Perhaps the biggest challenge with search engine optimization is to get a tangible sense of how your efforts are paying off – particularly if you’ve just started the process of optimizing your site.

It could take anywhere between three to six months before new content starts to drive organic traffic to your site. The speed it takes can depend heavily on the existing domain authority of your site too – so it’s important to not get too downhearted if you don’t witness an immediate leap in search engine rankings. At the same time, you’ll be undoubtedly eager to know whether your strategy is working without having to wait half a year – and you’ll likely be wondering how to measure things in the interim.

There are four key performance indicators to any content-based strategy for SEO:

1) Content velocity: this is how frequently you are publishing new/updated articles or other content.
2) Ranking: how your site is ranking for keywords you’re targeting.
3) Traffic: how much organic traffic (traffic from natural searches) your chosen keywords are bringing to your site.
4) Conversions: how your articles are helping to convert prospective customers, resulting in sales or other leads.

It’s worth noting that while each of these KPIs is incredibly useful, it might not be pertinent to focus on traffic straight away. Most SEO experts will use each of these metrics at different points in the lifecycle of a website. Here’s a detailed rundown of why each of them is important:

Content velocity: an essential

Content velocity is a relatively simple metric. It’s the measure of how quickly (and how consistently) content is added to a site. While it might not be considered a “result” metric, it’s by far the easiest way to measure how your site is tracking against the result that you’re aiming for – and here’s how:

Let’s say you compare two websites. Each site intends on creating/uploading three articles per week – although one is approving/publishing them on time, while the other is slightly more lackadaisical to its approach to uploading content.

The site that is publishing on time will easily maintain its target of “three articles per week” and within three months it should have nearly 40 unique articles online. However, the site that is taking longer to approve/upload content will be at least one month behind in real terms, with as little as 25 articles online.

This means that the first site is one month ahead, despite both projects having been on the go for the same amount of time. There are approximately fifteen extra articles on the leading site that are ranking for target keywords. In addition to this, the site with more articles is more likely to be rewarded with rankings (which means extra traffic) in less time, because more is being published on a regular basis. Search engines recognise this and award rankings accordingly.

This is the main reason content creators like to manage the publishing of content on behalf of clients, where possible. By operating on a defined publishing schedule, your content creator can guarantee a healthy content velocity, and your project won’t be bottlenecked by an erratic publishing schedule.

Content velocity is one of the most common reasons why new sites fail to execute a content plan. While it might not seem like a “real” Key Performance Indicator in comparison to traffic or conversions, it’s an essential measurement for any content-based marketing plan.

The importance of ranking

After content/article velocity, you’ll want to focus on ranking changes. You might not notice traffic hitting your site for a particular keyword until your site ranks in the top 10 for that keyword, but you can notice a keyword moving in the right direction before it begins to bring in noticeable traffic.

Let’s imagine a new site – for the first few months, it gets approximately 35 visitors each day. That’s not impressive, but with the right keyword targeting via content velocity, the analytics show that the site starts to rank for certain keywords.

It can take upwards of two months before traffic catches up with keyword rankings. A leap from the top 100 into the top 10 for a particular keyword ranking can bring with it a tenfold increase in visitors – so that’s 350 organic visitors per day in just two months’ time.

This is proof that it’s important never to underestimate rankings – and to use the right tools to measure them.

Keeping an eye on traffic

Traffic is arguably the most obvious metric. It’s the last one that SEO experts will use to track new sites, as it’s the one that takes longest to materialize. Nonetheless, it’s still one of the most important metrics to aim for.

There’s a lot less to say about traffic in comparison to other KPIs, because it’s pretty much self-explanatory. However, it’s worth pointing out that its usually more beneficial to concentrate on organic traffic on a weekly/monthly basis, instead of focusing on daily trends.

This is because daily changes in traffic can be substantial for lots of reasons. For example, people might be less likely to search for a particular keyword depending on the day of the week. It can be disheartening to look at a couple of days’ worth of traffic and worry that things are taking a downturn, when in reality that’s just the nature of your business model.

For example, a restaurant might expect to be busier during the weekend in comparison to a Monday or Tuesday night. By focusing on daily traffic reports, we’d see a large dip at the beginning of the week. Zoom out, however, and the picture becomes clearer – particularly when looking at things on a month-by-month basis. By focusing on monthly metrics, you’ll have a much more lucid idea of the direction in which your organic traffic is going.

Understanding conversion

When your site begins to receive a decent amount of organic traffic, there will usually be at least one conversion KPI that you’ll want to track. However, this can vary depending on your site, your industry, your business model and what your buyer journey entails.

