Using Google Analytics to Audit and Improve SEO

Using Google Analytics to Audit and Improve SEO

Here is a post explaining a simple way to add some extra info to your Google Analytics data to help improve your natural search traffic. In this post I hope to show you…

  1. An explanation of what’s missing from Google Analytics in terms of actionable SEO data.
  2. How to fix it.
  3. A free excel template so that you can play about with it yourself.
  4. A tutorial to accompany the excel spreadsheet.
  5. The actions to take as a result of the data.
  6. Some suggestions for extending this further.

Part 1: The Problem with Using Google Analytics for SEO

The SEO data in Google Analytics pretty much consists of these 2 things:

  1. A list of terms that are bringing you traffic.
  2. The numbers of visits for those terms.

You can track whether you are increasing or decreasing traffic over time. And there are extras there, like bounce rate & conversion rate by keyword, which help you to fix the journey after someone lands on your site.

But for the most part it is far more useful for seeing “did we do ok with search engine traffic yesterday?” rather than the more forward looking  “what can we do to improve traffic from search engines tomorrow?”

The reason it’s difficult to use GA in an actionable way for SEO is there are 3 key bits of information missing:

  1. It’s absolutely painful to get it to tell you where you rank for particular keywords.
  2. There’s no indication of how much extra traffic you could get for any given keyword.
  3. It’s far harder than it should be to get a list of keywords cross-referenced against landing pages. (you can do this, but it’s only really useful for sites with 5 or less pages).

Part 2: How to Fix this Problem – SEO gap analysis

To fix it, we will take the most useful search-related report from Google Analytics & add extra data to it from elsewhere. Here’s the extra data that should be added:

  1. The estimated total volume of search traffic available for each term.
  2. Our current percentage of the maximum available traffic.
  3. Our current rank for each term.
  4. Which page of ours is currently ranking.

And here’s how this all looks when combined:

So rather than scratching our heads wondering where to start, that immediately tells us:

  1. Which search terms are bringing us most visits today?
  2. Which keywords do we have the potential to improve for? (& which the fastest?)
  3. What pages do we need to change to do that?
  4. What extra actions can we take to get more traffic for each term?

A quick example: If you look at the table above & take a look at the phrase ‘used laptops’ (the one with the orange ’11’ for current rank). Google Analytics data would have only told us “You got 1,664 visits for ‘used laptops’ last month”. Instead, here we can also see:

  • We’re getting just over 9% of the total available search traffic (meaning there is potential to improve).
  • We can also see that it’s in position 11, meaning a little bump in ranking would push it from page 2 to page 1.
  • Finally we can see the page currently ranking is ‘page804′, allowing us to quickly check whether there’s anything extra we can do on the site (or through external links) to boost that page’s likelihood of ranking higher for the phrase.

Part 3: How to Do This Yourself (Free Excel Gap Analysis Spreadsheet)

If you are interested in doing this yourself, download the example excel workbook here:

http://bit.ly/ga-workbook

The data here is from 3 sources. You should be able to gather your own version of this data & paste it in to see your own results. Here is a list of the data sources:

  1. Google Analytics.
  2. SEOBook’s Rank Checker.
  3. The Google Keyword Tool.
  4. (Sheet 4 in the workbook combines data from the other 3).

If you are unsure how to use any of those, or why we’d choose them in the first place, this is all explained in the tutorial below:

Part 4: How The Excel Workbook Fits Together

Obtaining the data from the Google Analytics is quite involved, so I have prepared this in a tutorial available for download on Scribd.

[Editor's note: Within Google Analytics you can limit clicks from Keywords to either Paid or Natural by selecting the relevant link in the Traffic Sources, Keywords report - this enables you to create a gap analysis for both together if you wish]

Using Google Analytics for SEO

Part 5: The Improvement Process – What Actions To Take

Once you have all of this data in place, you can go down the list forming a checklist of which items are highest potential:

For example, in the above, we might decide:

  • No: “Laptop deals” & “netbooks” look too competitive to rank in natural (though we’re getting some traffic – presumably from paid search).
  • Maybe: “Buy laptops” we’re already getting more traffic than we’d expect based on its potential, but we may take a look at improving it from position 5 upwards.
  • Yes: “Used laptops” is in position 11, we’re only getting 1,664 visits from a potential total market of 18,100, so we’re definitely going to try to bump that up.
  • Yes: “lap tops” is quite an odd phrase, but it looks like there’s a lot of traffic there and we’re getting a decent amount in position 24. Let’s try and improve that.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to the terms you’re going to target, here is a list of the main actions you can take to improve their rankings. This is broken down into 2 areas:

  • Scenario A: What to do when the right page is ranking, it just needs to rank higher.
  • Scenario B: What to do if the wrong page is ranking.
Scenario A: The right page is ranking for the keywords, it just needs to rank higher

Potential Solutions: (in order of their usual difficulty ““ easiest to hardest).

