Monitoring SEO health and performance is crucial for understanding what strategies and tactics are working, pinpointing where problems may arise, and communicating ROI to executive teams and decision-makers.
However, many SEOs and marketing teams face common challenges in measuring the SEO customer funnel.
There’s determining which SEO metrics and KPIs are worth measuring for different stages of the journey, there’s monitoring the funnel itself to pinpoint problematic dropoffs and stage-specific weaknesses… all in an effort to improve the rate at which users progress to later stages!
The progression from awareness to interest, and interest to conversion, involves a distinct set of user behaviors and subsequent optimization strategies. Based on this distinction, tracking only broad-stroke SEO metrics doesn’t always paint a relevant or complete picture, especially when there are stakeholders who care about their specific metrics over others.
This is where the SEO customer funnel comes into play — enabling teams to effectively capture stage-specific KPIs and measure strategic SEO performance with greater relevance and precision.
The SEO customer funnel is a reporting tool to help us better understand what's happening at each phase of the customer journey. It’s a vehicle that allows teams to quickly identify potentially problematic dropoffs, understand more about the maturity of your SEO program (along with potential gaps), and more easily monitor those early indicators of SEO success & failure.
In turn, we can gain valuable insight into how we can grow this funnel, and ultimately, grow the business, by validating that we're moving in the “right direction” as early as possible.
There’s lots to explore here, so let’s dig in!
Keep in mind: the metrics defined below are SEO-customer-focused and are intended to reflect the organic segment of the audience; some tools may require you to take extra steps to complete this segmentation. When SEO is thriving, organic can be the primary channel that initiates contact between customer and brand. These metrics seek to track this SEO momentum and organic growth at specific customer stages.
The SEO customer funnel provides valuable insight into the psychology, mechanisms, and touchpoints that turn searchers into users, and users into customers. This insight is learned by tracking the right metrics per stage, and understanding what types of strategies have the most significant impact.
And from a reporting perspective, certain stages of the SEO funnel will also pique the interest of particular parties, especially among brand and corporate teams. It can be equally important to know which specific metrics matter to certain roles or audiences in the company and how to adapt your analytics dashboards accordingly.
Here we break down these metrics and reporting fundamentals for each stage of the SEO customer funnel.
“I tend to find that 'Impressions' is quite underrated as a metric, even though I believe it's one of the most valuable metrics. It's the bread and butter of the Awareness stage - the data is telling us that you are this close to transitioning customers onto the next stage through the number of impressions. One of the most interesting insights I tend to look at is Impressions vs Click Through Rate (CTR), in an attempt to understand what I can do to switch those impressions to clicks.”
As the uppermost stage in all types of marketing funnels, brand awareness is the fundamental first step in which prospective customers find you. When viewed through the lens of organic search, awareness is the initial connection that forms the first impression, and ideally, positive sentiment about your brand.
Important SEO metrics and KPIs to measure brand awareness include:
In this stage, potential customers are attracted to a brand through a range of strategic content types, from local landing pages to blog posts. Because prospects in the awareness stage are often in a state of research and discovery, top-of-funnel content offers one of the best strategic applications for this stage.
This involves producing content that’s informative, thought-provoking, and educational or addresses users’ pain points rather than being promotional or sales-oriented by nature. This type of content provides value to users and helps to cultivate a trusted and authentic connection organically. And hopefully, the content is useful enough to further build a relationship with the customer.
Building brand awareness, especially with non-branded search visibility and overall reach, is important to many areas of the company. In turn, effectively measuring awareness can help:
“It is seldom when you can take an isolated metric to determine organic search success. One of these metrics is the number of clicks tracked over a period that makes sense for your business cycle. Use weekly tracked periods for your SEO campaigns, starting at 28 days (4 weeks) since the deployment day. Then, you can extend performance measurement using periods of 56, 112, and 196 days.”
Once users become brand aware, they transition to the interest stage of the SEO funnel (assuming they haven't lost interest and diverted their attention elsewhere). It is in this stage that users dive deeper into a site and learn more about a brand, including its core competencies, its primary products and/or services, and any additional information and resources it provides.
