As mentioned in the previous post of what to focus on when measuring SEO which included URLs and indexed pages, landing pages, the second part of the SEO health check consists of keywords, organic search traffic, and how to interpret all of your data.
Closely related to landing pages, you want people to find your site via a large number of keywords. 70% of total search query volume is in the long tail, so if people are only finding your site through a small handful of terms, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunity.
Even if the number of pages on your site has remained the same year-over-year, if you’re doing the right things in marketing your content, then your site is becoming more authoritative, which means that a given page will be able to rank for new keyword combinations.
Additionally, you want to segment your keywords to see what kinds keywords are driving traffic, because they’re not all created equal.
Brand Keywords: This includes your brand name, variations on your brand, misspellings, and your domain name. You can create a Custom Segment in Google Analytics that uses regular expressions to match myriad different variations and misspellings with a single line of code, e.g. (mybrand|my brand|mybrnd|my brnd|.com).
If your brand is strong enough that people search for you by name, that’s great, but you should expect to dominate the SERPs for your brand. Doing well here doesn’t tell you much about how well you’re doing SEO.
Non-brand Keywords: As the name implies, this is every non-branded keyword that drove traffic to your site, and defines the real opportunity in organic search. A sporting goods store is doing well when they start getting traffic for “basketball shoes” and “football jerseys”, etc, rather than just their store name.
Organic Search Traffic
Last, but certainly not least, you want to look at the traffic you’re getting from organic search. I prefer looking at data year-over-year, because it corrects for seasonal differences that skew data when you look month-over-month.
You can get as granular with your segmentation as you like, but often it’s enough to look at traffic segmented by the keyword groups we outlined, above:
*Google Brand Keywords
*Google Non-brand Keywords
*Bing Brand Keywords
*Bing Non-brand Keywords
Interpreting the Data
Let’s take another look at the example SEO Health Check data:
Total Site URLs: This shows that the site grew substantially over the past year, adding 61% more pages (launching new content pages, developing new products, etc).
Indexed URLs: The number of URLs that engines have indexed also increased substantially, growing by almost a quarter.
Percentage of URLs Indexed: This is an interesting metric. Despite the fact that the number of Indexed URLs grew by 24% year-over-year, the rate of increase in indexation is not keeping pace with the growth of the site itself in new pages published. The number of URLs is increasing faster than the authority of the site is able to drive indexation. This points to an opportunity to engage in content marketing and link building to get more of those new pages into the index, ranked, and earning traffic, as well as improving the flow of link authority through improving information architecture.
Landing Pages: The total number of landing pages has increased modestly year-over-year. However, you also want to be very aware of the traffic distribution amongst these landing pages. It’s perfectly natural to have a handful of pages account for a relatively large percentage of organic search traffic (e.g., the home page and 4 category pages account for 10% of total organic search visits). However, the more even your traffic distribution is amongst your pages, the more defensible your traffic is likely to be over the long term. You want to be very wary of having too much of your traffic dependent on a handful of keyword rankings, which can change at a moment’s notice.
Landing Pages vs Indexed Pages: This is a further refinement of the Indexation metrics, above. Getting a URL in the index is an important first step, but that page has to rank highly enough that a search actually sees it and clicks for it to be of any value. As we saw previously, despite the total number of landing pages increasing, the rate of increase is not keeping pace with the rate that new pages are being indexed. Lack of link authority is likely the culprit.
Brand Keywords: The number of brand –related queries people are using to find the site is almost steady-state year over year, which is perfectly fine, and would be expected (unless you had done a major rebranding).
Non-brand Keywords: We’re seeing a healthy gain here in the number of generic keywords that people are using to find our site, which is a very positive sign. This indicates a healthy presence in the long tail of search, which is vital to sustaining long-term growth in organic search.
Google Traffic – Brand: Using the Custom Segment you built for Brand Keywords, you see that Google is driving a modest increase in traffic year-over-year. How you interpret this metric is highly dependent on how much effort and money you devote to brand building. If you’ve invested a huge amount in awareness marketing via online banner advertising, television, or the like, you would hope for a much larger increase. If you don’t invest in brand-building, then numbers that are about even year-over-year would be expected.
Google Traffic – Non-brand: This is what we’re really after. Seeing a healthy increase here indicates that we are making real forward progress with our SEO – indexation is driving ranking, which in turn drives traffic.
The metrics that we discussed take some work to generate initially, but once you get them set up, pulling them on a bi-weekly or monthly basis is a trivial amount of work. Importantly, they are the appropriate level of granularity that, allowing for some introduction to the core concepts, anyone on the product or marketing teams will be able to understand them (this level of detail will most likely not be shared with the C suite). Most importantly, the SEO Health Check surfaces data that give you meaningful insights into your site’s progress in SEO.
Ethan Hays is Search Director at gyro
Follow him @ethanhays