When someone wants to buy a vegan leather handbag or send a thank you bouquet to a friend, they can type a few words into Google and get a list of options within seconds. The list of organic search results is ranked in a particular order, due to the search engine’s algorithm and the websites’ search engine optimization (SEO).
The first spots on Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs) are extremely coveted—and extremely difficult to acquire. Having your business website appear as Google’s first search result versus the 77thcan mean the difference between thousands of views and none. But landing on Google’s first few pages doesn’t happen by magic. Tracking your website’s SEO metrics is the first step to making the necessary changes for optimal website performance.
What is SEO tracking?
SEO tracking is the process of measuring website performance, namely, how it ranks in search engine results. Google determines a website’s page ranking using at least 200 ranking factors, including visitor volumes, meta descriptions and image tags, backlinks, and a lot more. Since a website’s ranking is fluid and can change due to multiple factors, webmasters are constantly tracking their website’s SEO metrics to ensure high search visibility. Common SEO tracking metrics include rankings for particular keywords, unique visitors, and conversion rates.
SEO metrics to monitor
Looking at your website’s vast SEO data is often overwhelming—the SEO opportunities seem endless. It can help to break the information down into the critical SEO metrics to monitor:
Search engine traffic
This metric measures visitors who click on your website organically, not via ads, and is often called “organic traffic.” Traffic metrics are often found within your website’s analytics page. You can also try Google Search Console. Some important traffic metrics include:
- Visits. The total number of visitors to your website in a given period.
- Unique visits. The total number of unique visitors to your website in a given time period. If the same person visits a website multiple times a month, it’s still counted as only one unique visit for that month.
- Pageviews. Each time a page is loaded or reloaded.
- Traffic sources. How users get to your website, via Google or Bing, various social media platforms, or direct links, for example.
Keyword ranking is the order your website appears on SERPs for a particular word or phrase. For example, if your ecommerce store sells vintage t-shirts in California, you might try adjusting your content so it ranks for keywords such as “vintage shirts” or “1980s shirts.” Track your site’s performance for relevant search queries using keyword research tools.
Engagement metrics reveal the time a user is actively engaged on a website, from signing up for newsletters to purchasing products.
Bounce rate measures the percentage of visitors that leave a website after being on a single page, without performing an action. A low bounce rate usually means that your site aligns with users’ search intents—i.e., they’re finding what they’re looking for.
Scroll depth measures how far a user scrolls down each page. If users are consistently leaving a page after the first paragraph of a lengthy story, it could mean the website isn’t attracting its target consumer and the copy needs more keywords (or to be infused with a little pizazz).
The click-through rate (CTR) measures the rate at which users visit your website directly from a search engine results page. This metric can illuminate the effectiveness of your page titles and meta descriptions.
A conversion rate is the rate at which a website visitor “converts” to the desired action of the business owner, like buying a pair of sneakers on sale or subscribing to the business’s podcast. There is a conversion rate formula: desired action ÷ number of unique visits = conversion rate.
Checking your website’s authority, sometimes called domain authority, is a metric that measures how likely a website is to be ranked for a particular keyword. Different SEO companies have their own formula and rating system; for example, Ahrefs’s free website authority checker gives each website a score of 0 to 100.
How to improve SEO performance
- Optimize title tags and meta descriptions
- Test different keywords
- Ensure crawlability and indexability
- Optimize page speed
- Monitor backlinks
- Analyze competitors’ metrics
- Keep abreast of Google’s changing algorithm
Whether your goal is to increase conversions, double your unique visitors, or boost organic traffic, here are some ways to optimize your website content for SEO:
1. Optimize title tags and meta descriptions
Title tags (also called SEO titles) and meta descriptions help search engines understand what your content is about. They’re also what users see on the search engine results page. Make sure your title tags both pique the interest of humans and summarize the page for search engines in 50 to 60 characters. To be fully visible, meta descriptions should be no longer than 150 to 160 characters.
2. Test different keywords
3. Ensure crawlability and indexability
Crawlability is the ease with which search engines discover a webpage, following links using web crawlers, spiders, or bots. Indexability is when a search engine analyzes a page and adds it to its database. Check your website’s URLs to allow for crawlability and indexability; some websites have accidentally blocked search engines, which can be disastrous for an online business.
