4 smarter ways to measure SEO effectiveness

I find myself answering a lot of the same questions from new clients about ways to measure SEO. My answers generally fall into one of two categories:

  • Why basic/boilerplate SEO metrics aren’t good KPIs and how to make them better.
  • Which (more advanced) metrics we should establish to determine actual business impact.

This article will tackle the first category and show how to apply an advanced approach to make basic SEO KPIs far more effective indicators of success. The KPIs I’ll discuss include:

  • Traffic (visits)
  • Ranking
  • Conversions
  • Links

Let’s get started.

1. Traffic

Measuring SEO traffic week over week is as basic as it gets – and it’s missing nuances that can become clear with a couple of adjustments.

First, use Search Console to split traffic into brand and non-brand buckets.

Brand vs. non-brand chart in GSC.

There’s a simple reason for this: brand traffic is generally not a function of SEO. Instead, it’s influenced by awareness campaigns, including billboards, CTV (or linear TV) ads, programmatic campaigns, PR, and more. Brand search, in short, is a function of your overall marketing portfolio.

Non-brand search is where SEOs can shine, especially when you identify keywords at the most important stages of your funnel and prioritize them by potential impact. This often functions as the level of intent.

Educational keywords (e.g., “SEO best practices”) equate more or less to the top of the funnel and more transactional keywords (e.g., “best SEO agency for B2B”) align with the bottom of the funnel. 

Second, remember that seasonality impacts SEO as any other channel.

For this reason, it’s crucial to set up month over month, quarter over quarter, and year over year windows. I prefer QoQ and YoY over shorter comparisons.

Big SEO shifts, whether forced by an algorithm change or internally directed, require longer measurement cycles to prove real change.

2. Ranking

Relying on moment-in-time screenshots of your current keyword rankings will get you a limited idea of your overall campaign success.

Instead, consider these factors:

  • How are your target keywords ranking over time (MoM, QoQ, YoY)?
  • How are individual pages ranking?
  • Are you achieving actual milestones?
  • What are your trends?

Evaluating rankings over time will show you progress across possible calendar events and seasonal shifts. 

Instead of looking at a blended portfolio affecting a keyword, which offers less actionable insight, look at individual pages using Google Search Console. This allows you to isolate which specific properties are impacting rankings for a single keyword.

On the topic of milestones, not all ranking changes are created equal. You can move up 50 spots from 61 to 11, but that may have less impact than moving up a single notch from the top spot on page 2 of the SERPs to the last spot on page 1. 

Last, dig deeper to see the actual deltas of impressions and clicks that any rankings changes are driving. This also incorporates external trends. For instance, consider that you could have seen huge increases in impressions and clicks for “video conferencing software” in March 2020 without a change in your ranking for that keyword. 

The more activity around the keyword, the more competitive it will get – and the more potential impact it has on your portfolio.

3. Conversions

The 1.0 way to measure acquisition is to aggregate last-click conversions from organic search. Incorporating GA4, which uses a cross-channel, data-driven model with a 30-day lookback window for acquisition, will give you a more nuanced view of attributed credit for conversions. 

We could add many more layers here, including measuring the effects of SEO on other channels’ acquisition costs. 

For this post, which is meant to help you derive more meaning from relatively basic KPIs, let’s talk about building different conversion events aligned with the level of intent of the keywords you’re targeting (e.g., “download the guide” for educational keywords or “book a demo” for transactional ones). 

Your report might look like this:

GA4 conversion reporting.

Different conversion events, when used strategically with back-end CRM data, will have different values.

When you use a variety of conversion events that align strategically with your keywords, you should see an increase in conversion rate and get a more accurate picture of the value those keywords are driving.

Links are important. They’re still a ranking factor, and they can help measure the impact of your content.

That said, link quantity is a shallow metric. Links are simply a means to an end.

SEO’s overall purpose is to drive meaningful traffic and acquisition. Focusing on downstream KPIs without rolling them up to business impact (which is admittedly more complex) will do little to move the needle in important ways. 

If you focus on counting links, you’re incentivizing yourself to chase more links. The incentive should be actual impact.

Counting will give you a quantity bias and will shift the way you run your SEO program. If you focus on business drivers, you’ll be incentivized to deliver value, not volume

Volume is easy. Value is harder.

Prove the value of SEO with better metrics

For the most part, these are fairly easy adjustments to make, and they’ll help you paint a much clearer picture of the value you’re driving with your SEO program and how that’s trending over time.

In my next post, I’ll show how to take measurement to the next level by helping you understand how SEO is affecting your overall marketing efforts in relation to other channels. 

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Adam Tanguay is Head of SEO and Content at Jordan Digital Marketing, which he joined in Feb. 2019. Formerly Head of Marketing at Webflow and Head of Organic Growth at Weebly, Adam has developed successful growth programs with a mix of content strategy, copywriting, technical know-how, and analytics acumen across a range of organic channels.

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