A Better Way to Track Website Performance

Keyword ranking has long been a method used for determining how well your website is performing in the search engines for a specific term. Although this used to be a great tactic, things have changed. Search Engines, Google in particle, have been encrypting more and more of their keyword data making it difficult for website owners to determine which keywords drive traffic to their site.

In addition to all the recent search engine changes which hide search term information, many times the method used by a business owner to determine their keyword ranking is also not the best way to go about things. Many try to go to their Search Engine of choice, type in a search term that they want their site to rank on, and see where their site shows up in the results. This way of doing keyword ranking can be problematic for several different reasons:

  • Search results are localized, providing you with results that are pertinent to your exact location.
  • Search results are personalized, providing you with results that are pertinent to you based on your search and click history.
  • Search results can vary based on other things such as the device you are using and even the browser you are using.

Chapter 8: Personalization & Search Engine Rankings, part of Search Engine Land’s Guide to SEO, goes into detail about how localization and personalization, as well as other factors, impact search results.


A sample search done seconds apart - the left example was done in Chrome while the right was done in Firefox from the same exact computer! Click on the image to view the differences toward the bottom of the page.

So, if search results can’t tell us how well our site is ranking because no two search results are ever the same, how do we know if our site is performing well in the search engines at all?

There are a couple of great reports in Google Analytics which can provide insight into how your site is performing. If you aren’t using Google Analytics to track traffic statistics for your website, you should sign up now; it’s free and invaluable. Once you’ve got Google Analytics setup, you can use the following two reports to help you understand how your site is performing.

Search Traffic by Medium

One of the keys to understanding how your site is performing is to look how much traffic to your site is coming from Search Engines. Comparing these numbers to other traffic types such as people who go directly to your site because they are familiar with it (Direct traffic) or those who get to your site from other sites (Referral  traffic) will indicate how visible your site is in the search results pages.  Here’s how you can check your search traffic performance:

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account
  2. Select the appropriate View (formerly known as Profile) from your Account List
  3. Select “Acquisition” from the left-hand menu
  4. Then select “All Traffic”
  5. From the “Primary Dimension” list, select “Medium”


Search Traffic by Medium

This report will show you statistics for “organic” (search engine results), “(none)” (direct traffic) and “referral” (referral traffic), just to name a few. If your Organic traffic is increasing over time, then your performance in the Search Engines is improving. If it’s going down, then you may need to spend more time optimizing your site for relevant keywords to get the right traffic to your site.

Search Traffic by Source

In addition to viewing your search traffic by the Medium (organic, direct, referral, etc.), you can also view your data in Google Analytics by its Source. The Source is the name of the site that your traffic is coming from. This can include Google, Bing, and Yahoo! for organic traffic, for instance. The Traffic Source report will also show you details of traffic from referral sites, so you can see which external sites are sending you traffic. To view your Search Traffic report by Source, follow the steps in the previous section, but for the last step set your Primary Dimension to “Source” instead of Medium.

Knowing where your traffic is coming from can help you understand whether you need to put your efforts toward search engine optimization. This information also lets you know which external links are helping to get more traffic to your site. This way of checking your site’s performance is much more reliable and accurate than using old fashioned keyword ranking. Proper Search Engine Optimization takes time and effort, but in the long run all this effort will pay off in more conversions from your website.