How to measure SEO in Google Analytics

Last Updated: July 7, 2022

You can measure SEO in Google Analytics via the following methods:

  1. Use the Channels report to measure SEO in Google Analytics.
  2. Use a Custom report to measure SEO in Google Analytics.
  3. Use the Top Conversion Paths Report to measure SEO in Google Analytics.
  4. Measure and improve the quality of SEO Traffic through Google Analytics.
  5. Use filtered view to measure how the SEO traffic is behaving and converting on your website.
  6. Track the performance of organic search keywords in Google Analytics.
  7. Set up custom alerts to monitor the performance of organic search traffic.

#1 Using the Channels report to measure SEO in Google Analytics

To measure organic search traffic in Google Analytics follow the steps below:

Step-1: Login to your Google Analytics account and then navigate to the reporting view which has collected at least the last 3 months of website traffic data. 

Step-2: Navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report:

Channels report 1

Step-3: Set the data range of your report to the last three months:

Set the data range of your report to the last three months

Step-4: Click on the ‘Organic Search’ link under the ‘Default Channel Grouping’ column:

Click on the ‘Organic Search link

Step-5: Click on the ‘Week’ tab:

Click on the ‘Week tab

Step-6: Look at the graph and determine whether the organic search traffic is increasing or decreasing over time.

whether the organic search traffic is increasing or decreasing over time

The main goal of any SEO campaign is to generate more traffic from search engines like Google. 

So if your organic search traffic is not increasing month after month then clearly SEO is not working for your business.

Ideally, there should be a considerable increase in organic search traffic every quarter.

If you see a +ve trend (gradual increase in organic search traffic) reported by your graph then SEO is working for your website.

However, if you see a -ve trend (gradual decline in organic search traffic) then SEO is NOT working for your website and you would need to change your SEO strategy.

Step-7: If you have been running the SEO campaign for more than 3 months then compare your last three months’ organic search traffic data with the last to last 3 months:

running the SEO campaign for more than 3 months

Step-8: Click on the ‘Source’ primary dimension to measure the performance of organic search traffic in terms of website usage and for each organic traffic source:

Click on the ‘Source primary dimension

Step-9: Look at the data table below the graph:

Look at the data table below the graph

If you see upward green arrows next to the majority of metrics (esp. Users and Sessions) then SEO is working well for your website.

These upward green arrows represent +ve % change in a metric and the higher this % change, the better. 

For example, from the screenshot above we can conclude the following:

  1. The Users from organic search traffic have increased by 8.26% in the last 3 months.
  2. The New users from organic search traffic have increased by 7.61% in the last 3 months.
  3. The Sessions from organic search traffic have increased by 3.69% in the last 3 months.
  4. The Bounce Rate of the organic search traffic has decreased by 24.99% in the last 3 months.
  5. The Pages/session from organic search traffic has increased by 4.88% in the last 3 months.
  6. The Average Session Duration from organic search traffic has increased by 208.29% in the last 3 months.

If you see downward red arrows next to the majority of metrics (esp. Users and Sessions) then SEO is NOT working well for your website:

SEO is NOT working well for your website

These downwards red arrows represent -ve % change in a metric and the higher this % change, the worse the performance.

Step-10: Scroll down the data table to measure the performance of individual search engines (like Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go etc) in terms of traffic and website usage: 

measure the performance of individual search engines

Step-11: Click on the ‘Goal Set 1’ tab to measure the impact of organic search traffic on your website goals:

Click on the ‘Goal Set 1 tab

Step-12: Look at the data table below the graph:

Look at the data table below the graph 2

If you see upward green arrows next to the majority of metrics (esp. Goal Conversion Rate) then SEO traffic is converting well for your website.

However, if you see downward red arrows next to the majority of metrics (esp. Goal Conversion Rate) then SEO traffic is not converting well for your website:

SEO traffic is not converting well for your website

One of the main reasons for organic search traffic not converting well for your website is that you are targeting keywords that are not relevant to your website goals.

Step-13: Scroll down the data table to measure the performance of individual search engines in terms of completing goal conversions on your website.

Step-14: Click on the ‘Goal Set 2’ tab to measure the impact of organic search traffic on the next set of website goals and then look at the data table below the graph:

Click on the ‘Goal Set 2 tab

Similarly, click on the ‘Goal Set 3’, ‘Goal Set 4’ and so on and then look at the data table below the graph.

