Many people use Google Analytics for Search Engine Optimisation. As you may know, I started my digital life way back(!) in 1997 in web development and SEO – odd as it seems now, at that time Alta Vista was the Google of its day and Google was still a university project at Standford called Backrub. Although I now focus more on the overall performance of websites for clients, I am still very active when it comes to search engine optimisation. I was therefore honoured when Dave Chaffey asked me to do an interview for his Marketing Insights blog.

Below is reprint of the interview I did last month. I reporduce here to keep my thoughts in one place…

BTW, I am a regular reader of Dave’s material – both at Marketing Insights and his work for eConsultancy . Both are great resources for the digital marketer – end of plug :)

The questions:

SEO Improvement process

Dave Chaffey : As a consultant, please could you outline your process for using Google Analytics to improve results from SEO? Please outline the steps you take.

Brian Clifton : The key to being successful in this field, is not to treat your SEO as a silo. It has to be part of the bigger marketing, communication and business picture. For example, if your marketing team are about to launch a TV campaign, its important that words/phrases associated with that campaign lead to your web site should people search for them online. Ideally that will be via organic search for the main part with PPC filling in the gaps.

Similarly, visits from social networks will reflect your search visibility, so one eye needs to be kept on these.

Alongside co-ordinating the strategy, I establish benchmarks (Key Performance Indicators) for SEO. This is important for drawing a line in the sand and managing expectations. The first step is segmenting your organic visits i.e. grouping together all your organic traffic separately from the rest of your visits. That is done by default in Google Analytics, though you may wish to customise the list of search engines for local markets (see this post from me )

KPIs usually involve you extracting data from the reports in order to make the calculation specific to your organisation. However, some can be plucked right out of Google Analytics.

Here are some typical KPIs I use to help search marketers:

  • Keyword Performance – the percentage of search traffic from Top 10 keywords (also top 25, 100 keywords etc). Also this should be percentage of revenue, percentage of conversions. This provides insight into your long tail, in terms of its scale and value. Generally who will want to increase this value.
  • Brand Engagement – the percentage of search traffic that has used your brand or product name when the visitor conducted their search. Brand reputation is expensive to build in any channel as this metric allows you to measure it. Most organisations will wish to increase this, though publishers generally wish to decrease it i.e. attract new readers looking for subject information.
  • Pages yielding search traffic – the percentage of your pages (as a fraction of your total search visible content), that brought you search engine visitors. In theory, this should be close to 100%, that is all your content should be search visible and therefore bring you search engine traffic, though in practice this is very rare.
  • Bounce rates – these can be obtained directly from your Google Analytics reports. A bounce is a single page (or event) visit and reflects poor engagement. Therefore every marketer wishes to reduce this. As a guide, I use a traffic light system – red requires urgent attention (great tan 50% bounce rate), amber means there is potential improvement (20-30% bounce rate), green is all clear (less than 20% bounce rate).

Of course on-site metrics are only one part (though a major part) of the puzzle. Other tools such as Google Trends, data from comScore, Hitwise etc. should also be used as these provide insight as to your potential audience.

Keyword research

DC : How can marketers use Google Analytics for keyword discovery? Which techniques do you recommend for identifying new keyphrases or qualifiers to target?

BC: The greatest potential insight into discovering new keywords to target comes from your Site Search reports. Site Search is the Google terminology used for describing the internal search engine of your web site. Essentially, any web site with more than 100 pages/products of content needs a decent Site Search facility for visitors to find information quickly and efficiently.

Apart from its importance for navigation, site search is your direct feedback mechanism from your visitors. That is, visitors are typing in exactly what they are looking for on your web site. That can be an incredibly rich source of information and there is a dedicated report in Google Analytics to analyse this.

Ensure you are using these keywords in your external campaigns and look for new insights. For example, you may think everyone refers to your product as ‘gadget’ when in fact there could be a significant number that use ‘widget’. Your Site Search reports will tell you this and enable to you investigate the potential for targeting such alternative keywords.

Integrating SEO with Pay Per Click Activity

DC: How can use the Google Analytics keyword reports to make sure that PPC and SEO are integrated cost-effectively?

BC : The key to integration is to maximise your opportunities and minimise wastage, which usually means not duplicating your efforts. However, it never ceases to amaze me how many organisations advertise on keywords that they already rank high for organically – by that I mean they rank in positions 1-3 for the same keyword.

There is a myth that doing this has 2+2 = 5 effect, meaning advertising and simultaneously having a top three organic position produces more traffic to your web site than just having one of these alone. However, I have yet to see any study of this that stands up to a rigouress analysis*. Moreover, this situation will cannibalise your existing organic traffic, resulting in you paying for visits that were free.

Therefore, use keyword reports to look for overlaps and reduce these were possible. Keywords that have a high Per Visit Goal Value (see Q5) should be considered for organic optimisation, while those that are lower should be considered for PPC.

*I specifically refer to the top three organic positions. This duplicate approach can work if you are outside the top three.

Landing pages

DC: The main entry page for a visit is often not the best performer in terms of conversion. How do you suggest targeting the right pages against the right keyphrases?

BC: There are two very useful metrics in Google Analytics that can help with this: $Index values (Content section) and Per Visit Goal Value (Goal Conversion reports). These represent the value, in monetary terms, of a page and a visit to your web site respectively.

For example, the higher the $Index value of a page, the more important that page is to the conversion process. This is dependent on whether that particular page is visited prior to a conversion and the value of the end goal. Therefore to work, you must monetise your goals – something many web site managers forget about.

In a similar way, visits can be valued. So you can compare different referral sources in terms of their value. For example, how does YSM compare with AdWords or organic search compare with paid search advertising? You can also drill down to the keyword level for each referral source.

Clearly when it comes to optimizing your keyword and landing page combinations, you should target those visits that have the highest value to you and match those to the relevant pages that have the highest value. I recommend targeting the top 10 of each and working your way down the list.

Thanks! Dave Chaffey.