“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue." ~Andrew Davis, author and key-note speaker
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a powerful content marketing strategy that businesses can use to expand their reach and bring in audiences searching for specific keywords. And if their sites provide timely, helpful answers to their audience’s problems and questions, businesses can build trust and relationships — which turn into revenue.
But if your agency wants to deliver ongoing SEO success for its clients, you have to consistently track the right SEO KPIs across every SEO campaign.
So here are 10 of the most important SEO KPIs to help your clients climb the organic search results and capture more high-quality traffic.
What are SEO KPIs?
SEO key performance indicators (KPIs) are data points or metrics that measure an organization's search engine optimization.
In general, KPIs for digital marketing are metrics that marketing professionals use to see whether they’re meeting marketing goals. SEO-specific KPIs are those that measure various aspects of SEO and search engine rankings placement (SERP).
Why KPIs are important for SEO performance
SEO KPIs are important for SEO performance because they give you the data you need to analyze content marketing efforts, set benchmarks, and improve SEO performance over time.
For digital agencies, SEO KPIs are a key element in digital marketing project management. They provide a baseline and context over time that help you define what good, better, and best look like — so you can meet your clients’ SEO goals.
There are three areas where SEO KPIs make a real difference for any business or organization that wants to climb the search engine ranks.
If you don’t know where you are, it’s kind of hard to figure out where you want to go. Likewise, you can’t know how much of a difference a given change or initiative will make if you don’t have historical data on performance.
It would probably help to explain ourselves here, so let’s look at organic traffic as an example. Is 500 organic visits a month good or bad?
Answer: We have no idea.
If you’re starting a brand-new online presence for a small brand, it could be good. But if you averaged 2,500 organic visitors per month every month the past year, 500 visits is, well, pretty bad.
Since SEO KPIs show performance over time, they give you context to measure results now and in the future.
Strategic decision making
If your client is averaging 500 organic visits per month, setting a goal of 100k/month isn’t very strategic. Unless you get struck by SEO lightning five times in a row, that kind of jump just isn’t possible.
SEO KPIs can help you make better, more strategic decisions by giving you a framework for what is and isn’t a reasonable expectation or goal. For example, if your organization sets OKRs (objectives and key results), then you will probably use KPI data to set those objectives or define those key results.
Client reporting and communication
All these acronyms might make you feel like you’re drowning in alphabet soup, but SEO KPIs actually have standard definitions that everyone can understand. You don’t have to explain what the data means in every report, conversation, meeting, and decision.
Agencies can also use this common language to present clients with clear, measurable SEO metrics. It’s a great way for agencies to demonstrate the value they provide, highlight progress, and justify their SEO strategies and recommendations.
The top 10 SEO KPIs to track
If you’re not currently tracking SEO KPIs (or you’re not sure if the ones you’re tracking are giving you the insights you need) these performance metrics are a great place to start.
1. Search visibility
Search visibility, also called organic visibility, measures how frequently a brand appears in search results — even when those appearances don’t result in clicks.
Search visibility includes conventional search results (the non-ad sites and links listed in search results). But it also covers other forms of search, like maps and local packs, featured snippets, the knowledge panel, and (soon) sourcing for generative AI search answers.
Visibility matters because not every interaction needs to end in a purchase (although that would be pretty awesome). When a business consistently shows up in high positions across a range of search terms and locations, that business gains customer trust and perceived authority. If a later search eventually leads to a click, that reader is often primed to trust the brand and take the desired action as a result.
Tracking search visibility across the entirety of the web can be a little tricky. Within the Googleverse, Google Search Console can give you all sorts of information about organic visibility. Bing Webmaster Tools provides similar services.
2. Organic traffic
Organic traffic is one step past search visibility; it’s the number of clicks and visits coming to your site from organic search (search traffic you didn’t have to pay for).
Why does traffic matter, not just visibility? Because while the percentages vary, in general, greater visibility leads to higher traffic levels, and more traffic leads to more organic conversions.
Tracking organic traffic is easy to do using Google Analytics, Google Search Console, the tools built into your website hosting service, or more purpose-built tools like Semrush.
Pro tip: Focus on non-branded traffic when analyzing organic traffic for SEO purposes. It’s great that Acme Widget Co ranks first for search terms like “Acme Widget #4824,” but that doesn’t tell us much about their actual success in SEO. Ranking for “best widget for x,” on the other hand, tells us quite a bit.
3. Organic CTR
Organic CTR (click-through rate) measures the number of clicks you get versus impressions. In other words, of the people that saw your link in search results, what percentage clicked through to your site?
Organic CTR can help businesses measure how compelling their meta titles and meta descriptions are. It also offers suggestions on how searchers may perceive their brand compared to others within the SERPs (high CTR = high trust/authority/familiarity; low CTR = low trust/authority/familiarity).
Google Search Console and other tools calculate organic CTR automatically, but the formula is as follows:
Organic CTR (%) = organic clicks / impressions x 100
That said, organic CTR is relatively meaningless without context on what’s normal for the top few ranking placements. Thankfully, Backlinko did the work crunching Semrush data from over a million pages and more than 12 million search queries. They found that the:
First organic result on Google averages 27.6% CTR
Second result averages 15.8%
Third averages 11%
From there, the average CTR falls off a steep cliff.
