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How to Measure SEO Success: Key Metrics and Tools

SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. It encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects to SEO service, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes seo is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand. All major search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo have primary search results, where web pages and other content such as videos or local listings are shown and ranked based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users. Payment isn’t involved, as it is with paid search ads. In the article we will explain how to measure the success of your seo efforts and put a positive spin on your ranking even if it is not on first page. Keep in mind that while the objective of seo is to increase traffic and revenue to your through higher search engine ranking, success is also defined by achieving your goals for your seo or your website. Step one in this process is knowing what your success looks like and putting that into measurable terms.

What is SEO?

What is SEO? Search engine optimization or SEO is the process of increasing the visibility of a website by targeting the organic, editorial or natural search results. There are many ways to optimize a website including editing the content and the HTML or associated coding. Another way to increase SEO is by promoting a website to increase the number of backlinks, or inbound links. This next part will focus on improving SEO for your business using backlinks. Currently one of the best ways to increase SEO is by the use of quality articles or posts that are related to your website. Studies have shown that these are the best way to increase page rank and rule over keywords at the same time. The main goal for these articles is to provide information and influence the reader to visit your website. A great way to show links to the reader is by creating a very small and discrete advertisement on a high traffic site similar to your own, and paying the site owner to post it. This ensures that the people visiting the site are interested in your content and service. Another way to display links is by placing them in high visibility areas, where users are more likely to notice them.

Importance of measuring SEO success

If there is a way to measure the worth or effectiveness of something, there will always be people or companies looking to manipulate and cheat the system for their own gain. The importance of SEO means that there is a wide variety of different types of individuals and companies looking to learn more about how to adopt the practice in order to increase their own visibility or companies to serve others in need of SEO. This practice is commonly referred to as black-hat SEO. This can lead to a variety of spam tactics on a wide range of web platforms. Some spam is so deceitful and well written that it can affect the web visibility of major corporations who unintentionally become victims to a search engine filter, manual review, or an algorithm change causing a great deal of web traffic loss. Understanding the avoidance of potential pitfalls and the risk involved with changes to SEO can help one prepare for or avoid damage control scenarios. SEO has a very wide demographic and is an essential field of learning for students from many areas of marketing and information systems as well as entrepreneurs and small business owners who need to acquire low cost, effective methods of online marketing.

Search engine visibility is also a cost-efficient alternative to more traditional marketing methods. The effectiveness and strength of your SEO can be measured using a variety of web analytics and SEO tools. Tracking your rank for specific keywords over time helps to gauge the effectiveness of changes made to your website and for those keywords. Associating changes in site traffic with specific search engine algorithm updates can help identify possible search engine penalties. A variety of tools can be used to measure indexation, inbound links, trust and citation flow from links, social shares and more. Being able to measure the value of SEO is crucial to knowing how to spend your time building traffic to your site. Tracking these metrics over time can help show the return on investment from SEO and how this is affecting your website compared to changes in other online and offline marketing methods.

Companies with a website must know how many people are visiting, where these visitors are coming from, and which specific traffic sources are the most suitable. It is critical to know the number of people coming to your website from search engines and the level of success of these visitors. A web analytics system can be used to track the amount of visitors to your site from search engines, whether or not these visitors are new or repeat visitors, what specific keywords were used to find the site, and much more. This information is critical to understanding how the search engine is affecting your site. Even if you’re not able to really realize it, search engines are the primary method in which the majority of internet users are finding websites. These users may be individuals searching for your service or product, or they may be customers. They may be looking for information, to purchase something, to save money by buying online, or may simply be directed to your site from offline advertising. If people are unable to find your site using a search engine, it is likely that your site does not effectively serve a large portion of your target market.

