Some of the best things in life are free! This is true for one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal for SEO success.
It’s right at your fingertips and it’s completely free to use.
We’re talking about Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is an essential tool to measure and optimize the performance of your digital marketing efforts.
Use it to see your organic search engine traffic, most popular pages, visitor locations, bounce rates, which devices visitors are using, traffic sources, and so much more.
Whether you’re a seasoned SEO Guru or a fresh starter, this guide maps actionable ways you can use Google Analytics to measure and optimize your organic results.
Why You Need Google Analytics
How do you know what share of those are coming your way?
How can you find out who is visiting your site and what they do when they get there?
What’s the best data source and how do you drive traffic to your site?
That’s where Google Analytics comes in.
Google Analytics is a set of tools designed to help you fully understand:
Who is visiting your site
How many visitors you're getting (traffic to your site)
How visitors are getting to your site (sources)
How much time visitors spend on your site
Location and devices of visitors
Page load times
In other words, you get all the important numbers, data and statistics that you need to maximize your site’s performance.
There is a free and paid version of Google Analytics. The paid version is called Analytics 360.
Small and medium-sized businesses will find everything they need in the free version. But digital marketers for enterprises will likely need to upgrade to take advantage of the more advanced funnel reporting and attribution modeling, roll-up reporting, unlimited and unsampled data, and more.
Another great thing about Analytics 360 is that you get access to dedicated support, with your own account manager.
BUT it’s not cheap. We’re talking about at least $150,000 per year (invoiced monthly).
How to set up Google Analytics FAST
First, the easy part. All you need to do is set up your Google Analytics account and copy a piece of code onto your website.
Create a Google account, if you don’t already have one.
Add the name, URL, and industry of the website.
Get your tracking code that will let GA monitor your site.
Add this code directly to your site - after the <head> tag. Luckily, you DON’T have to add the GA code to every page of your site - only to every page template. So, if you have one page type on your site, only add it to that module and the tag will be applied to every page. If you have two page types, paste the code into the two separate header modules. And so on.
Log in to your Google Analytics account and verify the code is working - simply look at the “Real-Time reports” while clicking through your site pages. The report should show your movements.
Bonus Tip: Do you use a CMS like HubSpot or WordPress? These tools come with a separate field where you only need to paste your tracking code once.
Now you’re set up, check your GA platform is tracking properly.
If it isn’t, you won’t have access to the right data to make decisions.
Use these quick checks:
Check the domain’s source code for a tracking code is consistent with what’s shown in Google Analytics admin area.
Set up referral exclusion lists. This tells Google to exclude specific sites from your referral traffic. Not doing this can cause issues with how revenue is tracked in GA.
Set up goals. Google Analytics lets you track and measure your site’s success using “goals”. This measures how well your site is achieving your defined objectives. For example, if the objective of a page is to get visitors to fill out a form to download an ebook, set that as a goal. When visitors fill in the form, you’ll see this in your reports.
Configure filters to filter out your IP, your office IP, your agency IP, or any other IPs likely to frequently access the website, who aren’t customers.
One thing marketers love about Google Analytics is that it integrates with all of Google’s marketing products, like Google Ads, Search Console, and Data Studio.
So, your next task is to link your Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
While both tools collect site information, Google Search Console is more about the internal data:
Who is linking to your pages
Organic keywords queries your site appears in search results for
And much more.
To get the most out of the data, link the two accounts together.
Assuming you have already set up Search Console, go into your Search Console account and click on the site you want to connect.
Click on the gear icon in the top right corner and select “Google Analytics Property”.
Click the correct account and hit "Save".
7 actions to take on Google Analytics to measure and optimize your SEO
1. Set up Goals to measure Conversion Rate
Conversion rate is one of those metrics you can use to really build your business case for SEO and refine your strategy for maximum return on investment.
What does it tell you?
Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who take an action against a defined goal.
The goal is whatever you want it to be for that page. It could be newsletter subscription, ebook download, purchase, phone call, brochure request, and so on.