4. Conversions from organic traffic
Conversions from organic traffic, also called organic traffic lead conversions, measures how often your organic traffic takes whichever actions you’ve defined as conversions.
These actions could be buying a product, subscribing to a service, or even signing up for a newsletter. Some prefer to define this KPI in terms of revenue-generating conversions, while others consider any visitor to be a convert as soon as they descend further into the marketing funnel.
The formula here is straightforward:
Conversions = number of conversions / number of organic visitors x 100
With this metric, make sure you define “conversion” consistently, so that your numbers remain meaningful.
The difference between this metric and organic CTR is in the word “conversion” — simply clicking through to your website is never defined as a conversion. Conversions either buy something from your client, or provide something else of value (like permission to email them).
By tracking conversions from organic traffic, agencies can see if they are targeting the right audience with their SEO efforts. You can also measure conversion rate over time to see the results of changes — both to a brand’s SEO marketing strategy and to the SEO market in general.
5. Branded vs. non-branded traffic
How well a brand ranks for searches of its own branded terms is relatively unimportant. Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s important — it just doesn’t really reflect on the brand’s ongoing SEO efforts.
So, most of the time, you’d want to exclude branded traffic (that’s searches for Acme Widget #4824, if your client is Acme Widget Co). Branded traffic comes from people that already know about Acme Widget Co, and that’s not the audience that SEO tactics are trying to reach.
To measure branded vs. non-branded traffic, you’ll need to set up filters that exclude searches containing obviously branded terms. Our fictional example would probably want to exclude “Acme,” as well as “Acme Widget Co,” but not the word “widget” alone, of course.
This KPI is more of an observation than a conclusion. Branded traffic isn’t a bad thing at all. But if 90% of your client’s traffic is branded, then the money and effort you’re spending on SEO probably aren't delivering the results they should.
Ah, backlinks — the bane of every introverted SEO specialist’s existence. Backlinks are links on other websites that point back to your site (or your client’s). Because Google cares about domain authority, it tends to prioritize websites that others point to as useful and authoritative. That’s good if you’re a massive brand, but it’s decidedly less good if you’re a small-time competitor of those massive brands.
We’ll leave the topics of link building and how to get backlinks to the experts, but as you measure them, look for:
Number of backlinks
Number of domains providing backlinks
How the number of backlinks increases or decreases over time
7. Page speed
Page speed is a simple measure of website performance: how long it takes the pages on a site to load.
The search engines prefer sites with short load times — because that's what users expect. A slow, unresponsive website doesn’t provide a good user experience or a satisfying answer to a search query. It leads to a high bounce rate and can get you punished in SERPs.
Page speed is an element of technical SEO that has nothing to do with the words on the page. Optimizing media elements and resolving technical issues with a site’s architecture are good places to start.
Fixing page speed is a whole topic on its own, so if you need more info, the experts at Semrush can tell you exactly what to do to speed up your client’s site.
8. Average session duration
This metric, available through any analytics tool, analyzes the average amount of time users spend on your site. The longer the better, though there’s no one answer to what the “right” duration is.
Why does this matter? If users are visiting your client’s site via an organic session, but then leave almost immediately, the search engines will take that as a sign that your site isn’t very good. Or at least, it isn’t a good result for the query that led them there.
9. Bounce rate
Related to the previous metric, bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that leave quickly, without taking any other actions on your client’s site. And just like average session duration, a high bounce rate is a bad thing. It communicates to the search engine overlords that your site isn’t a great option for the search term that led viewers there.
Tracking bounce rate gives you a rolling/lagging indicator of your site’s content quality and relevance. As you make improvements, you should see the bounce rate drop. If you launch a new SEO initiative and the bounce rate suddenly spikes, it’s time to pause and figure out why that’s happening.
Along the same lines, you can evaluate performance by page using bounce rate. The pages that are significantly higher than your average bounce rate likely need improving, while those significantly lower might be the model to follow.
10. Return on investment (ROI)
Inbound marketing efforts, like SEO, can feel hard to measure in terms of ROI. You aren’t paying for ads, and results don’t happen the second you publish a new landing page or blog post.
But with the right analytics tools, it is possible to determine which clicks, conversions, and dollars came via organic search over a period of months. And with proper project management software, you can efficiently track the return on your SEO efforts.
To calculate ROI on SEO, subtract SEO expenses from the revenue that work generates. That figure is your net profit. Then divide net profit by the amount spent, multiply by 100, and express as a percentage.
ROI (%) = (revenue - SEO expenses) / amount spent x 100
Manage your SEO projects seamlessly with Teamwork.com
Managing SEO projects, tracking KPIs, and making sense of the volumes of data points required for both isn’t easy. But it’s easier when you use a project management tool built for the way agencies like yours operate.
That’s exactly what you get with Teamwork.com, the only all-in-one platform built for client work. With tools and templates to help you capture the right SEO KPI data every time, Teamwork.com simplifies the process and creates results.
Get started with Teamwork.com for free and start tracking KPIs the right way, today.