DIY SEO: Measuring Progress

Welcome to the final installment of the free do-it-yourself SEO Guide. This episode will focus on measuring your progress, how to gain insight from your stats, and acting on those insights.

By now you should know that search engine optimisation is an iterative process, part of that process includes reviewing the success of your past action to plan future action. To see exactly what impact search engine optimisation has on your site, you need to measure certain data on a regular basis. There are three main areas to measure month after month to keep you on the right track. They are:

Web Analytics: who visited your site, where did they come from and what did they do?
Search Engine Rankings: are you gaining or losing ground for important keywords in the search engine results pages?
Links: is your link profile growing? Where are your links coming from? Are your link building efforts successful?

Contents
Web Analytics
Search Engine Referrals
Keywords
Top Landing Pages
Map Overlay
Tracking Search Engine Rankings
Links

Web Analytics

Without measurement there can be no improvement.

Continuing with the theme of using only free tools, the analytics tool I recommend is Google Analytics. Not only is it free, it has a huge range of reports, is customisable and user friendly. Don’t worry if you are initially overwhelmed by how many different reports are available, there are only a handful that I will suggest you keep an eye on. However, once you feel comfortable you might find yourself digging deeper and deeper into the data.

Google Analytics requires you to add a piece of code to each of your sites pages. Depending on your site this may be as simple as adding the code once to your sites footer, or may require you to add it to each page individually. Here’s a guide to implementing Google Analytics code to html pages.  Also see getting the most out of your reports – which includes an installation checklist. Another great resource is the official Google Analytics Installation Guide – however it is quite in-depth and covers advanced installation scenarios.

Once you have installed Google Analytics you need to play the waiting game, you’ll start see to data in 24 hours, but it may take at least a week to get meaningful data. Fast forward a week or two and here are the reports you want to benchmark and keep track of month over month, ideally plotting your results so you can visually see your progress.

Compare all data to the month prior but also to the same period in the previous year. This will give show you how you are progressing month over month, as well as year over year. It will also highlight any seasonal factors affecting your stats as may notice trends of dips and spikes year after year.

For the sake of not over complicating your job and keeping in mind we want to track of the most important data relevant to your Search Engine Optimisation efforts, here are a few important metrics to track:

Search Engine Referrals
Located under Traffic Sources > Search Engines

Google Analytics Search Engines Report comparing stats from July to August

Google Analytics Search Engines Report comparing stats from July to August.

This report shows you how much traffic you are recieving from search engines, broken down by source (Google, Yahoo, Bing etc). Hopefully you will see visits from search engines increase month after month as a reflection of your search engine optimisation efforts.

You might also be interested in taking a look at your Unique Visitors report and Traffic Sources report for a higher level overview of your traffic stats and where visitors are coming from, other than search engines. You might also notice an increase in referring sites if your link building is also generating visitors.

Keywords
Located under Traffic Sources > Keywords

Google Analytics Keywords Report comparing keywords used in search engines to find the site

Google Analytics Keywords Report - Displays the actual keywords used in search engines to find the site. Comparing July to August.

This report shows you which keywords visitors are using to find your site when using search engines. Are these the keywords you optimised your site for? Are there any keywords that you should be optimising your site for?

Also take note of the total number of keywords combination used to find your site. Effective Search Engine optimisation greatly increases the number of potential keyword combinations your site can be found with.

Top Landing Pages
Located under Content > Top Landing Pages

Google Analytics Landing Pages Report comparing stats from July to August.

Google Analytics Landing Pages Report comparing stats from July to August.

This report shows you which pages visitors are entering your site on. Are these the pages you want people to see first? Are your optimised pages showing up here? Can you make changes on these pages to help them convert better or direct visitors to other content?

Try sorting the results by the Bounce Rate column. The top landing pages with the highest bounce rate need your attention first. These are the pages people are arriving on frequently and leaving without viewing any other content on your website. Find out what keywords people are using to land on this page and investigate the disconnect, obviously it is not meeting the expectations of the visitors.

Map Overlay
Located under Visitors > Map Overlay

Google Analytics Map Overlay Report comparing stats from July to August.

Google Analytics Map Overlay Report comparing stats from July to August.

