12 SEO Benchmarks That Actually Matter

Picture this:

You just found an amazing niche or landed a new client…

But what now?

You need to establish BENCHMARKS for your SEO campaign!

seo benchmarks

These 12 SEO Benchmarks Are All You Need

The point of SEO is to drive qualified organic traffic to your website.

Let me be clear: SEO is NOT about rankings.

Rankings are simply a means to an end.

You need visibility for targeted keywords in order to achieve the goal of new organic traffic.

Things get messy when you lose site of what the actual goal of SEO is.

With that being said, let’s jump right in.

What is a Benchmark?

A benchmark is nothing more than a starting point. You’re establishing where your website currently stands from an analytical and statistical standpoint. This allows you to compare and track your progress from month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter, or year-to-year. It also gives you key insights into what areas you need to focus on the most.

Organic Traffic

As I mentioned above, the most important benchmark you need to establish at the onset of any SEO campaign is how much organic traffic the website is currently getting. Growing your organic traffic is a slow process and it needs to be tracked over the course of months or quarters.

Most websites will not see explosive organic growth, but instead will see the traffic slowly climb overtime. The reason for this is because it takes a lot of time for Google to trust websites.

You really have to prove that A) your links are legitimate and B) your business is legitimate. Google uses over 200 different ranking factors to determine the legitimacy of your website.

Referral Traffic

Many people don’t benchmark referral traffic when beginning a campaign and that’s a big mistake. Referral traffic is important because it correlates to more organic growth. If you didn’t know, “referral” traffic is simply traffic coming from another website. It’s an important metric because you want to make an impact on other websites and leverage their established traffic.

So, for example, whenever I get a link from Neil Patel, it sends me an influx of traffic and continues to send me traffic overtime. Since Neil and I are in the same industry, the traffic he sends is extremely high quality.

Remember, before Google, this is how websites grew. They found other websites in their industries, built relationships, and leveraged their qualified traffic to grow their businesses. Google can determine the legitimacy of a link based on the traffic that flows through it. This is the main reason why the old school way of building a private blog network doesn’t work anymore.

The traditional method is to toss up a PBN, throw on the link, and hope your rankings increase. The problem is that your link is essentially dead because there’s no traffic flowing through it.

The point of a link is to reference another website for their contribution or to send your traffic to another website for more information. The original purpose of a link was not to manipulate PageRank.

With all that being said, you should benchmark your current referral traffic levels. You will then be able to increase your referral traffic through blogger outreach, forum marketing, blog commenting, brand mentions, and social media marketing. It will also happen naturally if you take the time to develop a quality blog because you’ll acquire links naturally.

Quantity Landing Pages Getting Organic Traffic

Inside Google Analytics, you’ll find what pages are getting organic traffic. For this benchmark, we want to measure how many pages are actually receiving organic traffic on a monthly basis. We want to increase the amount of pages receiving organic traffic overtime.

As you create new content and resources, you should also increase how many pages Google or other search engines send traffic to. This exercise is also extremely valuable because you will discover pages that you didn’t know were getting traffic. Once you find these pages, you can improve them by adding valuable content or by improving the layout to increase conversion. The goal is to keep growing organic traffic to that page.

Quantity of Keywords in Top 20

The quantity of keywords you have ranking in the top 20 is important for a few reasons. First, it demonstrates how visible you currently are. If you don’t have any keywords in the top 20, then you have your work cut out for you. Secondly, IF you have keywords in the top 20, you can create SEO content or focus on building authority so that you can improve the rankings on these low hanging fruits. Keywords on the second page just need a little boost.

Pageviews

Benchmarking pageviews is important because it is an indicator of how interesting your website is. If you’re getting more than one pageview per visitor, then it means users are interested in A) reading more of your content or B) learning more about your product or services. You want users to be viewing multiple pages on your site because it gives you a better opportunity to convert them to an email subscriber or potentially make a sale.

Bounce Rate

High bounce rate is a sign of bad user experience. That’s why it’s critical that you benchmark it. If it’s high, then usability needs to be your main focus. Remember, bounce rates will differ based on the industry or even the specific page. For example, news sites may have a higher bounce rate while informational sites like mine will have a lower one. Pages built purely for conversions will have a high bounce rate.

Average Time Spent on Site

You want your visitors to stay on your website for as long as possible. The longer they stay, the greater chance you have to convert them. Like bounce rate, average time spent on site will vary. If visitors aren’t staying on your site, then there’s an issue with your user experience. Either the site is too confusing, your content is subpar, or your site is poorly structured. The goal of benchmarking average time spent on site is to increase it.

Indexed Pages

This is a very important section, so listen up.

There is a school of thought that believes having more pages indexed is a sign of authority.

I disagree.

Having many QUALITY pages indexed in Google is a sign of authority.

Quality is based on Google’s 200 different ranking factors, but links, social activity, and user signals are at the top of the list. I have come across many client’s who believe that they are an authority because they have a ton of pages indexed. But after further investigation, I almost always find that the majority of the pages indexed shouldn’t even be indexed. This is most common with ecommerce websites.

The most common example I see is when a new page is created for the same product, but in a different size or color. That means the client has hundreds of pages for the same product, but just in a different color or size.

As you can imagine, this creates massive duplicate content and floods Google’s index with unnecessary pages. It’s a recipe for a Google Panda penalty. Although it’s not always easy, the client has to consolidate these pages into one by giving the user the option to select color and size on one page.

