There are a few important KPIs that it makes sense to track to focus the SEO strategy of your organization. In this article, you will find some KPIs that we track at BSC Designer as part of our SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy.
We believe in reaching our customers’ hearts and minds by educating them. Our point of view on SEO is biased – we are strong believers in content marketing.
- The positive side of this approach is that you have a clear path to follow as well as measurable results on each step.
- The negative side is that it is a marathon that requires discipline.
The article is divided into several parts:
- Part 1. SEO Opportunity Index – learn to find the right direction to move.
- Part 2. Checklists, Tools, Team that make our life easier.
- Part 3. KPIs for Results, such as ranking, organic traffic, engagement, and conversion.
- Part 4. Strategy Map for SEO to organize SEO tactics around overall business strategy + video guide.
1. What Content Should We Create: SEO Opportunity Index Indicator
Quantify current keywords landscape and focus your SEO strategy on what matters.
For each keyword/topic, we build an SEO Opportunity Index using these metrics:
- Monthly Search Volume – shows the potential of the topic.
- Overlap with Target Users, % – will show if potential leads are using these keywords.
- Expertise Match, % – the quantification of our ability to create good content for the topic.
Example of Using SEO Opportunity Index
Let’s take the topic of this article (“SEO KPIs”) as an example.
Monthly Search Volume Metric
What I need now is a qualitative estimation that will answer a simple question:
- Is this topic worth investing in?
The easiest way to answer this question is to compare search volume numbers for the researched topic with search volume for the known keywords.
We quantify this metric as:
- 0% – no active searches (in our case, it’s less than 10 monthly searches per month)
- 20% – some search activities (up to 100 searches per month)
- 100% – search volume is comparable to other high-converting topics
Overlap with Target Users, %
Do target users of BSC Designer search for “SEO KPIs”? I guess most are looking for some general ideas, but there are certainly some who are looking for an organized approach to tracking SEO efforts and making them part of the overall marketing strategy.
I would say that about 30% of people who search are our potential clients. For sure, there is no data that supports this hypothesis; it is just a pure “educated guess” based on our experience with other similar keywords.
Expertise match, %
Do we have enough expertise to write on the topic? Here is my checklist in this case:
- We do a lot of SEO in-house, and our focus is on content marketing
- Our conference talks about SEO received some positive feedback
- The topic matches our main experience in KPIs and strategy
To quantify expertise match, we use this scale:
- 0% – we have no domain-specific knowledge; that topic is not for us (yet).
- 20% – we have some domain-specific knowledge and/or can outsource some parts to the experts.
- 80% – 100% – we have strong, practical experience in the topic.
People don’t need another piece of content produced by a cheap copywriter; if we want the content to be authoritative, we need to write about the first-hand experience.
Why We Don’t Track Competition
- # of competitors in the search results – supposed to help in finding easy targets
Many experts recommend looking at the competition metric. Their idea is to focus on the keywords with high search volume but low competition. We don’t use this metric internally as I don’t find it relevant for decision-making.
If the topic has a high SEO Opportunity Index, we will invest in it in any case.
Financial KPIs for SEO
SEO strategy is tightly linked with ROI metric. There are various ways to attract traffic to a website. In our case, the competition was between paid ads and content creation.
Experiments showed that paid ads became poor sources of leads for us:
- Costs were going up
- Engagement and conversion metrics were going down
Our conclusion (at least for now):
From a long-term perspective, high-quality content beats paid ads
Still, we use paid ads but for different purposes, primarily to a/b test some ideas.
Content Marketing ROI
What about ROI metrics for content marketing?
Let’s first clarify the ROI for paid ads:
- The investment part is what we pay per click + landing page design.
- The return part is the dollar value of the leads.
The ROI of content marketing is something less tangible:
- The investment part is unclear. It’s not just your time needed to write high-quality content but also the investments in your education (the books you read, conferences that you attend, etc.).
- The return part is neither obvious. The evergreen content looks like perpetuum mobile that (with some maintenance) can generate good leads for a long time.
The key question here is why? Why do we want to know the ROI? In our case, the reason was to compare content marketing with its closest rival (paid ads), and the results were clear:
In the long-term (12 months and more), the ROI of content marketing is much higher than the ROI of paid ads.
2. SEO Kitchen: Checklist, Tools, Training Team
Once high-quality content is created, it should be properly formatted and presented on a website. For example, a slow server or duplicated content can impact results significantly.
SEO Checklist for Content
- <= 60 chars. Should be properly capitalized; we follow the recommendation of the Chicago Manual of Style for English, and recommendations of RAE for Spanish.
- Description length. <= 160 chars. Should perfectly describe what readers will find inside the article and explain why it’s better than hundreds of other results.
- 404 and 301 errors. Fixing broken links in a timely manner helps to provide the best user experience.
- Cross links. An article is a live part of our knowledge base. It should be cross-linked with other articles on our website where it benefits the readers.
