The only 4 SEO metrics that matter (at first)

Posted by Vernon Joyce
December 15, 2021

I often see new SEO practitioners ask questions about what they should be putting on their dashboards or reporting to their clients. The truth, however, is that there is no magic metric or standard. If you’re asking publically how to measure success for your clients then you likely don’t understand their objectives.

With that said, for new SEO campaigns my answer will always be the same: There are only 4 key metrics you should really be paying attention to, the rest of them should be objective-driven. SEO, for the most part, is about how well you rank on Google, and measuring how well you’re doing it only requires you to understand how many users see your results, how well you rank for those results, and how often users click on those results. Luckily you can do all of this for free using Google Search Console. Let’s look at what these metrics are:

Impressions

Impressions are the number of times a page from your website comes up in search results, per search query. In other words, if a user searches for “diginauts” and this article as well as the home page comes up in the SERP it will count as 2 total impressions, 1 per page.

You can use impressions to gauge the overall visibility of your website and its content and whether or not it has even been indexed. Even content on page 5 of Google will get some impressions and an increase in impressions generally means that your content is becoming more discoverable. Impressions can lastly also be used to measure brand-related performance such as share of search or brand awareness.

Clicks

Clicks are simply how many users have clicked on your search result. This metric is a good indicator of whether your search result matched the user’s intent. What this means, in essence, is that a user would never click “Pizza in Cape Town” if they were searching for “Pizza in Johannesburg”.

Click-through rate

Click-through rate (or CTR) is simply the percentage of your impressions that resulted in clicks. A high CTR is a useful indicator of whether or not your content displays well, in other words, does it have a good SEO appearance. SEO appearance includes many different factors like relevant titles and descriptions, title length, user-friendly URLs, and more.

Click-through rate is also a great metric for benchmarking yourself against competitors.

Average rank

The average rank metric is exactly as it says – what is the average rank of your content across your entire website for all your impressions. A higher average rank is usually an indication of a healthy on-page SEO strategy as your content is essentially ranking for what users are searching for.

Measuring these metrics

I mentioned already that measuring these key metrics is free, and this is thanks to Google Search Console. Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) has been around for a long time and professional SEOs have been using it as their go-to tool ever since it became available.

Search Console has come a long way in terms of usability and features and can be your primary SEO tool if you’re on a tight budget or just doing the basics. Authenticating your domain is quick and easy and gives you immediate access to not only the metrics mentioned in this article, but also for image searches, rich snippets, user search terms, and much more.

A Google Data Studio dashboard displaying the key SEO metrics

An simple dashboard showcasing the four key metrics.

Another consideration when it comes to monitoring is the way in which you slice and visualise this data. In the dashboard example above, we’ve included a simple graph to show the difference in impressions between this client’s mobile and desktop sites. This particular SEO strategy required us to make the desktop site the canonical for all the content, and we use this graph to monitor how well mobile pages are being switched over to desktop.

Data Studio is a free dashboarding tool from Google and has connectors straight into Search Console, making the set-up process really easy.

Measuring straight in WordPress

The open-source nature of WordPress is both a blessing and a curse (but mostly a sweet, sweet blessing). Once you’ve set up Search Console you have the option of connecting one of the many WordPress SEO plugins directly to your data, allowing you to see all of these metrics directly in your WordPress backend. At Diginauts we use RankMath Pro to get a lot of work done, and integrating with Search Console is just one of the many features it offers.

RankMath Pro

We’re a proud affiliate of the leader in SEO automation for WordPress.

I wanted to end off by recommending a product as it’s one of the many ways we bloggers keep the lights on. I’d encourage you to try it out by using our affiliate link, especially if you are doing SEO on a lot of WordPress blogs.

Some questions from our clients

We like to share our learnings over the years with you, which is why we’ve compiled some of our favourite questions from clients and colleagues with regards to the four metrics mentioned.

My impressions suddenly dropped, what did I do wrong?

If your impressions drop suddenly, in a sharp peak, then it’s likely that Google published an algorithm update that’s negatively impacted you. There are many reasons why an algorithm update might cause a drop but the likely culprit is usually because of a problem with your website.

Check Search Console often for warnings as Google will notify you there if anything obvious comes up. If Search Console has no warnings then we recommend asking a professional to do an audit. 

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