Surprisingly, a lot of people aren’t aware of the capabilities of Google Analytics, beyond tracking paid search efforts and being able to be synched with your Google AdWords account. It reminds me of a line in a Genesis song: “There must be some misunderstanding…there must be some kind of mistake“.
One misunderstanding about Google Analytics is that you need to have a Google AdWords account in order to open up a Google Analytics account. This is false – you can (and should) open up a GA Account, with or without advertising through AdWords.
Another misconception about GA is that it can only “…do paid search reporting”. Google Analytics can definitely help you evaluate your current / ongoing SEO efforts, as well as let you know where you stand organically, before you begin your natural optimization efforts. As we’ve known for over 10 years now, dating back to the pre-Google internet years, SEO is the foundation of a successful online presence, which is something my colleagues discuss every day on our SEO Blog, which you should subscribe to :).
There are actually plenty of reports that Google Analytics offers which can really help your natural / organic search engine work. Let me share with you some of my favorites:
1. Traffic Sources >> Search Engines (Click on “Non-Paid”)
This one is pretty obvious, right? When you access this report, you’ll be immediately shown the top 10 search engines that are responsible for driving your organic traffic. 95% of time, you’ll see Google, Yahoo, MSN / Live, AOL, and ASK, pretty much in that order. Better yet, put some context and some meaning behind this organic traffic by clicking on the “Goal Conversion” tab, and see if your organic visitors are doing what you want them to do on your site.
2. Traffic Sources >> Keywords (Click on “Non-Paid”)
This report is always the one that gets looked at after seeing the Search Engines report, because we always want to know what keywords are responsible for having our listings appear in the SERPs and being clicked on. A great way to perform some initial keyword analysis for your website is to install Google Analytics on it, wait a few weeks, and check out this report! You can also get fancy and change the views of the report table – simply click on the pie-chart, bar-chart, or the comparison to site average symbols toward the top-right of the report table (Check out my “The four views of Google Analytics” post from a while back for more info on what I’m talking about here).
3. Content >> Top Content
The Top Content report lists all of the pages on your website that have generated at least 1 pageview. By default, it will show you pages from all traffic sources, but you can easily apply the non-paid Advanced Segment (top-right of GA Interface) to view this report for only organic traffic. You can then see which pages are the most popular ones; which pages may need some optimization for higher search engine visibility, how long visitors stay on each individual page, and so on.
4. Content >> Content by Title
Perhaps you don’t care for looking at long URL strings or web page extensions, and you’d rather see the statistics for all of your website’s pages grouped by their <title> tag. Well, this report was made for you. Please note that pages with identical title tag data will be grouped together as one line item – if you have been good and have written a nice title for each page, you won’t have to worry about that.
5. Content >> Content Drilldown
It’s completely understandable that many folks aren’t aware of this report’s existence, let alone what it does (Avinash Kaushik had to explain it to me a long while back). This report groups pages by directory structure. If you use a lot of sub-directories and sub-folders, these will all be represented here in Content Drilldown. A question you could ask while looking at this report could sound like: “Are certain sub-sections of my website brining in more organic traffic than others? Are they more profitable than the rest of the pages on my site?”
6. Content >> Top Landing Pages
This is quite possibly my favorite all-time report in Google Analytics (2nd only to Map Overlay, which I heart). This report’s primary focus is on Bounce Rate. Apply the non-paid Advanced Segment to this report, and ask yourself “How are these pages performing as landing pages? Are they effective enough to keep organic traffic on my website, or is organic traffic landing on my site and then going away?” Remember that once you upload a page live on the web, it is a matter of time before it is indexed and crawled (unless you are using a no-follow / no-index meta tag). Also, the search engines are determining what your “homepage” is, by serving up the most relevant page to the user, based on their search query. Don’t just focus your efforts on making your real website’s homepage great – work on category-level, product-level, and all interior pages of your site – you only get one chance to make a first impression.
As I’ve mentioned twice already, you can easily apply the non-paid Advanced Segment at any time in Google Analytics, thereby turning your entire Google Analytics profile into an SEO reporting platform! If you know what you’re doing, and are technically-oriented, you can apply filters to your profiles that, for example, only track organic / natural traffic, and you can also edit the Google Analytics Tracking Code so that it will count your favorite website(s) as organic search engines, or, count your least favorite ones as direct traffic.
Yes – Google Analytics is your newest, best-SEO-friend!