This is a guest post from Alex Petrovic, the Advanced SEO strategist and Link building team leader at the Dejan SEO company in Australia. This is the first of two posts from Alex, one published this year and the next in January. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.
Each time I ask for a show of hands of those who actively use Google Webmaster Tools it’s around 10% of the auditorium. It always leaves me puzzled as there is so much good information in there and many choose not to make use of it. This article is for those who ignore Google’s own data about their website and seek help everywhere else. But if you think I am writing only for beginners, then you’re wrong.
Rankings & Search Queries
Your site on the web > Search queries
At first this section looks fairly straightforward but most folks miss one important piece of data that no other tool will be able to provide: Impressions.
What’s the big deal? Well for starters this piece of data tells you how many times you have appeared in SERPs on any given search phrase. This is different from your search volumes from Google Keyword Tool as it gives you personalised volume statistics. For example if you are on page two, the number of impressions will be much lower than if you were on page one and although the numbers are rounded this still represents a valuable piece of data you can work with later on.
Did you know?
Impressions number represents a sum of all impressions for all website assets which have appeared in search results for that phrase including pages, documents and images. Webmasters typically think of a single page in this context which is wrong.
Default setting in Google Webmaster Tools is inclusive of all types of search, geographic regions and impression/click quantities. Use filters at the top to get cleaner and more usable data. For example, you can focus only on web results (excluding image and mobile search) within a specific geographic region. This will set the ranking and impression data to a more familiar configuration.
Tip: Default date range is typically set to a full month. Click on the start date and track back some five days to get extra data for your reports.
Change in impressions can be used as a handy alert and help you discover opportunities or fix problems with your content.
For example an old page might receive a renewed amount of organic search due to a recent event and there is an opportunity to touch up old content to suit your new audience. Another scenario is where you can see a big impression jump due to a phrase suddenly appearing in the top ten results of Google. Definitely a good sign and a signal you’re doing something right.
On the other hand if your impressions suddenly drop, it may be a case for investigation. Check to see if your content/URL is still there and in good shape.
Tip: A great way to find new linkable assets within your site is to set the search query parameters to image search and identify images which appeared the most in results. They may be in demand and could score you a few links if utilised in the right way.
This is the easier value to figure out. Again don’t forget that clicks are distributed across all ranking assets (including multiple ranking pages). The big deal about this piece of data is that it works nicely with impressions giving you the idea of your average click through rate (CTR) for different positions.
Note: All three values (Impressions, Clicks & CTR) have their own Change value which is handy for interpreting your websites performance including user behaviour. If your impressions remain high and your CTR is dropping you may need to do some work on your title and meta description.
It takes a bit of getting used to not seeing absolute ranking positions, but once you get over the initial discomfort, this will be your favourite figure to work with.
Here’s what to do. Figure out your average CTR for each position on your website and then apply the traffic data to different ranking scenarios. The phrases that bring the best return are the ones you should work on.
Tip: Add your goal conversion rate and value into the mix and voila! Voila what? Well you get to find out how much more money you will make if you focus on this or that. Now, how awesome is that?
Click away from “Top Queries” and switch to “Top Pages”. This section kind of works the opposite way the other tab does, it shows the URL and all the phrases it ranks for, including all relevant supporting data such as position, CTR, clicks and impressions. Should I even begin to describe how useful this section is? In case it doesn’t click straight away I have one two words for you: LINKABLE ASSETS.
When I am stuck for content or linkbait ideas I always visit this section. The question I ask myself is “What are the most visited pages on my website?” and “Can I create some more?”.
Tip: Most pages in Google Webmaster Tools have an export link at the bottom. Retrieve data once per month and store it for future reference and comparison. Google wipes data older than some forty days or so.
Do you have any other tips to add? What do you find Google Webmaster Tools to be most useful for?