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Posted by Cyrus-Shepard
Recently, Moz announced the results of our biennial Ranking Factors study. Today, we’d like to explore one of the most vital elements of the study: the Ranking Factors survey.
Every two years, Moz surveys the brightest minds in SEO and search marketing with a comprehensive set of questions meant to gauge the current workings of Google’s search algorithm. This year’s panel of experts possesses a truly unique set of knowledge and perspectives. We’re thankful on behalf of the entire community for their contribution.
In addition to asking the participants about what does and doesn’t work in Google’s ranking algorithm today, one of the most illuminating group of questions asks the panel to predict the future of search – how the features of Google’s algorithm are expected to change over the next 12 months.
Amazingly, almost all of the factors that are expected to increase in influence revolved around user experience, including:
The experts predicted that more traditional ranking signals, such as those around links and URL structures, would largely remain the same, while the more manipulative aspects of SEO, like paid links and anchor text (which is subject to manipulation), would largely decrease in influence.
The survey also asks respondents to weight the importance of various factors within Google’s current ranking algorithm (on a scale of 1-10). Understanding these areas of importance helps to inform webmasters and marketers where to invest time and energy in working to improve the search presence of their websites.
These features describe use of the keyword term/phrase in particular parts of the HTML code on the page (title element, H1s, alt attributes, etc).
Highest influence: Keyword present in title element, 8.34
Lowest influence: Keyword present in specific HTML elements (bold/italic/li/a/etc), 4.16
Titles are still very powerful. Overall, it’s about focus and matching query syntax. If your post is about airplane propellers but you go on a three paragraph rant about gorillas, you’re going to have a problem ranking for airplane propellers.
Keyword usage is vital to making the cut, but we don’t always see it correlate with ranking, because we’re only looking at what already made the cut. The page has to be relevant to appear for a query, IMO, but when it comes to how high the page ranks once it’s relevant, I think keywords have less impact than they once did. So, it’s a necessary but not sufficient condition to ranking.
In my experience, most of problems with organic visibility are related to on-page factors. When I look for an opportunity, I try to check for 2 strong things: presence of keyword in the title and in the main content. Having both can speed up your visibility, especially on long-tail queries.
These features cover how keywords are used in the root or subdomain name, and how much impact this might have on search engine rankings.
Highest influence: Keyword is the exact match root domain name, 5.83
Lowest influence: Keyword is the domain extension, 2.55
The only domain/keyword factor I’ve seen really influence rankings is an exact match. Subdomains, partial match, and others appear to have little or no effect.
There’s no direct influence, but an exact match root domain name can definitely lead to a higher CTR within the SERPs and therefore a better ranking in the long term.
It’s very easy to link keyword-rich domains with their success in Google’s results for the given keyword. I’m always mindful about other signals that align with domain name which may have contributed to its success. These includes inbound links, mentions, and local citations.
These features describe link metrics for the individual ranking page (such as number of links, PageRank, etc).
Highest influence: Raw quantity of links from high-authority sites, 7.78
Lowest influence: Sentiment of the external links pointing to the page, 3.85
High-quality links still rule rankings. The way a brand can earn links has become more important over the years, whereas link schemes can hurt a site more than ever before. There is a lot of FUD slinging in this respect!
Similar to my thoughts on content, I suspect link-based metrics are going to be used increasingly with a focus on verisimilitude (whether content is actually true or not) and relationships between nodes in Knowledge Graph. Google’s recent issues with things, such as the snippet results for “evolution,” highlight the importance of them only pulling things that are factually correct for featured parts of a SERP. Thus, just counting traditional link metrics won’t cut it anymore.
While anchor text is still a powerful ranking factor, using targeted anchor text carries a significant amount of risk and can easily wipe out your previous success.
These features describe elements that indicate qualities of branding and brand metrics.
Highest influence: Search volume for the brand/domain, 6.54
Lowest influence: Popularity of business’s official social media profiles, 3.99
This is clearly on deck to change very soon with the reintegration of Twitter into Google’s Real-Time Results. It will be interesting to see how this affects the “Breaking News” box and trending topics. Social influencers, quality and quantity of followers, RTs, and favorites will all be a factor. And what’s this?! Hashtags will be important again?! Have mercy!
Google has to give the people what they want, and if most of the time they are searching for a brand, Google is going to give them that brand. Google doesn’t have a brand bias, we do.
It’s already noticeable; brands are more prominently displayed in search results for both informational and commercial queries. I’m expecting Google will be paying more attention to brand-related metrics from now on (and certainly more initiatives to encourage site owners to optimize for better entity detection).
These features relate to third-party metrics from social media sources (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc) for the ranking page.
Highest influence: Engagement with content/URL on social networks, 3.87
Lowest influence: Upvotes for the page on social sites, 2.7
Social ranking factors are important in a revamped Query Deserves Freshness algorithm. Essentially, if your content gets a lot of natural tweets, shares, and likes, it will rank prominently for a short period of time, until larger and more authoritative sites catch up.
Social popularity has several factors to consider: (1) Years ago, Google and Bing said they take into account the authority of a social profile sharing a link and the popularity of the link being shared (retweets/reshares), and there was more complexity to social signals that was never revealed even back then. (2) My experience has been that social links and shares have more power for newsy/fresh-type content. For example, a lot of social shares for a dentist’s office website wouldn’t be nearly as powerful (or relevant to consider) as a lot of social shares for an article on a site with a constant flow of fresh content.
Honestly, I do not think that the so-called “social signals” have any direct influence on the Google Algorithm (that does not mean that a correlation doesn’t exist, though). My only doubt is related to Twitter, because of the renewed contract between Google and Twitter itself. That said, as of now I do not consider Twitter to offer any ranking signals, except for very specific niches related to news and “news-able” content, where QDF plays a fundamental role.
These elements describe non-keyword-usage, non-link-metrics features of individual pages (such as length of the page, load speed, etc).
Highest influence: Uniqueness of the content on the page, 7.85
Lowest influence: Page contains Open Graph data and/or Twitter cards, 3.64
By branching mobile search off of Google’s core ranking algorithm, having a “mobile-friendly” website is probably now less important for desktop search rankings. Our clients are seeing an ever-increasing percentage of organic search traffic coming from mobile devices, though (particularly in retail), so this is certainly not an excuse to ignore responsive design – the opposite, in fact. Click-through rate from the SERPs has been an important ranking signal for a long time and continues to be, flagging irrelevant or poor-quality search listings.
I believe many of these will be measured within the ecosystem, rather than absolutely. For example, the effect of bounce rate (or rather, bounce speed) on a site will be relative to the bounce speeds on other pages in similar positions for similar terms.
I want to answer these a certain way because, while I have been told by Google what matters to them, what I see in the SERPs does not back up what Google claims they want. There are a lot of sites out there with horrible UX that rank in the top three. While I believe it’s really important for conversion and to bring customers back, I don’t feel as though Google is all that concerned, based on the sites that rank highly. Additionally, Google practically screams “unique content,” yet sites that more or less steal and republish content from other sites are still ranking highly. What I think should matter to Google doesn’t seem to matter to them, based on the results they give me.
