especially true if you tie content to goals and lead generation so that you can see its value to the business.
This can be done in a few ways, such as:
- Lightboxes – you must have seen the pop-over boxes that say things such as ‘want more great content like this, sign up for our newsletter’. Personally, I find these irritating and rarely enter my details, but many people find them an effective tool for building email lists and leads.
- CTAs – this can be as simple as a line or two at the end of a blog post relating to its content and your services/products, or it can be more complex. Links embedded into the post with a CTA included, newsletter signups at the bottom or in the sidebar which are clear.
You should and can also do what you can to encourage social sharing with sharing buttons. A popular tactic now is to include a sharing ‘bar’ which moves down the page as the visitor scrolls so that they don’t have to go searching for them.
These are becoming increasingly important to SEO and are most definitely worth tracking. Social signals are shares, likes and follows and to some extent prove some engagement with your content. Of course, where possibly, you want people to share and comment as well as just hit like or favorite.
Again, you can track social in Analytics and now, it’s even possible to track conversions through social too. It’s also worth pointing out that social media sites tend to have their own analytics tools which can be very effective.
For example, Facebook Web Custom Audiences are proving to be very effective for many as they allow you to remarket to a specific social audience who have already engaged with your content and your site.
In Analytics, choose Social then Users Flow to see where your social visitors are coming from, which content they are engaging with and where they are going on the site from there. Again, it will show you what content is popular and allow you to further hone your content and marketing message for the future.
I now firmly believe that a holistic approach should be taken to SEO and digital marketing and it’s necessary to look at the big picture, rather than to just concentrate on any one aspect of it such as SEO metrics like keywords etc. Google continues to make life difficult with the ‘not provided’ issue and unless you’re an AdWords customer, that’s not going to get any better anytime soon.
With that in mind, get to know Analytics thoroughly and utilise other software where you can, such as Positionly’s competitively priced product.