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Measuring SEO Success via Google Analytics

September 5, 2012

If you've been reading much of what I've written over the years, you'll know that I'm not a fan of using search engine rankings as a measure of success for SEO. Thankfully, we have much better ways to measure SEO success today, thanks to tools like Google Analytics.

While presenting an all-day SEO training class at the University of San Diego last week, I realized that many people who do SEO as part of their job don't always know what information in Google Analytics they should be looking at, nor how to find it. In that spirit, I've put together some of the main metrics that I like to look at when I'm evaluating the SEO progress of a website, as well as how to find or gather those metrics via reports and dashboards. (Please note that Google Analytics is constantly changing and improving; the methods and reports in this article are current as of this writing, but may change at any time in the future.)

The Bare Minimum to Measure to Check on SEO Success

If you do nothing else, you'll want to at least measure the following:
  • Organic keyword traffic
  • Landing pages from organic search
Thankfully, all of the above can be found via Google Analytics' Standard Reporting.

1. Organic Keywords That Bring Traffic

To find these, simply click:

Standard Reporting >
Search > Organic >
Primary Dimension: Keyword

You'll end up with a nice overview of which keyword phrases are bringing direct organic search engine traffic to the website, such as this:

2. Landing Pages That Receive Direct Organic Traffic

To see exactly which pages they landed on, you can click the "Landing Page" link as the Primary Dimension. That will show you something like this:

From there, you can take both of these reports and add them to an SEO Dashboard so that you can quickly glance at this information when you first go into your Google Analytics.

Simply click the Add to Dashboard link near the top of the page and you'll be presented with a box to select which dashboard you want to add it to. (You can have numerous dashboards.)

We'll create a new dashboard and name it "SEO Dashboard."

Check both the Timeline and the Table.

Unfortunately, not quite all the data gets transferred over to your dashboard, but it's still good for quick looks when you don't have time to dig deeper. You'll also want to add the previous keyword report to that dashboard so that you can look at both keyword and landing page information at the same time.

Now our SEO Dashboard provides us with a quick view of which keywords brought organic search engine visitors as well as which pages of the site they first landed on.

But my favorite report of all merges both the keyword data with the landing page data via "Secondary Dimensions."

If you go to your original landing page report and click:

Secondary Dimension > Traffic Sources > Keyword

Then you'll be able to see exactly which keywords brought organic search engine traffic to which specific pages of the site:

Sadly, you can't save any reports with secondary dimensions to a dashboard. However, just last week, Google Analytics introduced a new method to save this sort of report called "Shortcuts." All you have to do is click the new Shortcut link at the top...

Name your shortcut...

...and you're all set! Your saved report will now show up in the left-side bar under a new "Shortcuts" area:

Now every time you want to see the larger report, just click that shortcut link and you'll have the report using whatever time period your Google Analytics is set for when you're viewing it.

Want to email this report to your client or boss? Just click on the email button at the top:

Just fill out whom you want to send it to and choose the format (it can be various spreadsheet formats or a PDF). You can choose to send them automatically on a regular basis (such as each month) or you can just send this particular one once. Be sure to also leave a short message, or Google will provide a prompt for you to do so.

Click Send, and whomever you sent it to will have their copy of the report delivered immediately as an attachment.

I hope this helps you get started with how to measure your SEO success. There is plenty more than what I've told you, but if you are new to Google Analytics and/or SEO, at least you'll have a place to start without getting too confused!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings,Jill Whalen an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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Post Comment

 Alex Miranda said:
Wow you blew this one out of the ballpark with step by step instructions. When I tell clients that SEO is not all about keyword rankings, many look at me like I am nuts. You are so right about Google Analytics constantly changing. Just yesterday I got an email letting me know that you can now measure conversions in real time.

Thank you very much for this step by step guide. I am sharing it as I write.

 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks, Alex!

Google's actually had Real Time for quite awhile now, at least 6 months, maybe even longer :)
 Alex Miranda said:
Looks like Google sent me an email with old news yesterday. I knew about the real time beta. I have been using it for some time now. I just read the email again and sure enough, they are telling me about... well...real time beta. Hmnnn why would Google send out emails with old news. Here I thought they added something new to their Real Time...Oh well I should have read the entire email first :)
 Nathan O'Leary said:
Hi Jill,

Great step-by-step post! One other important SEO metric I like to track is the total number of keywords sending traffic. GA doesn't make this one easy to track, so I recommend setting up a spreadsheet and recording weekly the total number of keywords sending traffic.

 Nick said:
Hi Jill,

One question you may be able to answer that I haven't managed to Google the answer to: Why do I see bunches of keywords with the same number of visits for a given landing page? Other metrics are different for these keywords, but the visits are identical.

A top tip I'd add to your article is to make sure website goals are setup in GA. That way you can see which keywords and landing pages convert best and, when tied in with ranking data, can give an idea of which SERP positions convert the best.

 Gabriella Sannino said:
Excellent step by step... thanks for putting this together. It's a Book it Dano kind of post and of course very share-able.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Nick, it's hard to say, but I'm guessing it's when you have very large amounts of data and Google is doing sampling. They will say it is a specific sample percentage, so look for that.

