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SEO Step Eight Of Ten: Statistics Analysis
Welcome to step eight in this ten part SEO series. The ten parts of the SEO process we will be covering are:
- Keyword Research & Selection
- Competitor Analysis
- Site Structure
- Content Optimization
- Link Building
- Social Media
- Statistics Analysis
- Conversion Optimization
- Keeping It Up
The Final Stages
So you've done your research on keywords, tested them with PPC for conversions, analyzed your competitors, optimized your site, built your links and used social media to promote your cool tools, awesome news and more. You've watched your site crawl up the rankings and you've finally hit the sweet spot - you're on the first page of Google or better yet - you're above the fold on Google! Time to kick back, open up a beer (if you're over 21 - 19 here in Canada), and watch the money pour in from whatever goods or services you're providing. Here comes the bad news - now's when the work REALLY begins. Now don't get me wrong, you've gone through a lot to get here and you've definitely put in your hours - you do deserve to take a bit of time off from dealing with your site before you head into the final three stages (which last for the lifetime of your site by the way). This couple weeks will give you time to collect some baseline data for what we're going to discuss here ...
Improving Your Site Health
You've just put in months of hard work to get your site ranking. You're likely making some sales now and you're probably pretty pleased with your efforts, and you should be. But are you getting all that you wanted or could have from the rankings? If you're now making 5 sales per day, could you make 10? If your sales jumped from $5,000 per month to $50,000 ... could they be $80,000 ... how about $180,000? As an SEO I definitely understand how much simply ranking on the search engines can mean to a company's bottom line. As someone who's taken a good hard look at stats for numerous sites and made or recommended numerous changes to sites based on them I definitely understand that while rankings will bring you the traffic ... they don't help you make them buy. This section also applies to those of you who already have sites ranking well, have some good traffic and just want to make the most of it.
When we're thinking about increasing sales from existing traffic we generally think about conversion optimization. If this is your first thought you're 100% right but in order to increase conversions first you need to understand what your visitors are doing. After that you can look at your site and understand what's going wrong when you're considering what you need to do to increase your conversions. So today we're going to determine how to tell what you're doing wrong (and right) by looking into your stats.
Obviously we can't get into each and every aspect of stats here. Your statistics are different than my statistics and the issues that various sites face will dictate which aspects are most critical to look at and how they should be analyzed. That said, there are some areas of any site's stats that need to be looked at and which can be reviewed by people of virtually any skill level with some understanding. We're going to focus on these areas. First, let's look at a couple of stats programs:
Webalizer & AWstats - Chances are your web hosting provider offers some sort of free stats program like Webalizer or AWstats. These stats programs are fairly elementary and don't give in-depth information nor can you customize what you're seeing. They are however very easy to read and understand. If you've never looked at a statistics program before - it might be a good start to check these out.
Google Analytics - This is Urchin adjusted. The stats are collected and seen by Google and provided to you in a fairly simple-to-read format complete with the ability to customize a lot of the data and set targets so you can track specifically who is landing on specific pages (such as you're "thank you" page). Probably the best of the free programs out there but there's just a part of me that's nervous about handing over all the data about my visitors and their patterns until I know that data to be favorable. if the average visitor to your site only stays for 30 seconds and visits 1.5 pages ... do you really want Google to know that? You might prefer to work on getting your pageviews and time on site up to good levels before letting Google see under the hood. Now, I don't know that they use this data but then - just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
ClickTracks - This is my personal favorite of all the stats programs. The virtually endless ways it can be customized, the in-depth ability to calculate ROI and the reports make this a winner. It's not the cheapest option (it's hard to compete with free). They have a free trial well worth checking out. For more information be sure to turn in to WebmasterRadio.fm at 2PM EST on March 3rd, 2008 when we will have ClickTrack's Andres Galdames on the show to discuss stats analysis with us. If you miss the show don't worry - you can download the podcast at http://www.webmasterradio.fm/Search-Engine-Optimization/Webcology/.
What You're Looking For
Alright, so we know what to use - but what are we looking for? There are some universally applicable measurements that virtually everyone should look at:
Visitors: This is exactly what it sounds like - it'll tell you how many visitors you've had to your site in a given timeframe. Obviously this is what you want to see increase over time. This stats won't help you increase conversions but will let you know how your rankings and links from other sites affect your traffic.
