Good Key Performance Indicators or KPIs help you measure how well you are executing your SEO strategy. They also help you explain the effects of your work to clients or management. This article explains which KPIs are meaningful for SEO, and how you can find them.
Every KPI has its limitations, which we also discuss. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use them. Just keep that in mind when running the numbers.
What is a KPI?
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. Let's assume your goal is to get 500.000 organic sessions next month. In this case,
- organic sessions is the KPI
- 500.000 is the target
Summary of important KPIs for SEO
The number of sessions coming from search engines. Easy to measure and meaningful, but this traffic doesn't necessarily convert. It could also be coming from branded searches, in which case the SEO team doesn't really deserve the credits.
The revenue that the organic channel brought in. It's a very relevant number, but people may only buy after some time. In that case, attribution can be an issue.
Meaningful conversions like submitted contact forms or newsletter signups. Although a bit more indirect, meaningful goals can help track organic contribution to the bottom line.
Good positions for relevant keywords with high search volumes will contribute to business goals, but there are some limitations to focusing solely on rankings.
Share of Voice
How many clicks is your site getting, as a percentage of all the search volume for a keyword set. Also known as Share of Search.
The number of clicks to a site from a search engine for search queries without the site's brand name. This can be a meaningful KPI because non-branded searches can bring in new visitors and contribute to growth.
Start with understanding the business goals
Before you decide which KPIs to use, it is important to understand your client's strategy, and how their website fits into that. SEO should contribute to that strategy, and your KPIs should measure if SEO is helping the business reach its ambitions. Some examples of different online business goals:
- An e-commerce business wants to increase its revenue
- A publication wants more pageviews, which results in higher advertising income
- A restaurant wants more guests
- A charity wants to increase awareness around a certain issue
For each of these business goals, the underlying SEO goals will be different. Make sure you know the goals and pick the right KPIs to track those goals.
Organic traffic is simply the number of sessions that entered the site by using a search engine. This is what SEO is all about: driving more relevant traffic to the site. Organic traffic as a KPI is relevant for virtually every project. Measuring organic traffic helps you understand if that is happening.
Organic traffic can be expressed as an absolute number (5400 sessions this month) or as a percentage of total traffic (26% of traffic came through search engines). We recommend using the absolute number because it helps you understand if organic as a channel is growing.
Regardless of the business strategy, more organic traffic is always a good thing. If the real goal is to increase revenue, measuring traffic is still relevant, because it will contribute to revenue.
Organic traffic and seasonality
Keeping track of organic traffic over time helps you understand how your project is performing. Keep in mind that seasonality might impact the number of organic sessions. If you're doing SEO for a website about skiing, you'll inevitably have more organic traffic in the winter season. To find out what the effect of seasonality on your business is, you can look at Google Trends. This shows you the search volume over time for keywords or topics.
If your business is affected by seasonality, it can help to track organic traffic year-on-year. That helps you compare traffic without the effect of seasonality.
How to measure organic traffic
Google Analytics makes it easy to find the organic traffic to the site. Go to Acquisition to see the number of organic visits, and how it compares to the other channels.
Next, click on Organic Search to see the organic traffic over time.
As you see, the keyword data does not make any sense: we'll have to rely on Search Console to know more about that.
All other Analytics tools (like Matomo or Plausible) also report acquisition channels in a similar way.
A downside of looking at Analytics is that visitors using ad blockers will not be included. Alternatively, you can look at the clicks data in Google Search Console. This shows you exactly how many people clicked on your site, but it only includes Google data. Visitors from Bing or other search engines are not included, but they are part of organic traffic too.
Regardless of these measurement challenges, it's not about the exact number. Whether you're using Analytics or Search Console, both help you spot trends and see if your site is getting more organic traffic.
Limitations of organic traffic as KPI
Although organic traffic is a valuable and easy-to-understand KPI, there are some limitations to it. First of all, you don't know if you've managed to get the right type of traffic. If your new article about bikes on an e-commerce site drives a lot of organic traffic, but the company doesn't sell any bikes, you're not contributing to the goals of the company.
Secondly, branded advertising campaigns may increase organic traffic. A good example is when Teamviewer became the shirt sponsor for Manchester United. Organic searches for their brand name went up, and I'm sure they got a lot of extra organic traffic. But it would not be fair to attribute that to the SEO efforts: most people searched for the name because they saw it on TV and wondered what it was.
Looking at branded vs. non-branded traffic helps you better understand what people are searching for. More on that later.
There's no better KPI to show the value of your work than showing an increase in organic revenue. To show that your work brought in $ 100.000 of extra revenue helps people convince you're doing something right.
