The last year has been really good for this blog. My traffic has close to tripled since this time last year and the engagement and retention ( which I feel is more important ) has gone up as well. I’ve made a lot of new friends and contacts over the last year directly from the growing success of my blog.
There are many factors at play here, but in general this is happening because I am following my own advice, and giving my audience what they want. Easier said than done most of the time, but it’s getting a lot easier. I’m going to share with you some of the ways I’m going to work to make sure next year is even better.
What is Agile Marketing?
Like most people I’m getting a little tired of the word “Agile” being applied to everything related to tech these days, but it’s applicable here. Agile marketing is by no means an invention of mine, nor is it anything new. It’s simply responding quickly to changing patterns. My philosophy on Agile Marketing is pretty simple.
- Create a plan with a solid vision, but don’t marry it.
- Respond to changes as quickly as possible.
- Test every change you make and track everything you can.
- Conduct experiments and make changes based on your findings.
- Position yourself to be able to change quickly.
- Learn from your failures and keep moving.
This is all really common sense Marketing 101 stuff, right? Nothing revolutionary here at all, but what I’m going to attempt to do here is show you one way to use Google Analytics to help your Agile Marketing Strategy.
Let’s get the data!
The way to get this data is here:
Go to Webmaster Tools, select
Traffic –> Search Queries
Select the filters you want, and then click “download chart data” and import it into Excel or Open Office. Alternatively you can do quick spot analysis with the web interface. What I’m going to be looking for and checking is the following
- Most Popular Pages
- Click Through Rate
I am then going to analyze this information to get the best direction to go with my website. I am going to be shielding the exact numbers for most stuff, not because I want to keep it a secret from you but because Google prohibits and frowns upon sharing such information. And because I know at least a few thousand people will read this article I don’t want to anything that will compromise my accounts with Google as it will take away my ability to do this kind of analysis in the future.
Your Mileage May Vary
Something to note here: My site is a free blog that doesn’t turn a profit and isn’t controlled by any entity other than myself. This website doesn’t put food on my table and I don’t ever expect it to, so this gives me an incredible amount of latitude to do whatever I want. Today it’s a Programming/SEO blog tomorrow it could be a picture gallery of my favorite exotic cars and it doesn’t really matter. This article serves as a great guideline for content marketing in this situation but if you’re doing this as an employee of a business or for your own you should be more apprehensive about drastic changes and gather more information before making drastic changes.
What is my blog about?
This is a great question, with a murky answer. For the most part my categories give a general idea of what it’s about:
- Social Media
It separates into those groups fairly well, and spreads itself thin among those categories. Since I enjoy programming and SEO equally I decided to cover both of those topics on the site, though there isn’t complete overlap with those two groups. Many SEOs never touch a line of code, and most programmers don’t bother with SEO. I also spread my tutorials among Windows/.Net stuff and Linux/PHP stuff. Plus I do web programming and server side/client programming stuff. If this website were a company it would be pretty scattered in it’s vision, but as my personal blog it works perfectly, and I have no intentions of changing that. What I do want to accomplish is tailoring my content to certain groups of people I want to help and associate with:
- Web Developers/Designers
- Content Producers / Writers
- Managers of Development and Web Teams
- Newbies from all of these groups ( big focus )
In doing that I want to target what each of these groups are looking for with my content. There is no “one person” I’m shooting for but I want to give someone who is in one or more of these groups better content they can really use. So how to do I do that? To look forward I’m going to have to look back a couple months. I will now break down the stats from October 1st to December 31st in Google.
The first part of my analysis will be impressions. I want to look for the keywords that are getting the most views in search results and see if I can group those queries into the categories above. Impressions are important because without them you won’t get any traffic. But people tend to focus on impressions as the magic bullet, everyone wants top spots for popular search terms. But as I’ll show you today, it’s only part of the story. If you are getting tons of impressions but low click through rates you’re wasting your time.
Filtering is really important. For the first set I will filter “all” but since many of these are image requests, I will boil them down further as I don’t really care about Image searches much for my site.
The results below will be based on the “all” filter.
Top Searches: All Mediums
To arrive at this I took my top searches by impressions, then boiled them down by distilling the top phrases down to one or two words. This means “SEO blog” and “SEO marketing” would both go into “SEO”. By using these filters you can group them into a parent phrase and get a better high level view of what keywords are getting you exposure on the search engine. After a while of working I found my top terms.
After looking at the list, there aren’t many surprises here. The C#, Raspberry Pi and SEO articles have been front and center as far as popularity goes. This list pretty accurately represents what content I have on my site, with one exception: the top result.
