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SEO Analytics – Using Google Analytics for SEO

Google Analytics Search Ranking Filters for New URLsbrian1868Brian Clifton is well known as the former Head of Web Analytics for Google EMEA and more recently as the author of what many consider the best book on Google Analytics: Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics:

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But Brian also has a strong background in search engine marketer and has consulted widely on SEO. As a fellow SEO, I was very keen to find out Brian's tips for using Google Analytics to get better results from the search engines, particularly using SEO.

You can read his latest tips on Google Analytics on his Advanced Web metrics blog .

Process and KPIs for using Google Analytics to improve SEO

Q1. When you work as a consultant, please could you outline your process for using Google Analytics to improve results from SEO?  Please outline the steps you take.

[Answer: Brian Clifton, author of Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics]

The key to being successful in this field, is not to treat your SEO as a silo.

SEO has to be part of the bigger marketing, communication and business picture. For example, if your marketing team are about to launch a TV campaign, its important that words/phrases associated with that campaign lead to your web site should people search for them online. Ideally that will be via organic search for the main part with PPC filling in the gaps.

Similarly, visits from social networks will reflect your search visibility, so one eye needs to be kept on these.

Alongside co-ordinating the strategy, I establish benchmarks (Key Performance Indicators) for SEO. This is important for drawing a line in the sand and managing expectations.

The first step is segmenting your organic visits i.e. grouping together all your organic traffic separately from the rest of your visits. That is done by default in Google Analytics, though you may wish to customise the list of search engines for local markets (see my post on customising local search engines in Google Analytics).

KPIs usually involve you extracting data from the reports in order to make the calculation specific to your organisation. However, some can be plucked right out of Google Analytics.

Here are some typical KPIs I use to help search marketers:

  • Keyword Performance - the percentage of search traffic from Top 10 keywords (also top 25, 100 keywords etc). Also this should be percentage of revenue, percentage of conversions. This provides insight into your long tail, in terms of its scale and value. Generally who will want to increase this value.
  • Brand Engagement - the percentage of search traffic that has used your brand or product name when the visitor conducted their search. Brand reputation is expensive to build in any channel as this metric allows you to measure it. Most organisations will wish to increase this, though publishers generally wish to decrease it i.e. attract new readers looking for subject information.
  • Pages yielding search traffic - the percentage of your pages (as a fraction of your total search visible content), that brought you search engine visitors. In theory, this should be close to 100%, that is all your content should be search visible and therefore bring you search engine traffic, though in practice this is very rare.
  • Bounce rates - these can be obtained directly from your Google Analytics reports. A bounce is a single page (or event) visit and reflects poor engagement. Therefore every marketer wishes to reduce this. As a guide, I use a traffic light system - red requires urgent attention (great tan 50% bounce rate), amber means there is potential improvement (20-30% bounce rate), green is all clear (less than 20% bounce rate).

Of course on-site metrics are only one part (though a major part) of the puzzle. Other tools such as Google Trends, data from comScore, Hitwise etc. should also be used as these provide insight as to your potential audience.

Keyword research

Q2. How can marketers use Google Analytics for keyword discovery? Which techniques do you recommend for identifying new keyphrases or qualifiers to target?

[Answer: Brian Clifton, author of Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics]

The greatest potential insight into discovering new keywords to target comes from your Site Search reports. Site Search is the Google terminology used for describing the internal search engine of your web site. Essentially, any web site with more than 100 pages/products of content needs a decent Site Search facility for visitors to find information quickly and efficiently.

Apart from its importance for navigation, site search is your direct feedback mechanism from your visitors. That is, visitors are typing in exactly what they are looking for on your web site. That can be an incredibly rich source of information and there is a dedicated report in Google Analytics to analyse this.

Ensure you are using these keywords in your external campaigns and look for new insights. For example, you may think everyone refers to your product as 'gadget' when in fact there could be a significant number that use 'widget'. Your Site Search reports will tell you this and enable to you investigate the potential for targeting such alternative keywords.

Integrating SEO with Pay Per Click Activity

Q3. How can use the Google Analytics keyword reports to make sure that PPC and SEO are integrated cost-effectively?

[Answer: Brian Clifton, author of Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics]

The key to integration is to maximise your opportunities and minimise wastage, which usually means not duplicating your efforts. However, it never ceases to amaze me how many organisations advertise on keywords that they already rank high for organically - by that I mean they rank in positions 1-3 for the same keyword.

There is a myth that doing this has 2+2 = 5 effect, meaning advertising and simultaneously having a top three organic position produces more traffic to your web site than just having one of these alone. However, I have yet to see any study of this that stands up to a rigouress analysis*. Moreover, this situation will cannibalise your existing organic traffic, resulting in you paying for visits that were free.

Therefore, use keyword reports to look for overlaps and reduce these were possible. Keywords that have a high Per Visit Goal Value (see Q4) should be considered for organic optimisation, while those that are lower should be considered for PPC.

*I specifically refer to the top three organic positions. This duplicate approach can work if you are outside the top three.

Landing pages

Q4. The main entry page for a visit is often not the best performer in terms of conversion. How do you suggest targeting the right pages against the right keyphrases?

[Answer: Brian Clifton, author of Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics]

There are two very useful metrics in Google Analytics that can help with this: $Index values (Content section) and Per Visit Goal Value (Goal Conversion reports). These represent the value, in monetary terms, of a page and a visit to your web site respectively.

For example, the higher the $Index value of a page, the more important that page is to the conversion process. This is dependent on whether that particular page is visited prior to a conversion and the value of the end goal. Therefore to work, you must monetise your goals - something many web site managers forget about.

In a similar way, visits can be valued. So you can compare different referral sources in terms of their value. For example, how does YSM compare with AdWords or organic search compare with paid search advertising? You can also drill down to the keyword level for each referral source.

Clearly when it comes to optimizing your keyword and landing page combinations, you should target those visits that have the highest value to you and match those to the relevant pages that have the highest value. I recommend targeting the top 10 of each and working your way down the list.

Thanks for your insights Brian! If any readers have additional reports on the process, KPIs or tools they use for Google Analytics please add them to the comments. Here are couple of plugins for Firefox / Greasemonkey users from me:

This is handy since it alerts you to changes within the last week - which keywords have lost visitors is particularly important.
One way of finding the rankings of keywords within the search results pages without using a ranking checker like Advanced Web Ranking. This strips off the parameters showing the page number (doesn't show the actual position) in the query URL string from Google when it refers to a site.
3. SERPS reporting of new Google query strings using filters
In April 2009 Google introduced an update to it's query string referring visitors from a search to a destination site which includes a cd=x parameter where x is the position in the natural listings Search Engine Results Page of the result that was clicked upon. This is very valuable since it reduces the need for rank checking services  like Advanced Web Ranking, Web Position Gold, etc to determine ranking positions which is partly why Google introduced the feature. Of course it won't show how your rankings compare to competitors, or where you aren't ranking.
You can also potentially compare your natural ranking position for a keyword with your average position for a paid search AdWords result to decide how you best integrate paid and natural positions.
To setup this tracking required setting up a separate profile for organic traffic and then creating customer filters as explained in these two articles:

By Dave Chaffey

Dave is CEO and co-founder of Smart Insights. He is editor of the 100 templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ Digital Marketing experts. Our resources used by our Expert members in more than 80 countries to Map, Plan and Manage their digital marketing. For my full profile, or to connect on LinkedIn or other social networks, see the About Dave Chaffey profile page on Smart Insights.

Dave is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Emarketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing.

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