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 SmartInsights.com, 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.