  1. Make sure the keywords are in the page’s title tag and on the page. (some people will advise you to fix the URL here too ““ that’s a much bigger job)
  2. If the page is not linked to, place links to it on pages that are currently ranking, where it makes sense to do so. For example, you may have 20 articles mentioning “˜laptops’, none of which link through to the laptops page.
  3. If the page is linked to from other pages on your site, make sure those links use your target keywords in their anchor text. (this can include any automatic links too ““ for example you may want to change a category called “˜notebooks’ to “˜laptops’, or “˜laptops & notebooks’ if it is more valuable, meaning all breadcrumb & navigational links would change).
  4. If pages on other sites are linking to it, try to make sure they use your keywords in their anchor text.
  5. Build new or extra links to the page from other sites.
Scenario B: The wrong page is ranking for the keywords.

Potential Solutions:

  1. If there is no “˜right’ page for the keywords on your site, create one!
  2. Check that the “˜right’ page is definitely indexed by search engines (there’s a wonderful ’10-minute audit’ for that by Dr. Pete here: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/10-minute-missing-page-audit )
  3. Insert a link from the “˜wrong’ page to the “˜right’ page with the relevant anchor text.
  4. Fix the “˜right’ page to make sure your keywords are in its title tag and on the page.
  5. Add in keyword-rich links to the “˜right’ page on other pages where relevant.
  6. Look at links on your site pointing to the “˜wrong’ page:
    • Would it be more relevant for them to point to the other page?
    • Do you need to remove/change the words in their anchor text?
    • Once you’ve made sure all fixes possible have been made on the “˜right’ page, you may do some of the following:
      • Remove the keywords from the “˜wrong’ page’
      • If the “˜wrong’ page is no longer relevant, you may consider redirecting it to the “˜right’ page.

Part 6: Extra Tips & Enhancements

Here are a few extras you can use with this technique:

Extra Prioritisation Data

Add in your ecommerce data, bounce rates, conversion rates, etc to the data to help you understand the priorities better (for example, rather than seeing which keywords will bring you most traffic, ecommerce data will tell you how much potential extra money you’d make, and therefore how much you can afford to spend to make the improvements).

Seasonal Planning

Instead of running this on ‘last month’s data’ (for example), run it over a period last Christmas to show you where you need to improve for next Christmas. Or narrow your ‘top search terms’ to those including ‘Christmas’ (or ‘Easter’ or ‘Hannukah’, etc) to optimise for future seasonal events.

Gap Spotting

Instead of pulling your GA report for natural search traffic, switch it to terms driving your best PPC traffic. Comparing the two lets you spot places where you’re currently getting PPC sales, but where there are gaps in natural search coverage that you could fill.

On-Site Search

Instead of feeding the report with search terms driving traffic to your site, use the search terms visitors are using on your site. This helps you see whether there’s a mismatch between what your customers want & what terms you rank for externally.

View The Whole Market

Pull a list of the highest value search terms in your market from the Google Keyword To0l & see how you currently perform against those. Create pages for anything you’re not currently covering & tweak your pages to match areas where there are easy opportunities.

Any Feedback?

Hopefully something here has been useful to you. If you have any extensions on this, or any feedback, do leave a comment below. If anything here was of interest, please do take a moment to share it with others on twitter.

Using Google Analytics for SEO

  • http://www.guava.co.uk Mark Edmondson

    Hi Dan, this is a nice technique I’ve played around with recently so nice to see a post about it! A couple of things came to mind when reading it – 1) could you take the traffic just from non-paid search traffic to avoid the paid keyword referrals coming in? (re: “though we’re getting some traffic – presumably from paid search.”) – or is this paid keyword campaigns being attributed to natural search?

    2) the keyword volume from Google keyword tool is notoriously unreliable which throws a lot of the figures out, although I have heard reports its getting more accurate – any ideas on where to get more accurate keyword volume data?

  • http://www.seobegin.com Dean Cruddace

    Dan this is easily one of the posts of the year IMO, easily bookmarked.

    A huge amount of insight shared with a lot of actionable data from a great building block in any SEO`s arsenal of dashboards.

  • http://www.appliedwebanalytics.com Dan Croxen-John

    Well done, Dan – very useful indeed.

  • Chris Hill

    Dan,

    Great post, just carried out all of the above and have made an interesting observation…

    We rank number 2 for a keyword which receives 3,600 local exact searches. We only get 1.78% of the traffic (64 clicks last month). Our title element and meta description are relevant to the search query – so why the low click through rate?

