The Value of Benchmark Reports


Measuring the ROI of SEO can be challenging. Here at Distilled, we’ve found that creating a solid benchmark report that is specifically tailored to the client’s needs helps with this process. However, benchmark reports shouldn’t just be used in agencies, but are also useful in-house, especially when demonstrating the value of your work or when you want to make a business case for a specific change to the site, such as to the site’s information architecture.

KPIs and Building a Benchmark Report

One of the first metrics that we request from our clients is their KPIs or key performance indicators, which are the metrics that they track and consider valuable. For example, most of our e-commerce clients track revenue growth.

After receiving the client’s KPIs, we use that knowledge to build a benchmark report, which report upon the metrics the clients can then use to track and measure the success of our work together. At Distilled, we have two types of clients: playbooks or campaigns.

  • Playbooks are short engagements (2-3 months) that provide the client with an audit of their site, as well as some strategies on how to improve upon their SEO.
  • Campaigns are long-term engagements (6-12 months) that incorporate everything that is included in a playbook and can also include more hands-on activities, such as linkbuilding, writing content, building link bait, etc...
For playbooks, the benchmark report is provided for the client, so that they can track the success of their efforts after our work with them is complete and they are able to systematically implement our changes.

For campaigns, we provide the benchmark report on a regular basis contingent on the client’s needs. Some of our clients request them on a weekly basis, while others on a monthly basis.


The benchmark report should be customized. However, there are some metrics that we continuously use in our benchmark reports. Below are some of the common metrics that I use:

Metric: Number of organic keywords sending traffic to the site each month

This metric is not as accurate as it used to be since Google started encrypting sessions for logged in users. However, it can still provide value. Also, the keywords can be further broken down by a designated threshold (example: the number of keywords sending >500 visits to the site)


1. Go to traffic sources (located on the left-hand navigation in Google Analytics) and select “Organic”

Google Analytics2. Select “keyword.”
GA3. Export the data via CSV

GA4. Open up the keyword count template that is located below. Copy and paste the formula in column G (alter the number based on your criteria- in this specific instance, we want to know which keywords had a search volume that exceeded 100. If you want to know which keywords generated a search volume greater than 500, copy the formula and change the 100 to 500.) The “yes” indicates that the keyword does have a search volume that exceeds 100. The formula in column H tells you the number of keywords that met the criteria in column G. In this example, there are 3 keywords that had search volumes greater than 100.

Keyword Count Template

Metric: Number of landing pages (example: pages receiving at least one visit)


1.  Go to traffic sources (located on the left-hand navigation in Google Analytics) and select “Organic”

Google Analytics2.  Select “Landing Page” on the top navigation

GA3. The number that appears on the upper-right hand side shows the results. This represents the number of landing pages that brought traffic to your site.

GAMetric: Number of unique referrals to the site (example: domains sending at least one visit).

This could also be done on a month-over-month overlay.


1. Go to traffic sources (located on the left-hand navigation in Google Analytics and select “Referrals”)

GA2. The default option should be “source”. Then look at the number that appears on the upper-right hand side. This represents the number of domains that brought traffic to your site.

GAMetric: Breaking up keywords by number of words (For example “pants” is one word and “drawstring pants” are two words)


 Follow steps 1-3 from instructions for Number of keywords sending traffic each month.

4. See keyword template count Excel sheet below. Copy the formula that is in column I. This tells you the number of keywords in each phrase. Sort accordingly.

Keyword Count Template

Other common metrics to track include: keyword rankings and segmenting branded vs non-branded traffic visits to the site.


Measuring the right type of metrics that provides both a sufficient overview and some depth in your benchmark report can be extremely helpful. Recently, one of my clients received a massive spike in traffic and based on their current reporting methods, they weren’t able to determine why that massive spike came about - was it one keyword? Was it from long-tail traffic? Having this type of data in the benchmark report can help you determine the cause for rises/falls in traffic. It can also help you develop their own targeted keyword list. For example, if you kept track of which keywords generated the most amount of traffic and page views/time on site/lowest bounce rates, this could be useful information to have for site redesign/site architecture changes in the future.


