SEO is a long game. Although you may have some small quick wins, like improving your technical SEO and seeing your website speed performance scores skyrocket, actually showing up higher on Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Result Page) takes a while to kick in.
And along to way, you are going to need some motivation to keep yourself on track with your big SEO goals. This is why you must know how to check if SEO is working on your website.
Without knowing if your SEO efforts are working, you won’t know what areas to double down on, when to apply a different strategy or troubleshoot bigger issues.
Before we dive into how to check your SEO results, let’s cover a few basics so we’re all on the same page about when to check in on your SEO progress.
How long does SEO take to “kick in”?
When you first start SEO, it typically takes around six months to kick in. That means that pages you have optimised in February, or blog posts you have written, won’t start to show much traffic from Google until August.
BUT. And this is a big BUT.
Providing your content is relevant to the searches it is showing up for, and you have continued to work on your SEO in those 6 months, that traffic will continue to increase way past the levels you see in August.
This is because Google tends to reward older, more established websites in their search engine results.
It’s also why SEOs will preach all day long about consistency with your SEO strategy.
If you have been at this SEO game for a while and get some pretty good traffic from Google, you may find that new pages show up sooner on Google’s SERPs. Larger sites have seen new pages ranking high within a week or so of publishing, meaning there’s even more reason to get on the SEO train now to see the benefits in the future.
How do you measure SEO performance?
There are many different tools and methods to measure your website’s SEO performance. We’ll dig deep into all of them below, but you should know that most of this information comes from the SEO community rather than Google.
Google tends to be pretty quiet about how to best measure SEO performance and what will move the needle. Because of that, we’ve had to dig deep as a community to navigate this path.
Before we get started, you might be interested to know that we don’t use Google Analytics for any of this guide. That’s not to say that Google Analytics doesn’t have its place in tracking your SEO campaign, but with the introduction of GA 4 I have found it very long-winded to find the SEO data I need with Google Analytics in recent months.
For that reason, we’ll focus on Google Search Console and some of my favourite paid SEO tools to get the job done!
How many impressions is your website getting?
Impressions are how often your website appears in someone’s Google search results. The best place to find this information is Google Search Console. By getting your organic search traffic data “straight from the horse’s mouth”, we can be pretty confident in its accuracy.
Head to the Performance tab in Google Search Console, and you’ll see something that looks like this:
You will also be provided with some handy charts to visualise this data. If you see these charts trending upwards, you can be pretty confident your SEO efforts are paying off!
If your chart is a little up and down, you may find it useful to filter these results and compare them to a previous period. Providing you’ve picked a large enough period to compare between, you should see results showing an increase in impressions based on the previous period.
How many website pages are ranking on Google?
When we talk about a website page ranking on Google, we mean that page showing up on Google’s search results for relevant search terms. Any pages that generate organic search traffic from Google will be the pages making up the impressions numbers shown in Google Search Console.
For example, if you’ve worked on every page of your website, but only your homepage shows up on Google’s search results, then your SEO either hasn’t kicked in yet or hasn’t been implemented correctly for those other pages to rank on Google.
Alternatively, you can find this information on Google Search Console. However, I recommend these paid tools because they provide a lot more data on your top-ranking pages, which will help you to adapt your SEO strategy to suit.
On Semrush and Ahrefs, you’ll plug in your site and navigate to “Top pages” to see which pages are performing best, how much traffic they generate, what keywords they rank for and what countries they are ranking in.
On Google Search Console, you can find the URLs of these pages under the “Performance” tab where we found out your impressions figure, and you can see what impressions are attributed to each page of your website.
Ideally, all the pages of your website that you have optimised for SEO should show up in these reports after the six months mark.
What keywords is your website ranking for?
It’s all well and good to show up on Google’s search results, but if you aren’t showing up for the right keywords then you won’t be able to convert the organic search traffic you’re generating.
So once you’ve established that you have some pages ranking on Google’s SERPs, it’s time to analyse the keywords you are showing up for to ensure you’re getting things right moving forward.
The paid tools will provide you with more information on keyword ranking, such as how many searches they get per month, your competition, your position in search engine results, etc.
