SEO Web Analytics 101: Beyond Rankings And Traffic

SEO Web Analytics 101: Beyond Rankings And Traffic - Semola Digital (

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In the SEO industry, we are more obsessed with Google. We love rankings and seeing our traffic increase. But, we rarely give the same attention and time to analyze the goal - the outcomes we are driving for our businesses.

It's fine, after all our explicit goal is to get websites indexed by search engines properly. So that they can rank for their individual target keywords and then bring traffic to the site.

But a good SEO, irrespective of the SEO campaign should make an impact on the overall business.

And so, when it comes to defining success and determining the business impact of SEO, there are 8 key metrics you should know.

These metrics are important and can mean a lot for the overall success of the optimized website.

Your knowledge of these metrics and ability to analyze them can help you retain clients. 

And, being involved in the growth of any business, will make a good relationship with the clients.

1. Visits vs Visitors

Visits and visitors are a very important metric every SEO specialist must know. Because they formed the basic bedrock of search analytics.


A visit is when someone comes to your site and spends some amount of time browsing through it before leaving.

Unique Visitors

Unique visitors is a close approximation of the number of people who visit your website.

How do analytics vendors measure this?

1. If you have a JavaScript tag set up on your website or install an analytics plugin, when someone comes to your website and requests the first page, a unique persistent cookie is set on that user's browser.

2. This cookie persists - that is, stays even after the person has left your website. 

3. Now, when that person returns to your site after some time, this stored cookie is used to recognize the person.

4. So, if there are 200 persistent cookie IDs set within a given period of time, Google analytics will report that as 200 unique visitors.

Q&A: what's a cookie?

A cookie is a unique anonymous string of characters and numbers (cookie ID) use to identify when someone visits a website. It doesn't collect personally identifiable information (PII) such as your name, emails, phone number and so on.

While unique visitors is an approximate number of people who visit your website, a visit is measured by the number of time visitors spend on your site. 

These visits can also be referred to as sessions. Sessions are the collection of the total number of requests (number of pages or items on your site) made by someone in a given period of time.

Here's how it works…

1. when someone requests for a page on your site, the JavaScript tag is fired and your web analytic tool starts a session for that person from that same browser.

2. When that person makes another request ( second page), any additional requests are attached to a unique session ID.

3. When this user finally leaves your site, the number of requests is put together and reported as a single visit. Meaning everything happens in one visit of the user to the website.

4. Now, if you want to run a report of total visits within a given period of time in your analytic tool, it'll be the count of all sessions.

Session/visits = first-page request….through to the last page request.

What happens when a user leaves the browser on to attend to something else?

Things like this happen a lot of times. Sometimes, a user may leave his or her browser on to make some chops for launch-time…

In that case, the session is proactively terminated after 29 minutes of inactivity. 

When looking at the unique visitors, it's likely but not always true that each unique visitor is a unique person.

Although the unique visitors metric is an approximation of the number of unique individuals visiting your site, it's not always a perfect measurement.

2. Time on Page vs. Time on Site

Another basic metric you should be familiar with is the concept of time on your website. Many people don't understand how time-on-page and on-site are actually measured.

Time on page - this metric helps you determine the amount of time a visitor spends on your individual pages.

Time on site - gives you an idea of the total time spent on your site in a single visit (session).

To understand this better… here's an illustration.

SEO Web Analytics 101 beyond rankings an traffic: image showing illustration of Time on Page and Time on Site.

Here, the first visit (i.e., the first request a user make) to your website is your homepage.

And before the visitor leaves, he requests two pages from your site.


Time on Page (Tp) = the time spent on each page.

Time on Site (Ts) = the total time spent during that session (visit) on your website.

Let’s walk through the process of computing each of these metrics using the timestamp as an illustration.

At 10:00, a visitor comes to your site and requests for your homepage.

At 10:01, the visitor went from the homepage to visit one of your article pages. 

Then, finally, before the visitor leaves, he requests your contact us page at 10:05.

Now your analytics tool can compute some time metrics! 

It can now tell you that the visitor came to your homepage and spend exactly 1 minute subtracting the time the visitor lands on the homepage from the time he leaves to the posting page. 

Tp(page 1) = 1 minutes

Again, it can easily compute and show you that the same visitor (with a unique session ID) requests for another page and spend exactly 4 minutes;

Tp(page 2) = 4minutes.

Notice that the only way your analytics tool can know how long a visitor spent on your site is by looking at two timestamps: 

  • The request for the first page.
  • The request for another page. 

This means, for the analytics to compute and know the time the visitor spends on the last page before leaving, it needs a second page.

And by default, the analytics tool has no idea how long the visitor spent on the last page on your site. 

And therefore, 

Tp(page 3) = zero minute.

Ts(time spent on site) = total time the visitor spent on your site = 5 minutes.