These features describe link metrics about the domain hosting the page.
Highest influence: Quantity of unique linking domains to the domain, 7.45
Lowest influence: Sentiment of the external links pointing to the site, 3.91
Quantity and quality of unique linking domains at the domain level is still among the most significant factors in determining how a domain will perform as a whole in the organic search results, and is among the best SEO “spot checks” for determining if a site will be successful relative to other competitor sites with similar content and selling points.
Throughout this survey, when I say “no direct influence,” this is interchangeable with “no direct positive influence.” For example, I’ve marked exact match domain as low numbers, while their actual influence may be higher – though negatively.
Topical relevancy has, in my opinion, gained much ground as a relevant ranking factor. Although I find it most at play when at page level, I am seeing significant shifts at overall domain relevancy, by long-tail growth or by topically-relevant domains linking to sites. One way I judge such movements is the growth of the long-tail relevant to the subject or ranking, when neither anchor text (exact match or synonyms) nor exact phrase is used in a site’s content, yet it still ranks very highly for long-tail and mid-tail synonyms.
These features relate to the entire root domain, but don’t directly describe link- or keyword-based elements. Instead, they relate to things like the length of the domain name in characters.
Highest influence: Uniqueness of content across the whole site, 7.52
Lowest influence: Length of time until domain name expires, 2.45
Character length of domain name is another correlative yet not causative factor, in my opinion. They don’t need to rule these out – it just so happens that longer domain names get clicked on, so they get ruled out quickly.
A few points: Google’s document inception date patents describe how Google might handle freshness and maturity of content for a query. The “trust signal” pages sound like a site quality metric that Google might use to score a page on the basis of site quality. Some white papers from Microsoft on web spam signals identified multiple hyphens in subdomains as evidence of web spam. The length of time until the domain expires was cited as a potential signal in Google’s patent on information retrieval through historic data, and was refuted by Matt Cutts after domain sellers started trying to use that information to sell domain extensions to “help the SEO” of a site.
I think that page speed only becomes a factor when it is significantly slow. I think that having error pages on the site doesn’t matter, unless there are so many that it greatly impacts Google’s ability to crawl.
To bring it back to the beginning, we asked the experts if they had any comments or alternative signals they think will become more or less important over the next 12 months.
While I expect that static factors, such as incoming links and anchor text, will remain influential, I think the power of these will be mediated by the presence or absence of engagement factors.
The app world and webpage world are getting lumped together. If you have the more popular app relative to your competitors, expect Google to notice.
Mobile will continue to increase, with directly-related factors increasing as well. Structured data will increase, along with more data partners and user segmentation/personalization of SERPs to match query intent, localization, and device-specific need states.
User location may have more influence in mobile SERPs as (a) more connected devices like cars and watches allow voice search, and (b) sites evolve accordingly to make such signals more accurate.
I really think that over the next 12-18 months we are going to see a larger impact of structured data in the SERPs. In fact, we are already seeing this. Google has teams that focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning. They are studying “relationships of interest” and, at the heart of what they are doing, are still looking to provide the most relevant result in the quickest fashion. Things like schema that help “educate” the search engines as to a given topic or entity are only going to become more important as a result.
For more data, check out the complete Ranking Factors Survey results.
Finally, we leave you with this infographic created by Kevin Engle which shows the relative weighting of broad areas of Google’s algorithm, according to the experts.
What’s your opinion on the future of search and SEO? Let us know in the comments below.
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!
Posted by EricEnge
How do the SERPs for commercial queries vary from the treatment of informational queries? Moz is about to publish its new Search Engine Ranking Factors, and was kind enough to provide me with access to their raw ranking data. Today I am going to share some of what I found.
In addition, I am going to compare it against raw ranking data pulled by my company, Stone Temple Consulting (STC). What makes this so interesting is that the Moz data is based on commercial queries across 165,177 pages and the STC data is based on informational queries over 182,340 pages (for a total of 347,517 result pages). Let’s dive in!
Google rolled out their Mobile-Friendly Update on April 21 to much fanfare. We published our study results on how big that impact was here, and in that test, we tracked a set of 15,235 SERPs both before and after the SERPs.
The following chart shows the percentage of the top 10 results in the SERPs that are mobile friendly for the Moz (commercial) queries, and the STC informational queries before and after the mobile update:
Clearly, the commercial queries are returning a much larger percentage of mobile friendly results than the informational queries. Much of this may be due to it being more important to people running E-commerce sites to have a mobile-friendly site.
What this suggests to us is that publishers of E-commerce sites have been faster to adopt mobile friendliness than publishers of informational sites. That makes sense. Of course, our friends at Google know this is more important for commercial queries, too.
Regardless of query type, you can see that more than 60% of the results meet Google’s current definition for mobile friendliness. For commercial queries, it’s nearly 3/4 of them. Obviously, if you are not currently mobile friendly, then solve that, but that’s not the whole story.
Over time, I believe that what is considered mobile friendly is going to change. The mobile world will become much more than just viewing your current desktop site with a smaller screen and a crappier keyboard. What are some more things you can expect in the long term?
My third point is an item that is already in progress, and the first two are really not for most people at this time. However, I put them out there to stimulate some thinking that much more is going to happen in this space than meets the eye. In the short term, what can you do?
My suggestion is that you start looking at the mobile version of your site as more than a different rendering of your desktop site. What are the different use cases between mobile and desktop? Consider running two surveys of your users, one of desktop users and one of smartphone users, and ask them what they are looking for, and what they would like to see. My bet is that you will quickly see that the use cases are different in material ways.
In the near term, you can leverage this information to make your mobile site optimization work better for users, probably without re-architecting it entirely. In the longer term, collecting this type of data will prepare you for considering more radical design differences between your desktop and mobile sites.
Another one of the newer ranking factors is whether or not a site uses HTTPS. Just this past July 22, Google’s Gary Illyes clarified again that this is a minor ranking signal that acts like a tiebreaker in cases where the ranking for two competing pages are “more or less equal.”
How has that played out in the SERPs? Let’s take a look:
As with the mobile-friendliness, we once again see the commercial queries placing significantly more emphasis on this factor than the informational queries. Yet, the penetration levels are clearly far lower than they are for mobile friendliness. So should I care about this then?
Yes, it matters. Here are three reasons why:
Yes, I know there is much debate about whether or not you need to have HTTPS if all you are doing is running a content site. But a lot of big players out there are taking a simple stance: that it’s time for the plain text web to come to an end.
The big thing that HTTPS helps prevent is Man in the Middle Attacks. Do read the linked article if you don’t know what that is. Basically though, when you communicate with a non-secure web site, it’s pretty trivial for someone to intercept the communication and monitor or alter the information flow between you and the sending web site.
