What is Google Analytics SEO

How to use Google Analytics to manage the SEO Improve performance

Everyone uses Google Analytics, but hardly anyone knows how to use it to improve their SEO.

That’s not surprising. Google Analytics is a powerful tool, but extracting valuable and useful insights from it can often feel like a tooth tearing - especially for beginners.

However, it's not that difficult at all. You just have to know which data is relevant to you, how you interpret it and what actions you will take afterwards.

In this guide, we'll show you seven ways you can use Google Analytics to improve your SEO. We'll also uncover some common mistakes that you should avoid.

Let's start with the basics.

Get started with Google Analytics

When you log in for the first time, you will see the “Home” dashboard.

Here we only see metrics to specify for the time being, but without any useful insights. You will be better off looking at individual reports, which you can find grouped by topic on the left side of the screen.

Reports reveal two essential pieces of information: dimensions and measures.

Dimensions are attributes of data. Metrics are quantitative data points associated with this dimension.

Sound confusing? But it is not. It's pretty easy.

Let's take a look at the data in the Landing Pages report:

Here the dimension is the landing page. The other columns show metrics associated with each landing page, such as the number of sessions over the time period you selected.

If you want to be even more specific, you can add a secondary dimension to each of these reports.

For example, let's add “Land / Country” as a secondary dimension.

Now we see metrics for each landing page (first dimension) broken down by country (secondary dimension). For example, we see that 8,274 UK users started their session on the homepage.

What if you only want to see a certain subset of the data, e.g. organic traffic from the UK?

That brings us to the segments and filters.

Segments are a way of seeing data in the reports for only a subset of users or sessions. For example, you can segment by organic traffic like this:

Filters are similar to Segments, but they only apply to the report you selected.

For example we can use a filter to only see data from the UK:

It's so much more detailed than the standard report, don't you think so?

Well. Now let's get to the more exciting things.

7 practical ways to use Google Analytics to analyze and improve SEO

Knowing the basics is important, but how do you get meaningful insights and thereby improve your SEO?

Here are 7 options:

  1. Find low hanging opportunities to increase traffic / sales
  2. Find pages with a high conversion rate and improve their SEO
  3. Improve landing pages that drive conversions
  4. Find keyword opportunities by following internal site search
  5. Automatically measure dips and peaks in organic traffic
  6. Set alerts for 404 pages
  7. Use annotations to locate problems and changes

1. Find low hanging opportunities to increase traffic / sales

Pages don't last forever. Check out the drop in traffic on our list of top Google searches in 2018:

That's a 54% decrease in just over a month.

But you will find that the traffic skyrocketed shortly afterwards:

So what has changed?

Answer: We have updated and republished the post to bring it back to its former glory.

The question is, how do you find sites that are ripe for republication?

While you can use Ahrefs' Site Explorer or the performance report in Google Search Console, your best bet is to use Google Analytics. Why? Because it gives you conversion data that you can use to link your SEO efforts to business metrics.

And that's how it works:

Go to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages.

Choose a time period to compare. We're mostly looking for content that needs to be republished, so it's worth comparing at least six months.

Sort the table by clicks, then select the landing page you want to examine to see the search query data.

Look for possible causes, spot patterns, and take action to generate more organic traffic.

Of course, the last part is easier said than done. So what should you watch out for?

First, consider whether the page deals with a topic where topicality is a ranking factor. That was the case with our post about the top searches on Google (2018). However, no one wanted to see the top searches from last year, so traffic went down.

Second: If you notice a significant change in the organic traffic on your homepage, it is usually due to a fluctuation in the search volume of the navigational queries. Maybe six months ago you went viral and more people Googled your brand, but then of course the traffic dropped back to the mean?

If we look at the volatility in search volume for “Aviation Gin,” that seems to have happened after the brilliant TV ad that benefited from the lousy Peloton ad.

Monthly increase in search volume for “aviation gin” in December 2019, the time the TV ad was broadcast. Data via Ahrefs Keywords Explorer.

If none of these seem to be the culprit, then one has to dig deeper. There could be a variety of reasons for a drop in traffic.

Here are a few more useful dimensions to get started with:

  • Device-Category: If the change in traffic is mainly due to one device category, you should look for device-specific UX issues, page speed issues, and content differences between devices. Remember that Google uses mobile-first indexing. So if your website shows less information to mobile users than desktop users, that could be a problem.
  • Country: Traffic drops from certain countries can mean localization or indexing problems. If you're providing content in multiple languages, start by reviewing your hreflang tags.

Don't forget to take a look at the timing diagram above the report. It is especially important to watch out for dips or spikes in the time that Google announced an algorithm update. You could also encounter traffic spikes caused by ranking for irrelevant keywords. Google is not perfect.

2. Find pages with a high conversion rate and improve their SEO

The ultimate goal of SEO is usually to get more sales through organic search. One of the easiest ways to do this is by improving the rankings for your most valuable webpages.

And that's how it works:

Go to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages.

Select an important goal and sort the table by conversion rate.

Enter each URL in Ahrefs' Site Explorer and review the report "Organic keywords”.

