Gut feel. That’s how ecommerce marketers sometimes gauge the health of their search engine optimization program. SEO contains many gray areas, for sure. But an evaluation requires data, not a hunch.
Use these six methods — in order — to determine the health of your SEO program. Analyzing metrics in multiple systems yields the clearest picture, but keep in mind that the numbers in one platform will probably not match similar metrics in others.
1. Enterprise search platforms such as seoClarity, Searchmetrics, and Ahrefs are the fastest way to gauge SEO performance because they digest data from several of the sources below and turn it into easy-to-read dashboards. In many cases, you can find a problem without leaving the platform. The only drawback is the price tag.
2. Analytics. Data from web analytics software — i.e., Google Analytics, Adobe — will be your go-to source of SEO key performance indicators: orders, revenue, and (most important) traffic. If those are performing well, so is the process of crawling, indexing, ranking, and attracting clicks from the search results page to your site.
The site’s user experience, pricing, product assortment, and other non-SEO factors will determine whether a searcher converts, to drive revenue. Nonetheless, the key SEO metric is traffic.
Remember, too, that analytics software no longer provides reliable keyword search-query data. Search engines made that data unavailable in 2013. Analytics software now reports most keywords as “not provided.” The remaining keywords are not a reliable sample of the overall dataset.
3. Google Search Console. Search Console’s Performance report (Overview > Performance) is the most reliable source of impressions, rankings, and clicks. It’s limited to Google, but Google makes up 90-plus percent of organic search traffic on most ecommerce sites, in my experience.
Search Console also contains reports for indexation, server errors, sitemaps, structured data, external and internal linking, and more. Google uses Search Console, only, to communicate important details about your site, such as a manual penalty.
It’s free. If you don’t have it, sign up.
4. Google Ads provides reporting on organic search if you link it with Search Console. The standard paid and organic report in Google Ads provides much data on the search terms you win impressions for — ads or organic listings.
For example, if an ad displays in the search results for “red shoes,” then “red shoes” will appear as a search term in the paid and organic report, regardless of whether the organic result had an impression.
Conversely, if “red shoes” receives an organic impression, then “red shoes” will appear in the paid and organic report, regardless of the ad.
The report helps manage a holistic search program. It’s another way to evaluate SEO efforts.
5. Free rankings tools. I have a love-hate relationship with rankings. In the aggregate, they’re one of the most helpful diagnostics for sleuthing how keyword trends impact organic performance. But they’re not a key performance indicator. What matters are clicks on a listing, not where it ranks.
That said, if you can’t afford an enterprise search platform and you want a second opinion on rankings to back up Google Search Console, try a platform with a free, limited version that includes rankings info. Examples include SEMrush, Moz, and, again, Ahrefs.
6. Ask someone. There are a lot of people who can assess SEO issues for free.
- Google’s Webmaster Help Community. Ask an SEO question and receive answers from other forum members, including Google employees. Webmaster World is another forum, but the focus is much broader. Check the credibility of anyone who offers advice.
- Webmaster Office Hours is a Hangout hosted by Google’s John Mueller. Check the calendar for the next live chat. Many respected SEO professionals typically attend.
- Twitter. Make it a habit to network with respected SEO professionals by following them and retweeting. Also, comment constructively on their blog posts. Instead of “Great article!,” mention what you found helpful, or ask a question that shows you value their work. They may be willing to help when you need it if you’ve made a good impression.
- LinkedIn. Join SEO groups such as Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, and LinkedSEO. Ask meaningful questions and receive answers. LinkedIn offers the bonus of being able to check a respondent’s credibility with a click to their profile. The networking advice for Twitter, above, applies here, too.