Search Engine Optimization Metrics in Google Analytics – Useful?

By October 5, 2011 Analytics No Comments

Google Analytics is an invaluable tool for search engine optimization, in terms of measuring success and obtaining fast and reliable data. In fact, Google’s free website analytics offering should be an essential part of any website owner/operator’s toolkit.

Some more persistent Google Analytics users might have noticed a small change to the platform this week. Google has added a new set of metrics under the “Traffic Sources” section.

*NOTE: You must be using the new version of Google Analytics to access this new function. Check out a video on how to do so here: http://screencast.com/t/hm5ryBJC.

Google Analytics Search Engine Optimization

You will also need to connect your Google Webmaster Tools profile to your Analytics account. Here is additional info about Setting up Google Webmaster Tools for your Website.

Connecting Google Webmaster Tools and Analytics

Once you have connected your Webmaster Tools profile you can get started viewing some of the “search engine optimization” data that Google is now providing.

At first glance, the “Queries” report seems to provide much of the same information that was already available through Webmaster Tools, albeit in a slightly more professional looking display:

Google Analytics SEO - Queries

The “Landing Pages” report uses some of this same information obtained from Webmaster Tools and displays it pertaining to your top content pages:

Google Analytics SEO - Landing Pages

Finally, the “Geographical Summary” report provides this same data spread across the different geographical regions where people are clicking on your website in search results:

Google Analytics SEO - Geographical Summary

Also, if you switch from “Country” to “Google Properties” you will get a rundown of how your site performs across Google’s universal search types, including image, video, and mobile (not sure why this is stuffed under “Geographical Summary,” but go figure):

Google Analytics SEO - Universal Search

So what is the overall value here? A couple of things stand out immediately, while a few other things are left to be desired. Let’s start with the good:

1. Streamlined Interface Saves Time

Even if the data provided here is no different than what’s already available in Webmaster Tools, it surely is at least more convenient having them both accessible in the same, streamlined interface. Going back and forth between Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools takes time – especially if you are using separate Google email addresses for each.

2. Enhanced Custom Reporting

One of the best features of the new version of Google Analytics is the “Advanced Segments,” which allows you to quickly generate very particular comparisons and data sets useful for making custom reports (for example, you can see all the keywords people are using to find your website organically that also have a conversion rate between X% and Y%).

The new “Search Engine Optimization” section of Google Analytics provides a few additional segments, based on the new data imported from Webmaster Tools:

Google Analytics SEO - Advanced Segments

This is a nice feature – however, it leads into some of the areas where this whole update feels a bit thrown together… (i.e. “The Bad”):

1. Not Fully Integrated with the Rest of Google Analytics:

These new advanced segments are great – but they only apply when using one of the three new reports – Queries, Landing Pages and Geographical Summary. So, essentially, we are only able to sort the data specific to webmaster tools instead of being able to incorporate it into the rest of the Google Analytics data.

This is a bit of a letdown, because it feels like we are really being limited in terms of how we can work with the data. For example, it would be nice to be able to track non-paid search traffic having more than X-number of goal completions that was driven by keywords with a CTR of less than Y.

Hopefully Google is planning to incorporate these new advanced segments into the rest of reports.

2. The “Average Position” metric is a little misleading

To most people, average position would indicate your website’s average rank on Google for a particular keyword. And if you only had 1 page on your website ranking for a certain keyword, this would be the case:

  • If your Home page was the only page on your website ranking for the term “internet marketing” and that page was consistently ranking at position #3, then your average position would be correctly display in Google Analytics as 3.

However, if gets a little fuzzy when you have multiple pages ranking for the same keyword:

  • If your Home page consistently ranks #1 for “internet marketing” but your Contact Us page consistently ranks #16, then your average position display in Google Analytics as 8. Not very helpful…

The Average Position metric becomes even less useful when you consider it in the “Landing Page” report. Since you are currently unable to click any of the landing pages listed and see which keyword phrases are driving traffic to each, it’s hard to determine exactly what Google is providing us an “average position” of.

Verdict:

Overall, this should be seen as a welcome addition to the new Google Analytics interface. With a few tweaks that are undoubtedly on the way, this will eventually help make G.A. even more valuable to Internet marketers and website owners. And one final note – if you haven’t already begun playing around with the new version of Google Analytics, you probably should. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if we woke up one morning to find the old version to literally be a thing of the past.

About Tommy Redmond

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