The idea of monitoring your SEO efforts may seem daunting, but it's actually quite simple.

Monitoring is a very important part of any SEO campaign because if you don't know what's going on with your site and how well you're doing in the search engines, then you can't make changes to fix anything that might be wrong.

Many SEOs think SEO monitoring as rank tracking and Google Analytics traffic numbers but it goes beyond this.

You need to monitor all aspects of your site and today we'll see what to monitor, why and how.

Monitoring SEO performance

This is by far the most important thing to monitor when it comes to your site's search engine optimization. You need to know if what you're doing is working or not which is why monitoring SEO performance should be your top priority setup when working on a new site.

Another critical benefit of monitoring performance is to be able to prove you're actually moving the needle to your client. How many of you have been fired because the client's favorite keyword has not moved yet your work had increased organic traffic by other means ? Been there, done that.

Creating value for your client is one thing. Monitoring how much and being able to communicate it to the client is another and that's what will keep you working together.

2 problems here :

  • the way you framed results & expectations for your clients
  • what you're monitoring as results

We'll only adress the second point here ;)

Positions

This is the most obvious and probably most universal way of measuring SEO performance.

get me number 1 for {keyword}

What you're looking for here is a rank tracking tool.

Different types of rank tracker exist :

Type Pros Cons Example
Web app Everything is done in the cloud Can become expensive SEOwl
Desktop app Fast Need to run on a computer even for scheduled tasks SEO Powersuite
Browser plugin Generally free, directly in the browser Can only handle a few keywords Google Rank Checker, SERPs Rankings Tool

For most cases, if you're serious about SEO you'll choose a web app rank tracker (SaaS).

You can learn more about SEOwl rank tracking capabilities here

Then you need to choose which keywords to track. You don't want too few otherwise you'll miss out but you don't want too many otherwise it will get harder to manage. You'll also may be limited by your budget.

To find the keywords to track a good source of data is your Google Search Console. Head over to your performance tab and use the filters to keep your interesting queries.

Depending on your website size and your budget, good filters can be at least one click in the last 30 days or at least X impressions in the last 30 days.

Then you can export them using the export button and import them in your rank tracker.

Export your queries from Google Search Console

Alternatively, if your rank tracker gives you the possibility you can import your keywords directly from the rank tracker.

A quick setup is to import your keyword directly from GSC. Here's an illustration in SEOwl but you should be able to do the same in another rank tracker

You also need to choose if you want to track on desktop or mobile, as the rankings between the two can differ. To decide about this, look up your device breakdown in Google Analytics.

Look at your device distribution to see what you need to track

Traffic

Keyword rankings is all good and all but if you rank for keywords with 0 zero search volume, that's useless.

Therefore another metric to look for is organic traffic.

Here again, you will want to look for overall growth in clicks in your Google Search Console "performance" tab :

Google Search Console performance tab

You can also get that data in Google Analytics in Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search.

Organic search in Google Analytics

Although contrary to Google Search Console, this report will show all organic searches, including visits coming from other such engines such as Bing. If you want to look only at Google, head over to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium > google/organic instead.

Even then, the numbers may not match Google Search Console data exactly as they do not measure the exact same thing. However, the trend (increase / decrease) should be similar.

So that's your overall performance but what about the details ?

If you want to dig a bit deeper into the data, you can filter the performance by keywords (GSC) or landing pages (GSC and GA).

If you're working on specific pages, that's what you will want to look for.

Now as you may have noticed we're still in the first section and already introduced 3 different platforms : your rank tracker, Google Search Console and Google Analytics.

The good news is if you pick SEOwl as your rank tracker, your Google Search Console and Google Analytics data will be directly integrated so that you have all your data in one place.

Google Search Console data in SEOwl

To come back to my previous point, due to the nature of ranking position (which deserve an article in itself) you can have an increase in organic traffic for a keyword even though you didn't move in the SERPs.

If you don't report on that, it will look to your clients as if you achieved nothing when in reality you did move the needle ;)

Conversions

Traffic is all good and all but if you have untargeted traffic that bring zero conversion to the business, that's useless.

Therefore yet another metric to look for is conversions coming from organic traffic.

To do that you should have Goals setup in your Google Analytics and then head over to Conversions > Goals > Overview and select the segment as "Organic Traffic".

Google Analytics conversions coming from organic traffic

Again, this will include all organic traffic including Bing & co so if you want only Google you need to adjust your segment definition.

So this is your overall conversions and you will aim for overall growth but what if you want a more detailed view, say, which keywords bring you the most conversions ?

Now this is where shit hits the fan. You cannot really know for sure. Since 2011, Google removed that data from Google Analytics. Therefore you can't know exactly which query a user entered before arriving to your website.

What to do then ?

Although not perfect, there is some existing workaround. The idea is to link data from Google Search Console and Google Analytics using the landing page as a pivot. Then you can guess which keywords resulted in the data in Google Analytics and infer conversions from that.

This idea is implemented with a matching algorithm in SEOwl so that you can see conversions directly in your keywords tab.

Conversions in SEOwl

Again remember it's a "best guess" so don't take this data as gospell (that's why it's indicated as estimated in SEOwl) but it's still useful to get an idea of keyword level performance.

You can also get that information at the page level in your "Pages" tab in SEOwl.

Same conclusion as before : you can have an increase in conversions even with other metrics staying stable so again, report on this as well !

