In the fall of 2012, with the help of my partners, I created a piece of software that helps business owners that want to try to tackle SEO on their own do it better. Our software will audit your website, track your rankings for high-value keywords, analyze your competitors, show what has been changed on your website (helpful if you're paying someone else to do your SEO), and identify opportunities to make improvements.
I'm telling you all of this because of what I'm about to say next...
You don’t need another SEO tool.
That’s right. Most of you searching for a better SEO toolset are wasting your time and money. What you should be doing instead is learning more about how to better utilize two free tools you probably already have (and don’t even know it).
The SEO tools I’m referring to are Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
In this blog post, I’m going to provide you with a couple of ideas for how you can use Google Analytics (GA) and Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) to improve your site’s organic rankings (i.e. your SEO).
Getting More from Google Analytics
There are dozens of ways you can use Google Analytics as an SEO tool, but I’m going to share with you my three favorites:
1. Advanced Traffic Segments
Advanced traffic segments allow you to create a filter within Google Analytics to isolate one segment of traffic. For example, let's say you run a handyman company in Charlotte, NC. You get about 2,000 visits to your website per month, but only a handful of leads.
It could be that your website isn't very well-optimized to convert visitors into leads, but more likely, you're not really getting 2,000 visits per month. By creating an advanced traffic segment that shows only visitors from within your service area, you might find that you actually receive 300 visits per month.
An increase in visits to your website from organic search where the keyword used does NOT include your company name is a great measure of SEO success (far superior to tracking individual keyword rankings). I typically refer to visits from this traffic segment as Non-Branded Organic Traffic or Non-Branded Organic Search). The trouble is, Google Analytics doesn't show this by default.
By creating an advanced segment that shows only visitors from this segment you can quickly determine whether your SEO campaign is delivering qualified visitors to your website or not. If you’re generating visitors, but no leads, maybe you’re targeting the wrong keywords or your website isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. If you’re a local contractor, maybe the visitors are coming in from outside your service area (suggesting that you need more work on your local SEO).
Better (more granular) data allows you to make better decisions.
2. Top Landing Pages
Login to your Google Analytics account. Look at the left-side navigation menu. Click Content > Site Content > Landing Pages. Now, use the secondary dimension option to select keywords. This report will show you which pages attracted visitors to your website and the keywords the visitors used to find the page.
Reviewing this report on a regular basis will provide you with a bunch of insights and valuable takeaways.
First, you get a sense that each page on your website--assuming it's well-targeted and optimized--acts like a funnel to bring more visitors to your website. By creating more pages, you'll see traffic, leads, and sales increase and you can use this report to quantify how well you're doing.
Second, seeing the keyword someone searched to find your pages allows you to consider the following:
When business owners hire me to help them with SEO, one of the questions they ask, "How long is this going to take?" Most want to spend the least amount possible for the shortest amount of time.Understandable, but I hope that the example above illustrates that SEO and website optimization is an ongoing process (like managing your company's financial performance).
It never stops--unless you achieve your goal(s)--and even then you have to maintain what you have.
You don't have to keep paying me, but someone has to do the work on a regular basis. SEO and website performance is ALWAYS going either up or down. Once you have 500 visits (or more per month), you need to start reviewing this stuff on a weekly/monthly basis. The output is a "to do" list of things to fix / TEST.
Again, there are more than a dozen different ways to use Google Analytics as an SEO tool. The two above are very helpful, but they’re also easy to learn (unlike tracking your keyword rankings in Google Analytics – something you can do, but setting it up is more complicated).
Now, let’s switch gears and look at Google Webmaster Tools from an SEO standpoint.
Getting Started with Google Webmaster Tools
Some of you may not be familiar with GWT, but you should be—it’s an unbelievably awesome tool for SEO. Three of the best ways to improve your site’s rankings using Google Webmaster Tools are:
1. Crawl Errors Report
One of the key features of many different SEO software programs is a crawl error report, but GWT offers this too and it’s FREE. In order for your website to rank well organically, search engines like Google must be able to crawl your website and your website’s pages.
Crawl errors can prevent Googlebot, the software Google uses to crawl and index your website, from finding and properly reading your website pages. You can have the world’s best website content, pictures, etc., but if Googlebot hits a road block and can’t find them, you’re never going to leap-frog your competitors in the search results.
2. Search Queries Report
The search queries report helps you monitor two of the most important SEO metrics available--impressions and click-through rate. Using your rankings for a specific keyword is a sh*tty way to evaluate your SEO results. Most contractors doing this don’t realize that the rankings they are seeing are NOT what their prospects are seeing.
Wha wha what?!
That's right--a few years ago Google started personalizing the search results based on the location of the visitor, personal settings, previous searches, etc.
Impressions and click-through rate are far better metrics and they are easily found and/or calculated from data that comes from the search queries report in GWT. In the search queries report in GWT, first exclude any searches that include your company name (i.e. branded searches). You might also want to filter out visitors outside your service area.
What you have left is impressions from non-branded keywords. If impressions are trending up year-over-year, it generally means that you’re doing a good job targeting the right keywords and that your organic rankings are on the rise. This said, high rankings for relevant keywords mean little if you’re unable to entice searchers to click on your website (vs. a competitor’s site). If your search rankings are <10 and you’re not getting many clicks, it might be time to re-optimize that page’s meta description tag.
Conclusion & Takeaways
While better tools can give you an edge over your competition, most contractors would achieve more by fully utilizing the tools they already have. Stop looking for a magic pill--it doesn't exist. Love him or hate him, Tiger Woods will kick your butt at golf with a set of spoons.Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are free and they're awesome. Once you're tracking custom variables in Google Analytics and using multiple XML sitemaps in GWT, call me and I'll show you something that will really blow your mind.