- References. Link to the relevant sources of information. This could be a company’s report where they share the KPIs they use or a Wikipedia article that explains some concept.
- Illustrations are essential as they capture the attention of visitors. Images should use the ALT tag, and be adequate size for high-resolution displays.
- Readability. Balanced use of headers, bullet lists, quotes, two column design, bold and italic formatting.
- Proofread. Do a few iterations yourself; send the content to a professional proofreader before publishing.
- Use on-page navigation (via anchor links) for longer articles.
- Mobile. Check how the content looks on a smartphone. Google Search Console will help with this.
- Promote. Even the best content needs to be promoted. We send out newsletters and post updates on social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter).
- Video content. There is an interesting story behind each article, so plan to tell it via video on YouTube. Link back to the original content.
- Reusing content. Get the content’s illustrations ready for Instagram, Pinterest, infographics, and websites if applicable. Convert content into a presentation and post it on Slideshare.
- Translation. We have many users in LATAM countries, so we translate the best content into Spanish (don’t forget the proper hreflang record).
Here are some tools that we use:
- Website speed. Google PageSpeed Insights and GTMetrix.
- Broken links, titles, 301 redirects. Screaming Frog.
- Traffic analysis, conversion rates, time on site, bounce rate. Google Analytics.
- Mobile usability, errors, disavow. Google Search Console.
- Tracking ranking. Feature-loaded Serpstat and Ahrefs; for some historical reason, we use a minimalistic serprobot.com.
- Big picture view. Google Trends to get an idea about the trends.
Sources of New SEO Ideas
We’ll use them on the Innovation perspective of SEO scorecard.
Explaining SEO Ideas to the Content Team
We do SEO in-house. Here are the metrics we use:
- Leading metric: SEO awareness training penetration, %. Here, we share knowledge about our SEO standards.
- Lagging metric: SEO standards match, %. Here, we analyze the content created by the team and check that all current standards were taken into account.
These two metrics form a feedback loop.
- Content backlog, # metric helps to validate our learning efforts. There are always some interesting topics to be covered, and we need to make that sure our team are noting down those opportunities when they see them. Eventually, quantity will convert into quality.
Some other metrics are not tracked actively but help with self-analysis:
- Time spending activities – where do the team spend more time – research, writing, illustrations, editing? Should we hire a graphic designer (here you have some KPIs for creative process)? Can someone help with research in the domain that we don’t know well?
- Time to content – for example, in my case, it takes about 3-5 days to formulate my thoughts about a topic, research additional facts, and release an article.
- Translation quality – we do translate content to other languages. For example, the scorecard templates are available in English, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, so we had to implement quality control for translation as well.
3. How Do We Know That We Are on The Right Track: KPIs to Measure SEO Results
When measuring results, we are looking at these few indicators:
- Ranking positions for the keyword in the search engines
- Organic traffic for the article related to the keyword
- Engagement metrics (time on site, adjusted bounce rate)
- Conversions into qualified leads
It makes sense to track ranking when some relevant initiatives are executed (like cleaning up outdated content, updating overall design, publishing new articles). Make sure you know and take into account seasonality and natural fluctuations.
For example, we track ranking actively when:
- A new article is published
- An article’s titles and descriptions have been improved
- Generating ideas for new content
The position in the search engines is a lagging metric and the only good (=works in the long-term) method to influence it is to create high-quality content. I know many still play the “link buying game,” but for me, it doesn’t look like a reliable long-term strategy.
A special case when the positions in search results is a leading metric is when you can match it with some Google ranking algorithm update. A massive change in the positions will work as a warning signal to review the details of the update and adjust content accordingly.
By itself, this metric won’t tell you any story:
- Compare it to the conversion rate and engagement metrics to have a better idea of what’s going on.
- Know your seasonality. In our case, the traffic peaks are related to the end of a fiscal year (different dates in different countries).
Engagement metrics help us to understand if the title/description of the article matched the search intent and if the content is high quality:
- Time on site, minutes
- Adjusted bounce rate, %
A misleading title or description of the content results in low values of engagement metrics (people don’t see what they expected to see). Search engines will use this signal to penalize the article.
- People who are searching for “scorecard software” are not necessarily searching for software that will help them to manage their KPIs. Probably, their search intent is about a software that will help to track golf
- People who are searching for “balanced scorecard software” don’t necessarily mean K&N Balanced Scorecard. In many cases, they are looking for basic KPI software. That’s a good touchpoint to explain the difference.
Engagement metrics are the side indicator of content quality.
- Is the performance of the engagement metric low? Consider reworking, regrouping or removing content.
Before we were tracking conversions of website traffic into newsletter signups that looked like a good proxy for future sales. Users were offered an opportunity to sign-up with a newsletter each time they downloaded the software or signed-up with an account in the cloud-based version.
Having more data to analyse (plus the impact of GDPR), we started noticing that the newsletter signups were becoming a poor leading indicator of future sales. On the contrary, account signups on our cloud platform became more relevant.