Step-15: Click on the ‘Ecommerce’ tab to measure the impact of organic search traffic on website sales:

Click on the ‘Ecommerce tab

Step-16: Look at the data table below the graph:

Look at the data table below the graph 1

If you see upward green arrows next to the majority of metrics (esp. Revenue and Transactions) then SEO traffic is converting well for your website.

However, if you see downward red arrows next to the majority of metrics (esp. Revenue and Transactions) then SEO traffic is not converting well for your website.

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#2 Using a Custom report to measure SEO in Google Analytics

For organic search traffic, you would be interested in knowing:

  1. How the organic search traffic performed in terms of Goal Conversions and Sales?
  2. How organic visitors have consumed your website content?

Follow the steps below to measure the performance of your SEO in Google Analytics via a custom report:

Step-1: Login to your Google Analytics account and then navigate to the reporting view which has collected at least the last 3 months of website traffic data. 

Step-2: Navigate to Customization > Custom reports

Custom reports

Step-3: Click on the ‘+NEW Custom Report’ button:

NEW Custom Report button

We will create a new custom report that includes only organic search data and contains the following dimensions and metrics:

Dimensions: Source/Medium

Metrics: Users, Sessions, Goal Completions, Goal Value, Revenue, Goal Conversion Rate, Ecommerce Conversion Rate, Pageviews, Avg. Session Duration and Pages/session.

You can download this custom report by clicking on this link.

Step-3: Set the data range of your custom report to the last three months and also compare it with the previous time period:

Set the data range of your custom report to the last three months

Step-4: Look at the following metrics for each search engine to measure how the organic search traffic has performed in terms of traffic, goal conversions and sales: 

  1. Users
  2. Sessions
  3. Goal Completions
  4. Goal Value
  5. Revenue
  6. Goal Conversion Rate
  7. Ecommerce Conversion Rate
measure how the organic search traffic has performed in terms of traffic

Step-5: Look at the following metrics for each search engine to measure how the organic search visitors consumed your website content via each search engine:

  1. Pageviews
  2. Avg. Session Duration
  3. Pages/session.
measure how the organic search visitors consumed your website content

However, this custom report does not provide complete insight because the reported goal conversions and ecommerce transactions are all last non-direct click conversions i.e. these are the conversions that occurred when the organic search was the last non-direct marketing channel a person was exposed to before he converted.

So:

  1. The goal completions that you see in this custom report are the last non-direct click goal completions.  
  2. The goal conversion rate that you see in this report is the last non-direct click goal conversion rate.
  3. The ecommerce conversion rate that you see in the report is the last non-direct click e-commerce conversion rate.
  4. The revenue you see in the report is the last non-direct click revenue.

This custom report doesn’t show assisted conversions and assisted value generated by the organic search marketing channel.

Any conversion other than the last click conversion is an assisted conversion. 

We can never truly determine the true value of SEO unless we do not start analysing and reporting the role of the organic search marketing channel in initiating and assisting conversions.

The Organic Search marketing channel not only helps in completing a conversion but also help in initiating and assisting the conversions which are completed by other marketing channels (like PPC, Email, Display, Direct, Referral etc.).

#3 Using the Top Conversion Paths Report to measure SEO in Google Analytics

Step-1: Login to your Google Analytics account and then navigate to the reporting view which has collected at least the last 3 months of website traffic data. 

Step-2: Navigate to Conversions > Multi Channel Funnels > Top Conversion Paths report:

Top Conversion Paths report 3

Step-3: Set the data range of your report to the last 30 days.

Step-4: Click on the ‘Conversion Segments’ button:

Click on the ‘Conversion Segments button

Step-5: Click on the ‘Create New Conversion Segment’ button:

Create New Conversion Segment

Step-6: Name the new conversion segment ‘The true value of SEO’ and then define it like the one below:

The true value of SEO

In this conversion segment, I am selecting all those ‘conversion paths’ in which ‘organic search’ was not the last interaction.

I use this conversion segment to determine the assisted conversions of the Organic Search marketing channel.

Google Analytics, by default, follows the last-click attribution model in multi-channel funnel reports. 

So in multi-channel funnel reports, you see conversion volumes and conversion values for conversion paths in which the ‘organic search’ channel was the last click/interaction.

That is why in my conversion segment, I have excluded all those ‘conversion paths’ in which ‘organic search’ was the last interaction. 

This way, I can avoid reporting double counts of last-click conversion volumes and conversion values.