Referrers: This will tell you where you're traffic is coming from including which engines are sending how much traffic.
Keywords: You know how you rank but what does that REALLY mean. Your keyword stats will tell you how much traffic these rankings are really producing.
Exit Pages: When you're looking to improve your conversions and visitor patterns very few stats are as important as this one. Knowing which pages your visitors are leaving from can get you well on your way to repairing the major issues with your site.
When we're using more advanced stats packages such as Google Analytics and ClickTracks we can start to further tailor the information to receive. You'll be able to see the entry and exit pages for visitors from specific engines or who came to your site after using a specific phrase. You'll be able to track the value of a visitor if you have an e-commerce site or track which visitors are contacting you most often.
How Will You Use This Data
When you're trying to increase your conversions you need to first understand what's going on with your site. In some cases you will be monitoring for problems, in others you'll simply be looking for missed opportunities. In the end the truth of the matter is - there is always room for improvement. No matter how well designed the site, there will always be a top exit page which means there is always testing to be done.
To give you an idea of the range of issues you will be looking for I'll take a page from Beanstalk's history. When we first started out our primary phrase was "search engine positioning" (and thus our company name) with "search engine positioning services" as one of the secondary phrases. When we hit the first page for the services-based phrase we started getting some good traffic. It took us a few more months to rank for "search engine positioning". After about a month we reviewed our stats and what did we find? Using ClickTracks I was able to specify wanting to know which visitors landed on one of our thank you pages (indicating filling out our contact form or interest in one of our services). After collecting a few weeks of data I discovered that the majority of the people who contacted us had entered with "search engine positioning services" and that not a single person who came to our site with "search engine positioning" filled out a form.
Obviously this changed the entire SEO strategy from that point on. After changing our keywords dramatically and working on increasing the traffic from keywords that would convert higher we then switched our focus to streamlining the process and working on our top exit pages. Now, our blog is a main exit and entry page but that's acceptable given that most of the visitors to the blog are there to read current news (i.e. they'll only be visiting the index page of the blog and then leaving). When we see that a services page is a main exit page however we know we need to take a good look at the page and see what we can do to get the visitor to visit more pages or communicate with us.
In another example, we were working for a client that was undergoing a complete redevelopment of their site. This time we ransacked the stats from prior to the change as well as after to understand exactly how the visitor's interaction with the site changed. As can happen, I was surprised with many of the changes and a lot of issues that I (not having gone all the way through the cart once told it was functioning) did not see coming but which a look through the stats clearly outlined. There was serious abandonment at the cart level as the final steps were made more difficult than they had previously been. The client had thought their traffic had declined however we were able to show that other than a few days' dip it held pretty steady and that it was a drop in conversions that was responsible for the drop in sales despite having a site that otherwise performed better (in regards to navigation and search functionality).
What Should YOU Do
The one things that's true in every case is that you need to check your stats. You don't have to look at them every day but a weekly check is going to help make sure you always know what's going on, where your traffic is coming from and what they're doing.
If you have the patience to learn how to use the more advanced tools (and I highly recommend you do or hire someone who can) you'll get a feel for where things could be improved and where there are critical issues. With what can often be a few minor adjustments you can see significant increases in sales and the ROI from the site as a whole.
Unfortunately there is no way for me to cover all the the possible areas you would want to look at in your stats. What I've tried to do here is to give a brief outline of what you can use and the basics of what you'll be looking for and some example of how they can be useful. Unfortunately this only covers about 1% of what can really be understood about stats, the tools that can be used, and the uses for it.
Fortunately we're going to have a chance to hear from the fine folks at Enquiro next week (who will be writing part nine of this series and who will also be on the radio show with me). They will be able to discuss some different stats techniques though they will be focusing on the next step in the process - conversion optimization. Once you have your stats you need to know what to do to fix the issues you've found. Next week we'll discuss what that is.
If you take only one thing away from this article and the radio show I hope it's this - your statistics are the key to understanding your site's health and to making the most of it. They are the key to maximizing the ROI from a website and need to be reviewed regularly. If you don't know how to read your stats or what specific things mean - that's what forums, articles and the support documents for the stats program you're using are for. And if you can't find the help you need there (or just don't have the patience) - contact your SEO or contract one to help you get the understanding you need to have to make the right decisions.
Next week's the topic will be conversion optimization and will be written by Rick Tobin of Enquiro.
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