How To Tell If Your SEO Is Working: Guide To Auditing Your SEO Agency
You do SEO. But as a business owner, you want to know if SEO is working.
How do you do an audit of an SEO company? You can audit your vendors, banker, and even your customer accounts. But how do you know the money you are putting into an SEO company is being used properly? How do you know that their strategy is working?
Because SEO is a rapidly growing industry with little regulation, business owners need to understand and have audit measures to know if:
- Their money is being used for what an SEO agency says it is being used for
- The strategy and SEO is effective
In this post, we will share how a business owner can see if SEO is working for their business, as well as how to audit their SEO vendor.
Specifically, here’s what we’ll cover:
- Questions To Ask Your SEO Company
- What To Expect From an SEO Company
- 7 SEO KPIs
Let’s get started.
Questions To Ask Your SEO Company
Because there is a lack of trust, business owners need to demand transparency from their SEO agency by requesting a report and asking them questions.
Before running to an external agency and asking them to audit your efforts, you need to give your current SEO company the benefit of the doubt and ask them to audit themselves.
Here’s a template that you can copy, paste, and send to your SEO vendor:
Hi [SEO Agency],
I am seriously questioning the return of our marketing investment, and I would like to request your professional insights to help me determine if our strategy is working.
Within the next week, can you please email me a comprehensive report that includes:
- Month over month percentage increase (or decrease) in organic search traffic (along with the actual numbers of search traffic)
- Last 90 days over previous 90 days percentage increase (or decrease) in organic search traffic (along with the actual numbers of search traffic)
- Year over year percentage increase (or decrease) in organic search traffic (along with the actual numbers of search traffic)
- Top 10 performing organic keywords, with where we rank on average and how much traffic is being generated per month by each keyword
- The top 10 backlinks your team has secured for my business with Domain Authority listed for each link
- Top 10 technical issues your team has addressed for my business over the last 90 days
- Number of conversions (contact form submissions) derived from organic search
- A brief analysis, in your words, of how you think organic search is going
// PPC (if your SEO company also handles your paid advertising efforts)
- Overall cost per conversion in the last 30 days
- Cost per conversion in the last 90 days
- Cost per conversion in the last year
- Total ad spend (by source) in the last 30 days
- Ad spend (by source) in the last 90 days
- Ad spend (by source) in the last year
- A list of the top 10 keywords of where our ad spend is going
- Average cost per click for the entire account
- An exported .csv file of the “Change History” within the last 90 days of the AdWords account
- A brief analysis, in your words, of how you think paid advertising is going
- How are we doing?
- Can you help me understand what our monthly budget is going towards? Are you able to provide a thorough breakdown of costs?
- If you are unable to provide me with information on these requests, such as conversions, can you please tell me why?
These are all questions and insights that I have been curious about, but have never asked. I appreciate you providing me with your report, and I would hope that I could receive a similar level of insight in monthly reports moving forward.
[CONCERNED BUSINESS OWNER]
What To Expect From An SEO Agency
Business owners should expect to receive a monthly report with the information in this template. Sending this email with a request for an in-depth report confirms that the SEO agency is not providing you with the insight needed to determine whether SEO is driving results.
In addition to a monthly report, the SEO agency should be checking in weekly with an activity report. An activity report should highlight items completed in the last week, such as blog posts published, backlinks secured, or technical issues fixed on a website.
A weekly activity report is wonderful for accountability and understanding of what an SEO company actually does. This should be delivered via email. The monthly report accurately measures trends to see if SEO is actually working. This report can be delivered via email, phone call, or in-person so there is complete understanding of the progress being made.
How To Audit Your SEO Company
Now, the good stuff. There are metrics SEO agencies pay attention to when auditing internal performance.
Audit your SEO company with these SEO KPIs:
- Increase of Organic Keywords
- Website Health Score
- Referring Domains
- Organic Traffic
- Traffic Value
Let’s dive in to each of these areas so you can understand why these are critical areas to evaluate, and how to audit each area.
Increase of Organic Keywords
Organic keywords are the total number of keywords that the site ranks for in the top 100 organic search results.
Measuring an increase of organic keywords is important to evaluate because SEO typically takes 4-12 months to see results in traffic. However, an increase in organic keywords shows that SEO efforts are beginning to take shape, and that the traffic will eventually come as content climbs the rankings.
Here’s how to measure an increase in organic keywords:
- Use the SEO tool Ahrefs (this is a leading tool for SEO agencies. You can start a 7-day trial for $7.)
