How to Know if Your SEO is Working
Are you pouring time and money into your SEO efforts, only to see your website languish in the depths of Google’s search results? You’re not alone. For many, this is a frustratingly common scenario.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the art and science of boosting your website’s visibility, is an essential component of modern business success. It’s a critical investment, designed to drive organic traffic to your website, enhance brand credibility, and ultimately increase sales.
But what if that investment seems to be yielding no returns? In this blog, we’ll help you assess your current SEO efforts and determine whether it’s time for a change.
Setting Realistic Expectations
When auditing your SEO efforts, it’s important to set realistic expectations. Recognize that SEO is a long-term strategy, not a quick fix, requiring consistent and ongoing effort. Give your SEO strategy the time it needs to mature and bear fruit before jumping to conclusions about its effectiveness.
Results can fluctuate due to a variety of factors. A single month’s drop in traffic doesn’t spell disaster. It’s crucial to view performance in the broader context of trends over time. Patience, paired with testing and regular optimizations based on data, is the backbone of a successful SEO campaign.
How long does it take for SEO to work?
SEO is a long-term investment, typically showing results between 3 to 6 months, with more significant results often seen after 12 months. The time frame varies based on factors such as the website’s size, industry, competition, and other external variables. Patience and consistent effort are key, as SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
Can you predict SEO results?
Predicting SEO results is challenging due to numerous factors like competition, algorithm changes, and industry trends. While experienced SEO professionals can make educated forecasts based on data and trends, absolute certainty is not possible. It’s important to have accurate expectations with SEO to be able to assess whether it truly is working or not.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Monitor
The metrics to monitor depend on the goals of your SEO campaign. Driving leads and building brand awareness may require different tactics. As such, the KPIs that really matter will depend on what you’re looking for.
Poor performance in one KPI isn’t the necessarily the end of the world. But rather it’s one piece of the puzzle in understanding the full picture of your campaigns performance.
The following ten KPIs are ways you can assess your SEO efforts.
Organic traffic is a critical KPI because it indicates how well your site is ranking in search engines, which is the core aim of SEO. A consistent increase in organic traffic suggests that your SEO efforts are effective and improving your site’s visibility. Look at a period of time (3-12 months) and compare it to the previous year to see if there are gains or losses.
Conversions are specific actions that visitors take on your website, such as making a purchase or filling out a form. Increased conversions are a key goal of SEO; as your SEO efforts attract more targeted traffic, the number of conversions should logically increase. Similar to organic traffic, look at a wide date range to see if this number is increasing or decreasing over time.
This KPI tracks the total number of keywords your site is ranking for and the average position your terms are ranking in. Monitoring these metrics, with tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, and Google Search Console, helps you understand if your site is moving up or down in rankings, a direct indicator of SEO performance. Look at the length of time in which you’ve been with your SEO company. What is the trend during this time?
Domain Authority (DA) scores the overall authority of a website, and is an indicator of the likelihood of out-ranking your competitors. Monitoring whether your DA is rising or falling can give you a sense of your site’s overall SEO health. Use the Moz Domain Authority Checker to look up your domain and see how your DA changed over time. Has it gone up? Stayed the same? Gone down?
Backlinks are links from other websites to your own. Quality backlinks are vital as they heavily influence rankings and contribute to domain authority. Use Ahrefs, Semrush, or Moz to perform an analysis of your backlinks. Check to see if the number of domains referring to you have increased or decreased. Look at the ratings of those domains to see if they are high quality or not. Gaining high-quality backlinks from reputable sources in your industry should be a cornerstone of your SEO strategy.
These KPIs, such as time on page and engagement rate, measure how users interact with your site. Effective SEO should improve the user experience, encouraging visitors to spend more time on your site and, ultimately, convert. Use Google Analytics to view the performance of some of your top pieces of content. Look at organic traffic over a few months to compare whether these engagement metrics are going in the right direction.
Monitoring brand mentions through tools like Google Alerts or Moz’s Brand Authority helps track your brand’s growing (or decreasing) presence online. While not solely tied to SEO, increased brand mentions can correlate with improved online visibility.
