Here’s a deep dive into the 11 top KPIs for SEO tracking we use to rank our clients on page one. Learn our tricks and tools to do the same.
Here, you’ll find:
- What is SEO tracking?
- Which SEO metrics should you monitor?
- 8 Tools to track SEO campaigns
- How to start tracking SEO with Google tools
- Why is SEO tracking important?
- How does SEO tracking work?
- When can you expect to see SEO results?
There’s a quote attributed to management expert Peter Drucker that goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” While he wasn’t talking about search engine optimization (SEO), his statement absolutely applies.
If you don’t monitor the results of your SEO campaigns, you’ll never know if your efforts are working — or what kind of value they’re creating. SEO tracking is the key to monitoring progress and seeing if your investment is paying off.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about monitoring SEO campaigns and keeping track of the results. From the top SEO metrics to track to the best SEO tools to use, we’ll walk you through how to measure SEO success.
What is SEO tracking?
SEO tracking is the practice of measuring SEO campaign performance. It’s a data-driven way to report on your results and improve your efforts. By tracking SEO campaigns, you can benchmark results and monitor progress over time. SEO tracking shows you what’s working so you know what to do more of and what to avoid.
Which SEO metrics should you monitor?
The most important SEO metrics to measure depend on what you want to achieve. First, use the steps above to decide on your main goal. Then map it to the relevant metrics below.
Do you need to monitor all of these metrics? Definitely not. In fact, keeping an eye on all of them at once will likely confuse your stakeholders and misrepresent your campaigns.
Instead, focus on the metrics that matter most, based on your objectives.
Organic search traffic
Organic traffic refers to clicks you get from search results. For some marketers, more website traffic is the goal.
But in many cases, traffic is important because it often leads to other positive outcomes. For example, more traffic can lead to more conversions, which can lead to more sales.
Remember that more traffic doesn’t always lead to more conversions or revenue. It’s a good idea to track traffic and use it to understand how traffic affects metrics that matter for your business.
You can measure organic search traffic with tools like Google Analytics.
Keyword rankings reflect where your website shows up in organic search for the keywords that matter to your business. The better your keyword rankings (i.e., near #1), the more visibility and clicks you’ll receive.
The top three organic search results get almost 54% of the clicks on a typical SERP, according to a Backlinko study.
For SEO Strategist Brooks Manley, tracking the “number of priority keywords in the top five” is crucial. “I used to look at all keywords in the top five, but realized ‘Who cares if unimportant or irrelevant keywords are in the top five?’ So I started making a list of high-priority keywords we know lead to sales,” Manley explains.
High-priority keywords generally have the most business potential. To find your high-priority keywords, use a framework developed by Tim Soulo, CMO of Ahrefs. Keywords for which your product or service is a clear solution to the searcher’s problem have the most business potential and should be top priority.
You can monitor the results of your keyword strategy in tools like Semrush.
While keyword rankings measure a single term or phrase, search visibility reflects how all your tracked keywords rank. It’s a way to measure the success of your entire keyword portfolio.
Checking search visibility for your site and benchmarking the results over time is helpful. But it’s just as useful to compare visibility for your site against your competitors.
You can keep an eye on search visibility with tools like SE Ranking.
Getting your site highlighted in a SERP feature can boost your visibility and drive more clicks. It can also signal that you’ve added site content with unique value to the featured page.
SERP features are the elements that appear at the top of organic search results. They vary based on the search term and other factors, but they might include:
- Featured snippets
- Image packs or video carousels
- People also ask panels
You can track SERP features in tools like SE Ranking.
Click-through rate (CTR)
CTR compares how often your site appears in search results to how often people actually click through. To get people to convert and buy, you need them to click on your link — not just scroll past your site in the SERPs.
A higher CTR means your titles and meta descriptions stand out in search. It also means your content matches people’s search intent, which signals you’re providing more value.
The top-ranking search result above does a lot of things right. Its title and meta description include the exact keyword searched for, and the article matches the intent to find a list of the best running shoes. The article is also easy to read, clearly organized, and has plenty of images and helpful links to help readers make a buying decision.
You can measure CTR using Google Search Console.
Domain authority (DA) probably isn’t what you think. It doesn’t reflect how authoritative your site is—at least not exactly. Instead, it indicates how likely your site will rank in organic search.
Each SEO tool has its own algorithm for calculating DA or domain rank (DR). But all use a scale from 1 to 100, with sites closer to 100 being more likely to rank.
They all consider dozens of factors when calculating DA. Some of the most common factors include:
- Number of backlinks
- Number of linking domains
- Quality of the site’s content
You can track this metric using tools like Semrush.
Backlinks are one of the most important off-page SEO metrics, and they’re a critical complement to your on-page SEO strategy. Most SEO experts measure two different metrics:
- The total number of backlinks, which can include multiple links from the same site
- The number of referring domains, which reflects the diversity of your backlink portfolio
In both cases, higher numbers are better, as they show that you’re using SEO best practices for link building. Ideally, you’ll see both increase over time.