This report shows you where geographically your visitors are located. This is especially important for websites that optimise for local search. If you only service or ship within your own country/state/suburb you want the majority of your visitors to live in that area.

By clicking on City, you can see a breakdown of visitors by city:

Google Analytics Map Overlay Report by City

Google Analytics Map Overlay Report by City

If this report reveals you are getting a lot of visitors from out of your serviceable area you will need to work more on local search optimisation (DIY Local Search SEO Guide coming soon).

Goals
Once you are comfortable with Google Analytics, it is also a good idea to setup goals, which tell you how well your site is converting. I’ll likely write a goal on setting up goals in the future, but for now checkout How to Setup Goals in Google Analytics.

Tracking Search Engine Rankings

While keeping track of search engine rankings can give you insight into how effective your efforts are keep in mind that the results are volatile in nature. Fluctuations occur day after day, even hour after hour. It is also normal for you to see different results compared to someone else. There are a number of reasons why, including localisation and personalisation factors. In short, try not to obssess over them.

To track your search engine rankings without breaking terms of service by using automated software, you will need to manually enter each keyword in each search engine you are interested in and review the results. This can be tedious so stick to a sample set of keywords, perhaps under 20. Don’t bother checking any deeper than 3 pages of search engine results pages, and if applicable make sure you search the Australian results.

Using a spreadsheet, list your keywords and note their rank. Revisit the spreadsheet on a monthly basis to update the ranking data. Over time you will see if your SEO/link building efforts are influencing your rankings by seeing if your keywords are gaining ground, losing ground or remaining stagnant.

Search Engine Rankings Tracked Monthly in a Spreadsheet

Search Engine Rankings Tracked Monthly in a Spreadsheet

Of course, in your spreadsheet you will replace ‘keyword 1’ with the actual keywords you are tracking. As you can see in the image above, keyword 1 has been tracked this year – in January the keyword was ranked 20 (bottom of page two of results) in Google Australia, since then it has steadily climbed up to position 7 (first page) in August. I filled this spreadsheet with example data, it is more likely you will experience fluctuations rather than simply gaining ground month after month.

If you know how to plot a graph in Excel, set it up, this will give you a visual representation of your keyword rank trending. I create a graph for each individual keyword as well as an average position graph for a general overview.

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Visual representation of a particular keyword ranking in Google, over time. (Left axis shows keyword ranking from position 30 to 1)

Graph used to display a visual representation of Google Search Engine Rankings

Visual representation of average Google Search Engine Rankings over time. (Left axis shows keyword ranking from position 30 to 1)

If you have no idea how to set it up yourself, feel free to download my example search engine rankings tracking spreadsheet with prefilled data. Simply replace ‘Keyword 1’, ‘Keyword 2’ etc with your actual keywords and replace the rankings data with your own and the graphs will populate automatically. There is a tab for each of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing).

Note: The only thing you will need to do is drag the formula from the Average row (row 14) from Augusts Average (J14) across to Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec as you go. I would prefill that data but it effects the look of the graph.

Links
There are a few ways to count your links, how to do so using Yahoo Site Explorer and Google Webmaster Tools were  explained in the last chapter, under the heading How Many Links Do I Have & Who Links To Me?

Once again you probably only want to checkup on how your link building is progressing once a month. Keep in mind that the search engines update this data sporadiacally. Also a factor is the delay between the time when you create a link, and the time a search engine crawls the page on which the link is located and then gives you credit for that link. This really depends on how often the page you created the link on is crawled. So, you might create 20 new links this month, and may not get credit for them for a couple of months.

Also consider that you can lose existing links, there are a number of possbilities why. You have no control over external sites, they may simply remove your link, change their policy, or even cease to exist (high possibility with low quality directories).

Basically, all you need to do is create a spreadsheet and keep track of how many links you have built and how many links your site is credited with each month. This should also keep you accountable for actually getting around to building new links each month!

In Conclusion

After you have benchmarked your visitors, rankings and links and begin optimising your site you should notice increases in all of those areas within 3 months.

If not, you are doing something wrong, be it chasing ridiculously competitive keywords for which your site is not relevant to, your site lacks quality content, your site has an issue effecting search engine bots,  you are using link building methods that go against the search engines TOS, or perhaps just procrasitinating – whatever the case something needs to change. Considering revisiting part one.

Good luck!

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