The term “nobody cares” is from an article I wrote called “nobody cares about your website”. Somehow I managed to get on the first page for this term, and it’s gotten me well over 200,000 impressions and lots of clicks over the last few months, but ironically enough it’s a term that I really don’t care about. It’s sending me traffic, but it’s probably people who aren’t interested in the content of my website.
I am going to remove that term and a few others out of my list of terms to consider since I don’t want to waste time just trying to get traffic, I want to deliver good content. After analyzing my click through data I found other terms to remove but we’ll get to that as it’s the point of the article to find the most productive content on your site. If you’re curious as to how my overall searches turned out in proportion to each other, here’s a graph.
I didn’t spend a lot of time on it, because it really isn’t that important, as you can see the most irrelevant term dwarfs the rest.
Top Searches: Just the Web
I mentioned earlier that I don’t really care about image searches. Since I am marketing my content and not images it really doesn’t matter how much I come up in Google image search, content marketing isn’t about getting more traffic, it’s about getting more of the right traffic. While there might be some branding potential there it’s not really that important to me. Once I started looking at web and mobile searches I started to get some results I was more happy with.
By drilling down into web searches I came up with the following top 25 terms, and these are the terms I’m going to use for further analysis:
C# Raspberry Pi
This is why humans will always be needed for analysis. This list is based on me knowing what terms people are really using, rather than basing it on raw numbers or useless image searches. This list looks like pretty much exactly what my site is about, and the top terms reflect a few things:
- What I usually talk about
- What terms are performing well
- What has gotten the most web publicity the last few months.
So knowing this information, I can use these terms to drill down even more. To see how these terms relate to each other, here is another graph that shows the distribution of impressions.
As you can see, there is quite a bit of disparity between C# and the rest of the results. This isn’t surprising considering I’ve been writing a lot about C# and the articles have been very popular. This is a good start, remember this is impressions, not total traffic received, which we’ll start on soon.
Why is this important?
This data shows me what keywords are being seen the most by people searching. This shows me a few things:
- What terms I’m ranking well for
- What Google thinks is important on my site
- What kind of stuff is worth focusing on if I want the most impressions
So by using just this data I can say that I should focus on the C# stuff even more if I want to get search engine exposure, as well as the Raspberry Pi articles and SEO stuff. If Impressions were the most important factor this data sets me on a good course for the next year, but as I said it’s only part of the story. So lets drill down a little more and see what’s most effective.
The next concept we’re going to look at is query distribution. Here we are going to figure out how many queries are involved in all these impressions. This tells a couple things:
- Do I have many long tail queries with low impressions?
- Do I have many short terms with high impressions?
- Do I have a lot of long tail queries with high impressions?
These are all questions we need to know the answer to, because you can build a strategy around long tail or short tail terms. Long tail terms bring in small amounts of aggregate traffic, but that traffic is very focused on a specific need, so this is valuable traffic.
Nailing short terms spreads out a larger net to catch more people. Ideally I want to nail a good spot on a short term as an “parent” so I can get a lot of higher rankings with “children” based on those terms. For example by getting great results for “C#” I can expect results from the following:
- C# tutorials
- C# articles
- C# basics
- C# file writing to text
- Places to learn C#
- How to connect to a database in C#
Whenever I get a higher ranking for “C#” by itself, the longer tail terms seem to follow. Now we’re starting to get a little closer to something useful because you can see which terms are branching and which one’s aren’t. If it’s a highly searched term and there are tons of branches you have an opportunity to add on to that content and get additional long tail terms that bring focused visitors to your site.
Let’s look at this same list, sorted by number of queries:
It’s shifted around quite a bit. My top term in this category is “server” which tells me there are a bunch of small queries with “server” in them that are long tails. Let’s look at that distribution visually:
What can we learn from this?
Not much. About the only thing we can really take from this is how many long tails your site is ranking for. In some ways it can show you what Google feels you are focusing on with your site. If I have a lot of articles about Servers or C# I will naturally gain more long tail results from that subject. This of course assumes equal rankings across the terms, which is nearly impossible so this only a vague indicator.
For example, If I was on the 3rd page for all of these search terms, I could give a solid number to exactly what Google thinks my site is about. Since that variable exists it will only give you a general idea, and I think it’s pretty accurate for my page. This is another area where human analysis is needed and can’t be replaced.