Key Metrics for Measuring SEO Success

Organic search traffic Traffic from organic search results is one of the most important success factors for most websites. There are many different ways to increase traffic to a website, but search traffic is unique in that it is highly targeted. For example, a user searching for “blue women’s shoes” has very specific intentions. Because of this, search traffic often has a higher chance for conversion than other sources of traffic. Trend data for organic traffic can be an incredibly powerful tool. This data is often overshadowed by ranking data, but it’s important to know if changes in your traffic patterns are a result of changes you made, or if it’s an external factor. For example, knowing if a large news event has negatively impacted your traffic can help you to make the decision to wait it out, or make page changes to recover.

There are several key metrics you should be focused on in order to determine the success of your SEO efforts. We’ll go through many of these below. It’s important to note that what’s most important is analyzing the data on your own website. If you’re comparing your data to industry data, the correlation of what changes you make to the results you see will be much less clear. If you do have to compare though, it’s important to weigh the value of the metric against the amount of competition there is for that keyword. For example, top rankings may be more important to a small, relatively unknown niche website than a large company.

Organic search traffic

It is important to be able to segment traffic and to find out exactly where that traffic is coming from. Are those new incoming visits arriving via an article that was written about your company? Perhaps a link from a partner site? By far the best way to increase levels of organic search traffic to your site is to increase the rankings and therefore click-through traffic of your various landing pages. Always ensure that you are cross-referencing increases in organic search traffic with changes in the level of SEO work that has been carried out.

This is the most widely used indicator for measuring SEO success. Increased levels of organic search traffic are generally a good sign that your SEO is heading in the right direction. Organic search traffic is not the be-all and end-all of SEO success. It is possible to have increased levels of organic search traffic yet be a site that fails to convert this traffic into sales or new business. Always remember that the ultimate goal of SEO is to rank highly for certain keywords, so the traffic arriving for these keywords is the most important. Always remember to cross-reference increases in organic search traffic for specific keywords with increases in keyword-specific traffic.

Keyword rankings

A keyword is a word or phrase an internet user would type into a search engine when trying to find what the website has to offer. This is the central point of SEO, when a website is optimized around a certain keyword it will rank higher for that keyword. The general goal is to be on the top (position 1-10) as research has shown that most people do not go past the first couple of pages. Keyword rankings can be measured a number of ways with the simplest just searching the keyword in a search engine and looking for the website. This quickly becomes impractical for websites with a large number of keywords or even a single keyword which is optimized around multiple Landers. An easy alternative is to create a spreadsheet with a list of keywords and an automatic weekly rank checker. For multiple Landers it may be best to give each a specific ID and just check the individual page ranking. Yahoo Site Explorer has an option of downloading a site’s rankings for a selected search term as a CSV file. This provides a more detailed insight to keyword rankings giving exact sub-domain and Lander URL along with the position and changes in position. After working hard to optimize a site seeing a keyword hit the number one spot can be very satisfying, it is a worthy incentive for the work that has gone into SEO and can be a strong morale boost for those involved.

Conversion rate

‘Conversion Rate’ can add another evidence of ROI by being able to determine revenue value of a single visitor from each traffic source. This is done by telling the visitor’s source by the URL or referrer and then analyzing the visitor’s onsite behavior. If the company’s customers make on average 3 sales a month, it can be determined that each sale is worth 1/90 of the monthly ad spend.

A conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to a website who take action to go beyond a casual content view or website visit, as a result of subtle or direct requests from marketers, advertisers, and content creators. This is a valuable metric for SEO because the whole point of most SEO campaigns is to increase website traffic in hopes of producing more business. Conversion rate can measure the success of an SEO campaign by the increase of desired action after the audience has landed on the page. This action can vary from buying a product, to signing up for an account or a newsletter.

