And I’m just going to be honest right up front: most of those metrics are totally pointless.
They don’t tell the full story of how people are interacting on your site.
They can’t explain whether people are converting or not.
Most platforms have dozens of metrics that don’t help you (beyond making you feel good).
This doesn’t mean that all metrics are unnecessary, though.
You do need some of them to gauge success and know that your work is paying off.
So what do you do?
Thankfully, hiding behind that wall of vanity metrics are a few that you can use to track your success.
These are metrics that should be the markers of all that you do with online marketing.
And they mostly center around the most important metric for any business:
Generating a positive ROI and bringing in the profits.
Focus on those and forget the rest.
Here are four SEO metrics to ignore like the plague (and what to measure instead).
The first and most important metric to ignore is conversions.
Now I know what you’re thinking:
What did you put in your coffee this morning, Neil?
Hear me out. Conversions don’t tell the full story.
Unless you’re running an e-commerce business, conversions aren’t your bread and butter.
If your analytics don’t look like that, then conversions are the wrong metric to focus on.
For SEO, conversions only mean one thing: leads.
Someone landed on your site and filled out a newsletter sign-up form:
Someone wants to attend your webinar, so they opt in and sign up:
Do you see what I mean yet?
While all of these actions are wonderful for your business, they’re not real conversions.
They didn’t buy anything. Yet.
In search engine optimization, conversions are vastly different.
They aren’t as cut-and-dried as e-commerce, where a confirmed purchase always leads to a defined revenue metric.
You could be getting email signups, lead-magnet hits, or even phone calls, but those don’t lead directly to profit as they do in e-commerce stores.
But the real question remains the same:
Do they ultimately convert to a verifiable purchase that drives revenue and profit for your business?
The problem with looking at a simple metric like “conversions” is that SEO isn’t simple.
It’s not the end-all, be-all metric because conversions in SEO can mean way more than a purchase.
If it doesn’t result in direct profit, it shouldn’t be your top metric.
Ah, traffic. One of the most coveted metrics in all of search engine optimization.
Most people will log in to their Google Analytics dashboard and head straight to the Audience Overview analytics.
Then, they’ll take a look at their traffic for the day. I used to be guilty of this, too.
I’d go straight to the Audience Report and inspect it daily:
And I’d give myself a big pat on the back. I drove nearly 16,000 sessions today with more than 83% being unique or new!
Big props to myself. I must be an SEO legend!
But wait a second. Take a big step back and ask a few important questions:
Did that traffic even do anything? Did they convert to services? Did they upgrade from a free plan?
Or, some people will check Analytics only to see something like this:
A big downward spike or trend in users and traffic.
That’s when mayhem and panic start to set in, right? It means that your business is about to crash and burn forever!
No, it doesn’t. But the problem with simply analyzing traffic numbers is that they really don’t tell you much.
Just think about it:
Imagine yesterday you were able to drive more than 100,000 visits from a viral campaign.
You check your analytics, and you notice that only five of these visits signed up for an e-book.
And then you check back one month later, and those five leads never signed up for services or bought your SaaS product.
Traffic that doesn’t lead to profit is useless.
If your traffic looks like this:
But your end-goal sales look like this:
Then your traffic doesn’t matter. You can’t solely rely on traffic as an SEO metric that shows progress.
Sure, it means that your organic efforts are driving traffic. And that’s great.
But if your visitors aren’t converting, you are likely bringing in the wrong traffic.
There’s no point to SEO besides making money.
In fact, there’s no point in doing anything business-related unless you are making money.
I’d rather drive 1,000 visits a month and convert 500 of them than drive 100,000 visits and only convert 50 of them.
Stop focusing on traffic and start focusing on your bottom line.
3. Total links
This is one of the most common SEO metrics that I see today.
You head to Moz’s Open Site Explorer, and you type in the URL for a new blog post of yours:
You want to see just how well your SEO efforts have paid off.
You’ve been grinding for links in every way that you can. You’re sending cold-outreach emails and even cold calling for links.
So you hit search and you check out the rewards of your hard work:
Most SEOs think that total links is one of the most important metrics.
That more links instantly equals #1-page ranks and living off the SEO traffic for 10 years to come.
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Because Google is smart and they don’t simply equate more links to better content.
If your links come from Directory.net, who hands out links like homeowners hand out candy on Halloween, you won’t get much “juice” or benefit from them.
Why? Google understands that getting a link from that site isn’t hard. Therefore the power or “link juice” received isn’t much.
But, if you got links from a .edu or harder-to-reach site like HubSpot, you would get much more link power.
The key here is to focus less on total backlinks because simply spamming your links on forums and directories to hit 15,000 links will probably do more damage than good.
Total links do not equal better rankings. Better links equal better rankings.
4. Bounce rate
Bounce rate is commonly referred to as the rate at which people are leaving your site after viewing only a single page.
If someone clicks your organic post, reads for 20 seconds and then leaves, you’ve got a bouncer on your hands.
Can you already start to see how this could be a problem?
What if someone reads for 15 minutes and then bounces?
What if they read for 20 minutes on a long-form post, sign up for your email CTA at the bottom, and then bounce.
Bounce rates are my least favorite metric for that exact reason. It’s a superficial metric that tells you almost nothing.
And bounce rates are extremely variable:
What if you’re running a service site that has landing pages, blogs, and retail? How the heck are you supposed to know what your average bounce rate will be?
If you log in to Google Analytics and look at your Behavior report, you can see your bounce rate:
Seems high, right?
In fact, it seems like a rate that would give most people a big scare.
But wait a second. That’s the bounce rate for my blog that drives cold, inbound traffic.
So it makes sense.
