Here are four simple and often-overlooked tools that provide a foundation for understanding how your site is being used and for making more informed decisions for search engine optimization.
This free online service from The Big G allows you to measure traffic and visitor behavior quite easily. It’s got tons of advanced sections for slicing and dicing whatever you might need to know. Some of the most important metrics are:
Audience – How many visitors over any period of time are visiting your site? This allows you to see where things are at before and after any marketing activities.
Traffic Sources – Where does a visitor come from? Did he or she type in your site url directly or have it bookmarked? Or did the visitor come from a search engine, from your social media or any other type of marketing source? You can easily find those numbers here.
Search > Organic Keywords – This is where you can find out what keywords visitors use to arrive at your site. Before an SEO campaign, it is typical that many of the keywords are your brand name. As an SEO campaign progresses, broader keywords that you target around your product or service should generally get into the top ten. There is the dreaded “(not provided),” which is often one of the top keywords listed here which Google has hidden in recent years. Their rationale is that these are visitors who are not logged into Google services but who performed a search, then came to your site. So depending on your niche, this could be a significant number of visitors who do not show any data. A small workaround is provided below under Google Webmaster Tools!
Demographics – Get to know your visitors by country, state and city. An added bonus from a recent addition to Google Analytics is being able to see visitors in real time. This is especially cool to see for sites with a high number of visitors. You can see people visiting your site in real time and even switch to Google Earth Mode (see pic) and travel around the world as users open up your web pages.
Google Webmaster Tools
This is another free feature from Google and it may have some more technical aspects that may not be of interest to you. However, the key to this is that GWMT give you the ability to see “what’s under the hood” from a search engine perspective in case there might be something wrong. A few things here that are of interest here:
Search Traffic > Search Queries – This is a good place to find some additional search terms that gave visibility and clicks to your site with a nice graph of such over a period of time. Some of the click data doesn’t always match up to what you see in Google Analytics, but it is good to see another perspective of user behavior.
Remember the dreaded “(not provided)” part of the Google Analytics Organic Keywords section? Well this is a great work-around to help fill out what might be included in the “(not provided).” Be sure that your GA and GWMT accounts are created with the same Gmail ID, then in GA, link to the GWMT profile by going to Traffic Sources > Search Engine Optimization, then hit the button that says “Set up Webmaster Tools data sharing.” Between these two areas, you should have a more comprehensive set of keywords that resulted in traffic.
Google Index > Content Keywords – At a high level, this is how Google’s search spider views your website by tagging certain patterns of keywords on your website. If you don’t have a lot going on here that represents what you do, well, it’s time to start writing!
Search Appearance > HTML Improvements – Here we get a little bit deeper into the technical aspects of a website. It’s best to have no errors, which are typically duplicated title and meta tags, but a few won’t hurt you. If you see errors in the triple-digits, it’s time to do something about it.
Crawl > Sitemaps – This is where you can submit a specially formatted document called a sitemap.xml to search engine spiders. This file lists all of the sections of your site, such as a homepage, main sections, blog posts, etc. and sets priorities for which it should check back. Many common content management systems, such as WordPress, have plugins that you can get to generate, update and ping search spiders on a change in new content on your site.
You can additionally do this through a free site called XML Sitemaps where you can get one created for free if your site is less than 500 pages. The final sitemap.xml should be then uploaded or placed at the root level of your domain so it looks like this www.yourdomainname.com/sitemap.xml, then submitted via this section of GWMT. Once submitted, this area will show how many of your pages have been submitted to Google, and later, it will show you if there are any errors you might need to correct.
Google’s Keyword Tool
This tool was originally meant for doing research for paid advertising on Google, but it is an invaluable tool giving you insight on both keyword ideas as well as keyword demand on Google itself. This is extremely insightful information because you may find that what you think people are searching for may not be what they are really searching for. Using this data can help you understand, at a high-level, how to reference certain terms in the content, title and meta tags on your website.
Tip: Be sure to check “Exact,” which means giving you the count only for people searching for that exact keyword phrase. That’s the difference between “Mexican restaurant” and “the worst Mexican restaurant.” Obviously, you would only want to know how often the first one is searched explicitly.
This is the only non-Google tool on this list and the only one that requires a paid membership to see full data, but it’s really helpful even in it’s free form. SpyFu lets you type in a url of a competitor and see whether they are or have been doing paid Adwords campaigns and which organic keywords that they are top-ranked for.
They limit the results to only the top few in the free version, but it’s a great tool to quickly gauge whether your offline competitors are online competitors or not. Conversely, you can type in a keyword phrase and see who the top websites targeting that keyword so you can easily find new competitors.
These four tools will help you understand the landscape of your website, its traffic, its keywords and demand. Understanding the data behind your website is immensely helpful for decision-making for marketing communications, website redesigns or search engine optimization.