Are You Monitoring SEO Performance?
An SEO issue that goes unnoticed, even for a few days, can have a huge impact on business — so what metrics can you use to detect problems and be monitoring SEO performance early? An any credible SEO expert, guru or ninja will tell you, monitoring SEO performance of your website is crucial to establishing a solid and lucrative search engine marketing strategy. With the amount of updates and improvements Google makes each year to its search engine, drops in rankings can happen at any time. If you’re only checking your SEO metrics every month or so you may be missing vital information and site performance issues that are affecting your search engine rankings. If that’s happening, you’re likely losing website traffic, website conversions, and ultimately revenue. It’s important for you, or your SEO consultant, to diligently be monitoring your site’s SEO performance, at least for the first 6-12 months. For your SEO strategy to be successful, a proactive approach to monitoring SEO performance should be your top priority when executing a campaign or hiring a professional SEO company.
So What SEO Metrics Should I Monitor?
If you’re not using Google Analytics to monitor your website’s SEO performance on a daily and weekly basis, you better start now. Google provides a variety of very useful SEO metrics that allow you to track and tweak your website’s performance in search. Keep in mind that the metrics you’ll look for won’t solve the problem or heal your site’s SEO health, but they are very useful in analyzing and troubleshooting exactly why you’re experience a decrease in rankings and/or website traffic. I recently put my website and domain through a crazy whirlwind of activity that had major implications for my SEO and position in rankings. This website typically brings in 50-60% of daily website traffic through organic search. That’s a huge chunk of traffic that I really on Google to refer to me, so I need to make sure I’m constantly monitoring SEO performance for my site, and for each and every client. You need to the do the same for your website or those of the client’s you’re consulting with.
So let’s get to it. I’m using an article from Search Engine Land as the source for these SEO health monitoring methods. “The alert methods, frequency and conditions mentioned in this article are recommended for a vast majority of sites, but will need to be adjusted for sites with special needs or highly aggressive SEO programs.”
How To Monitor Key SEO Metrics
1. Dips or Spikes in Organic Traffic
Every business wants a spike in their website’s organic traffic after executing a SEO strategy. Even the smallest of changes can affect your organic search position. For tips to diagnose a drop in organic traffic, follow these steps.
- Dig into any recent changes with any aspect of your website. This could be hosting, 301 redirects to new pages, DNS changes, or even the addition of new plugins. You’ll want to use some of the other SEO metrics discussed in this post to help you find where these issues originated.
- Check the organic traffic for different areas of your website. For example, is it just one set of pages that have lost traffic, or is it your whole entire website? Best case scenario, the issue is segregated to one section of your website and not the whole entire beast.
- After going through the data, break it down to mobile (smartphone and tablet) and desktop traffic. This will allow you to see if your mobile SEO is the issue.
- Depending on the size of your organization and the level of communication between the SEO consultant or agency, the marketing division, and the sales division, you may need to dig deep and see if there have been any internal changes in sales efforts or marketing tactics.
Pro Tip: Google Analytics allows you to create a custom alert which will email you anytime there is a 5% or more increase/decrease in organic traffic, measured from the previous week.
2. Direct Traffic Fluctuations
I’m not sure why, but many CMO’s and SEO “experts” focus primarily on organic traffic and seem to pay little homage to direct traffic. Maybe that’s because the organic traffic really shows how well (or not well) the SEO consultant’s strategy is performing.
“Direct traffic is actually a huge performance metric because many times users will find your site through organic search first, then come back direct in the future.”
Groupon recently published a study showing that 60% of what Google Analytics defines as “direct traffic” is actually organic traffic. If you’re seeing an increase in direct traffic, follow these steps:
- Check to see if the organic traffic is experiencing the increase.
- Get back to mobile and check mobile device usage to see if it has increased. With the updates in many popular mobile browsers, it turns out that they do not pass on the http referrer data to Google Analytics.
- If you’re tracking your url’s using UTM tags they provide great insight but, you will certainly notice a decrease in direct traffic.
- Look into the organization structure and see if there have been any decreases in marketing and/or sales activity. When brand awareness starts to disappear, direct traffic decreases very soon after.
Pro Tip: Create a custom alert for when there is a 10% or more increase/decrease in direct traffic, measured from the previous week.
3. Decreases In Referral Traffic
Remember link building? While still important, the content of the linking is more of a factor with rankings. Monitoring link performance using this metric will allow you to see if you’ve lost any backlinks that were previously brining you regular daily referral traffic. Here’s what to do to diagnose link issues:
- Go through your link profile and your popular referring websites and see if you happened to lose an inbound link.
- If the backlink is still there, double check to see that the webmaster didn’t make it a “no follow” all of a sudden. They may have also made a change to their code, SEO, or website marketing strategy, which could cause less referrals to your site.
Pro Tip: Create a custom alert for when there is a 10% or more increase/decrease in referral traffic, measured from the previous week.
4. Changes is Sessions
Sessions, or Visits as they used to be called in Analytics, are clearly an important SEO metric to monitor. This is especially true these days because of the ubiquitous nature of multiple types of digital communication devices and WiFi. Add to that the fact that users will return to your website from a different device that they originally visited your site with or via a separate marketing tactic you used. “Measuring the overall growth or declines in sessions will give you an idea of your overall success of marketing tactics at a very high level.” Pro Tip: Create a custom alert for when there is a 10% or more increase/decrease in sessions, measured from the previous week.
