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Metrics That Matter to SEO Agencies

The average Google Analytics report contains hundreds of different metrics, measuring everything from daily unique site visitors to content interactivity.

Agencies face the unenviable task of distilling these metrics into a cohesive report. Some clients want the highlights; others want the details – but all clients want to meet their business goals.

The metrics that matter most to agencies explain:

    (1) how SEO influences website reach;
    (2) what visitors actually do on a website; and
    (3) what changes to a website’s content or design will prompt more desirable actions.

Reach & Action Metrics:
How Agencies Measure SEO Success

Traditionally, agency SEO reports concentrated on “reach” metrics. These metrics answer questions like “How many people are visiting my website?” and “How highly ranked is my website?” Unfortunately, that was it. What these visitors did after arriving on a client’s website remained a mystery. Do Facebook visitors read a single blog post and leave? Do potential customers arriving via Google AdWords buy the product advertised or do they purchase something else?

While reach metrics continue to be important for establishing a performance baseline, increasingly, the metrics that matter most to agencies and clients measure “actions” that visitors take on a website. From purchasing products to commenting on a blog post, these actions reflect the site’s interactivity and sociability.

Together, “Reach” and “Action” Metrics Tell Us

    • What are my client’s most popular landing pages?
    • What actions do individuals take once they land on these pages?
    • Are these actions in line with what our client needs?
    • What changes can we make to our SEO strategy to improve reach and prompt desired actions that meet our client’s business goals?

The Key Reach Metrics that Agencies Measure

While action metrics are incredibly important, reach metrics are still critical for diagnosing website problems and identify new SEO opportunities.

These metrics may not directly measure the success of a client’s business goals, but they are key for determining whether search engines can find a client’s site (or if technical problems are impeding SERP), the scale of SEO work, and the initial effectiveness of SEO strategy.

Key reach metrics for agencies include:

#1: Crawlability

This is the most basic and fundamental reach measurement. SEO fine-tuning is worthless if a client’s website is not visible to search engine bots, or if errors are preventing these bots from crawling the website. While Google webmaster tools are useful, many agencies also have their own SEO tools for auditing a website on a larger scale.

How to measure: Number of pages blocked by robots.txt file or noindex meta standards; 404 Page Not Found error; number of pages with redirects or redirect errors.

#2: Geographic Influence

Whether companies serve a specific local service area or a major international audience, understanding geographic influence is key to determining whether a client’s website is putting the right content in the right places to the right target audience.

How to measure: Location Report in Google Analytics – Number of countries sending traffic to a client’s website. Break down by DMAs or metro areas for detailed analysis.

#3: Branded vs. Non-Branded Keywords

What keywords or phrases are bringing traffic to a client’s website? Are there new opportunities for better targeting a client’s audience with different long-tailed keyword phrases and anchor text? This metric is not only important for discovering what is working, but also identifying potential problems. Tracking keywords can help identify keywords or phrases that bring traffic but are not used by the target audience, or are too competitive for a smaller, local business.

Additionally, tracking branded versus non-branded keyword traffic helps determine whether visitors are searching for a client’s specific business or the answer to a question. This information, in turn, affects where clients should focus their SEO efforts.

How to measure: Google AdWords Local Keyword and Global Keyword search volume; Google Trend Interest; Google Analytics organic keyword traffic.

Key Action Metrics that Agencies Measure

With Google’s algorithm increasingly favoring sociability and content interactivity, the actions visitors take on a website not only affect conversion rates, but also impact a website’s overall SERP. Actions metrics measure what visitors do on a client’s website, what content is most interactive, and a website’s most valuable traffic sources (organic search vs. paid search vs. social media).

Key metrics for agencies include:

#1: Bounce Rate

A client’s bounce rate measures the percentage of visitors who leave the website after just one page view. High bounce rates signal to Google that a website is stuffed with keywords or irrelevant material to artificially inflate search results. If a site has a high bounce rate, Google’s algorithm now lowers the site’s search engine rank. Even if a client’s website is not using blackhat SEO tactics, it’s never a good sign if visitors look at only one page and bounce. Tracking bounce rates is critical to measuring SEO success.

How to measure: Google Analytics tracks bounce rate for specific pages.

#2: Content Interactivity

This metric answers the fundamental question, “What do visitors do on a client’s website?” From measuring the number of visitors who scroll down below the fold to which menu items are most often clicked, a clear understanding of content interactivity is critical for shaping online strategy.

How to measure: Google’s In-Page Analytics is a sandboxed version of a client’s website with overlapping click data; hovering over different links, menus or website sections reveals how many visitors click on each portion of the site.

#3: Social Visitors Flow

This metric answers two key questions: (1) which social media platforms send the most traffic and (2) what does this traffic do when it reaches a client’s website? Social visitors flow measures visitors first, second, third and fourth actions on a website. From viewing a blog post to purchasing a product, this flow can reveal surprising behavior patterns – agencies may even discover that social media visitors, for example, spend more time on a client’s website than visitors arriving via paid search. Social visitors flow helps clients better understand the importance of investing in social media as part of a well-rounded marketing strategy.

How to measure: Google Analytics ‘Social Visitors Flow’ report tracks visitor origin and actions.

Metrics that Matter: What’s Next?

The above metrics are just a small sampling of the many different metrics available to track SEO performance. Monthly reports must not only report metrics, but also use these metrics to identify new opportunities for online success. iSpionage’s keyword research tools can be helpful for researching your competitive space and determining what content areas are likely to have the most opportunity to build content for next. Fundamentally, agencies that track a good balance of reach and action metrics are best positioned to advise clients regarding SEO strategy, and ultimately, to demonstrate the ROI for SEO spend.


Chris Sparks, iSpionage Director of Marketing
Chris is an online marketing and content strategist here at iSpionage building awareness and engagement within our target markets. Connect with Chris or on Twitter.