Measuring SEO: The 3 Primary KPIs You Should Care About

With the evolution of SEO and the Googlebot Persona, SEO has become more inclusive of other disciplines and relies on team members across a company or agency to work together to drive quality traffic that deposits the user-type onto the page that best satisfies their intent.

With the many updates that happen in the organic world of online marketing, traditional mindsets valuing keyword rankings as a primary indication of SEO success are outdated. I am not suggesting that you stop monitoring your rankings, but rather there are more valuable KPI’s that will directly affect your bottom line. – Bill Ross, Lead Linchpin

Defining the metrics that will determine the success of your campaign is key; not only for showing SEO ROI, but knowing which tactics are higher-value and should be focused on going forward. I would argue that the 3 KPIs (key performance indicators) below should be your primary focus since they provide the best insight into the value of your SEO campaign.

#1. Conversions


To me, this is the most important metric to monitor. As without conversions (whatever you define as a conversion) you’re not making any money, building your email list, etc.. This metrics helps give insight into content sets and how well they are being utilized to do the following 2 things:

  1. Match the users search intent
  2. Land the user on a page that puts them on the correct conversion path

Think of this as you would a sales team. If you had a huge sales force that made a ton of sales calls but never made a sale, you would not be in business very long.

Dependencies For Driving Conversions

  • A website with a well thought out architecture based on customer journeys
  • A well designed website that meets users needs and helps guide personas though the experience.
  • High-value targeted content that speaks to the needs of your customer type (User and Googlebot Persona)

#2. Traffic Trend (Organic and Referral)


What is organic traffic? Organic traffic is simply the traffic that is coming to your site from the search engines (Google, Bing, Blekko, Ask, etc.).

What is referral traffic? Referral traffic is the traffic that you get from sites that have found your content set so valuable that they have either linked to it or shared it on a social network; either option driving referral traffic.

From an SEO standpoint these two metrics can show how well you are doing with both your content creation and outreach programs. After all, if one of your primary goals is not to increase quality traffic from the search engines and from relevant websites, then why are you doing SEO and why even have an online business?

Dependencies For Increasing Traffic

#3. Total Non-branded Keywords Sending Organic Traffic (Diversity)


This is about expanding your footprint in the search results (or in more traditional advertising terms, about increasing your reach or circulation to your target demographic) for a more diverse set of non-branded keywords. IMO this expansion in non-branded keywords sending traffic from organic, correlates with content value and site authority.

Dependencies for Increasing Reach

  • A website that has a strong internal link structure (think Wikipedia)
  • High-value content that provides depth of topic
  • Link building and social media campaign

The Value of Measuring Rankings


Let me say again that I’m not against measuring rankings when it comes to SEO campaigns. Where I feel many companies get into trouble, is when they have the mentality that “if I could only rank #1 for keyword X then everything would be great”, thus putting to much emphasis on on shifts in rankings or gaining rankings for X number of keywords and not about a more holistic SEO mindset.

There are certainly reasons to measure, trend, and utilize rank tracking, but I would use it less as a all encompassing success metric and more for the following reasons:

Monitor How Google Updates Effect Your Site

As we all know there are over 500 changes made to the Google Algorithm each year, some major like Panda or Penguin, some less major like updates to how Google handles spelling corrections. It is important to note that most changes, no matter the size, will have some effect on your website traffic, conversions, and even rankings.

Monitor Possible Site Issues
SEO is one of the few disciplines that should be in the trenches about all things that are going on with the site from the planning stage through the QA stage. This inclusion gives them a holistic view of the site from its goals and strategy to content and design. Unfortunately there are times when circumstances don’t allow an SEO to be in all decisions that pertain to a website. Because of this, it is important to monitor rankings to determine if changes to site structure, content, or architecture has had negative effects on the site as a whole.

High Value Keywords
These are keywords that might not have a high search volume, but convert at a higher than normal rate. If your site has been around for a while and you have sufficient data to understand which keywords convert best (not which drive the most traffic, but which actually make you money) then these are the keywords you should be tracking. These are your “money keywords” that have proven they are valuable based on data and should be protected.

So what are your thoughts about monitoring rankings?

Have I missed any reasons why you should track rankings or other KPIs that are important outside of rankings?