4. Optimize page speed
When pages are slow to load, people click elsewhere. Google’s PageSpeed Insights checks websites’ speed and offers suggestions for how to reduce load time, such as reducing image sizes, updating your code or website technology, and reducing plug-ins.
5. Monitor backlinks
If your website has numerous backlinks from high-profile, respected referring domains, search engines consider it a trustworthy site with valuable information, which can lead to domain authority and a higher ranking on SERPs. Building your website’s backlink profile can lead to increased trustworthiness, and is a worthwhile long-term goal. Meanwhile, spammy, toxic, or irrelevant backlinks can harm your SEO performance. Use a tool like Ahrefs’ free backlink checker to find unwanted links.
6. Analyze competitors’ metrics
Semrush has a free competitor analysis tool to assess other sites’ metrics and list their keywords. You can also examine competitors’ backlinks and contact those domains to see if they would like to link to your website.
7. Keep abreast of Google’s changing algorithm
Google periodically changes its ranking algorithm. Set up a Google Alert for Google search ranking updates and modify your website accordingly. For example, in 2022, Google launched SpamBrain, an AI-based spam prevention system that downranks spammy content and links. With that in mind, it’s worth reviewing your backlinks to make sure they come from high-quality sites and disavowing any spam backlinks.
Popular SEO tracking tools
Some of the best SEO tools that are free—like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Bing Webmaster Tools—are also the search engines’ own tools. SEO companies like Semrush and Moz charge for their services, but they often have free trial periods and/or several free tools for nonsubscribers. Explore some popular options to see which are right for you:
Google Analytics is a crucial tool to measure SEO performance and is free for anyone with a Google account. It provides important metrics about site visitors including new and unique visitors, bounce rate, pageviews per session, conversion rates, and the average time on a site. Note that Google Analytics cookies can be blocked by website visitors, so data can be slightly inaccurate.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool that focuses on your website’s SEO search performance on Google’s search engine. It measures user queries, popular pages, links from websites, impressions, and which countries your visitors are located in—all of which illuminates how your website is ranking on SERPs. It also has tools to increase website visibility.
Bing Webmaster Tools (Bing WMT)
Bing Webmaster Tools is a free tool created by Microsoft that allows webmasters to monitor their website performance when users search through Bing. It also measures website crawlability and lists your indexed pages.
Moz is a software company that creates SEO tools for business owners and marketers. Subscribers get different website performance insights based on tiered monthly subscriptions, priced at $99, $179, $299, or $599 a month. Moz offers a free trial of 30 days, though some tools remain free for everyone, such as the keyword explorer, domain analysis, and link explorer tools.
Semrush focuses on SEO optimization and industry trends. Monthly plans cost $130, $250 (both of which offer a free seven-day trial period), and $500—depending on your company’s size and needs. Anyone can sign up for a free Semrush account, which offers limited access to its tools. Semrush provides backlink analysis, keyword research, on-page SEO analytics, rank tracking, and competitor analysis, among other features.
Ahrefs’ monthly plans range in price, with different tiers set at $100, $200, $400, and $1,000. Ahrefs offers tools to help with keyword research, link research, and a SERP checker for different countries. It also offers many free tools, including a keyword generator, a keyword difficulty checker, and a website traffic checker.
SEO tracking FAQ
What is the best way to track SEO?
Since there are hundreds of important SEO metrics and data points to analyze, start by creating an SEO campaign to get yourself organized. Use a free tool like Google Search Console to focus on essential SEO metrics and track relevant changes in keyword ranking and organic traffic.
Can I see which websites are linking to mine?
Yes. Ahrefs has a free backlink checker tool. Type your domain into the field to see a report of incoming links.
How can I tell if people are clicking on my website’s search results?
The click-through rate (CTR) metric—which you can find via Google Analytics—measures how many visitors land on your page directly from a SERP.
Is it important to track how long people stay on my website?
Yes. Some seven-second visitors may just want to find your Instagram feed, but if users are leaving pages that they should be engaging with, it might indicate that there’s something you need to do to improve on-page content.