Search Marketing

How to Monitor Your Organic Search (SEO) Performance

Having worked to improve the organic performance of every type of site – from mega sites with millions of pages, to e-commerce sites, to small and local businesses, there’s a process that I take that helps me to monitor and report my clients’ performance. Amongst digital marketing firms, I don’t believe my approach is unique… but it is much more thorough than the typical organic search (SEO) agency. My approach is not difficult, but it does use an array of tools and targeted analysis for every client.

SEO Tools for Organic Search Performance Monitoring

  • Google Search Console – think of Google Search Console (previously known as webmaster tools) as an analytics platform to assist you to monitor your visibility in organic search results. Google Search Console will identify issues with your site and help you to monitor your rankings to an extent. I said “to an extent” because Google doesn’t provide comprehensive data for logged in Google users. As well, I’ve found quite a few false errors in console that pop up and then disappear. As well, some other errors don’t significantly impact your performance. Nitpicking Google Search Console issues can waste a ton of time… so use caution.
  • Google Analytics – Analytics will provide you with actual visitor data and you can directly segment your visitors by the acquisition source to monitor your organic traffic. You can further break that down into new and returning visitors. As with search console, analytics doesn’t divulge the data of users that are logged into Google so when you break down the data into keywords, referral sources, etc. you’re only getting a subset of the information you need. With so many people logged into Google, this can really lead you astray.
  • Google Business – Search engine result pages (SERPs) are broken up into three seperate areas for local businesses – ads, map pack, and organic results. The map pack is controlled by Google Business and highly dependent on your reputation (reviews), accuracy of your business data, and frequency of your posts and reviews. A local business, whether a retail store or a service provider, must manage their Google Business profile effectively to stay highly visible.
  • YouTube Channel Analytics – YouTube is the second largest search engine and there’s no excuse not to have a presence there. There are a ton of different types of videos that your business should be working on to drive organic traffic to the videos and referral traffic from YouTute to your site. Not to mention that the videos will enhance your visitors’ experience on your own website. We try to have a relevant video on every page of a business site to capitalize on visitors that appreciate it over reading a ton of information in a page or article.
  • Semrush – There are quite a few great SEO tools out there for organic search. I’ve used Semrush for years, so I’m not trying to sway you over one of the others out there… I just want to make sure that you understand that you must have access to these tools to truly monitor your organic search performance. If you open a browser and start looking at search engine result pages (SERPs) you are getting personalized results. Even if you’re not logged in and in a private window, your physical location can directly impact the results that you’re getting in Google. This is a common mistake that I see clients make when checking their own performance… they’re logged in and have a search history that’s going to provide personalized results that may vastly differ from the average visitor. Tools like this can also help you identify opportunities for integrating other mediums like video, or developing rich snippets into your site to improve your visibility.

External Variables That Impact Organic Traffic

Maintaining a high visibility in search results on relevant search terms is critical to your business’ digital marketing success. It’s important to keep in mind that SEO isn’t something that’s ever done… it’s not a project. Why? Because of external variables that are outside of your control:

  • There are sites that compete against you for ranking like news, directories, and other information sites. If they can win relevant searches, that means they can charge you for access to their audience – whether that’s in ads, sponsorships, or prominent placement. A great example is Yellow Pages. Yellow Pages wants to win search results that your site can be found for so that you’re forced to pay them to increase your visibility.
  • There are businesses that are competing against your business. They may be investing heavily in content and SEO to capitalize on relevant searches that you’re competing on.
  • There are user experience, algorithmic ranking changes, and continuous testing that happen on search engines. Google is constantly trying to improve their users’ experience and ensure quality search results. That means you might own a search result one day and then begin losing it the next.
  • There are search trends. Keyword combinations can increase and decrease in popularity over time and terms can even change altogether. If you’re an HVAC repair company, for example, you’re going to peak on AC in hot weather and furnace issues in cold weather. As a result, as you analyze your month-over-month traffic, the number of visitors may significantly shift with the trend.

Your SEO agency or consultant should be digging into this data and truly analyzing whether or not you’re improving with these external variables top of mind.

Monitoring Keywords That Matter

Have you ever got the SEO pitch where the folks say that they’ll get you on Page 1? Ugh… delete those pitches and don’t give them the time of day. Anyone can rank on page 1 for a unique term… it barely takes any effort. What really helps businesses to drive organic results is capitalizing on non-branded, relevant terms that lead a potential customer to your site.

