If you ask 10 SEOs what their top SEO Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are, you’ll likely receive 10 different answers.
The reason is that KPIs are situational; they are specific to each type of business.
Accordingly, the following are nine KPIs that can be considered important for a wide variety of online monetization models.
An interesting thing about KPIs is that KPIs aren’t always metrics that show where you are winning. They can also be metrics that show where improvement is needed.
Many people rightly focus on metrics related to winning and focus on improving those in order to increase sales, conversions, and other metrics of winning. It’s a good approach.
But there are also KPIs related to failure, and those can be useful for identifying new areas to find success.
So, this survey reviews KPIs related to success and failure, investigates shortcomings in popular KPIs, and introduces additional KPIs that may not be widely known.
1. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a metric that measures the earnings each customer brings.
In the context of SEO, CLV helps a business identify which SEO activities result in the greatest positive financial impact.
Jeff Coyle, co-founder of AI-based content strategy SaaS company MarketMuse, is passionate about CLV and feels it is an important KPI for many businesses to be aware of.
Jeff Coyle said this about the CLV KPI:
“My perspective on using CLV and why it connects to core KPI is because it’s a Unifying metric.
I love unifying metrics because all teams, all silos, have to support it.
It forces people who typically focus only on one stage of the funnel to think bigger, to think customer-centric.
So in terms of content, it typically means all teams have to think about the entire funnel, all personas, all levels of expertise of the future and present customers.
An SEO focused on a myopic one keyword to one webpage SEO hack or publishing low-quality content may be able to get lucky with a ranking every once in a while.
But that type of strategy isn’t going perform well with CLV growth.
Similarly, a PPC person or a demand generation marketer who isn’t willing to support full funnel content at awareness stage and all the way down but they should, especially for support and customer content.
They get paid on leads and conversions.
Customer Lifetime Value makes them have to care about all the content. It makes them care about customer success, renewals, support and exponential viral growth.”
According to Jeff, focusing on CLV forces all parts of the company to hone what they do toward keeping the company growing year over year.
2. Content Efficiency
Jeff had one more KPI he wanted to share, and this one is Content Efficiency.
Content Efficiency is a fascinating metric because it’s about optimizing content not just for search engines but for achieving company goals for that content.
Jeff explains it like this:
“My other favorite KPI is content efficiency. It’s about how many content items you publish, how many content items you update and/or optimize versus how often those pages meet their goals and predicted ROI.
Average content teams create content that reaches 10% of their goals, 10% of their content is successful.
I get teams operating 40% or more, where 40% or more of their content achieve their intended goals. That percentage defines good content teams.
Looked at another way, the company with the team performing at 10% Content Efficiency is a company that is spending 10 times what they think they are spending on content to achieve their goals.
How much does content cost? $400 to $500 a page? They only get meaningful results from 10% of that content.
So, their effective cost per successful content motion (publication and updating the content) is like $5,000 for the average team.
For a team operating at peak Content Efficiency, the cost is around $2,500 to $3,000 to achieve their goals.
Using Content Efficiency as a KPI, that’s when people really start wanting to improve their content strategy and transition to data-driven decision making for what to create and what to update.
Content Efficiency is one of the core MarketMuse value propositions. Personalized Difficulty metrics. You know what to build and how much you need to invest to make an impact.”
3. Average Engagement Time
I next asked someone who specializes in analytics, Kayle Larkin, about KPIs.
Kayle is an Analytics and SEM consultant for B2B and ecommerce sites in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia, as well as a Content Writer here at Search Engine Journal.
She shared about a KPI available in Google Analytics 4 that tracks user engagement with a website, something that can be difficult to accurately measure.
“GA4 (Google Analytics 4) improved our ability to measure whether or not a user engaged with the website.
Average engagement time tells us the average length of time that the site had focus in the user’s browser. That means the user was most likely looking at it.”
4. Conversion Goals By Percent-Based Metrics
Kayle next advised reviewing KPIs as percent-based metrics:
“The most important KPI is conversions/goals. Which should only be that which makes your company money.