Knowing your conversion rate gives you a clearer idea on ROI of your SEO efforts. More than that, you can really put this metric to work to optimize your website performance.
For example, compare the conversion rates of different pieces of content to see which drive more conversions. Then, use this insight to refine your content strategy.
To see your conversion rate, first, you need to set up goals in Google Analytics.
For an ecommerce site, we recommend you set up goals based on transactions.
For lead-based businesses, you don’t have actual “transactions” that result in dollars being spent on your website.
Instead, think about what actions you want visitors to take, such as downloading a brochure or requesting a quote.
Then, GA will show you the conversion rate against this goal.
Image Credit: Social Media Examiner
But your conversion rate means nothing out of context.
Consider what is a GOOD conversion rate for your business?
Look at the average conversion rate for your industry:
Image credit: Marketing Sherpa
How does your conversion rate compare?
You can also compare conversion rates for different pages and SEO campaigns.
For example, if you find a page that has a really high conversion rate, you can take steps to promote this page even more.
Optimize the page so it has a higher likelihood of showing in organic search results, push it on social, and link to it from high-traffic pages.
When you run a conversion report through GA, you can also see the value of these conversions - how much REVENUE has been generated from each search channel.
Use this to work out the ROI of your SEO efforts.
Simply compare these values with the amount you’ve spent on your SEO campaign over the same period.
It’s not an exact science BUT it will give you an idea of how your SEO is impacting business objectives.
This is why GA is great for getting SEO data as well as SEO reporting!
2. Discover how visitors engage with your website and use this to improve your user experience.
SEO is all about user experience.
Users expect your website to be easy to navigate, fast, informative and useful. The more boxes your website ticks for user experience, the longer the visitors is likely to stick around or visit again.
So, how do you know how your website is performing on user experience?
Go into Google Analytics and run a report on:
A. Bounce rate
Bounce rate measures the percentage of people who visited your site but exited (‘bounced’) without performing an action on the page. This means they didn’t click on a menu item, CTA or any other internal links on the page.
If pages have ridiculously higher bounce rates, it’s probably a sign that something is wrong. It could mean:
The quality of content needs to be improved.
The visitor couldn’t find the necessary information to take action or move to another page on the site.
They found the information they needed and didn’t need to take action.
Source: Google Analytics
The more pages they visit, the more it shows Google that they like your site and its content - that your site is useful. This can influence your organic search ranking, as well as your organic search traffic.
(Okay, it could also mean visitors aren’t finding what they need straight away - but other important SEO metrics will quickly show you if this is the case).
C. Average time on page
This is the average amount of time someone spends on one of your pages.
How does it work?
Say you have a 5,000-word blog post that you know takes 12 minutes to read.
But the average time on page is only 30 seconds.
Clearly the content isn’t engaging people.
It could just need a quick fix to the headline or you might need to rethink the whole content piece.
Find average time on page on Google Analytics:
Image credit: Quicksprout
3. Track and refine your keyword list
Which keywords bring in the most traffic and have the highest click-through rate?
This is where Google Analytics proves its worth.
You can track organic search performance over time for Search Visibility, Average Position and Traffic.
So, if certain keywords aren’t performing as well as you’d expect, you can identify them quickly and refine your strategy.
In Google Analytics, it looks like this:
Image credit: Shopify
4. Understand the true impact of your SEO with Assisted Conversions
The Assisted Conversion report is perhaps one of the most overlooked reports, yet it can help you understand the real impact of your SEO.
In the marketing funnel, a customer will interact with your brand at lots of different stages before finally converting.
So how do you map the influence that each channel has on a customer’s journey? That’s where attribution reporting comes in.
The challenge is there are five attribution models you can use:
First-Touch Attribution: Attributes most of the credit to their first touchpoint and doesn’t track the entire customer journey.
Last-Touch Attribution: 100% of the revenue generated is attributed to the customer’s last touchpoint.
