(Jeremy Bolt is a Director of Bruce Clay Australia and spoke on SEO, Analytics and Conversion at SMX in Sydney on the 15th April 2011. These are some of the key outtakes from his talk)
Yes they can coexist, that is SEO and Usability and very often in a complementary manner; the data sources are just different. We encourage usability folk in all our clients to get more involved in understanding not only SEO, but also what Analytics is telling them, along with their focus groups and other user data.
It is often a case of knowing what you know for example. You know traffic went up due to an event, maybe an ad campaign running at the time and that the increased traffic was most likely on branded terms. Secondly, you know what you don't know which is exactly what keywords drove traffic last week, but you know where to look, in Analytics. Thirdly, there is often the part where you don't always know what you don't know and unless someone tells you or points out the obvious, which may not always be that obvious you will never know. This data is usually available from a number of sources; you just need to know where to look and what you are looking for. Things like which pages IT removed and didn't redirect, what content is converting new users the most and so on.
Combining Analytics with SEO tactics and website usability can be highly profitable if you do it right. The biggest challenge is knowing what to look for with respect to your business objectives, as well as getting the various parts of larger organisations involved and coordinated around this.
You need data
Assuming you already have Analytics set up, and some sort of ranking monitor, much like our very own SEOToolset, you already have a lot of valuable information at hand.
But first things first, how much do you know about your visitors?
- Do you know where they come from?
- Do you know what platform or device they use?
- Do you know where they live?
- Do you know when they visit your site?
- Do you know why they visit your site?
- Do you know which parts of your site they like the most?
- Do you know which keywords are used to find your site?
- Do you know which keywords are most relevant to your users or customers?
Do you know which of the above are interesting and which are highly relevant to increasing profitability? All of the above you should be getting from your analytics software, and are physical processes, easily measured. In addition you can also start to measure the user journey to a limited extent, prior to website entry, i.e. which keywords were searched on, what social network referred them etc.
Understanding the demographic of your users i.e. male or female? Income etc. can be harder. Even harder is getting a handle on their decision making processes or cognitive processes. Everyone is different and conversion a site occurs at an individual user level. Have you ever seen a committee or a group surfing a website? Measurement of cognitive processes is very difficult and time consuming.
When working on a site, understanding your target market is essential. Who are the majority of your users? Appealing to parents with toddlers is very different to appealing to middle aged men and women running a small business. Also the value and nature of your product or service will further impact on personas, and how they conduct their activities on your site.
Personas are important, as you will need to consider user paths within your site and how you address these personas. Broadly, 4 personas exist which need to be taken into account. These include:
You can listen to a podcast by Bryan Eisenberg here on personas.
While SEO must have its own methodology and approach, likewise usability and reporting, getting the most out of your Analytics and other available data will require an integrated approach from different disciplines and a process. As a result, it is very often an activity that can slip through the cracks.
First of all you need to define success. What are the outcomes or the ROI this process will need to drive, and who will own it. Your SEO team is often a good place to start, and revenue earning activities will get attention and budget.
Developing the opportunity by understanding your audience and data mining is key. Getting the data is very often the easy part, interpreting the data and making recommendations supported by data is where many organisations need some help. Testing is then critical. Not all hypotheses and related tests will work, some might even fail but that is why you test. The tests that are successful you may adopt and all of this will need to be managed, from design through to implementation.
Ensuring the process is properly managed with a change register, listing the outcomes of testing and then a Steering Committee or some other formal process to sign off on which changes become permanent fixtures
5 Things to Watch
At Bruce Clay in Australia we review out client's analytics accounts as part of the "Optimise" phase anytime from weekly through to quarterly, depending on the type of site and the definition of conversion. Part of the checklist we use when reviewing client data and where we find quick wins to improve usability or conversion include:
1. Underperforming content
Use the Traffic Sources, Keywords submenu item and compare the current period to a reasonable prior period. This period could be a week, a month a quarter, depending and we say reasonable as obviously if there have been public holidays or other events the data may be skewed. Look at keywords where there has been a substantial % change with a reasonable number of visits. Investigate any large change changes to establish the reason and any related opportunities.
Check out the pageviews and bounce rate on these keywords. Mismatched content often has low number of pageviews or lower than average pageviews and/ or a high bounce rate and can often be tweaked on the page or via a new page feeding into your content strategy to leverage these opportunities. Identify underperforming content and set goals around this content and how it may improve conversion.
2. Underperforming keywords
If the 80:20 rule applies to the keywords driving traffic to your site, take these as well as any with significant changes identified above and download the Adwords keyword volume data to compare the traffic you are getting versus the total monthly local search volumes available. Establish your market share, look at your existing rankings to see if this is reasonable and identify new opportunities where there is clearly further market share available with respect to traffic.
3. Reclaim lost links
Log in to your Google Webmaster Tools account and review the crawl errors. You can find these in the Diagnostics section under Crawl Errors. Check for 404 pages in the linked to pages. This in certain sites may be a lot of work due to volumes, but there are very often gems in this list, where a promotion or page has been removed and not redirected losing valuable PageRank. Get these crawl errors fixed.
4. User paths and conversion funnels
Map out your users paths for the various personas or an average user for your site. This may be a consolidated view of a very singular path, but ultimately should lead to an action. Once completed, using analytics see if there is any correlation between how users broadly interact with your site as opposed to how you think they should use the site. Try to establish where they go astray in the process. You cannot plug all the holes but think of it as gently herding cats through your site.
Then, if you have a conversion process, work carefully through each step looking at where users go, the time they spend, how many are lost etc. and at what stage. In Page Analytics can be useful but is limited. Heat mapping software is a far better option to see exactly what users are doing.
5. Underperforming conversion
If you have ecommerce tracking installed review each section and check for products, contents or keywords which are converting significantly lower than others. Establish the reasons why and if any further opportunity exists.
Analytics is not something that just tells you how much traffic you are getting. How you use it however and the value you gain from these insights is up to you. Access to Analytics for the masses such as Google Analytics is somewhat recent and many users are still trying to figure out exactly how to use the information gained. The sooner you start incorporating Analytics into your SEO and Usability processes the quicker you will start getting results.