How do you pick the right SEO KPIs? With so many tools and so many metrics, what should you be tracking? In this episode, Crystal Carter shares five metrics that actually make a difference to your clients.
Crystal Carter is an SEO & Digital Marketing professional with over 15 years of experience working with SEO and marketing clients around the world like Disney, McDonalds, Tomy, and more. As a Senior Digital Strategist for Optix Solutions, she identifies and implements tactics that help businesses optimize digital activity, drive sales, engagement, and growth.
Track these five SEO KPIs:
- Conversions and your benchmark
- Revenue and transactions
- Target keywords and what you are actually ranking for
- Ranking position changes
- Traffic that brings conversions
What Are the Kpis for SEO?
David: Hey, it’s David Bain. What are the key metrics that you need to be tracking to determine whether or not your SEO activities are actually working? That’s what I’m going to be discussing today with Crystal Carter, senior digital strategist at Optics Solutions. Crystal, how many SEOs are actually getting it right, at the moment, in terms of tracking KPIs?
Crystal: Well, I think one of the things that’s tricky is that there’s a lot of data coming in from a lot of different data sets. So of course, you’ve got Google Analytics coming through, Google Search Console coming through, etc. We also have a lot of tools that people are using to track particular metrics. And then they’ll also be metrics coming in from other things that the client might have. A different CRM, that sort of thing. And then we also have social metrics. And every time somebody has a brand new idea, there’s a new thing to track. So I think that there are lots of different data coming through. So it’s really important to be able to hone in on the data that you actually need for what you’re actually doing.
And I think that what’s really important for an SEO is to understand the KPIs before you start setting out your deliverables. Your KPIs should be very clear. So that when you’re doing whatever SEO strategy you might be going to implement, you have a clear idea of how you can tell if it’s working, and how you can show the client if it’s working. And there are a few that I keep that are tried and tested that helped to do that in a really clear and consistent manner.
D: Understood. Was that a nice way of saying that too many SEOs are tracking too many metrics and getting a bit lost because they’re just doing too much?
C: Well, I think people sometimes get distracted by all of the bells and whistles and all of the charts that you can get from various tools. Sometimes clients can get very confused by some of the reports that we give them. We say this went up and that went up and they have no idea what that is or why that matters for their business. I think it’s really important that you’re able to show that and how it affects the bottom line and how it affects which needle you’ve actually moved. And that you understand and explain that to the client. So yeah, I think that sometimes people can be distracted by some of the metrics.
And people who are creating some of these tools, and there are great tools out there. One that springs to mind is the Core Web Vitals tools in Lighthouse. People will say we got 100 or we got this and people don’t know what the metrics mean.
D: But it feels good.
C: Yes, it feels good. Because you got that gold star, you got that the arrow that turned green. And you feel like you’ve done the job. But if that doesn’t actually satisfy what you need from a business point of view, then does it really matter? I think it’s really important to know what matters for your business or your client as you set out your activity and report on it.
Conversions and Seasonality Forecasting
D: So today, you’re sharing five top KPI pairings for SEO monitoring, starting off with conversions now and your benchmark. So what’s that all about?
C: That’s about understanding what’s good. Sometimes clients might not even know what a good conversion is or what a good month for conversions is because maybe they haven’t been tracking it before. And maybe they haven’t been looking at it in a certain way. So it’s really important that you understand what a good month for conversions is. So this will vary from business to business. But it’s really important to look at not just the month before, but also the year over year. And a lot of B2B clients will say that they don’t have seasonality but there almost always are. Standard B2B clients, certainly in the EU and UK, Christmas, Easter, and August are always going to be slow months for B2B conversions, because everybody in a suit is on holiday. So there’s going to be a drop. It might not be a significant drop, it might not be like falling off a cliff with regards to traffic or conversions, but you’re probably going to see a slight dip in some of the activity because a lot of people are out of office.
And when we think about other verticals, we think about eCommerce, obviously, there’s seasonality with Q4 when you’re going into Christmas and all that sort of stuff. And then when you think about leisure, there’s going to be a rise in the summer. So it’s really important to look at not just a month before, because obviously, like, if you’re doing a leisure vertical, and you’re comparing September to August, September is gonna look like it hasn’t done well. So you need to compare September to the September from the year before and potentially the year before that, particularly in the days of COVID.
Your Benchmark and Anomaly Detection
So when you’re setting out the KPIs for your clients, like we’ll get you these many conversions, or we’ll increase your conversions by x percent etc., you need to understand what the average is for the client over the course of the year. You need to understand what the average is for that month. So it might be that last year they had a sale or they had a big promotion. I had one client who was featured on a reality TV show at the beginning of a year, and their website went off the charts and then it returned to normal. But if we were looking at that year on year, then they would say that we’re down 75%. We’re not down 75%, that was an anomaly. But you need to understand the data and know what normal looks like while you’re setting out your benchmark.
Don’t just look at the month before and don’t just look at year-on-year, look at them in comparison, because obviously you want it to go up over time but you need to have some context for how you’re setting out and how you’re monitoring that information.
