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21 Metrics For Monitoring SEO Health
An SEO issue that goes unnoticed, even for a few days, can have a huge impact on business -- so what metrics can you use to detect problems early?
Monitoring SEO health is vital to maintaining a successful search program. Slips in performance can happen at the drop of a dime, and waiting until the next monthly report to come out before discovering poor performance can be devastating to your program.
There are several SEO health metrics you should be monitoring daily or weekly to be more proactive about tackling issues that will hurt performance. Although these metrics usually won’t point to the specific problem, they will give you a starting point for investigating the cause of performance decreases.
The alert methods, frequency and conditions mentioned in this article are recommended for a vast majority of sites, but will need to be adjusted for sites with special needs or highly aggressive SEO programs.
1. Organic Traffic Changes
Organic traffic is one of the biggest goals of SEO programs, and changes in your website’s organic traffic are heavily influenced by your SEO strategy. If organic traffic decreases:
- Investigate what went wrong and address the situation
- Use the additional health metrics to aid you in finding the source of the issue
- Check organic traffic to all sections of the site to find out if a section is not performing well, or if the site as a whole is hurting
- Segment all data by both desktop and mobile traffic to see if your mobile SEO performance is suffering
- Check to see if there has been a decrease in marketing activity from other channels; decreases in brand awareness will cause decreases in branded search
If organic traffic increases:
- Investigate what went right and consider applying it to the rest of the site
Set up a weekly custom alert in Analytics to email you if there is a 5% or more increase or decrease in organic traffic over the previous week.
2. Direct Traffic Changes
Many people focus on organic traffic growth, but pay no attention to direct traffic. Direct traffic is actually a huge performance metric because many times users will find your site through organic search first, then come back direct in the future. With increases in encrypted search and browser security, a lot of search traffic is counted as Direct traffic in analytics because the http referrer data is not passed on — especially with mobile devices. If direct traffic decreases:
- Check to see if the same trend is happening with organic traffic
- Check into mobile device usage to see if mobile usage has decreased since many modern mobile browsers do not pass http referrer data
- If you recently started UTM tagging other marketing channels, you will notice a decrease in direct traffic
- Check to see if there has been a decrease in marketing activity from other channels; decreases in brand awareness can cause decreases in direct traffic
If direct traffic increases:
- Investigate what went right and consider applying it to the rest of the site
- Ensure all your UTM tagging is set up correctly
- Check to see if there was an increase in mobile device usage
- Check to see if there was an increase in marketing activity from other channels
Set up a weekly custom alert in Analytics to email you if there is a 10% or more increase or decrease in direct traffic over the previous week.
3. Referral Traffic Changes
Referral traffic is a great link profile performance metric that can tell you if you’ve gained or lost links. It can also be used to assess the value of a link by whether or not it drives traffic to your site. If referral traffic decreases:
- Investigate your backlink profile and referrers to find out if you lost an inbound link
- If you are receiving less traffic from a link, check to see if the linking website made a design change, resulting in less clicks to your site
If referral traffic increases:
- Identify what sites are sending traffic to your site that previously were not, and investigate further linking opportunities from that site.
Set up a weekly custom alert in Analytics to email you if there is a 10% or more increase or decrease in referral traffic over the previous week.
4. Campaign Traffic Changes
Although campaign traffic does not have a direct impact on SEO performance, it can still give clues as to why direct or branded search traffic is experiencing changes. Set up a custom alert in analytics to email you if there is a 20% or more increase or decrease in campaign traffic over the previous week.
5. Email Traffic Changes
Much like campaign traffic, email traffic can also give you clues into why direct or branded search traffic has changed. Create an annotation in analytics every time an e-blast goes out. Additionally, set up a custom alert if there is a 20% or more increase or decrease in email traffic over the previous week.
6. Change In Sessions
In today’s multi-device world, tying users together across different devices can be a challenge. Users also return to sites through various marketing tactics. Measuring the overall growth or declines in sessions will give you an idea of your overall success of marketing tactics at a very high level. Set up a custom alert in analytics if there is a 10% or more increase or decrease in sessions over the previous week.
7. Change In Users
Aside from overall sessions to the site, the number of users is also very important to monitor. The number of users will tell you if your overall performance really is driving in more traffic, or if users are just becoming more engaged and returning more often. Set up a custom alert in analytics if there is a 10% or more increase or decrease in users over the previous week.
8. Mobile Device Usage
As I mentioned earlier, http referrer data is being passed on less and less with mobile browsers as well as some desktop browsers. This creates an even bigger challenge for measuring ROI of SEO programs with the increase in mobile search usage. A recent experiment by Groupon showed that up to 60% of search traffic comes in as direct traffic – especially from mobile. Set up a monthly automated email in analytics with mobile device usage, comparing it to the previous month.