    Would love to hear your take on it!

    Chris

  • http://www.firstfound-blog.co.uk/ Andy @ FirstFound

    Thanks for this guide, it should come in very useful.

  • Henry Phillips

    Hi Dan, this is good stuff.

    I’ve got a couple of possible further options for when you are ranking for the “wrong” page.

    1) think about whether it really is the “wrong page”: if Google has decided that it’s the best result for that phrase, maybe it’s you that’s wrong…
    2) turn it into the right page, or something close enough, by putting the appropriate call to action or order form on that page too.

    I think the second could be applied in tandem with some of your other suggestions.

  • http://www.vibetrics.co.uk Philippe

    Hey Dan,

    This is a very good post. I love that sort of Excel stuff! Just a quick note, which may answer a question asked by Chris Hill in a previous comment: Google Keywords Tool estimation by default report the number for broad match. This is important to select Exact Match to have a correct idea of the volume to expect for a specific keyword.

  • http://www.guava.co.uk Mark Edmondson

    @Henry Phillips If Google is showing not the page you have set up, then there are SEO changes you can make to make it show the other page – this would be an action shown from such a GA report. I certainly would not just trust Google to pick the right page as it does get things wrong (although most often due to poor site structure)

    @Philippe even on exact match, the estimates given by the Google Keyword Tool can be very misleading.

  • http://www.barker.dj Dan Barker

    thanks for all the wonderful comments!

    @Mark Edmondson – Thanks, Mark! ‘Paid Search’ – I think I confused matters slightly there – the step-by-step tutorial doc does suggest limiting just to ‘non-paid’ & shows how.

    ‘Keyword Volume’ – yep, sadly the Google Keyword Tool is not as reliable as it should be. I still use it consistently, taking into account that it’s a ‘far better than nothing’ tool rather than a ‘perfect’ tool. Dave wrote a post here covering some other tools:

    http://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-software/keyphrase-market-potential-software/

    There are some paid tools here. I haven’t used AdGooroo or AdThena, but I hear they’re useful in this area. Have you used either / one of their competitors that’s worked well? I’ve used Hitwise a few times, which was great on larger B2C terms, less so on anything niche.

    Chris Hill’s question overlaps, so I’ll mention the only 100% accurate way I know of getting keyword volume data a little further down…

    @Chris Hill – hi, Chris, I think this could be one of a few things:

    A) The Google Keyword tool is patchy. It’s better if you’re logged in, but still not perfect. Disappointing but true!
    B) It’s not a seasonal term is it?
    C) Always worth a quick check to see if you’re ranking #2 for it in both google.com & google.co.uk? (less likely to be an issue)
    D) Have you checked that ‘personalised search’ is turned off?
    E) If there are a couple of paid ads, one with sitelinks, and the #1 natural position has sitelinks, then you may not get many clicks. (i’m sure you’d have mentioned that though).

    The Most Accurate Way to get Keyword Volume data:

    Depending on how much the term is worth to you, you could set up an AdWords ad against it (on exact match) for a week or so (just on the ‘search’ network, excluding partners). If you then run an ‘Impression Share’ report, it will tell you whether your ad appeared 100% of the time, and how many impressions it got. From there you can work back the most accurate picture of how many searches it genuinely gets.

    I’d love to know what the term is – feel free to email me through http://www.barker.dj or connect on twitter & let me know.

    @Henry Phillips – Thanks, Henry! That’s a great ‘real world’ tip. I guess especially useful where it would be a big project to fix a large structural issue, whereas some quick page fixes would be almost instant with similar financial results? Maybe you could give an example for Mark?

    @Dean Cruddace & Dan Croxen-John & Andy & Phillipe – Thanks very much – you’re very kind men!

  • http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jamesgurd James Gurd

    Hi Dan,
    Like the post – logical, straight forward approach to gaining insight from GA data by appending additional information.
    It’s great that you are giving people ways to use GA to make meaningful decisions because many people struggle to know how to interpret data.
    I’ve been using GA natural search data alongside rank & traffic data to help make SEO decisions and it really helps focus effort. I would add the bounce rate of the landing page into the s/sheet as it helps evaluate the efficiency of the landing page for search terms. Pages with high visits and poor engagement can be prime targets for A/B and MVT Testing.
    I think the key learning is that data is only valuable if it can give you insight. Knowing how much traffic you get on its own means very little and only offers very basic trend monitoring.
    cheers
    james

  • http://www.businessesforsale.com Jeremy

    I built a similar spreadsheet to this a year or so ago, but my problem is i track over 500 keyterms, so plugging this data in regulalrly into a spreadsheet is laboriously and prohibitively slow, so I gave up and carried on measuring on an ad-hoc basis througyh GA and keyword analyser – which to answer the guy who questions why his CTR is so low – look at this article – http://www.davidnaylor.co.uk/is-google-adwords-keyword-tool-now-more-accurate.html

    So my question is – has anyone worked out a way to automate this process with the google export API, and any other export functions – for SERPS positions, estimated keyterm traffic etc – so that the report pulls everything it needs in through a macro every month???

