There are a few questions I get asked all the time. How long will it take for my SEO to work? How will I know it’s working? How do I measure how successful it is? The short answer is simple: benchmark your SEO using key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure and optimise your ROI. But how exactly do you do that? While it may sound complex, once you understand which benchmarks genuinely reflect your SEO strategy’s success and how to measure and read them, it’s actually straightforward.
The trick is figuring out which benchmarks best reflect your objectives. And, more than that, realising that the benchmarks your SEO agency (should you work with one) is presenting you with are different from the ones that will genuinely measure success in terms of your company goals.
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What Is SEO Benchmarking?
Simply put, SEO benchmarking compares your website’s SEO metrics with those of your niche’s leading competitors.
At the start of an SEO campaign, benchmarking essential metrics like your domain authority, keyword rankings, organic traffic, and conversions allows you to assess the current standing of your website in your industry. It also enables you to map where you want it to be in six or twelve months.
By comparing the performance of your SEO campaign with the right SEO benchmarks, you’ll be able to effectively track the returns you’re getting on SEO campaigns and assess if they’re genuinely working or if they appear to be working because some of your KPIs look good on paper.
Why Is It Important To Benchmark Your SEO?
SEO benchmarking is one part of measuring the performance and productivity of your marketing. Other elements of this include competitor analysis, ROI and KPI tracking. SEO benchmarking is crucial for tracking performance, setting campaign goals, and analysing what’s working so you can eliminate or change harmful elements of your strategy.
You can also use SEO benchmarking to stay updated on the latest trends and determine which strategies will best achieve your goals. By regularly measuring and monitoring your results, you ensure you’re focused on the ROI and productivity of your SEO and not distracted by shiny statistics that make you think it’s all going great.
What do I mean by that? Well, look at it this way, when reporting SEO campaign success, most SEO agencies do two things:
- Have a set report they use for all customers, and
- Present clients with stats that show positive progress relatively easily.
For example, your agency may be using the number of keywords you rank for as a core benchmark for monitoring progress. So you go from ranking for 100 to 1000 keywords, an increase of 900%.
Of course, ranking #99 for a keyword with meagre traffic, low intent, and zero competition is effortless. This means your agency can show you, month-to-month, seemingly fantastic progress in your SEO efforts.
The problem is that no matter while you’re constantly ranking for new keywords, you never seem to get any new business. Why? Because you’re not getting much traffic from those keywords. What you are getting isn’t in alignment with your ideal client. They’re not people who need and want what you’re offering.
Add to this the fact that Google is constantly updating their algorithm, and tweaks and adjustments are needed every time they do. If you don’t clearly understand how well you’re performing compared to what you’re aiming for, it’s very tough to keep your SEO strategy updated. You can’t continue doing what’s working and fix what’s not when you’ve no idea what (if anything) is making a difference.
On the other hand, if you have benchmarked all your primary keywords along with any critical metrics, you’re in a solid position to take action that further improves the success of your SEO campaign.
It’s all about benchmarking.
How To Benchmark Your SEO?
So, how exactly do you benchmark your SEO? It’s actually straightforward; just follow these five simple steps:
Step 1: Determine Which Metrics To Benchmark
Your business goals aren’t going to be the same as everyone else’s. For that reason, using benchmarks other people find relevant is pointless. Instead, you must look at your goals before benchmarking your SEO strategy.
To set SEO benchmarks, you need to be clear on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, using organic traffic as a benchmark might be a good idea. However, suppose you’re trying to attract a smaller number of highly targeted people, as, say, a local business looking for traffic for a fixed geographic area. In that case, there might be better benchmarks to use.
Your competitors may have national or even international consumer bases, so comparing your results to theirs is pointless.
On the other hand, measuring how many total local keywords you rank top 10 for would be a great benchmark. Of course, there are plenty of other SEO benchmarks, from how many sign-ups you get on your site to your bounce rate, number of backlinks, domain authority, dwell time, and total goal completion.
Get clear on your goals and look and which metrics will accurately measure the extent to which you have achieved your goals.
Step 2: Do An Analysis Of The Respective Metrics
Once you’ve decided on the best metrics to benchmark, you will need to analyse your selected metrics. For this, you’ll need an SEO tool of some description (Google Analytics, SEMRush, etc.) or a tame SEO geek to do it for you (like moi).
Step 3: A Technical Comparison Of You And Your Competitors
I’m not usually an advocate of comparing yourself to other businesses. For entrepreneurs and small business owners in particular, it can be lethal to your confidence and mindset. Moreover, it’s often an unreasonable comparison. Where benchmarks are concerned, however, it’s a highly effective form of comparison as it gives you so much insight.
Comparing how your website performs technically compared to the sites you’re trying to outrank is critical. Any technical issues on your website will make it tough to outrank competitors on organic SERPs.
Looking at your top three competitors can help determine which SEO actions will best improve your site’s performance. Here are some things to compare:
The shorter and easier to understand URLs are, the better. Ideally, your URL structure will use the keyword for the page or post. This should always be unique, as you should never optimise multiple pieces of content for the same core keyword.
Checking your site’s load speed performance is essential. Sites that load faster than yours will outperform you. It’s that simple. Get your site running as fast as you can!