How to measure organic revenue
Google Analytics, and most other analytic tools, help you track revenue across channels. There are various ways to find organic revenue. An easy way is to go to Acquisition and click on Organic Traffic. Next, in the dropdown above the graph, select Revenue. You now see the growth of organic revenue over time, as well as e-commerce data like the number of transactions and the conversion rate:
Limitations of organic revenue as KPI
Recent changes in cookie laws and tracking behavior have made it harder to attribute the revenue to a specific channel. In an ideal situation, a customer searches for a product in Google, lands on your site, and orders the product. That's easy: this is organic revenue.
But all too often, a customer lands on the site after searching on his phone, visits some other sites, and may come back in two weeks' time to place an order. Maybe not even using the same device. It's hard to attribute this revenue to the organic channel without extensive tracking. Therefore, you should consider the organic revenue in Google Analytics to be an estimate. It's still very useful to see if it's going u; or down, even if the exact number may not be correct.
Goal conversions from organic traffic
If you're not selling anything on your site, you can't measure organic revenue. But that doesn't mean you can't measure the effectiveness of your SEO work. That's where goal conversions come in. Think of actions like:
- Signing up for a newsletter
- Requesting a quote
- Making a reservation at a restaurant
- Downloading a white-paper
Each of these actions doesn't directly contribute to more revenue, but definitely has value. You can even assign a monetary value to a goal. Say every 10 quotes lead to one deal with an average value of $ 1500. That means a quote request is worth $ 150.
How to measure goal conversions
Google Analytics (and other analytics tools) can help you keep track of goal conversions. This can be measured by for instance visiting a thank-you-page after signing up for a newsletter, but there are more ways to track goals. If you define a monetary value to the goal, you can also specify that with the goal.
Go to Conversions > Goals and in the dropdown above the graph, select the goal you want to track. You'll see the conversions over time, as well as the conversion rate.
Limitations of using goal conversions as a KPI
Much like with revenue, a customer may not directly ask for a quote after finding your site on Google. This may take a while, and after some time it may be hard to attribute the goal conversion to the organic click that started it all.
Secondly, make sure the goals you select really do contribute to your business goals. A newsletter signup can create a relationship with a new customer that eventually may purchase something. But some analysts define goals like a scroll depth of 50%. Although it can be useful to track that, it's not closely related to your business goals. This makes it unsuitable as a good SEO KPI.
Finally! Keyword positions are what SEOs really care about, right?
Well, to a certain extent. Defining a set of important keywords and tracking your site's rankings for those keywords can make a lot of sense. It helps you focus, and it's a great feeling if you manage to get that top spot in Google for an important keyword. Scoring a good position for a relevant keyword with plenty of search volume will certainly contribute to your business goals.
Keep in mind that despite the ego boost you may get as an SEO, your manager may not care. Reaching that top spot only makes sense under two conditions:
- There is a lot of search traffic for that keyword
- Clicks from that keyword result in meaningful sessions (with goal conversions or e-commerce revenue).
Without that, a position on page one is just a vanity metric that won't contribute to your business goals.
Instead of focusing on a few keywords, you could also track the average position of a larger set of (long-tail) keywords. Ideally, this includes a lot of non-branded keywords (keywords without your brand name in it), because ranking #1 for your own brand name isn't really an SEO achievement.
Tracking keyword positions
This is one of the most debated topics in SEO: how do you track keywords accurately?
One way is using Google Search Console. The volumes and rankings are pretty accurate because you're getting your data from the source. A big downside is that GSC only gives you data for the searches for which your site showed up in the SERPs. So unless you only focus on the keywords you already rank for, Search Console isn't of any help.
Luckily there are many keyword trackers out there. Enter a list of keywords, and they'll tell you exactly (sort-of) what your average ranking is.
Limitations of keyword positions as a KPI
Don't get me wrong, tracking keyword positions is important. But it has quite a few limitations.
First of all, ranking number one for a keyword that is dominated by featured snippets and ads won't bring in a lot of traffic. It's disappointing to reach that #1 spot in Google, only to find out that it hardly results in any clicks, because your site is hidden behind three ads, a product carousel, and a map.
Secondly, only rankings on page 1 really matter. If you've managed to bring your client's site from page 10 to page 2 in Google, you did a great job. But as you know, the best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google. No one ever goes there. That becomes clear when you look at the CTR (Click-Through-Rate) of search results. Anything beyond the first page hardly gets any clicks. So you won't see any measurable business results until you enter the top 3.
Lastly, tracking positions is tricky. Google Search Console will only give you data if you rank for that keyword, and keyword tracking tools like SERanking or Ahrefs all have their error margins.
Share of Voice
Measuring a site's share of voice is a bit more complex than the above KPIs, but it's a good KPI to understand your organic visibility. Share of voice, or share of search, also helps you understand how much room there is to grow. In a nutshell, the share of voice tells you how much of the searches for keywords that are relevant to you, end up on your site.
