SEO has some fairly easy to track KPIs. Our goal is to take actions that will result in higher search engine rankings, which result in more traffic, which in turn results in more conversions on our site.

These then are the KPIs of SEO:

  • Keyword Rankings for relevant terms
  • Organic traffic from search engines, including tracking what pages that traffic goes to
  • Conversions on-site from organic traffic. This can be direct sales in the case of ecommerce sites (in which case you’re measuring revenue from search engines), or RFQ form submissions, or email list sign-ups.

We’ll discuss how to actually measure all of these KPIs in the Analytics and Tools secion. But at the high level these are the KPIs that every SEO should be tracking.

A Few Words on Keyword Rankings

There has been a movement within the SEO industry for the last few years to move away from keyword rankings. This push is coming from the agency world in particular. The logic usually used is that clients tend to obsess over certain rankings and fail to look at the big picture, and that by focusing them on something other than keyword rankings… well, I suppose they’re less annoyed by their clients, or they don’t have clients complaining about only one single keyword and the client can focus more on the entire campaign.

I strongly disagree with the notion of ignoring keyword rankings.

Keyword rankings are one of the Key Performance Indicators for a good reason — improving rankings is the very heart of an SEO’s job. It is, in fact, nearly all of what we do. It is what the agency is being paid for! I understand that clients can become too focused on rankings (I’ve worked in agency life too) but a better solution is to educate clients, not throw out your ability to measure your results.

I would never trust a SEO who did not track key rankings and did not try to tie actions to ranking improvements. That SEO would never really know if they were making a difference on the site.

Keep in mind that search engine usage increases every year. Each year there are more searches than the year before. So, depending on your industry, if you did nothing at all and your rankings stayed exactly where they are, you would still get more traffic each year.

Comscore measure of growth of searches

Desktop Google searches, in millions. Source: comScore

Growth of mobile searches on Google

Mobile Google searches. Source: Google

So an SEO agency that doesn’t believe in keyword rankings could very likely be doing nothing useful at all, and still be able to report year over year organic traffic growth. And you’d better believe they’ll take credit for that growth. I have never in my life seen a SEO agency who said, “Well, some percentage of that growth is just natural and not due to anything we did.” Oh no — if there’s a 10% year over year growth, the agency is taking credit for all 10%.

Similarly, if traffic goes down, keyword rankings give you the ability to troubleshoot. If all your rankings are about the same (and you are tracking the right rankings) they you know it’s a seasonal decline, or just a random decline in search behavior. If your rankings do go down, you can pinpoint what keywords fell and begin to diagnose why: perhaps some competitors have been upping their game — if so, you should know about it! Or perhaps a tactic that you used gave only a brief freshness lift, and didn’t have lasting effects. You need to know that too, so that you don’t keep spending your time doing the same useless thing across the entire site.

I like to think that the agencies who don’t believe in keyword rank tracking really are just frustrated with clients who don’t get the big picture — but if an agency wanted to scam their clients, this is also exactly how to do it.

Keyword rankings are a KPI because if you get a traffic increase without a corresponding keyword ranking increase, then you were not responsible for that increase. Similarly, if keywords increase in ranking that you were not working on, odds are good that you were not responsible for that increase either.

The flip side of this is that increasing rankings is not enough. It has to be rankings that people are actually searching for in decent numbers: thus we also track organic traffic. And furthermore it has to be rankings that matter to your site — if you sell sneakers, ranking and getting traffic for “snowmen” isn’t going to be helpful to your business: thus we also track conversions from organic traffic.

If you leave any one of these KPIs out of the picture, you lose the ability to accurately measure the impact of your SEO efforts.

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