It also vaguely shows what terms branch best for your site. The more generalized a term ( like “server”) the more it can fork off into longer search terms. However, you can’t rely on this, because it’s dependent on the actual volume of searches you show up for. As you can see my lowest one is “marketing” which is VERY generalized term that can branch like crazy, but because of my lack of marketing articles I don’t generate enough content to grab all the long term results for it.
Impressions Per Query
This is another interesting metric to look at because it shows how many impressions you’re getting for each query. The two extremes are
You have lots of impressions for just a few queries You have a few impressions for many queries It’s helpful to analyze this and see how much each query is showing your site.
This is predictably somewhat inverse to the data above, and it exposes the fact that I have just a few marketing terms, but they drive a lot of impressions to each one. They aren’t exactly the inverse of queries per search term which is where the value lies. What it shows me is my small handful of marketing terms are very valuable in terms of impressions. But my Linux terms are pretty limited and don’t deliver a lot of impressions so it’s a low quality keyword for me.
The term “Server” that appears so prominently in Chart 3 is actually doesn’t even show up in Chart 4. This is because I had a very large amount of long tail keywords but they only received a handful of impressions for each one. My very few marketing terms all netted big impressions off a few queries.
Which term is more valuable for my site: marketing or server? Again this comes down to human analysis and decision making. If my goal is to create a busy marketing site, I have enough data to see that a little bit of effort pays off big. I could stuff a lot of marketing content on here in the next six months and probably see a big increase in traffic. But since I want to focus on tech and tutorials more the “server” keyword is far more valuable. There are many small terms that only have a few impressions each, but they are long tail keywords that are very specific. Most of these terms are something like
“how to set up a web server on the raspberry pi in Debian”
This is a very focused phrase, so anyone searching for how to set up a web server like this will find my content, which tells them how to set up a web server on a Raspberry Pi, or how to set up a MySQL server in Windows. I am giving people exactly what they’re searching for which will increase my click through rate, and I have a better chance of the person actually finding what they’re looking for. That is the golden strategy of SEO and exactly what Google strives for.
What can we learn from this?
By analyzing our impressions by query we can find out which queries are popular and your ranking for that query. If you’re on the first page for any of these terms you’ll see a lot of branching and a lot of impressions if it’s a good keyword. After all a keyword is really only as useful as the amount of people searching for it.
You can target a keyword and get on the first page and get 100 hits a month from it, and that’s great but it’s much better to get a 3rd page ranking and get 10,000 hits a month from another keyword. The more people you receive for each keyword the better chances you’ll find people interested in your content.
Clicks Per Query Group
Now we’re getting into the stuff that matters. How many people are actually reaching your site from each keyword? This is obviously important because impressions are almost useless without action. Targeting impressions makes sense from a branding standpoint, but for me branding “Jeremy Morgan” isn’t really all that important. If I were trying to become famous or had some other benefit from it my strategy would focus more on impressions. If my site gets a million impressions a day but nobody clicks it, it’s useless to me. I want to get people on my site.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Again we have the Raspberry Pi and C# as leaders on this chart. If you haven’t already guessed I get a ton of traffic lately for Raspberry Pi and C# searches. This chart shows something we really want which is actual traffic. The huge increase lately has been due to a lot of content on the Raspberry Pi that has been received favorably and linked like crazy all over the internet, and this chart shows it. Agai
As I mentioned I can’t give out actual numbers, but let’s just say it’s within the “thousands of unique per day” range just for Raspberry Pi searches. C# related searches are also in the multiple thousands per day range. Will I be focusing on that more in the future? You bet I will.
What can we learn from this?
Clearly this simple analysis shows you how many people are clicking into your site, and that shows your most valuable keywords. If I were a business, I just gave away the farm because you could take Chart 5 and pretty much build a strategy to compete with me just based on that. Beat my rankings in all these terms and you’re stealing my business away. I have given away a list of my most valuable keywords for the last 3 months, so this is a very valuable metric. It will show you out of all your traffic which keywords are sending the most, and it’s a quick view in Google Analytics. Thankfully, this is just a personal blog, so if you take this list and beat all my rankings, more power to you!
This is very valuable… but wait there’s more!
Clicks per Individual Query
You can refine this even further by looking at individual queries. Because I grouped up all the queries into these keyword groups I know which groups are the most popular and send the most traffic, but what about per each keyword?
Whoa, stuff looks different! What this graph clearly shows is the “Coding” keywords have an excellent ratio of clicks for each query. Remember this isn’t actual clicks but a ratio value. One of them is really high, so this would indicate something is going on right? Well, in my case it’s mostly due to one article, about “Coding Music”. It appears a lot of people search for music to write code to, and I’m on the first page so my click through rate is very high.
