Since the early days of SEO and search engines, web analytics has been one of the primary tools for every marketer.
While the SEO industry is obsessed with the number of inbound links, linking domains, indexed pages, trust rank and a dozen other metrics, it all comes down to the business effect and KPIs measured and reported by web tracking tools. Many SEO rookies are preoccupied with the vanity metrics mentioned above, but the real ninjas know how to leverage web analytics tools like Google Analytics and Piwik to move in the right direction.
So before jumping into purchases of expensive specialist software to measure the effects of your SEO activities, first try using the range of over 160 free tools of OnPpage.org and learn what your web tracking platform can already tell you. You may be surprised how much you can learn without spending a penny.
In this article I would like to outline and discuss a few examples of the most useful web analytics reports and KPIs that should become an integral part of your SEO toolkit. Some of the metrics will help you measure your SEO performance, while others will give you an idea how to modify your strategy for better results. Read on!
1. Building SEO dashboards
One of the most important tasks to perform before actually jumping into any SEO activities is setting up the dashboard inside your web analytics tool. Your reports should be focused on your most important SEO KPIs. Free to use tools like Google Analytics or Piwik offer extensive flexibility when it comes to dashboard creation.
Something to remember is that, in order for them to be effective, dashboards should be treated as a summary of the most vital KPIs. The key is selecting the right reports instead of squeezing in as much data as possible.
A well-crafted dashboard will prove useful for your company’s stakeholders and clients. Firstly, it’s a great way of showing the value of SEO and its impact on the business, especially if you can include KPIs with assigned monetary values. Secondly, dashboards can save you a lot of time. Even just a quick glance can tell you a lot, and you’ll be able to conveniently observe if your SEO is moving in the right direction.
When building a SEO dashboard I would consider including some of the following KPIs:
Monthly and daily number of visits generated by non-brand SEO traffic
Conversion rate for the non-brand SEO traffic
Number of pages (URL addresses) responsible for bringing SEO traffic to your website
E-commerce conversion rates for SEO-generated visitors
Average conversion value / order value for SEO-generated visitors
Let me just clarify that by non-brand traffic I mean visitors who found your website using keywords not directly associated with your brand or website name. Usually it is easy to exclude such entries using advanced segmentation in you web analytics tool.
Of course, the list I’ve provided is not exhaustive and can be extended based on your personal needs or your business requirements. Below is an example of a SEO dashboard created in Google Analytics for an ecommerce website:
Figure 1: A well-prepared dashboard lets you see all your key metrics in one place
As you can see, this is a simple dashboard but it covers most of the previously mentioned KPIs. Here you can find:
Number of SEO visits and traffic distribution among search engines
Average SEO visits for the given time period
Average bounce rate for SEO visits
Average e-commerce conversion rate for SEO-generated visits
Many other KPIs focused on user engagement
2. Analyzing your long tail traffic
Since almost every company, from small e-commerce websites to big corporations, is doing SEO, it has evolved into an extremely competitive field. It is almost impossible nowadays to become visible for single- or two- phrase keywords within a reasonable amount of time. This why long tail SEO has become extremely important and popular.
Unfortunately, Google and its (not provided) is blocking web analytics tools from revealing what long tail keywords visitors used to find your website. Fortunately, there is a metric – albeit slightly hidden – in Piwik PRO and Google Analytics that can be very helpful when analyzing long tail traffic.
This particular metric is the number of entry pages that generate your SEO traffic (number of SEO landing pages). The assumption here is that if you are doing long tail SEO, you have to rely heavily on content. Therefore, you will focus on publishing new quality media as frequently as possible. The way to measure if this approach brings the expected results is to measure the number of SEO landing pages with growing traffic and visibility provided by Google.
This information can be found more or less in the same place in Google Analytics and Piwik. Check your Landing Pages report in Google Analytics (Entry Pages in Piwik) and apply segmentation or a filter displaying only SEO visitors in your report:
Figure 2: Google Analytics’ Landing Pages report
Next, scroll down to the bottom of the report. There you will find the number that represents the metric we are looking for:
Figure 3: The number of landing pages gives you a better idea of how your long tail traffic is doing
As you can see on the screenshot above, the analyzed website was receiving organic traffic during the tracked time period through 2839 SEO landing pages. What is important here is to review this metric once or twice a month to see the progress, especially if you are doing long tail SEO and publishing a lot of new content.
3. Trying to uncover the cursed – revisiting the (not provided) case
As mentioned in the previous section, the (not provided) factor has been a huge issue for SEO practitioners ever since its introduction by Google. There is no single, simple solution that web analytics tools can offer to overcome this hurdle. You will find other features on the web showing how integrating Google Search Console with Google Analytics can offer significant help here, but there may still be an important piece of information missing. For instance, data from Google Search Console may not be easily matched with landing pages insights within a single report.
What I want to demonstrate is how you can associate the (not provided) data with particular keywords used to optimize your pages and try to predict which keywords are triggering entries to your website.
First, you should apply a segment / filter to your web analytics report that will present only data for visitors entering your website through search engines. Most web analytics tools by default offer a segment called “Organic” or “Search Engines”. However, you may want to modify this segment by excluding entries via brand keywords directly related to your website or brand.
