Nick is the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of From The Future. When he's not elbow deep in data, he's spending time with his wife, his dogs, or his cars.
Your website’s data tells a story we need to listen to.
Before starting an SEO campaign, it’s critical to review key SEO data to get familiar with the website, industry and past marketing initiatives.
This post will help you answer key questions about your website’s organic performance, including:
Most importantly, this post walks you through the analysis process to give you an action plan on the best way to attack a search campaign.
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NOTE: I strongly suggest getting the report to follow along, this guide focuses on analyzing the data through the scope of the report.
I like to start by getting a picture of everything that’s going on in Google Analytics. Digging through these reports manually takes hours, so we built a dashboard that segments data with a few clicks.
A. Set the dates in the report for 1 year
B. In the “TRAFFIC SOURCE” drop down, start by selecting each NON Organic Search channel, one by one.
What we’re looking for is patterns, trends and information from non-organic channels that could be impacting their organic performance.
NOTE: You can also layer on NEW vs. RETURNING to understand visitor behavior.
Referral traffic data gives us critical insights for link building strategy – from here you can see the links that are driving the most traffic to your site. Links that drive traffic drive rankings – these are the types of links you want to scale for your campaign.
We’re not going to analyze these too much, there’s too many factors that could cause changes. We simply use this report to get an overall understanding of traffic trends from all sources.
A. Set dates to last 12 months.
B. Set DEFAULT CHANNEL GROUPING to Organic Search ONLY.
This page looks at the top landing pages from organic search by sessions count, change in traffic (year over year), bounce rate and conversion rate.
NOTE: if you run an eCommerce website. this can also be easily modified to look at eCommerce conversion rate over goal conversion rate.
What pages are performing the best?
First, look at sessions – this data alone will tell you the most popular pages. Next, look at conversions to understand the value of that traffic.
For example, home page, blog posts, product pages, etc. This gives you insight into areas to initially focus on. For example, if content is their top driver of traffic, focus heavily on commercial pages and remarketing strategy (and vice versa).
Of those top pages, are some clearly dominant? The site may be doing 1M visits a month, but if 94% of the traffic is going to a blog post with no commercial value, those visits become a lot less meaningful.
Looking at the change in year over year traffic, you can tell if their site (and specific pages) is in trouble.
Bounce rate is a crude way to judge engagement, but they give you a topical overview. Generally speaking, expect content (blog posts) to have a higher bounce rate. The intent behind a lot of these searches is purely informational. If you have a page that serves up good information, a high bounce rate is not indicative of poor performance.
Fire up Google Analytics and look at the Content Drilldown report (Behavior > Site Content > Content Drilldown) to understand Avg. Time on Page, the counter to bounce rate.
C. Set DEVICE CATEGORY to Mobile ONLY.
Our eCommerce website does about 70% mobile organic traffic. There’s no issue with the way our agency site is optimized, but the audience is completely different, which impacts their online behavior.
Chart #1: Year over year traffic comparison, by month
This chart lets you compare each month’s organic session count to the previous year. This is also a great growth forecasting report.
Chart #2: History of organic traffic by month
Use this chart to understand how the website has performed back to its inception. This report is also pivotal for understanding seasonality and if the site was impacted by an algorithm update.
Chart #3: Organic traffic trends by day
Not a ground breaking report, but worth a glance, it helps you understand which day of the week is most popular for searchers.
I use this data to get me a high level understanding on the “visibility” of the website, aka how many keywords a website is indexed for (regardless of position). This is important because the easiest route to more organic traffic is not ranking for NEW keywords, but rather improving existing ones.
Chart #2: Organic position distribution
The chart above shows ALL keywords a website is ranking for, regardless of position. Keywords ranking above position 7 don’t have much value, so the previous chart can be misleading. This chart helps us understand the positions of all the keywords ranking.
Chart #3: All keyword rankings
The final piece pulls through an expert of all the keywords you’re ranking for, along with the URL, position, search volume and share of traffic.
This chart lets us know the exact positions of all the keywords on your site, crosswalked by volume.
Chart #1: Branded vs non branded search
“Branded search” is when someone uses your business name, brand or website URL to find your website. This happens when someone is aware of your site or returning for another visit (to return to a piece of content they read, to return to buy a product they looked at previously, etc).
This metric is incredibly important, for a couple reasons:
Chart #2: Clicks from Google (last 90 days)
While similar to sessions, GSC only looks at unique clicks, while sessions groups new and returning into one.
Chart #3: Impressions from Google (last 90 days)
GSC counts impressions as anytime your website shows up in a search result, no matter if that person clicks on the result or not. I like to use this report to understand keyword fluctuations and overall direction of the site’s performance. Dwindling impressions are never a good sign and can point to any number of issues.
Chart #4: Click Through Rate (CTR) from Google (last 90 days)
CTR compares the number of clicks to impressions and calculates a percentage that lets you know the “rate” at which your links are clicked when shown. This number is generally skewed by position, as top results have significantly higher CTR than lower positions. However, this chart is still helpful to understand overall performance, as there’s a number of things you can do to improve SERP CTR:
Google Search Console has a powerful tool called “Search Analytics” that allows you to segment your traffic based on what aspect of Google Search people are finding your site through:
This is important information, as it allows us to understand opportunities through different types of content.
For each of the 4 options, our report breaks down:
Clicks vs. average position
Filtered for desktop/mobile/image/video only, this chart shows you how average rankings (whole site) are affecting traffic.
This chart is important as Google has two indexed – mobile and desktop. Your rankings on on mobile could be significantly different than desktop (and vice versa) based on how your content / site is built. If you find discrepancies, you need to dig deeper.
Exact search queries driving traffic to your site
Filtered for desktop/mobile/image/video only, this chart lists out the exact search queries people are using to find your website.
This chart gives us insight into how the platform is affecting how people find your site. Keep an eye out for if the queries are different. Are there specific queries people are using on mobile only? Image only?
I particularly love the report on image search, because it gives us a brand new opportunity to score traffic. Image search traffic is an underutilized tactic, in certain industries it can drive massive traffic to your site.
Let’s look at real estate as an example. When searching for condos, homes and neighborhoods, it’s natural to want to see images – people use Google Images to start their search. Having well optimized images can help you grow your top of funnel traffic dramatically.
The point of this report is to not just for understanding, but initial strategy as well. While going through this report I like to take notes in Evernote for what I’m seeing. Then, I transfer them to the first page to present to the client.
Some sample insights could be:
These insights should not die here – we need to carry them into the building and execution of the campaign. I will talk more about how we do this in section 1.4 when I cover project management.
Our data driven approach to keyword research.