The most trivial form of this can occur any time you connect to a third party Wifi connection. People can inject ads you don’t want, or simply monitor everything you do and build a profile about you. Is that what you want?
Let me offer a simple example: Have you ever connected to Wifi in a hotel? What’s the first thing that happens? You try to go to a website, but instead you get a login screen asking for your room number and last name to sign in – and most times they charge you some fee.
That’s the concept – you tried to go to a web site, and instead got served different content (the Wifi login screen). The hotel can do this at any time. Even after you login and pay their fee, they can intercept your communication with other web sites and modify the content. A simple application for this it to inject ads. They can also monitor and keep a record of every site you visit. They can do this because they are in the middle.
In an HTTPS world, they will still be able to intercept the initial connection, but once you are connected, they will no longer be able to see inside the content going back and forth between you and the https websites you choose to access.
Eventually, the plain text web will come to an end. As this movement grows, more and more publishers will make the switch to HTTPS, and Google will dial up the strength of this signal as a ranking factor. If you have not made the switch, then get it into your longer term plans.
Both mobile-friendliness and HTTPS support appear to matter more to commercial sites today. I tend to think that this is more a result of more e-commerce site publishers and informational site publishers have made the conversions, rather than it being the impact of the related Google algorithms. Regardless of that, the importance of both of these factors will grow, and it would be wise to aggressively prepare for the future.
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!
Posted by jon.white
We have launched a couple of new things in Moz Pro that we are excited to share with you all: Mobile Rankings and a Search Visibility score. If you want, you can jump right in by heading to a campaign and adding a mobile engine, or keep reading for more details!
Mobilegeddon came and went with slightly less fanfare than expected, somewhat due to the vast ‘Mobile Friendly’ updates we all did at super short notice (nice work everyone!). Nevertheless, mobile rankings visibility is now firmly on everyone’s radar, and will only become more important over time.
Now you can track your campaigns’ mobile rankings for all of the same keywords and locations you are tracking on desktop.
Clicking on this will take you into a new Engines tab within your Keyword Rankings page where you can find a more detailed version of this chart as well as a tabular view by keyword for both desktop and mobile. Here you can also filter by label and location.
We’ve given customers an extra engine for each campaign, increasing the number from 3 to 4. Use the extra slot to add the mobile engine and unlock your mobile data!
We will begin to track mobile rankings within 24 hours of adding to a campaign. Once you are set up, you will notice a new chart on your dashboard showing visibility for Desktop vs. Mobile Search Visibility.
Along with this change we have also added a Search Visibility score to your rankings data. Use your visibility score to track and report on your overall campaign ranking performance, compare to your competitors, and look for any large shifts that might indicate penalties or algorithm changes. For a deeper drill-down into your data you can also segment your visibility score by keyword labels or locations. Visit the rankings summary page on any campaign to get started.
The Search Visibility score is the percentage of clicks we estimate you receive based on your rankings positions, across all of your keywords.
We take each ranking position for each keyword, multiply by an estimated click-thru-rate, and then take the average of all of your keywords. You can think of it as the percentage of your SERPs that you own. The score is expressed as a percentage, though scores of 100% would be almost impossible unless you are tracking keywords using the “site:” modifier. It is probably more useful to measure yourself vs. your competitors rather than focus on the actual score, but, as a rule of thumb, mid-40s is probably the realistic maximum for non-branded keywords.
Jeremy, our Moz Analytics TPM, came up with this metaphor:
Think of the SERPs for your keywords as villages. Each position on the SERP is a plot of land in SERP-village. The Search Visibility score is the average amount of plots you own in each SERP-village. Prime real estate plots (i.e., better ranking positions, like #1) are worth more. A complete monopoly of real estate in SERP-village would equate to a score of 100%. The Search Visibility score equates to how much total land you own in all SERP-villages.
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!
Posted by Isla_McKetta
“How can I learn SEO?” is a deceptively simple question. The standard approach is to attempt to appeal to anyone who’s interested in SEO without any idea of your previous experience or the actual reasons you want to learn SEO. That’s fun. Especially the part about weeding through tons of information that might not even apply to what you want to learn.
So let’s fix that. This guide is written to help you choose your own SEO adventure. If you know very little about SEO and just want to learn enough to impress your CMO, start at the beginning and stop when you feel like you understand enough concepts. Or if you’ve been doing SEO for years but need a brush up on the latest tips and tricks before impressing a potential client or employer, there’s a path for you too. Be sure to follow the links. They refer you to resources that are much more in-depth than we could reproduce in one post.
You may know what a title tag is, but you aren’t quite sure how to use it or why. The SEO Newbie could be a web developing hobbyist on the verge of a new obsession or someone looking for the next growing career path. Regardless, you have the most to learn (and the most to gain) from this adventure.
Start at the very beginning with What is SEO? and explore as many paths as you can. You might be surprised at the bits of information you pick up along the way. For a guided tour, follow the teal boxes. Don’t forget to bookmark this page so you can come back and learn more once you’ve absorbed each batch of info.
You were doing SEO back in the days of AltaVista, so you know all the things to know. Except maybe you took a break for a few years or decided to swap that black hat for a gray (or even white) one and need to know what’s the what with the major changes in the past few years.
Make a quick stop at the Algorithm Change History to catch up on the latest updates and penalties. After that, we’ll guide you through some of the topics that are more likely to have changed since you last checked. Just look for the purple boxes.
You’ve heard of SEO. You might even have worked with a few SEOs. Now you’re ready to dig in and understand what everyone’s talking about and how you can use all that new info to improve your marketing (and maybe level up your career at the same time).
Start with What is SEO? and look for shortcuts in orange boxes along the path to gather highlights. You can always dig deeper into any topic you find especially interesting.
Whichever path you choose, don’t worry, we’ll keep weaving you in and out of the sections that are relevant to your learning needs; just look for the color that’s relevant to your chosen character.
For you table of contents types who like to read straight through rather than have someone set the path for you, here’s a quick look at what we’ll be covering:
First things first. It’s hard to learn the ins and outs of SEO (search engine optimization) before you even know what it is. In the following short video, Rand Fishkin (a.k.a. the Wizard of Moz) defines SEO as “The practice of increasing the quantity and quality of the traffic that you earn through the organic results in search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.”
Watch it to understand the difference between paid search and organic search and a few basic things about improving click-throughs from search pages.
A lot of different factors, from site speed to content quality, are important in SEO. These are, as far as anyone can tell, the factors that search engines use in determining whether or not to show your page to searchers. For a great intro to those elements and how they interact to affect your site’s overall ranking, check out Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors.
That’s all nice, but if SEO is starting to seem like a lot of work, you probably want to understand whether SEO is even worth it. The short answer is that yes, SEO is worth it, but only if you want potential customers to be able to find your site when they’re searching on Google (or any other search engine).
