KPI: SEO Benchmark

Beans by he-boden on Flickr

One more bean, please.

“I want more visits from Google”. That could mean 1% more visits.

Does 1% more visits than last year justify your SEO effort and cost?

Should the SEO team get a big bonus or a little one if organic search visits grew by 1% compared to last year?

What about 1 visit? That’s “more visits”, too.

What if you knew that the number of searches in the U.S. grew by 5% over the last 12 months? Would you change your response?

One percentage point compared to overall search query growth of 5% looks not so good (to me). Anything less than 5% means we are losing ground in organic search. Anything close to 5% means we are keeping up. That is okay.

Why 5%? Because comScore, an Internet market research firm, says so. The number of search queries in the U.S. increased 5% over the year-ago period for the last 12 months (ending April 2014).

Here’s are the latest calculations for year-over-year annual growth in search queries in the United States:

Annual Growth in U.S. Search Queries, 12 months ending April 2014

Growth in U.S. Search Queries over 12 Months

Clown with Bunny on his Head

It could happen.

Caveat: It could be that a website outperforms this “index” because people just happen to be super excited about one of its content themes, like “clowns with bunnies on their heads”, during a particular time period, rather than SEO success.

The S&P 500 Index of SEO Metrics

This SEO metric – Search Query Growth – is like using the return of the S&P 500 Index as a benchmark for your investment portfolio. If the return on your portfolio is less than growth in the S&P 500 Index, you are underperforming the market. If it consistently matches it, then you would be better off investing in an index fund with low fees (and no longer paying higher fees of your portfolio manager).

Because it does not contain every stock in the world, the S&P 500 does not match the overall stock market exactly. It’s a proxy for the market, just like Search Query Growth is also a proxy for the “organic search market”. (For example, it includes only searches in the United States.)

Search Query Growth is not the only metric you should use to measure SEO performance, but it has the benefit of being a very easy SEO metric to measure and understand.

Changes in Methodology Mess Up the Benchmark

comScore changed its methodology so that data from August 2012 forward are no longer comparable to the prior months. I’d have a lot more data to show you if they hadn’t.

19 Billion Queries in April

The graph below shows the raw numbers, the number of search queries measured by comScore by month (data from August 2012 forward use comScore’s new methodology).

The number of search queries per month in the U.S.

The number of search queries per month in the U.S.


Monthly numbers are a lot more volatile as shown below. I wouldn’t use these as a benchmark.

Year over Year Growth in Monthly Search Queries

Year over Year Growth in Monthly Search Queries (U.S.)

Is This the Only SEO Metric I Need?

No. The Search Query Growth metric is what I’d call a very high level, performance metric. It’s what I’d share with HIPPOs and non-web, non-technical or non-SEO teammates.

I would never share just this, because it does not measure the quality of visits. There’s no point in increasing organic search visits, if those visits don’t help you reach your goals. In other words,

You want to earn a bonus for yourself so you want … to make money (e-commerce sites) or add economic value (non-ecommerce websites) for your company/website. – Avinash Kaushik, Occam’s Razor

In addition to performance metrics, I like to include what I call diagnostic metrics. Diagnostic metrics:

1. Explain why performance metrics changed,

2. Measure intermediate steps in an SEO program (example: rank), or

2. Help diagnose what’s going with, for example, specific keywords or web pages.

Lots of books and blogs refer to these as “SEO benchmarking”. In Dear Avinash: Search / SEO Metrics & Analytics Questions + Answers, Avinash addresses some of these very succinctly.


Thanks to Philippe Alexis at no diamonds web services (a WordPress developer in Palo Alto, CA), who came up with this idea (and let me publish my original post about Organic Search benchmarking on his website).

Data Sources


According to comScore:

Total Core Search is based on the five major search engines, including partner searches, cross-channel searches and contextual searches. Searches for mapping, local directory, and user-generated video sites that are not on the core domain of the five search engines are not included in these numbers.


Explicit Core Search excludes contextually driven searches that do not reflect specific user intent to interact with the search results.

Explicit core searches constitute about 90% of total core searches.

This is a problem because the benchmark using “total core search” would have been 15%, but because of changes in data collection, the benchmark is now 8%.


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