Author: Sophie Brannon
Whether you work at an SEO agency or in an in-house setting, it’s vital to understand how to accurately measure the success of the work you’ve put in. Doing so can help you build trust with stakeholders, get buy-in for your proposals, and even lead to upsells and cross-sells when metrics are reported on well. Getting more granular with your analytics and basing them on specific keywords (or groups of keywords) can help you plan the campaign in greater detail—even when you’re simply tracking for internal purposes.
To help you determine the specific metrics that work best for measuring your SEO success and conveying that story to stakeholders, I will explain and contextualize some fundamental keyword metrics you can use to track and measure your website’s performance.
Table of contents:
Organic traffic by keyword
Organic traffic refers to the number of website visitors that found your site via a search engine (such as Google or Bing), but have not clicked on a paid ad.
You may already be monitoring your site’s organic traffic as a whole, but tracking it by keyword allows you to identify which pages are actually working to attract visitors, so you can make the right strategic decisions moving forward.
Takeaway: Use tools like Search Console and GA4 (more on this below) to gain detailed insights into specific search queries and the terms that drive traffic most effectively.
Doing so can help you see which groups of pages and terms are performing (or underperforming), allowing you to strategize accordingly. This is particularly useful for small business owners whose SEO objective may be to be visible for a specific term or group of terms.
How to check organic traffic by keyword in GSC
You can evaluate your site’s organic traffic via impression and click metrics, which can be found in Google Search Console’s Performance report. By default, the report is filtered by query, but you can also use the various filters to narrow down the report (i.e., exclude or include only specific queries that you want to drill into).
Clicks and average position are a more significant metric to look at in Search Console to get an understanding of the traffic levels the site is driving.
How to check organic traffic by keyword in GA4
To see organic traffic in Google Analytics 4, you can go to the Traffic acquisition report under Life cycle > Acquisition.
Google Analytics 4 offers great visualization charts and easy-to-consume data for reporting purposes, and the Traffic acquisition report is no different. The data is broken down more granularly into the following metrics: Users, sessions, engaged sessions, average engagement time per session, and engaged sessions per user.
To view keyword data in Google Analytics 4, you must first connect your Search Console account (GA4 restricts the ability to see keyword data due to privacy, and this is instead replaced with “[not provided]”).
By integrating Google Search Console, you will be able to access two new reports: Google Organic Search Queries and Google Organic Search Traffic (shown above). Once your Search Console integration is complete, you will need to go to Library (shown below) and publish these two new reports.
Once complete, you will see a Search Console section in the left-hand navigation panel. Data may take 24–48 hours to appear.
The Google Organic Search Queries report shows the queries that generated organic impressions. While this does not show a specific keyword ranking, this will give you an understanding of the amount of traffic (and therefore visibility) your site has for specific key terms and groups of terms.
How to check organic traffic by keyword in Wix
Wix site owners can view the Top Search Queries on Google report within Wix Analytics to identify which pages are their top performers.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the report is sortable by clicks, impressions, CTR, and average position, and the data can be compared to the previous period.
Impressions are triggered in Google Search Console when a user searches a query and your site is viewed anywhere in the search engine results page (SERP) for that query. This means your content can appear on page 1 or page 10 and an impression will still occur.
While they do not represent organic traffic visiting your site, impressions are still a very valuable metric to monitor. Impressions offer a good understanding of your brand’s reach, how often Google displays your site in SERPs, and search demand for specific queries.
You can compare datasets to gain insights into seasonality or visibility growth. You can also use impression data to identify new opportunities to improve your site’s online presence and pursue better average position for high-demand terms.
Click-through rate (CTR)
Click-through rate (CTR) refers to the percentage of people who’ve seen your search listing and click on it. This ratio can help you better understand how your content is performing and whether you need to improve it.
CTR is an interesting metric to measure because it can be influenced by a number of factors:
Naturally, the higher a page ranks for a given search term, the more likely it is that the CTR will also be higher. Organic CTR for position one (on desktop search results) ranges from 47-19%, depending on the presence of rich results and other SERP features (such as images, featured snippets, etc).
