The art and science of increasing organic traffic

When cre­ativ­i­ty and tech­ni­cal knowl­edge are com­bined, organ­ic search has the poten­tial to deliv­er great ROIs. Dave Chaf­fey from Smart Insights, shares tech­niques used to dri­ve traf­fic with the chan­nel.

Dave Chaffey By Dave Chaffey from Join the discussion » 1 comment

It’s often said that dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing is part art, part sci­ence. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true of SEO, which is why I think it is one of my big pas­sions with­in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. Of course, SEO also has the poten­tial to dri­ve vol­ume traf­fic at low-cost while peo­ple are search­ing for your prod­ucts and ser­vices…

One of the best ways to show the pow­er of SEO is to take a look at the Cus­to­ra Pulse. It’s inter­est­ing since it’s one of the best, pub­lished bench­marks of what search mar­ket­ing can deliv­er in terms of sales. In past years, it’s shown that, for large retail­ers based in the US, that search mar­ket­ing deliv­ers near­ly half of all sales, with organ­ic search mak­ing up around half of this. As an aver­age, that should be con­sid­ered a min­i­mum bench­mark tar­get for your organ­ic traf­fic if you are seri­ous about it.

At, the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing edu­ca­tion site I work for, we have worked hard on our SEO; organ­ic search now con­tributes over 80% of the half mil­lion unique vis­i­tors per month we attract each month. For us, this is very much down to both art and sci­ence. In this arti­cle I will main­ly explain the ‘sci­ence’ part of the equa­tion, review­ing some of the sim­ple analy­sis tech­niques we use from the tools Google pro­vides.

The potential of organic search

With­out hard graft, organ­ic search is untapped poten­tial. Since SEO is so com­pet­i­tive, you have to work at it to com­pete, and this requires a cre­ative approach in order to devel­op the right type of con­tent that will engage your audi­ence and attract the links which are still so impor­tant to increas­ing the author­i­ty of a site. This is the ‘art’ part, based on a sol­id con­tent mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy where we invest in a com­bi­na­tion of qual­i­ty arti­cles cov­er­ing the chal­lenges that mar­keters have with pay­ing for qual­i­ty info­graph­ics that are shared wide­ly.

For exam­ple, our con­tent mar­ket­ing matrix is a ‘mind-tool’ that has been wide­ly shared and copied. Yet this wasn’t a ‘me-too’ dig­i­tal stats info­graph­ic put togeth­er quick­ly using a free, online tool. It need­ed sev­er­al days of analy­sis and plan­ning and then brief­ing top design­ers in order to turn that data into top per­form­ing con­tent. Sim­i­lar­ly, our Essen­tial Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing tools wheel is anoth­er mind-tool which has worked well for us.

Yet, these aren’t our top traf­fic dri­vers, so I will now explain the analy­sis tech­niques we have used to review and improve our traf­fic.

Techniques we use to review and improve SEO using Search Analytics in Google Search Console

Those of you who are SEOs will know the sad tale of ‘Not pro­vid­ed’ and how, when organ­ic key­words were no longer report­ed in Google Ana­lyt­ics (GA) or oth­er ana­lyt­ics pack­ages, Google Web­mas­ter tools launched what was round­ly crit­i­cised by many SEOs to be a poor imi­ta­tion of pre­vi­ous organ­ic reports in GA with only a 90 day his­to­ry, not to men­tion numer­ous inac­cu­ra­cies.

Today we have what I think is a much improved Search Ana­lyt­ics in Google Search Con­sole (GSC, for­mer­ly Google Web­mas­ter tools report­ing) and while you can still ignore it as inac­cu­rate or incom­plete, I think you’re miss­ing out if you do. Here are 5 ways in which we use Search Ana­lyt­ics. Note that I don’t include link analy­sis in GSC here since it’s well-known that you get an incom­plete view of back­links with­in GSC. It is best prac­tice to include these links in link audits though, e.g. for a link detox project.

1. Using a Gap analy­sis to define oppor­tu­ni­ties to attract more organ­ic vis­its.

We use the SEO gap analy­sis tech­nique to define oppor­tu­ni­ties for tar­get­ing new search queries and review­ing improv­ing vis­it vol­ume from new search queries. An SEO gap analy­sis helps you review your audi­ence “share of search­es“ for prod­ucts and ser­vices you offer by com­par­ing the num­ber of search­es per­formed for the key­words you are tar­get­ing, against the num­ber of vis­i­tors you get to your site for these key­words through nat­ur­al search and paid search.