Yes, search engines are crawling your site, but those crawlers aren’t as sophisticated as you might like. SEO gives you more control over how your site is represented in those search engine results pages. Good SEO can also improve how users experience your site. Learn more with Why Search Engine Marketing is Necessary.
Who are these search engines anyway and why do we spend so much time worrying about how they see our sites? To get the best answer, let’s look at that question from two points of view: search engines and searchers.
First, it’s important to understand how search engines crawl sites, build their indexes, and ultimately determine what’s relevant to a user’s query. Some of the specifics are trade secrets, but this section of the Beginner’s Guide to SEO offers a solid overview. And for an introduction to how Google ranks pages, watch this video:
As you’re learning about SEO, remember that not everything you read on the Internet should be treated as gospel. Here are some common myths and misconceptions about search engines.
Understanding how people use search engines is as crucial to SEO as understanding their needs is to marketing. Learn about classic search query patterns and how people scan search results here.
So far we’ve dropped a lot of phrases like “search results” and “search pages,” but what does any of that really mean? Search Engine Land does a great job of decoding the standard search engine results page (SERP). It’s a strong foundation for understanding why everyone is shooting to be in the top ten search results. But one thing you’ll find the more you get into SEO is that SERPs are rapidly evolving. Ads move, knowledge graphs appear (and disappear) and sometimes local search results invade. Dr. Pete takes you on a tour of how SERPs have changed and why ten blue links are probably a thing of the past in this article.
And then there’s the darker side of SEO, because once there’s a system, there’s someone trying to game that system. Spend more than a few minutes talking to anyone about SEO and you’ll hear something or other about black hat tactics like keyword stuffing and unnatural linking.
If you decide to use these tactics, you might soon become acquainted with search engine penalties. These algorithm updates, like Hummingbird and Penguin, are implemented by search engines at various intervals. The official word is that these updates improve user experience, but they can also be effective ways to penalize SEOs using spammy tactics. Learn more about Google’s algorithm updates. That page includes not only a full history of prior penalties, but it’s consistently refreshed when a new algorithm update is confirmed.
SEO veterans, you get to skip ahead of the class now to learn about the current state of page speed, mobile web development, and competitive research along with info on the best tools available today.
As you can see, a lot of work can go into SEO, but the results can be pretty incredible, too. To track your progress in topping the SERPs, make sure you’re using an analytics platform like Google Analytics or Omniture. You can get by with something like Rank Tracker to track rankings on keywords as a start, but eventually you’re going to want some of the data those more sophisticated tools offer.
Brain full? You’ve just learned everything a beginner needs to know about what SEO is. Go take a walk or get some coffee and let all that info soak in.
Before you go, save this bookmark.
First of all, don’t freak out, you don’t have to build a totally new site to get something out of this section. But if you’re an SEO Newbie intent on making a career of this, you might want to set up a practice site to really get your hands dirty and learn everything you can.
Before you start worrying about site content and structure (aka the fun stuff), you have a real chance to set your site up for success by using a strong domain name and developing a URL structure that’s SEO and user friendly. This stuff can be hard to change later when you have hundreds (or thousands) of pages in place, so you’ll be glad you started out on the right foot.
While you’re decades too late to score “buy.com,” it’s never too late to find the right domain name for you. This resource will help you sort through the SEO dos and SEO don’ts of selecting a root domain and TLD (don’t worry, all is explained) that are memorable without being spammy. There’s even info on what to consider if you have to change your domain name.
Don’t skip the section on subdomains—it could save you from making some rookie duplicate content errors.
Oh the SEO havoc that can ensue when your URLs aren’t set up quite right. Learn what not to do.
Things to think about at this point are that your content is indexable (that the crawlers can actually find it) and that you don’t have any orphaned pages. Learn more about those issues here.
And then you’re going to need a sitemap. Sitemaps help search engines index your content and understand the relationships between pages. So where better to get advice on how to build and implement a sitemap than straight from Google.
Another vital way to show search engines what pages are most important/related (and to help humans navigate your content) is through internal links. You want enough links to show users what’s what, but not so many that it’s impossible to tell what’s really important/related. Read more about optimal link structure and passing ranking power.
How long it takes a page on your site to load (page speed) mattered when we were all using desktops, but it’s crucial now that so much Internet traffic comes from mobile devices, plus it’s one factor in how pages get ranked. So whether you’re new to SEO or looking for new tricks, page speed might be a good place to start.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to get specific recommendations on how to speed up your site and then get crackin’.
Speaking of mobile traffic, is your site mobile friendly? Learn about the difference between responsive designs and device-specific solutions on our mobile optimization page. You’ll also see a list of don’ts for mobile design (ever tried to close a pop-up on your iPhone?). This only gets more important the more mobile traffic you get (and want).
Phew! That was a lot of information, but once you’ve absorbed it all, you’ll have an excellent handle on site structure (which will save you a lot of trouble down the line). Bookmark this spot, then take a well-deserved break. We’ll start back here together when you’re ready.
Now that you have that site framework all set up, it’s time to get to the good stuff—populating it with content!
Before you write or post too much of your own content, you might want to see what’s working (and what isn’t) for your competitors. This analysis helps you identify those competitors and then understand what their links, rankings, and keywords look like. It’s important to update this research occasionally because your competition might change over time.
Veteran SEOs, you can skip straight ahead to Schema structured data unless you want a refresh on any other topics related to content.
Marketers, this is your chance to learn all the basics for SEO-friendly content, so stick with us for a spell. You won’t need the same depth of understanding as someone who plans to do SEO for a living, so let your curiosity guide you as deep into any of these topics as you want to go.
You may feel like you just did keyword research in the last step, but it’s crucial enough that we’re going to dive a little deeper here. Understand the value of a particular keyword and see what kind of shot you have at ranking for it by reading Chapter 5 of the Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
We promised you’d get to actually create content and that time is finally here! Now that you have an understanding of the competitive landscape and the keywords you want to (and can) rank for, write away. Remember that while you’re really writing content for users, a few simple tips can help your content stand out to search engines too. Isn’t it nice when something does double duty?
Go the extra mile by incorporating Schema structured data into your content. This additional info gives search engines the data they need to include rich snippets (like review boxes) below your search results.
Veteran SEOs, it’s a good idea to skip ahead to on-site related topics now.
Duplicate content is the bane of a website. Even if you think you’ve done everything right with your content, there’s a chance that a dynamic URL or something else is surfacing that same content to crawlers more than once. Not only does Google fail to see the logic in “twice as much is twice as nice” but they might also penalize you for it. Navigate around the most common pitfalls.
Content doesn’t just mean words, but unfortunately, the crawlers aren’t (yet) sophisticated enough to parse things like images and video. If your alt attributes are in good shape, you’re covered for images, but there are some SEO tactics you need to incorporate if you’re using video on your site. The good news is that once your video SEO is in good shape, video content often gets better rankings than text.
So you’ve got all that content on your site, but how do you know if it’s actually helping your SEO? At the beginning is a good time to set yourself up to measure your success so you can establish a baseline. Learn more about what metrics you should be tracking and how.