Ahrefs provides a ‘traffic value’ metric that estimates the potential value of organic traffic to your site. Monitoring whether this value is increasing or decreasing can offer insights into the effectiveness of your SEO strategy.
Leads and Sales
The ultimate goal of SEO is to drive more leads (phone calls, form submissions, emails, etc.) and increase sales. Tracking these metrics is vital to understanding whether SEO efforts are translating into business opportunities. However, sales numbers can be difficult to track without input from you, the business partner. Communicating the percentage of leads that turn into sales is critical to determine if the leads being driven are quality. Assess your internal sales numbers and trace them to website performance to see if leads and sales are increasing.
For ecommerce sites, tracking organic revenue is essential. This KPI provides a clear picture of the ROI on SEO efforts, as it directly correlates to income generated through organic search traffic. Look in Google Analytics to see if revenue has increased over the last 3 months, 6 months, or 12 months.
Note: It’s important to add context to the data. Are KPIs measuring correctly or did conversion tracking break? Is your business seasonal, making it difficult to compare peak vs non-peak seasons? Was there a global pandemic, recession, or supply chain issue that affected your business? Without context, you’re missing the full picture, and unable to make accurate decisions about SEO performance.
Tools for Tracking SEO Performance
As mentioned above, these tools allow you to analyze every facet of your SEO campaign and range from free to paid subscriptions:
- Google Analytics: A free tool that provides detailed statistics and analytics of web traffic. It allows you to track user behavior, conversions, and a wealth of other data related to your site’s performance.
- Google Search Console: Another free tool from Google, it provides insights into how a website is performing in Google Search, including visibility, indexing status, and issues affecting ranking.
- Ahrefs: A comprehensive, paid SEO toolset with a focus on backlink analysis. It offers detailed insights into your site’s organic traffic, keyword rankings, and competitor analysis.
- SEMrush: A powerful, paid tool that provides extensive data on keywords, competitors, and SEO health. It also offers features for tracking your site’s organic and paid search performance.
- Moz Link Explorer: Part of Moz’s suite of SEO tools, this tool helps you to analyze and strategize your link building efforts by exploring your backlink profile and domain authority.
5 Signs Your SEO Strategy isn’t Working
Not all SEO strategies yield the desired results. While KPIs are important to understand, here are five telltale signs that your SEO strategy isn’t working.
Organic Traffic Drops
There are two kinds of drops: sudden and gradual. Both are bad, obviously, but both have different reasons.
Sudden traffic drops may be due to a Google algorithm update or could be an indicator of a manual action against your site. It’s pretty rare to see sudden drops unless something has either happened with Google, or there are issues with your analytics implementation. Check with your SEO team if you see sudden drops in traffic to see if they can make sense of the drop. If there was a manual action against your site, you’ll be able to find out in Google Search Console. In which case you probably don’t want to be working with that black hat agency anymore.
Gradual drops in traffic are an indicator of a bad SEO strategy. It’s one thing to see a few months drop, it’s another to see several months or years of decline. Of course, external factors may be at play like COVID-19 or seasonal trends, but if you would’ve expected growth over a long period of time, and you’re not seeing it, it’s time to find a new strategy.
Content Is Falling Flat
Content that never takes off may be a sign that your strategy is off, or the content you are creating is not high quality enough. You might think it’s great, your SEO might think it’s great, but if it’s not showing up in SERPs and bringing in traffic, there’s a disconnect somewhere. Content can be pretty hard to predict and takes a while to take off, but you want to make sure you’re getting your ROI. And creating blogs month after month without any hits after 6 months to a year, is an indicator of a poor blog content strategy.
Conversions Are Going Down
If you see that your conversions are trending down and there aren’t external factors, it may be an indicator that your SEO isn’t working. There is a disconnect somewhere in the funnel. Whether this is bringing the right users onto the page through keyword targeting, the content you’ve written for them, the layout and UX design of the page, or even the conversion action such as the contact form you want them to complete, something is going wrong. A good SEO will be able to figure out why you’re leaking conversions and how to patch it up.
Excessive amounts of spammy backlinks can get your website penalized by Google. Sometimes spammy backlinks can’t be avoided. You can’t always control who is choosing to link to you. But you can choose to disavow those that you don’t want to be associated with. Toxic backlinks often come from unrelated sites, have over-optimized anchor text, or originate from link farms and shady directories.