Core Web Vitals
If you’ve worked with me on your SEO already, you’ll know you get a monthly report that includes your core web vitals score. This should ideally be 90 or above, and boosting it to that level is the main focus of my SEO work when I initially start working with a client.
How is your content structured compared to your competitors? For example, if you both have content that’s trying to rank for the same keyword, and they’re outperforming you, look at how they have used that keyword on their page. Where does it appear? How many times? And what LSI variants have they included with it?
And please, for the love of all things natural and sane, do not presume the answer to this one is to stuff your keyword in as much as possible. That’s NOT what I mean. The days of keyword stuffing died many moons ago. What you’re looking for is structure. For example, when I’m writing any piece, the main keyword goes in the title, URL, introduction, at least one sub-heading (how many depends on the length of the content), and the conclusion. It’s then used as the file name and in the alt text for any images or uploaded media and included in the SEO title and meta description.
Speaking of meta (and no, I don’t mean Facebook), look at the use of keywords in your meta tags (title, meta description, H1 tags). In an ideal world, you’d have your main keyword in all of these and a few secondary keywords.
Your link-building strategy may hinge entirely on how many backlinks your competitors have. If they have little going on in the way of backlinks, you might not want to do much yourself. It could be that, for your industry, there are more important areas to focus on, and you will get little mileage out of them. On the other hand, your competition is simply lax in their backlinking efforts, giving you an easy way to outperform them by building up your links.
There are many other SEO benchmarks you can use, including duplicate content, HTTPS usage, word count, broken links, crawl errors, mobile-friendliness, outbound links, etc. The more of these factors you compare, the more capable you are of optimising your site, creating higher rankings and more traffic.
Step 4: Determine Which Areas You Need To Improve On
Once you’ve figured out which SEO metrics you’re using and the technical factors you need to address, you can look at the areas you want to improve. Look at where your site is lagging behind the competition. For each element, you identify as lacking, create a plan to combat that issue, and work these together to create your SEO strategy.
For example, if you know your site needs to catch up in speed and is ranking for a fair bit but nothing in the top 10, you know you need to do two things: boost your speed and improve your content optimisation. Since these two points complement each other (as most benchmarks do!), as you improve one, you will enhance the other. First, create a list of actionable steps to improve your site speed while looking at your current content. Then, take the content with the best rankings and update each piece while regularly adding fresh content optimised for new search terms.
A consistent regime of adding fresh content while updating existing content and actively improving site speed will soon see you flying up the SERPs.
Step 5: Regularly Monitor
Once you’ve nailed steps one to four, ensure you’re regularly monitoring and tracking each of your SEO benchmarks. I always advise doing this monthly and comparing one calendar month to the next. If you do it more frequently than this, small fluctuations get too much attention, and you struggle to see the big picture.
For example, make sure you’re tracking where you rank for your target keywords month to month. Each month you should see some improvements in those you already rank for (i.e. you should move up the SERPs a little), and you should start ranking for new keywords.
When something works, look at precisely what you did and replicate it. When something fails, look at what went wrong and either improve or eliminate it from your SEO strategy.
One Thing All Business Owners Need To Know About SEO
SEO benchmarking is a critical element in developing your SEO strategy, but if you need clarification on which metrics to use, how to understand them, and how to incorporate them into a system tailored to your business, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Most entrepreneurs and business owners need help wrapping their heads around the nuances of constructing an SEO strategy and figuring out what will measure real success on their terms.
It’s why so many charlatans get away with calling themselves SEO agencies when they don’t do anything genuinely useful. For example, I recently took over a big new client’s SEO. An agency had previously run it, and one of the first things I did was audit the site and look at its Core Web Vitals. While they weren’t shocking (around 70), several elementary issues severely impacted performance.
Things like missing metadata could have been very quickly rectified and should have been one of the first actions the existing agency had taken. Instead, they were doing a monthly update to existing content—fair enough, always a good practice. The problem was that there needed to be a strategy behind what they were updating content for. They needed to push it further up the SERPs for keywords they already ranked for. Instead, they were adding generic stuff.
Did it count as an update? Sure.
Would it do any good?
Not in the slightest.
The client handled new content creation, and while they were regularly publishing fresh content, there needed to be a strategy behind it. For example, their agency should have advised them on the keywords they should target or the type of content to create to best compete for those keywords.
Yet they had been paid for years to manage this website’s SEO.
I see this so often, and it usually boils down to a need for more understanding. Business owners are savvy enough to know they need to improve their SEO, but they need to learn more about the mechanics of SEO to recognise when that’s being done effectively. To understand if the strategy they have in place is actually working or if it’s just producing some nice shiny percentage increases and getting them ranking for a load of terms that have no value to them.
My advice to all business owners is this: learn enough about SEO to know who to hire and whether or not they’re doing a good job. Failing that, ensure there’s someone on your team who understands and can determine if the strategy they’ve implemented is working. Finally, whether you’re hiring in-house or outsourcing to an agency or freelancer, if you know nothing else about SEO, ensure you fully understand SEO benchmarks so you can be sure your strategies are working, and your money is invested in the best possible course.
And, of course, if you’d like some help understanding all of this, or you want to outsource it to someone who will happily use whatever benchmarks you decide are relevant, get in touch. I offer standalone SEO audits, other services, and long-term SEO strategies.