Time for yet another well-earned break. Grab a nap if you can and then spend a day or so observing how these issues are handled by other sites on the web. For maximum learning, try practicing some of your newfound knowledge on a site you have access to.
Set your bookmarks before you go.
When you’re ready to continue learning SEO, Newbies should make a stop at on-site related topics to get familiar with Robots.txt and HTTPS.
Any veterans still hanging about might want to take a quick read through on-site related topics to see what might have changed with Robots.txt and to take in the latest wisdom on HTTPS.
Marketers, you get to sit that one out and head straight on over to link-related topics.
For the true SEO aficionado, there are some technical details that you must get right. We’ve all heard stories of people accidentally blocking their site from being crawled and then wondering where all the traffic is. To keep from being one of these, learn about Robots.txt: how it helps you get found and when blocking robots is not actually effective.
The other technical on-site topic you’ll want to master is the switching of your site from HTTP to HTTPS without slowing down your site or losing traffic. This is especially important since Google announced that HTTPS is a ranking factor.
See how far you’ve leveled up already by getting current on just those two topics? Bet you aren’t even tired yet.
Newbies, it’s time to dive straight into link-related topics.
Veterans, go check out guest blogging for a look at how that practice has changed.
You now know a lot about how to make your site SEO friendly. Now it’s time to look at how to bend the rest of the Internet to your SEO will. Don’t worry, this’ll be TAGFEE.
External links are a fantastic way to show search engines that your site is credible and useful. They’re also a great way for users to find you by navigating from sites they already use. In short, they build your authority with humans and bots.
There are two effective ways to get more links from external sources: you can either earn them or build them. Chances are that you’ll get the best results by focusing on some combination of those two tactics.
Notice how we didn’t say “buy them”? Don’t buy links.
One tried and true way to build external links is through guest blogging, although this tactic has evolved a lot in the past few years. What used to be an “I give you content, you give me a link” sort of exchange has given way to guest blogging with a purpose.
Veterans, go ahead and pop on over to conversion rate optimization unless you want a refresh on link-related topics like link nofollow and canonicalization.
When you’re out there on the Internet trying to build links, be sure you’re looking for good quality links. Those are links that come from sites that are trustworthy, popular, and relevant to your content. For more information on factors search engines use to determine link value, read this page.
Anchor text is simply the text that’s used in a link whether it’s a link to a site or within that site. The implications of anchor text, though, reach farther because while keywords in anchor text can help your site rank for those words, it’s easy for keyword-stuffed anchor text to look spammy. Learn more about best practices for anchor text.
“Nofollow” is a designation you can apply to a link to keep it from passing any link equity (that’s kind of like the SEO equivalent of an up-vote). What might surprise you is that links don’t need to be “followed” to pass human authority. Even nofollowed links can help you build awareness and get more links. So when you’re linking to a site (or to other content on your site) think about whether that link leads to something you’re proud to be associated with.
Every Internet user eventually encounters a 404 error page, but that’s just one of the many HTTP status codes found on the web. Learn the difference between a 500 and a 503 along with some best practices for 404 pages here.
One of the most useful HTTP status codes for SEOs is the 301 redirect which is used to tell search engines a page has permanently moved elsewhere (and passes a good share of link equity). Gather all the in-depth info you ever needed about 301s and other redirects.
Perhaps because it’s one of the hardest SEO words to pronounce, canonicalization has a reputation for being complex. But the basic concept is simple: you have two (or more) pages that have similar content and canonicalization allows you to either combine those pages (using redirects) or indicate which version of the page you want search engines to treat as paramount. Read up on the details of using canonicalization to handle duplicate content.
You’ve now mastered so much SEO knowledge that you could teach the stuff (at least on a 101 level). If you’ve read and digested all the links along the way, you now know so much more about SEO than when you started.
But you’re so self-motivated that you want to know even more, don’t you?
Newbies, read closely through other optimization to refine your knowledge and apply those newly-minted optimization skills to even more aspects of the sites you’re working on.
Marketers, you’ve done a fabulous job powering through all these topics and there’s no doubt you can hold your own in the next SEO team meeting. To take your understanding of optimization even further, skim other optimization.
Or scoot on ahead and test your skills with the SEO Expert Quiz.
There are many ways (beyond the basic SEO knowledge you’ve been accruing here) to give your site an optimization boost. Find (and fix) what’s keeping potential customers from converting with conversion rate optimization, get your storefronts found on the web with local SEO, and find out how to prep your site to show up in international SERPs with international SEO.
If shoppers are abandoning their carts so fast you’re looking around for the tornado, your marketing funnel is acting more like a sieve and it’s time to plug some holes. Stop the bleeding with Paddy Moogan’s five-step framework for CRO. And keep on learning by keeping up with the latest CRO posts from the Moz Blog.
Even if you do most of your business in person at a local shop, customers are still trying to use the Internet to find you (and your hours, phone number, menu, etc.). Make sure they’re getting the right info (and finding you before they find your competitor across the street) by investing some time learning about local SEO. On that page you can also sign up for the Local 7-Pack, a monthly newsletter highlighting the top local SEO news you need to know. Or, watch for the latest local SEO developments on the Moz Blog.
A global customer base is a good thing to have, but you want to use international SEO to make sure potential customers in the UK are finding your British shipping policies instead of your American ones. Master hreflang to direct Chinese customers to content using simplified Chinese characters while you send Taiwanese customers to content that uses the traditional characters they’re used to. And find out how your site structure and whether you’re using a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) (like “.uk”) affects your SEO and potential ranking in international SERPs.
SEO newbies, we really can’t call you newbies anymore. Congratulations! No one has read deeper into this blog post or learned more along the way than you have.
SEO veterans, you knew a lot of this already, but now you’re up to date on the latest tips, tricks, and techniques.
And SEO-curious marketers, if you’re still hanging around, bravo! You can safely add “speaks SEO” as a feather in your cap.
You’re all ready to test your skills against the experts and prove just how much you’ve learned, take the SEO Expert Quiz and brag about your score.
Feel like you’ve mastered SEO already? Take the New SEO Expert Quiz to see how you stack up.
Congratulations! You’re well on your way to SEO mastery. Bask in that glow for a moment or two before moving on to your next project.
The fun thing about a developing field like SEO is that the learning and adventure never end. Whether you’re looking for more advanced knowledge or just to learn in a different format, try Distilled U‘s interactive modules or Market Motive’s web-based classes. If you’re looking for a job in SEO, Carl Hendy might just have your roadmap.
Thanks for following along with this choose your own adventure version of how to learn SEO. Share your favorite resources and ask us about any topics we might have missed in the comments.
Posted by amandaecking
This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc.
I’ve been in and out of Google Analytics (GA) for the past five or so years agency-side. I’ve seen three different code libraries, dozens of new different features and reports roll out, IP addresses stop being reported, and keywords not-so-subtly phased out of the free platform.
