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Improving Search Marketing Efforts with Analytics

by Guest Author Eric Lander, April 15, 2008

In the March 15th newsletter, we covered some of the basic information involving analytics and its impact on search marketing in an article entitled Search Marketers Need Web Analytics. My goal at the time was to lay a foundation for our readers to grow from. Today's article will cover a number of more advanced topics and exercises for strengthening the information exchanged between analytics and search marketing.

To get started, I want to be clear about my background and experience in the industry. While I am skilled in organic optimization, I admittedly have less experience in paid search marketing.

I am confident, though, that the following materials will serve you well, regardless of the nature of the search marketing efforts. These practices focus on keywords, search patterns and user productivity rather than the referring search methods.

Exercise #1: Integrate Proprietary Tools

Before we get too deep into things, I want to encourage you to look beyond your current Web analytics program. If you're using Google Analytics, Omniture, Enquisite or a similar analytics package - congratulations. But, you're not done yet. Here is another set of analytical tools I want you to get used to...

  • Google Webmaster Tools (formerly Webmaster Central)
  • Yahoo! Search Site Explorer
  • Compete.com

With Google and Yahoo, you will need to verify or authenticate your Web site before you can get started with the programs. Each platform has their own method for doing this, and while it will ultimately be up to you which method you use, I've found the META tag additions to be a pretty painless way to go about accomplishing this.

As a wonderfully analytical search marketing professional, you may have already wondered why you need these tools. Fear not! These tools will provide you with some wonderful resources in which you can extract additional information.

Exercise #2: Analyze the Engine's Behaviors

I'm going to assume that you are using a page tagging analytics package on your site. If that's the case, search engine spiders and their behaviors will not be reported back to you. What happens then if you want to review how often GoogleBot comes into your site? Wouldn't it be great to see the patterns of spidering they show while pulling your content? While you could be analyzing raw log files - you can actually view this information easily using Google's Webmaster Tools.

Once logged in, you need to find your way to Crawl Stats since Google conveniently hides these tools from any logical naming conventions you would expect. To get there you will need to access "Tools" and then "Set Crawl Rate" from your dashboard view. The resulting report is here to provide you with some nifty graphs along with some measurements of the pages spidered, the kilobytes downloaded and the time spent pulling pages - all on a daily basis.

Why is this relevant?

You need to note patterns in spidering behaviors and predict the timeframe for your updates. In my experience, I would recognize the following scenarios as being possible, and even likely:

BIWEEKLY DEEP CRAWLS

Biweekly Deep Crawls

Look for spikes in the number of pages on a (generally speaking) biweekly basis. You're looking for 4 significant spikes in each month where the value at the height of these spikes corresponds to the number of commonly indexed pages.

AGGRESIVE SPIDERIING W/ SITEMAPS

Aggressive Spidering w/ Sitemaps

The importance of Google Sitemaps is an entirely different discussion. At a high level, you should know that using Sitemaps will help Google to pull content more effectively and more efficiently from your site. When you add new Sitemaps into your account, you should see a clear result in the provided graphs. Rather than spikes, you will see 10-14 days spans of consistent crawl behavior.

Other Quick Hits

Again, Google's Webmaster Tools is a series of resources for another discussion. While you're diving into analytical data though, be sure to look into the Diagnostics, the robots.txt tools and Links data. Each site and search marketer will interpret this data differently - but it's all available for you to use in your analysis.

(Note: The above all relates to Google's Webmaster Tools, but remain true for authenticated sites on Yahoo! Site Explorer as well).

Exercise #3: Pathing and Conversion Analysis

Let's get back to SEO and on page elements. If you are using a strong analytics package, you should be tracking conversions (or goals) for your site's visitors. Quality search is all about user behaviors and productivity - so let's start researching.

I'm a big fan of Omniture's SiteCatalyst, and I also know that it's a widely used set of analytical tools. Therefore, I'm going to reference some of my favorite reports that are provided out of the box for the purpose of analyzing conversions and paths.

Original Entry Pages Report is found under the Conversion or Commerce section of Omniture (depending upon the version of SiteCatalyst) and is used to determine the top performing landing pages on your site.

This report is great for search marketers because it sets the tone for what is most productive for your audience. By nature of usage, your home page will certainly be a big player here. Since you can't make crazy changes to your home page without upsetting visitors - you'll want to research interior pages from this report.