Tracking and optimizing your click-through rate over time (e.g., through micro conversions) can influence larger conversions on your site. Ultimately, the higher the percentage of people that visit your site from search results, the more likely you are to convert them—if they are able to find what they’re looking for.
You can check your average click-through rate in Google Search Console’s Performance report.
For a more granular analysis, you can view specific queries and compare associated metrics, such as clicks, impressions, and average position, to determine which pages and queries perform best and which areas you need to focus your efforts for improvement.
Conversion and event tracking by keyword
If your business objective is to increase online sales or leads, conversion tracking is one of the best ways to determine a campaign’s success. In Google Analytics, you can create or identify an event that is important to you and measure its growth over time.
There are two different types of conversions to consider:
Macro conversions — These are conversions that meet the main objectives of your website. For example, if you are managing an eCommerce site, the macro conversions are likely to be transactions and revenue. For a lead-generation site, this may be form fills, demos booked, or signups.
Micro conversions — These are smaller steps that users may complete throughout their journey to convert. Examples of micro conversions include newsletter signups, viewing a set number of web pages in one session, etc.
Tracking both macro and micro conversions can allow you to better understand your user journey and help you optimize it moving forward.
In GA4, you can filter the Traffic acquisition report by organic, then add the “Session manual term” to sort the report and show conversions by keyword (as shown below).
Alternatively, you can use Google’s Looker Studio (formerly known as Data Studio) to blend data from GA4 and GSC, pulling in your top landing pages, keyword clusters that belong to that landing page, and conversion metrics.
This helps you understand which landing pages perform best from a traffic, ranking, and conversion perspective, and get a detailed view of which specific key terms are driving performance.
Takeaway: Get granular with your conversion tracking to understand your user journey and how users are engaging with your content.
Use this data to continuously optimize the site to improve the journey from initial visit to conversion. Don’t overcomplicate the conversion reporting when reporting to stakeholders. Focus on their core business objectives and what they want to achieve from the campaign.
There are many reasons why rank tracking is important for SEO. But, how much does this really determine your SEO success?
Keyword rankings must be contextualized. It can be incredibly exciting to rank in position one for a core keyword, but if that term isn’t driving valuable traffic, how worthwhile is it?
For example, if you’re ranking in position one for the keyword [dress], but your eCommerce site specifically sells [wedding dresses], you may attract a huge amount of irrelevant traffic (i.e., people looking for summer dresses and casual dresses, which are more common to shop for than wedding dresses).
Of course, Google is very good at understanding keyword intent and ranking relevant websites, but there are always sites that slip through the algorithm.
Be aware: In many cases—particularly working with small businesses—clients can be preoccupied with “being position one” for keywords that they think are the most relevant to their business. This usually comes from misinformation or a lack of understanding about the bigger picture in SEO. Nevertheless, this can end up being a challenge that agencies and freelance SEOs have to face when reporting to clients.
So, how might you work around this? Here are two potential ways:
Look at average position instead – Keyword ranking tools are not always accurate due to Google’s increased SERP personalization (i.e., differences in devices, location, and other variables). Looking at average position provides you with a clearer understanding where you rank, despite this personalization. This gives you a broader view of where the majority of individuals are seeing your site on search, and therefore how visible you are for certain terms.
Don’t report on rankings at all — You can keep this data internally to help you benchmark performance, but focus your reporting efforts on more business-oriented metrics (like conversions, for example) as opposed to vanity metrics around ranking for a particular keyword.
Google’s John Mueller stated that the search engine calculates average position using real data (actual search results). This makes average position more reliable, as Google aggregates all of the different positions your content appears in to give you a more realistic description of how visible you are in SERPs.
You can hear more from John Mueller on this topic in the AskGooglebot video series.
Takeaway: Rankings are important to monitor as they influence the traffic a site receives and how much of the market you capture. However, if you can keep this information internally, it could help you sidestep potential friction with clients that are only interested in a vanity keyword position—this is particularly true for those who have limited understanding of SEO.
If your client prefers to show keyword data, use average position data from Google Search Console for a more accurate representation.
