Understanding SEO Performance: Traffic Metrics

Brand and product visibility, site traffic, and lead generation are the goals of most business school digital marketing campaigns. While traffic can come from many sources, results generated by organic search yields the highest ROI. Here’s how to sort through mountains of data to assess your organic traffic success. In our most recent blog post, we discussed the pitfalls of using keyword rankings as your school’s benchmark for SEO performance. Today, let’s focus on how to evaluate your organic traffic.

1. Isolate Organic Traffic

Depending on which analytics software you use (most schools use Google Analytics, but not all), you’ll find several ways to filter organic search traffic. Be sure it’s only organic search traffic and not all search traffic (which can include paid search traffic.)

2. Pick Your Date Range

We suggest looking at two date ranges:

  1. A graph with a single line for the last 3 years
    • This helps you avoid misinterpretations due to seasonality.
  2. A graph showing year-over-year traffic, i.e., the last twelve months versus the same period a year before, e.g., September 2014 – August 2015 versus September 2013 – August 2014)
    • Helpful note: As you want to see the overall health of your SEO, look at the data on a monthly basis instead of daily (the default.)

Below are examples of these two graphs using dummy data. Note we’ve isolated organic search traffic (top left) and adjusted the scale to monthly (middle right.)

You can see organic traffic for this dummy data is struggling. The first chart shows minimal growth during the past three years.   Looking at year-over-year performance, there’s been a 2.49% decline. It’s time to call your SEO team and start asking questions.

3. Metrics to Consider, Their Meanings, and What You Want to See

When you open your analytics software, you’ll be inundated with metrics. They all serve a purpose, but three are most important:

  1. Sessions
    • What they are: Visitors. Sessions will include new and returning visitors, so 20,000 sessions does not mean 20,000 people. Still, it provides the best high-level overview of performance and is the default option for most graphs (including those above.)
    • What you want to see: Traffic should be increasing by a minimum of 5% per year, which is essentially adjusting for inflation. There are more users online every year, so, if your organic traffic is stagnant, your site is underperforming.
  2. Bounce Rate
    • What it is: According to Google, Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page sessions. More simply, it is the percentage of people who came to your site and left almost immediately. This usually means they clicked on your search result, didn’t find what they were looking for, and clicked the back or exit button on their browser. It also means they probably went to a competitor.
    • What you want to see: The average bounce rate is about 40%, but you may see anywhere from the 25% range (amazing) to the 60% range (not great.) Look for changes. If the number is declining, you may be on the right track. If it’s increasing, users may not be finding your site useful. While lower is generally better, too high or too low are both potentially causes for concern. Too high (>60%) means you aren’t serving the right content to your users. Too low (<30%) may mean you aren’t capturing enough casual visitors (often the best lead prospects), who always leave websites at a higher rate than returning users.
  3. Goal Completions
    • What they are: Goals are manually set up in your analytics software and can track a large number of different things, from specific actions to time on site. Consult with your marketing team to understand what goals, if any, you have set up. As a tip, the best goals are directly related to lead generation, such as form or application completions.
    • What you want to see: Goal completions should be increasing at about the same rate as traffic. Depending on site redesigns, you may see bigger improvements to goal completions than traffic, so consult with your team if you see extraordinary changes.

Consider these three metrics in relation to one another. The calibration you are seeking is steady traffic, a declining bounce rate, and more leads. If you are there, congratulations! That’s a good sign your SEO program may be driving better traffic, not just more.