SEO metrics are an important part of your SEO strategy — they can help you analyze and monitor performance, ensuring you're putting your effort where it gets the best results. However, not all SEO performance metrics are worth tracking. Some popular search engine optimization metrics might seem like a good idea, but in reality they don't give you the best picture of how your site is actually performing in the SERPs.
So, what SEO metrics should you track for better decision-making?
Let's start with the overrated SEO performance metrics you should avoid, and then we'll cover must-have SEO metrics to track.
5 Overrated SEO Metrics (And Why You Should Avoid Them)
1. Keyword Rankings
Hear us out! Keyword rankings may be one of the original "must-track" SEO metrics, but in today's search engine landscape, they're not as useful or meaningful.
Keyword ranking isn't an indication of actual traffic, revenue, or conversion. You can rank for 50 keywords and receive only 10 visitors a month because your keywords aren't popular (or nobody is searching for them) — and those rankings could result in 0 leads or sales.
Secondly, search engine results are relative. Since Google (and other search engines) personalizes results based on a searcher's interests, location, and previous search history, the SERP you see may differ from what someone else sees. Rankings also fluctuate by day or even hour — any tracked ranking is just a "snapshot" of where your site was at that particular moment. This is the reason you see "average position" reported in Google Search Console.
And finally, individual keyword rankings are a limited view of how people search. Humans naturally use keyword variations and long tail keywords to find answers to their questions. Focusing on one keyword ranking doesn't give you a full picture of either your visibility in search results or how people are getting to your content.
That's why we like to use keyword rankings as a supporting metric instead of a primary growth metric. As long as you've identified the right keywords to track, individual keyword rankings can still give you a helpful view of how well your content is optimized for search and how well you're reaching your target audience. But when it comes to growth, they're not a direct indicator of your success.
2. Exit Rate
Exit rate refers to the percentage of sessions that end on a page. In other words, it tells you which pages on your site are the ones people are most likely to leave from versus clicking through to another page. This metric is available in Google Analytics, where you can see a report of percentage exit for each individual URL.
While looking at exit rates can give you an idea of what content is more engaging, an exit from a page isn't necessarily an indication of a poor page. If your contact page has a high exit rate, for example, that's not a bad thing: visitors are likely going to that page to get your phone number or address and then leaving after they've gotten what they need. If a user leaves a page satisfied after finding the answer to their query, you've created successful content — so a high percentage exit rate isn't really a metric to be concerned about.
We suggest using exit rate as a supporting metric when digging into particular content and user behavior — but it's not necessary to track for your site as a whole or report on monthly.
3. Engaged Sessions per User
This is a GA4 SEO metric that tracks the average session count per active user. Here is how it looks:
It is an overrated SEO metric because:
- There is no universal best average sessions per user benchmark.
- It is the average of your overall website, which is useless since it doesn't tell what pages are contributing poorly (unless you dig deep and move to other metrics like average engagement time).
- Low engagement sessions per user isn't an indication of a poor website or poor content. If your content solves visitor queries and the visitor leaves satisfied, you will have a low score but quite high UX and other metrics.
4. Traffic Value
The value of your website's organic traffic is estimated by keyword research tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush. It's an indication of the worth of the organic traffic your site is receiving — in other words, it's a representation of what you would have to pay in paid advertising to receive the same amount of traffic via PPC.
While on the surface it's nice to be able to put a dollar amount on your SEO traffic, it's important to remember that this metric is an estimation by a third-party tool. This traffic value does not really represent the ROI for your organic search efforts. It does not take into account your conversion rate, click-through rate, average order value, or which keywords are transactional versus informational. It's merely a guess at what you'd have to pay to get similar visits through Google Ads, and so is a pretty limited KPI.
5. Word Count
You've probably heard advice on how long your content should be to rank well. We all know that SEO relies heavily on content, which makes word count a key SEO metric — but we believe it's too hyped.
Word count isn't directly tied to organic traffic or any other SEO metric. What is related? How well you cover a topic and how thoroughly and clearly you address a searcher's need. If you're able to cover a given topic with fewer words, there's no need to stuff in additional text just to meet a word limit. In fact, that can result in a weaker UX and weaker content as a whole, which would hurt your search rankings.
Pages with fewer words can easily outrank pages with more words if the content is high quality, unique, and informative. It's better to spend your time on creating quality content than tracking word count.
