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.