However… Don’t forget to look at goals by percent-based metrics, not solely raw event values.
Because if your traffic is increasing, the number of goals will naturally increase too.
But, if the goal conversion rate (expressed as a percentage) is dropping then maybe the organic campaign is not as efficient as it could be.
Or, on the flip side maybe traffic is decreasing but goal conversion rate is increasing because you’re better focused/speaking to your target audience.”
Those two are the main KPIs from an “Is this organic strategy performing well over time?” viewpoint.
5. Accurate Search Visibility KPIs
Next, I asked Cindy Krum, and she shared two KPIs that are proprietary to her company, MobileMoxie.
The KPIs she shared are improvements to accurately assessing search visibility.
Most search ranking reports operate on the old model of 10 blue links. But, the search results are not 10 blue links anymore, they’ve evolved.
Cindy shows how there are more accurate KPIs to track that will give a better idea of search visibility.
Cindy shared metrics that provide a more accurate view of the search engine results pages (SERPs):
“At MobileMoxie, we are looking more and more at metrics that tell the story of the SERP – especially on important head terms.
We know that ranking in ‘Position 1′ isn’t what it used to be, so in our toolset we also look at things that give us more information about the ranking, such as ‘Pixels from the Top.’
We also compare the ‘Traditional Rank’ with ‘Actual Rank’.
Traditional Rank is what SEO’s are used to using, which excludes things like PPC, Knowledge Graph, and other Google assets in the SERPs.
So, what we do is compare Traditional Rank with Actual Rank, which counts everything in the SERPs that can push an organic ranking down, including PPC, Knowledge Graph, Answers, and other Google elements in the search.
This comparison tells us more about the value of each ranking and how visible a search position really is to a searcher.”
6. Brand Visibility In Search KPIs
Cindy next shared another metric that tracks brand visibility in a way that includes all of a brand’s assets, particularly off-site brand assets.
“We have also started caring much more about a brand’s over-all representation in a search result.
That includes how much of the SERP is dominated by brand assets, including content on the main site, and also other content, such as social media profiles and posts, YouTube videos, images, Knowledge Graph results, and everything else that could be a good representation of the brand, and help drive sales and awareness.
For years, SEOs have been optimizing off-site content, and we want them to start getting credit for that work too.
Off-site optimized assets are useful because they crowd competitors out of the SERPs.
So, we developed a score that we call the MoxieScore, that represents how much of a SERP a brand owns.
These are all important KPIs that we care about more now than ever before.”
7. New And Returning Users As KPIs
Jim Hedger, one of the hosts of the popular Webcology podcast, had an interesting take on using new and returning users as a KPI for optimizing web pages for more conversions, particularly for B2B websites.
Many KPIs are situational and depend on the type of site and who the visitors are. This idea about new and returning users as a KPI is no different in that regard.
Jim explains it like this:
“Most of us have clients with varying success metrics but each of those metrics have one thing in common, the site visitor must take a specific action, a conversion event, generally via a click.
Understanding how users get to the conversion event is critical to moving more users towards conversions.
Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Bing Webmaster Tools can give us relatively good event metrics representing page value in relation to those conversion points.
In Google Analytics, it’s easy to separate site users into new and returning segments.
This gives a wildly different view of which pages in a site are most valuable to which segment of visitors.
Returning users tend to convert at a far higher rate than new users, even though new users tend to heavily outweigh returning users.
New users and returning users tend to enter the website on different landing pages.
Knowing new users are more likely visiting the site for discovery and returning users are frequently visiting to convert, and learning which pages each segment tends to move through on their conversion journey helps SEOs craft content that better suits the site visitor’s intent.
You may be surprised by looking at any KPI while segmenting between new and returning visitors. Since I’ve been doing that, I’ve noticed how very different the actions of each segment are.”
According to Jim, looking at site visitors as a KPI and segmenting the traffic into New and Returning visitors, one will attain a better view of which users are most valuable, and why.
8. Average Time On Site – A Caveat
Average time on site seems like a no-brainer KPI to use for trying to measure the effectiveness of the content on different webpages.