Our main conversion metric now is:
- % of visitors who signed up with a free account at webbsc.com
Our typical sales funnel is:
- Website Visitor > Free Account > Qualified Interaction > Sale
See the “Define the concept of qualified interaction” chapter in the Social Media Scorecard article to learn more about our approach.
Metrics That We Don’t Track
- Backlinks – we prefer natural links, so the number of backlists is out of our direct control, we look at them only when a certain intervention (like disavow) is needed.
- Likes/shares – we like to see social engagement signals, but in our case (business domain), they are poor indicators of actual engagement.
- Bing/Google Segmentation – we do content for users, not for search engines, so we track overall traffic without segmenting by a specific search engine.
- Pages indexed – good to track when you set up your website (allowing search engines to see proper pages by adjusting robots.txt); once everything is properly configured, it won´t tell any interesting story.
- Pages crawled per day – this metric is to understand how our crawling budget is used; writing high-quality content takes time, so it’s not relevant in our case.
- Authority Metrics – it’s good to know that your website is getting more authority, but for us, it’s too lagging in time.
4. How to Keep Direction to the North: Balanced Scorecard Strategy Map for SEO
With all the buzz around SEO, it’s hard to keep a direction to the north.
A simple strategy map will help to focus on what matters and track execution in the context of current challenges.
The users of BSC Designer, (including those on the free plan) can start with SEO KPIs and Strategy template that we discuss in this article.
Below, we discuss this strategy map in detail. Most likely, you will need to adjust some of the goals/KPIs to your needs.
What financial results do we expect from successful execution of SEO strategy?
- Qualified Leads at Reasonable Price
- Generate leads interested in our product at a reasonable price.
- # of qualified leads
- Associated costs, $
What do our customers (both internal and external) need?
Here, we have two goals that address the needs of the customers at the different stages of the sales funnel.
- Engaging Informative Content
- This type of content will address the challenges of potential customers who are getting started with their research and are looking for authoritative sources of information.
- # of organic visitors
- Time on site, minutes
- Bounce rate, %
- Conversion rate, %
- Content that Solves Challenges
- In this case, the need for the content is more specific ones. For example, users might be looking for product tutorials that explain how exactly their challenges can be solved.
- % of support questions answered by linking to relevant content
- % of returning questions rate (where the linked content was not the best answer)
- YouTube video engagement index (watch time, likes)
How can we satisfy the needs of the clients?
- Analyze growth opportunities (keywords analysis)
- SEO Opportunity Index. High SEO potential, overlap with what our audience needs and what our product does. This index metric is well-automated with the “data series” function of BSC Designer.
- Content backlog.
- Create New Content and Maintain existing content
- The goal is to create evergreen content and make sure that existing content is up to date.
- Content according to the standards, %. In this article, we shared the SEO checklists that we use.
- Content with low engagement index, %. This indicator will show the content that needs to be updated or removed.
- Rank High for Top Converting Content
- The leading factors for high ranking are the SEO research that spots interesting opportunities, and the content creation/maintenance goal that helps in creating content according to the standards.
- Top converting content ranking
What should we learn, and how should we innovate to improve our SEO strategy in the future?
- Track the pulse of industry
- Every quarter, there is something new in the SEO domain. The fundamental “content is king” will go unchanged, but the formats and techniques will emerge. The goal is to keep track of the latest updates.
- SEO blogs analysis
- # of SEO blog posts read this quarter.
- # of findings to be tested / implemented. This metric will estimate an input of innovation pipeline. Align it with your innovation scorecard to make sure that new ideas go through the proper discussion, test, prototyping, and implementation stages.
- Teach best practices
- SEO is not a separate business role. Any person involved in content creation should understand the key principles of SEO. We need to make sure that our team is regularly trained on the latest methods.
- % of findings covered by algorithms/checklists. The “finding” is something that passed our innovation pipeline. The target for this indicator is 100% as all findings that proved to work need to be presented in a shareable format, for example, a checklist.
- SEO training penetration, % The percentage of the content team trained on SEO. This indicator has its “best before” date linked to the SEO checklist updates.
- SEO audit score, % This indicator will ensure that learned skills are actually implemented. Learn more about the topic in the training scorecard.
- Analyze top converting content
- What topics/formats are interesting?
- What can we do to improve?
- The challenges of the clients change, as well as the variety of solutions that can be applied. Analyze the top converting content to understand the best approach to satisfy customers’ needs.
How do you track SEO efforts in your organization? What approach do you use to prioritize strategies?
- Access templates. Sign-up with a free plan at BSC Designer for immediate access to 23 scorecard templates, including SEO Strategy Scorecard discussed in this article.
- Master skills. Check out free video tutorial for the Balanced Scorecard. Master your strategy planning and execution skills with Strategy Execution training.
- Automate. Learn what Balanced Scorecard software is and how it can make your life easier by automating strategy execution, KPIs, and strategy maps.