Can you name three ways to optimize websites for search engines? If you’ve had even minimal experience working with an SEO account you can probably do this easily: have relevant content, put keywords in page titles, have good descriptive meta tags, etc. Following SEO best practices though is only half the battle. You also have to understand how these changes are affecting your performance. If you can’t analyze performance, you can’t improve it.
Google Analytics is the best tool to gather performance data for your SEO accounts. If you aren’t familiar with Analytics it can be overwhelming at first. The first time I logged into an analytics report I think I just sat and stared for a few hours. There is a plethora of data but if you know how to manipulate it you can get almost any information any way you want it utilizing their custom reports feature.
I’m going to go through some basics of custom reports and then walk through the step-by-step process of building a custom report. After reading this post you will know how to create your own custom reports to analyze and improve search engine performance.
CUSTOM REPORT BASICS
Before we jump into the step-by-step process of building custom reports, I want to go over the two basic components of Google Analytics reports:
Metrics – A metric is a qualitative measure of how visitors interact with your site. They represent the columns in your report. You can select from five different groups of metrics: Site Usage, Content, Goals, E-Commerce, and Advertising.
Dimensions – A dimension is a characteristic of a visitor or a page on your site that you can use to organize your metrics. They represent the rows in your report. You can include up to five dimensions in each report, one as the main dimension you want to measure and four sub dimensions to further drill down.
In the sample traffic source report below you are looking at the metrics Visits, Pages/Visit, Avg. Time on Site, % New Visits, and Bounce Rate for the dimension Source/Medium. Each different Source/Medium value is an individual row in the report.
It is best to have an outline of what you want included in your report before you start building. However, there are restrictions that come into play when combining metrics and dimensions. Google’s help page provides an outline of valid dimension-metric combinations. Once you have an outline of the data you want to show in your report it is time to start building your customized report.
BUILDING YOUR REPORT
I want to create a report analyzing the keyword performance for the different pages of my website. I have already created an outline of the dimensions and metrics I want to include in my report. The main dimension I am focusing on is Page Title and I want to drill down to the Keyword sub dimension. I’m going to measure performance by looking at Visits, Avg. Time on Site, Avg. Time on Page, Pages/Visit, Bounce Rate, and % Exit.
Step 1: Create a Custom Report
To create a new custom report click on “Custom Reporting” in the left-hand column. When the box expands, click on “Manage Custom Reports”. Once on the Manage Custom Reports page simply click “Create new custom report” in the top right corner of the page.
Step 2: Name the Report
The first thing you’ll want to do when you get to the Create Custom Report Page is to name your report. Give your report a simple yet easily identifiable title. Different people may be creating reports in the same account and you want to be able to easily identify your report from the list of saved reports. Click “edit” next to the title field, type in your custom title, and hit “apply”. I’m naming my report “Keyword Performance by Page”.
Step 3: Select Your Dimensions
To select your dimensions all you do is drag and drop each dimension into its appropriate slot. Google has made this easy for us as it has color coded where the dimensions and metrics should be placed. I decided to add one more dimension to my report, Source, so I can view the referring source of each keyword.
Step 4: Select Your Metrics
After you select your dimensions, Google Analytics automatically grays out the invalid metric pairs. This way you don’t have to continually refer back to the valid pairs chart on Google Help. Drag and drop your metrics just as you did for dimensions.
Step 5: Preview Your Report
You can preview your report at any time during the creation process. Just click “Preview Report” and a new window will pop up showing how your report will look. Spend time clicking through it and see if there are any changes you want to make to your report data or structure.
Step 6: Create Your Report
Once you are satisfied with your report click on “Create Report” at the bottom of the page. I now have a report showing my selected metrics for all pages on my website. If a click on one of my pages it takes me to a list of the keywords users entered that brought them that page. By clicking once more it breaks it down even further to the referring sources for that particular keyword.
Something important to note, if you have an account that utilizes both SEO as well as PPC you’ll want to filter out the PPC traffic. To view just the results from SEO traffic you can use Google Analytics default segments. Click on the drop down box next to Advanced Segments in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Deselect “All Visits” and select “Non-paid Search Traffic”.
Click “Apply” and now your report in only showing visits resulting from SEO traffic.
Step 7: Manage Your Report
Once you create your report it will be saved to the Manage Custom Report list. From here you can go back and edit your report at any time. If you find that it doesn’t quite provide the information you are looking for you can add, delete, or rearrange any of the metrics or dimensions. You can also share a link to your report if you are managing an account for a client or you can delete your report all together.
I believe the best way to learn is it just get in there and do it. Play around with different dimension and metric combinations. Get creative and see if you can uncover a new way to look at the data. If you have any questions on creating reports or any reports you find to be most helpful in SEO analysis please post below!
Bethany is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.