I have already reported last click conversion volumes and last click conversion values through the custom report I developed earlier.

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Step-7: Click on the ‘Save Segment’ button to create and apply the conversion segment to your ‘Top Conversions Path’ report.

Once you have applied this conversion segment, you should get an insight similar to the one below:

Once you have applied this conversion segment

Here we can conclude that the Organic Seach Channel assisted in additional 7,509 conversions (which are later completed by other marketing channels) whose value is more than $90k. 

You can’t get this type of insight through non-multi channel funnel reports like the custom report I created earlier.

Since in multi-channel funnel reports, conversions include both goal conversions and ecommerce transactions, you should segment the conversion data further into ecommerce transactions and goal conversions:

segment the conversion data further into ecommerce transactions and goal conversions

From the drop-down menu, we can conclude that out of 7,509 conversions, 1,036 are ecommerce transactions and the rest are goal conversions.

These are the ecommerce transactions that are assisted by the organic search marketing channel but completed(i.e. closed) by other channels. 

Without the assistance of organic search, these transactions would have never happened in the first place.

Now we want to determine the value of these e-commerce transactions. So I will unselect all of the goals and then click on the ‘Apply’ button:

unselect all of the goals

Once you clicked on the apply button, you can then see the economic value of the ecommerce transactions which were assisted by the organic search marketing channel:

see the economic value of the ecommerce transactions

Now we can conclude that the organic search channel helped in generating a revenue of $68,356.30 in addition to the revenue reported by the custom report we created earlier.

Similarly, you can determine the true value of other marketing channels like paid search, Display, Email etc.

#4 Measure and improve the quality of SEO Traffic through Google Analytics

They say the quality is subjective and hence cannot be measured. Well, not really.

In the next few minutes, I will show you one powerful method to effectively measure the quality of your SEO traffic in Google Analytics.

You in fact can measure the quality of any type of traffic (PPC, affiliate, display, email, social traffic etc.) through my method.

What is quality traffic in the world of digital analytics?

Quality traffic is the website traffic that drives the business bottomline.

Most optimizers consider highly engaged traffic as high-quality traffic. However, this is not always the case.

For example,

It is quite common for content-rich websites (like blogs, news sites, publishing sites, etc.) to have a high bounce rate, low average time spent on a page and/or low page views per session.

People generally visit such websites to consume the latest content.

Then they often leave the websites from the landing page without browsing any further. This results in a high bounce rate.

By default, Google Analytics can report time spent on a webpage only when a visitor navigates to another web page on your website.

So you may never know how much time is actually spent on a webpage.

You may never know whether the high bounce rate, low time spent and low pageviews per session are good or bad for the business bottomline.

A weak user engagement does not always mean poor traffic quality. 

If you consider strong user engagement as an indicator of traffic quality, then here is the bummer:

Strong user engagement is no guarantee of getting a lot of conversions, sales and/or leads.

This is because people may be engaging with your website for all the wrong reasons.

Let us suppose you sell link building services.

And in order to improve user engagement on your website you created a tool that can analyze the backlinks of any website for free.

Say your tool becomes popular.

As a result, a lot of link builders from all over the world started spending a huge amount of time on your website to analyze the backlinks of their clients’ websites.

Now Google Analytics will report strong user engagement and high traffic on your website. 

But since the people who are mainly engaging with your website are other link builders and not really your customers, your free link building analysis tool won’t help you much in getting leads and sales.

That is why you should always focus on profitable user engagement.

Profitable user engagement is the user engagement that leads to conversions and/or transactions.

“An engagement is profitable, only if it positively correlates with conversions, i.e. as user engagement increases or decreases there is a corresponding increase or decrease in conversion volume and conversion value”

“When a user engagement negatively correlates with conversion then the engagement becomes a distraction.

We need to stay away from such ‘distractions’.

Measuring Traffic Quality in Multi-Channel Marketing World

Let us now measure the quality of SEO traffic.

Before we move forward, you need to consciously remember the fact that

In the world of multi-channel marketing, organic traffic not only helps in directly completing conversions but also help in assisting conversions which are later completed/closed by other marketing channels like direct traffic, social media, PPC, email, display etc.

Therefore it is imperative that we take multi-channel attribution into account while measuring the quality of organic traffic.

