Throughout an SEO project there are many different ways to measure performance, but which is the most important?

Is it your keyword rankings? Is it your traffic? What about conversions? Or does revenue come in to it? Maybe it's all about the links?

This post shortlists the top five key performance indicators (KPIs) that you might already be looking at or should really consider using, with explanations of their pros and cons.

After reading this post you should have a good insight in to what you need to look at in order to achieve your goals for a website.

1. Keyword ranks

This is one of the most commonly reported KPIs of SEO projects. It shows how much your target keywords have improved or dropped in the search engines throughout the SEO project, and higher ranks is what you're doing SEO for, right? 

The only problem with using search engine rankings as your main KPI is that you could be reporting on keywords that are not the best for the website.

Who wants to know that you got them to rank in position one for 'best ever widgets' when it has no search volume? Don't get me wrong, ranks are important, but you have to make sure you're tracking the most beneficial keywords and search engines for the project.

To improve this KPI, consider showing a graph for each of your top keywords with its individual rank, traffic and revenue data to show how much impact a change has had and to help you get a better understanding of your keywords.

2. Traffic volume

SEO is there to bring you loads of traffic isn't it? Well if that's all you're looking for you may have missed a step.

Traffic is important, but think about quality not quantity. Is the traffic coming from the target keywords? Is your traffic likely to convert? 

I'd recommend you look at your traffic volume regularly, but don't just look at the one number. Instead, segment your data to see where it's coming from, find trends and look at other statistics such as interaction and revenue from each traffic source to understand the visitor quality and true value of your marketing methods. 

3. Non-brand organic traffic volume

Leading on from looking at your total traffic, segmenting this down to measure your non brand related organic traffic will give you a good understanding of how well the SEO keywords are performing.

As important as it is to look at the big picture, the nitty-gritty details like this will often give you a much better understanding of how successful your SEO project is and where you still need to improve.

One way to report on the previous two KPIs is a table that includes rows for the totals (visits, transactions, revenue, conversion rate) and then breaks the information down by traffic source and splits up brand and non brand traffic.

Reporting monthly data and year on year data with percentage changes shows very clearly whether things are up or down on the previous month and whether you've seen an increase despite seasonal trends.

4. ROI (return on investment)

This is the KPI that can be seen as the most important, as without a good return a business is unlikely to succeed.

However, as a search marketer you cannot change the business model, which could mean that regardless of how well your campaign is performing, some businesses just aren't going to be profitable and this shouldn't then impact the view of the SEO campaign. 

Before implementing an SEO project I would recommend ensuring your business can make money, then through using search and other marketing methods you can invest to gain a better return and successfully track the ROI of the project.

5. Brand exposure

Brand is an important part of SEO that also needs to be included.

If you do everything you can to get your target non brand keywords ranking but forget about the brand, you hve two problems:

  • You're going to have a harder struggle with your non brand keywords without a brand behind them. 
  • Secondly, once someone has found your site through your target keywords and decided to come back to you because of who you are, you need to have a good presence in the SERPs for your brand. 

It's not just a company name any more; however big your company is, it should be a brand and ideally dominate the first page of results for the brand name.

Keeping an eye on this as a KPI can help you know how your brand reputation is as well as completing the SEO picture.

Try combining this with non brand organic keyword reporting by using multichannel funnels with custom segments to show keyword types. This can show you great insights to how people come and go from your site:

Multi Channel Funnel Attribution

Can you rely on any one of these KPIs alone? No. 

Lesser spotted KPI's and why not to use them

Everything requires context and you need to look at the big picture as well as the pieces of the jigsaw that make it.

There may be other areas that you would like to use in your SEO reporting jigsaw, but I've decided to throw the following pieces away on this occasion:

Number of links

I've said it before and I'll say it again, what is a number without context?

Link building is about quality rather than quantity so any reporting on links should always take other considerations into account. This could include link diversity, link density or quality links gained and lost.

This makes it a rather large section to report on, rather a singular KPI so don't discount its importance, but don't rely on the number alone.


We've all had clients focus on this little number more than the other much more important factors, does it really matter? In reality, no.

It's good to have a look at your site's PageRank to gauge its strength, but in actuality, it doesn't gain you anything. What is a strong PageRank without traffic or conversions?

Your KPIs versus client KPIs

When you're working on behalf of someone to get better results for them you're going to need to discuss what KPIs they would like to track too.

