Another year means a fresh examination of your SEO strategy. What worked last year might not work this year. Your tactics will need tweaking, measuring, and monitoring afresh to make sure your rankings don’t drop. Why?
Firstly, because Google is a complex thing, and its algorithms are always changing.
Secondly, in order to succeed, you need to constantly measure your SEO metrics. You need to track your performance, from keyword rankings to referring domains, in order to gauge what needs modifying, what needs to be double-downed on – and what needs eliminating altogether.
Knowing the most important metrics of any year is hugely beneficial. It means:
- You stay on top of the trends,
- You adapt in time so that your rankings don’t unexpectedly drop,
- You keep up with – or even outcompete – your rivals.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the key metrics that will define your ranking in 2017. These include the usual suspects:
- Keywords and their rankings
- Organic Traffic
- Bounce Rate
We’ll also be taking a look at a few metrics you might not have previously dived too deeply into, such as:
- Average Rank of Keywords
- Average Page Load Time
- Pages per Session
- Referring Domains
Let’s begin with a metric you’re already familiar with…
Keyword Rankings, Including Average Rankings On Segments
Keywords seem so basic, right? However, in 2017 measuring them still plays a vital role in your SEO campaigns. Tracking them tells you:
- The overall health of your SEO campaign
- Keyword selection
We mention the overall health of your SEO campaign because if you’re noticing improved rankings for keywords – even just one – it’s usually an indicator that your entire SEO campaign is moving in the right direction. In other words, if your keywords are ranking well, take this metric as a sign that everything is going well.
Keyword selection continues to be important in 2017, too. If, for example, your organic traffic metrics are improving but your keyword rankings are not, it’s a warning that you’re picking the wrong keywords.
You should also check your average keyword rankings on segments. For example, if you run an online shop, you’ll be ranking for both product and category keywords, as well as short and long-tail keywords. When you check the average keyword ranking for each segment, you get a much more comprehensive overview of your SEO efforts.
There are tools you can use to track your target keywords. Google Search Console is great for beginners because it’s free and super easy to use. To track how well a keyword is ranking, open up your Search Console, tap Search Traffic followed by Search Analytics. Then, click Queries. It will look something like this:
Google Search Console dashboard
It seems impossible that there will come a day when organic traffic isn’t an important metric. It tells you so much about your SEO performance. Without traffic, your rankings are totally useless.
If more visitors are finding your website via search engines, it tells you one simple thing: Your SEO efforts are going well.
Organic traffic is a pure SEO metric – the purest there is. Other metrics tend to fluctuate a bit too much and show trends. Organic traffic, conversely, shows you quantifiable evidence that your campaign is working.
It’s a super easy metric to track, too. Simply open up your Google Analytics account, and tap “Add Segment.”
Then, select “Organic Traffic” before clicking “Apply.”
Simple, fast and the results tell you a lot about your SEO performance. You just then need to use the information to enhance your efforts even more.
Bounce rate can tell you a lot about your SEO performance.
Typically, a high bounce rate means that a user isn’t engaging with your site and has quickly left. You haven’t been able to give them what they want.
But this isn’t always true. For example, if the bounce rate is sky-high on a squeeze page where you want a site visitor to take action (such as sign up for an email list), then a high bounce rate is just fine. The visitor does what you want them to do, and then they leave.
However, unless you are tracking this metric, you simply won’t know what needs improving.
Let’s say that you get a lot of traffic to a particular page – but the bounce rate is super high. Once you know this metric, you can then improve this page in order to lower the bounce rate.
You should also measure your traffic sources – which sources (such as backlinks) are providing you with most of your visitors, as well as their corresponding bounce rates.
For example, there might be a sweet backlink that is providing you with a pile of traffic to a particular page. But because the bounce rate of that page is SO high, it’s totally pointless traffic. You aren’t capitalizing on it. You need to track this metric in order to make the right changes to your website.