The point is:

The only pages that should be indexed are those that are unique and quality.

You want to benchmark indexed pages because you’ll want to increase them overtime.

Did I mention they have to be QUALITY?

Okay, just making sure I got the point across.

Quantity of Linking Root Domains

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for… links. Isn’t it crazy that the first 8 benchmarks have nothing to do with links? That’s because SEO is much more than links. But I’ll save that discussion for another day.

At the beginning of any campaign, you should always benchmark the quantity of linking root domains going to your site.

The reason why you want to benchmark linking root domains over general backlinks is because you can have multiple links from the same site. To truly increase authority, you need to be getting links from unique domains with unique IP addresses. The goal is to increase the amount of quality linking root domains going to your site overtime. You may want to read “What is a Good Quality Backlink?“.

Click Through Rate (CTR)

I’ve talked about this ranking factor before, but it’s a very important benchmark. It’s important because Google analyzes the CTR of the SERP results and shuffles the results based on what pages are getting the best CTR.

In their eyes, higher SERP click through rates equate to higher perceived value. Besides what Google thinks, you should see the value in increasing your SERP click through rate because it’s the single easiest way to capture more qualified traffic without needing to increase keyword visibility.

Go into Google Webmaster tools >> Search Traffic >> Search Analytics.
CTR-Average-min

Change the date range to the previous month and select “CTR”. This will give you an average click through rate for your results in Google. Overtime, you should work to increase this amount. If it’s extremely low, then you either need to A) increase your keyword visibility or B) improve your titles and descriptions.

Social Presence

As much as you may not like it, social matters for SEO. Plus, social media is a terrific way to build relationships and build your authority. There’s absolutely no reason you should not be on social media. At the beginning of any SEO campaign, you should benchmark your current social presence based on followers per property and engagement. The goal should be to A) increase quantity/quality of followers and B) increase engagement.

Specific Keyword Rankings

Last but not least, the most famous SEO metric of all time: specific keyword rankings. Isn’t it crazy that this benchmark is last on the list? That’s because it’s an outdated benchmark for tracking SEO progress. Almost all results in Google are either personalized or based on geo-location. This is only going to become more extreme as time goes on.

I predict that eventually all search results will be tailored for a specific person’s search characteristics, preferences, and beliefs. Google is pulling a ridiculous amount of data from Chrome, Gmail, Google Analytics and all their other technologies in order to make the results tailored for the individual. It will be similar to Ad targeting, but in an organic format.

I don’t theorize often, but I see this happening. The reason for this rant is because you need to move away from tracking specific keywords and focus on the benchmarks/metrics that actually matter.

Prioritizing Benchmarks for SEO

Okay, so now you have 12 benchmarks that you should track for any SEO campaign. The question is: how do you go about prioritizing these benchmarks? Meaning, which one should you work on first? What’s interesting about SEO campaigns is that starting by improving rankings isn’t always the best strategy. Sometimes there are other issues that need to be handled first before jumping into hardcore on-site optimization and link building.

For example, if your bounce rate is high, users aren’t viewing more than one page, and the average time spent on the site is low, which means the conversion rate optimization and usability should be the initial focus. Making sure your traffic converts is the most important SEO step you should take. It doesn’t matter how much traffic you get. It matters how much traffic you convert. Fixing conversion and usability problems upfront makes your life easier once traffic starts coming in.

Always prioritize glaring issues first!

So, now I want to hear from you:

Are you using any of these benchmarks?

Let’s talk in the comment section.

Thanks for reading!

– Gotch

Comments

  1. Awesome post, Gotch. I’m building a PBN to rank a client’s website, and as I put things into play I’m constantly watching the rankings. However this is an important reminder to keep a holistic view of things. These are good benchmarks, but what about conversions and sales? That is the point of the traffic, right?

    1. Hi Garit,

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, sales and conversions are the ultimate goal. But I place those into a different category 🙂 the point of SEO is to increase organic traffic. Increasing conversions is an entirely separate process and so are sales.

      – Gotch

  2. Thanks for the post, interesting and helpful list of benchmarks to consider! Do you look at the global rank of a site or the url/domain rating based on the algorithms of various SEO sites like Ahrefs or MOZ as a benchmark? Which benchmarks do you share with clients to show them the progress you’ve made in your SEO work on their sites?
    -Meg

    1. Hi Meg,

      Thanks for the comment! I’m not a fan of using metrics as a determination of success. As far as client reporting, we use most, if not all of the 12 benchmarks in this post for reporting. The focus is generally on overall organic growth and keywords in the top 20

  3. Excellent bench marking guide. One question i want to ask, is it necessary to gain a top 10 ranking for a targetted keyword. 01 year back, when i was targeting a keyword, my ranking was at 35 number in Google. but i am getting a lot of Google traffic from totally unrelated keywords and even from a different niche. Can you explain how this happens.

    Thank once again!

    1. Hi Salman,

      No, it’s not entirely necessary to rank top 10 for a specific keyword since you may rank for hundreds of thousands of long-tail variations. As far as you getting unrelated traffic, it sounds like a keyword research issue

    1. Not sure what you are saying here.. Google tracks more data than any other company in the world and Google Analytics shows you where referral traffic is coming from. Please clarify your point and thanks for the comment!

  4. Hey Nathan,

    Great job. Your article provided me with the information I was looking for, and now I can setup effective benchmarking for my new client.

    -Brady

    PS. The link for “legitimate guest posting” is broken.

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