One of the fundamental ways of having a successful project is to all know what you want to get out of it. Working out your key goals from the start and reassessing these regularly avoids the unforseen occasion when someone decides the project is not successful having looked at different metrics to the ones you've been working to improve.

What are your KPIs?

I hope that this post has inspired you to think about what really matters to your website. If you have any KPIs you'd like to share please leave a comment. 

Anna Lewis

Published 20 January, 2012 by Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis is a Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow Anna on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (14)

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Gareth Holt, Head of Technology at None at present

What tool did you use to produce the multichannel funnel shown above.

Could be just what I'm looking for !

over 6 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

It's in Google Analytics, under conversions, then Multi Channel Funnels.

I wrote an introduction to this here:

The specific report shown here is made by creating custom channel groupings, more info in this post -

over 6 years ago


Depesh Mandalia, CEO & Founder at SM Commerce

I'd use Average Revenue per Visitor as an ongoing measure of value for your keyword, taking into account number of visits and revenue and makes it comparable to other ARPV metrics across your site

I prefer this over ROI since its a measure of the keyword's performance, and not the campaign, which is another matter.

over 6 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

Thanks Depesh, that's a great suggestion.

over 6 years ago


Gareth Holt, Head of Technology at None at present

Thanks Anna

That's very helpful.

over 6 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

Agree with all of the above. I would add CTR. This applies to generic keywords - gain more clicks without even improving rankings by testing titles and descriptions, but it also applies to brand search in a big way. Many organisations don't realise just how many visitors they are losing to other sites ranking (or advertising) for their brand name (similar to your 5th point).

over 6 years ago


Alexandra Coutts, Head of Digital at THOUGHTSHIFT LTD

Hi Anna, this is a great and very timely as we were looking at reviewing all client KPIs for 2012 earlier this week. Many thanks for making that job considerably easier!

over 6 years ago


Vahe Arabian

Hi Anna,

Even though some metrics can be used as KPI's to be honest most of these are simply metrics. SEO should be mainly seen as an acquisition or behavioural source measure used by businesses to benchmark against their objectives i.e. increase revenue or engagement outcomes from their targeted audience i.e. newsletter signups.

Depesh had some good ideas, however keyword performance can be utilised for metrics i.e. no. of unique keywords for a website.

An SEO KPI which would make clients start thinking would be share of search. Competing for the 'digital shelf' is crucial for competitive industries i.e. insurance, credit cards as this impacts their bottom line.

Anna finally whenever I look at SEO related KPI articles, I always ask the writer how they would use these metrics and assign KPI's for the client.

Hence I would like to ask you the same.

Thanks for the post and I look forward to a followup post with specific examples of the KPI's you have used for your clients, including your recommended tools.



over 6 years ago


Ed Lamb - Propellernet

Great post. At Propellernet we use ROI far more than any other - the rest are really supporting the ROI KPI. As well as non-brand search volume/sales we also look at how much we've expanded the number of non-brand traffic/sales driving terms. Also, as one comment mentioned - share of search is also a metric that clients are increasingly keen to see which we's particularly insightful when matching PPC and SEO data to get total share.

I can't say we focus on brand in the way that you do and I'd question that a bit - in the vast majority of cases (unless the brand is very weak at the outset), the best ROI comes from focusing on high volume non-brand generics, which does also help boost brand positions.

Critically important is the one that you've mentioned you don't treat as a KPI - number of links. There's still a lot of educating to do before number of links is forgotten as a KPI metric.

over 6 years ago


Craig Broadbent

if you're taking a more holistic view then I'd also look at traffic/conversions by targeted landing pages and overall number of phrases driving traffic to the site as well. Ratio of content indexed by engines is also a decent back-to-basics one.

over 6 years ago


Rebecca Nixon, Brand Executive at The IT Job Board

Two words: BOUNCE RATE.

It doesn't matter how much traffice you generate through SEO or any other medium, if it's not relevant it's not worth having.

over 6 years ago


Colin Farrier

KPI caught my attention. My interest is the information provided by the annual report. Yes, return on equity (for low debt conditions) and also the current 'market' cost of capital (not WACC).

over 6 years ago


Ava Rose

KPIs, I heard about that when I face interview for executive. very helpful post.

over 6 years ago


Jon Leon

These are solid KPI's. Essentially it's got to be down to revenue generated that has to be the main KPI. Without a clear idea of how much or little revenue has been generated through SEO campaigns, there's no chance of really knowing if it is working or not.

over 6 years ago

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