AB Analytics : Web Analytics and Optimisation

3 Essential Google Analytics Improvements For SEO Website Analysis

An SEO Booster Kit For Google Analytics 

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Website traffic analysis using Google Analytics contains so many powerful features but, one area where it potentially punches below its weight is organic search.  Surprisingly, the "out-of-the-box" configuration contains sub-optimal information about the most important aspects of search engine optimisation. 

This post will share a few tips to get valuable SEO information into the existing reports and improve SEO analysis opportunities.

Why do standard Google Analytics SEO reports suck?

1. Recognised Search Engines

Within Google Analytics, the Organic Search report section displays traffic from a small number of default search engines. Data from ‘unrecognised’ search engines finds its way into the ‘Referral’ traffic report, making it difficult to see the complete SEO picture. To compound matters, the recognised search engines are consolidated under engine name (e.g. google) instead of the regional domain variations (e.g. google.co.uk .fr .de etc) or, search domain type (e.g. images.google.co.uk).  For a business operating across different countries this is a major drawback to understanding SEO by market.

google analytics seo domain goupings

Standard reports provide the ability to see what default search engine domain drove traffic  (e.g. google) however, it is not possible to isolate the specific domain: 

a) com
b) images
c) video
d) translate

Solution: Tell Google Analytics to add a new search to the recognised list when tracking the visitor referral.

First of all, locate existing traffic from unrecognised search engines by looking in the ‘Referral’ traffic source report.

Second, visit the search engine site and identify the query string used.  For example, unlisted domain BT.com is powered by Yahoo search engine and when looking for the phrase, “what is seo” the search results page URL displays the query keyword identification used as “p”  


Next, add a line to the Google Analytics Tracker Code (GATC) for each new search engine domain:

_gaq.push(['_addOrganic', 'search.bt.com', 'p', true]);

Place _addOrganic() before the function _trackPageview() and keep the extra optional parameter set to “true” to list new search engines first.    

add organic example

If more than one account is being used for reporting purposes (e.g. regional and global accounts) be sure to insert two calls at the appropriate code locations:

Regional Account: _gaq.push(['_addOrganic', 'search.bt.com', 'p', true]);
Global Account:     _gaq.push(['t2._addOrganic', 'search.bt.com', 'p', true]);

In some cases the custom search engine domain list can become quite long and therefore, it might be worth placing the code within a JavaScript file instead.  This keeps the code looking tidy and makes it easier to maintain.  

Download the list used for this site: ga-custom-se-domains-v2-1.js

Add a line of code to the standard Google Analytics Tracking Code and be sure to replace the example file location below (mysite.com) with the actual location hosted on your site:
<script src="http://www.mysite.com/ga-custom-se-domains-v2-1.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

add organic script example

Note: Soon functionality like adding custom search engines will be moving into the administrative console as part of the "Universal Analytics" changes. Read more details over at Justin Cutroni blog post.

2. The Big Fat Keyword, "Not Provided

Since Oct 2011, visitors finding a site using Google Search while logged in to their Google Account had their referring organic search term replaced with “(Not Provided)”.  This is great at telling us how many people use their Google account whilst searching but, for most site owners this sucks as between 5-30% of traffic can fall into this ‘unknown’ bucket (depending on what audience the site caters for).

The loss of organic search keyword data is here to stay and the volume is set to increase.  In March 2012, Mozilla Firefox set the built-in Google Search Bar to secure by default thus encrypting all results. Similarly, the latest release of Apple operating software version (iOS6)  on mobile means organic visits from on Safari’s built-in Search Bar will appear as ‘Direct’ instead impacting visit data from October 2012.

Solution (Partial): Link accounts between Google Analytics (GA) and Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) and compare GA ‘Keyword’ data at page level with GWT ‘Search Queries’.  Bear in mind that GWT data is known to be a bit ‘flaky’ so observe trends instead of absolute numbers.  To learn more about this approach visit Cardinal Path for a detailed explanation.

3. Keyword Rank

Analysing keyword rank over time can help a business understand if their investment in SEO is paying off.  Strangely, a metric like ‘keyword position’ is not available by default in Google Analytics. By linking the profile to a Webmaster Tools account it is possible to see ‘Average Position’ but this only has limited value.  Like all averages this metric can hide a multitude of sins.

google analytics search query ranking

Solution: Collect keyword position from Google search engine.

First of all, create a custom filter within the Admin profile area. Select dimension ‘Referral’ for Field A and input: (\?|&)(cd)=([^&]*)  Leave Field B empty and select dimension ‘User-Defined’ for the field called, ‘Output To’ and add the following free text: (Rank: $A3)Field B and Case-sensitive options are not required as show below:

google analytics profile filter

Secondly, allow sufficient time to pass and collect new data.  The changes will not be applied to historical data so, be patient.

And finally,  navigate to Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic > Primary Dimension = Keyword within Google Analytics

        1. Select Pivot report
        2. Choose Secondary Dimension ‘User Defined’
        3. View actual keyword position results

seo keyword rank position

Better still, view the cool motionChart or, alternatively export to the data to Excel and manipulate.

Small print - Be sure to test the filter before using with main reporting profiles. This approach is for Google specifically but alternative adaptations can be used for other search engines. Only certain items within results pages contain the keyword position.

Good luck analysing organic search site performance and thanks for reading this article.  Now it's your turn to share...

What's the best way to customise Google Analytics for SEO?

We would love to hear your opinion in the comments section below so don't be shy.

About the Author

Alex Brown is a Digital Analytics and Site Optimisation expert who works as an independent freelance consultant. The opinions shared in this blog are based on personal experiences gathered over a decade of data crunching and technology evaluation. The author makes no attempt to be grammatically, politically (or otherwise) correct. Spelling was never a strong point and for obvious reasons, only Google Analytics was referenced in the article - no hard feelings to any other vendor out there.

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Resources(In Alphabetical Order)
Cardinal Path
Not Provided Keyword Analysis
Justin CutroniUniveral Analytics
Search Engine Land
iOS6 Safari Search Bar
Slight Paranoia
Mozilla Firefox Search Bar
Original Keyword Position Filter

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / Freedigitalphotos.net

Comments: 2

  • Mattias Dec 04

    Cool stuff! Thanks Alex!
  • Alex Dec 06

    You're welcome, Mattias

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