But even if it wasn’t, that’s not something you should be focusing on.
Because even if someone bounced, it doesn’t mean they won’t come back again.
It doesn’t mean they didn’t micro-convert on your email newsletter.
It just means they read a single post and then had to go and do something else.
Bounce rate was once considered a huge metric to focus on because marketers thought it could tell you whether your website was good or bad.
But if you are producing a positive ROI with a 99% bounce rate, then why should you care?
Here’s what you should measure instead
Now that we’ve honed in on some of the worst SEO metrics that you should be avoiding, you need to know which SEO metrics should be your best friends.
Which ones you should be focusing on.
Most metrics aren’t going to help you make informed decisions. They will likely lead you astray.
Focus on these two critically important SEO metrics if you want to understand what is working and what is not.
1. Quality backlinks
According to a Search Metrics 2016 study on ranking factors, backlinks are still huge in driving higher rankings:
But what do you notice about those factors within the backlink section?
It’s not simply saying: More backlinks equal better performance.
It’s a diverse array of backlinks that drives better results.
So trying to get on every directory isn’t going to get you a higher ranking.
High-quality backlinks from high-authority sites are hard to obtain.
And Google isn’t dumb. Google’s search engine learns by gathering mass amounts of data and analyzing it.
So when a site has 600 external links per blog post, Google knows that those links aren’t very hard to get.
And that means that those links aren’t that powerful.
But when a site like Entrepreneur links to you, that link means more because they don’t link as often.
Your backlink profile should be of more concern than total links:
You need to focus on getting high-quality links from sites with higher domain authorities.
So, how do you get better backlinks from high-quality sites?
Start by guest blogging.
Guest blogging is one of the best ways to drive tons of links from high-quality sites.
I do it all the time. Take a look at my bio here on Entrepreneur’s site:
Or how about my articles on Inc:
I even guest post on the Huffington Post.
Guest blogging is one of my favorite ways to get tons of great links.
And I have people guest blog on Crazy Egg all of the time:
It has benefits that other links simply can’t match up to.
Focus on generating high-quality links, rather than tons of subpar links.
Spammy links on forums and directories will likely only hinder your progress.
Instead, start by guest blogging to obtain links that will help boost your rankings fast.
2. Final conversions
This is the most important metric you can (and need to) focus on in search engine optimization.
But Neil, didn’t you just tell us not to focus on conversions?
Of course. But the keyword here is final.
A final conversion is just what it sounds like. The absolute end goal that you have in place for your website.
For example, if you run an e-commerce store, your end goal or final conversion would be a product purchase.
If you’re marketing an SaaS tool, account sign-ups that drive revenue are your end-goal final conversions.
Or, if you’re running an agency, signing a client for paid services is your final conversion.
Does that make sense? You want to focus on the final action that users take.
So free trial sign-ups would not be your ideal focus. People who convert from a free trial to a paid plan would be.
Final conversions are the conversions that you can and should report on.
They focus on real profit achieved from all of your SEO efforts. They tell you if your efforts have paid off or not.
If people are converting on your white paper, that’s great, but that doesn’t mean your company is growing and increasing revenue.
It just means you’re increasing your leads.
So, how do you focus on final conversions and start to add dollar values to micro conversions?
One of the best ways to do this is to put a measurable dollar amount on your leads.
If not, you risk reporting on basic conversions that don’t tell you anything about profit or ROI.
Open up a spreadsheet in Google Docs and start to do some basic calculations.
Here’s what I did:
I listed every month on a spreadsheet with the average number of leads that would be generated each month.
Then, I took the typical close rate of the average sales team and the average client value.
This would mean that each lead is worth $250 for me. With a typical client value of $1,000 and a 25% close rate, I can get that number.
The goal here is to put value-based metrics into metrics that don’t have that data.
For example, AdWords just tells you “conversions,” but what if those are for SEO and this is all you see?
It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not actionable data that you can use to measure how well a sales team or PPC or SEO campaign is performing.
If Google Analytics says this:
Then it doesn’t give me any indication on how well this e-book helped to generate revenue for my business.
It just tells me how many people signed up.
Focus on final conversions that give you hard data.
Look at ROI, profit, money-based sales, and transactions that add to your monthly revenue.
Stop focusing on metrics like e-book sign-ups and stop marking them as conversions.
When you fire up your marketing tools like Google AdWords and Google Analytics, what do you see?
Page views, clicks, CTR. A bunch of vanity metrics.
There are so many metrics that don’t do a whole lot to help you out.
They don’t tell you the single most important indicator of success:
Those metrics simply don’t show you the full story of what happened on your site.
Sure, you can drive 1,000,000 site visits this month, and your boss might be thrilled, but what did those millions of visitors do?
Did they convert? Did they buy something? Or did they just bounce after ten seconds, never to be seen again?
Most SEO metrics on your favorite tools are designed to make you feel good.
They want you to know that your efforts are paying off.
Why? So that you keep using the tool.
But as a marketer, you can’t live off page views.
You need to pull back the curtain and hyper-analyze the most important metrics for success.
Start ignoring surface-level conversions, bounce rates, total backlinks, and traffic.
These are shallow metrics that don’t tell you anything about revenue or profit.
Start focusing on generating high-quality backlinks from top-tier sites.
Backlink profiles shouldn’t be filled with spammy sites like forums or directories. Google knows that these sites aren’t authoritative.
Instead, guest blog to generate some better links and better rankings.
Lastly, focus on final conversions.
Track the micro conversions like e-book leads to the final result: revenue.
Did they reach your end goal of buying a product or service?
That’s a final conversion and the most important metric to focus on.
What SEO metrics do you focus on for success?