Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of constructing a website in a style that allows it to place higher on a search engine results page (SERP). Ostensibly a site ranked near the top of a SERP, as opposed to those with a lower ranking, will attract more visitors and subsequently more customers.
SEO has become a fast growing industry in the 21st century as both webmasters and search engines become more sophisticated in their techniques of website ranking. There’s been a continual battle between webmasters trying to improve their ranking on SERPs and the search engines themselves trying to prevent rigged or illegitimate search results. As such, there can be a fine line between optimizing search results and using misleading or over-aggressive techniques which can lead to a website being banned from a SERP.
Early search engines were more prone to manipulated rankings due to exclusive reliance on factors under a webmaster’s control, also known as On-page Factors. Google and others have revolutionised the search engine business by cutting down on manipulated results by introducing a number of Off-page Factors into their search systems which aren’t directly under a webmaster’s control.
In the current climate, measuring SEO is more than typing a word or phrase into a search engine and looking at the results. There are a number of different metrics that are important to keep track of to ensure the SEO methods your business is using are up to date and working efficiently. Search engines themselves typically provide tools for the analysis of these metrics. However, there are a wealth of free and paid-for proprietary tools available online that mimic or even enhance those provided by the search engines.
Here are the essential, must do SEO metrics that you need to always track:
A backlink is a link from one website to another – from a referral domain to the referent domain. As backlinks are a type of internet citation, their quantity and quality are important factors in a website’s SERP ranking. Google itself “interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B.” The greater the number and credibility of the referring domains, the higher placed the referent domain will be on a SERP.
The Domain Authority of a website refers to its relevance, quality, and trustworthiness in a specific field. There are a number of factors that determine the domain authority of a website. Some of the more important factors include the number and quality of referral website backlinks, the identity and prestige of the author of the content, the quality and currency of the information presented, and the relative quality of the website compared to others covering similar subjects.
Organic Traffic refers to visitors of a website that do not come from paid sources such as advertising links. Organic traffic can originate from search engines, links on social media, and referrals from other websites. High organic traffic flow improves a website’s positioning on SERPs as it proves the relevance and reliability of the information on the site.
Direct Traffic typically refers to users who land on a site by typing the associated URL directly into a web browser or by using a web browser bookmark. Exceptions to this scenario such as when a user clicks a link embedded in an email or document, uses a shortened URL or uses links in mobile social media apps can result in the organic traffic being labelled as direct traffic. In certain SEO schemes, direct traffic is not as desirable as organic traffic and these exceptions can be tweaked to properly represent their organic origins. However, beyond these exceptions, direct traffic can be referred to as a “stickiness” metric because it can indicate a URL is memorable enough to be recalled without the use of a search engine.
When the content of a website utilises keywords or phrases that are typically entered into search engines, traffic is generally increased. By researching different keyword rankings it’s possible to focus the content on a website to include higher-ranking keywords and therefore raise its profile on a SERP. That said, as search engines have become more sophisticated, the practice of “keyword stuffing” or the overuse of specific keywords has become punishable. However, monitoring and utilising keyword rankings is still an important part of creating relevant content resulting in higher rankings on SERPs.
Bounce rate is the measure of users who visit the entry page of a website and then leave without visiting any other pages. For many websites, a higher bounce rate can signify content that is irrelevant to the user or that the page is loading too slowly. Conversely, it can measure the ability of the entry page to entice the user to visit other pages of the site. That said, for certain websites, such as an online dictionary which would present the relevant information on its entry page, a high bounce rate wouldn’t necessarily signify a problem.
Time On Site
The time a user spends on a website can be an indicator of the usefulness, quality, and relevance of the site’s content. Time on site typically speaks to the level of engagement of the user while at the same time shedding light on the site’s design and organisation. Whether a longer or shorter time on site is preferred once again depends on the type of website and business industry. An interactive site such as a gaming interface or detailed informational site may benefit with a longer time on site. On the other hand, needlessly increasing time on site for an e-commerce business may result in customer frustration and more lost sales.
Pages Per Visit
Pages Per Visit is the number of pages viewed by the user before exiting the site. As with time on site, whether a higher page per visit number is beneficial or harmful depends on the goals of the website itself. Even still, pages per visit can give insight into the quality of content and/or website organisation depending on the website’s objectives.
Returning Visitors is the number of users who return to a website and how many times they return. Returning Visitors is also a ‘stickiness’ metric in that it indicates the ability of the site to create a strong enough relationship with the user to ensure their return. Typically a returning visitor would be one who found the site engaging and useful enough to warrant a repeat visit. For example, users that frequent or subscribe to your blog.
Page Load Speed
Page Load Speed is an important SEO metric because websites with slower load speeds rank lower on SERPs. Site speed has been acknowledged by Google to be a key factor when it comes to ranking. It’s become even more important as more people use mobile phones, which typically have a longer load speed than desktop and laptop computers. Additionally, slower loading websites provide a poorer quality user experience and will end up with more user abandonment and bounce rate than a faster loading site.
Ever since the introduction of the smartphone, more and more users are accessing the internet via their mobile phones. As recently as 2016 it has been estimated that almost 60% of searches originate from a mobile device. Although websites were originally configured for use by desktop computers, in this day and age it’s imperative for a site to rank well for both mobile and desktop/laptop usage for optimum SERP placement. Monitoring a site’s mobile traffic will become even more important as handheld sets and technologies improve.
SEO is an ever evolving science with a little creativity stirred in. As webmasters continue to hone their methods of optimising their website profiles in SERPs, search engines will continue to expand the number and refine the parameters of the metrics used to rate those websites. So, roll up your sleeves and start tracking and analysing those essential metrics to ensure an effective SEO plan for your business!
Hamish FitzHenry is the Head of Search at Grizzly, a Bristol Digital Agency.