Imagine you have a cluster of 250 keywords that get a total of 100.000 search queries per month. Your site gets 5.000 clicks. That means you capture 5% of all search traffic for this cluster. Not bad.
Measuring the Share of Voice only makes sense if you include a cluster of keywords. It's even better to include multiple clusters, for instance, one that focuses on informational searches, and one that focuses more on transactional searches.
Keep in mind that the Share of Voice can never be 100%. It won't be 50% either. You'd be happy to reach 25%.
Share of Voice is especially helpful because it combines metrics like search volume, position, and CTR into one metric.
How to measure Share of Voice?
To measure the share of voice, you need two numbers for every keyword set:
- The total search volume for that keyword set. You would normally get this from keyword tools like SERanking or Ahrefs.
- The number of clicks your site gets for that keyword set. You can find this in Search Console. It's easiest to export your data from GSC, and map the clicks to the keyword set you defined. Alternatively, you could also rely on keyword tracker data for this. This might be slightly less reliable but helps you identify your major competitors and their share of voice in the keyword set.
Divide the number of clicks by the total search volume, and you'll get your Share of Voice.
Limitations of Share of Voice as SEO KPI
When using the Share of Voice in presentations to your client or your management, it's crucial to explain that Share of Voice can never be 100%. This can be a bit confusing, but no site is ever going to capture 100% of clicks for a search term - let alone a large set of search terms. Even if you would rank #1 for all the keywords in the keyword set, you wouldn't get more than 40% of all search volume. There's competition from ads, featured snippets and the other results in the SERP.
This doesn't make Share of Voice less meaningful, because it's a great KPI to track over time and show your results. Just make sure everyone understands what it means.
Non-branded search traffic
We've discussed the limitations of looking at organic traffic as a KPI: imagine there is a big growth in search traffic for your brand name, for instance, because of a large television campaign. Everyone who saw the ad instantly starts Googling your brand name and ends up on your site. This traffic is attributed to the Organic channel, but it would not be fair to give the SEO specialist credits for that.
Therefore, we need to look at branded vs. non-branded traffic. Any search that contains your brand name is a branded search (like adidas), whereas a search for a generic term (like running shoes) is non-branded.
You'll often find that branded search makes up a lot of the search traffic, especially for well-established brand names. That's because your brand name is unique to you, and it's a lot easier to rank for. Also, these people already know your brand. Maybe they're just like me: too lazy to type in the URL in the address bar, and rather Google instead. But can you really credit the SEO team for that session? Nah.
The real growth comes from non-branded searches. By publishing content that attracts people who didn't know your company, you get new visitors. In time, these people may become loyal customers. That's real growth.
How to measure branded vs. non-branded search traffic
Google Analytics won't help us find branded / non-branded traffic: it doesn't have any keyword data. Therefore we need to turn to Google Search Console. To find the number of clicks we got from non-branded searches, go to the Performance section and apply a filter on the query, filtering out your brand name. Like this:
This will show you how many clicks you got from non-branded searches. Keep in mind that Google applies sampling to the data, so the number of clicks you see is lower than the actual number of clicks you got for these keywords.
Despite that, the data gives you insights into how non-branded traffic evolves over time, and which content ranks for non-branded searches.
We've created a handy tool to measure your branded and non-branded traffic. It also helps you see which non-branded keywords perform best, which content ranks for non-branded terms, and it shows you how the branded / non-branded share has evolved over time.
Limitations of non-branded traffic as a KPI
No KPI is perfect, and that's also true for non-branded traffic. The risk of focusing too much on non-branded traffic is that you might lose sight of the value this traffic brings. Search Console won't tell you if these non-branded searches brought in any revenue or goal conversions. Analytics won't tell you which search terms people used. So how do you understand the real value of non-branded traffic?
One way is to look at the landing pages of non-branded search traffic. In Search Console, you can see which pages got non-branded traffic. Next, look up these pages in Google Analytics and see if those sessions were useful: did they bring people that signed up for a newsletter, downloaded a whitepaper, or ordered products? Or just people who left right away. Keep that in mind.
More SEO metrics, and why you should not use them as KPI
There are many other SEO metrics to report, that may be useful, depending on your situation. Some relevant metrics are:
- Number of keywords ranking 1-3
- Impressions in Google
- Page speed score
- Bounce rate
These may help you track the progress of your SEO project, and can be valuable to use internally. But keep in mind these are just steps in between. A better page speed or a lower bounce rate is great. But if it does not contribute to the business goals, what is the point of tracking them, and reporting them to your client or your manager?
Keep in mind that your client or your management is interested in the end result, that contributes to their business goals. By showing how SEO contributes to their business goals, you show the real value of SEO. And the closer your KPI is to that business goal, the easier it is to show your value.