Bounce rate

When a visitor enters a website and quickly clicks the back button, that is recorded as a bounce. The bounce rate is calculated as the percentage of total visitors who visit only one page and then leave. A high bounce rate can be seen as a negative result, as it may indicate that the visitor did not find what they were looking for. The bounce rate can vary from industry to industry, and there is no definitive ideal rate. If a website has multiple pages of valuable content, products, or services, a high bounce rate could be an indication of a problem where certain pages are not engaging visitors. Google Analytics provides a simple way to view bounce rates for an entire website and individual pages. This can help to identify which pages are turning visitors away and will need Bounce Rate Optimization (BRO) to improve how they engage visitors.

Click-through rate (CTR)

Click-through rate (CTR) Click-through rate is the ratio of users who click on a specific link to the number of total users who view a page, email, or advertisement. It is commonly used to measure the success of an online advertising campaign for a particular website as well as the effectiveness of email campaigns. Click-through rates for ad campaigns vary tremendously. The very first online display ad shown for AT&T on the website HotWired in 1994 had a 44% click-through rate. Currently, the average click-through rate for display ads is 0.1%. Click-through rates are highly sensitive to changes in campaign factors and creative executions. Measures such as the “Do Not Track” setting now being implemented can still give users a feeling of privacy, although tailoring provides benefits for the users and the advertiser. For a search engine, a high click-through rate is related to a high-quality score. High click-through rates are an indication that users often find the ads more relevant and helpful. This can also help the website improve the landing page, which can have an effect on quality score and ad rank in reducing cost per click and cost per conversion. A recent study by the search engine marketing firm WordStream has shown that there is a strong correlation between high click-through rates and high organic search rankings.

Tools for Measuring SEO Success

Other areas worth exploring in Google Analytics are the engagement and content tabs. War checking to see if you are ranking for targeted keywords has resulted in an increase in time on site and/or lower bounce rate. This can be done by comparing data to the past or checking the data after search traffic has landed on the site. It would be worth creating a custom report to track the top or landing pages which are most relevant to the keywords targeted during a campaign. This data will show if the increase in rankings has resulted in more traffic to these pages.

There are numerous metrics worth tracking in the free tool which can give a good indication of whether an SEO campaign is having a positive or negative effect. Organic search traffic is the most obvious place to start. This can be broken down to show the volume of traffic coming from each search engine. Comparing this data to past performance can show any increases/decreases in search engine market share. A date comparison function is also available which can be used to compare one time period to another. This can be useful to compare before and after a site migration. It is important to ensure that the search engine’s data is being received correctly. This can be checked under the ‘traffic source’ menu on the left-hand side and selecting the search engine.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is one of the best tools for understanding how your work is having an impact on your site overall. In order to use Google Analytics, you will need to have added the tracking code onto your site and set up an account on One of the key reports in Google Analytics which is essential for monitoring SEO success is the Organic traffic report. This can be found by navigating to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels and then clicking on ‘Organic Search’. This report will show you a graph of your organic search traffic and allow you to compare it against previous time periods. This alone won’t give you the full picture of how your changes in SEO are impacting traffic to the site and the quality of the users coming through. To go deeper, you can use the landing pages report found under Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages. This report allows you to see which landing pages received organic traffic and will tell you the volume of sessions that started on that page, the bounce rate, the session duration, and the pages per session. By observing this report regularly, you can identify when any of your SEO elements begins to have an effect and then can assess the quality of your new users. In this way, Google Analytics actually helps you to measure both the quality and the quantity of your SEO.

Google Search Console

Another free tool to give you an idea. Google Search Console will cover the keywords that your site is actually ranking for and is optimized. It will display the average position and the number of click-throughs. This is useful since it is all well and good optimizing for a keyword, but if it is not ranking then you need to do more work. It is also good for identifying any 404 errors for pages that Google is trying to index and being aware of these is very important when you are considering redirecting these pages. This tool will also give you an index for your click-through-rate, as well as display the number of impressions which indicates the number of times the site has been seen in search results. This software will also give an insight for mobile usability and functionality which is going to be a key aspect going into 2015, since mobile-friendly websites will receive a boost to ranking compared to those that are not. This is a quick win and easy conversion when simply identifying issues and this can bring around an increase in organic traffic.


