You can’t fix what you can’t measure, and if you can’t fix things then you can’t succeed. We who work on the internet are fortunate that we have an incredible amount of data with which to work. The challenge, of course, is knowing what to measure as direct metrics and what to measure as actions that get you to the direct metrics that drive your business.
The problem with most SEO metrics
You probably know a bit about SEO, or you at least know that it’s important to your business. If you’ve read this far in the guide, then you know a lot more than a lot of people out there.
If you know a bit about SEO, then you know that SEO is driven off of technical bits and pieces, content, and links.
The problem is that most people want to measure SEO based on these things.
“What do our title tags say?”
“How well do we rank for [really red widgets] this week?”
“Did we get that Answer box in Google for that keyword yet?”
“Hey agency, how many links did we build this week?”
And worst of all, “What’s our Domain Authority?”
None of these are the right questions to ask. Title tags should be set at the beginning and then links built to help you rank. Individual rankings focus you on small wins instead of larger wins to drive exponentially more traffic (though, you should have rank tracking in place to see larger movements). Answer Boxes are great and drive great traffic, but they’re not available everywhere and usually only for information queries. Link numbers don’t tell you if they’re quality. And finally, Domain Authority changes with the rest of the web.
The other problem here is that all of these are directional metrics and don’t map back to your business.
Who cares how many links you or your agency built if you’re not making any more money from SEO than last month? And if you hang your hat on Domain Authority, you’ll be optimizing for a number that you can’t control and that will never pay your payroll.
So let’s talk about the metrics that do matter to SaaS SEO success.
Main SEO metrics for SaaS businesses
There are three main metrics that I believe SaaS team should track to know overall how well you are performing.
Visibility/share of voice
First, as talked about in the keyword research and tracking chapter you have identified the broad buckets of keywords to go after. Within those broader buckets you have your individual keywords which you are tracking as well.
Many businesses are guilty of tracking what I call vanity keywords, which are specific keywords that you search constantly to see if your ranking changed. This could be something like [proposal software] or even something broader that you’d like to rank for.
I won’t tell you to stop caring about these keywords. Hopefully they’re high volume and matter to your business, and I have no problem with you continuing to search them.
But if you want to track how your SEO is actually doing, then you need to care about the percentage of clicks you are receiving for those keywords across the full set. This allows you to think about big changes that will move the full set of keywords up and ranking, instead of focusing your business on one keyword that could make or break your business.
Here is an example from a Moz campaign that I have set up:
This is something that I recommend all my clients track weekly and monthly to see how you are improving. It provides more insights than average ranking, at least as reported by Google Search Console, and allows you to see your share of the traffic in your space.
Once you have this insight, you can use a tool like SimilarWeb or SEMrush to identify who has a bigger share and from there put together a strategy to improve yours should it make strategic sense for your business.
YoY traffic and users
This is a pure growth-focused metric. If you’re at the beginning of your journey, then you may only have month on month tracking to pay attention to, but once you’ve been around for more than 12 months I recommend that you start tracking these numbers year on year so you can have a view into the long term health of your business.
Year on year numbers matter as well because many businesses are seasonal as well. If you are a B2C SaaS business then you might see steady growth with a few lockstep changes at different points in the year (think of a finance app, which likely spikes around tax time and New Years), but most B2B SaaS apps are seasonal because budgets are approved at certain times during the year and there is a natural ebb-and-flow over the year.
Revenue/signups from organic
Finally, you need to tie SEO performance back to your business metrics. This is truly where the rubber hits the road and where you can justify spending a legitimate amount on SEO because you know exactly what it will get you.
You have the start from nothing and over time learn how well a specific channel converts for you, and then make decisions about where to invest budget based on opportunity. Sometimes SEO won’t be the right thing to invest in right now, but sometimes it will be depending on everything else you have invested in.
Here is a high level within Google Analytics with conversion goals set up. To take this further, with a SaaS business that directly takes payments where you can more easily calculate LTV and ACV, you can actually get the amount of money you are making from each channel in this graph. Now that’s sexy.
And those are the metrics that help you build your business.
Directional SEO metrics for SaaS businesses
SEO is about building your business, not just traffic. We have already established that, but it is worth repeating.
Of course, more qualified traffic will often lead to more business. The quality of the traffic determines if that business is lasting and your new customers stay or churn, but a good rule of thumb is that customers follow audience.
While these are not metrics on which to base your SEO success (revenue from search is the ultimate metric), you/your SEO should keep an eye on:
- Rankings for buckets of keywords (especially transactional keywords that can convert well);
- Traffic to your important conversion-related keywords;
- Indexation of URLs submitted into sitemaps;
- Website errors (big spikes in errors can lead to reduced traffic/rankings).
These are not metrics for your SEO/agency to report on, but they are important to know so that they can let you know when something has changed for better or worse and how that affects your strategy moving forward.
What to expect from SEO
There are three main things to expect from SEO for your company:
- SEO takes time;
- SEO builds your base of traffic and will (almost) never spike;
- SEO should map to your conversion funnel;
SEO takes time
SaaS founders and teams are usually impatient. You’re probably inundated with offers to quickly hack your SEO, to quickly increase your Facebook ads ROI by 213.7%, and those sorts of offers.