Follow the steps below to measure the quality of organic traffic on your website:

Step-1: Navigate to the Assisted Conversions report (under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels) in your Google Analytics main reporting view:

assisted conversions report

Step-2: Set the ‘date range’ of your report to last month and then compare it to the previous period.

data range

Step-3: Note down the changes in the ‘Assisted Conversion Value’ and ‘Last Click or Direct Conversion Value’ of the organic search marketing channel:

organic assisted direct value

From the report above we can conclude that both the assisted conversion value and the last click conversion value for the organic search channel went down in the last month.

That means the quality of organic search traffic to the website has declined and fewer people are converting.

This quality has declined in two ways:

1. Organic search is assisting fewer high-value conversions which are later completed by other marketing channels (like direct, referral, PPC, email, display etc). In other words, other marketing channels are completing fewer high-value conversions in which organic search assisted. That has resulted in a decline in the assisted conversion value for organic search.

2. Organic search is directly completing fewer high-value conversions. That has resulted in a decline in the last click conversion value for organic search.

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To find the reason for a decline in assisted conversion value for organic search, you would need to determine how other marketing channels performed in the last month.

This is because their performance affected the performance of your SEO campaigns.

For example,

If someone in your company drastically reduced the PPC ad spend over the last month, then both your assisted conversion value and last click conversion value for organic search will most probably go down and consequently organic traffic quality will suffer.

Follow the steps below in order to understand how SEO impacted the last click conversion value of other marketing channels:

Step-1: Navigate to the Assisted Conversions report (under ‘Conversions’ > ‘Multi-Channel funnels’) in your Google Analytics main reporting view:

assisted conversions report

Step-2: Compare the last month to the second last month:

data range

Step-3: Click on the Conversion Segment button:

conversion segment google analytics

Step-4: Click on the ‘Create New Conversion Segment‘ button:

create new conversion segment 1

Step-5: Use the following configuration to create the new conversion segment and then click on the ‘Save Segment‘ button:

conversion segment configuration

You should now see the change in the percentage of conversions reported by your new conversion segment:

change in percentage of conversions

In case you are wondering why I applied the ‘Any interaction is organic‘ conversion segment, the answer is a bit tricky.

Here I want to consider only those last-click conversions in which organic search assisted somewhere in the conversion path

There is always the possibility of having a large number of conversion paths in which organic search did not assist at all.

So if I include these conversion paths in my analysis then I will not be able to accurately understand the role of SEO in impacting the last click conversion value of other marketing channels.

Step-6: Look for the negative change in the last click conversion value of marketing channels, other than organic search.

For example,

If the paid search marketing channel has a negative change in the last click or direct conversion value within the last month then it means you need to work on improving the performance of your PPC campaigns:

paid search last click or direct conversion value

If PPC is not in your control then there is nothing much you can do here.

But in any case, you now know the reason for the decline in the quality of organic traffic and you can report this reason to your client.

Similarly, look for negative changes in the last click conversion value of other marketing channels and improve their performance.

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When there is a decline in ‘last click conversion value’ for ‘organic search’, then it means that ‘Organic search’ is directly completing fewer high-value conversions.

There can be a lot of reasons for such behaviour:

1. A decline in organic search traffic

This can be due to a change in search engine algorithm (e.g. Panda or Penguin update), manual penalty, seasonality, rise in competition on SERPs, design changes on the search engine result pages etc.

If this is the case then you need to increase organic search traffic.

2. A decline in the performance of other marketing channels.

For example, a decline in traffic and conversions through direct traffic, PPC, email, social media and other marketing channels.

If this is the case then you need to improve the performance of these marketing channels.

Look at the big picture i.e. “the trend”

In order to truly understand the quality of organic traffic, you need to look at the bigger picture.

That means collecting and analysing conversion data for the last three to four months (to create a trend) and correlating it with organic traffic like the one shown below:

table

And then plotting the data points on a line chart like the one below:

organicVisits-TEV

From the chart above we can conclude that the organic traffic is increasing over time.

That means that the traffic is not a problem here. The problem here is the total economic value as it has gone down.

The total economic value is simply the sum of assisted conversion value and last click conversion value. 

The following chart explains the calculation of the total economic value:

total economic value

In order to determine the reason for the decline in total economic value, you would need to segment the data trend like the one below:

ACV-LCV

From the chart above we can conclude that the decline in total economic value is mainly due to a decline in assisted conversion value.

In order to determine the reason for the decline in assisted conversion value, you need to understand the role of SEO in impacting the last click conversion value of other marketing channels as described earlier. 