To per­form the gap analy­sis we export data from search ana­lyt­ics and com­bine it in a spread­sheet with key­word impres­sion data from Google Key­word Plan­ner. Although this tool also has its crit­ics and lim­i­ta­tions for low­er search vol­ume key­words, I find that for high­er vol­ume queries it’s a reli­able guide and shows rel­a­tive dif­fer­ences in search vol­ume for dif­fer­ent prod­ucts or ser­vices well.

Once you have the intent data from key­word plan­ner and actu­al vis­its from Search ana­lyt­ics you can then com­pare them using a VLOOKUP() for each key­word — I find it’s use­ful to com­pare both exact key­words and ‘con­tains’ key­words. ‘Con­tains’ reports are use­ful to see which qual­i­fiers you are attract­ing, e.g. for retail prod­ucts, these could include ‘cheap’, ‘dis­count’ and ‘reviews’.

2. Boost­ing the per­for­mance of your top rank­ing pages.

This is a well-known prac­ti­cal tech­nique which you can use with­in GA too when inte­grat­ed. Sim­ply review your top rank­ing pages which have the poten­tial to improve, i.e. posi­tion 2–10, posi­tion 10–15. Then review their click-through rates and see how they can be improved fur­ther by test­ing copy changes to the title and descrip­tion and re-pub­lish­ing.

As with the oth­er tech­niques here, you can break­out per­for­mance by geog­ra­phy if inter­na­tion­al mar­kets are impor­tant to you.

3. Under­stand­ing land­ing page effec­tive­ness for SEO.

See­ing the range of key­words each page is attract­ing is a real­ly use­ful tool for learn­ing how to get more vis­its to pages since you see the range of search queries you attract vis­i­tors for, depend­ing on page copy and off-page links to the page.

This infor­ma­tion used to be avail­able in Google Ana­lyt­ics search reports, but isn’t any longer, even with the inte­gra­tion. It’s not that obvi­ous how to set this up; first you have to set up a fil­ter for an indi­vid­ual page (or group of pages) with the Page fil­ter option. Then select­ing the queries option to show the range of key­words.

4. Under­stand­ing organ­ic effec­tive­ness on mobile devices.

With smart­phone key­word queries now being more impor­tant than desk­top in many cat­e­gories, it’s impor­tant to ensure you are vis­i­ble on both smart­phone and desk­top. This will be even more impor­tant once Google launch­es its ‘mobile-first’ index in 2017.

Google Search con­sole can help show the effec­tive­ness of your mobile key­words. You can also cre­ate a smart­phone-only seg­ment in Google Ana­lyt­ics to assess this. Speak­ing at Pub­con 2016, when Gary Illyes of Google announced the mobile-first index, he also dropped a heavy hint that pub­lish­ers should look to sup­port AMP (Accel­er­at­ed Mobile pages). Of course, there are tools with GSC to help you assess AMP pages too, we have imple­ment­ed this at Smart Insights and have some encour­ag­ing ini­tial results and have found the trou­bleshoot­ing infor­ma­tion use­ful.

5. Image search­es.

A blog post on For­rester once said that images or video were one of the eas­i­est ways to get a page one list­ing on Google. Well, I wouldn’t go that far since they only tend to work in some cat­e­gories, such as fash­ion, hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions or pro­fes­sion­al B2B ser­vices. We have found in the B2B cat­e­go­ry, that visu­als are a great way to attract vis­i­tors look­ing for visu­al expla­na­tions of con­cepts. Although it’s not well-known, GSC Search Ana­lyt­ics gives infor­ma­tion too on how impor­tant image search­es are — check how impor­tant they are for your busi­ness.

So, these are just some of the tech­niques we use when tak­ing time out to review the effec­tive­ness of SEO using Search Ana­lyt­ics in GA. I hope it encour­ages you to take anoth­er look if you don’t use these tools.

Dave Chaffey

Written by Dave Chaffey

CEO & Cofounder,

About the author Dr Dave Chaffey is a digital marketing strategist who has enjoyed following and sharing the latest marketing and digital technology developments since the 1990s. He is the author of “Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice,” originally published in 2000 and recently republished with the sixth edition in 2016. He is editor of digital marketing skills development service He is still an active SEO who develops education resources for SEO available in the Smart Insights SEO Toolkit including a free resource on the 10 common SEO mistakes to avoid.

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