Marketers new to analytics for SEO must understand which signals and metrics may have the greatest impact on their business.
I'm often asked of analytics, "Where do I start with real basics?" When analyzing the performance of any website, the main focus is almost always traffic, which is defined as the number of visitors. Yet web analytics involves so much more.
With all the information available, it becomes easy to track a variety of signals that might affect the website/business. These signals can help site owners understand how visitors behave within the website and provide insight on how to take advantage of the traffic.
Web Analytics Worth Watching
When you're just getting started, it's important to understand which signals and metrics may have the greatest impact on your business. Attending to these will also have a positive impact on the overall SEO of the site.
Number of Visits
Number of visits is undeniably important. It is the foundation of measuring any site's performance. However, in order to truly optimize a site, it is important to analyze a variety of other things. Why are these additional aspects of performance important? Because each one provides insight on how visitors behave in the website. Gaining a deeper understanding of that behavior makes it easier to understand how well the website works converting visitors into conversions. In terms of SEO, more traffic to your site indicates at a basic level your site's relative authority on your subject matter. However there's a bit more to consider than that.
Average Number of Pages Visited
If users enter the website to get information and flow through smoothly to the desired course of action, then the website seems to be performing fine. However, if users land on a page and then leave the website quickly, something may be wrong. Even in instances where traffic appears to be flowing smoothly from entry page to conversion, average number of pages visited can help provide insight as to whether or not the path to conversion may be shortened, potentially increasing conversion further. Improving the average number of pages visited on your site is another signal to search engines of the relative quality and authority of your site. Improving these numbers can also improve the overall rankings of your site.
Average Time on Site
This is the measurement of the duration of someone's visit to the website and another constructive indicator of site performance. Where some of these metrics have generally accepted target numbers (see bounce rate below), average time on site will vary exponentially depending on the nature of the site and industry. For example, users will linger far longer on online gaming sites than they will if they just want to see the weather in their city on their local newspaper website.
The key to utilizing this metric is in figuring out the patterns and standard times for your site. Look for patterns in similar pages within given categories. Then analyze the pages or areas of the site that don't fit those patterns to see what kind of intelligence can be gained. Ultimately, analyzing average time on site can help gain a better understanding of visitors, allowing you to figure out what works best for your audience and deliver content accordingly. Like Average Pages Visited, Time on Site is also a signal the search engine algorithms use to establish relative quality and authority for a site, so again, it's in a site's best interest to pay attention to and (where possible) improve this statistic.
The bounce rate is the percent of visitors who visited a single page in the website and then exited in less than 30 seconds. Bounce rates can vary from page to page. In general, the bounce rate should be under 50 percent; the lower, the better. The rate can vary depending on the page. Analyzing pages with high bounce rates can help you understand why visitors are not satisfied with the website and/or the information found on the landing page. If visitors spend very little time on the page, it is likely something needs to be changed. Bounce rate also is a strong indicator of a page and site's overall quality. Reducing bounce rates signals a strong user experience to the search engine algorithms, so improving these scores can help improve SEO.
A great way to track results is by setting up goals. Goals can be defined as almost any individual call to action: tracking leads, sells, upsells, downloads and more. One good example of how goals can be used is to track the number of visitors who simply visited a site's contact us page, versus the number of visitors who visited the page and sent a message. By comparing the number of visitors who visited the page with the number of visitors who actually sent a message and factoring in some of the metrics described previously, it is possible to understand what may need to change on that page to get more leads. Conversions, like the metrics that preceded it, also signal overall site quality to the engines. If a fair number of visitors are following efficient paths in a timely fashion, resulting in a desired action, this is the definition of a successful site and ultimately has a positive impact on a site's authority scores and placement in the engines.
Keywords are by far one of the most important pieces of information provided by any analytics tool. Of course, it's becoming harder to get a complete picture of a site's keyword landscape since Google made the move to secured search. However, it is still a good idea to pay attention to the most searched keywords generating traffic. Search Engine Watch offers 10 Ways to Get Organic Search Data for those seeking an alternative to keyword data in analytics.
Keywords provide the most direct intelligence and opportunity to have a positive impact on a site's SEO. By examining keyword performance for a site and cross referencing those keywords against a basic ranking report. one can identify keyword opportunities where direct optimization may need to occur. For example, it may become apparent that there are some previously unnoticed keyword phrases which draw solid traffic and excellent conversion numbers, which rank in competitive, but not top ranking positions. With some quick investigation, it becomes apparent that these keyword phrases have low to modest competition. Careful optimization of the site may make it possible to improve the ranking of those keyword phrases incrementally, pushing them even higher in the SERPs and having a measurable positive impact on site performance.
Web analytics for SEO is no different from any other marketing research information people relied on the past. Looking at the analytics can help us to determine what's working and what's not. It can also tell us what types of products or services are generating more leads, or what type of information visitors are interested in. It is all about knowing your customers better so you can provide them better service and sell to them better.
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Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.
Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.
A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.
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