Some best practices for attracting links include:
- Publishing content with original research or other unique value
- Guest posting on other relevant sites
- Building relationships with industry influencers
You can monitor backlinks and referring domains with tools like Mangools.
Most SEO consultants aim for a low bounce rate. A lower rate means people are less likely to click away from your site after visiting just one web page—which signals a good user experience.
Keep in mind that bounce rate isn’t an SEO ranking factor. But it can help you get a better sense of the quality of your content marketing and the intent of your search traffic.
For example, the top-ranking result for the query below aligns perfectly with its search intent. As a result, it likely has a low bounce rate. Search intent mismatch typically happens when searchers use keywords with various meanings — and Google generates a SERP that doesn’t fit the intended meaning.
Bounce rate refers to the percentage of single-page sessions on your site. It’s a way to measure how often people visit a specific page and click away quickly without doing anything else.
You can track bounce rate with Google Analytics.
Along the same lines as bounce rate, session duration measures how long people spend on your site. Longer visits can mean better content that fits better with search intent, which again is a good thing.
Some SEO experts also measure user engagement time since it signals higher intent than a site session alone. Engagement time shows how long people actively viewed or interacted with the page.
You can monitor session duration with Google Analytics.
A conversion indicates that a visitor took an action related to your business goals, making this metric one of the most important for SEOs to track. Conversion include outcomes like:
- Submitting a contact form
- Signing up for a free trial
- Booking a meeting
- Making an ecommerce purchase
The conversion rate reflects how often people complete the action. To calculate it, divide the number of people who did the action by the number of visitors to the page.
For example, let’s say 100 people visited your landing page, and 20 clicked a button to book a meeting. Your conversion rate would be 20%.
You can view conversion data in Google Analytics.
Return on investment (ROI)
The metrics above are all important for tracking SEO performance. But none of them tell you the value of your work. That’s why it’s essential to measure ROI.
The higher your ROI is, the greater the value your SEO efforts are per dollar you spend. If you need to make a case for a bigger SEO budget, tracking ROI is key.
You can calculate ROI by adding up your investment in SEO and the revenue from any conversions.
ROI = Revenue / Investment x 100.
If this seems too complicated, an SEO audit service can help. Reach out to HawkSEM to get a complete audit of your website and SEO efforts.
8 Tools to track SEO campaigns
To track your SEO results, you need the right tools. But you don’t need all the tools.
From the list below, choose those that best fit your budget and allow you to track key metrics. Then use them to monitor website performance over time and create weekly or monthly reports.
1. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free tool that helps you understand how people use your website. It shows the path searchers take as they navigate your site and the actions they complete—like clicks and landing page visits.
With Google Analytics 4 (GA4), you can set up conversion goals to track the outcomes that matter to your team. For an easy-to-follow walkthrough, see below.
2. Google Search Console
Google Search Console (GSC) is a free tool that monitors Google search performance. In short, it shows you how Google views pages on your site.
From the GSC dashboard, you can see total organic search traffic, as well as search terms that drive traffic to your site. We’ll walk through the setup below.
Ahrefs is a suite of SEO tools that monitor metrics like domain authority, keyword ranking, search visibility, and backlink portfolios. With Ahrefs, you can use AI-powered tools to track SEO performance across your website and do competitor and keyword research.
ConversionIQ is HawkSEM’s proprietary platform. We designed it to take your SEO tracking beyond metrics — like search traffic and keyword ranking — so you can focus on advanced measurements like lead scoring and lifetime value (LTV). It measures conversions, attributes lead sources, and helps you make data-driven decisions about your SEO program.
“We know that tracking can be a pain in the you know what. That’s why we implemented our own system, ConversionIQ, to better connect the dots from search to sale,” explains Sam Yadegar, CEO of HawkSEM. “We use it for our clients, namely Verizon, Datadog, and Appdynamics to drive results and know where SEO conversions are coming from, what value they create, and how to find more similar opportunities.”
What does that value look like? Our SEO campaign for Datadog increased sales demos by 75% while drastically reducing cost per action (CPA).
Mangools is a group of SEO tools that measure content and site performance. It’s particularly helpful for finding and monitoring backlinks, which can boost your site’s authority and help it rank in organic search.
Moz is an all-in-one SEO suite and rank tracker that measures the impact of your campaigns. With Moz, you can conduct an SEO audit and track metrics like top-ranking keywords, search ranking distribution, domain authority, and backlink portfolio. It’s an alternative to tools like Ahrefs, SE Ranking, and Semrush.
7. SE Ranking
SE Ranking is a set of SEO tools that track metrics like search visibility, search volume, SERP features, and keyword rankings across your site. Like Moz, Ahrefs, and Semrush, SE Ranking can also help with keyword and competitor research, making it a useful dashboard for SEO campaigns.
Semrush is an SEO tracking tool that monitors keyword performance, backlink portfolios, and search visibility. It’s a solid alternative to tools like SE Ranking, Ahrefs, and Moz—but Semrush also has powerful writing and research tools that can streamline your digital marketing strategy.