- Type in website into “Site Explorer”
- Click Organic Search
- Scroll down to “Organic Keywords”
- Evaluate the trends
You can also click “Organic Keywords” to get a full view of the keywords driving the most results to your business:
This baseline measurement will help you determine if an SEO agency is actively growing your online presence and diversifying the keywords that drive traffic to your website. Plus, you can cross check your audit findings with your requested list of the top 10 performing organic keywords.
Website Health Score
The foundation of any good SEO strategy is a healthy website.
A good SEO company should fix the errors that impact the health of a website. This helps content to rank higher, and attract more traffic, leads, and business to your website.
Here’s how to measure the health score of a website:
- Use Ahrefs
- Click “Site Audit”
- Run a “Site Audit” (pour up a cup of coffee…this can take awhile depending on the size of your website)
- Review the Health Score of the website
- Review the Errors, Warnings, and Notices impacting your website
If the Health Score is below 50%, there are several urls on the website with errors that need to be addressed. If the score is above 75%, then you know your website has a solid foundation to build from.
An SEO company offering Technical SEO should be in close communication about the work being done so that business owners know about what is being done to improve online presence. You can cross check the health score report with your requested list of the top 10 technical issues your SEO agency has addressed over the last 90 days.
SEO companies need to be building relevant and high quality backlinks to sites in order to see an increase in rankings. Measuring the trends of referring domains and pages is one way to audit that your SEO company is doing this activity in order to build domain authority and outrank competitors.
Here’s how to measure the referring domains of a website:
- Use Ahrefs (or another SEO tool)
- Type in website into “Site Explorer”
- Click Backlink Profile
- Scroll down to “Referring Domains” and “Referring Pages”
- Evaluate the trends
You can also look at Ahrefs Rank, which shows how strong your website’s backlink profile is when compared to every other website in the Ahrefs database. The website with the strongest backlink profile is #1, so you are looking for a couple things in this measurement.
- How high is your Ahrefs Rank
- What is the trend with the Ahrefs Rank
The trend is most important. You want to see a site trending upward. But, you also want to see a low number, which indicates that your website is becoming an “authority” online – which helps you to outrank competitors who target similar keywords.
Another worthwhile activity is to see which referring domains have been secured. Here’s how to see that information:
- Click “Referring Domains”
- Click “New”
- Select the last “60 days”
This will provide you with a list of recently secured backlinks, which help analyze what an SEO company has secured for your website recently.
You can also look at historical information to see which backlinks point to your site:
By completing these audit activities, you can determine that your SEO company is driving a desired quantity of quality backlinks. You can also cross reference your findings with the list you requested from your SEO agency of the top 10 backlinks they have secured for your business.
Organic Traffic Trends
Is organic traffic to your website increasing? After a few months (Google says 4-12 months) you should begin to see an increase in traffic from the initial SEO efforts.
There are a few ways to measure this increase in organic search traffic. You can use Google Analytics, Google Search Console, or a third-party SEO tool. Let’s dive into all of them.
Here’s how to measure organic search traffic using Google Analytics:
- Log in to Google Analytics
- Go to your website property
- Click “Acquisition” from the left navigation
- Select “All Traffic”
- Click “Channels”
- Select “Organic Search”
- Set Date Range
- Click “Compare To Previous Period”
- Select “Apply”
Running a comparison of month over month, 90 days over 90 days, and year over year will provide an accurate measurement of trends. You’ll also be able to cross check your requested report from your SEO agency with these same measurements.
For example, here’s a look at the month over month trends for organic search:
We can see that organic search traffic has increased 36% in the last 30 days, and that 133,628 visitors have come to the site via organic search versus the 97,710 visitors driven in the previous 30 days.
How does a 90 day comparison look?
We can see that organic search traffic has increased 53% in the last 90 days, and that 269,546 visitors have come to the site via organic search versus the 175,308 visitors driven in the previous 90 days.
How does a year over year comparison look?
When factoring in an entire year, we can an organic search traffic increase of 5%. There have been 812,095 visitors who have come to the site via organic search in the last year versus the 773,717 visitors driven in the previous year period.
These are some great trends to analyze!
Google Search Console
Here’s how to measure organic search traffic using Google Search Console:
- Login to Google Search Console
- Select your web property
- Click Performance
- Select “Date”
- Click Compare
- Select Date Range and select Apply
Same as Google Analytics, running comparisons with similar time ranges will provide insights into trends. You’ll also be able to cross check your Analytics findings, as well as your requested report from your SEO agency.
