Most small and mid-sized businesses use Google Analytics – it’s user-friendly, powerful and, best of all, free.
An “out-of-the-box” installation of Google Analytics gives you a lot of great data when it comes to analyzing your organic search traffic. However, there’s a lot more to dig into – and the value can be tremendous.
In my experience most Google Analytics users and installations barely scratch the surface of what the platform can do.
Here are 10 ways to pimp your Google Analytics installation and get the most out of your SEO data:
1) Pull ranking data directly into your GA reports.
André Scholten posted at Joost de Valk’s blog earlier this year explaining how, using Custom Filters, you can pull ranking data directly into your Google Analytics profile.
As of now granularity is limited to the results page – so you can’t tell precisely where you’re ranking (just on which page). However, Andre recently posted again on the topic explaining that Google is testing a new AJAX version of their search engine. I’m not seeing this in my results as of now (I’m in NY, USA), but if you see a hashtag (#) in your results you are likely on the AJAX version – which allows you to set a new custom filter and track ranking down to the position.
Even with only page ranking data it’s helpful to have this information right in Google Analytics (it shows up in the Visitors > User Defined section).
Alternatively you can drop your keywords into a tool like SEOBook’s Rank Checker, which will check your ranking position (and the URL of the ranked page) for multiple keywords.
Note: if you’re going to set up a Custom Filter as above you’ll want to create a new Profile for your website first. Why? If something goes wrong and you end up filtering too much data it’s gone for good.
2) Filter your branded terms
Not that branded or navigational terms are a bad sign – in fact, they tell you a lot about how your off-site marketing is working. And some returning users navigate by dropping your URL into a search box (a bit backwards, but hey, it takes all kinds).
But non-branded terms are often where the real opportunity lies in growing your business through increasing search traffic.
When you’re viewing a keyword report you can filter out branded terms by using the “Filter Keyword” box at the bottom of the report. To filter multiple keywords separate terms with a pipette |, as below:
The “Filter Keyword” box is also great for focusing on a group of keywords based on a root keyword. For example, if the website you’re working with offers accounting services, you can select “Containing” from the drop-down menu and enter “Audit” to include only keywords containing that root word. This is great when you’re separating keywords into branches during your research.
3) Compare date ranges
The best way to growth trends in your search traffic is to compare time periods.
Google Analytics includes a handy feature that allows you to compare date ranges. Just click on the date range at the top right of your report, check the “Compare to Past” box and provide your comparison date ranges :
This is very useful for demonstrating growth over time:
Even down to the individual keyword level:
4) Visualize the “long tail”
It can be tough to explain the benefits of the long tail of search traffic. SEO consultants are used to clients focusing on those few broad keywords they want to rank for. However, any SEO worth her salt knows that the real value of search traffic is found in the long tail – those hundreds and thousands of keyword variations that, while they don’t each bring in a ton of traffic, combined make up the lion’s share of traffic and revenue.
Navigate to Traffic Sources > Keywords and click on the pie chart button to demonstrate visually the percentage of traffic (or revenue) that comes in through the long tail of search. You’ll almost always get a Pac Man shape – the biggest portion made up of keywords other than those top 10.
5) Set conversion points (“Goals”)
Google Analytics allows you to set a page URL as a “Goal” – which, once it’s set up and tracking properly, offers some crucial information. To set this up view the settings for your profile:
You can specify the steps that lead to your goal (great for checkout steps on eCommerce websites) which provides a nifty Funnel Visualization (great for identifying exit points in your checkout process):
Goals are also tracked against other metrics – providing some great actionable data even down to the keyword level:
The ability to track conversion rates per keyword is powerful. You can use this data to determine your most valuable keywords – then re-target your pages for the best terms.
Note: you can only add four Goals per profile (but you can create multiple profiles for your website).
6) Track visitor value
If you’re running an eCommerce site hopefully you’re tracking revenues with Google Analytics eCommerce tracking code. If you aren’t I’d set that up lickity split. The information is crucial if you’re looking to chop the dead wood out of your campaign over time (and shouldn’t you be?):
Even when your site isn’t a pure eCommerce website (such as a lead-generation website) it’s important to calculate the average value of a goal. Obviously you’re not going to end up with accurate-enough data for your accountant, but setting a goal value allows you to measure against advertising costs (such as pay-per-click campaigns).
To set up a goal value navigate to your profile settings and click to either add or edit a goal.
7) Mine keyword data for your PPC campaigns
Both numbers #5 and 6 above provide you with great per-keyword information in the way of identifying your truly valuable search traffic (and where it’s coming from).