Interested users are generally more prone to take action, so the metrics used to track such activity are a bit more straightforward.
Agency tip: interest metrics can help you identify initiatives that a client may be running but didn't tell you about. Oftentimes clients do not realize other campaigns can affect SEO, so they're never mentioned. But if you identify spikes or drastic changes in branded searches, you can ask them about other campaigns that they may be running.
The interest stage is an opportunity for brands to resonate with users and further develop trusted relationships. One of the best ways to do that is to build content that addresses the frequently asked questions, pain points, and curiosities of your audience.
This could be as simple as having an FAQ page or an “About” our team page, or as elaborate as in-depth guides, how-to videos, and white papers. The value you deliver and the authenticity of your brand speaks volumes about how well users engage with your content. Investing in talented copywriters, designers, strategists, and other resources elevates the experience you deliver and improves your sales objectives.
This is a stage in which brands can engage visitors, nurture leads, and build rapport through more targeted and resourceful types of content. Resources and tools, data and research, news and information, education and learning resources – these are all relatively top-of-funnel examples that help solidify interest in your brand and move users into the consideration stage.
The audiences most inclined to learn about interest-related metrics are generally the members of the company’s marketing and product teams. This also includes roles like CMOs and brand managers who want to know where user interest is being directed and why. For example, if a certain product is seeing an exceptionally high CTR, these team members will want to understand why that is and how they can replicate it.
“Putting effort into the consideration stage often brings good ROI and can boost conversions as the users in this stage are familiar with your brand, you just have to nudge them to buy from you / your product. So don't forget to look at branded searches and PAA for brand queries to see the questions and concerns people still have and create content that addresses those.”
The consideration stage of the SEO customer funnel is a pivotal shift in the psychology and consumer behavior among search users. Generally, they’re aware of what they need and they’re exploring different solutions to accommodate those needs. They are engaged users who are actively considering the products, services, and solutions that will best meet their needs.
Consideration metrics are largely engagement metrics. We want to know how good of a job we’re doing with our content and user experience, and how well that matches the demands of our visitors. KPIs worth prioritizing include:
In this evaluation stage, users are heavily researching and considering whether your offering is a good fit for their needs. There's some strategic overlap in the awareness and interest stages. But there's also more demonstration, persuasion, and promotion to be leveraged.
Case studies are a prime example of consideration-centric content. Not only can this type of content rank and generate organic search traffic, but it provides a compelling tool to persuade prospects that your team is proficient and trustworthy.
Similarly, reviews are a strategic tool to bolster consumer confidence in eCommerce brands. As part of a top/mid-funnel content marketing strategy, in-house reviews serve as an SEO asset that reaches, educates, and convinces target users. Product, tool, and brand comparison guides (e.g. “X” vs “Y”, competitor/alternative pieces, etc.) are a related eComm strategy that checks these boxes.
Providing free trials, product samples, audits, or other no- to low-commitment offers are additional prompts that can turn prospects into customers. While this type of strategy is more CRO than SEO, it shouldn't go overlooked in competitively saturated spaces.
In addition to many of the same audiences described in the awareness and interest stages, the consideration phase will generate more interest from sales teams. Users in this stage are prime for conversion, so CMOs, digital strategists, and sales leads will want to know where the opportunities lie.
Additionally, UX, dev, and content teams can all learn from consideration metrics and data. Poor engagement or sudden traffic drop-offs can help pinpoint weaknesses and disconnects that need improving.
"It’s of utmost importance to track purchase metrics at any level of engagement. I attempt to tie everything I do back to purchase(s), or as close as possible as the organizations get bigger. With smaller companies, it’s easier to have those set up as conversion points and you can track them against the work you’re doing. Then these become important when you’re reviewing your work and reporting to anyone within the company where you can tie your efforts directly to revenue, or as close as one can get to that. That’s the goal. Track your efforts as close as you can to revenue, as early as you can in any engagement so you can measure along the way."