Analytics has been a focus of mine for the past year or so—mainly, making sure clients get their data right. Right now, our new focus is closed loop tracking, but that’s a topic for another day. If you’re using Google Analytics, and only Google Analytics for the majority of your website stats, or it’s your primary vehicle for analysis, you need to make sure it’s accurate.
Not having data pulling in or reporting properly is like building a house on a shaky foundation: It doesn’t end well. Usually there are tears.
For some reason, a lot of people, including many of my clients, assume everything is tracking properly in Google Analytics… because Google. But it’s not Google who sets up your analytics. People do that. And people are prone to make mistakes.
I’m going to go through six scenarios where issues are commonly encountered with Google Analytics.
I’ll outline the remedy for each issue, and in the process, show you how to move forward with a diagnosis or resolution.
This is probably one of the areas we’re all familiar with. If you’re seeing a lot of traffic from your own domain, there’s likely a problem somewhere—or you need to extend the default session length in Google Analytics. (For example, if you have a lot of long videos or music clips and don’t use event tracking; a website like TEDx or SoundCloud would be a good equivalent.)
Typically one of the first things I’ll do to help diagnose the problem is include an advanced filter to show the full referrer string. You do this by creating a filter, as shown below:
Filter Type: Custom filter > Advanced Field A: Hostname Extract A: (.*) Field B: Request URI Extract B: (.*) Output To: Request URI Constructor: $A1$B1
You’ll then start seeing the subdomains pulling in. Experience has shown me that if you have a separate subdomain hosted in another location (say, if you work with a separate company and they host and run your mobile site or your shopping cart), it gets treated by Google Analytics as a separate domain. Thus, you ‘ll need to implement cross domain tracking. This way, you can narrow down whether or not it’s one particular subdomain that’s creating the self-referrals.
In this example below, we can see all the revenue is being reported to the booking engine (which ended up being cross domain issues) and their own site is the fourth largest traffic source:
I’ll also a good idea to check the browser and device reports to start narrowing down whether the issue is specific to a particular element. If it’s not, keep digging. Look at pages pulling the self-referrals and go through the code with a fine-tooth comb, drilling down as much as you can.
If you have a crazy-low bounce rate, it could be too good to be true. Unfortunately. An unusually low bounce rate could (and probably does) mean that at least on some pages of your website have the same Google Analytics tracking code installed twice.
Take a look at your source code, or use Google Tag Assistant (though it does have known bugs) to see if you’ve got GA tracking code installed twice.
While I tell clients having Google Analytics installed on the same page can lead to double the pageviews, I’ve not actually encountered that—I usually just say it to scare them into removing the duplicate implementation more quickly. Don’t tell on me.
I’ve heard directly from Google engineers and Google Analytics evangelists that Google Analytics does not play well with iframes, and that it will never will play nice with this dinosaur technology.
If you track the iframe, you inflate your pageviews, plus you still aren’t tracking everything with 100% clarity.
If you don’t track across iframes, you lose the source/medium attribution and everything becomes a self-referral.
Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.
My advice: Stop using iframes. They’re Netscape-era technology anyway, with rainbow marquees and Comic Sans on top. Interestingly, and unfortunately, a number of booking engines (for hotels) and third-party carts (for ecommerce) still use iframes.
If you have any clients in those verticals, or if you’re in the vertical yourself, check with your provider to see if they use iframes. Or you can check for yourself, by right-clicking as close as you can to the actual booking element:
There is no neat and tidy way to address iframes with Google Analytics, and usually iframes are not the only complicated element of setup you’ll encounter. I spent eight months dealing with a website on a subfolder, which used iframes and had a cross domain booking system, and the best visibility I was able to get was about 80% on a good day.
Typically, I’d approach diagnosing iframes (if, for some reason, I had absolutely no access to viewing a website or talking to the techs) similarly to diagnosing self-referrals, as self-referrals are one of the biggest symptoms of iframe use.
Massive jumps in traffic don’t typically just happen. (Unless, maybe, you’re Geraldine.) There’s always an explanation—a new campaign launched, you just turned on paid ads for the first time, you’re using content amplification platforms, you’re getting a ton of referrals from that recent press in The New York Times. And if you think it just happened, it’s probably a technical glitch.
I’ve seen everything from inflated pageviews result from including tracking on iframes and unnecessary implementation of virtual pageviews, to not realizing the tracking code was installed on other microsites for the same property. Oops.
Usually I’ve seen this happen when the tracking code was somewhere it shouldn’t be, so if you’re investigating a situation of this nature, first confirm the Google Analytics code is only in the places it needs to be.Tools like Google Tag Assistant and Screaming Frog can be your BFFs in helping you figure this out.
Also, I suggest bribing the IT department with sugar (or booze) to see if they’ve changed anything lately.
I wish cross-domain tracking with Google Analytics out of the box didn’t require any additional setup. But it does.
If you don’t have it set up properly, things break down quickly, and can be quite difficult to untangle.
The older the GA library you’re using, the harder it is. The easiest setup, by far, is Google Tag Manager with Universal Analytics. Hard-coded universal analytics is a bit more difficult because you have to implement autoLink manually and decorate forms, if you’re using them (and you probably are). Beyond that, rather than try and deal with it, I say update your Google Analytics code. Then we can talk.
Where I’ve seen the most murkiness with tracking is when parts of cross domain tracking are implemented, but not all. For some reason, if allowLinker isn’t included, or you forget to decorate all the forms, the cookies aren’t passed between domains.
The absolute first place I would start with this would be confirming the cookies are all passing properly at all the right points, forms, links, and smoke signals. I’ll usually use a combination of the Real Time report in Google Analytics, Google Tag Assistant, and GA debug to start testing this. Any debug tool you use will mean you’re playing in the console, so get friendly with it.
I’ve saved the best for last. Internal use of campaign tagging. We may think, oh, I use Google to tag my campaigns externally, and we’ve got this new promotion on site which we’re using a banner ad for. That’s a campaign. Why don’t I tag it with a UTM string?
Step away from the keyboard now. Please.
When you tag internal links with UTM strings, you override the original source/medium. So that visitor who came in through your paid ad and then who clicks on the campaign banner has now been manually tagged. You lose the ability to track that they came through on the ad the moment they click on the tagged internal link. Their source and medium is now your internal campaign, not that paid ad you’re spending gobs of money on and have to justify to your manager. See the problem?
I’ve seen at least three pretty spectacular instances of this in the past year, and a number of smaller instances of it. Annie Cushing also talks about the evils of internal UTM tags and the odd prevalence of it. (Oh, and if you haven’t explored her blog, and the amazing spreadsheets she shares, please do.)
One clothing company I worked with tagged all of their homepage offers with UTM strings, which resulted in the loss of visibility for one-third of their audience: One million visits over the course of a year, and $2.1 million in lost revenue.
Let me say that again. One million visits, and $2.1 million. That couldn’t be attributed to an external source/campaign/spend.
