Think back to when you were in kindergarten and your friends asked you to play a new game.  What was the first thing you asked before you agreed to play?

I’m sure you asked, “how do you play?” in order to determine the rules and the measurement to determine who wins.  You had to know this information before you started to play or else you’d have no chance to win.

Now think about the decision to invest or reinvest in search engine optimization (SEO).  Do you know “how to play” and how to measure success?  If not, then you’re like a kid trying to win a game without first knowing the rules.  Sounds ridiculous right?

There are really only 4 key metrics you need to track to measure the success or failure of your SEO campaign:

  1. Relevant keyword rankings
  2. Clicks or traffic (from your rankings)
  3. Revenue (from your rankings)
  4. ROI (from your rankings)

Relevant Keyword Rankings

First things first – you need to track your rankings in the top search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo).  If you’re not ranked on the first page, then you’re not going to get any traffic.  And without traffic you certainly will not generate any sales from your website.

But all rankings are not created equally.  One of the most common SEO mistakes is to get your website ranked #1 in Google for an irrelevant keyword or one that is never searched.  For example, if you’re a plumber and you get ranked #1 for the keyword, “schools that teach plumbing,” then you’re not going to get qualified leads and sales from that ranking.

The most important metric in SEO is relevant keyword rankings.  Luckily Google Analytics makes this very easy to track once you link your Webmaster Tools account with Google Analytics.

Clicks = Traffic

The second most important metric to track is clicks or traffic from your rankings.  Just because you’re ranking high in Google, doesn’t mean you’re driving traffic to your website.  Do a quick search in Google and you’ll see your prospect has a lot of options… she could click on the ads at the top or the right side of the page or she could click on any one of the other websites listed on the first page of Google.

According to a recent study by SlingShotSEO, about 18% of people click on the #1 ranked website (not advertising).  So even if you’re number one, you’ll only get about 18% of all the available traffic.  If you’re ranked lower down the page then you’ll get much less.

To track how many clicks you’re getting, you can again use Google Analytics.  There are many different ways to view your data, but one quick method is to go to Traffic Sources > Search > Organic.  From there you’ll see all of the traffic from your organic, or non-paid keywords.


Now we’re to the good stuff.  Cold hard cash coming in from your rankings.  Obviously this is an important metric to track if you want to determine your return on investment.  If you’re spending $1,000 per month to get ranked #1 for some keywords, then you want to see more than $1,000 coming back from sales right?

If you’re taking orders online with a shopping cart, then you can track this easily using Analytics eCommerce tracking.  With eCommerce tracking you’ll see exactly how much money EVERY keyword is generating.  Very cool technology and a must-have for any eCommerce website.

However, most businesses do not take orders online.  Instead the sales process is over the phone or in the store.  That makes revenue tracking pretty tricky, but not impossible.  Check out How to Track Online Advertising ROI for Offline Sales for a few ideas to track revenue from online campaigns.


Finally, we come to the mother of all metrics – return on investment (ROI).  This is the metric that trumps all other numbers.  You can be ranked #1 for every keyword and generating tons of sales, but that doesn’t mean it’s profitable for your business.  To truly calculate the ROI from SEO you need to factor in all of your costs:

  • Monthly SEO fees if you’re outsourcing to an SEO company
  • Monthly salary if you hire an in-house SEO expert
  • Monthly cost of any SEO tools
  • Your time to manage the SEO company or your in-house expert/team

It’s important to remember SEO is a long term investment and you should not expect a positive return for up to 6 to 12 months. So you may go in the hole initially, but as long as the metrics above are all trending upward and your costs are holding steady, then you will eventually earn a positive ROI.

Note that with local SEO (i.e. Google Business Profile) you can see results much faster – for some businesses in as little as 30 days.

So now you know the 4 key metrics to “win the SEO game.”  The final step is to methodically track this data every month to make sure you’re making the best use of your online marketing budget.