Hi and welcome! In this guide you’ll be introduced to the basics of SEO Analytics. If you do SEO (Search Engine Optimization), or if you have someone do SEO for you in any capacity, it’s vital to have an understanding of your SEO Analytics.
By the end of this guide you will have a good understanding of what SEO Analytics is, why it is important, how to go about setting it up and some techniques to get you started.
What do we mean by SEO Analytics?
SEO Analytics or Analytics for SEO refers to groups of metrics and data that we can acquire from various locations or tools. Typically, when we refer to SEO Analytics we are talking about ‘Analytics’ programs such as Google Analytics that track users on your site.
That said, we cover some other types of analytics data for SEO later in the guide. Despite what specific tools you use, whether its Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, or something else; those tools measure and track users on your site.
Why is SEO Analytics Important?
The analytics for your SEO will reveal a huge amount of information about how your site performs, how it compares with your competitors, and how the people who visit it behave.
SEO Analytics tools provide you with essential information (data) that you need to measure the success of your SEO strategy and work. Whether you’re paying for someone else to do your SEO or you do it yourself, you will need to measure the success of those efforts.
As with most work, you will also find yourself in a rinse and repeat cycle of testing, measuring, and modifying. For example, you may try various SEO tactics and measure the success of each to determine what tactic will deliver the best results.
As such, Analytics for SEO is not only important it is intrinsic to the success of most SEO strategies.
Types of SEO Data
For the purpose of this guide, we will concentrate principally on ‘analytics’ programs but there are other types of SEO Analytics data that you might include within this category.
This refers to ‘rankings’ or ‘keyword rankings’, whereby we use a tool to automate scraping Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) to see where a site ranks for a keyword or group of keywords.
This data is often used as a measure of success for SEO. If you are seeing an upward trend in your rankings you might be convinced that your SEO is working. However, this data relies on the quality of the keywords you are tracking. Less scrupulous SEO’s will often track low value keywords that attract no search volume and deliver no traffic. Seeing improvements in this type of keywords does not indicate a successful SEO campaign.
Tracking relevant and valuable keywords that were determined through effective keyword research is the only way to ensure that this data has meaning. We recommend labeling or categorizing keywords with a priority value; for example, you could label keywords in groups like this:
- Tier 1 = Highest value keywords
- Tier 2 = Medium value keywords
- Tier 3 = Lowest value keywords
Using this technique, you can both segment keyword ranking data to look at net improvement or changes in each category as well as weight the results. This data needs to be viewed in the light of your SEO strategy, for example; you may have planned to see improvements in low value terms in the short-term while achieving significant improvements in high value terms in the long-term.
Although you can manually pull this data out of Google, this is massively inefficient and is more typically done with keyword ranking tools. This type of analytics is all performed off-page.
This wouldn’t normally be grouped in with ‘Analytics data’ per se, but is worth a mention as you will certainly analyze this data. You will only be able to get this data from tools such as Majestic SEO or Ahrefs. This type of analytics is all performed off-page.
Technical data comes from crawling websites and analyzing the data from the crawl. You will need a tool to conduct this type of work and it is very rarely grouped within the topic of ‘SEO Analytics’. That said, there is one aspect of this category that does cross over with Analytics packages, which is ‘page speed’. We cover this in more detail in a few paragraphs.
How Do You Get Analytics Data?
As we’ve mentioned, in most cases you will need tools to acquire data, and although there are many web analytics tools out there, Google Analytics is almost ubiquitously used in SEO. Not only because it’s a robust and powerful tool, or just because its provided by Google, but because its free!
Google Analytics and its competitors allow you to setup and install tags throughout your site. These tags are triggered by events such as clicking a button or loading a page, and they track users, user actions and behaviors while they are on your site.
Setting Up Analytics Tracking Code & Tags
You can get started with this by following the link to Google Analytics.
On small simple sites it can be relatively easy to set up your tracking code and tags, but as sites get larger or more complicated the setup can become exponentially more complex. Every type of website can require a different type of setup. An eCommerce site will be markedly different from a lead generation site for example. Setup is incredibly important, as an incorrect setup could manifest a host of different tracking or data integrity issues. Often if data is lost or not tracked due to this type of issue, it is irrevocably lost forever!