Another client I audited included campaign tagging on nearly every navigational element on their website. It still gives me nightmares.
If you want to see if you have any internal UTM strings, head straight to the Campaigns report in Acquisition in Google Analytics, and look for anything like “home” or “navigation” or any language you may use internally to refer to your website structure.
And if you want to see how users are moving through your website, go to the Flow reports. Or if you really, really, really want to know how many people click on that sidebar link, use event tracking. But please, for the love of all things holy (and to keep us analytics lovers from throwing our computers across the room), stop using UTM tagging on your internal links.
Odds are, your Google Analytics setup is fine. If you are seeing any of these issues, though, you have somewhere to start in diagnosing and addressing the data.
We’ve looked at six of the most common points of friction I’ve encountered with Google Analytics and how to start investigating them: self-referrals, bounce rate, iframes, traffic jumps, cross domain tracking and internal campaign tagging.
What common data integrity issues have you encountered with Google Analytics? What are your favorite tools to investigate?
Posted by kristihines
If you don’t know what Google Analytics is, haven’t installed it on your website, or have installed it but never look at your data, then this post is for you. While it’s hard for many to believe, there are still websites that are not using Google Analytics (or any analytics, for that matter) to measure their traffic. In this post, we’re going to look at Google Analytics from the absolute beginner’s point of view. Why you need it, how to get it, how to use it, and workarounds to common problems.
Do you have a blog? Do you have a static website? If the answer is yes, whether they are for personal or business use, then you need Google Analytics. Here are just a few of the many questions about your website that you can answer using Google Analytics.
There are many, many additional questions that Google Analytics can answer, but these are the ones that are most important for most website owners. Now let’s look at how you can get Google Analytics on your website.
First, you need a Google Analytics account. If you have a primary Google account that you use for other services like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google+, or YouTube, then you should set up your Google Analytics using that Google account. Or you will need to create a new one.
This should be a Google account you plan to keep forever and that only you have access to. You can always grant access to your Google Analytics to other people down the road, but you don’t want someone else to have full control over it.
Big tip: don’t let your anyone (your web designer, web developer, web host, SEO person, etc.) create your website’s Google Analytics account under their own Google account so they can “manage” it for you. If you and this person part ways, they will take your Google Analytics data with them, and you will have to start all over.
Once you have a Google account, you can go to Google Analytics and click the Sign into Google Analytics button. You will then be greeted with the three steps you must take to set up Google Analytics.
After you click the Sign Up button, you will fill out information for your website.
Google Analytics offers hierarchies to organize your account. You can have up to 100 Google Analytics accounts under one Google account. You can have up to 50 website properties under one Google Analytics account. You can have up to 25 views under one website property.
Here are a few scenarios.
There are no right or wrong ways to set up your Google Analytics account—it’s just a matter of how you want to organize your sites. You can always rename your accounts or properties down the road. Note that you can’t move a property (website) from one Google Analytics account to another—you would have to set up a new property under the new account and lose the historical data you collected from the original property.
For the absolute beginner’s guide, we’re going to assume you have one website and only need one view (the default, all data view. The setup would look something like this.
Beneath this, you will have the option to configure where your Google Analytics data can be shared.
Once you are finished, you will click the Get Tracking ID button. You will get a popup of the Google Analytics terms and conditions, which you have to agree to. Then you will get your Google Analytics code.
This must be installed on every page on your website. The installation will depend on what type of website you have. For example, I have a WordPress website on my own domain using the Genesis Framework. This framework has a specific area to add header and footer scripts to my website.
Alternatively, if you have a WordPress on your own domain, you can use the Google Analytics by Yoast plugin to install your code easily no matter what theme or framework you are using.
If you have a website built with HTML files, you will add the tracking code before the </head> tag on each of your pages. You can do this by using a text editor program (such as TextEdit for Mac or Notepad for Windows) and then uploading the file to your web host using an FTP program (such as FileZilla).
If you have a Shopify e-commerce store, you will go to your Online Store settings and paste in your tracking code where specified.
If you have a blog on Tumblr, you will go to your blog, click the Edit Theme button at the top right of your blog, and then enter just the Google Analytics ID in your settings.
As you can see, the installation of Google Analytics varies based on the platform you use (content management system, website builder, e-commerce software, etc.), the theme you use, and the plugins you use. You should be able to find easy instructions to install Google Analytics on any website by doing a web search for your platform + how to install Google Analytics.
After you install your tracking code on your website, you will want to configure a small (but very useful) setting in your website’s profile on Google Analytics. This is your Goals setting. You can find it by clicking on the Admin link at the top of your Google Analytics and then clicking on Goals under your website’s View column.
Goals will tell Google Analytics when something important has happened on your website. For example, if you have a website where you generate leads through a contact form, you will want to find (or create) a thank you page that visitors end upon once they have submitted their contact information. Or, if you have a website where you sell products, you will want to find (or create) a final thank you or confirmation page for visitors to land upon once they have completed a purchase.
That URL will likely look something like this.
In Google Analytics, you will click on the New Goal button.
You will choose the Custom option (unless one of the other options are more applicable to your website) and click the Next Step button.
You will name your goal something you will remember, select Destination, and then click the Next Step button.
You will enter your thank you or confirmation page’s URL after the .com of your website in the Destination field and change the drop-down to “Begins with”.
You will then toggle the value and enter a specific dollar value for that conversion (if applicable) and click Create Goal to complete the setup.
If you have other similar goals / conversions you would like to track on your website, you can follow these steps again. You can create up to 20 goals on your website. Be sure that the ones you create are highly important to your business. These goals (for most businesses) include lead form submissions, email list sign ups, and purchase completions. Depending on your website and its purpose, your goals may vary.
Note that this is the simplest of all conversion tracking in Google Analytics. You can review the documentation in Google Analytics support to learn more about setting up goal tracking.
Another thing you can set up really quickly that will give you valuable data down the road is Site Search. This is for any website with a search box on it, like the search box at the top of the Moz Blog.
First, run a search on your website. Then keep the tab open. You will need the URL momentarily.
Go to your Google Analytics Admin menu again, and in the View column, click on View Settings.
Scroll down until you see Site Settings and toggle it to On.
Look back at your URL for your search results. Enter the query parameter (usually s or q) and click Save. On Moz, for example, the query parameter is q.
This will allow Google Analytics to track any searches made on your website so you can learn more about what your visitors are looking for on specific pages.
If you want to add a new Google Analytics account, you can do so by going to your Admin menu, clicking on the drop-down under the Account column, and clicking the Create New Account link.
Likewise, if you want to add a new website under your Google Analytics account, you can do so by going to your Admin menu, clicking on the drop-down under the Property column, and clicking the Create New Property link.
Then you will continue through all of the above-mentioned steps.
Once you’ve installed Google Analytics on your website(s), set up your goals, and set up site search(es), you should wait about 24 hours for it to start getting data. Then you will be able to start viewing your data.
