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SEO metrics that matter
There’s an infinite number of ways we can track the impact of our efforts. Choosing the correct KPIs or metrics to track is necessary for a successful news SEO strategy.
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Hello and welcome back. It’s Jessie, back from the thrift stores of Hamilton. I have acquired another stack of small picture frames and thriller novels. Did I need either? Do I have space for either? No, but those have never been metrics I consider when thrifting.
This week: The SEO metrics that matter most for news SEOs. There’s an infinite number of ways we can track the impact of our efforts. Choosing the correct key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics to track is necessary for a successful news SEO strategy.
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In this issue:
Defining the key SEO metrics;
Explaining what they measure;
Why each metric is important.
Let’s get into it.
What SEO metrics matter most
For each of these metrics, you can pinpoint your performance right now for the overall site. But it’s more useful to map additional layers – like segmentation or performance over time – to get more valuable insight.
Segmentation: How the metric performs against a segment of your date. That could be a set of keywords or group of pages, instead of or in addition to, the overall site.
Performance: If the metric is rising, falling or staying the same over time.
Together, this can show how and where your efforts are paying off, or if you need to adjust your strategy.
For example: Rising organic traffic following technical SEO improvements indicates your tactics are working. Falling search visibility on a set of keywords suggests a pivot in approach is necessary.
No single metric is enough to measure success. A mix of metrics – e.g., total traffic from search plus conversions over time – is always going to tell a clearer, more accurate story of the results of your efforts. Choose a mix of metrics that fit your goals and best align with that objective.
Let’s review 11 key SEO metrics to consider.
Traffic or business metrics
Conversions (subscriptions from search readers)
What it is: The number of readers who purchase a subscription or membership to your publication (from search).
What it measures: How much readers value your work. Conversions measure the sustainability of your revenue strategy (i.e., if the price point or paywall choice are working and if your paywalled content is worth paying for).
Your perspective of this data depends on your analytics tool and definition of conversion. A subscription, membership or newsletter sign up could all be considered a conversion.
Why it’s important: Publishers need to make money. Reader-supported news outlets require subscriptions or memberships to bring in revenue outside of advertising or events. For individual stories (investigations, commentary, evergreen or service reporting), the conversion rate indicates the impact of the work. It’s also an active signal of reader interest in a topic area – lots of subscriptions can suggest that more sustained reporting could benefit your organization.
SEO for Google News: Best Practices for Paywalls and SEO - by Barry Adams
Organic traffic (from search)
What it is: All non-paid traffic to your site from search engines.
What it measures: Organic traffic is the number of readers arriving to your publication from organic search.
Organic traffic can be measured in a variety of ways, including for the overall site, individual sections or topic areas, keywords or keyword groups or to a single story. To understand a pattern of audience behaviour or interest, look at traffic over time (e.g., year-over-year or week-over-week performance).
View organic traffic in the Performance tab of Google Search Console, within Google Analytics or your in-house analytics tool.
Why it’s important: We want our journalism to reach as wide an audience as possible. A site cannot build a loyal audience or drive impact without traffic. Increasing organic traffic from search is the primary object of news SEO.
Click-through rate (CTR)
What it is: Average CTR is the percentage of impressions that resulted in a click.
What it measures: CTR can measure the effectiveness of your on-page packaging (headline, meta description and image treatment). It’s also how successful you are convincing readers to consume your content over a competitor.
Measure CTR by pages, sections, (branded vs. non-branded) keywords or keyword groups. Over time, an improving CTR shows if your efforts are working.
Why it’s important: Ranking matters, but a reader clicking on and engaging with your content matters much, much more. Click-throughs measure your appeal to readers. A reader can’t find value in your reporting if they don’t click on it. If you see a drop in CTR, consider looking at the headlines of your articles.
What it is: A link from another website back to your publication’s website.
What it measures: Backlinks are a signal of the impact and value of your journalism. Investigations or scoops, for example, will have a solid backlink profile. That’s an indication outlets are citing your work.
Why it’s important: Backlinks can help crawlers find important pages, build referral traffic and act as a signal of authority. Search engines consider a backlink a signal about the quality of your site’s content (the more backlinks, the more Google considers you to have expertise and authority).
If competitors reference your reporting but don’t link, send a polite email making the request. This is both common courtesy and a trust-building exercise for readers (we ought to cite our sources!).
Read more: What is a backlink?
What it is: Impressions are how many users saw a link to your site in search results.
What it measures: How many people saw your story, including those who saw the story but did not click the link. Impressions tell you about the widest reach, but it can’t measure engagement or value.
Why it’s important: Readers need to see your content in order to click on it. However, this is an incomplete metric – use impressions, plus another metric for meaningful reporting (i.e., clicks or subscriptions from search, if impressions are increasing).
Impressions (to coverage areas) indicate where you have authority and where Google has favoured your journalism.
If impressions are high, but click-throughs are low, it’s possible the headline was not effective in selling the story, or there’s a brand issue.
What it is: Duration of time a reader stayed on a given page before leaving the URL.