Although Moz is a paid tool, you can use it for free but with limited access. With it, you can essentially do broad keyword research and get a pre-assessment of a keyword’s potential to perform well. You can also check your site’s rankings and see any site issues. You can do competitive analysis, find link building opportunities, and see what the anchor text is of your inbound links. Finally, you can track your site’s growth in the SEOmoz index. It is a helpful tool in tracking ranking and the crawl diagnostic tool is definitely one of the better features. This tool essentially checks your site for common SEO issues. These could include duplicate content, 4XX errors, too many links on a page, etc. If you are having a specific issue with your site and want to eradicate all possible known causes, this tool can quickly check your site and identify potential issues. Finally, you can track your site’s growth in the SEOmoz index. This is demonstrated using a chart through how many keywords your site is ranking for and how well. This provides a benchmark for one to compare increases in traffic to the site.


It’s good to consider the company and the prospective return. SEMrush is an entire marketing toolkit that covers several bases for online marketing, including SEO. It’s useful for extracting data that will help find useful information for improving SEO and in turn, the website’s performance. SEMrush tends to work best when targeting a specific keyword or comparing it to another similar domain. Reading the data will often lead to finding areas of improvement through comparisons with competitors. Any significant drops in keyword rankings can be taken straight to the rank tracking tool, providing it’s in the position tracking section. Here, keywords can be input and compared with the following data and it’s a great measuring stick for SEO performance and its organic search. SEMrush can also provide an instant audit on the health of a website using its ‘site audit’ tool. This will highlight errors and warnings that act as obstacles in the way of search engine bots trying to crawl the site. Finally, the market leader reports provide a visual means of comparing data to competitors and eliciting a plan of attack to try and improve. We compared Moz and SEMrush on their keyword and keyphrase analysis. The results showed that Moz was much simpler in its presentation and data. It was easy and quick to find an area of a keyword/keyphrase and the results displayed an overall simplistic view, with low to moderate detail. SEMrush could be overwhelming at times with the amount of data to process but answered many questions on the keyword’s relevance with a search for related keyterms. Overall, it could prove to be more useful with effort and contemplation from the user and the keyword’s difficulty was a unique but still useful focus. Data on potential traffic and the keyword’s competition was more detailed and easier to use than Moz.


You can use Ahrefs to perform competition analysis, track keyword phrases in search engine advertising, and also to monitor the backlinks of your website. Ahrefs is used by a lot of SEOs because of its large index of backlinks data. Ahrefs also offers an easy-to-understand interface, which also has gotten a major facelift in 2016. Besides just performing backlink checking, Ahrefs has an extensive suite of SEO tools that is suitable for SEOs of all skill levels. Even beginners can easily learn how to use all the tools in Ahrefs. One of the sites that is often being checked using Ahrefs is Wikipedia. According to data in YCombinator startup, Ahrefs was able to crawl 9 billion pages and 3 trillion linking URLs in 2013. This massive data storage allows users to gain valuable insight into competitor backlink data.

Finally, consider this: all of these metrics are just numbers. They don’t have value until we create meaning around them, and we determine what actually constitutes success for the SEO campaign. What matters is taking this data, and using it to inform our decisions. Once we determine what success actually looks like, we can take these metrics and quantify what is working and what isn’t. Are we seeing an increase in rankings, but no spike in organic traffic? Then maybe our keyword research and on-page SEO is drifting out of relevancy, and needs to be reevaluated. Are we seeing more traffic, but a decrease in conversions? Maybe we are attracting the wrong audience, and need to restructure our website’s information architecture. Whatever the case, collecting data and analyzing these metrics provides us with the insights we need to make the right decisions for the future of our SEO campaigns. Aggregation of this data over time, benchmarking it against the success metrics and continually iterating upon the campaign ensures we identify the trends that lead to success and focus our efforts on the right areas.

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