Once you start getting in Google Analytics data, you can start learning about your website traffic. Each time you log in to Google Analytics, you will be taken to your Audience Overview report. Alternatively, if you have more than one website, you will be taken to your list of websites to choose from, and then taken to the Audience Overview report for that website. This is the first of over 50 reports that are available to you in Google Analytics. You can also access these reports by clicking on the Reporting link at the top.
Most of the standard reports within Google Analytics will look similar to this. At the top right, you can click on the drop-down arrow next to your website to switch to different websites within all of your Google Analytics accounts. Or you can click the Home link at the top.
In the report at the top right, you can click on the dates to change the date range of the data you are viewing. You can also check the Compare box to compare your data from one date range (such as this month) to a previous date range (such as last month) to view your data.
You can hover over a variety of areas on your Google Analytics reports to get more information. For example, in the Audience Overview, hovering over the line on the graph will give you the number of sessions for a particular day. Hovering over the metrics beneath the graph will tell you what each one means.
Beneath the main metrics, you will see reports that you can switch through to see the top ten languages, countries, cities, browsers, operating systems, services providers, and screen resolutions of your visitors.
You can click the full report link on each to see the full reports. Or you can click on any of the top ten links to see more details. For example, clicking on the United States in Countries will take you to the full Location report, focused in on visitors from states within the US.
In this view, you can hover over each state to see the number of visitors from that state. You can scroll down to the table and hover over each column name to learn more about each metric.
You can also click on the name of each state to see visitors from cities within the state. Effectively, any time you see a clickable link or a ? next to something, you can click on it or hover over it to learn more. The deeper you dive into your analytics, the more interesting information you will find.
Speaking of reports, here is quick summary of what you will find in each of the standard Google Analytics reporting sections, accessible in the left sidebar.
Everything in (parenthesis) is a specific report or set of reports within the following sections that you can refer to.
These reports tell you everything you want to know about your visitors. In them, you will find detailed reports for your visitors’ age and gender (Demographics), what their general interests are (Interests), where they come from (Geo > Location) and what language they speak (Geo > Language), how often they visit your website (Behavior), and the technology they use to view your website (Technology and Mobile).
These reports will tell you everything you want to know about what drove visitors to your website (All Traffic). You will see your traffic broken down by main categories (All Traffic > Channels) and specific sources (All Traffic > Source/Medium).
You can learn everything about traffic from social networks (Social). You can also connect Google Analytics to AdWords to learn more about PPC campaigns and to Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console to learn more about search traffic (Search Engine Optimization)
These reports will tell you everything you want to know about your content. Particularly, the top pages on your website (Site Content > All Pages), the top entry pages on your website (Site Content > Landing Pages), and the top exit pages on your website (Site Content > Exit Pages).
If you set up Site Search, you will be able to see what terms are searched for (Site Search > Search Terms) and the pages they are searched upon (Site Search > Pages).
You can also learn how fast your website loads (Site Speed) as well as find specific suggestions from Google on how to make your website faster (Site Speed > Speed Suggestions).
If you set up Goals within your Google Analytics, you can see how many conversions your website has received (Goals > Overview) and what URLs they happened upon (Goals > Goal URLs). You can also see the path that visitors took to complete the conversion (Goals > Reverse Goal Path).
Speaking of goals and conversions, most of the tables within Google Analytics standard reports will tie specific data to your conversions. For example, you can see the number of conversions made by visitors from California in the Audience > Geo > Location report. You can see the number of conversions made by visitors from Facebook in the Acquisitions > All Traffic > Source/Medium report. You can see the number of conversions made by visitors who landed on specific pages in the Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report.
If you have multiple goals, you can use the dropdown at the top of that section of data to switch to the goal you want to view or all of your goals if you prefer.
While you won’t need every report within Google Analytics, you should explore them all to see what they have to offer. When you find some that you want to visit again and again, use the Shortcut link at the top of the report to add them to the Shortcuts in your left sidebar for faster access.
Or, use the email button to have them emailed to you (or others on your team) on a regular basis.
If you choose to send emails to someone outside of your organization, be sure to regularly check your emails by going to your Admin menu and clicking on the Scheduled Emails box under the View column to ensure only people working with your company are getting your data.
Got a few questions? Here are some of the common ones that come up with Google Analytics.
You don’t have to give your Google account information over to someone who needs access to your Google Analytics data. You just need to go to your Admin menu and under the Account, Property (website) or View you want someone to see, click the User Management menu.
From there, you can add the email address of anyone you would like to view your Google Analytics data and choose the permissions you would like them to have.
Yes! Quill Engage is a service that will take your Google Analytics data and summarize it in an easy-to-read report for you. Best of all, it’s free for up to ten profiles (websites).
You have two options in this scenario. You start by going to the Home screen of Google Analytics. There, you will find a listing of all your websites and an overview of the top metrics—sessions, average session duration, bounce rate, and conversion rate.
You can also try business dashboard solutions like Cyfe. For $19 a month, you can create unlimited dashboards with unlimited widgets, including a large selection of data from Google Analytics, alongside data from your social media networks, keyword rankings, Moz stats, and more.
This solution significantly cuts down on the time spent looking at analytics across the board for your entire business.
(not provided) is Google’s way of protecting search engine user’s privacy by hiding the keywords they use to discover your website in search results. Tools like Google Webmaster Tools (now Search Console, free), Authority Lab’s Now Provided Reports (paid), and Hittail (paid) can all help you uncover some of those keywords.
They won’t be linked to your conversions or other Google Analytics data, but at least you will have some clue what keywords searchers are using to find your website.
If you’re ready to move to the next level in Google Analytics, Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments are the way to go.
Custom Reports (under the Customization menu at the top) allow you to create reports that look similar to the standard Google Analytics reports with the metrics you want to view.
Dashboards allow you to view your Google Analytics data in a dashboard format. You can access them at the top of the left sidebar.
Segments allow you to view all of your Google Analytics data based on a specific dimension, such as all of your Google Analytics data based on visitors from the United States. You can also use them to compare up to four segments of data, such as United States versus United Kingdom traffic, search versus social traffic, mobile versus desktop traffic, and more. You can access Segments in each of your reports.
The nice part about these is that you don’t have to create them from scratch. You can start by using pre-defined Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments from the Google Solutions Gallery.
There, you will find lots of Custom Reports, Dashboards, Segments, and other solutions that you can import into your Google Analytics and edit to fit your needs. Edit Custom Reports with the Edit button at the top.
Edit Dashboards using the Add Widget or Customize Dashboard buttons at the top.
Edit Segments by clicking the Action button inside the Segments selector box and choosing Edit.
Or, when you have applied Segments to your reports, use the drop-down arrow at the top right to find the Edit option.
As you get used to editing Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments, you will get more familiar with the way each works so you can create new ones on your own.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this beginner’s introduction to Google Analytics for beginners. If you’re a beginner and have a burning questions, please ask in the comments. I’ll be happy to help!