Keyword visibility allows you to track how much of the market share you’ve captured based on your overall number of ranking keywords. Depending on the tool you’re using, this can be broken down by:
Top three positions
“Page one” positions (the first ten organic results)
“Page two” positions (positions 11–20)
You can monitor your keyword visibility via a variety of third-party tools, including Semrush, Ahrefs, SEOmonitor, SE Ranking, and many more.
For your reference, here’s an example of a keyword visibility graph:
Monitoring your keyword visibility can help inform your SEO strategy. For example, if you’re ranking for strong head terms relevant to your industry and site on page two of the SERP, then you may want to focus your efforts on optimizing that content so it can break into the top 10 results.
Note: Similar to tracking individual keyword rankings, keyword visibility is not always 100% accurate—however, it does give a broader view of performance over time.
Takeaway: Keyword visibility can give stakeholders a broad view of how their site is performing in search. It can be a valuable part of your strategic planning—if there are notable drops (such as from algorithm updates or website changes), keyword visibility can help you understand how your site was impacted.
Many SEO strategies involve earning backlinks. In order to determine the quality of a link, there are a variety of metrics available. The most popular ones are third-party, tool-based authority metrics, such as Domain Rating (DR) from Ahrefs, Domain Authority (DA) from Moz, and Authority Score (AS) from Semrush.
This already causes a potential conflict if your agency uses a certain metric to measure link authority but your clients use something completely different. When reporting on your SEO success, agree with the client how link metrics should be reported in order to stay consistent before you even produce the first report.
Whether this is digital PR or alternative forms of link building, reporting on links is important to justify budget spent in this area. Link metrics can help to show the value of the links gained.
Some of the ways you can measure link success includes:
Volume of links gained
An authority metric (such as DA/DR/AS)
Link type (follow or nofollow)
Placement type (i.e., whether the content is syndicated or exclusive)
Your link acquisition can directly affect keyword visibility. Closely review your anchor text to identify the proportion of exact-match anchor text compared to anchor text that uses natural variations of keywords. This can help determine which type of anchor text is more effective for your site.
While there are arguments for and against the use of exact-match anchors, there may be some correlation between movement for specific terms and the links and anchors chosen. Tracking this closely can help you understand the impact of your link acquisition on your campaign and on specific pages and key terms the links are targeting.
Takeaway: If you can agree on a defined authority metric with the client, then reporting on this can be useful to maintain buy-in for this SEO channel. There are arguments for and against link metrics as a measurement (for example, DA can be manipulated and isn’t always a true measurement of quality), however it’s a necessary evil to quantify the success of a link building campaign.
When it comes to Digital PR, more often than not, clients are looking at the publications they are gaining coverage in and less on the metrics around them.
Should you report month-over-month or year-over-year?
One of the most difficult decisions to make is whether to report month-over-month (MoM) or year-over-year (YoY) performance. Here, I’ll break down the pros and cons of both reporting options.
Takeaway: Discuss with the client which reporting frequency they would prefer during the initial stages and stay consistent with this reporting.
Don’t be tempted to manipulate data in reports to make the numbers look better—for example, if you decide on MoM, don’t switch this to YoY when you have a low-performing month. Instead, be completely transparent with the client, convey what went wrong, and strategize on how to resolve this to improve performance the following month. Personally, I prefer YoY reporting for more accurate comparisons that mitigate fluctuations caused by seasonality.
As with everything in SEO, the devil is in the details
Remember that tracking and reporting are only part of your role—the other part is to create and execute a strategy based on keyword performance trends. To that end, narrowing the focus of your SEO reporting (whether internally or externally) by measuring individual keyword performance can help you to more granularly optimize a campaign.
I recommend that you closely review the following metrics as part of your campaign strategy:
Organic traffic by keyword
Organic click-through rate by search query
Overall keyword visibility
Organic conversions by keyword
Using these as benchmarks can help you report effectively and show growth quickly. Whether or not you actually show this data to the client will depend on their business objectives. As specific keywords can fluctuate quite dramatically, it’s important to also report on the bigger picture to ensure that your overall efforts are moving your brand in the right direction.
Sophie is an SEO specialist with 7 years of agency experience. She's led strategy, implementation, and communication for local campaigns through to multi-language international campaigns. She's also an industry speaker and led the Web Almanac 2022 SEO chapter. Twitter | Linkedin