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Jon Quinton

Why Bother Setting KPIs?

Jon Quinton
Why Bother Setting KPIs?

Why should you even set KPIs (key performance indicators)? Probably a fairly sensible question to ask every once in a while. I think it’s a question that too many people forget to consider often enough, with a sad majority setting the same old KPIs each time because they feel it’s ‘just the thing to do.'

As an agency or an in-house team, it’s highly unlikely that someone’s engaged your services to ‘just do some things, at some point.’ Vagueness and going through the motions are the enemy of the KPI, so why is this something most of us are guilty of?

So what makes a good KPI? The answer to that question is going to be different every time, so the first thing you can get right is asking the question every time you start something new! In my experience, a good KPI must satisfy a number of criteria:

  • It has to communicate some form on genuine value
  • It has to be simple / consistent enough to benchmark
  • It has to be high level enough to be understood by others not working in SEO (think board level)
  • It has to be achievable

Getting to the point where you can confidently tick off the list above requires some thought about the business in question. You’ll need a pretty solid understanding of what is actually going to make a difference to the business, you need to know what your in-house team are being measured on, and you finally need to follow that up with some sensible expectation setting.

It’s no good coming up with something so over complicated that no-one at all understands it, and by the time you come to refresh your data, you’ve forgotten how you gotten there in the first place. Written on paper that sounds like a bit of an insane situation to find yourself in, but it’s probably something a lot of us are familiar with.

Someone showed me an excel report once that had numbers, upon numbers, upon numbers, to the point that it was so over-cooked I didn’t read any of it. I doubt the client read any of it either, and if they did, they probably only wanted one or two figures. What’s worse? When asked how long it took to put together, two days was the answer.

From an agency perspective, this really starts from the sales process. Not only does asking the right questions during this stage help increase your chances of winning the business, you’ll also be giving yourself the best chances of starting the relationship with a good base level of understanding when it comes to knowing what the business actually wants from your work.

Let’s have a think about a few examples.

Link Volume

I’ll start with a bit of a sticky one, and you can read a pretty good post on the topic here, but I’m still amazed at the amount of business that put so much weight on this as a ‘KPI.’ It’s pretty poor for a number of reasons, mainly because we all know how little volume alone counts, but more so – if you target your suppliers on volume, you’ll get volume, and that’s probably not what your business really needs.

I do think it can often be seen as a very easy way to quantify what you’re paying for, but at the same time it’s not a great reflection of the true value you should be gaining. At best, it’s a measure of activity, but I struggle to see it as a performance indicator.


Obviously, traffic is an obvious one, but it pays to be specific. I’d start by digging into how much traffic is needed vs. how much is achievable. Let’s say business x sold £x,xxx,xxx of product last year, but this year has a goal of an additional 50% on top line revenue.

You know that organic currently accounts for xx% of traffic, you know what the current conversion rates are, so it should be pretty easy to work out how much traffic you need based on the top level business objectives. That makes a pretty solid goal and associated KPI for your contribution.

Revenue via Organic

Again, it’s a fairly obvious one, but one that I like as it’s actually what makes the biggest difference. The warning here being that there are obviously quite a few other factors that are going to affect this one, but if you can caveat correctly then it definitely deserves a spot on the list.

I particularly like this one as it draws focus for everyone involved. Increasing irrelevant traffic isn’t going to cut it, and it makes sure everyone on the account is thinking in real business terms. If your focus point is revenue, it starts to open up questions around margins, top selling products, repeat business, etc. All great stuff to be considering when working on a campaign.

Placement Value

We were challenged recently by a client to come up with a KPI that a set of marketing managers on the other side of the world, with very little SEO knowledge would understand. The main activity was content marketing, so we came up with ‘placement value’ as a KPI.

For every top link we gained, we simply got hold of the rate card for those publications, and worked out the equivalent cost if the coverage were gained via advertorial means. It doesn’t work in every case, but it did show the value of the coverage we were gaining in real $$ terms to someone who had very little understanding of what we were doing.


As with the option above, it’s always useful to have a number of KPIs to monitor how hard your content is working for you. With traditional media often being looked at in terms of reach / impressions, it’s quite handy to be able to use the same language for reporting our work.

By tracking the social activity from your placements, and the subsequent conversation around your content, it becomes quite easy to run a calculation to work out the ‘reach’ of your efforts on social.

As the title of this piece suggests, I believe it’s a really healthy thing to question why you’re setting KPIs in the first place. Do any of my KPIs actually mean anything for the business? Does my client actually read what I send them? Could I say more with less?

All great questions that I promise will not only make your reporting much more effective, but also much easier and (dare I say it) satisfying!

Join My SEMrush Webinar

We'll discuss this topic in depth during my upcoming webinar, How to Set SEO KPIs, on June 5, 2015. Please click here for local webinar time and don't forget to register.

Jon Quinton

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Jon stumbled across SEO and caught the bug whilst playing around with personal sites. Since then he's developed a strong passion for developing content, technical SEO and generally seeing plans put into action. Professional achievements include speaking at industry conferences such as SES, SMX and A4U in addition to working with a range of exciting clients. As part of his role, Jon also has the pleasure of running a fantastic team of smart and dedicated SEOs.
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