Pro tips: To compute the time on the last page, add some extra code to all your pages, which would capture the missing timestamp with a JavaScript "unbeforeunloadevent" in the browser.

3. Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is simply the percentage of sessions on your website with only one-page view.

When a visitor comes to your site and then lands on one of your pages (the homepage for example) and leaves after spending some time without requesting to go to another page, it's a BOUNCE.

Bounce rate is a very useful metric for a number of reasons including:

  • Measuring customers' behaviors on sites.
  • Identifying pages with problems and providing actionable insight into which pages need improvement.
  • It's pretty easy to measure.

The bounce rate report shows you pages on your site that is not doing their job in line with your business outcomes but instead bouncing-off traffic to your site.

When a user visits your site, you want them to do something...not just to read and then, click the back button.

4. Exit Rate

Exit rate is the percentage of people who entered your site from any page and exited from another page.

This is different from the bounce rate:

Bounce rate is the percentage of people who entered your site through a particular page - and DO NOTHING but exited from that same page.

This metric shows leakages on your site; where people exit after they start their sessions.

Although, everyone that visits your site has to exit at one point or the other; either completing the task you want then to do (such as subscribing or purchasing) or bounce off.

This means there are:

  • Good exit and 
  • Bad exit.

So how do you know the "bad" exits?

Both the visitor who entered your site, subscribed - and exited and the ones who entered and exited without performing any task, will be captured by exit rate.

So to identify the "bad" exit, bounce rate to the rescue.


We know bounce rate takes into account:

  • people who enter your site on a particular page,
  • How many people leave from that page without looking at any other pages on your site.

So, if you find pages on your site in this way, you can easily tell that they're "bad" exits. And now, you know you have leakages on your site to fix.

5. Conversion Rate

If there's a metric so important that we should focus on and pay much attention to is Conversion Rate.

Because We all invest so much in our websites and we should be concerned about what comes of them.

Conversion Rate is expressed as a percentage of conversion (outcomes) divided by unique visitors (or visits).

Conversion or an outcome can be any desired action in line with your business objectives or goals that you want a visitor to take.

This action could be:

  • Sign up for newsletter
  • Download e-book
  • Register for a course
  • Purchase a product

For example, 

If you have an eCommerce site and out of 200 visitors to the site 50 made a purchase, then your conversion rate would be 25%.

Visits or Unique Visitors - which should you use?

The answer here depends on your business mindset.

If you choose visits, it means you're assuming that every visit to your site is a chance to get someone into taking action that you want him to take.

If you choose unique visitors as the denominator, it means, it doesn't matter how many times a person visits your site before making a purchase.

But looking at these 2 scenarios,

You'll agree with me that most times visitors to your site don't place an order and purchase the first time they visit your website. 

Each unique visitor might make multiple visits to your site.

And these multiple visits may occur in days or in a single day. Customers may want to learn more about the product or get distracted while making a purchase.

For instance,

Someone visits your e-commerce site the first time with the mind to purchase straight up. He searches and finds what he wants to buy, and he added it to the cart.

He pulls out his credit card but before he could start the purchase, something came up, and he gets distracted.

It took him about an hour before he could return back to your site to complete the transaction.

Now, remember... a session by default lasts only 30 minutes of inactivity. And so, the moment he returns back a new session starts...but your browser has the information recorded as a unique visitor.

This means you have two visits (sessions) but one unique visitor.

So this customer behaviour is common on the web. 

And to have the model that'll closely match a real-world purchasing pattern, It's best to measure up with Unique Visitors

This will ensure that the conversion rate reflects your customers' behaviours.

Note: The metric you choose will have an execution and marketing impact on your organization.

What makes Great Web Metric?

There are attributes a metric must possess before it can be called a great metric:

It must not be too complex to measure.

It must be relevant

It must be timely and 

Instantly useful.

Let's take bounce rate as an example;

It's simple and direct in the sense that it measures one important thing - a single page view.

Showing the number of people to your website who click on no other pages.

It's relevant because it easily tells you where you're wasting money, which pages are not delivering as you expect.

It's timely as it is pretty much in every analytics tool.

Instantly useful - by merely looking at it, it sends some information that you can quickly move to action and see what you can do to reduce it.

For instance, you open your analytics report and see a bounce rate of 65% you know something is wrong and needs an urgent fix.

Final Thoughts on Web Analytics Beyond SEO

The knowledge of the important web metrics will make you a better SEO analytics ninja.

I hope this article teaches you how to think 

critically about website metrics and take things a little deeper beyond rankings and looking at traffic figures.

The truth is…

These web metrics are so critical-to-success of any business. 

If you know how to gain insight using metrics and help your client's business grow beyond just the rankings, you'll soon build that solid relationship that'll make them come to you. 

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