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by Alec Sharratt on 22nd August 2011
Google Analytics is a powerful tool that everyone in search should be using. Being a powerful tool it comes with a lot options which if you are new to Analytics can be overwhelming. The temptation is to focus on top level statistics like total traffic or search engine traffic but this does not necessarily reflect the trends of your website’s visitors or the success of the site.
Why is Data Analysis Important?
Data analysis is fundamental to the success of a search campaign. From understanding what keywords drive traffic and conversions to seeing who your real target audience are. Misinterpreting data or looking at the wrong data can lead to wasted time and an inaccurate picture of your campaign. Understanding it properly will help guide your focus, be more efficient and make decisions based on real accurate data.
Unlike PPC, and AdWords specifically, SEO is not as reliant on the data; there are more variables and unknowns as well as constant updates to consider. As a result, understanding the data you do have is vital. To really see the data you need to drill down into it; so here I will set out some good indicators of traffic trends and also some tips on what to look at in terms of data analysis.
Total traffic is the sum of all traffic sources, on its own this figure although pleasing sometimes does not offer any real insight. One must drill down a little further to begin to get an impression of the health of your SEO campaign. There are three main sources of traffic tracked in Google Analytics:
Direct – This represents visitors who accessed your site directly; such as typing the URL into the web browser or opening a bookmark.
Referral – These are visitors who have clicked a link on another website leading to your website.
Search Engines – These are visitors who searched in a search engine and clicked a link to your website from within the search results (SERP’s).
To give an example; a website may have received 1000 visitors last month, but 600 of those were direct visits and 100 were referral. This would mean that only 30% (or 300) of the total traffic could be attributed from search engines. This may be more relevant if next month total traffic dropped by 300 visits (to 700); but search engine traffic may have increased by 50 and direct traffic reduced by 350 visits.
Search Engine Traffic Source
The main focus will be on the traffic source “Search Engines”, as traffic from this source is what we as digital marketers are primarily trying to affect. Yet to understand it better we need to drill down further still. By looking at the “Keywords” under “Traffic Sources” in Analytics allows us to see total search engine traffic from keywords (see image below).
But search engine traffic includes paid traffic if you are running a PPC campaign alongside the SEO campaign. So clicking “non-paid” (see image below) will exclude the paid traffic giving us a clearer picture of how much traffic the SEO work is delivering to the site.
Often you will find that people search for the name or brand of the company. This kind of search represents people who were already looking for the company website and are more akin to direct traffic than true search traffic. In order to remove this data use the filter at the bottom of the page (see Fig 1. below). It is also possible to exclude other variations of your company name by clicking the advanced filter button (see Fig 1) you will be presented with what you see in Fig 2. Select “Keyword” and then select “exclude” and type the variation in.
Once you have done this a few times you will see something like Fig 3, click “Apply Filter” and voila you are now looking at non-paid search engine traffic excluding you company name and brand. This is a fair representation of how much of your traffic is the result of people searching for a keyword and both finding and visiting your website.
Whilst this screen is open this is the perfect opportunity to analyse the keywords delivering traffic to your website. Here you can see how much traffic your top keywords are providing, given that you are tracking keyword rank, these two data sets can be correlated and compared. It may be that a keyword delivering a large portion of the site’s traffic is not having its rank tracked.
This screen can help you identify new keywords to target, and give you a real world view of what people are searching for when they find your site. This data can be drilled down into a little further though. By clicking the “All Visits” drop down menu in the top right of the screen you can further filter the results. Clicking “non-bounce visits” (see image below) you remove visitors who bounced (left the site without seeing only one page). This gives a little more insight into the keywords used by people who found your site useful.
Advanced Segments can also be created to filter results as the image below shows; this will filter the results to show only keywords driving traffic that have either visited 3 or more pages or spent at least 3 minutes on the website. This will reveal those keywords whose visitors found what they were looking for or at least found it relevant enough to stay.
As you can see using advanced segments can unearth valuable keyword opportunities; and by comparing month on month data this will help to recognise trends that can assist in focusing the SEO work on the best areas.
Correlating Google Analytics with Other Data Sources
Keyword data mentioned above when analysed with search data can be invaluable. To offer a real world example of this; a keyword like “playground equipment” may have suddenly had a significant drop in traffic compared to the previous month. I then checked the rankings report to see if the keyword had slipped down the SERPs, but it hadn’t.
So I used Google Insights to see what the search volume was for the keyword and it had also reduced massively down on the ‘normalised’ scale. Realising that the school holidays happen at this time, it was possible to get a clearer picture of what was happening. Rather than spending time trying to boost rankings or traffic for this keyword it was clear that due to the school holiday people were not searching for playground equipment.
Google Analytics Goals
Probably the second best measure of success (next to profit) is tracking goals in Google Analytics. A goal represent an action you want a site visitor to take, this could be anything like completing a contact form or a quote form, buying a product, calling a number, visiting a certain number of pages or spending a certain amount of time on the website.
Usually goals are intrinsically linked to conversions or profitable actions in general. For example if a website generates leads and the website owner gets paid per lead generated; you will want to track that. By uploading tracking code onto specific pages such as a “Thank You” page once the form is completed you will be able to track this data.
This can facilitate the ability to attribute keywords to goals, track the volume of goals, when they occurred, as well as more in depth data such as what “funnels” they went through before converting. This will provide a wealth of data that enables you to optimise the campaign for conversions.
The bottom line for 99% of SEO is to give a ROI (Return on Investment); people spend money on SEO, in short, to make more money back. So optimising a campaign for more traffic or better keyword rankings is meaningless if the keywords and traffic are not converting.
Goal tracking supports a strategy of delivering value to your business or your client’s business. One of the ways it can do this is by identifying keywords that convert, allow you to target and track them properly. By comparing goal or conversion data with other data sets such as “Google Insights” and “Google Keyword Tool” you can make educated predictions about potential keyword value and over time. I will discuss Google Analytics Goals and funnels in greater depth in another blog post.
So comparing different data sets, goal, drilling down into the numbers and filtering the useful data into focus; can greatly assist in trend analysis as well as creating a broader spectrum / big picture view of the search topology.
This is useful if a client calls asking why traffic has dropped this month, but it also goes towards proving why traffic has increased abnormally. Rather than claiming SEO genius, it may be that a seasonal trend has temporarily boosted the organic traffic. Furthermore if you know that this is the reason why, then you can plan for when it comes around again in order to capitalise on the event.