Purchase marks the pivotal stage by which users fulfill a target conversion action or goal. This action varies from site to site and business to business, ranging from contact form leads, subscription sign-ups, or eCommerce checkouts.
In the purchase stage, the SEO metrics worth tracking are relatively straightforward: they focus on tracking specific conversion goals that impact a business’s bottom line. The main point of difference is the type of business and which purchase stage metrics are most relevant (e.g. eComm vs service).
You successfully drove visitors to your site and prompted their interest and consideration in your offering, but now it’s time to close the deal. The SEO strategies to deploy here cross over into aspects of CRO (conversion rate optimization) and UX, but they all work together in supporting the bigger picture.
Encouraging customer buy-in relies heavily on trust and consumer confidence. Optimizing for E-A-T is a good place to start. For instance, potential customers want to know that there’s a person or team behind the brand. Whenever possible, ensure your content is supported by credible authors, legitimate reviews and user-generated content, and a safe and secure user experience.
Leveraging structured data markup for some of these elements can help take these efforts one step further. A classic example is using AggregateRating to earn rich snippets for average review ratings. Additionally, simply including your address and contact information (and marking up this data with the appropriate Schema types) may seem obvious but can help immensely.
You can also bolster trustworthiness by highlighting the experience and credentials of your team, authors, or content creators as well as the reputation of your brand at large. Think awards, notable mentions, endorsements, testimonials, case studies, and other compelling trust factors that may be worth featuring.
Sales and marketing teams are obvious audiences of interest when it comes to conversion reporting. But also consider department heads and key decision-makers as important stakeholders who see particular value in this data. For purchase/conversion-stage tracking, consider creating a dedicated “revenue” dashboard that highlights the sales value of your SEO and digital marketing investment.
“If you are targeting the wrong audience or user, then driving SEO traffic will not always translate into driving business results.
For example, I helped develop a new SEO strategy for a B2B client who had seen a “spike” in non-brand SEO traffic. The previous SEO agency focused on “optimising” for high-volume keywords without any real strategy, which drove low-quality leads to the business. So instead of targeting competitive verticles, the new SEO strategy takes into account the target market and focuses on less competitive niche markets. Now, not only are we measuring non-brand SEO traffic to the new content hubs, but also the leads generated from these pages, making ensure they are the types of deals that don’t waste the team's time.”
Loyalty is the post-purchase stage that aims to keep customers for the long haul and reduce overall costs through doing so. It’s – unfortunately – too often ignored by SEO teams as they hand off responsibility to other internal team members (for better, and sometimes, for worse.)
Customers who consistently choose your brand over others are prime candidates to become important advocates (more about this stage, below!) and beloved superfans. Loyalists are some of your most valued customers who offer high lifetime value for your brand. Tracking loyalty helps you evolve the goal from simply generating leads/sales to generating the most valuable leads/sales. These metrics can help instruct how effective you are in connecting with the right types of customers.
Seeing the value in these users can help inspire creative strategies that build upon your site and its SEO. Writing stories, earning reviews, growing user-generated content (UGC), and continuing to build new content – loyalty thrives best when ideas and channels can work together in harmony, especially email, social, and content marketing. Further, success with loyalty tactics like reviews & UGC can directly support converting users in earlier stages of the funnel!
Measuring loyalty focuses on metrics like return visitors/customers, lifetime value, repurchase ratio, etc. Keep in mind that there can be challenges in tracking these loyalty metrics (and advocacy metrics below), as they require tools that aren't necessarily the go-to SEO tools. This often makes access and reporting more difficult here. That said, here are SEO metrics worth tracking across the loyalty stage.
It’s not uncommon for past customers to become frequent repeat visitors. Direct traffic and branded search traffic aside, Google is more likely to show these users content from your site because they’ve already engaged with it previously.
The common denominator is personalization and SEO. Google shows content to users based on personal factors, like location, language, search history, and click activity. To put it into action, you can use your customer data to:
1) Create audience personas to define target customer types and describe their characteristics, interests, and motives
2) Position your content strategy and on-page SEO efforts to accommodate these personas. Ideas include:
Taking ownership of your brand’s knowledge graph panel is also an important box to check. Because loyal customers might simply search your brand’s name, it’s crucial you show up with positive sentiment and credibility. This involves mentioning important details about your brand and its organization on-site, as well as linking to social media accounts and engaging in ways to bolster its reputation.