An important part of SEO is having quality backlinks from reputable websites. Your SEO team should be trying to grow your backlink profile, and if they’re not, and spammy links are popping up on their own, you may have a problem. You definitely have a problem if your SEO team is buying links or using a private blog network (PBN).
Keyword Rankings are Dropping
Seeing your target keywords drop in rankings (over time) is a sure sign that your SEO isn’t working. SEO is all about showing up higher on Google where more people are likely to click on your results. A declining average position is an indicator of poor content performance and lack of on-page optimizations. Drops in average position means that content is not being optimized and you are falling behind to new competitors.
Good vs Bad SEO
Good SEO orients a strategy around the tactics most likely to achieve the goals of a business. It’s not only selecting the right path forward but also having the expertise and technical know-how to be able to execute. It’s about getting both the tactics and the execution right.
Good SEO follows “White Hat” techniques. It prioritizes creating a positive user experience over trying to deceive or “game” search engines. Knowing if content creation, link building, on-site optimizations, or technical edits are the way to go separates a good SEO strategy from an average one.
Bad SEO refers to a poor-performing strategy. This could be from bad tactics, bad execution, or a combination of both.
- Bad tactics are things like targeting irrelevant keywords, ignoring technical issues, prioritizing the wrong things, and even “Black Hat” techniques that violate search engine guidelines.
- Bad execution is lacking the necessary attention to detail, timing, or quality to achieve success.
Regardless of the combination, bad SEO ultimately fails to improve, or may even harm, a website’s visibility and performance, whereas good SEO is holistic, sustainable, and user-focused.
How To Tell If Your SEO Provider Is Working
The KPIs, tools, and signs to look out for offer a glimpse into performance. However, they can be misinterpreted by those not savvy in website analytics. In auditing your current SEO provider, it’s important to ask them about performance issues and assess their answers.
Here are some questions to ask your SEO provider:
- What keywords are being targeted and how have rankings improved?
- How has organic traffic improved in the last 3 months, 6 months, 12 months?
- What is the conversion rate for organic traffic?
- How much have conversions increased in the last 3 months, 6 months, 12 months?
- Are new high-quality backlinks being acquired? What are some examples of new backlinks?
- What are the most pressing technical issues that need to be addressed or have been addressed in the last 90 days?
- Can you provide insights as to how content created in the lst 6 months is performing and how well it’s ranking?
- How do you feel our business is performing from an organic search perspective?
- What are some upcoming strategies or tactics that will be implemented to improve SEO performance?
- Can you show me the ROI of our SEO efforts?
Asking these questions will definitely keep your SEO provider on their toes. They might be surprised to hear such poignant questions – but that’s good. It’s about keeping them accountable. A good SEO agency will be transparent and forthright about its performance and deliver the bad along with the good.
Making The Decision – When To Look Elsewhere
If you’re consistently not seeing improvements in your KPIs, despite giving the strategy adequate time to yield results, it may be time to consider a change.
Poor communication is another red flag; regular, clear, and transparent communication with your SEO partner is non-negotiable. You should be consistently updated on the strategies being employed, the progress of your campaign, and any challenges that arise. If your current provider is not forthcoming with this information, or if their reports are consistently vague or confusing, that’s a warning sign.
The bottom line is that you deserve a partner who understands your business, communicates clearly and regularly, and is committed to achieving measurable results for your investment.
Assess what you believe went wrong in the partnership with your current SEO provider. Was it a matter of miscommunication, unrealistic expectations, or misalignment in strategies? The next step is to define clear, specific goals for your next engagement. Begin researching reputable SEO agencies and request detailed proposals that outline their approach, expected outcomes, and costs. Don’t skip the due diligence—check references and online reviews rigorously, and ensure you understand how each potential agency plans to tailor their services to meet your unique needs.
Intuitive Digital is a B Corp-certified values-driven digital marketing agency that provides custom SEO strategies. We are a transparent, responsive marketing partner serving a variety of industries. Reach out to learn more about our SEO services.
This post was originally published on March 2, 2017, and last updated on August 25, 2023.