For example, here’s a look at the month over month trends from Search Console:
We can see that Search Console reports 135,000 clicks (how many times a user clicked to your site from a search result page) from organic search in the last 28 days, with 2.9M impressions (number of times a user saw your site in search results). The previous 28 days had 107,000 clicks, with 2.27M impressions made. Trending in the right direction.
Here’s a look at the last three months, and how they compare to the previous three months:
We can see that clicks from organic search traffic have increased significantly in the last three months. There were 339,000 clicks in the last three months, and 200,000 clicks in the previous time period. This is likely a result of making more impressions, where there were 7.48M impressions in the last three months compared to 4.54M in the previous time period.
What does the year over year comparison look like?
This year over year comparison shows 956,000 clicks versus 286,000 clicks, and 19.6M versus 4.27M impressions being made. This is some great year over year growth.
Third-Party SEO Tool (Ahrefs)
While Google Analytics and Google Search Console are the most reliable tools to measure trends in organic search traffic, third-party tools like Ahrefs also estimate inbound organic search traffic.
Utilizing a third-party tool is useful if you do not have access to Analytics or Search Console. Here’s how to measure organic search traffic using Ahrefs.
- Go to Ahrefs
- Type in website to Site Explorer
- Click on “Organic Traffic”
- Evaluate the trends by hovering over the graph
While this method is as accurate, reviewing an organic search graph still reveals the trend that we are looking for. Are we improving, staying the same, or decreasing?
Traffic value is a metric created by the SEO tool Ahrefs to show the equivalent value of the organic search traffic. The traffic value is calculated by looking at what it would have cost to acquire that traffic via PPC. Learn more here.
This is a useful metric because it counterbalances a straight measurement of organic search traffic. Yes, it’s great to increase organic search traffic. But, if that traffic doesn’t carry value in terms of PPC costs, then the traffic likely isn’t driving valuable traffic.
So, is the traffic value to your site increasing? Here’s how to find out.
- Go to Ahrefs
- Type in website into Site Explorer
- Click “Organic Search”
- Scroll down to Traffic Value
- Hover over graph to analyze the trends
Good results should be a continual upwards trend, like the graph above.
Auditing this number shows that there is value in the traffic being driven, and it’s not just “easy” traffic that won’t convert to results. Plus, you can use this metric to cross reference your SEO agency’s answer to the question, “How do you think organic search is going?”
Leads & Sales
The last two SEO KPIs to measure are Leads & Sales.
SEO companies tend to put an emphasis on leads, because that’s their most visible metric that can be impacted through their work.
Businesses put an emphasis on sales, because that’s their most visible metric, and the one that counts.
The fact is, both matter. Leads turn into sales. Businesses need sales to push on and grow.
Because there are a variety of ways to measure inbound leads, our best advice would be to establish a quantitative and qualitative way to measure lead activity with your agency.
Quantitative ways to measure leads could include:
- Inbound phone calls
- Contact form submissions
- Whitepaper downloads
- Email sign ups
- Live chats
- Free trials
- Demo requests
Qualitative ways to measure leads could include:
- Monthly conversations between client and agency to discuss lead quality
- Capture all contact form submissions using the WordPress plugin Flamingo so that you and your agency can see if inbound inquiries were actually inquiries
- Review of Live Chat logs
You can audit inbound leads by reviewing Google Analytics, your email inbox, and previous reports from the SEO agency.
With the exception of eCommerce companies, where Revenue is readily reported in Google Analytics, sales can be invisible to SEO agencies.
Often times, the best relationships between SEO agencies and clients regularly discuss revenue in monthly meetings. It’s an opportunity for a client to communicate how business is going, and for SEO companies to adjust their strategies accordingly.
Our advice? Schedule a monthly meeting where both parties prepare a report. Compare the numbers. Develop a strategy that works.
In an audit, it is helpful to compare your profit & loss statement to see how revenue has been impacted before and after hiring an agency.
Bottom line: Is business increasing? Are you seeing results on your side?
Analyzing these SEO KPIs should help you audit your SEO agency and determine if SEO is working for your business.
There’s a couple of outcomes that can come from this audit. You can find out that your SEO agency is doing a great job, and that they need to communicate these results to you on a regular basis. Or, you may discover that the results are lackluster, and need some additional explanation from your SEO partner.
Either way, it’s a great idea to give your agency the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions. These SEO KPIs will provide some interesting talking points.
If you need professional SEO services to manage ongoing efforts, keep us in mind as things progress. Complete your audit. Have a conversation with your current agency. And if things can’t correct course, it may be time to look elsewhere. We’d be honored to be one of the companies you would consider to partner with.