    I tried using Excellent Analytics – but couldn’t get the mix right – so does anyone know of someone or something that has made this happen?

  • http://www.upstreamconnections.com/profile-virginia-cruz.html Virginia Cruz

    Hi Dan,

    This is a fantastic post. I perform keyword researches on a regular basis and you’ve definitely made me realise I still got lots to learn! Sometimes I’ve seen that certain pages are ranking with keywords we are targeting but, because of being the “wrong” pages their position might not be the best one.

    I will definitely start applying your recommendation on how to get the right pages ranking.

    Thanks for sharing this info!

  • http://www.analyticstraining.co.uk Nikki Rae

    Fantastic, as ususal Dan :)

    Nikki Rae

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  • http://Seoanalyst.dk Rasmus Himmelstrup

    This is an excellent way to use Analytics together with excel. This way of presenting data is also very usefull when showing a SEO potential to a client. Numbers in red, yellow and green tends to work a lot better than written reports.

    I have the same issues as mentioned by many in the comments about the keyword tool. The only way to get the exact impressions is by running an adwords test campaign on the actual keywords.

  • http://www.armitageonline.co.uk Andrew Armitage

    A really excellent post. So many people will receive analytics reports either not knowing what, or not wanting to do anything with them.

    This is a great way for those who are keen to see their website make a difference to their business to take action and improve their site – and at no cost other than their time. Those not wanting to act on their analytics reports can never be helped!

  • Ben

    When I try to put together the results table, the problem with copying and pasting across from the other sheets is that the order of the keywords gets changed by the google keyword tool – do you have to do this manually, or is there a way of putting together the final results sheet so that everything matches up automatically right away?

  • http://www.barker.dj dan barker

    @Ben – Hi, Ben, if you use the spreadsheet at http://bit.ly/ga-workbook it will automatically match up everything for you. It uses the excel ‘vlookup’ tool and some error handling to do that. (the first 3 sheets are for your data, the 4th automatically matches them up)

    Does that help?

    dan

  • Ben

    Great, thanks Dan.

  • http://www.seogir.eu Martyna

    Very nice post and lovely implemented example and explanation – all that makes the post really useful-thank you:-)

  • http://www.webpropaganda.co.uk webpropaganda

    Great way of reporting – I liked the last reporting spreadsheet shown by Dr Dave Chaffey at Ecmod presentation.

  • http://www.blueclaw.co.uk James Holmes

    Hi Dan, thanks for this post. There is actually a much easier way to get all this information (and more) in Google Webmaster tools. There you can see how many impressions there have been for the search terms over a chosen period, what the click through rate was for appearing in different positions and very interestingly how all this information (including rankings) is changing over time. Google Webmaster tools will also show you which page results are appearing for the search terms and how many impressions for each.

    • Dave Chaffey

      A good thought James, we covered the GWT Keyphrase analysis when it was released.

      I think maybe Dan didn’t include it because of accuracy issues – we and others have found it very hit and miss – it doesn’t include some of the main referring terms to this site for example. It’s a good tool to make folks aware of though and it’s certainly easier, so thanks!

  • http://www.barker.dj dan barker

    hi, James, thanks a lot!

    Dave is right on the patchy numbers sadly. For example, I’m looking at a site where Google’s Webmaster Tools says I’ve had 40,500 visits over 30 days for a particular term. There are 2 sets of web analytics tracking on the site, both of which agree that that it’s had more like 87,000. Even stripping out other search engines, it’s still way over 80,000 just from Google. So let’s say Google is out by 50% on that one. Yet for another medium-volume keyword, it’s almost spot on.

    All of the tools mentioned here are flawed in one way or another, but GWT seems particularly random.

    I’d love to hear other peoples take on it though, and how the numbers match up for them.

    dan

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  • mike

    absolutely concise and useful and compelling! thank you so much. one average i come across a post of such great value such as this one once a month! (if that!)

  • mike

    Hi again,

    I have a question, can you help anyone? Some of my keyphrases have no ‘search volume’ in google adwords tool.
    So I am presuming that this means that the search volume is negligible – the bad thing is I have lots of these random key phrases bringing people to my site. I guess this shows bad SEO? Should I rather aim to compete in keyphrases with higher competition and search volume?

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