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5.3 Alternative measures in GA

Alternative ways to measure SEO with Google Analytics

Here are 10 ways to measure the value of your SEO efforts in a “not provided” world.

Measure the overall volume of organic search traffic over time

Instead of worrying about how your site ranks for certain keywords, focus on the bigger picture: overall traffic and conversions. Analytics can tell you about this in the Acquisition reports: in the All Traffic report, select Organic Search as the primary dimension and look at the pattern over a suitable date range such as the last year.

Segment organic search traffic by landing page

Still want some detail about keyword performance? In the Keywords report (which, remember, reports on all organic search traffic), select Landing Page as the primary dimension. This will give you a view of the pages on your site that are getting the most organic search traffic, which gives you a much quicker indication than individual keywords of which content is working for you. If the number one landing page on your site is the homepage by a large margin, don’t panic: this is common for established brands, and the homepage often represents a branded query. If you want to get advanced with your reporting, try inferring brand/non-brand to your landing pages based on the URL and reporting on each separately.

Use landing pages as a secondary dimension

Consider keeping Keyword as the primary dimension, and view Landing Page as a secondary dimension if there are still some useful specifics about keywords in the Keywords report or if your “not provided” count is still providing valuable data.

There are lots of secondary dimensions you could use to break down who your “not provided” searchers are: are they new visitors? How high is their bounce rate? How well are they converting? All this won’t tell you what search terms they’re using, but it will help you go from “I have no idea what these visitors/keywords are” to “This looks like it might be my non-brand, possibly long-tail traffic” – that is, traffic that results from many different search terms each used by just a few people. Breaking down the big, scary block of “not provided” traffic in this way will help you start to get to know the different groups of visitors you’re getting and understand something about how they behave.

To make this approach faster, create an advanced Segment for your “not provided” traffic – that is, with the condition Keyword exactly matches “(not provided)” – and then apply it to your standard Landing Pages report, or other reports, and dig deeper into how this traffic performs.

Use filters to make “Not Provided” more meaningful

If this approach proves fruitful for you, you can take it to the next level and combine the organic keywords and landing pages into a single field by creating filters for a new View in Google Analytics. This will make it easier to try out further combinations of primary and secondary dimensions to interrogate your data further. Remember, though, that filtering the entire View will pre-filter the data before any reports receive it, so make sure you create a new View and set up the filter within this, to preserve your current and original unfiltered Views. Note, too, that filters apply only from the time when you create them, so there won’t be any matching historical data to use as a basis for a like-for-like comparison.

Econsultancy provides a useful guide to creating an appropriate filter. What it does is look at the incoming search terms information, and where the search term is “not provided”, it looks to see which page that visitor landed on. Your Keywords report in Google Analytics is changed to show either the search term if it’s known or the landing page if it’s not, all within the same table. The big advantage is that you can now apply combinations of primary and secondary dimensions to address questions such as what are my likely brand visitors (homepage landers) doing compared to non-brand (specific topic page), how much traffic is buyers (product page landers) compared to researchers, and what type of content is each type of visitor looking for?

Use Multi-Channel Funnels to prove value

The last-click attribution model (see the Attribution section in the accompanying ‘Key features of your Google Analytics account’ playbook) is especially unfair to organic search, which gets no credit for bringing a customer to your site in the first place. You get a much better indication of the value of search in the Assisted Conversions report, which should include most searches that played any part in conversions at whatever stage. This report can also help you assess what proportion of your search traffic might be informational (near the top of the sales funnel) as opposed to transactional (near the end).

Hook up with Google Webmaster Tools

Integrating Google Analytics with Webmaster Tools provides the closest thing to a direct replacement for “not provided” keyword data. Once you link the two services (as explained in the accompanying ‘Getting Started with Google Analytics’ playbook), Google Search keyword information starts rolling into the Search Engine Optimization report under Acquisition in Analytics.

From here you can begin to see impressions (that is, matches) for individual keywords, clicks and click-through rates. (Bear in mind, though, that this data is for Google Search only, not other search engines such as Bing or Yahoo, so it isn’t necessarily a rounded picture.)

Here’s a tip for greater accuracy: once again, look at the Landing Pages report rather than just Queries. The latter shows only the top 1,000 queries, which might not represent the whole range of long-tail search terms driving traffic to you (remember, it’s not just the big-number terms that count!). On the other hand, it’s unlikely that you have 1,000 landing pages, so the data in the Landing Pages report isn’t getting cut off by this sampling limitation in the way that the Queries report is. This means it’s giving you a fuller picture.

Segment Organic Search Traffic by Demographics

You can see that Google Analytics offers a huge range of data about who your visitors are in chapter 6 of the ‘Google Analytics: Account Features’ playbook, and the ‘Google Analytics: Audience Segmentation’ playbook touches on ways to use this data to build up a profile or user persona. The thing to bear in mind is that you can apply audience demographic dimensions to segment your traffic data and pull out information about specific groups of visitors.

If you focus on learning more about the searchers and not just the search, you can for example find out how an age range or a gender behaves by traffic source. This is especially useful if, for example, your business appeals more to females than males: if you sell women’s accessories and a high proportion of your male search traffic land on a product page and go on to purchase, then you can infer that your site is doing a good job of enabling them to find the gifts they’re looking for.

Use Dashboards to surface the most important metrics

We’ve mentioned that you can share Dashboards, Segments and reports between accounts in Google Analytics, and even import ready-made ones from the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery – click the Browse button to view by category. Some are provided by expert analysis professionals, who may have grappled with the same issues you face. One such professional, Dan Barker, has created a website with resources dedicated to dealing with the growing problem of “not provided” search terms. Get some help from the experts!

See Paid and Organic Search Reports in Adwords

We recommend linking your Google Analytics and AdWords accounts together in addition to integrating Analytics with Webmaster Tools. Once you’ve done this, you’ll enjoy several benefits – we’ll cover these shortly, but one useful one is the ability to view the Paid & Organic Keyword report in AdWords, which marries data from your AdWords account and Google Webmaster Tools to help you understand where you have the best keyword coverage. As its name implies, this report helps you understand how often your site appears in paid and organic search for a given keyword that you are targeting.

Separate Brand from generic Paid Search terms

Another big benefit of linking AdWords and Analytics is that Analytics can automatically segment Brand and non-brand (Generic) paid search terms into distinct channels. It bases its decisions on factors such as click-through rate, text string and domain name, and you can fine-tune by switching to the Admin tab, selecting Channel Settings and clicking Manage Brand Terms. Here you can manage the list of keywords that will be included in the Brand Paid Search channel, review the terms that Google identifies as Brand and accept or decline each of them, as well as add other Brand terms that aren’t already included, such as common misspellings. Brand and non-brand paid search terms typically perform very differently, and this feature makes it much easier to analyses the two separately. Note, too, that these channels apply to all paid search, so Bing Ads and any other traffic source tagged as “cpc” will be included.[1]

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