But there are actually some limits to be aware of regarding this KPI that need to be considered before using this as a way to measure the engagement success or lack of success of website content.
Jeff Coyle shared this:
“The average time on site can be a little misleading because if they don’t exclude bounces the data is terrible.”
I asked analytics expert Kayle Larkin about it, and she cautioned that Average Time on Site needs to be justified with data before using it as a KPI.
“I don’t use Average Time on Site as a KPI so I’d have to see how they’re excluding bounces.
I guess this is one of those where and why things because it’s so situational.
Maybe if it was an affiliate site? Where you want people spending time on your page.
Maybe if they’ve found that people who spend between X and Z time have an increased conversion rate?
Otherwise, I’d ask why is this a KPI? How does this achieve business objectives?”
9. Revenue Per Thousand (RPM) And Average Position
Revenue Per Thousand (RPM) is a way to calculate how valuable your traffic is, particularly for ad-supported websites.
And, Average Position is a keyword ranking metric provided by Google Search Console.
Both of these KPIs can work together for identifying keywords and webpages that need improvement. This is one of those cases where to metrics working together can yield better insights.
I wouldn’t use this KPI in isolation to determine the effectiveness of a webpage. But, it’s a good way to measure changes over the course of time to evaluate how a change to a webpage affects earnings.
You can do things like make a webpage faster or swap in a different kind of ad unit and through the RPM KPI get an idea of how well or poorly the change affects earnings.
A Google AdSense help page describes it like this:
“Revenue per 1,000 impressions (RPM) represents the estimated earnings you’d accrue for every 1,000 impressions you receive.
RPM doesn’t represent how much you have actually earned; rather, it’s calculated by dividing your estimated earnings by the number of page views, impressions, or queries you received, then multiplying by 1,000.”
Revenue Per Thousand may not seem like an SEO KPI but ad-derived earnings can be tracked to SEO via the RPM metric.
The keyword and traffic choices made on the SEO side will determine the performance on the revenue side.
For example, a common SEO approach is to focus on high-traffic keywords.
But some high traffic keywords don’t have a sales-related intent and this can be reflected in a lower RPM metric.
The most valuable keywords to bid on, for advertising purposes, are the ones with a strong sales intent.
The RPM metric is a good starting point for evaluating which kinds of topics have a good blend of traffic and high earnings.
Average Position KPI
This is a Google Search Console metric that shows the average position of a keyword phrase in the search results.
Google defines this metric like this:
“Average position [Chart only]-
The average position of the topmost result from your site.
So, for example, if your site has three results at positions 2, 4, and 6, the position is reported as 2.
If a second query returned results at positions 3, 5, and 9, your average position would be (2 + 3)/2 = 2.5. If a row of data has no impressions, the position will be shown as a dash (-), because the position doesn’t exist.”
KPIs tend to focus on where a website is winning. And, if the KPI isn’t “winning enough” then the effort is made to improve the KPI scores.
But KPIs that show low performance can be helpful, too.
For the Google Search Console average position report, the keywords at the bottom provide goals for increasing traffic and expanding search visibility.
The first step is to match the low-performing keywords to webpages to see if maybe the page needs an additional paragraph to expand on a topic or maybe a new webpage is necessary.
If Google thinks your website is relevant for a certain keyword but not relevant enough to show it on page one of the search results, then that may be a sign that your website already has one toe on page one of the SERPs for that keyword.
Keywords listed at the bottom of the average position report can be an inspiration for new ideas for growing search visibility.
Top SEO KPIs
The concept of top SEO KPIs seems to me almost not possible to iterate because every business model has different goals. This is why I (and others) say that KPIs are situational.
Marketing Analytics Expert and Canadian Search Awards Judge Alan Knecht makes the observation that because every business is different, each business must begin formulating their KPIs based on their specific goals.
“Know what you want from your site, then measure that success. See if these successes improve at the same rate or faster than your SEO success.”
These top nine KPIs are not meant to be the absolute top KPIs. They are top because they are worthy of consideration and inspirational for developing your own KPIs that are relevant for your business.
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