Filter for keywords that rank you in positions 3–10.

Click the “SERP” button and compare the SEO metrics of your webpage with those of the pages that ranked before you. In our case, it looks like the pages above us have a lot more referring domains.

Take steps to improve your webpage where it falls short. Follow our guide to ranking higher on Google if you're not sure where to start.

Use the Google Search Console, Google and the Free Backlink Checker from Ahrefs for similar things.

  1. Find keywords you're ranking for in Search Console.
  2. Search for them on google.
  3. Check the backlinks to the top ranking URLs in our free backlink checker.
  4. Compare this with your webpage to see if and where it falls short.

3. Optimize landing pages that contribute to higher conversions

Users rarely buy anything from websites they have never visited before. They don't just end up there either. They embark on a journey and often visit several pages on your website.

For example, let's say someone is new to keyword research. This person is doing a Google search to find out more and comes across our Keyword Research Guide (and YouTube videos) in the process.

You read the info. Learn from it. And that's it for now. They go back to their work.

A week later, when you have more time, pick up where you left off and look for some keyword research tools. Knowing that we are producing valuable content, they end up on our list where they sign up for a trial version.

By default, Google Analytics ascribes 100% of the conversion to the last landing page the user visited (assuming it was a non-direct click). But the reality is that if the person hadn't read our blog post first, they probably wouldn't have converted. So technically this page supported the conversion.

Do you see what this is all about?

Optimizing SEO for these pages will likely lead to an increase in conversion rate and sales.

But how do we find them?

Go to Conversions > Multi-channel funnels > Assisted conversions (supported conversions)

Select a conversion from the drop-down menu. (By default, all conversions are selected, which is not ideal.)

Set a time window for the assignment. (That's basically a number of days to take into account before the conversion.)

Make sure you adjust this based on the length of your company's sales cycle.

For example, in the B2B area, you should generally choose the longest time window, as the decision-making process takes longer before the conversion than, for example, when buying clothes online. So play around with the window and see how it affects the number of supported conversions in the report below.

Click on "Organic Search" at the bottom of the report.

Enter the landing page URL as a secondary dimension.

Voilà. Now you will see a list of the organic landing pages, sorted according to the number of supported conversions.

Prioritize these webpages and improve your SEO.

4. Find keyword opportunities by following internal site search

If you have an ecommerce store, help center, knowledge base, or other large website, you probably have an internal search engine as well.

Visitors use them to find specific brands, products, and items on your website.

 

Find wireless chargers on Apple's website.

One of the more interesting features of GA is that it can keep track of these internal site searches.

It searches for keywords that do not yet have a good landing page. This can be because there is no relevant content at all, or because you are ranking for keywords that do not match the search intention.

These are the steps involved:

Check out this tutorial to set up internal search tracking.

Once you've collected the data long enough (over several months), dive into the Search Terms report, which you can find below Behavior> Site Search find.

Use a meaningful filter to exclude long-tail keywords and typos:

Sort the table according to the percentage of search exits and use the weighted sorting method.

(This is the simplest prioritization process within GA. It shows search queries that users searched for, sorted by the likelihood of an unsatisfactory search result. Users exited the search after completing it, which counted as the abandoned search metric. We use weighted sorting to prioritize statistically more significant search terms).

Go through the terms and consider whether you want to create new content based on the search query.

If you want to go further, enter the searches into a keyword research tool like Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer and check the search volume.

The logic behind this is that if a lot of people are looking for information on your website, there could also be a lot of people searching for it on Google. So you can use the GA data to find new ideas for keywords and content.

Don't just check the search volume for the exact keywords. Also, check out the Keyword Idea Reports to find even more potential topics to rank for.

5. Automatically measure dips and peaks in organic traffic

You can't improve your SEO if you don't monitor for errors. It is inefficient to do this manually. It is therefore advisable to set up alerts for organic performance.

Go toAdmin > View column > Custom alerts > Create a new alert.

Set up an alert that is triggered when you see an increase or decrease in organic traffic of X% in a certain period of time. A 20% decrease and a 30% increase from week to week is a good place to start, but you can adjust these numbers based on the volatility of your website.

Click on “Save Alert” - and you're done.

While the reason for monitoring traffic declines is obvious, you might be wondering why it makes sense to do so with traffic spikes?

While the reason for monitoring traffic drops is obvious, you may be wondering why it makes sense to do the same with traffic spikes?

Two reasons:

  1. If the traffic spike is legitimate, which means you're getting more traffic from relevant keywords, you'll want to repeat that with other sites.
  2. Search engines are not error-free. They could start ranking your pages for irrelevant keywords and that is something that you need to consider for reporting.

You can set up these alerts globally for all views to which you have access. Simply select the views in the drop-down menu next to the main view in which you set them.

6. Set up alerts for 404 pages

Let's stay a little longer with monitoring and automation.

The "404 - Page Not Found" error is inevitable and something you should monitor. And you can do that in GA.

First, make sure that all of your 404 pages have a consistent page title, such as "404 - Page Not Found" or "Page Not Found". Second, don't forward it anywhere; the url should stay the same.

