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What happens when you measure the wrong KPIs in SEO?


Some KPIs in Search Engine Optimization are plain and clear: most people, for example, measure the ranking positions for a few keywords, while others  look at the overall traffic, or analyze the number of links. But can you improve on measuring those KPIs? I believe it is possible, that is why, in the following article, I will present a few specific pitfalls in measuring some KPIs, as opposed to showcasing a more general overview.

# Number of links from individual pages

This KPI can be easily manipulated by having just one or two web sites with a huge number of pages linked back to your site from footer or sidebar elements. Once you do this, you will get a huge number of pages linking back to you. However, Google knows how to evaluate this very well, so it will not take into account most of those links.

# Number of linking domains

Generally, this is a very solid KPI. Nonetheless, you have to pay attention as it can be manipulated. For example, if you hire a SEO contractor to add links to you, that contractor can add your website to 100 business directories, 100 forums and 100 social networks. This way you would be linked to 300 new domains, but you might face a few problems.

First of all, most of those links will come from domains with low authority. Secondly, quite a few of them will likely have the “nofollow” directive appended to them. Finally, social network and forum spamming is considered a SPAM signal by Google and you risk having an automated or manual penalty.

That is why, you should keep in mind that although this is a good KPI, you still need to make sure that the new domains you get links from are useful and qualitative, and that they do not create any problems.

# Number of words in an article

This technique was quite popular in the past. If you wrote a very short article (50-100 words), you would have gotten poorer results than if you wrote a longer one (500-1000 words).

However,  search engines have gotten more and more sophisticated and now, as far as I can tell, they generally look at indirect signals that indicate the quality of the article (bounce rate, time on site, clickthrough rate, links pointing to article, social sharing), as well as at signals which confirm that quality (topic keywords present in the article, level of comprehension of the text, spelling errors etc.).


# Ranking positions

Due to its quality and usefulness, this KPI is worth taking into consideration. However, you also need to take into account such things as: how many keywords you actively measure (it is generally better to measure more keywords, to get a more balanced overview of your ranking status), and have a look at organic traffic (traffic derived from SEO activities) so that you can analyze whether it rises at  the same time as the new keywords.

What’s more, you should not forget to look into topical keywords, and  instead of focusing on a short set of keywords, you should try to see if your pages rank high for terms which are related to your top pages.

# Number of pageviews or # Number of sessions

When analyzing the # number of pageviews, especially for a website with small traffic, you should be filtering your own (and your client’s, if this is the case) IP Addresses. You should only take into account traffic from other sources than your own. What is more, instead of looking at the overall traffic, you should segment your traffic into traffic from organic (Google) searches, paid traffic, referral traffic, and traffic from social networks. If your budget for paid traffic fluctuates from one month to the other, then your overall traffic will surely be affected.

You also have to take into account the fact that one type of traffic indirectly affects the visits for another one. This means that paid traffic affects organic traffic in Google Analytics to some extent. When employing this KPI, you should focus not only on getting lots of traffic, but on getting good quality traffic.

% Percentage of returning visitors

When looking at this statistic, you should be segmenting your traffic. For instance, if for a month, you put a lot of emphasis on getting new customers via paid advertising, and you ignore campaigns for your long-term audience, your statistics will be influenced by this trend. Taking this into account, you should be comparing traffic not only from organic searches, but also from paid searches, referral traffic, social networks, etc.

A few other KPIs that are worth mentioning here are:

  •  # Number of conversions for e-commerce web sites – used to monitor the average value of an order;
  •   # Cost per conversion – which should always be compared to # Average lifetime value of a customer, as these two balance each other.

If you are searching for an answer to the question – What about using a single KPI instead of so many? – I would answer by saying that whatever your SEO campaign is, I would highly suggest that you look at more than a single KPI. Even if you are interested only in the profit, and you do nothing else but SEO campaigns, you should still consider evaluating other criteria.

For instance, you might ignore # Number of newsletter subscribers, which would bring you clients on the long run. Or you might create good SEO on a regular basis, but on the long run this might not help you, because you only focused on accomplishing tasks in the short term (like running only social media campaigns, contests for social media, etc.).

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