9. Page Load Speed Increase
Page load speed plays a very important role in SEO performance, conversions and usability. If your page load speed increases, search engines will use it as a negative site quality signal, spiders will not crawl your site as effectively, users will get annoyed, and the chance of conversion will drop significantly. Set up a daily automated alert in analytics if page load speed increases by more than 10%. Set up another alert if a page exceeds XX seconds. Create two weekly automated emails with the top 50 pages with the slowest page load speeds – one segmented for desktop users in your region and one for mobile users. Take the pages with the slowest page load speed that get a significant amount of traffic, and set up monitoring through gtmetrix.com. This tool will help you assess what is slowing down your pages.
10. Server Response Time
Site speed isn’t always caused by slow page load speeds. Sometimes the server speed can slow down your site speed. Set up an automated alert in analytics to fire if the server response time exceeds XX(ms).
11. Crawl Errors
Google Webmaster Tool’s crawl error report is vital to monitoring both site and SEO health. There may be a bug on your site that happens on the back-end, which can be hard to identify. It can also tell you if redirects were missed, and much more. This tool can also tell you if someone is linking to your site, but placed a bad URL in the content. Change your email settings in GWT to email you about issues. This will not be a timely email and will only fire if there’s a major trend in site issues, so you’ll need to tap into the GWT API to create a weekly report of crawl errors. Many SEO platforms like Raven have this feature already.
12. Server Error Logs
Server-side issues are usually difficult to identify using the standard set of SEO tools. You should consider configuring alerts if there is a trend in server error logs.
13. Pages Crawled Per Day & Time Spent Downloading Pages
Both of these metrics complement each other, and are available in Google Webmaster Tools. If the pages crawled per day decreases and time spent downloading pages increases, this may indicate site performance issues. This metric is worth checking on a bi-weekly basis.
14. Branded Keyword Impressions & Clicks
Although “(not provided)” has severely limited the ability to track keyword traffic in analytics, many of the key metrics around keyword data are still available in Google Webmaster Tools. Checking these metrics should be done as a followup investigation to changes in traffic metrics. Changes in impressions and clicks can tell you if there’s been a change in brand awareness, and if there has been a change in marketing activity.
15. Non-branded Keyword Impressions, Clicks & CTR
Non-branded keyword performance can tell you a great deal about not only search performance, but also seasonality – which is a difficult theory to prove. Non-branded keyword performance should be checked as a followup investigation to changes in traffic metrics. Impressions:
- Was there a change in keyword ranking?
- Is there seasonality going on?
Clicks & CTR:
- Is the keyword targeting not relevant to users?
- Is the meta data not appealing to users?
16. Keyword Rankings
This point is pretty self-explanatory, and common knowledge for every SEO professional. If your keyword rankings go down, you will lose traffic. If you lose rankings, make adjustments to your keyword strategy, or investigate the possibility of a penalty.
17. Manual Actions
One of the greatest new features in Google Webmaster Tools is the Manual Actions tool, which will tell you if Google took a manual action on your site. Make sure you have your email settings configured in GWT so you can receive the email alert of an action is taken on your site. This tool will not tell you if you receive an algorithmic penalty. For algorithmic penalties, defer to #14, #15 and #16.
18. Security Issues
Much like the Manual Actions tool, the Security Issues tool will alert you if malware is detected on your site. Search engines take a lot of measures to protect users from malicious websites, so make sure these security issues are addressed immediately if they pop up.
19. Index Status
The Index Status tool in GWT is very useful in determining how Google treats your site in its index. Increase:
- Were new pages added?
- Is something being crawled that shouldn’t be?
- Are rules in robots.txt being ignored?
- Has the site been penalized?
- Are pages being stranded or otherwise no longer crawlable?
- Did something change in robots.txt?
- Was there a change in meta robots tag usage?
20. Bounce Rate
Bounce rate increases can tell you a wealth of information related to the health of your SEO program including:
- Irrelevant content
- Irrelevant keyword targeting
- Poor user experience
- Slow page load speed
- Poorly-written meta data
Set up an automated alert in analytics to fire if the bounce rate increases by 10% or more.
21. 404 Page Views
Many frameworks like .NET will append a query string to the 404 page’s URL to tell you what URL the user requested that’s causing a 404. This feature can be very useful in discovering broken links on your site that users and spiders are accessing. Set up a weekly automated email in analytics to send you all page views with the 404 page URL parameter. Do you have any SEO health metrics to add to this list? If so, feel free to share them in the comments below.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.