This page is extremely popular, and it provides exactly what the searchers are looking for with a big list of coding music. While it may not be the biggest traffic driver it’s very relevant and relevancy is a huge signal for Google, and what most of their algorithms revolve around.
What can we learn from this?
When you see keywords really stand out like this it’s a pretty good indicator your content is being positioned well. No matter where it stands in the rankings, a good click through rate is your best indicator that people are searching a term, seeing your page come up on Google and they’re clicking it. As long as these keywords are something you’re shooting for it’s a great indicator of success. Tweaks to your page titles and excerpts that show up on Google will directly affect this click through so this is the metric you watch as you experiment with that.
Click Through Rate
As we get closer to the holy grail of SEO we arrive at the click through metric. This is where the rubber hits the road and the most important metric of all. To get a good click through rate you must do the following:
- Create content that matches the keyword you’re targeting.
- Create page titles and descriptions that accurately describe the content.
- Create page titles and descriptions that entice people to click.
- Get to the top of whatever page ( the top of page 2 is better than the bottom of page 1 ) for a query. It will get clicked more.
If you do this for enough popular keywords you will have achieved SEO success. It’s really that simple, but it’s far from easy. Let’s look at the CTR for my keywords.
This shows the click through ratio per keyword group. This isn’t actual clicks, but the ratio of clicks for each impression. Coding is again at the top of this list, as it’s pretty clear that most of the people searching for coding and programming stuff end up clicking through to my site. This shows me that my plan of focusing more on programming is paying off.
What can we learn from this?
This is yet another way to see how people are clicking based on various subjects and how relevant your listings are appearing to those searching. This is an important indicator because you can shape your strategy around this, and see which keyword groups are working out the best for you.
Click Through Rate Per Query
We can drill down even more look at the ratio of click through rates per individual queries. We take the amount of clicks divided by the number of impressions and divide that between all the queries used.
This chart is similar to Chart 9 in that we have a clear leader with “coding”. This is starting to prove what I already know about the “coding” keyword group: there are a few keywords for coding that get a lot of impressions and a lot of people click on it.
This is because people search for “coding music” or “C# coding” or “coding tips” and my site comes up prominently and is clicked on frequently. This analysis might reinforce what you already know, but it really helps to see what’s succeeding or failing with your keyword strategy.
Impressions and Clicks Per Group
This is perhaps the most important analysis of all, and is among the most simple to do. We’ve gone through data and drilled down quite a bit, but the real nuts and bolts of this is to find out exactly where you are at with your SEO and how you can improve it. Here is a look at my impressions, and the clicks associated with each group:
This is sorted by click through rate so the keywords on the left are doing best, but the blue bars show impressions so you can see which terms are most popular, which was already shown in Chart 2. High click through rates don’t always equal high traffic, and vice versa. What this chart shows is how well the content is performing.
This is what I’ve been leading up to for this entire article. For optimal results we want to close the gap between impressions and clicks. A larger gap signifies a problem and if you’re looking at this chart you can see I have a really big problem. I have two terms (Raspberry Pi and C#) that are my two highest terms in impressions and clicks, but the click through rate is rather poor. Also the amount of impressions I get for C# terms is exponentially larger than Raspberry Pi, yet more people actually click on Raspberry Pi related terms. If my goal is to get more traffic, I’m bleeding pretty bad right now.
What do I need to do?
Clearly I need to find out why people aren’t clicking on my SERPs for the term with the highest impressions and lowest clicks. I need to find out why so many people see my site when searching for C# related terms yet never clicking. Even a marginal improvement in CTR will net thousands more people each day coming to my website.
Possible Problems with the C# and Raspberry Pi keywords:
- Google is ranking my pages very high for C# terms, but it’s not what the searchers are looking for.
- My C# related content is not being presented properly.
- I may have poor headlines or excerpts that people don’t want to click on.
- My content may have already been seen by people searching
- My content may be “too basic” and people are searching for specific C# issues
- People may be searching for something very specific with C# in the title.
- My Google Author Photo may be scaring people away.
Ok the last one was a joke, but It could be a number of things, and it could even be Google’s fault though I doubt it. I definitely need to find out why people aren’t clicking as much and rectify it. My SEO click through rate is abysmal but it’s not as much of a priority as the programming related things I want to focus on. In the next few months, in order to be Agile with my marketing I need to do the following:
- Add more content in the areas that seem popular based on the click through rate.