Did you know ? You can show all of this and more in your SEOwl reports without any complex setup !

Monitoring your SEO work

Monitoring your performance is important but to get tangible results at one point you'll have to do some work ! (or you're very lucky)

Here again, monitoring what you do is important for an efficient SEO campaign - even more if you're not alone working on a project.

There's obviously some classic project management setup to do but when it comes to a SEO project, you can also setup SEO-specific monitoring.

When it comes to backlinks, there's essentially 2 types of backlinks :

  1. "passive backlinks" : ie. backlinks you picked organically. Of course you may have invested time to create perfect content worthly of links for example, but it's indirect investment.
  2. "active" backlinks : backlinks you directly spent money and/or time to get. You bought them, wrote a guest post, you reached out to bloggers and journalists.

For type (1) backlinks, you'll just want to monitor overall how many links you get for each content and for the website as a whole. To do that, your favorite backlink tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush does the trick.

Example of new/lost backlinks report on SEMRush

For type (2) backlinks however, you'll want a more active monitoring. Indeed, you spent directly money and resources to get them, you better make sure they're still up as they should ! Especially considering, sadly, that the link building industry is not always a nice place.

You want to get notified as quickly as possible when a specific link is down, removed or edited in a wrong way (turned to no-follow, for example). That way you can reach out quickly to the 3rd party responsible for the link and ask for a fix.

You can use SEOwl or Linkody to do this.

Learn more about SEOwl's backlink monitoring.

On-page changes

If you're tweaking your on-page (which you should !), you need to keep track of exactly what you changed and when.

This way you'll be able to see if it had any impact on your performance and revert the changes if you believe it's doing more harm than good.

You can do this using Google Analytics annotations, as described in the picture below :

Annotations in Google Analytics

Simply enter what you did and when, so that you or other team members can review it later.

You can also do this in SEOwl in your keywords page :

Note system in SEOwl

And hopefully you should be able to do that in whatever other tools you're using for SEO monitoring.

Monitoring changes that impact SEO

So far we've monitored your SEO performance and put system in place for an organized SEO work.

But most probably, you're not the only piece in the puzzle that is working on a website.

There's your client, web developers, other marketers, maybe even other SEO's all interacting, rewriting pages, performing migrations, breaking stuff and what not.

All of them, often not intentionally can ruin your work by making changes that impact SEO even if they don't know it. And even though we all wish for perfect communication, more often than not you won't be noticed to any ot these changes until it's too late.

That's why having an automated monitoring system to ensure everything is as it should be is a good way to prevent those mistakes that can easily cost thousands of $$$ if they're not noticed quickly enough on medium-large websites.

It also just get you peace of mind when making changes and it's invaluable these days. Not gonna say no to bit less anxiety huh ?

Peace of mind when making changes

Domain name & SSL expiration

Yes, these things do happen. Not often, gladly, but when they do... it's complete downtime. Game over.

Microsoft did it. Google did it. Foursquare did it. It even costed 3 millions $ to Sorenson Communications.

I'd even argue that SSL certificate expiration is more frequent than domain name.

Happily enough this can be easily prevented by using an automated system but you have to put the 2 minutes in to set it up !

Indexation

robots.txt, meta-robots tag, X-Robots header ... multiple ways to control which pages should be indexed or not.

You, other SEO's, developers, owners... multiple actors working on the same website.

Mix that together.

Yup, that's a recipe for mistakes that may go unnoticed if you're not careful.

It's especially true for meta-robots and X-Robots header that are invisible when you just browse the page.

You already know the solution at this point : monitor it. As much as you can, if you know how a page should behave, setup an automated system to verify it and alert you whenever it's not the case.

You can do this using SEOwl's Health Checks system that will monitor your pages daily for issues like this.

SEOwl Health Checks

Analytics tag

Following in the series of "things that shouldn't change but when it does by mistake, it's sh*t." we have the analytics tag eg. Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager (or non-Google equivalent).

If it's modified or removed by mistake during some website changes you'll have to react quickly if you don't want gaps in your data.

Depending on the size of your organization, it may be outside of the scope of your SEO role. If you're working for small-medium websites though, nobody else is really watching this so even though it may not be your role as a SEO, your clients will thank you when such a mistake is prevented.

And here again you can monitor this with SEOwl (or any other automated system checking for tag setup) in 20 seconds setup so you might as well do this !

Title & description changes

When the marketing department rewrote SEO optimized pages

Your role as a SEO is to make pages optimized for rankings. Yet it's not always the same content that is optimized for conversions. Thus there is a balance to have and tradeoffs to do between "CRO-optimized-pages-with-no-traffic" and "SEO-optimized-pages-with-0%-CVR".

Thus sometimes the CRO-people and you (SEO) are working on the same set of pages and they rewrite your title & description. Or it could be that the developper changed it.

Anyway, you'd like to monitor these as they are quite important SEO-wise and also the first things users see in the SERPs about the website.

(Again, SEOwl got you covered on these)

Conclusion

This is my first attempt to write a guide for SEO monitoring as I noticed the subject didn't have much coverage in the SEO space. Hopefully this has been helpful for some of you ! If yes, please share this article and/or leave me a message on twitter @seowl_app, would really mean something for me !

If you have any comments please share your thoughts with me - I'll try to update this post from time to time based on the comments and what I keep learning along the way.

Cheers !