Common Analytics Problems
Every analytics package or program has the capacity for a very different process for set up, the common mistakes that we see independent of platform are:
- Tracking code and tags have been put in the wrong place
- Tracking or tag code is incorrect
- Duplicate tags exist on the same page or location
- Multiple tags that may not work together are placed on the same page or location
- Code or tags are missing completely from a page or required location
There are many more factors and problems that can create tracking issues, but outside of the above list, you are typically looking at issues external to the code or tags. These can be anything such as pages being rendered inaccessible, this will prevent pages from showing analytics data.
The reason why we prioritize this type of data over most others, specifically in the context of this guide, is because it more accurately reflects the results of your SEO campaigns. In this section of this guide we look at some of the core components of SEO Analytics in a bit more detail.
Website Traffic – Where are Users Coming From?
Website traffic is a catch-all term used to describe the users/people that visit your site, in the context of SEO Analytics this refers to ‘organic traffic’. Organic traffic is traffic that comes from Google or other search engines like Bing. However, you could legitimately also count ‘referral traffic’ as this is very likely come from places where your link building efforts have acquired a link.
You can segment your traffic view in all Analytics tools by their source, it’s up to you whether you include referral traffic or not, but using this filtering we can start to analyze the SEO traffic in more detail.
Bear in mind that the terminology used in different tools may vary, we try to be product agnostic with our descriptions in this section describing the principle or concept rather than any particular metric.
How do Users Engage?
Now you know how to segment your traffic data to look at the SEO traffic, you will want to know how that traffic engages with your site. For this we look at ‘engagement metrics’, which are typically things like:
Bounces and Bounce Rate
‘Bounces’ refer to users who land on a page and then leave your site without visiting any other page and they represent (for the most part) users who are not finding what they want. The bounce rate is derived from dividing the number of bounces by the number of visits to get a percentage, for example; if 10 out of 100 users bounce, you will have a bounce rate of 10%.
The bounce rate is a good indicator of how relevant a page is to the user. By looking at or trying to establish what keywords are driving traffic to high bounce rate pages; you can better understand how to meet the needs of the user more effectively.
Bounces and bounce rate are terms used a lot in SEO and are largely ubiquitous.
Time Spent on Page or Site
These can be a misleading metrics, needing to be taken within the context of other data to build a more accurate picture of what is occurring.
Frequently people look at the time users spend either on a page or the site as a whole with the goal in mind of increasing that time. That said, if you recently uploaded a load of videos to your site, you may find that people watch and listen rather than read your content. This could reduce time on page but increase time on site as they find more content they want to watch.
If your site has some particular need or is designed to reduce time on page, you may need to measure success differently. It may be that low time on page is because people are finding what they want quickly and converting!
That said, changes in these metrics over time can indicate trends in your user behavior.
Number of Pages Seen Per Visit
This metric indicates how many pages (on average) a user visits when visiting your site. Like the time spent on page or site metrics, this can be misleading if the narrative is not clear. Again, if your site is very clean and effective, you may find that users find what they want quickly and easily and convert at a high rate.
You can use a range of engagement metrics in conjunction with one another to build a picture of what is happening on your site. Often this needs to be segmented by content type, people landing on a blog post will often have a very different behavior to those landing on your pricing page.
How do Visitors Convert?
One term you will hear a lot in SEO is ‘conversions’ or ‘converting visitors’. A conversion is where a visitor performs a desired action such as submitting a form or visiting a ‘thank you’ page. It helps when setting these up in your analytics program if they correspond to your business objectives, or have some business value.
Another metric that is commonly discussed in SEO circles is ‘conversion rate’, which is calculated by dividing the number of conversions by the number of visits to get a percentage. If for every 100 visits your site gets 5 conversions, you could say that your conversion rate is 5%.
When looking at the conversion rate of your SEO traffic, you can see how well your SEO traffic is converting visitors. The conversion rate can be affected by a lot of factors, if the keywords delivering traffic are not relevant you may find a low conversion rate for example. The site itself can be optimized to improve conversion rates.
Conversions are often the most accurate and relevant measure of success for your SEO strategy as they represent the end result and bottom line for a business.
What is the Value of Your Visitors?
Typically, conversions provide some kind of financial value to a business in the form of a lead or purchase. If you’re selling products or services on your site, you can assign values to different conversions within your analytics package. Once set up, you can see the revenue generated by your various marketing channels including SEO.
