Using Google Tools /Analytics Software to Build a Great Website
Putting your website out there can feel pretty one-directional. You take pictures, write some truly compelling words about your organization, put the site online … and who knows? Is anyone looking at it? Are your incoming links from other sites hurting or helping you? Where are visitors clicking once they get to your site? There are ways to tell, and knowing how many people are visiting your site is valuable information. It’s equally valuable to know how many people are visiting your competitors’ websites. In this article we’ll discuss how to use Google Tools and other analytics software to build and manage a website that climbs rapidly in the search results and stays there.
We’ll also look at the importance of Analytics, citations (web listings), backlink audits, online reviews, Google AMP, Google Tag Manager, SEMRush and heat maps, all of which work together to paint a picture of where your visitors are coming from, how to increase their numbers, and how they are navigating your site. Most people are amazed at how there is know about winning the SEO game, so buckle up!
The first thing to understand about Google and other search engines is that they have a job to do. Forget, for a moment, their mission to make bazillions of dollars, one penny at a time, from advertising; they would not be successful at that, if they weren’t very good at their other mission, which is to index the world’s information and media in a way that is accessible and easy to find. If you think of Google as the world’s most sophisticated online information reference (which is what it is), you begin to gain an appreciation for the difficulty of their task. Google has to build rules into its algorithms that give web searchers the highest likelihood of success in their searches without being overloaded by empty advertising, spam sites and link-building scams. Each of these forms of SEO trickery designed to make Google direct traffic a site betrays certain programming patterns, so Google algorithms are in place that recognize the trickery and penalize these behaviors. The problem is, you may be inadvertently using some of these behaviors in your company website without knowing it, so they need to be corrected, and Google Tools, in conjunction with other analytics software, can help you do that.
The second invisible problem your site may be suffering has to do with the fact that Google’s algorithms also like to work efficiently. They like to cover a lot of ground quickly, so if your site has broken links, redirects or other errors, the search engine bots lose interest in your site more quickly than in clean, efficient sites they can index without running into obstacles. Google Tools can help you identify these bumps in the road that negatively affect your placement on search engine result pages (SERPS).
With the right tools, these problems can be identified and fixed. Using them well begins with a knowledge of how Google “reads.”
How Google Reads Your Website (and the Importance of Long Copy)
It’s not far from the truth to say that Google bots “read” your website in the same ways humans do. They begin at the top, reading left to right. They scan the headings and images before moving on to an in-depth reading of the paragraph content. Just like humans, they want to know one thing, and one thing only: does this website have the information people are looking for when they type a given search term (also called a “keyword,” which, technically, can be one or more words) into a search engine?
Long Copy is King
Note: “Copy” is the word marketers and journalists use to describe the text in a piece of advertising, journalism or on a website.
Somewhat recently, Google software engineers realized they were being tricked (as they always are, just before installing an update to circumvent the trickery) by 300 – 500 word web pages and blog posts that pretended to be information destinations of the type Google likes, but they were actually artificially loaded with keywords for informational searches without providing any of the encyclopedic type information that Google was trying to provide web searchers. Creating this type of content wasn’t generally seen as an underhanded trick undertaken by advertisers; everyone did it (most people are still doing it), and it used to work really well as an SEO tool, from a marketing standpoint. But no more.
The latest algorithm updates have changed two aspects of site SEO that turned the game on its head:
- For the first time in Google’s history, long copy is a mandatory part of successful SEO. Web pages must now have 800 – 2,000 words on them to rank well. 300 – 500 word pages send red flags to the bots that reviewing a given site. Longer copy takes longer to write and so costs more to produce, but because most marketers are still using short copy, we are in a time of great opportunity for those who adapt to the new rules.
- Keyword stuffing is harshly penalized. Now, instead of focusing on one keyword per page, and pounding it down Google’s throat in a few strategic spots on the page, site copy has to use a healthy smattering of other, related keywords and terms in the copy. Google’s algorithms are smart enough to “read” this text and analyze sentence structures and thought connections within and among paragraphs at a level that makes false or puffed-up information very difficult to create. The bottom line is that your website, in addition to selling your products or services, has to contain genuinely useful information, thereby working in tandem with Google’s mission.