For an affiliate site, things are easy – simply track the clicks on your affiliate links. Sites that offer information on products usually involve a clear funnel along the lines of “read blog post -> signup to email list -> purchase product”. In this case, focusing on the email signup conversion rate would make more sense.

If you’ve got an ecommerce store or offer Software as a Service, conversion tracking can be a little bit trickier. This is mainly because it can be difficult to convert “cold” search traffic directly into sales. In this case, it makes the most sense to focus on an intermediate part of the conversion funnel, such as an email signup, request of a demo or a visit to a product page.

Intermediate metrics like these are usually more informative in the beginning stages of a site as opposed to recording direct purchases – even when multistep attribution is considered. Sites that are at the earliest stages of their content marketing strategy can simply be measured with the keywords you are targeting, and the pages you are publishing to bring in traffic.

For a site that is already achieving a reasonable amount of traffic, it may be time to consider multistep attribution, per-page revenue estimates and other conversion metrics along these lines. However, it is not worthwhile jumping to these steps until you’ve managed to regularly bring in a decent amount of traffic.

Which metrics to focus on – and why

Right now, you may be wondering which of these KPIs are the most important when it comes to measuring the success of your SEO-based content marketing. While there are no set rules, your choice of Key Performance Indicators will vary dependent on the level of traffic you’re receiving.

If you’ve just launched your site and are achieving less than 100 visitors each day, you should continue to focus on content/article velocity (and perhaps look at the amount of links you’re acquiring if link building is part of your strategy).

After a short while, you should notice a steady incline in visitors. Once you start hitting the range of 50-250 visitors per day, you can start concentrating on keywords. Consider which keywords are ranking best to provide you with an indication of what type of content might be useful for bringing in more traffic.

Once you’ve landed solidly in the 2,000 visitors per week range, you’ll likely want to start focusing on conversion metrics. Remember to start off with something simple, such as email signups. While there are more intricate conversion tracking KPIs available, you’ll probably want to save these for when your site is achieving 10,000 views or more per day. As your site grows, you’re going to need lots of data points to get access to good data when your conversion funnel becomes increasingly more intricate.

There are lots of ways to track data on your site, and many tools are available for you to use straight away, for free. Some of the most powerful tools include Google Analytics (an essential for all sites), Ahrefs and Accuranker. You might also want to consider other third-party SEO tools as well, depending on how successful your site currently is.

Is my bounce rate important?

Bounce rate is a KPI which measures when a user loads a page on your site before immediately exiting without performing another action. It’s calculated by dividing the number of non-interactive (bounce) sessions by the total number of site visits.

It’s important in the respect that search engines want their algorithms to satisfy each user that makes a search query. When a user bounces back to the search results, it indicates to the search engine that your page might not be relevant, could be frustrating to navigate or could otherwise be untrustworthy. While navigation is more of an issue for designers and developers, content plays a large role in your bounce rate, too. If your content is poorly written, contains factual errors or spelling/grammar mistakes, potential converts are likely to treat you as an untrustworthy source and end up pressing the “back” button, before checking out one of your competitors.

Pages on your site which appear to have a high bounce rate should be subject to A/B testing with several different approaches until you can find a way for the bounce rate to improve.

However, if your page has a relatively high bounce rate, don’t despair just yet. It’s worth remembering that most sites have an average bounce rate of 40-60% – if you’re in this ballpark, you’re doing just fine. Any higher and you might want to take action.

What’s next

If you are yet to track at least one of these metrics for your content marketing, it’s time to start measuring. The sooner you begin monitoring these KPIs, the sooner you’ll gain a clearer understanding of what’s working for you – and crucially, what isn’t.

Of course, not all businesses have the people power, time and resources to put Key Performance Indicators in place. If your team is already busy chasing sales and concentrating on administrative tasks, you might struggle to find time during the working week to implement the sort of measurements you’d like.

If this sounds familiar, a better option might be to outsource your analytics. These means you’ll get all the benefits of professionally managing the progress of your site across the four main Key Performance Indicators without having to sacrifice time spent on other important tasks.

When you focus on the KPIs and put in the effort to increase your site performance on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis, you’ll notice a correlation between the following corresponding business KPIs too:

• Customers
• Return on Investment
• Profit

Ultimately, transforming your site into a success starts with the right content. It may be a long journey, but the payoffs are worth it in the end, and the satisfaction of watching your site grow from an outsider to a top ranker on all major search engines is perhaps the one metric that is immeasurable.

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