  • Branded Keywords – If you’ve got a unique company name, product name, or even your employee names… chances are that you’re going to rank for those search terms regardless of how little effort you put into your site. I better rank on Martech Zone… it’s a pretty unique name for my site that’s been around for over a decade. As you analyze your rankings, branded keywords vs. non-branded keywords should be analyzed separately.
  • Converting Keywords – Not all non-branded keywords matter, either. While your site may rank on hundreds of terms, if they’re not resulting in relevant traffic that is engaging with your brand, why bother? We have assumed SEO responsibilities for several clients where we drastically reduced their organic traffic while increasing their conversions because we focus on the products and services the company has to offer!
  • Relevant Keywords – A key strategy in developing a content library is providing value to your visitors. While not all visitors may turn into a customer, being the most comprehensive and helpful page on a topic can build your brand’s reputation and awareness online.

We have a new client that had invested tens of thousands in a site and content over the last year where they rank on hundreds of search terms, and have had NO conversions from the site. Much of the content wasn’t even targeted towards their specific services… they literally ranked on terms on services they didn’t provide. What a waste of effort! We’ve removed that content since they’re of no use to the audience they’re trying to reach.

The results? Less keywords ranked… with a substantial increase in relevant organic search traffic:

Less keyword ranking with increased organic traffic

Monitoring Trends Is Critical To Organic Search Performance

As your site is moving through the ocean of the web, there will be ups and downs every single month. I never focus on instantaneous rankings and traffic for my clients, I push them to look at the data over time.

  • Count of Keywords By Position Over Time – Increasing page rank requires time and momentum. As you optimize and enhance your page’s content, promote that page, and people share your page, your ranking will increase. While the top 3 positions on page 1 truly matter, those pages may have started way back on page 10. I want to ensure that all the site’s pages are properly indexed and my overall ranking continues to grow. That means that the work that we’re doing today may not even pay off in leads and conversions for months… but we can visually show our clients that we’re moving them in the right direction. Be sure to segment these results into branded vs. non-branded relevant terms as discussed above.
Keyword Ranking By Position
  • Number of Organic Visitors Month Over Month – Taking into consideration seasonal trends for the search terms associated with your business, you want to look at the number of visitors that your site acquires from search engines (new and returning). If search trends are consistent month over month, you’ll want to see an increase in the number of visitors. If search trends have changed, you’ll want to analyze whether you’re growing despite the search trends. If your number of visitors is flat, for example, but search trends are down for relevant keywords… you’re actually performing better!
  • Number of Monthly Organic Visitors Year Over Year – Taking into consideration seasonal trends for the search terms associated with your business, you’ll also want to look at the number of visitors that your site acquires from search engines (new and returning) compared to the year before. Seasonality impacts most businesses, so analyzing your number of visitors each month compared to the previous period is a great way of seeing whether you’re improving or if you need to dig into see what needs optimized.
  • Number of Conversions from Organic Traffic – If your agency of consultant is not tying traffic and trends to actual business results, they’re failing you. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to do… it’s not. The customer journey for consumers and businesses isn’t a clean sales funnel as we’d like to imagine. If we can’t tie a specific phone number or web request to a source for the lead, we push our clients hard to build standard operating procedures that document that source. We have a dental chain, for example, that asks every single new client how they heard about them… most are now saying Google. While that doesn’t differentiate between the map pack or the SERP, we know that the efforts we’re applying to both are paying off.

Focusing on conversions also helps you to optimize for conversions! We’re pushing our clients more and more to integrate live chat, click-to-call, simple forms, and offers to help increase conversion rates. What use is ranking high and growing your organic traffic if it’s not driving more leads and conversions?!

And if you can’t turn an organic visitor into a customer now, then you also need to deploy nurturing strategies that can help them navigate the customer journey to become one. We love newsletters, drip campaigns, and offer sign-ups to entice new visitors to return.

Standard SEO Reports Won’t Tell The Entire Story

I’ll be honest that I don’t use any of the platforms above to produce any standard reports. No two businesses are exactly alike and I actually want to pay more attention to where we can capitalize and differentiate our strategy rather than mimic competing sites. If you’re a hyperlocal company, for example, monitoring your international search traffic growth isn’t really going to help, is it? If you’re a new company with no authority, you can’t compare yourself to the sites that are winning the top search results. Or even if you’re a small business with a limited budget, running a report that a company with a million-dollar marketing budget isn’t plausible.

Each clients’ data needs filtered, segmented, and focused on who their target audience and customer is so that you can optimize their site over time. Your agency or consultant must understand your business, who you sell to, what your differentators are, and then translate that to dashboards and metrics that matter!

Disclosure: Martech Zone is an affiliate of Semrush and I’m using our affiliate link in this article.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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