First-and-Last Touch Attribution: Combines the above two models for a slightly more accurate view of a customer’s journey. But it ignores everything in the middle.
The Linear Attribution Model: Assigns an equal value to every touchpoint in a customer’s journey.
The Time Decay Attribution Model: Attributes the last touchpoint with most of the credit, then works backwards to account for every touchpoint on the journey.
Google Analytics uses the Last-Touch Attribution model.
So, 100% of the credit for goal conversion goes to the very last click.
This means everything leading up to that point, such as SEO and content, doesn’t get any credit in the attribution.
However, there’s a way of correcting this:
Use the Assisted Conversions report.
The Assisted Conversions metric tells you the conversions where other channels appeared on the journey, but was not the FINAL touch point for conversion.
In other words, you can see how your different channels are working together.
In Google Analytics, go to Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions.
Scroll down to see the different channels:
Number of assisted conversions
Total value of assisted conversions
Value for all channel groupings
Another report worth looking at in this section is the Top Conversion Paths.
This helps you see the channels that contribute to a single conversion.
Source: Crazy Egg
From this, we can see that organic search is working hard for the company. It plays a role in around 2,900 of 3,800 conversions.
5. Create Custom dimensions and metrics
Google Analytics lets you create custom dimensions and metrics using Analytics data alongside non-Analytics data. You can build your own Google Analytics SEO dashboard!
When we talk about dimensions, we mean:
When we talk about metrics, we mean things like:
So why would you create custom dimensions and metrics?
To track data that is highly relevant and valuable to YOUR business.
Let’s say you run a blog and want to understand how audience engagement impacts other metrics, such as pages per session, conversions, etc.
You’d set up three custom dimensions for each reader type:
Advocate: Reader who shared 1+ posts on social media
Subscriber: Reader who signed up to your email updates
Customer: Reader who purchased premium content
Simply follow GA’s instructions to set up custom dimensions and metrics.
6. Understand your audience even better with custom segments
Custom segments can be created from almost any part of user data, such as visits to specific pages, visitors who completed a goal, time on site, visitors from a certain location, and so on. The idea is that you can learn more about the people who visit your site and how they engage with it.
How do you work out which segments to create?
Look in the Audience tab of Google Analytics.
Go to Audience > Interests > Overview to see a high-level breakdown of three interests reports:
- Affinity Categories
- In-Market Segments
- Other Categories
You can see above that over 3.5% of visitors are Shoppers or Value Shoppers and almost 4% have an interest in or work in business marketing / advertising services.
Now, go to Audience > Demographics to see more:
Using this data, you can create a custom segment to track.
Click on +Add Segment to monitor the behavior of users in this valuable segment.
7. Use Site Search information to create new content ideas
Do you have a search function on your website?
You’re about to discover an incredible opportunity to improve your website and content.
Think about it. Your site search tells you exactly what visitors are looking for when they land on your site.
In Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Search > Overview
There are lots of things you can learn here.
First, if high numbers of visitors are using your search bar, it shows that they can’t find what they want in the main navigation. You might need to improve your site menus.
Next, look at the actual search term that visitors are typing into the bar.
This is where the real gold is.
If you find that users are searching for similar topics, it’s time to add these to your content plan, as well as your keyword drive!
Likewise, if a particular product or service are frequently searched, it could be worth featuring these more prominently on the homepage or making them more easily accessible.
This is where it’s important to check your reports on a regular basis - what people are searching for will change depending on the seasons.
Over To You
There you have it! Now you know the basics to get started with Google Analytics and use it to propel your SEO results - and your digital marketing as a whole.
We hope you’ve learned the essentials to get started with GA right now and to get even more out of the tool.
The thing about SEO is that there’s always more to learn - whether it’s creating SEO content, which are the most important ranking factors, or how to add Schema Markup to your website pages.
That’s why we’ve created this amazing A-Z SEO Guide. Just like Google Analytics, it’s completely free and is packed full of insights and nuggets to help you get more from your SEO.