This information is also a great place to start when you’re looking to launch a new pay-per-click campaign. Some of the guess work is already removed from the equation. When you can’t improve your organic rankings for keywords that tend to convert well and bring in revenue (or, at least, organic rankings are a long-term goal) you can make a well-educated guess as to how profitable these keywords will be in PPC.
For example, the circled keyword in the screenshot below is likely a good target for PPC traffic. Of course you’ll want to check the traffic potential, costs-per-click, etc, all against your profit margin, but with the conversion data already in play you’re way ahead of the game.
8) Use Advanced Segments to focus on search traffic
Normally when you browse to a section in Google Analytics, such as “Content,” you’re looking at traffic per page overall. The “Top Landing Pages” option, for example, will show you what pages had the most Entrances (or what pages were the first pages visitors landed at) along with Bounce Rate and other data. However, only a portion of this traffic comes from search engines. You have to drill into each page and then to “source keywords” to find out what keywords people used to find those pages.
Advanced Segments allows you to focus in on a specific traffic source or other dimension or metric. So you can, for example, view the Top Landing Pages report only for search-referred traffic.
You can also compare one segment against another. For example, the screenshot below demonstrates comparing Non-paid Search Traffic with Referral Traffic – you can view this comparison data across most reports.
To create your own Advanced Segment for inclusion in your reports look for the “Advanced Segments” link on the lower-left of your profile view:
Once inside the Advanced Segments interface, click the “Create new custom segment” link at the top right:
Then you need to pick what metric(s) and dimension(s) to filter your segment by. The possibilities are vast.
9) Combine ranking and traffic reports, sort accordingly
Here’s one of my favorite ways to find new content and ranking opportunities, step-by-step:
- In Google Analytics, navigate to Traffic Sources > Search Engines > Google and select “non-paid” to avoid including any AdWords data.
- Filter your branded keywords (see #2 above)
- Change the “Show rows” drop-down from “10” to “100” – this will display your top 100 traffic-referring non-branded keywords from Google.
- Choose “Export” at the top of the report screen, and select “CSV for Excel”
- Pull up the spreadsheet in Excel
- Remove extra formatting / rows
- Select all 100 keywords
- Drop them into SEOBook Rank Checker
- When Rank Checker completes its report, export that to CSV, open in Excel and copy/paste the Google.com URL and Google.com Position rows into your Google Analytics spreadsheet
- Sort by ranking (ascending) and then by traffic (descending)
What you end up with is a list of traffic-referring keywords sorted by ranking and then traffic.
The aim: find some keywords you’re only ranking on page two for (or thereabouts) but that still seem to refer traffic – then either A) create new content targeting these keywords or B) re-optimize your already-ranking pages for these keywords.
10) Track non-page-load actions (like RSS subscriptions)
One issue with the way Google Analytics tracks conversions is that it requires a page load event. That means Goals have to involve the visitor landing at a specific URL on your site (such as a “Thank You” page once they’ve completed a form or purchased something).
However, using the pageTracker._trackPageview() function you can make track just about anything as a page load.
For example, I’m tracking the “Subscribe” link at the top of the left column as a Goal. Every time a user clicks to subscribe to our RSS feed it’s recorded – and we can view this data in any of our reports to see where we tend to get the most RSS subscribers.
Here’s what this looks like in our source code:
For more information on using the pageTracker._trackPageview() function I recommend viewing the “Event Tracking and Virtual Pageviews” presentation at Google’s Conversion University.
There’s a lot to get into with Google Analytics. Far too much to cover in a single blog post, and far more than I’d ever have the insight and ability to discuss effectively.
If you’re inclined to learn more about Google Analytics and Web Analytics in general I’d recommend the following resources:
- Conversion University – Google’s “IQ Lessons” for Google Analytics, intended for those who wish to test for Google Analytics Individual Qualification. I received my qualification earlier this year (I was #264 to do it). Conversion University offers a lot of great information, and the multimedia presentations make it easy to digest.
- Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik – Avinash is Google’s Analytics Evangelist and a brilliant blogger on the topic. This is a must-read blog for anyone interested in analytics. He frequently uses Google Analytics for his walkthroughs and examples. He also wrote Web Analytics: An Hour a Day and just finished writing his second book, Web Analytics 2.0, which isn’t out yet but is sure to be widely-read. This page on Occam’s Razor lists various Videos and Podcasts on Web Analytics and is worth bookmarking.
- ROI Revolution Blog – ROI Revolution is a North Carolina agency that specializes in Google AdWords, Analytics, Website Optimizer and Urchin – in short, they know Google’s platforms inside and out. Their blog reflects this, offering many useful insights into Google Analytics and related topics.
- Analytics Talk – Justin Cutroni blogs on various analytics issues, often focusing on Google Analytics in particular. A great blog worth reading and subscribing to.