- Shift my focus to areas that are performing well.
- Work on the areas where I am not performing well and there is large potential ( Raspberry Pi, C#)
- Work on changing my page titles and descriptions to entice more clicks
- Research keyword trends relating to C# and see if my content fits what people are searching for
- Shape all my content to better serve what people are searching for.
- Identify areas of greater potential and target them.
If I can accomplish one or more of these things, my traffic will continue to grow. I will make some changes and come back in another month and run this same analysis. I’ll do again in 2 months, and so forth to see if I’m progressing in the direction I want to go. Since my traffic has tripled since this time last year, I’m on the right track but I have a long way to go. I’ll keep you guys updated.
Let’s summarize this strategy into something you can use and work towards.
The TL;DR checklist summary.
Let’s go through what you need to do in order to assess your current situation and build a strategy to improve it. First off, I want to define a “rising star”. That is simply a keyword or keyword group with good potential that you are making progress on, or could have big gains. For me, the rising star was the Raspberry Pi terms, C# and Coding Music. These are all terms that came up recently and drove lots of new traffic to my site. “SEO” as a keyword is an old stalwart that’s been around for years but Raspberry Pi is new and flashy. Both have their value depending on your goals.
1. Get the data from Google Webmaster Tools.
Pull your search query data for as far back as you can go (about 3 months) and filter only web searches and go to 500 rows.
2. Group the topmost keywords into their root keywords
Try to distill your terms into groups like I did. For instance:
Where to learn about SEO
How can SEO help my company
where to find more information about improving my SEO
These can all be grouped into “SEO” and when you filter it in Google Webmaster Tools they will group together.
This will take some some thought but you want to try and come up with about 20 groups of the keywords that are getting the most clicks and impressions.
3. Filter your results by each of these groups and note the following:
Thankfully Google shows this information clearly at the top. But you will need to filter each group by hand and store the numbers produced. I used Microsoft Excel but you can actually use Google Docs for this if you want by downloading the chart data.
4. Determine which queries are generating the most impressions
This depends on the popularity of the keyword and your position in the search results. Look for rising stars here.
5. Analyze your query distribution
Find out how many queries its taking to generate those impressions to determine long tail keyword potential.
6. Impressions Per Query
Find which query and query groups are giving you the most impressions. This will give you a better idea of your position for those queries, and the popularity.
7. Clicks Per Query Group
Find out what people are clicking on. This will show you the popularity and your position as well as your click appeal in the results.
8. Clicks Per Individual Query
This is more of a drilling down to find more detailed info about popularity, position and click appeal. Look for rising stars here.
9. Click Through Rate
The meat and potatoes showing how many people are clicking when they see your page. This is an area where improving performance matters most.
10. Click Through Rate Per Query
A more detailed look at the important metric, look for rising stars here.
11. Impressions and Clicks Per Group
This is the area where you really have to be honest with yourself. This is a direct view of your Click Through Rate in #9 but it shows you any potential you might be missing. If you see something with tons of impressions and not many clicks, it’s time to find out why.
In this article I’ve shown you how to use Google Webmaster Tools for Agile Marketing. What I’ve shown you is only the way to analyze where you’re at right now. Notice I didn’t mention anything about keyword research or backlinks, which is what most SEO articles are about. This is because the intention is for you to firmly establish where you are right now based on past data. What you do with this data is entirely up to you. Your content strategy should work on a combination of this data and whatever your personal vision is for the website.
In order to be Agile, you’re going to need to adapt to changes quickly. If you do this analysis and get it set up, you can go back about once a month and do it again to assess your progress. Are you gaining or losing traffic? This analysis will tell you why. You could even do it once a week, though it really depends on the frequency of changes by Google. As you change your content it will take time for your results to transpire so anything more than once a month may be a waste of time but there isn’t any reason you can’t do this every day if you want to. The important thing is to spot trends and react to them. If something isn’t working you’ll find out much quicker and react accordingly. You can also be proactive and spot rising stars and high potential areas and start targeting them.
In the end I truly believe this is going to the way to succeed with SEO in 2013. The days of tricks and hacks are over and you need to start making your content better and more relevant if you want search engine traffic. This helps you in two ways: you won’t have to fear algorithm changes nearly as much and you’ll be focused more on making your site better rather than just trying to fish for traffic. A great side effect of good content marketing is your site becomes better, nobody can take that away from you. You’ll build a better following and that will end up helping your SEO as well. You win by making yourself better.
I encourage any feedback you might have about this strategy and I’d love to hear what others think about it.