To be clear, this report shows you what entry page or specific URL is converting into leads or sales. Therefore, if you have a particular page targeting an important search term, you can use this report to measure growth and effectiveness (especially if you trend the data out). You want to see more conversions and increased conversion rates for the number of views being reported.

The Pages per Visit Report is another tool I use from Omniture when conducting path analysis on client sites. As an organic search specialist, I see it as my job to get users to the most productive page for their search term. Using this report allows me to analyze the search terms and pages in play for top converting behaviors. The Pages per Visitreport can bring some long tail search opportunities to light. An example may help to illustrate this:

Say you have a page on digital camera accessories that talks about camera cases, lens cleaners, batteries and storage media. In an ideal world, you'd be pulling in organic search referrals for any number of phrase combinations for this page.

Over time trends will develop as the page becomes productive for one specific category over another based on referring search phrase. In this case, it could be that we're able to sell more cases than any other product type listed. Is that a function of what's above the fold? Do we have a larger selection of products for this all-star category? Or, do we simply have more content variety and subsequent search terms pulling in information?

Using this report and researching the related terms will show top performing phrases. That's great, but I care more about keywords - since that's where we can get creative.

Strong possibilities in this case could be exemplified as if we're using seed terms like "digital camera case" and product listings for item names like "Sony Cyber-shot Leather Digital Camera Case". Why? Well, this page would then open the opportunity (engines and SERP position willing) to pull in traffic for long tail terms like "leather case for sony digital camera" or "leather case for cybershot camera".

Other forms of path analysis should include the most popular exit pages. I can't force myself to believe that any exit page (other than a "thank you for your order") is a good exit page. In truth, that is why this report is so useful. You can easily locate the bad pages of your site and begin to understand what type of hang-up users are running into.

As a final example on path analysis, you could see referrals for sales or lead generating terms being directed to your FAQ or About Us pages. While I'm all for providing answers and information to users, I'd prefer to have them arrive on product category listings to let them easily find and purchase a product first.

Remember, less clicks and increased conversion translates into more effective SEO.

Exercise #4: Tracking Comparative Data

Since money hungry ISPs are out there selling data to anyone willing to pay the right price, some pretty nifty tools have emerged for search marketers to use. One caveat, of course, is that data provided to you on other sites is always subject to tampering, falsifications, etc. Resources like Compete.com and Alexa can be used to extract information on the sites competing against you.

If you have the budget to support your search marketing efforts, I would also advise the use of major tools like HitWise. HitWise can not only show you search related stats on other sites, it can also do the same based on various demographics as well. Data can easily be broken down based on age, gender, metropolitan area, etc. These reports are great when working with niche industries.

Hitwise, Alexa and Compete are just some of the more popular tools out there. Be on the lookout for other resources that may appeal to one specific audience or site type too. (Hint: If you're a blogger, check out those in your space who are using MyBlogLog's statistical overlay.)

Parting Advice...

Web analytics is a beautifully insane beast. With enough reports, you can force yourself to believe or extract almost anything. As search marketing professionals, we need to remain objective while also understanding how analytical data relates to our efforts. It's true that every action has an equal opposite reaction - so when we post our changes and recommendations, we must also be on the lookout for it's impact on users and business productivity.

Analytics is the key to making that happen. The best thing you can do is frequently take deep dives into your analytic reports. Buried in there are gold mines of information just waiting to be seen and used for your efforts. Get in there and get dirty!


Eric Lander, Independent SEO Expert

Eric has been working in organic search optimization since 2001, when he got his start while co-founding Top Site Listings ("TSL"). While at TSL, Eric managed the organic search optimization for clients including Automotive.com, Fleishman Hilliard, and various divisions of Johnson and Johnson. Since leaving TSL in 2004, Eric has gone on to start and sell a small SEM firm and joined a Fortune 500 in ADP. Eric actively works as the Organic Search Manager for ADP's Dealer Services division which includes web sites for more than 2,000 car dealers in the United States and Canada. Throughout his career Eric has enjoyed writing articles and how-to pieces to share industry information. Articles first began appearing in 2002 on sites like SEO Today, SitePoint and Search Engine Guide. Today, Eric serves as the Associate Editor for Loren Baker's Search Engine Journal.


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