What it measures: How long a reader engages with your content. Time spent measures if a user is satisfied by the content they clicked on (or if they will soon return to SERPs to find another link, or if they just scanned the content quickly).
Why it’s important: Rankings, visibility, total clicks: These all matter. But if readers spend just two seconds with a story, it’s clear the search intent was not fulfilled. High time spent means a reader has time to see the value of a story (and consider a subscription or reading additional reporting).
Consider time spent against the length of a story. If the average engaged time is low for a long piece of journalism, perhaps the length needs to be trimmed next time. Conversely, a high time spent on a shorter interactive file means a reader is really engaged with the story.
Keyword rankings (or placement in Top Stories)
What it is: A publication’s organic ranking positions in search for specific keywords.
What it measures: Your performance in search engine results pages and the results of your SEO efforts for keywords over time.
Google Search Console provides the average position for a keyword. Tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs can track the position of keywords as they change over time. News SEO tools like NewzDash or Trisolute News Dashboard can monitor rankings in almost real-time.
Why it’s important: Ranking makes impact possible. Without a high average position for key phrases in search, your reporting will be less valuable.
Increasing the average position for keywords can increase the number of readers to a story or coverage area. A declining position for evergreen keywords likely results in fewer clicks (and a lower traffic baseline to your site).
What it is: Search visibility is the estimated percentage of traffic a website gets from ranking for one or more keywords. It’s the percent of all available traffic your site could receive.
Search visibility can be measured by keyword, keyword group or all your website’s content.
What it measures: How often your journalism shows up on SERPs and your visibility to the audience.
NewzDash or Trisolute News Dashboard can monitor search visibility and ranking in organic results and Top Stories rankings in almost real time. SEMRush or Ahrefs can provide share of voice data.
Why it’s important: Capturing the widest share of that audience is a relative metric (like a score from 0 to 10). It can be a more useful stat than just organic traffic.
There’s a limited pool of audience for every story, so maximizing your visibility is a better way to understand success than just the number of clicks.
It provides a standardized metric for events with different levels of interest (e.g., stories on a bank announcing interest rate policy compared to coverage of the NBA finals).
Read more: What is search visibility?
What it is: The depth of your subject matter expertise. Topical authority is the perceived authority over a topic area or idea set. It’s also a ranking factor.
What it measures: Topical authority is a measure for quality. It’s hard to quantify – a single stat can’t really answer the question, “Is my subject matter expertise on X increasing?”
However, we can use a mix of metrics to get a sense of topical authority. That might include search visibility, keyword rankings, traffic to content areas (or share of traffic to specific topics) or category pages.
Why it’s important: Search engines understand some websites to be knowledgeable in major topic areas and therefore are more likely to rank articles from those sites higher in a search result over competitors.
What it is: The consequence of your journalism. Did it deepen someone’s understanding of a topic? Did your reporting drive a change in public opinion, legislation or regulatory policy? A cabinet minister losing their job after you publish a story about them is a clear impact metric, but one missing from SEO tools.
What it measures: This is often a qualitative metric (changing someone’s mind is tough to calculate). However, a mix of metrics like backlinks (do other outlets report off your work?), rise in search interest for keywords or topics (are more readers seeking out on topic?), organic traffic to branded keywords (are people searching your site to find the project?) or high click-through ratings can all be useful here.
Why is it important: The function of news is to empower people with information, to tell readers what they don’t already know. Impact measures the success of those objectives. Producing consequential journalism is the goal, and while it’s a challenge to measure, it’s perhaps our most important KPI.
Creating new interest
What it is: A measure of new or rapidly increasing interest in a topic.
What it measures: How reporting added to the public lexicon or consciousness of a topic. Look at organic traffic, search volume for related keywords or CTR for a story. Then use Google Search Console (or other tools) to see the keywords used to find a story, then look at Google Trends to see the relative spike in interest for those queries. Branded terms for a concept may rise, too.
The search interest in the keyword “unfounded,” a term police that renders sexual allegations as baseless, exploded after The Globe published the Unfounded investigation in 2017. The project introduced this phenomenon to the wider public, and the “unfounded” – as it relates to police work – became more widely understood.
Why it’s important: Telling the audience something they wouldn't know is the foundation of enterprise reporting. Rises in interest for search terms and topics is a way of understanding that impact.
Having a project become the driving force behind a rise in search interest for keywords can also demonstrate the need to expand coverage in that area. Expanding the section that released the story or assigning a new beat reporter becomes possible when new interest is created, measured and acted upon.
Additional resources for reporting impact
How to produce and measure impact on your journalism
Beyond clicks and shares: Measure the impact of data journalism
How do we measure the ‘real-world’ impact of journalism?
More reading on mapping SEO metrics
Google: The March Core Update has been released and will take up to two weeks to fully roll out.
Search Engine Journal: John Mueller shares tips for simplifying site structure.
New from Google: What not to use AI for.
Barry Adams: Variety and The Sun were the fastest-growing sites in the U.S. Top 50 in February.
Danny Brown: Tricks for optimizing your podcast for Google and more.
Brodie Clark: Six new updates for Google featured snippets that you may have missed.
Moz: You’re measuring your branded SERP wrong.
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