Meaningful SEO metrics and where to find them

An unfortunate recent statistic unearthed from the Factual Blog has shown that less than 30% of businesses worldwide are using Google Analytics on their websites out of a 4 million site sample set (via Manoj Jasra at Web Analytics World Blog).  Unfortunate only because there seems to be a booming interest in search engine marketing, namely search engine optimization.  By no means does one need Google Analytics to measure indicators of success in SEO, but it sure helps.  Any web analytics tool should top your list of priorities when embarking in online marketing, but there are lots of other resources freely available to webmasters.

Web Analytics: Google Analytics or Yahoo Web Analytics

As mentioned already, the focus should be to start collecting web analytics from day one in order to benchmark any optimization effort.  In fact, collecting historical data a few weeks or a few months prior to optimization efforts can highlight key seasonality trends that you may mistake for successes or failures in website changes.  For example, did changes to your site enable it to start ranking for a keyword, or is it because you always ranked for the keyword?  You may not necessarily know for sure without historical data, but this shouldn’t be a stalling point.  A good guy (Avinash Kaushik) wrote a great article on search analytics, which is a super resource to answer common questions about measuring SEO efforts, I recommend giving it a read as well.

Metrics to watch:

  • Visits, time spent on page, and bounce rate by top entry page, segmented by Natural/Organic Search)
  • Reverse goal funnel, segmented by Natural/Organic Search
  • And to find a hint at visitor intent, top internal search queries segmented by Natural/Organic search
  • Visits by non-paid keywords, but filtered for branding, trademarked, or copyrighted terms.  It’s relatively easy to rank for keywords in your company’s name, domain name, or product names, but it’s often those long-tail generic terms you are optimizing.  Remove anything else that will contribute to noise.
  • Google Analytics “Intelligence” is a new report that does significance testing for you.  Use it to quickly identify and build segments related to significant changes in visitor behavior.

Google Webmaster Tools

Let’s face the facts, according to recent studies from various sources, the majority of search traffic still originates from Google, on the order of 60-70%.  Google Webmaster Tools gives a ton of insight into which keywords your website ranks in results for, as well as which keywords are clicked on.  Keep in mind, Google tests rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) and weighs long-term ranking through several factors, one of which being click-through rate and bounce rate.  So by keeping an eye on the keywords your website is ranking for, but not generating click-throughs for, might let you shift optimization efforts accordingly.  Again, Google Webmaster Tools is totally free to use, and easy to setup.

Metrics to watch:

  • Number of keywords triggering results for your site
  • Position of your site in the search results for specific keywords
  • Number of clicks to your site from keywords
  • Position of your site in the search results for specific keywords clicked
  • Diagnostic crawl stats can also provide insight into increasing, decreasing, or unchanged crawler activity to your site, which should be taken with a grain of salt

Competitive Intelligence

There are a multitude of competitive intelligence tools, free and paid, available online.  Due to sample collection and sample size, each tool has it’s pros and cons in terms of accuracy and precision, but they’re helpful nonetheless.  Free competitive intelligence tools include Alexa, Compete.com (free reports), and Google Trends. Paid tools include Compete.com, Hitwise, ComScore, Nielsen, and a host of other premium services.

Metrics to watch:

  • When comparing two sites side-by-side in Google Trends, for example, it’s important to avoid getting wrapped up in the actual values attributed to metrics, but focus on the trending of page views, unique visitors, etc.
  • Compare visitors referred from external sites to two or more competitors, but filter out large referrers such as search engines (premium tools such as Hitwise and Compete.com offer this functionality) to increase the resolution of those niche sites your links aren’t reaching.

Link Intelligence

Aside from competitive intelligence, which provides insight into which sites are sending traffic to you and competitors, consider link intelligence as well.  Search engines still value links on other websites as a ranking factor in their algorithm, so even if a link does not provide any traffic, it may still provide a boost in page rank (or SEO juice if you subscribe to “page rank” being dead).  Obviously there is no shortage of sites that track links between sites, however one great resource that is currently high on my list is Majestic SEO.

Metrics to watch:

  • Back-link discovery trending graphs can provide insight into how your link-building efforts are assisting page rank.
  • External backlinks and referring domains are also useful, but if links to a website are on each and every page in an external site’s template, trending these numbers could be meaningless.  Instead, consider focusing on external back-links PER referring domain.  The goal here is to ensure the ratio doesn’t become inflated with links to your homepage, but links embedded in actual content that’s relevant to deep pages on your site.

We truly live in an age of data overload. By no means is the above list exhaustive, as these tools and services are only a minuscule subset of resources available to marketers and web analysts.  Feel free to share your favorites below!

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12 thoughts on “Meaningful SEO metrics and where to find them”

  1. Would you recommend the Yahoo and Bing Webmasters Tools as well as Google's, or are they not worth the time/effort?

    It is mind-boggling that not all sites use some sort of analytics. The fact that a site is not worth the time to set up usage analytics bodes poorly for the worthiness of the site from a user's perspective as well.

  2. It's not that Yahoo or Microsoft/Bing's Webmaster's tools are bad, it's a matter of where to spend your time. At last check, Google still has north of 60-70% of total search traffic share, so most will want to cast their nets where the fish are. However, if you're on top of Google and want to expand your horizons, definitely keep a close eye on Bing. When they take over Yahoo's search function, they'll own close to 20-25% of search share worldwide.

  3. Well I agree that G Analytics is a great tool. But there is a growing cult out there that does not want to let G track their every detail. Anyway I am with Analytics form day one and I shall still remain for indefinitely long time. LOL>

  4. What growing cult would that be? 😉

    Oh, I know all too well Rooturaj, but the amount of information Google collects, or any search engine for that matter, is well beyond any of our comprehension, to be sure (I'm not even sure their engineers know how much data they collect). But at the end of the day, they want to make money as they provide value, and marketers definitely CAN make money using Google, so I think it's a fair trade-off. The benefit of having GA far outweighs the consequences of not measuring and monetizing your traffic.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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