How to start tracking SEO with Google tools
The first steps for tracking your SEO include setting up your GA4 and GSC dashboards. Here’s how to get started.
How to set up GA4 for SEO tracking
GA4 is your destination for monitoring on-page engagement and conversions. The dashboard automatically tracks engagement metrics, but you might not see them if you don’t add them to your reports.
Here’s an easy way to start tracking them.
From your GA4 dashboard, open the Reports panel and select a report under the Engagement subheading. I chose the “Pages” and “Screens” report since it shows engagement per page.
Click the pencil icon in the upper right corner to edit the report, and then add or rearrange the metrics. For example, I added “Bounce Rate” and “Average Engagement Time” to this report.
To track conversions in GA4, open the Admin panel and navigate to the “Events” section. Click to create a new custom event and use GA4 settings to configure it. Take a look at Google’s walkthrough for step-by-step instructions.
Once you’ve set up events, you can measure conversions across your site. But keep in mind that it isn’t always easy to attribute conversions to SEO.
“Attribution can be really tricky. Many people’s buyer’s journeys start with an informational search,” shares Manley. “You may get their interest here, but if they wind up converting as direct traffic down the road, it’s easy to miss. I utilize GA4’s Assisted Conversion and Conversion Paths reports.”
How to use GSC for SEO tracking
Unlike GA4, GSC needs much less setup. Once you connect and verify your domain, you can start checking website performance right away.
The Search Console Insights panel offers a quick snapshot of your search performance. For example, you can see how search compares to other acquisition channels, and you can view your top queries at a glance.
For a deeper dive, open the “Search Results” tab to monitor impressions in search, clicks from SERPs, and CTR. Use the automated comparison to see how your current performance measures up to the previous time period.
Then scroll down to the Queries panel. Here, you can see top search queries your site ranked for — including the clicks that resulted.
Click any search query to take a closer look. You can chart activity over time and see a list of pages where your search traffic landed.
Keep in mind that GSC and GA4 are powerful tools for measuring search traffic and conversions. But they’re just the first step for tracking SEO success. By adding a dedicated SEO tool to your tech stack, you can monitor metrics like specific keywords, search visibility, and DA as well.
Why is SEO tracking important?
Monitoring results is a crucial step in any search-driven campaign. When you track SEO, you can:
- Tell leadership, colleagues or clients if your SEO strategy is successful
- Quantify the results of your on-page SEO efforts during any time period
- Confirm whether you’ve reached key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Find tactics that work well and those that need improvement
- See exactly which parts of your campaign are paying off — such as content or backlinks
With data-driven SEO reports, you can also answer high-level questions from stakeholders. For example, you can advise your team whether to invest more in SEO — and back up your recommendations with data.
How does SEO tracking work?
Whether you’re managing SEO for a local business or a national brand, the SEO tracking workflow looks similar. Here’s a quick overview of the key steps.
Start by setting goals. What do you want to accomplish with SEO? Sure, you want to rank at the top of relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). But take it a step further. What’s your business goal? For example, do you want to get more traffic to make more sales? Or do you just want leads to herd into your email nurturing campaigns?
Next, identify the most important metrics to track. We’ll cover some of the most common metrics below. But in short, they should reflect the goals your team wants to achieve with SEO. If you want to make more sales, for example, you’ll likely track conversion rate and lifetime value.
Then set KPIs for each metric. This step is essential for quantifying SEO success. If you aren’t sure what you can achieve with SEO, check your past results. For example, say your conversion rate is stuck at 2%. You may aim to increase it to 5% in three months using SEO tactics.
Finally, choose a tool to monitor your results. You can track some basic metrics like search traffic for free. But you’ll typically need a paid tool to measure more advanced metrics, like search visibility, target keyword rank tracking, and backlinks. We’ll cover some of the top SEO tools for tracking and reporting below.
When can you expect to see SEO results?
Many factors affect SEO outcomes — some of the most common ones include:
Age of your website.
Is your site brand new? If so, you may need more time to establish authority so you can rank for important keywords.
Competition in your industry.
Are you angling for a lot of difficult keywords? If so, you may need more time to outrank competitors.
Investment in SEO.
Does your executive team want to start small and test out SEO? If you only have limited resources, you probably won’t see results quickly.
“The challenge with SEO tracking is the delay in data crawling and time taken to see the results after implementing SEO strategies,” says Abhi Bavishi, Growth Marketer and Automation Expert. “Personally, I use tools like Semrush and Ahrefs, as they provide up-to-date keyword rankings, backlink analysis, and site audits. I also use a combination of GA4 and Google Search Console to track down the performance of keywords on the website, and find out which keywords are bringing the highest quality traffic.”
When you know what you want to achieve with SEO, you can find the right metrics and tools to measure your results. Start tracking search traffic with free Google tools, and then choose a paid SEO tool to monitor keyword rankings, search visibility, and backlinks.
Not sure where to start with SEO tracking or want expert advice to improve your SEO campaigns? Reach out to HawkSEM to learn more about our SEO service.