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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

By Dan Barker

Dan Barker is the Smart Insights expert commentator on using Analytics for Ecommerce. He is an independent consultant, working across analytics, SEO, conversion optimisation, email, content and more.

You can Follow Dan on Twitter or Connect with Dan on LinkedIn

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