Stephanie Chang

Stephanie Chang

Stephanie helped open Distilled’s New York office in June 2011 after working for a year at a New York-based full-service agency. She oversaw the SEO and social media execution for a variety of clients including B2B, B2C, e-commerce and international...   read more

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  1. Hey Stephanie, thanks for the blog post. Would have also great to heard your rationale in why you chose these metrics (I've got some idea why) and generally for which KPI you would use them for.

    reply >
    • Hi Vahe,

      These are excellent questions!

      The rationale for choosing these metrics is that they are specific enough for SEO, so that knowing this data can result in some fairly actionable items.

      1) Knowing the number of organic keywords sending traffic to the site is valuable in a number of given scenarios, such as if your site is only targeting few keywords, you know this is incredibly risky for your business. What happens if your rankings drop for that keyword? How would that affect your business? Thus, your action would be to conduct some keyword research and see if you can target other keywords on your site in conjunction to the ones that you are already receiving traffic from.

      2) Knowing the number of landing pages, this is important because you want to know what pages are getting traffic. If you are only getting traffic to the homepage or a product page, take a look at the information architecture of the site to make sure that all pages are getting links and that those pages are well-optimized for SEO. This is especially important for any company that sells a variety of products and not just one. We also want to make sure that the site has multiple pages that are useful to users.

      3) Knowing the number of unique referrals to the site useful because we want to see how many other sites are bringing traffic to your site. If it's only one or two, that could be incredibly risky, especially if that site is penalized for any reason or the site is shut down - we don't want to be too dependent on any variable that is not within our control. Thus, we want to make sure that the site is getting traffic from many different sites within your niche. Thus, if this is a weakness, perhaps we might need to place more emphasis on linkbuilding.

      4) Breaking up the keywords by number of words is handy, especially if you're curious as to whether you're getting traffic from head terms, mid-tail or long-tail keywords. We know that head terms get the most amount of traffic, but because they're so broad, it's very difficult to determine user intent from it. Long-tail keywords have less search volume, but they are likely to convert at a higher rate because we can make an educated guess as to the user's intent. If we don't have a combination of all three, we need to take a look at the information architecture of the site and make sure that we're positioning our site using the best combination of head terms, mid-tail, and long-tail keywords.

      Ultimately, we're using this information to gather more data about our site, so that we can continuously make improvements that will help move the needle.

      Generally, the KPIs I might use these for include: increase in organic traffic to the site, increase in the number of conversions, increase in the number of revenue.

      If you have any questions, please let me know.

  2. Great article Stephanie. One question: how do you handle brand terms when determining an increase in organic keywords if you are not link building for branding, or handling any part of the branding initiatives for a website?


    reply >
    • Hi Lorianna,

      I'm not quite sure I understand the question, but I would separate the branded terms from the non-branded terms in Google Analytics using regular expressions.

  3. Stephanie,

    Great value add reply and thorough explanation! Thank you for the time you spent writing this and for me this will be my future reference.

    Lorianna are you trying to find out the reasons of determining increasing organic branded keyword traffic even though you did not spend time on brand building initiatives?

    Firstly I determine the proportion of brand traffic sent to my site by setting up Advanced Segments using Google Analytics (GA) and comparing this with non-brand traffic.

    From both GA's organic keyword and landing page reports, I would apply this advanced segment and add secondary dimensions i.e. source, country to find out the path they took to which they came to your sight. In addition you can use GA multichannel funnels by keywords for a visual approach. For fun have a look at GA's SEO reports (particularly their Google Property report by search query).

    To develop your analysis/insights for increasing brand traffic use competitive intelligence tools such as Google Insights or 3rd party tools like SEM rush. Then benchmark your results this against your competitors using "generic terms" to see whether or not similar trends have occurred across your industry. Also you can read industry news online to find out about any particular recent events.

    Eitherway any initiative you take online indirectly contributes to your brand. Overall, try to reverse engineer the increases in brand traffic and from their develop your goal, plan and tactics that can benefit your business.

    Thanks Stephanie, let us know if I can contribute to the Distilled Blog in any way.


    reply >
  4. Hi Stephanie

    Really helpful article for the in-house SEO. With so many numbers that can be tracked, it is vital to know how to hone in on the most useful. Thanks also Vahe for your run down of viewing branded vs non-branded terms.


    reply >

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