Technical SEO Performance Indicators
The Insider's Guide to Technical SEO KPIs & Metrics
Search engine optimization is one part art, one part science and a few sprinklings of magical fairy dust. OK, it actually has nothing at all to do with fairy dust, but it has quite a bit to do with technology. It's increasingly important to place an astute technical eye on key performance indicators in order to understand just how well an SEO campaign is doing now and how well it will do in the future.
The topic of key performance indicators (or KPIs) for search engine optimization may not seem like a popular one, but it most certainly is. Website Magazine's "Essential SEO KPIs" article from March of 2011 proves that as it still receives a significant amount of traffic from SEOs, both novice and expert alike.
Those metrics, however, were more focused on the “art” part (the marketing and design elements and how they may reveal how well SEO initiatives have performed, offering up suggested metrics including the average number of keyword per page, the length of keyword queries, the bounce rate per search engine or keyword and lots more. Those remain important, but remember that today's SEO professional is as much a technician as they are an artist. It's time to bring some much needed measurement to the science of SEO.
Most, if not all, of the information provided below is accessible within your analytics solutions or webmaster tools account, but as technical SEO KPIs begin emerging for your enterprise, there may be some instances when digging a little deeper (into the server logs) is going to be necessary. Remember that any KPI that is set should have data immediately available to benchmark (if not, start collecting it), relevant to the objectives of your business, immediately useful and timely, as well as carry the ability to elicit a positive impact on business operations. Typically, KPI's are used for business or marketing, but they can extend to the technical side of the digital business as well.
Reporting of 404 Errors
There's nothing more damaging to a search engine presence than having pages that the search engines believe are there but aren't. While it's almost inevitable that this will happen, a sound technical SEO presence will have a KPI for 404 errors that can be measured and used proactively to limit the impact. Ideally, it should be number of 404 errors per X number of pages (e.g. 100 or 1000 - depending on the size of your site). Once that information is in hand, it should be tracked on a weekly or monthly schedule. SEOs can take it a step further by offering some sense of context (why it may be happening) and then provide recommendations or resources to resolve the issue - setting up redirects (301 or 302) accordingly.
Reporting of Sitemap Coverage
Sitemaps aren't necessarily the most important practice of the modern SEO, as their use does not necessarily influence ranking. That said, they do matter. What their use can provide is a sense of just, well, that a site is being indexed by the engines. A KPI that is set up to track “sitemap coverage” should consider the number of URLs that are submitted in your sitemap and the number of URLs that are ultimately indexed by the engines (Google and Bing). Since you will constantly be creating new content (and submitting URLs as a result) the sitemap coverage KPI likely won't change much but will provide a strong indication that something is broken or just not working in general.
Reporting of Page Speed
Of all the SEO metrics that matter, page speed is the one that resonates most with the other members of your enterprise. Why? Simple - it impacts everything from marketing and advertising to sales and service. There are a lot of influencing factors when it comes to page speed but having a KPI that enables your team to keep track of this important factor will most definitely benefit the bottom line of your business. If page speed is not something that has been measured previously, know that most analytics solutions provide some indicator out of the box.
What other technical indicators do you have in place to benchmark, understand and manage your SEO presence?