A marketer’s basic SEO strategy is simple: improve rankings in organic search to get more clicks and therefore more conversions. The problem comes when we try to interpret our marketing analytics to see if we’re meeting those goals or not.
Wading through Google analytics can be overwhelming, but you don’t need to spend hours in page view purgatory to assess the key performance indicators (KPIs) for your SEO.
Instead, take the pulse of your SEO strategy on a regular basis with these two quick checks, which will help you monitor your landing pages’ average position in search engine results, the clicks they receive, and how well they are converting after a click.
Successful SEO = Improvements in Clicks, Rankings, and Conversions
A successful SEO strategy should be improving the average position of your landing pages in the search engine results pages (SERPs) at the very least.
If that’s happening but you’re not seeing a bump in clicks, then you need to investigate which specific landing pages aren’t performing.
Then take a look at the meta titles and meta descriptions of those pages and start tweaking.
If your position numbers are improving but your impressions aren’t, that can signal that your keyword strategy isn’t focused on terms that have sufficient search volume.
In that case you may need to widen your net to grab some bigger search fish.
Finally, if all the stats around your SERP are improving but there isn’t a corresponding jump in your conversions, then the fault may be not with your SEO but with your conversion funnel.
But before you can figure any of that out you need to have data. These two checks are how you get it.
Check 1: Use Analytics to Compare Landing Page Positions & Clicks Over Time
Keywords are no longer the driving metrics they once were for measuring SEO success; instead it’s time to start checking out your landing pages. Specifically you want to know how your popular landing pages are ranking in organic search and whether or not people are clicking on them.
Good news: it’s actually very simple to get into this information. Just click on the “Acquisition” section, and drill down into “Landing Pages” underneath “Search Engine Optimization.”
Here you’ll find a complete list of your landing pages, i.e. all the pages people hit first on your site (where they “landed”) after using a search engine.
That’s good information, but the real meaty stuff is the average position and the CTR (click through rate), which you’ll see broken out in the columns to the right of the URLs.
Average position for pages can be tricky, because you don’t know precisely what terms Google is using to determine the page’s rankings. But our goal here is a basic SEO health check, so we’ll leave this thorny issue aside for now.
In the “Average Position” column you see, “[t]he average ranking of your website URLs for the query or queries. For example, if your site’s URL appears at position 3 for one query and position 7 for another query, the average position would be 5 (3+7/2).”
This doesn’t help you figure out how the pages rank for particular terms, but if you add a second date range (such as the same length of time last quarter or last year), you can see how your average position, as well as your clicks and click through rate, for each page are changing over time.
Then if you add a second metric to compare on your graph, like this:
you’ll be able to compare how your changing position is affecting your CTR, or how improved positions are increasing impressions.
Depending on its function within your overall site strategy and layout, you may want to exclude your homepage. I did so in my example using the “Advanced Filter” option:
This lets you exclude particular URLs so you get the clearest possible picture of your organic rankings’ health. Oftentimes a homepage skews that, so check out this view both ways and decide which set of data is more useful to you.
Here’s what my graph looks like when I compare Impressions and Average Position for this month with last month:
Remember, this is a basic check up. All we’re looking for is an increase across all three primary metrics on this page: impressions, clicks, and CTR.
Then you can start getting more specific in your investigation on particular pages to see where there are opportunities for improvement.
Check 2: Monitor Goal Conversions From Organic Traffic
If you don’t have accurate goal tracking setup in Google Analytics, now is the time to take the plunge. Figure out the most valuable actions users can take on your site, how to monitor them, and what their value is.
Without these metrics in place, you can only track what Google analytics think is important for your site. Goals allow you to customize how you see and use this information, making it possible for you to create actionable KPIs within your analytics.
Vital goals include: subscribing to newsletter or blog updates, completing a download, or, of course, making a purchase.
The most important piece of setting up goal tracking is tagging the final page (usually the “Thank you” page) as the final step and then measuring how many times that page is viewed. But you can also tag all the pages that lead up to the final one so you can see where people are abandoning the process and adjust as needed.
Create your goals under the “Conversions” section, and you’ll have much more targeted information about which parts of your SEO strategy are contributing directly to conversions.
Once you have your goals established, head to the “Overview” section under “Goals” and you can get a stronger indication of your search engine marketing ROI.
The view here is of all the goals we have on our site, but you can break it up and check out each of your goals one by one (which will help you identify keyword groups where you site may be underperforming):
Interesting, yes, but not really related to search engine marketing ROI. To get there, we need to add a segment.
This section comes filled with pre-existing segmentation options, which you can star and otherwise arrange as you like. For SEO strategy investigation, you’ll want to select the “Organic Traffic” option:
This option will pull only organic search engine traffic; there’s another option labeled “Search Traffic,” but if you hover over it you’ll notice that the medium it’s sourcing is anything that matches “^(cpc|ppc|cpa|cpm|cpv|cpp|organic)$”
That might be good for other analysis, but since we’re limiting our insights to success or failure of SEO, we’re going to stick with “Organic Traffic.”
Here’s my data with this additional segment:
Now I can quickly and easily gauge the change in my conversions over time as impacted only by organic search engine traffic.
If you’re seeing negative or flat growth over time then it’s time to dive deeper again and see which landing pages are not pulling their weight on conversions and traffic.
If, on the other hand, you see a nice improvement in goal conversions as time goes on, then you can close Google Analytics knowing that your SEO strategy is doing its job and giving you a solid ROI.
Conclusion: Regular SEO Strategy Check Ups are Vital
By sticking to data about landing pages rather than keywords and segmenting your conversion data to reflect only organic search traffic, you can gauge the health (or illness) of your SEO strategy very quickly.
In a constantly evolving SEO landscape, these kinds of quick spot checks will help you stay on top of potential dangers and address issues right away.