Why Keyword Rankings Are a Terrible SEO KPI


Keyword rankings have served as the primary SEO KPI for many marketers throughout the history of SEO. But Google has changed the way it serves up content in the search engine results pages (SERPs), and marketing metrics have to keep up. While keywords are still important, SEO KPIs in 2020 must take into account today’s increasingly complex SEO landscape.

Now SEO efforts are contending with SERP features like featured snippets, reviews, sitelinks, top stories, “people also ask” questions, knowledge panels, and more. With more answers provided directly in the search results, fewer people click through organic listings. Keyword rankings simply don’t provide the context that you need to effectively gauge the success of your SEO strategy.

1 Seo Kpis

On the other hand, technology can now help us measure everything. But when we look at all the data we have access to, new challenges arise. Moving from one KPI to a dozen isn’t realistic for tracking progress.

To avoid data overload, many marketers have continued using keyword rankings as their SEO key performance indicator.

While it makes sense to whittle down the SEO metrics you track month over month to a manageable number, we’ll show you why you should give up on keyword rankings as a KPI and what to focus on instead.

What Is a KPI in SEO?

KPI stands for key performance indicator. In SEO, KPI refers to a marketing metric used to track the progress of your search engine optimization efforts. By understanding performance, you can then take action to correct course when your work is not producing the affects you expected, or to replicate success when it is.

There are many popular SEO KPIs you can track:

  • Keyword rankings
  • Organic click-through rates
  • Organic traffic
  • Pages per session
  • Session duration
  • Bounce rate
  • SERP features
  • Backlinks
  • Domain authority
  • Impressions
  • Conversion rates
  • Leads
  • Sales
  • Revenue from your website

Each of these metrics provides a piece of the puzzle, but none of them alone provides a meaningful picture of how your SEO is performing.

Why Keyword Rankings Have Limited Usefulness as an SEO KPI

There are three main problems with focusing on keyword rankings as your main KPI for search engine optimization.

1. Keyword rankings don’t consider the value of keywords.

Keyword rankings only show where you stand in the SERPs for a keyword at one point in time. A number one ranking for a low-volume keyword is not going to yield the same traffic quantity as one for a high-volume keyword. Thus, rankings alone can’t help you prioritize your efforts.

Rankings alone can’t help you prioritize your efforts. Click To Tweet

2. Keyword rankings no longer show you where you stand relative to your competitors.

The top position on page one, previously the ultimate goal, has become less valuable as Google shifts users’ attention to SERP features like featured snippets, knowledge cards, and so on. Position one no longer guarantees you’ll dominate over competitors for traffic, so rankings alone don’t show how you stack up against competing sites.

3. Rankings do not provide actionable insight.

Keyword rankings can fluctuate for a variety of reasons. It is not wise to make decisions based on these fluctuations alone because the reasons for the fluctuations aren’t always clear. You’ll want to research more and observe over a stretch of time before taking action.

If keyword rankings are no longer helpful as an SEO KPI, what should you be tracking?

How Do You Measure SEO Success?

Today’s measures of search engine performance must consider more than just keyword position. In order to understand how your content is performing, you need to look at a variety of metrics and how they’re affecting and interacting with each other. Your KPIs should include traffic, engagement, and conversions.

Keyword/traffic metrics

Because keywords continue to play an important role in SEO strategy, you still need to measure results against keywords. But to have meaning, the keyword metrics must be framed in terms of another dimension: traffic. Alexa provides two useful SEO KPIs to track this: Keyword Traffic Score and Share of Voice.

Keyword Traffic Score

Traffic Score tracks keyword performance, taking into account the traffic value of the keyword. The score is a number between 1 and 100 based on a site’s position in the search engine results as well as how many people search for the keyword. In the example using our Site Keywords tool below, you can see the Traffic Score for keywords bringing traffic to a website that offers transcription services.

2 Keywords And Sov

The tool shows results for both organic and paid search efforts.

The higher the Traffic Score, the more valuable the keyword and the better your performance. This can be particularly helpful in competitive analysis when determining how you stack up against competitors for a high-value keyword.

Keyword Share of Voice

Keyword Share of Voice measures the percentage of searches for a keyword that sends traffic to your website. This represents the percent that you “own.” In the example above, you can see the Share of Voice for several of the keywords bringing traffic to the example site.

Total traffic from organic search

It’s also helpful to look at the amount of traffic your content receives from organic search as a whole to see your overall rate of progress. If your blog is growing, you may see continuing spikes of traffic growth like Enjuris did. Once your blog reaches a more established volume of traffic, you can expect growth to slow down.

Engagement metrics

Engagement metrics show you how well your content resonates with your readers. To gain a sense of engagement from an SEO perspective, you can look at the following KPIs.

Bounce rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of website visitors who leave after viewing only one page. When they leave quickly, it can signal a disconnect between what users expect from the page’s listing in the SERPs and what they see when they arrive on your page. A poor user experience like a slow loading page can also cause people to bounce.

Marketing agency Brafton’s benchmark report found an average bounce rate of 58.18% when it surveyed 181 websites. The figure was higher for B2B websites: 61.04 % versus 54.24 % for B2C sites. Blogs experience higher bounce rates; the report found an average of 76% across respondents.

You can get a high-level overview of your bounce rate and other engagement metrics relative to competitors’ by inputting competing sites into our Site Overview tool

3 Site Metrics

Time on page

If you see that people are spending more or less time on a page than you think they should, this can be a clue that something is amiss. The key is to know your content and understand the reasonable amount of time someone should spend on a page.

Pages per session

Pages per session tells you how many pages a user visits on your site after their initial click-through from the search results. A higher number can signal that the user is finding your site useful — although it can also mean the user is having trouble finding what they want.

Littledata found that average pages per session were 3.0 across a sample of 3,623 websites in 2019.

Conversion metrics

Conversion refers to when someone takes the action you wish them to take after they arrive on your site. This can be anything from someone providing their email address to unlock 15% off, to signing up for a free trial of a service, or making a purchase.

Conversion rate from organic traffic

Because people who arrive on your site from different sources may convert differently, you’ll want to track conversion by each acquisition channel. Seeing how well your organic traffic converts gives you a measure of the quality of the traffic your SEO efforts are attracting. If you are earning organic traffic but conversions are lower than other channels, you may want to reexamine your keyword strategy. See our research on average conversion rates by industry.

Benchmark SEO KPIs Against Your Competitors

Tracking metrics over time is how you measure your progress. Tracking metrics against your competitors puts your progress in context. Our tools provide many of the SEO KPIs we’ve mentioned above for your site and for your industry. You can even view metrics for specific competitors.

4 Free Site Overview

Try a sample analysis for your site or for one of your competitors now.

Can You Replace Keyword Rankings with One Simple SEO KPI?

The job of SEO is to bring traffic to your site for the keywords you target. But total traffic figures don’t give you enough detail to see where you’re doing well with your keyword strategy and where you’re not. You need, then, SEO KPIs that combine a measure of traffic with keywords.

If you’ve been using keyword rankings as your primary measure of progress, and you want to replace it with one simple metric, we recommend Traffic Score. You can view the Traffic Score of each keyword to see the value of the traffic those keywords are bringing to your site. It reflects the relative importance of the keyword because it takes into account the number of people searching on the term. And it gives you the level of detail you need to evaluate on a keyword-by-keyword basis.

Give it a try now! You can access Traffic Score, Share of Voice, and other SEO metrics using our tools. Sign up for a free 14-day trial to get full access to the Alexa Advanced Plan right now.

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