So next time, if you can’t figure out why your SEO campaign has suddenly started performing poorly despite an increase in organic traffic and conversions, look at the performance of other marketing channels.

#5 Using a filtered view to measure how the SEO traffic is behaving and converting on your website.

One of the best ways to analyze the organic search traffic data in Google Analytics is by creating a filtered view that includes only organic search traffic.

Following are the advantages of using a filtered view for organic traffic instead of using a custom segment:

#1 When you use a filtered view, you will never forget to segment the organic search traffic data. The data is already segmented for you.

#2 Google Analytics does not let you apply custom segments on Funnel visualization report and multi-channel Funnel reports. So you may never know how organic search traffic converts or how organic search traffic visitors moves through the checkout process.

The ordinary ‘new vs returning users’ report look very different when viewed through a reporting view that includes only organic search traffic.

To create a filtered view for the organic search traffic, follow the steps below:

Step-1: Login to your GA account and then navigate to your main reporting view.

Step-2: Click on the ‘Admin‘ link on the bottom left-hand side of your screen:

admin

Step-3: Click on the ‘View Settings‘ link under the ‘View‘ column:

view settings 2

Step-4: Click on the ‘Copy View‘ button:

copy view button

Step-5: Name your new reporting view and then click on the ‘Copy View‘ button:

copy view button 2

Step-6: Click on the ‘Filters‘ link under the ‘View‘ column:

filters google analytics

Step-7: Click on the ‘+ADD FILTER‘ button:

add filter 1

Step-8: Create a filter with the following configuration:

organic search traffic filter

Step-10: Click on the ‘Save’ button.

Going forward your reporting view will include only organic search traffic.

#6 Tracking the performance of organic search keywords in Google Analytics.

In order to track the performance of organic search keywords in Google Analytics you would need to do the following:

Step-1: Integrate your Google Analytics property with your Google Search Console account.

Through such integration, you can view the Google search console data (search queries, clicks, impressions, CTR, landing pages etc) in the ‘Search Console’ reports of your GA reporting view:

search console reports google analytics

Google search console provides data about what users see in Google search results before they decide to click on your website (or some other website).

You can use this data to identify opportunities and prioritize development efforts to increase the number of visitors to your website.

For example,

#1 You can identify landing pages on your website that have good clickthrough rates (CTR) but have poor average positions in organic search results. These could be web pages that people want to see but have trouble finding.

#2 You can identify search queries (keywords) for which your website has good average positions, but poor click-through rates. These are the queries for which your pages get attention and improved content (title, meta descriptions) could lead to more website visitors.

Step-2: Unlock the not provided keywords data in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics has been hiding a lot of keyword data in its reports and reporting such data as (not provided).

Not provided keyword is a keyword without ‘keyword referral data’.

The keyword referral data tells you which search term was used by a person to visit your website.

For example, if someone visits your website by typing ‘new York city car hire’ on Google, then the keyword referral data is ‘new York city car hire’.

By unlocking organic search keywords data you can optimize your landing pages for the keywords which are most likely to result in traffic, sales, leads or some other conversions.

#7 Setting up custom alerts to monitor the performance of organic search traffic.

It is extremely difficult to keep an eye on significant variations in your organic search traffic manually and that too 24/7. Here is where Google Analytics custom alerts come in handy.

Through Google Analytics custom alerts you can monitor significant variation in your organic search traffic.

Whenever such variation occurs you get an email alert or text message from Google asking you to take immediate actions.

Custom alerts are generated when traffic reaches a specific threshold that you have specified.

For example, if your organic search traffic dropped by more than 10% in comparison to the last week, then you can get an alert via email from Google.

Without setting up such a custom alert, you may never know when the organic search traffic started declining.

Let’s create a custom alert that is triggered whenever the organic search traffic declines by more than 10% in the last week.

Follow the steps below:

Step-1: Login to your GA account and then navigate to your main reporting view.

Step-2: Click on the ‘Admin‘ link:

ga admin

Step-3: Click on the ‘+ New Alert’ button:

New Alert

Step-4: Use the following configuration to create your new custom alert:

custom alert for google organic search traffic

To learn more about setting up custom alerts, check out this article: Google Analytics Custom Alerts with Examples

  1. How to calculate your SEO ROI using Google Analytics.
  2. Advantages and Disadvantages of investing in SEO

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About the Author

Himanshu Sharma

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