SEO Basics: Tracking Results with Analytics
by Joe Mascaro
This is the seventh and final post in Growth Spark’s SEO Basics for Business Owners series.
So, you’ve been working hard on improving your SEO, but how do you know if it is getting the results you want? You can search for your keywords to see that they are higher in the rankings. You can keep track of how many orders you get. But the best way is to use analytics software, where you can see the real statistics of people that visit your site, where they come from, and what they do there. Armed with this information you will know which SEO tactics are working, and you can go back to the beginning and continuously improve.
The most popular way to keep track of your website visitor’s statistics is Google Analytics (free). While Google is the leader, they do have some competition worth mentioning. Clicky (basic free, pro $10/month) provides a high level of detail on individual visitors. Mint ($30/site) is a self-hosted analytics program. Crazy Egg (basic $10/month) tracks exactly where people click on your site, very useful for optimizing layout and determining behaviors of visitors from different sources. The great thing about analytics programs is that you can use as many as you want simultaneously, and many people use more than one.
There’s so much information available though, that it’s hard not to be blown away and engulfed all at once. This post will run you through the basic and most important reports in Google Analytics.
Setting up Google Analytics
Setting up Google Analytics (GA) is relatively simple. It requires that you get a piece of code and insert it in the footer of every page that you wish to track. To get the code, sign in to your Google account at http://www.google.com/analytics/. If it is your first time setting up analytics, Google will guide you through the process. If you’re going back a second time, you want to find the profile you created for your website, and select ‘Edit.’ On the next page, at the top right of the ‘Main Website Profile Information’ box, click “check status.” Now you will be presented with the code that needs to be inserted into your website.
At this stage, just copy & paste the code into each page just before the </body> tag. If your website is built using PHP, you can usually just paste it once into the footer.php file and it will be displayed on every page that includes the footer. If you’re using a CMS such as WordPress, you can use a plugin which will insert the analytics tracking code into each page. If you’re not sure about this step, since it is a little technical, contact your website developer or manager and they should be able to do it for you. In fact, installing analytics should be a basic included feature in any website build project.
The first thing you will see when you open up GA for the first time is the dashboard. It looks like there is a lot of information here, but it really only scratches the surface. It is highly customizable, but the default GA Dashboard shows you Site Usage, Visitors Overview, Map Overlay, Traffic Sources Overview, and Content Overview.
The Site Usage section gives you a really good brief glance at general user behavior on your site. You can see how many pages the average person visited, how many people left the site after viewing only one page (Bounce Rate), how long people spend on the site on average, and how many of the people are new visitors.
The Visitors Overview section is basically a reflection of the main graph, and so it is the least useful of the default panels. You can remove it by clicking the x at the top right of its box.
The Map Overlay is very cool to look at. It tells you what part of the world your visitors are coming from and, if you click on it, it can even drill down to the individual city. While it is a very cool feature, for most businesses it won’t actually give you much actionable data. It will most of the time look like the image above for US companies: the States are dark green, and other countries are white or light green.
Traffic Sources and Content Overview are the most useful for SEO reasons. Traffic Sources tells you whether your visitors came directly (typed in your URL), were referred by another site (clicked a link), or came from search engines. The Content Overview tells you what the most popular pages on your site are.
But these overview reports are not specific enough to really let you know at a glance if your SEO efforts are working. There are a few other elements that you can add to your dashboard to make it a bit more useful.
Click on ‘view report’ in the Traffic Sources Overview, then on the next page under keywords on the bottom right click “View Full Report.” This brings you to a page which lists your keywords which people used to find your site. On this page, below the graph, you will want to click ‘non-paid,’ because we want to look at only organic keywords. This is where you can see how each of your keywords is doing in terms of how much traffic it sends to your site. You can click the “Add to Dashboard” button at the top of the page to add this to your dashboard.
We’ll get a little more advanced for the next section, even though this is an Analytics basics article. A great thing to be able to see is which pages people are coming to directly from the search engine results. Do get this, we will have to use an Advanced Segment, but GA makes this feature really easy to use.
On the left-side navigation, go to Content, then Top Landing Pages. The display will show all of the pages people landed on when they first visited your site. We want to narrow it down a bit to show only the ones that came from search engines results pages. To do that, just go to the top-right corner where it shows the Advanced Segments selector. Click on that, and select the box which says “Non-paid Search Traffic.” Not it is showing your most effective pages in regards to SEO: the ones that are pulling in the most search engine traffic.
You can add the top landing pages to your dashboard, but the advanced segments will not be contained in the small dashboard box. So, it will not show only the landing pages from search traffic, but from all traffic sources.
As you look through the different sections of GA, you will find some sections particularly useful and interesting, and you can always add those to your dashboard as well. Each website is different, and will have a different set of metrics that are important. Other features that are likely to be on the dashboard are ecommerce tracking and goals, which leads us to the next section:
Analytics Goal Setting and Tracking
While the dashboard is nice to look at to give you information quickly, you can leave it as-is. But you need to set up goals for your website!
Goals are how you track whether users are doing what you want them to do. For every website it might be different. It may be to buy a product, to register an account, sign up for a newsletter, download a white paper, or even just to view over a certain number of pages. In reality, each website will likely have many goals that they would like visitors to complete.
The reason that goals are so important is that they are the real measurement of your success. Visitor counts and bounce rates might be interesting, but they don’t show you if any visitors are converting into potential customers.
If you haven’t set up Goals yet, click the button in the left-hand navigation and it will bring you to a Goals Overview page where you can click “Set up goals and funnels.” If you already have set up goals though, you will have to go back to the Edit section of your profile (the page before you got the tracking code), and you can edit goals there. Either way, we get to the same place.
In GA, you are allowed to have up to 20 goals organized into 4 groups. Click ‘add goal’ to start a new one. Let’s use the example that we want a visitor to download a free brochure. They will typically click the download brochure link from the homepage, then are brought to the download success page once the download is complete. For purposes of example, let’s say that one out of every ten people that download the brochure end up making a purchase that results in $100 of revenue. Here’s how to set up this goal :
Some things to note that are important: You should, if possible, always have a Goal Value set for your goal. This is how you can tell which visitors and keywords are making you money, and which aren’t. Especially when you have many goals set up that are worth different amounts, this will be the indicator of success. To find a goal value, take the percent of people who will make a purchase, times the average revenue per customer for this action. In the above example we have 10% x $100 = $10 as our equation.
Conversion Rate x Average Revenue per Customer = Goal Value
The Goal Funnel represents the normal path that a visitor will take to arrive at your goal. Here it is only 2 clicks, but some actions may be longer (such as signing up for an account). If you set this up, GA can show you a visual representation of where people enter and exit your Funnel. It is a great indicator of which pages are effective, and how many clicks people are willing to go through to reach a certain goal. While it is an optional feature, I recommend it.
Conclusions and More Resources
This post on basic analytics tracking for SEO really only touched on a few of the main things you will want to do when you first set up Google Analytics. As you dive in to the different sections, you will find that there is almost too much information to handle. Advanced reports and segments will help you filter out some of the noise, and ecommerce tracking is essential for anyone running an online store or ecommerce website. These may be featured in future posts here at Growth Spark, but for now I would like to leave you with some articles that go deeper into the world of analytics for those who are interested.
- A Guide to Google Analytics and Useful Tools
- The Missing Google Analytics Manual
- Official GA Blog: Back to Basics
- Introduction to Google Analytics
By Joe Mascaro, June 2010