D: That’s a great point there. I think a core tip towards the end there was make sure you take a note of any anomaly, any one-off PR situation that happened to your brand and on a particular occasion. Otherwise, you might think that you’re performing particularly bad now.
C: And people can panic over information like that. It’s totally fine. Everyone calm down. And I think something that’s super simple is just annotating GA. The amount of information that you can get from such a simple, completely free, accessible to anyone, you don’t need any technical skills, you literally click a button and just go, we were on Come Dine with Me. And you could just add that in there and it’ll just sit there and remind you of that thing that you did that time before. It’s so simple. There are a lot of really simple tools that you can use to make sure that you don’t get yourself into a pickle.
Tracking Both Revenue and Transactions Correctly
D: And KPI number two is revenue and transactions.
C: Yeah, this is something that is really important for eCommerce clients and anyone really that’s selling online, selling direct to consumers online. Obviously, it’s important to track your revenue for your clients and it’s also important to track the number of transactions because sometimes, particularly if you have a sale, or let’s say you’re looking at your transactions and they’re down compared to last November. Well, maybe last November you had a giant Black Friday sale and this November, you didn’t have a giant Black Friday sale. So your number of transactions will go down, however, your revenue might go up during the time.
So it’s important to look at both of them because I’ve definitely seen where clients were seeing their transactions are down, but the revenue is actually up because overall because the value of what people were buying is higher. Or the number of transactions is up, but the revenue is down because you had a sale. So it’s important to think about those and make sure that you’re paying attention to them. And it might seem really obvious. But the number of conversations that I’ve had around this, where maybe you have a report that’s tracking one and isn’t tracking the other, it’s really important to track both, so that you can see that at least one of them is moving in the right direction. And so that you can pay attention to it.
Consider the Impact of Your Average Order Value
It’s also important to think about your average order value. Your average order value may fluctuate and it might be that you’re going for more high volume at a lower order value. And that might be a tactic that you’re taking to increase the volume of transactions, rather than the average order value. But it’s important to keep an eye on that. If you’re changing that approach, then that will affect lots of things, not just your SEO, but also your PPC. For instance, if you’re expecting your return on ad spend to meet a certain target if your average order value is going down, then you might need to change around what your ROAS is, so that you’re not spending 60 pounds to get conversions when your average order value is only 50 pounds. This is something that you need to think about.
Just make sure that you’re keeping track of that so that you can act when you need to. It might be that you need to say that we need to increase our prices, or maybe we need to decrease our prices. And what you want to do will also change depending on your strategy. So if you’re trying to get new customers, new clients, it might be that you want to go for more transactions. If you’re trying to push a different kind of approach or a different client value offer, then it might be that you want to be pushing fewer transactions, but higher revenue. Again, this is something that will depend on the client.
Target Keywords and Your Rankings | Monitor Your Money Keywords
D: Superb. Let’s move on to number three, and that is target keywords and what you actually rank for.
C: Yeah, So you’ll do your keyword research and you’ll pick out whichever keywords you want to target, and over the years, I’ve seen this a lot of times where a client will get fixated on one keyword or another. And it’s important to monitor your money keywords, you’ll know your money keywords, the ones that get you the sales and there’ll be a couple that are particularly strong for you. But it’s also important to understand what you actually rank for. I’ve had clients, where they were targeting one set of keywords, but the profile of what they were just organically ranking for was completely different.
And sometimes these can be completely random. Sometimes the keywords that you’re ranking for have nothing to do with your brand. I’ve seen clients who were ranking for someone else’s logo because they had a set of logos in their client portfolio. Sometimes they’re completely irrelevant. And that’s interesting to note, but isn’t really necessarily something that you should worry about. But there are some times where clients are ranking for certain terms, which are the terms that their potential customers are interested in, but they haven’t created any dedicated content for that. And when you have that scenario, that’s golden. That is telling you that you already have the need, you already have the desire from your clients, and they’re already coming to you for it. So if you go in and double down on that content and make the content richer and invest in those particular keywords, then you’ll be able to get some real value for your customer and for your business overall.
The other thing that’s really good there is it’s important to think about the momentum. Sometimes you might have target keywords that you’re going after, which are maybe big terms. I’ve worked with clients in the financial sector who were going for a really big keyword, ‘investment company.’ And they were sort of a small firm, and the chances of them ranking for ‘investment company’ are very, very slim. Because you’re a small firm and you don’t have all of the resources like Investopedia, for instance. So what you want to do is look at what you’re actually ranking for, and what they’re actually ranking for. Things that are very transactional, very brand-based, very specific to what they do. Let’s invest in that.
Chances are if you’ve got some momentum, let’s say you’re ranking at 40 for a certain term. If you actually put some effort into it, you can move that up and move it up again and move it up again. And then in six months’ time like you’re actually going to be at the top for that stuff. But Google will know that you’re in the neighborhood for those keywords already. And you just need to get involved and make it happen.
Ranking Position Changes and Clicks
D: I’m tempted to ask a follow-up question. How often should you benchmark your target keywords against what you’re actually ranking for? But I also get the sense that you’re probably going to deliver a lot of value just in that particular question. And we should perhaps even park that though and ideally, have that conversation in a follow-up episode because we do need to get to point number four, and that’s ranking position changes and clicks.