In our instantaneous world, we need to fight the desire to see results overnight. Very rarely will you see instantaneous results with SEO, and I have stopped even looking for that.
Good SEO means your traffic and conversions from the channel will improve over time as you create new landing pages, develop new content focused on ranking and conversion, build new links to your site, and improve your site from a user experience and speed perspective.
SEO builds your base of traffic but is not “free”
Sometimes you will hear people talk about SEO as “free traffic”. While in one way it is because you are not actively buying it, I believe this is a misnomer because it insinuates that there is no investment.
Conversely, SEO requires an investment up front in order to later reap the benefits. You invest up front in research, content development, link building, PR, and more in order to over time rank better.
SEO differs from paid acquisition in that you do not have to keep paying as much in order to keep getting that traffic once you’ve earned it.
It is true that SEO always requires ongoing maintenance and you can always rank better by building more and better links, developing content, and maintaining your website well. But you will never lose all of your rankings/traffic if you shift budget or people/engineering/design time somewhere else for a while to get new channels off the ground.
But do not be fooled that SEO is “free” or does not require an investment upfront.
SEO maps to your funnel as a channel
Contrary to most of what you read, SEO should map back to your customer’s journey to conversion to your tool.
The tough thing about a funnel of any kind is that the numbers become increasingly smaller the further you go down the funnel. You may target large volume keywords for extreme top of funnel awareness, but you should also recognize that a lot of this traffic will not convert to paying customers.
You need to build out:
- Content that attracts a larger audience, even if they are just beginning their search;
- Content that gets people in the research phase who may be starting to consider your product;
- Content that helps people at the decision stage decide that your product is right for them.
SEO is also by no means the only channel that you should use to get new customers. It can be a very powerful channel, but it must be coupled with content marketing, email marketing, and even some paid acquisition (especially retargeting) to truly take your business to the next level.
Many SaaS founders forget to use the full extent of marketing channels. SEO is but one channel.
Analytics and Search Console
If you’re investing in SEO, then you need an understanding of where traffic is coming to your site and how well that traffic converts to customers.
To do this you need to have both an Analytics solution (usually Google Analytics) and Search Console installed on your website.
Installing Google Analytics
Google Analytics is quite easy to install. You have probably done it before, but if not here’s a quick tutorial on it.
First go to Google Analytics and sign in with your email. I recommend using a generic email (such as firstname.lastname@example.org) so that administration is easier and you can add/remove people as they come into/leave your company. This is much easier than one person setting up and then leaving the company, yet you have no access to the profile once they leave.
If you have not used the email to administrate a Google Analytics profile before, then you will see this screen. Click Sign Up on the right side:
From here you insert all of your site information:
Once this is all done, you can navigate to Admin > Tracking Info > Tracking Code where you can find your tracking code. It will look something like UA-12345678-1. Put this code in your <head> so that it tracks all visits/pageviews even if the page has not fully loaded.
You can also use Google Tag Manager to load it asynchronously with all of your other tags, such as Facebook tracking pixels. The reality is that any tag you add to your site will slow it down a few milliseconds, but this is necessary tracking and its asynchronous nature minimizes its impact on your site loading. If you’re concerned about it slowing down your site, you should probably be working to optimize other jobs and processes rather than avoiding an Analytics tag!
Verify that setup was successful by navigating to your GA dashboard and verifying that traffic is coming through (visit your site in Incognito in Chrome to make sure). If you do not see data coming through, you may need to flush your cache before it will work.
Installing Search Console
We have already mentioned Search Console numerous times throughout the guide, so you need to make sure that you have it installed on your site so that you can gain important insights into your site as well as control parameters and submit sitemaps.
Google Search Console can be found here.
Once logged in, you’ll be asked to create a New Property (click the big red button in the top right if not):
Then you’re asked to verify that you own the domain. I recommend using either the domain registrar or Google Analytics option. I remember back in the day when it was much harder to verify Search Console than today, so feel fortunate that it only takes a few seconds now:
Your site should now be verified and data coming through!
Configuring Analytics for SEO growth
Now you get to configure Analytics to show your organic growth. There are a few key things to remember.
First, you can find organic traffic under Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium. Because I mostly watch Google organic, I’ll navigate directly there.
Alternatively, you can use an Advanced Filter to filter to Medium = organic.
My preferred way of tracking organic and performance is through a Dashboard with multiple widgets including:
- Overall organic sessions and users;
- Google organic sessions and users;
- Conversions from organic;
- Top organic traffic pages.
Depending on the site, I also like to get granular top level views into organic traffic to specific sections of the site like so:
Depending on your marketing campaigns and goals, you can also track:
- Downloads and email conversions from organic;
- Subscriptions and revenue;
- Free trials and converted free trials to customers.
Analytics is an incredibly complex skillset in its own right and I have barely scratched the surface here. Your first goal should be a solid look into your numbers and watching them grow over time as you invest in marketing and growing your content and link profiles to capture more users.