If you have already have applied a “Organic Traffic” segment, we recommend navigating to the “All Pages” report and hitting the “Page Titles” tab which will display all the SEO landing pages in the form of page titles instead of a page url. This option is offered by Google Analytics as well as other platforms. Here’s an example of what the page title report looks like in Google Analytics:
Figure 4: Page title report in Google Analytics
So what SEO insights you can get from this report? Well, if you’ve been doing SEO for some time now, you know that in most cases the keywords your page is ranked the highest for are the keywords listed in your page’s < title > tag.
I suggest looking for the following patterns:
Your home page will most certainly be the top visited page. This is probably because it gets 90% of all the brand-related search traffic from Google and other search engines. Something to remember before drawing conclusions is which keywords are driving traffic to your home page.
Look for pages with a lot of entries and page views but with low bounce rates. These pages are most probably ranking high for the keywords placed in the title tag, and these keywords are driving the most traffic to such pages.
Look for pages getting a lot of entries and page views while recording significantly high bounce rates. High bounce rates may mean that these pages rank lower for title tags keywords, but still benefit from long tail keywords. At the same time, there may be not enough content for those long tail keywords, so the users bounce off without finding the information they may be looking for.
This report is also a great opportunity to look for pages with poorly-worded titles featuring low-quality keywords. If you spot title tags that don’t seem to be optimized, this is an opportunity for you to react.
You may also notice perfectly optimized pages with keyword-rich title tags, yet still only receiving few visits. This might mean that despite having optimized tags these pages require further onpage optimization.
4. Analyzing the performance of your inbound links
There are plenty of dedicated tools on the market that allow you to track the progress of your link building, like Majestic SEO, MOZ, or Ahrefs, just to name a few. But only your web analytics tool will help you to track the growth of the most valuable links. And the most precious URLs are the ones that not only bring value to SEO, but are also capable of generating new visitors to your website. Your web analytics tool will be perfectly suitable to spot this kind of new link coming your way.
For this purpose you should be using the “Referrals” report in Google Analytics. Once again, the metric that we are looking for can seem a bit hard to find at first. Beware not to overlook it!
As soon as you enter your Referrals report, scroll down to the bottom where you will find the number of referring websites / domains to your website over the chosen period of time.
Figure 5: Use the referrals report in Google Analytics to discover how many domains are linking to your website
When you are very active with your link building efforts, for example by doing a lot of guest blogging, this will be a great metric for tracking your progress. You can examine this report once a month and see if the number of links really generating traffic is growing. If it is, you’ve got a great sign that you are doing your link building like a PRO. If you see that your SEO links are not generating any traffic this probably means that they are of low quality and value to Google.
5. Finding 404 pages and fixing broken links
It’s common sense that 404 pages and broken links are bad for SEO and spotting those onpage bugs is one of the last use cases of web analytics. Spotting 404 pages can be easily done in tools, such as OnPage.org’s Link Checker, but it can be also found in most of the web tracking platforms. All you need is the “Page Title” report that we have already mentioned in this article.
With OnPage.org Zoom you can easily identify 404 pages found on your website by the OnPage bot. To do this, simply go to the Zoom Module, select “Indexability” → “Status Codes”, and click on 4xx status codes.
Figure 6: Identify 404 pages using OnPage.org
Next thing you need to know is the contents of the title tag on your 404 pages. This should be fairly easy. Just visit one of your 404 pages by typing something like http://yourdomain.com/randomletters and you should be presented with a 404 page like the one below:
Figure 7: An example of 404 message displayed on Piwik PRO website.
In the above example the title tag of the 404 page goes along the lines of “Page not found – Piwik PRO – Cloud and Enterprise Analytics”. With this knowledge we can go straight to the Page Title report (in this example we’re using Piwik, but it’s very similar in Google Analytics):
Figure 8: After viewing the 404 page, look for its title in the Page Title report
As you can see, Piwik found that there were around 85 unique visits to 404 pages in the given time period. This means that there were at least a few 404 pages which should be updated or redirected to working pages on our website. The next step would be to see where those 404 pages are. The majority of web analytics tools provides us with a useful feature called “Transition”, “Visitors flow”, “Navigation analytics”, or something similar. In our example we found that the 404 pages were accessed in the following manner:
Figure 9: Page Transitions report in Piwik is very similar to its Google Analytics counterpart
Now using data from the above report you can go page by page and look for all the broken links you have that lead to 404 pages. This is just one of the many easy ways to find optimization opportunities on your website.
As you can see, free OnPage.org tools and web analytics insights can be a vital supporting element of your SEO efforts, no matter which tracking platform you use. Deploying the ideas described above can help you uncover which areas of your website optimization are going well and which ones may require more attention and improvement.
Make sure you spend some time creating a dedicated SEO dashboard in your analytics platform, as it will certainly pay off. Embrace the power of advanced segmentation to investigate your long tail traffic and some of your (not provided) keywords. Use referrers reports to analyze your link building efforts. Finally, pay some attention to the Page Titles report to discover broken links.
And whenever you feel confused, remember about the vast OnPageWiki resources – you’ll find some great answers there. Good luck and happy optimizing!