The primary success metric for SEO is whatever the business uses to judge any other marketing channel. Therefore, regarding reporting on SEO, there doesn’t need to be a specific SEO tool to prove that SEO is working. Either there is sales/revenue/leads attributed to an organic channel or there isn’t.
There should of course be an analytics tool in place which can show whether traffic is contributing the goals of the business, but this tool should already be in place for every other channel. Ideally, the tool should use weighted multichannel attribution as in our fast-paced world a customer will always have multiple touches with a website and credit should be shared across the whole journey.
Even without a full multichannel attribution setup, there should still be indicators that SEO is driving the business forward. If it is too difficult to attribute a sale to an organic source, the lead source can be tracked back to organic touches through a tool like Marketo. If that is also too challenging a simple analytics report on pages per visit or bounce will show if visitors to the website are engaged or if they just leave without doing anything.
Using traditional analytics or business intelligence is the best option for reporting SEO progress on existing SEO efforts, but this will not work as well when a campaign is brand new.
Reporting on early progress
For brand new SEO efforts, my favorite solution is Google Search Console. Google Search Console is a peek under the hood as if you can see Google’s own analytics. This is the only tool that shows queries that a website is receiving impressions on even if the searcher does not click. This is a far better option than any SEO tool which makes a best guesstimate on SEO visibility based on the millions of keywords that they crawl. Google Search Console is not guessing, these are real words that users type to see a site.
Using Google Search Console, you can see early progress on SEO even as the pages are just getting crawled by Google. Newer pages and sites not be positioned very highly in Google, but even at lower positions they will be getting eyeballs from Google’s billions of users. At those low positions they may not get meaningful clicks, but even so I think just seeing the impression count grow is the best early indicator of SEO growth.
3 stages of SEO
I like to think about SEO performance in terms of three levels.
- Impression – this is the first level of SEO growth, each eyeball on a URL in Google search is considered an impression. Obviously at higher positions the impression number on a keyword will be higher, but even at lower positions there will still be users that do search deeper into Google and will see the website’s listing. Impressions are indication that a website or page is in a consideration set for search and growth in this metric is positive and declines are very negative.
- Clicks – A click is when a user clicks a search result and go through to a website. (This number may not always match visit data in analytics or logs packages as Google is just measuring how many clicks there were on a specific listing regardless of whether the webpage even loads. Short visits will not be picked up by script based tracking systems). Clicks are a factor of impressions as well as clickthru rate. As clickthru rate from search improves, the clicks/users will grow without any subsequent change in impressions.
- Conversions – this is the final and most important result from SEO traffic and is how SEO campaigns should be judged. If clicks are arriving to a website from search but not converting, this is when a conversion rate optimization effort would come into play.
In summary, these are all stages in an SEO effort. Impressions means a website is on the field, and eligible to play. Clicks are hits and progress towards an ultimate goal, but what really counts is the winning that happens from conversions.
In addition to search reporting, there are other great features in Google Search Console.
- Coverage – there are many gaps in this reporting, but it is the only source to know how many pages of a website are included in Google’s index. On the inverse when pages are being dropped out of the index from an error or other issue this is the place to find that out.
- URL lookups – On a URL by URL basis, Google Search Console has the option to see whether a URL is indexed, whether Google accepts a canonical suggestion, and you can even see how the page was rendered by crawler.
- Data comparisons – There are now 16 months of data in Google Search Console, so there are many possible comparisons you can make with data. For example, traffic can be compared year over year or week over week and you can even drill into specific URL’s and queries.
- Filtering – This leads into one of the best primary features of Google Search Console. You can compare sets of URL’s, keywords, devices, countries and many more options. You no longer need to just trust aggregated charts, but you can dig into the numbers behind the graphs
With these reports, here are some important things to look at in Google Search Console.
- Brand vs non-brand – many people might assume
that they are doing well in SEO based on just looking at the total number of
organic visits coming to their site; however, what they may miss is that much
of this could just be branded traffic. While brand traffic is great, it does
not indicate SEO success. The click for brand arrived organically simply because
the user clicked through from Google rather than directly typing the domain
name into their browser. Growth of branded traffic will plateau at the natural penetration
level of the brand. Branded SEO traffic
will only grow at the same rate that a brand expands its awareness. On the
other hand, non-brand traffic could grow infinitely if a company continues to
imbue creativity in their SEO efforts.
Knowing the ratio of brand to non-brand traffic is critical to assessing current progress on SEO efforts. For companies that have not yet invested in SEO, its not unreasonable that their brand vs non-brand ratio would be 90/10 whereas a company that has smaller brand footprint investing in SEO for many years might be closer to 20/80.
- Comparison report – Using the comparison tool, it’s important to do frequent year over year checks on important pages to ensure that they are continuing to accrue more traffic than the prior year. The same should be done for brand and other important queries. There may not always be something to do about it, but it’s important to at least know.
- Canonicals – As a canonical link is only a suggestion to Google, knowing whether those suggestions have been accepted by Google is very useful information. It is helpful to sort through URL’s receiving traffic to ensure that they match the expected URL’s and if there is a canonical issue.
- Errors – Unfortunately there are many errors that Google Search Console reports on which aren’t really concerning, but there are issues that are worth addressing. Some of the ones that are important are schema, crawling and definitely anything related to robots files.
In reporting on anything related to a business, you always want to connect the outcomes to the input. HR is not measured on the quality of sales produced by the employees they hire, while sales people are not compensated directly based on the performance of the accounting team. Likewise, SEO should not be measured on how well sales teams close the deals created from organic traffic sources, but they should be tied to goals on how that organic traffic performs once it arrives on the website.
Tools which show the growth of traffic as well as the next point where that traffic goes is really all that is necessary in order to show success at SEO. Extraneous tools like keyword research, testing, and crawling tools are helpful but they don’t truly elucidate the performance of SEO.