This is just a launching pad to help your team better direct its SEO to support greater loyalty. Think creatively and collaborate with other channels and departments to amplify loyalty-driven content.
Measuring loyalty is standard for most marketing, branding, and sales teams. However, it’s also executive teams, investors, and primary decision-makers of the company who take considerable interest in knowing how well loyalty metrics are performing.
Loyalty stage metrics help measure how well a company's resources are being employed at a high level. For instance, customer lifetime value is a critical metric in measuring ROI and a company's top-line revenue. Increased loyalty gives stakeholders confidence that corporate objectives are being met or even surpassed.
Any purchase typically is the most critical springboard to measure success. Then, earning greater value from larger and more frequent purchases (at a lower cost vs. new customer acquisition); tracking and improving loyalty metrics can help you move the needle here.
“I've built up SEO advocacy by sharing positive testimonials and quotes from internal stakeholders that we've helped. I've also shared out operational KPIs such as time savings % and new pages launches due to automation. Especially for enterprise orgs, scaling is how you win!”
As a level-up from loyalty, the advocacy stage reflects those who spread the word for you. These folks are the brand ambassadors, demonstrators, promoters, and superfans who are passionate about what a brand stands for.
Certain metrics listed here definitively overlap with the loyalty stage (especially as they are often combined into one stage!), but—we’d argue—better define advocacy specifically.
Note that Advocates are not inherently customers, though, most often there is significant overlap. And, just like the loyalty stage, some of these metrics are harder to report on, requiring 3rd party tools you may not have access to today.
Unlike loyalty which implies (re)purchase activities, advocacy does not inherently imply an interest to buy; rather, it indicates a willingness to spread goodwill on behalf of your brand. Therefore, advocacy should be viewed and measured using different SEO metrics.
There’s considerable strategic overlap in what you can do to support both loyalty and advocacy. Some of the SEO-inspired strategies you can deploy that we haven’t mentioned yet include:
Utilizing schema markup on-site is a great tool to help achieve some of these on-site activities. But also consider the activity that takes place off-site, like having a strong wiki page, an accurate citation profile, and a respectable presence on sites like BBB.org, Comparably.com, or Clutch.co. Off-site SEO strategies involving PR, link building, guest blogging, influencer marketing, and social marketing can all play a role in encouraging advocacy across your fans and customer base.
Most of the same stakeholders interested in loyalty will also be interested in advocacy. While these metrics may be more granular and specialized by nature, combined with loyalty these KPIs can include positive decisions and investments that support SEO as an ongoing strategic asset in a brand's marketing mix.
When SEO becomes a driving force in growing more brand advocates, there can be greater collaboration and communication between channels. Brand strategists, account planners, and mid/senior-level decision-makers may find value in who the advocates are and what’s working to resonate with them.
We’ve covered the various KPIs to effectively measure each stage of the SEO customer funnel. But there are additional SEO health metrics and signals that can help round out your overarching analytics dashboarding and data storytelling efforts. These include:
Unlike conventional SEO funnel models that discuss basic crawling and ranking processes, this more practical version of the SEO customer funnel enables us to identify leading indicators of growth early on in an SEO program - and potentially extend the value of the program via later stages.
In turn, we can better validate the type of strategies that are meaningful – or not – and ultimately, change direction or build momentum instead of waiting 6-12 months (for revenue growth!) to confidently know if we're even moving in the right direction.
If dashboarding, client reporting, and data storytelling are critical components of your work in this area, you'll likely benefit from a related post we've published on Mastering the Craft of Analytics Dashboard Design & Data Visualizations, which includes tangible examples and resources on how to bring all this together.
We get it – analytics can be puzzling. Handling complicated scenarios like cross-domain tracking, regulated industries, and internationalization can all present unique challenges. If your team needs to help or has further questions, drop us a line and let us know how we can help!