5. Mobile Device Usage
As noted above, mobile browsers these days do not return the http referee data on to Google as much as they used to back in the day. This sometimes still happens with some desktop browsers. Any SEO knows it’s a challenge to measure the ROI for SEO strategies executed these days because of the increased in mobile usage. The amount has likely increased fro the time I wrote this to the time you read this sentence. Pro Tip: Create a monthly automated email in analytics for mobile device usage, measured from the previous month.
6. Have You Measured Page Load Time Recently?
Page load time is such an important metric that isn’t discussed nearly as much as it should be, especially for monitoring the SEO health off your website. If you think about it from purely a technical SEO perspective, the time it takes for any page of your website to load, directly impacts the user – your prospective or returning customer. Search engine rankings, SEO performance, website conversions and user experience (UX) are all critical factors that can be negatively affected due to a slow loading landing page. Google will look at long page load times as a negative quality factor, which will cause your to lose position in search rankings. Essentially, Google’s search spiders will not be able to crawl your site easily. That’s the last thing you want to do is give Googlebot a hard time when it’s trying to crawl and index your website. What’s even worse than that is having pissed off users on your website. Think about it, how much patience do you have on any website that takes too long to load properly. Would you stay on long enough to make a purchase? I’ve heard that the idea page load time is 3 seconds or less.
Pro Tip 1: Create alerts where you get notified if a page exceeds 4 seconds. Pro Tip 2: Another alert can notify you if page load time increases by more than 10%. Pro Tip 3: Use gtmetrix.com to help assess what is killing your page load time.
7. Crawl Error Reports
If you’re not using Google Webmaster Tools along with your Analytics, you should start today. Their crawl report is an SEOs best friend when it comes to monitoring not only your SEO health but the overall health of your entire website. Webmaster tools will alert you of error that may happen somewhere in the back-end and that are difficult for you to find. If you’re setting up 301 and 302 redirects, webmaster tools keeps track of those and will alert you if any get missed. What if someone links to your website but for some reason had an error in the url in the page content? Not to worry if you’re using this tool as it will let you know. Pro Tip: Click over to your webmaster tools email settings and check to allow Google to send you email notifications on any site errors.
8. Branded Keyword Impressions & Clicks
Keywords are still important to a comprehensive SEO strategy. We’ve been subjected to Google hiding the keywords that users are using to reach your website. They’ve hid them in Analytics but you can still get passed the dreaded keyword “not provided” routine by using webmaster tools. I use this section of webmaster SEO tools regularly with all of our clients. If you’re strategic and analyze that list carefully and diligently, you can find some ripe, low hanging fruit to pick and see some solid results with increased traffic.
9. Non-Branded Keyword Impressions & Clicks
There is a factor of “seasonality” in SEO circles when it comes to non-branded keywords and their impressions, clicks, and click-through rates (CTRs). It’s been said that “non-branded keyword performance can tell you a great deal about not only search performance, but also seasonality – which is a difficult theory to prove.” If you’ve had some change in website traffic, take a look at your impressions and consider if there was a change in keyword ranking and if there is the possibility of seasonality. As far as clicks and CTR’s go, you should check if you’re properly targeting keywords to the right users. Consider editing your meta descriptions as they may not be written as being relevant to your target audience.
10. Bounce Rate
Bounce rate has always been an important and measurable SEO metric and still is today. I’ve read that 50% is an average bounce rate. If you’re below that you’re doing well. If you see an increase in bounce rate on your website you could also be seeing something fishy going on with your SEO strategy. Consider the following:
- Are you publishing content that is no longer relevant to your readers?
- Does your site offer a poor user experience.
- How’s your page load time?
- Is your website mobile optimized? If not, you could have a lot of mobile traffic that is bouncing from your site.
- Are you using the right combination of long and short tail keywords and related phrase?
11. Decreases in New Visits
Monitoring the ratio of new users visiting your site versus returning visitors is a key metric when it comes to your SEO strategy. Look for spikes or decreases in visits from new users. If new visits are up, this would signal that your content is relevant and is driving traffic to your website. If your returning visitors are up, this shows that your content in engaging enough to warrant repeat visits from the same people. You should have a solid inbound marketing strategy to take advantage of this kind of repeat traffic.
If your website has an SEO issue that you’ve identified way too late, this can have a sever impact on your business. You need to be monitoring the metrics above on a daily or weekly basis. A few days of website and page errors can mean months, or even years, of hardcore SEO work to repair any damages. I recommend keeping track of the daily number of visits to your website, the top 10 landing pages, the top 10 blog articles, the time spent on the website, the bounce rate, and all social and other referral traffic. These simple and easy to find metrics can be helpful for quick daily SEO health monitoring. Google just released an iOS version of their Analytics app. Android users have had this luxury of website analytics in the palm of their hands for some time now. There are more than just these 10 SEO metrics that you should be monitoring. Read this article from Harrison Jones on SearchEngineLand.com for 11 more. What SEO metrics do you like to focus on?
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