Finding out how successful your SEO initiatives have (or haven’t) been can be a tiresome investigative process.
Part hide-and-seek, part Sherlockian deduction, digging around Google analytics to try and discern what lies behind the (Not Provided) wall is a constant struggle for those of us tasked with optimizing pages for search performance.
Last week, however, Google rolled out a new Search Analytics feature in Webmaster Tools that is taking some of mystery out of organic search data.
Here’s how a few clicks can save you hours of sleuthing, and give you more accurate data.
Search Analytics and SEO: An Overview
The first part of this hunt is easy. Simply login to your Webmaster Tools account, and under the “Search Traffic” tab you’ll find the “Search Analytics” option.
It’s not hidden behind a locked door, and it doesn’t require a secret code, but it can tell you a lot about what’s going on with your SEO.
What you’ll see by default is information for your site as a whole. The default selection also shows clicks only; it’s not giving you details about click through rate (CTR) or other juicy search details.
To see the whole story, I recommend selecting all four available boxes up at the top:
Now you’ll get a much more useful graph showing changes in all four of these metrics over time:
Keep in mind that while you’re in the “Queries” view that all of this data is aggregate and average for the site as a whole. So if three of our pages showed up in a search for “awesome ideas about marketing” and we got one click, we’d still be given 100% CTR in the overall site calculation.
But if we had drilled down to look at results on a page-by-page basis (which we’ll be doing shortly), we would see a 33% CTR for the page because only one of our three results was clicked.
Uncovering Page-Specific SEO Data
That’s all very nice and helpful information, but the central clue that I’m always after is how a particular page (in the case of MarketerGizmo, an article) is performing. And that’s where the real power of Search Analytics lies.
To unlock these secrets, the first thing you need to do is select the “Pages” radio button.
Then you’ll see a list of all your site’s pages, along with the clicks, impressions, CTR, and average position in search results:
Click on a particular page, and it will seem that you’ve reached the end of your line of inquiry because it won’t show a table at all, just the graph of the four lines (clicks, impressions, CTR, position).
But in the spirit of careful investigation, if you click back into the “Queries” view from this page, you’ll get to see the actual searches that landed people on that page:
Now we’re talking! Sherlock Holmes would be proud.
Here we can see how people really got to our infographics guide. We can see our average position for all the searches this page showed up for, the clicks we got, and the number of impressions.
This kind of information is an optimization gold mine, because it reveals what searches Google thinks the page is relevant for.
If these searches line up with your plans for the page, great. Then you can make sure that your title and description are enticing people who entered these search results to click on your page.
If, however, you’re surprised by the results in this view, it’s time for an SEO overhaul.
Discrepancies in SEO Data
As you’ll notice when you log in to see these new fancy features, Search Analytics is still in Beta. This may account for some of the difference in SEO data from Webmaster Tools and Analytics.
Google offers a few other explanations as well:
- Search Analytics in Webmaster Tools is counting data independently for each property (i.e. https:// and http:// are counted separately).
- Not all data is being shown. Queries that aren’t made very often, or those containing personal or sensitive information will be omitted.
- Although supposedly not significant, Google says that, “Some processing of our source data might cause these stats to differ from stats listed in other sources (for example, to eliminate duplicates and visits from robots).”
- There may be a lag between when Google collects the data and when it’s available in Webmaster Tools (typically 2-3 days).
- Search Analytics uses Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) to track data, but Google Analytics shows data in the webmaster’s local time zone. Therefore your daily may not match exactly.
These could all account for small differences between data in Google Analytics and the new Search Analytics feature, but at this point the differences are pretty big.
In our case, the biggest difference we’ve seen so far is in the average position of a page.
For example, one of our pages shows an average position of 23.8 in Webmaster Tools, but 180 in Google Analytics. This is a huge gap, and it makes it harder to know whether our SEO for that page is actually being successful.
For now, we’re giving credence to the Webmaster Tools version because of how much information is being stripped from analytics. But our investigations are ongoing, and we’ll update with any new developments.
Unlocking SEO Power With New Search Analytics
Put on your sleuth hat and take the time to investigate how your most important pages are performing with this new and powerful tool. As we mentioned, it’s in Beta, so you never know what changes may be forthcoming.
It’s not often that Google lets us see how it’s treating our pages in organic search, along with how users are interacting with those results. Make sure that the keywords people are using to find your pages are the ones you want; if they’re not, take a good hard look at your content.
And do it quickly, before the trail goes cold.