5 SEO Metrics to Track
So what should you be tracking? Here are the most important SEO performance metrics we look at for our clients:
1. Organic Traffic
One of the primary goals of SEO is to get more people to your website — so tracking organic traffic is a no-brainer. Your organic traffic over time shows you how effective your SEO efforts are and if you are moving in the right direction in terms of audience share, visibility, brand recognition, and more.
Organic traffic analysis can reveal many useful insights, including:
- Seasonal behavior of your target audience
- Overall brand visibility and share of market
- Top pages and keywords that drive the most organic traffic
- Pages with the lowest organic traffic that need attention
- Pages that are of high interest to your search engine audience and so might also be targets for sharing on social, in email, or on other platforms
When used right and in combination with other SEO performance metrics, organic traffic can help you identify clear next steps for both SEO and your overall marketing strategy.
2. Organic CTR
You can rank #1 for hundreds of keywords, but if your click-through rate from the SERPs is poor, it won't result in the traffic or revenue you need. Click-through rate is an indication of the quality of your content, how well it meets the needs of searchers, the persuasiveness of your title tags and meta descriptions, and even the effectiveness of the keywords you've decided to target.
There's some controversy over whether or not Google uses CTR as a ranking signal, but regardless, you should be aiming for a high click-through rate for your most important content to ensure it's reaching the right people. A low CTR indicates a disconnect between the search query and page content. If users aren't clicking your website, it means one of two things:
- Your content is showing up for the wrong keywords or otherwise doesn't match the search intent
- The page title or description isn't catchy or has a major issue
Organic CTR shouldn't be measured alone. It needs to be tracked with impressions. A page with low impressions (that's probably ranking on the second page) will have low CTR, and it's OK. Pages with high impressions and low CTR need attention.
3. Organic Conversion Rate
This is perhaps the most important SEO metric because when it comes down to it, you want users to be taking specific actions on your site. Whether that's making a phone call, filing out a lead form, downloading something, or making a purchase, those conversions are what directly affect your business's bottom line.
Not all content or search engine traffic on your site will convert — and that's okay since there are many goals behind content. But it's important to ensure you have the tracking in place to record the actions you care about. Once you have conversions tracked, you can see which content performs best, which traffic sources are most effective, and what visitor behavior occurs to lead to that ultimate sale or form submission.
Understanding conversion rate also helps you analyze whether or not you're driving the RIGHT traffic to your site and how different pieces of content affect visitors throughout the funnel. This allows you to be more effective with where you put content, lead gen, advertising, and social media resources.
Google Analytics 4 has simplified tracking conversion rate. You can now create conversion goals even if you don't have an e-commerce site and also track micro conversions, such as signing up for a newsletter.
4. Total Keywords
While we don't find tracking individual keyword rankings to be super effective, it is useful to track total number of keywords ranked. This metric serves as an indication of your overall visibility in Google. As you create more content, improve SEO, and build your brand, your total number of keywords in Google or other search engines will grow.
Decreases in this number can also help point to technical SEO problems, algorithm shifts, search engine penalties, or other issues, so it's a nice indicator of overall SEO health. Monitoring it month-over-month helps you identify problems early and ensures your strategy is on the right track.
We also like to track the total number of first page keywords here since those keywords are the ones most likely to bring in traffic and indicate that your site is well-optimized and your content is considered valuable by search engines.
5. Core Web Vitals
Page experience (and its core component, page speed) has become a crucial SEO metric in recent years. Page experience and load time can impact UX, conversion rate, and organic traffic. It's so important that Google has created its own standardized metrics, called "core web vitals," to reflect how visitors experience a page.
You can track core web vitals in Google Search Console or by using PageSpeed Insights, which will sum up your overall page experience for both mobile and desktop versions of your site.
Improving core web vitals can be tricky, often involving dev changes, image compression, or adjustments to third-party scripts — but getting it right improves not only your rankings and organic traffic but also makes your site more accessible and friendly to all.
Check out our guide on how to improve page speed for better ranking and organic traffic.
No matter the channel, choosing the right metrics to track and analyze has a big impact on results. SEO metrics need special attention as they can often be misleading or can result in lots of time spent collecting metrics that don't really matter. At First Page Strategy, we're big proponents of focusing on the data that leads to action. Instead of wasting time tracking and monitoring several SEO KPIs, consider sticking with the most important ones. It won't just save you time and money, but it gets easier to analyze SEO performance with fewer, more accurate metrics.