Looking at this data over time is a very strong measure of success for a business when monitoring the SEO work being done. SEO is an ROI (Return on Investment) strategy, so you should see positive ROI from your SEO investment. Setting up your SEO analytics properly allows you to effectively gauge your SEO ROI.
We mentioned this earlier, page speed is a hugely important component of SEO and this is highlighted by the fact that Google provides several tools to help you improve your site’s load times. It stands apart from the other SEO Analytics Data described above because it isn’t a ‘user behavior’.
Looking at this data is actually very important, Google can hold a site down in the SERPs if they are slow by contrast to the sites ranked above yours. Hence, improving your page speed can have a very positive impact on rankings and organic traffic.
How to Measure Success?
There are many ways you can measure the success of your SEO endeavors, we aim to cover the process and metrics that allow you to determine what success is and if you’ve achieved it.
Business Goals and SEO Goals
You first need to understand what success looks like for your business or website. Are you looking to make online sales, generate leads, make revenue from ads, create brand awareness, etc? Depending on your business objectives, you can measure success in very different ways.
For most people and businesses it’s revenue or profits that are the most important measure of success. In this case, you should be clear to whoever is doing your SEO that this is your goal, as it will influence the keywords the SEO identifies in their keyword research. Many SEO’s report on revenue and conversions, but more typically measure their success in traffic and rankings because they have no influence over how well your site converts traffic into revenue. After a point there is only so much an SEO can do to generate revenue for a site.
If all you care about is ranking for a head term, then measuring the success is easy, simply see if your rankings have improved for the term/s you want to rank for.
Data has more meaning when in the context of other data, for example; saying that your organic traffic was at 10,000 visits last month can be good or bad. If the same month last year you had 20,000 organic visits, it would be fair to say that you are not doing as well as you were.
Another aspect to consider is the additional context of correlating data, a great example of this is correlating traffic with rankings. If you notice that organic traffic is massively up month-on-month but keyword rankings haven’t changed, there is likely an environmental factor driving the traffic. This could be a seasonal factor or a random trend.
Traffic going up or down is not on its own an indication of what is going on or why its happening. In some cases, you may need a historical awareness or what has occurred to explain why we are seeing certain trends. Things like the removal of a penalty or fixing technical issues preventing pages from being indexed can often explain the traffic data.
Typically, you should approach your analysis like a scientist, setting out a hypothesis and then how to test whether its false. An example of this process when looking at why website traffic has suddenly increased could go something like this:
- Has the organic traffic actually increased? Check year on year traffic for the last few years to see if it does this at the same time every year.
- Have the keyword rankings improved? Check keyword rankings
- Do the ranking changes explain what we are seeing? Check to see the value (estimated search volume) of keywords that changed their rank.
- If you do see a correlation, can you determine why? Content changes, technical improvements, backlink acquisition, improve social media.
- Are there any trends that explain the traffic increase? Check Google trends for relevant keywords
- What other external factors could explain this? For example, has there been some TV advertising that drove an increase in search volume for your brand or service?
At the end of this, you should have some answers as to what are the likely factors contributing most significantly to the changes you’re seeing.
We touch on this in the above section on correlating data; removing noise from your data can be important for measuring the success of your SEO. What we mean by this is accounting for things like seasonal trends or the crossover impact of other marketing channels. There are many times where you will have to remove noise from data in some way or at least caveat your analysis appropriately. If you acquired a load of links and uploaded a load of content while fixing technical issues, it will be difficult to say with any degree of confidence which of those activities was the driving factor.
If you have very little data, you may find that you don’t have enough confidence to make meaningful statements. For example, you may need to get thousands of visits to your site before you can determine a reliable conversion rate.
If your site, or a page on it, has received only two visits and one of them converted, it would be unwise to assume that you can convert 50% of your future traffic. In this example, just one more visit that doesn’t convert would reduce your conversion rate to 33%. You need enough traffic so that a handful of new users doesn’t have the potential change the conversion rate by a significant amount.
Setting up your analytics tags and code properly is an essential first step, ensuring that they all work as intended. Then when creating your goals or conversions within your analytics program, do so in line with your business objectives.
Analyze your SEO data with a scientific method, aim to disprove your hypothesis and take into consideration a wide range of ancillary data to support your statements and analysis.
Don’t be fooled into looking at just one metric as the measure of success, look at a large cross-section of your data. There are so many moving parts when it comes to SEO, it’s difficult to sift through the noise to find the truth of what is happening and why.