To measure your traffic sources, open Google Analytics and click Traffic Sources followed by All Traffic. Once you know where your best traffic is coming from, you then improve your keyword selection, too.
Bounce rate data on Google Analytics
Speaking of backlinks and referring domains…
We’ve covered a number of on-page factors so far. Now let’s take a look at the King Of The Off-Page Factors: Backlinks.
Backlinks are like rocket fuel; they turbocharge your SEO campaigns, sending them off into the Google stratosphere.
To illustrate how important this metric is, let’s say you’ve got two pages that have almost identical on-page metrics. Their time-on-site, bounce rate and so on is pretty much the same.
What can separate one from the other are backlinks. If one has a few and the other has none, the former will win all the time.
Backlinko carried out an extensive study into what rankings decides the fate of a website. They analyzed a whopping 1,000,000 websites on Google and found that backlinks are fundamental for first-page rankings.
Now, we’re not saying that more backlinks will automatically send you flying up the rankings. But they will start to nudge you in the right direction.
There are a number of tools available that help you track your backlinks. When picking one, we highly recommend that you choose one that shows you essential info such as general trends, actual backlinks (nothing else), anchor text, and it should be one that updates all the time. If it doesn’t, you could be waiting too long for a new backlink to show.
Pages per Session
We love this metric because it’s easy to measure and tells you a lot about the health of your website. If the number of pages per session is high, it tells you that your visitors are having a proper look around your site. The site is easy to navigate, and the content is providing value.
If, however, the pages per session metric is low, it’s an indicator that either your site is hard to navigate or the content is weak – or both.
To measure this, open up Google Analytics, select Acquisition followed by All Traffic. Then select Channels and cast your eyes to the fifth column.
How You Are Ranking Compared to Your Competitors
“Who cares how my competitors are doing? I’m just focused on me and my efforts!”
Wrong attitude. SEO is business, and in business there is a LOT that can be learned just by looking at what your competitors are doing.
Hey, they’re your competitors, and they’re probably awesome at this.
Once you’ve checked your keyword rankings on segments, don’t waste any time comparing them with your rivals.
Why? Because you are not alone out there. You are in a battle with your competitors on every single segment. And unless you track this metric, you won’t know if you are outcompeting them, or if they are outcompeting you.
You’ll need to use a tool to measure this. We recommend Nightwatch, as it’s an in-depth SEO tool that lets you compare how your branded and unbranded keywords are measuring up compared to your rivals. You can take a peek at the keywords they’re implementing, as well as how well they’re ranking. And because Nightwatch is so sophisticated, you can use it to carry out automatic keyword and competitor research.
If your competitors doing well, you can then act on the information. In other words, you should reverse engineer what they’re doing to improve your own SEO performance.
Nightwatch competitor comparison dashboard complete with insightful graphs
Average Page Load Time
Lastly, average page load time is a crucial metric in 2017. Not only are more users bailing out if a website takes too long to load, but a slow-loading site can also have dire consequences for your SEO efforts.
How does average page load time affect SEO? Google has already hinted that its algorithm uses site speed to rank pages. Indeed, if your pages take too slow to respond and load, Google’s spiders will crawl fewer pages. This can have a damaging impact on your SEO campaign, worsening your indexation.
It’s an easy metric to measure. Simply launch Google Analytics (again!), select Behaviour, followed by Site Speed. Then, click Page Timings.
Google also provides tools that help you to test your site speed, such as their PageSpeed Module.
Can you measure your way to success? You sure can. By staying on top of the SEO trends and using tools to help you monitor your efforts and performance, racing up the rankings becomes a lot easier. The path clears and you’re on your way!
Enjoyed the content? Don’t forget to share so that we all move up together.
See you at the top!
About the author:
Aljaz Fajmut is an internet entrepreneur and founder of Nightwatch – a search visibility tool of the next generation.
Follow him on Twitter: @aljazfajmut