Looking for SpeedBefore we get into our SEO services with a client, one of the first things we say is “Do you have analytics installed on your site?” We aren’t the only ones; in fact, some form of analytics is preferable for thousands of professional SEOs. Why? What’s with Google Analytics and other analytics programs? What can we learn?

[Editors Note: Due to the amount of time people have spent complaining that we said "Google Analytics" rather than "analytics program", we made a few changes to the above paragraph to clarify. We hope that more people will now be able to look past the title of the analytics program and more to the point of the article: that some form of analytics is needed.]

Now, search engine optimization is a specialized service. It’s a constantly changing industry, and we have to keep up. This means we can’t spend the time we’d like to become analytic specialists, because we’re busy spending time staying qualified, professional SEOs. We know enough to help our clients, but even we occasionally have to go to someone who knows analytics inside and out. Our analytics specialist is Massimo Paolini, of MPThree Consulting (shameless plug, but he’s worth it!).

Why? Because Google Analytics provides hard data. This isn’t just guess work, readers; hard data, and the ability to understand it inside and out, is essential for the growth of your website and your business.

What Google Analytics Teaches You

Google Analytics gives you or your SEO team a wealth of information on your website, such as:

• How many visitors are reaching the website?
• What page are they landing on? Every page of your website is a landing page; every page can bring visitors.
• Where are they coming from? Visitors can come from a variety of places.
• What search terms did they use to get to the website?
• Are they looking around the site or just leaving from the page they landed on?
• If they visit other pages, which pages do they visit?

Why is this information important?

Landing page: Every page is a landing page, but some pages are not written to be landing pages. In other words, your FAQ, for example, may not have the right copy to keep visitors interested. They may see the FAQ and leave without going deeper into your site. If you find that more visitors are reaching your FAQ instead of your home page (which should be your top landing page), your pages may not be set up correctly in terms of SEO and ranking.

Where they’re coming from: In Google Analytics, you have three sources of traffic: direct (they type in your website url), referrals (from links outside of your site) and search engines (based on keywords).

• Referrals - If you’re using social media to gain visitors, you want to know your efforts are paying off. The same can be said for article marketing, guest blog posting and link building. You may find out that article directory XYZ brings more traffic than article directory ABC; you then know to focus more effort on XYZ.

• Direct – The number of visitors that come to your site from typing your website url is a great indication of visitor loyalty and word of mouth. Comparing the number of direct visitors with visitor trending and loyalty can help give you an idea of how interesting and timely your website is to visitors.

• Search engines – The reports gained from looking at search engine traffic can be invaluable in terms of focusing your SEO efforts. For instance, you may find that, while your website sells candles, you’re getting visitors for candle wicks and sticks because those visitors want to make their own. If you’re getting visits from search terms you have no business being listed on, you know your SEO needs to be adjusted.

Looking or leaving?: Google Analytics doesn’t just show how visitors got there; it also shows what they do once they get there. There’s a little understood term, in fact, that describes just the thing. It’s called “bounce rate”. Bounce rate simply means the percentage of people who visit a page and then visit other on-site pages, vs. those that just visit the page and then leave the site. A high bounce rate (over 40%) means there’s something visitors are expecting that they aren’t getting. If you’re wondering why you have 10,000 visitors a month and no conversions, you’ll probably have a high bounce rate.

Visited pages: Knowing what pages a visitor went to shows you how those visitors see your site. When you put your website up, you might have imagined everyone coming in on your home page, clicking to your services or products and then ordering. One, two, three, money, done. With analytics, what you may find is that, while some visitors follow your imagined steps, others may come in on your services or products page, click to the About Us, visit the Home and then go away.

So why Google Analytics? Why hard data? You can do what many website owners have done since the invention of the Internet, and tweak, twist, rewrite, edit, delete, move around pages, trying to get the “magic formula” for ultimate conversions. OR – you can look at Google Analytics and see the hard data. Then, when you rewrite, edit, delete or move pages, you’re not just guessing. You have a plan, and you’re implementing it.