C: To answer your question quickly, I would say monthly. I’d say all the time. Keep track of that.
With regards to ranking positions versus changes in clicks. So with this one, this is very interesting, because sometimes on Google Search Console, they’ll say that your average ranking has decreased or something. But you can see that your clicks have gone up. So somebody would say their rankings have dropped, and the client would say, “Oh, no. The ranking has dropped.” No, this is not a panic station. Don’t worry.
Remember when I was telling you that we were ranking for that random logo keyword, that keyword didn’t matter. We’re not ranking for that anymore. Great. But we are ranking for this good keyword that is actually getting us clicks so we should actually pay attention to that. Obviously, you don’t want your rankings to drop off a cliff, of course, that is not what you want. However, sometimes your average ranking number isn’t necessarily a reflection of the quality of what you’re ranking for. It might be that you increase one really good keyword. And you’re ranking number one for that realy good keyword, well, that’s only one term, right? So when Google’s taking the average keyword ranking, to give you your average position ranking, they’re ranking every number of terms that you’re ranking for. So that one keyword that you’re working really well for that’s getting you hundreds of clicks every month is only one in their average. So if that one goes up, that’s great for your clicks. But your average position might not be affected there. So it’s very important that you look at both your clicks and your average position. Obviously, it’s great to have number one keywords, but I would rather have a couple of very good click through, good search volume keywords over 75 keywords that get you one click.
D: So if you find that you’re ranking for keywords that aren’t relevant for your business, is it worthwhile putting a significant amount of effort into attempting not to rank for those keywords to hopefully drive more relevance in the eyes of Google?
C: You should absolutely be pushing for relevance. I have a client who has an old blog that is a bugbear of theirs, and they don’t like it. It’s an old blog, and it always works really well on Google. And it’s not overly well-positioned for them with regards to their stuff. And what I would say to that is add better content. I wouldn’t take it away. But I would say add better content around that keyword. So Google will see that you have some content that is a value that people enjoy from that particular blog or whatever, but you obviously want to be pushing towards relevance. It’s like putting lots of ketchup on something you’re not that into. Let’s say you’ve got this brussel sprout and Google likes the brussel sprout but you don’t like the brussel sprout. What you need to do is pour some really good gravy on your website. Leave the brussel sprout, but make sure you have some really relevant gravy.
Traffic and Conversions
D: And number five KPIs, traffic, and conversions.
D: Yeah, so this is super important. Lots of people say we can get you lots of traffic. Well, you could put the word chocolate all over your website and that would get you lots of traffic, but if you don’t sell chocolate, then what’s the point. Traffic can sometimes be a little bit of a vanity metric. It’s really important to make sure that your traffic and your conversions are good. Obviously, we want to have a healthy amount of traffic. We don’t want our traffic to decrease too much over the course of time, but sometimes when you’re correcting the relevance of your clients or when you’re doing some indexing adjustments. So let’s say you’ve got a WordPress site and it’s getting lots of traffic to some of those service pages that are completely video or image pages, or those tag pages, that you don’t necessarily need all of that. So the traffic might go down while you’re making that adjustment. But your conversions may very well go up because people are actually getting to pages that actually matter. So it’s important to make sure that you’re keeping track of your conversion rate at all times. And obviously, if you have a big traffic spike, your conversion rate will probably go down because you have lots and lots of traffic coming through and maybe you didn’t have so much traffic coming through before but it’s definitely important to keep track of the two so that you’re getting the right customers to the right content.
The Pareto Pickle – SEO Automation That Saves You Time
D: Great advice. Let’s finish off with the Pareto Pickle, Pareto says that you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. So what’s one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for moderate levels of effort?
C: I think setting up automation to create variable generated meta descriptions was a game-changer for me. I remember when I was starting out and I was handcrafting, every single one, and then I thought, you can just use a variable. I think, particularly as you get into bigger sites, it makes such a big difference. You can get this set with Dev and get them to put it in. So for every product page, buy X here about Y, that sort of thing. And it makes such a difference, and it makes sure that you’ve satisfied the information that you need to satisfy. You can make sure you have your CTAs as you should, and you’re meeting the right word count, but you don’t necessarily have to pour over every single page to get that done. And you can always go back if there’s a particular one that is a particularly competitive page, and optimize that particular page or section or whatever. But yeah, I think that variable generated content is really useful.
D: When you say it makes such a difference, are you saying the primary thing that it makes such a difference to is the click-through rate?
C: It makes a difference to implementation time and being able to tick something off and move forward. You’ve satisfied what you need to do for 1000s of pages in a short amount of time. And you can monitor this, you can go back and check any ones that might need a specific meta description. And it also means that as you’re making new pages, they’re already optimized. And you don’t have to go back to doing that by hand. There’s a lot of variable generated meta information that you could add in on lots of different ways. It just makes a really big difference when you can automate that.
D: Understood. I’ve been your host David Bain. You can find Crystal Carter over at opticalsolutions.uk/. Crystal, thanks so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.
C: Thank you so much, David.
D: And thanks for listening.