If you meet these requirements, you can set up an alert:

For the first condition: enter your page title for 404 pages.

For the second condition: start low and work your way up. That way, you won't get any notifications when everything is normal. The bigger your website, the bigger the number you should start with. Keep in mind that some 404s are inevitable due to typos, so this number should be high enough to rule them out.

Now you have everything you need for proper 404 alerts and monitoring.

From here on, the only thing left to do is to find out what caused the 404 page. Was it a typo? Do you have internal or external links pointing to the url?

To learn how, check out our guide to fixing broken links.

7. Use annotations to locate problems and changes

Google Analytics endorsements are notes that appear on each time graph of the tool.

What are they useful for? For logging changes.

Maybe you've figured out the reason for a recent drop in traffic? Or made a site-wide technical SEO change? Or maybe you are testing out a new title tag format?

Whatever the change, the annotated logging will help you stay on top of things.

To do this, select a relevant time frame, click on the roll-down and enter your note.

Another advantage of annotations is to be able to better assess the effects of changes.

For example, if you notice a sharp increase or decrease in traffic, you can look back on the endorsements to identify possible triggers. You can then repeat changes that led to positive results and avoid mistakes that led to negative results.

8 common Google Analytics mistakes to avoid

Google Analytics is a good servant, but a bad teacher.

Setup errors, misuse of data, or misinterpretation of reports are just a few examples that lead to bad business and marketing decisions.

With that in mind, here are eight mistakes that you should absolutely avoid:

Mistake # 1: setting up Google Analytics tracking incorrectly

Most people make mistakes when setting up Google Analytics. While some are more serious than others, even small mistakes can seriously affect the accuracy and usefulness of your data.

Here are a few of the most common:

  • Missing tracking code;
  • Multiple tracking codes on one webpage;
  • Do not use a referral exclusion list;
  • Incorrectly set up interaction events;
  • Tracking of websites based on JavaScript frameworks with standard settings.

If you suspect any of these problems are on your side, or are unsure of the set-up, there are plenty of articles on the internet that can help. If you can afford it, we also recommend investing in professional advice, testing or a professional set-up.

Mistake # 2. Derive knowledge from insignificant samples

Don't waste time making decisions based on a statistically insignificant sample. Nobody has ever managed to optimize a Facebook ad campaign by analyzing 37 visits.

Are you new to statistics and analytics?

Take one of the many free Statistics 101 courses online. It will almost certainly help you make better decisions.

Mistake # 3. Compulsive viewing of data with no purpose

We've all done it. You check a report and two hours later you're deep in the rabbit hole looking at something completely different.

It is important to know why you are doing what you are doing and how you can gain actionable insights from it. Don't be obsessed with just focusing on data all the time.

Mistake # 4: Tracking for the sake of tracking

Learning how to closely track complicated custom events definitely feels like a win. Until you realize that you are now following dozens of events and cannot do anything with the data. That's it then.

Mistake # 5: Not knowing what the data represents

"This landing page sucks because the average time on the page is only 11 seconds."

Eleven seconds does sound bad. But no one who knows how this metric is calculated would say that.

Why actually? Because the average time spent on the page is based on the timestamps between the GA hits. This means that each bounced session is billed as zero seconds. In addition, this metric does not take into account inactivity, which skews the data a lot given the number of open inactive tabs we all have. To be completely honest, this is a pretty useless metric, yet it is included by default on many reports.

Mistake # 6: Failure to Pay Attention to Detailed Data

There are very few, if any, scenarios in which you can derive actionable insights from a standard report. Always apply filters, segments, and secondary dimensions to find the root causes.

Mistake # 7: Missing Google Analytics Sampling Problems

If you are looking at a long period of time or comparing complex data, make sure that it is based on a 100% sample size. If so, you will see the green shield icon next to the report name.

If the results are random, the symbol turns yellow.

While it's okay to use a 95% sample, don't even try to draw conclusions from such small samples:

If you come across something similar, choose a shorter time period or a less complex query.

Mistake # 8: ignoring ad blockers

There's one thing that always amazes me at marketing conferences - the number of hands that go in the air when a speaker asks how many people are using ad blockers. (Yes, marketers hide from their own work.)

The popularity of ad blockers should come as no surprise. We are bombarded with often horrific advertisements all the time.

The point is, the vast majority of ad blockers block Google Analytics. In addition, browsers are also enforcing more and more data protection guidelines. This leads to GA being completely blocked (Brave) or the cookie expiry time being shortened rapidly (Safari), which leads to an even more problematic attribution.

No matter what you do, a significant part of the data will always be missing.

So always enjoy the data in Google Analytics with a little caution.

Conclusion

One of the biggest SEO challenges is showing their worth and making data-driven decisions. It requires more effort than, for example, search campaigns, where you can follow everything directly and influence it immediately.

So if there is only one thing that you should take away from this guide, it should be: Use critical thinking while looking at data - always.

If you want to learn more about Google Analytics without encountering any misinformation, start with these blogs and resources:

Do you know any other methods of using Google Analytics to improve SEO? Do you still have questions? Write to me on Twitter!