When it comes to your keyword research, you should be analysing keyword ranking anyway, in which case you may find Google Search Console is a great starting point for this to save yourself costs on the paid tools.
Under the “Performance” page again, you will find a “queries” tab that will show you all the search terms you’ve shown up for within the date range you have selected.
If you find you are only showing up for your business name and you’ve been working on your SEO for over six months, it’s time to rethink your SEO strategy.
What is your click-through rate?
Google Search Console also provides valuable data on your click-through rate from organic search traffic. This is how many clicks to your website have occurred after someone found your website in Google’s search results.
You may have noticed this metric further up the page, but I’ll share it here again in case you missed it!
Typically, click-through rate is a metric that improves way after your impressions and number of pages ranking improve. This is because the most clicked search results on Google are the top 3 results.
You’re very unlikely to find yourself in the top 3 results at the same time you notice your impressions increase because Google often moves websites slowly up their rankings. Of course, you might strike gold and hit this spot right away, in which case your click-through rate should be in a pretty healthy position.
If you notice that you are showing up high in Google’s search results but not getting clicks, you should review your meta title and description to ensure they are optimised for clicks. If these are generic and pulled from the page data, rather than written by you with clicks in mind, you will struggle to encourage those clicks amongst your competition on Google.
What is your domain authority/ranking?
Google definitely does have an authority ranking system for websites, which I will talk more about in the backlinks section below, but they don’t share this data outside of their organisation.
This means that SEO tools have had to build this picture up themselves to gauge if websites working on their SEO are moving in the right direction.
Each tool has its own way of showing your domain authority/domain ranking score, and some also share page authority rankings which tend to tie in with what pages are ranking best on Google’s search results.
I recommend sticking with one tool to monitor this, and providing your score goes up over time as you work on your SEO efforts, you can be confident that you are doing something right.
Similarly, if you find that one particular thing dramatically increases your score, double down on that for your future SEO work!
How many backlinks does your website have?
Backlinks help you to build authority in Google’s eyes because the more (credible) websites linking to your content, the more valuable they see it.
And as I’ve already mentioned, the more valuable Google sees your content and website, the higher their SERPs will show your website pages.
Building a solid backlink profile is one of the best ways to prove your website’s authority with Google. And Google likes websites they feel they can trust, which tend to be older websites with decent authority.
Similarly, Google places the most weight on backlinks from websites they already see with authority. As an example, a backlink from BBC News is far more likely to “move the needle” for you than a backlink from some random blog that nobody visits.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a Google tool that will give you a definitive overview on your backlink profile. You can see some data in Google Analytics by searching for referring domains, however, these are only registered when someone clicks your link from that website.
And backlinks don’t have to be clicked to work towards your website’s overall authority with Google.
This means that you won’t get a full picture by using Google Analytics for this data.
I recommend using paid tools like Semrush or Ahrefs for this, as they provide a full overview of every website linking to yours. They also share valuable data on each of these websites so you can gauge their authority to see how this may impact your own.
If you find that your backlink profile is mostly from websites with a low domain authority score (mentioned in the section above), you may want to up your backlink building efforts to build a stronger profile.
How fast does your website load?
Google does not like slow-loading websites. In recent years, they have placed a huge emphasis on user experience being a ranking factor because they want users to click through to a fast-loading website that will answer their query as quickly as possible.
To ensure you meet this goal, you need to use Google’s Page Speed Insights.
Specifically, you should focus on your Core Web Vitals assessment. Ensuring all these stats are “in the green”, like so:
If this has raised some red flags (and results) for your website, it’s time to work on your speed optimisation!
What is the most important SEO metric?
In terms of measuring SEO performance, the most important of all the SEO metrics to use is the number of pages ranking on Google. This will give you a clear indication of whether your search engine optimisation work has made any difference to your presence on Google.
You can also use this information to gauge how well your SEO efforts have faired and what you can do to improve your overall position.
Finally, you can assess whether or not your SEO campaign is working. After all, the goal is to show up on Google’s search results, so if you aren’t doing that, the rest isn’t so important!