And yes, I agree about goals, but this article was really to provide the bare minimum. I may do a follow up with next steps.
 Abe Bellini said:
This is great Jill. Really appreciate the detailed explanation on how to generate this report!
 Susan said:
Thank you! You helped me to find exactly what I needed on Google Analytics. I was lost in all of that data before.
 Dan R said:
Add these custom reports (from Justin Cutroni) too:

Good stuff. Dan
 Jill Whalen said:
@Dan, yes, I love Justin's custom reports. We have most of them over at for that reason.

This article, however, was more for newbies...didn't want to confuse people with custom reports if they aren't even sure about the standard ones yet!
 Dan R said:
Good point Jill - sorry for any confusion!
Great link too - a new one on me.
 Jacki said:
Thanks so much for this article Jill- it is beyond helpful! Please do more of these. I thought I had my head around Analytics reporting, but the insight you have given me through this single article is enormous!
 Jill Whalen said:
You're welcome, Jacki. Glad you and others found it helpful!
 OOAK said:
Great article! I've often wondered how to get useful information out of all the data, but never managed to get my head around it.

It would be awesome to have a follow-up article Jill? Now that we know how to obtain this data, what we can learn from it and how to proceed....hint hint, pretty pretty please :)
 Phil said:
Awesome guide, I'm new to Google Analytics and this was extremely helpful - thanks a lot!
 Rita said:
Great information as always. I've learned sooo much from you Jill!
Many thanks.
 Eric Fettman said:
Jill, thanks once again for all the good tips...

Along the lines of Justin Cutroni's Nonbranded Keyword Performance custom report, you can set up a custom advanced segment using the following rules to include only nonbranded organic traffic:

Exclude - Keyword - Containing - mycompanyname
Exclude - Keyword - Containing - mydomain
Include - Medium - Exactly matching - organic

Once this custom advanced segment is defined, you can apply it to any report already built into GA (except for the few that don't support advanced segments).

I usually avoid the Non-paid Search Traffic advanced segment that is available by default because I don't find it that useful. Especially when considering conversions, it can be pretty dangerous to base conclusions on branded and nonbranded traffic lumped together.
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks, Eric. All good tips, of course. Just trying to keep this post as simple and to the bare minimum for those newbies out there! There's obviously a million more things to measure and track, as well as different ways to go about it.
 Jordan Godbey said:
This is great stuff. Sometimes it's really the basics and step-by-step instructions that make a difference. I think I'll send this to all analytics beginners!
 Rich Brooks said:
This is probably the most helpful post I've read on doing SEO in a post-(not provided) world!

Thanks, Jill. I've already set this up for flyte, and I'm going to be helping our clients out as well.
 Jill Whalen said:
Wow thanks, Rich and everyone else! To be honest, this was simply part of my presentation to my client (the University of San Diego). So it was easy for me to just pop it out of my powerpoint and into a post! :)

As to the (not provided) aspect, that's trickier. I have advanced segments to filter it out, but sometimes you want it in as well. My least favorite part about NP is for now we can't do very good historical analysis like say from this past month to the same one a year ago, because we haven't had NP for a year. Even when we do, it gradually got worse, so the numbers won't be accurate for a long time (if ever).
 Ray Watson said:
Jill, thanks for doing this.. it was awesome! I notice your top result shows the keyword as being "not provided." At least of my top results show this "not provided" result. I was soooo excited to put your incredible advice into practice, and then was soooooo disappointed with the google results.
Does anybody else have this problem?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Ray yes, that's a major problem. See my previous article Measuring Natural Keyword Traffic in the Age of (Not Provided) Secure Search.

I probably should have mentioned it in this article as well.
 Kay Guenther said:
Excellent article Jill. Thanks so much for the step by step directions. I definitely fall into the newbies category with Google SEO reports. There's so much to wrap your brain around so you've given me a lot of help.
 Isaac said:

Jill, I'm going to be the unknown quantity here. lol.

I see what you mean, but, sorry if this has already been asked I skimmed through the comments, but it isn't it like a hundred times worse using Google Analytics?

In the sense of G knowing everything?..that might sound paranoid, but it's not always a good idea to show your hand to G right?..

But other than that and after reading a few forum posts, it seems a bit stupid checking for rankings constantly, so I agree.

Ordinarily I use Statcounter, it doesn't go into as much depth as what you've shown in this article, but it tells me enough.

that said, after reading this, I might just about bring myself to install GA..let's see.

Regardless, great article again.
 Jill Whalen said:
Issac, that's silly presuming you're not using any web spam techniques.
 Michael Shatzkin said:
Excellent article, Jill. I am now starting to use Google Analytics, and this was quite helpful.
 James said:
Jill, this is great! One thing I'm fuzzy on, though: Looking at the last report you built in this article, am I only looking at visits from organic search, or all visits from search including both organic and CPC visits? Is there was way to look at all visits to a landing page by keyword, but separating out organic and paid visits?

Thank you!
 Jill Whalen said:
@James, yes it's just organic. There are lots of ways to look at just organic including advanced segments or just by going to search > organic. (See #1 above)
 James said:
D'oh... I should have been paying better attention to what report we started with. Thanks!
 Vimlesh said:
Hi Jill,

Now we can save reports with secondary dimensions to a dashboard.
 Salvador Polonan said:
Awesome article. This will help me a lot to do my real time reports. I know its quite difficult to understand but the way you show it especially the step by step process it's more clearly enough to understand. This is very useful information. I will surely used this information. Thank you for sharing this article Jill. Appreciated a lot.