Setting up Your Google Account
You’ll need an AdWords account to use Google Analytics, so take care of that first. We’ll leave out account setup and configuration details for the various tools discussed in this article because Google is very good at assisting you on that side of things. Start by searching for AdWords, click on Google’s link, and you’ll be off to a strong start. Google will even dispatch an expert to help you perform set up over the phone if you need it, so no stress on that part. Here we’ll discuss the various benefits of the tools that come with your Google account, plus some other choice pieces of software.
Analytics gives you a wealth of information that, used in conjunction with other tools, can help you improve the SEO ingredients of your site. Here’s what it can tell you:
- How many users are on your site at any given time and tracking numbers of site traffic, so you can correlate them with social network promotions and marketing campaigns.
- Where your site visitors are located, geographically.
- What devices your visitors are using.
- Other interests your audience has.
- Which channels are driving the most traffic to your site, for example, social network promotions versus organic search.
- How visitors are navigating your site. This tells you where they’re coming in, how you’re converting them, and where you’re losing them.
- Which pages on your site are most popular.
- How quickly your website loads. This is important because a slow site loses visitor traffic.
- Where visitors are clicking on your site, and which clicks are generating conversions.
- How your AdWords marketing campaigns are performing, with plenty of details.
- Amazing, right? Well, there are limitations to the information Google shares, and it’s good to be aware of what you can’t see on Google Analytics:
- Individual visitor information.
- How visitors are using Facebook and other social networks.
- Whether a given visitor has been to your competitor’s website.
Even with these limitations, it’s possible to piece together a very useful picture of your site visitors, how to attract more of them and how to make your site convert more of them to customers.
This wonderful tool helps you index your pages in a Google-bot-friendly way and analyze your site for red flags in the code that may be scaring off the bots. It gives you a view of your site that makes it easy to see necessary changes in meta data attached to text, images, videos, everything.
Citations and Web Listings – Consistency is Everything!
Your website should have more going for it than strong keywords; it also needs to have plenty of incoming links from business listings, plenty of positive citations on those listings, and an extreme degree of consistency in the way your company listing reads, from one list to the next. When your company is listed on Yellow Pages online, Manta, foursquare, bing, Local Ease, Info Group, etc., the information should read exactly the same for every one. Your business name, email address, phone number, hours of operation—everything should be identical every place it appears, including comma placements and parentheses on the phone number. Otherwise Google struggles with the inconsistencies, and Google loves efficiency, so the sites that create the least struggle for the bots are most rewarded.
Google Reviews, Facebook Reviews and Testimonials
The Internet has made it easy for both satisfied and dissatisfied customers to make known their opinions of your company in a very visible way: reviews. The big player in terms of positively or negatively affecting Google’s opinion of your search engine worthiness is Google Reviews, but even more important is the effect of reviews on your business when humans read them. Whether on Google, Facebook or any other place your company is listed, one negative review can cut into your bottom line.
Sadly, some people out there tend to leave bad reviews for all the wrong reasons. Maybe they were actually at fault when they dealt with your company, bringing unrealistic expectations or unreasonable demands to their interaction with you. Maybe they’re just having a bad day, and you’re an easy target. Maybe they’re trolls who have never even dealt with your company at all (yes, some people are apparently that bored). Whatever the reasons, you have to deal with them, promptly, honestly and clearly.
Fortunately trolls, problem customers and other troublemakers are easy for potential customers to spot in these types of listings if you reply to comments and address them head-on. Offer potential solutions to the problem, encourage them to contact you, then do everything you can to contact them. Do your best to set things right and calm the complainant in your listing comments. If the complaint is totally unfounded, politely tell them so. If it’s a troll, there may be telltale signs in your sales records. More than one bad review has been countered with a company reply that basically says, “I tried to find your contact information so we can sort this out, but I don’t show any record of you ever dealing with our company. Please let me know when you were here, so we can look you up and set things right. Or contact me through the website.”
When the complaint is well-founded and you truly are at fault, own up to it; there’s no other way. Everyone makes mistakes, and we all know it, and when you admit your mistake and do your best to make things right (showcasing these efforts in your comments and replies), other people reading the reviews will cut you a lot of slack.
Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
Is the age of desktop computing at an end? Not yet, but it’s losing ground every year compared to mobile computing. Desktop is probably easier to use for web browsing, but mobile devices are increasingly where the purchase decisions are made. When you sit on the sofa and discuss where to eat dinner, someone will probably pull out a smart phone to find ideas. When a retail customer is standing in the store aisle checking reviews on the product options on the shelf in front of them, they’re moments away from a purchase decision, and mobile is where the research happens. Google AMP helps you analyze and make adjustments to the mobile version of your website to assure ease of use by people who are riding buses, waiting in dentists’ offices, slurping down coffee on a break, etc. This audience will keep growing, so your mobile site needs to keep up by allowing these users to see the full page in a useful way on their devices.
Just as important is the fact that Google ranks your mobile site according to these criteria, so a well-crafted mobile version helps you climb the search engine result page (SERP) ratings.
Google Tag Manager
What is a Heat Map?
Once you’re doing everything right to bring visitors to your website, there’s still a lot to learn—and improve on—in the way those visitors are using the site once they arrive. Enter: a wonderful tool called the heat map, so named because it lights up various parts of your webpages in a way that resembles the infrared vision that allows military personnel to see body heat in the dark. In the case of website heat maps, it shows hotter colors on the parts of a web page where people click the most and cooler colors where they click less. This is invaluable information when you think of your web pages as funnels designed to direct site visitors toward a purchase decision. If most users are clicking from a product information page to a “Buy Now” page, you’re doing everything right. If not, you may need to adjust your site layout to put the Buy Now button in a more clickable spot. Or you could create two pages for the same product and send visitors to them in different campaigns as a split marketing test; the heat map will show you which page is converting better.
This excellent, third-party software provides many of the same kinds of data as Google Analytics and other, comparable, third-party softwares do, and the data is easy to read and understand, but it has two distinct advantages over many other tools. The first is that it can show you, not only who is visiting your site and why it’s ranking well on Google, it can also show this data for your competitors’ websites. If one of your competitors is constantly beating you to the top of the search engine results, SEMRush will help you understand why, how and what to do about it.
The second unique tool SEMRush offers is a backlink audit. This is the most important thing you can do to make sure your page SEO is as strong as it can be. A backlink is simply a link on another website that points at your website. Strong backlinks are hugely important to your site’s SEO, but some can damage your Google mojo. A backlink audit shows you all the pages on the Internet that link back to you, allowing you to make corrections to the ones that may be costing you search engine placement. Some examples of the types of links that can hurt you (or even get you blacklisted on Google):
- Links that appear artificially placed (to Google). If your auto body shop is heavily linked from online camera blogs, for example, Google’s algorithms may penalize you.
- An inordinate number of links from geographic areas that don’t make sense for your company. This algorithm is designed to prevent the buying of links to improve a site’s Google standing. These “black hat” links are often generated in other countries, and anyway, it wouldn’t make sense for your auto body shop in Wichita, Kansas, to get most of its traffic from China or Russia, so Google assumes you’re up to no good and smacks your hand with algorithm ruler.
- So-called unnatural links are addressed in catch-all algorithms that look at lots of factors beyond forced link trading and overseas links. Basically, Google has learned to recognize quite a few patterns in the ways websites have traditionally tried to deceive it. These algorithms recognize links that appear, in any way, to be created for the sole purpose of improving your site rankings, and penalize you for it.
- As you can see, a backlink audit—used well—can be like a get-out-of-free card for transgressions you may not have even known you were committing. Or maybe you knew, but felt like you were carefully skirting the SEO-ethics line without doing anything technically dishonest. Doesn’t matter. It needs to be fixed because Google is really good at catching this sort of thing.
The Bottom Line
In the simplest terms, all these tools and techniques are designed to do two things for a website: optimize it to attract the greatest amount of positive attention from Google algorithms, and clean up the “bad press” out there that can hurt the site, whether from humans or Google bots. A good rule of thumb is, as your mother probably taught you, to be honest. Don’t try to trick search engines with artificial links, purchased links or other shenanigans. If your site is well optimized, including good reviews and bona fide links from reputable sites, you’re already on your way!
By Doug Brown, US Logo, Wichita, Kansas