Keeping up with your site’s SEO is a lot like tending a garden. You plant the best seed you can find in the best soil you know, apply water, and then watch white-knuckled as your seeds sprout. Will there be plentiful sunshine and enough warm days for your site to blossom? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way you could assess your seed’s strength?
Luckily, in the quest to capture and keep your website’s position in search engine results, you do have ways to assess the health of your “seed,” and fortify it against the ravages of algorithm changes as well. By checking 5 statistics of your website’s performance in Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools weekly, you can spot trouble when it looms–and thereby be better prepared to deal with any bumps in the road.
Check Your Sitemaps
We’re talking here about XML Sitemaps–the kind that uses the sitemaps protocol to tell search engines about your site. An xml sitemap lists the urls available on your site for the benefit of the Search Engine’s spider. It includes, for each url, three bits of information: when the url was last updated, how often it changes, and how important the url is in relation to the others on the site.
It’s important to check your sitemaps in Google’s Webmaster Tools weekly, as a broken sitemap can deprive a Search Engine spider of valuable information. There are a lot of automated xml sitemap solutions out there, from simple cloud services that will crawl your site to extensions for existing CMS platforms like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. Whatever solution you’re using to generate your xml sitemaps, it’s essential that they be well-formed xml documents, and that Google is able to parse them.
In Webmaster Tools, you will find the sitemaps tool under the Optimization heading. This will show you whether your sitemap is throwing errors or not. If Google thinks your sitemap is throwing errors, go to your sitemap in your browser and note any error messages you might see. These will need fixed.
Check Your Crawl Errors
In order to make sure your website is in absolutely tip-top shape as far as search engines are concerned, it’s important to make sure your site’s urls return exactly what a spider and a user are looking for. A crawl error occurs when a user or spider follows a url and doesn’t receive what they’re expecting. If a web server can’t find a resource or is unable to process a request, it returns an error code.
The basic HTTP error codes are numeric and fairly simple to remember. If a request is successful, the server returns a 200 code to indicate that everything went a-ok. If a server can’t find the resource a user is requesting, a 404 code is issued. 404 means that the server can’t find the page you’re looking for, and has become so iconic that it’s entered pop culture.
Other HTTP codes are less well-known. A 500 is the most infuriating code to receive from the webmaster’s point of view. This code indicates that the server was unable to process your request–and if you’re trying to fix a 500 error, depending on how you’ve configured your server, you are likely going to have to dig into your web server’s error logs to find out exactly what went wrong. 500 errors are listed under the “Server Error” tab in Webmaster Tools.
When a web server can’t finish your request because you’re asking for a resource you don’t have permission to see, a 403 error code is issued. This is usually due to pragma you’ve set out in your robots.txt or .htaccess file, and usually represents efforts to secure the server from intrusion.
Crawl errors don’t hurt your website explicitly. Instead, a crawl error can be seen as a small breach of trust between the user and the website. Enough of these breaches and your website’s reputation will suffer. So it’s good practice to check your crawl errors weekly, just to make sure you’re giving your users what they’re looking for.
Check Your Impressions and Clicks
Often one of the first warning signs that something is wrong with your site from a search engine’s perspective is a drop in impressions. An impression occurs when any url from your website appears in search result pages viewed by a user. A drop in impressions might mean that your site does not look credible to search engines.
Clicks happen when a user clicks on your impression in a search engine results page.
You can find your Impressions and Clicks in Google Webmaster Tools under the “Traffic” heading, labelled as “Search Queries.” Checking your impressions and clicks weekly will allow you to instantly assess your website’s strength in the eyes of the search engines.
Check Your Organic Traffic
For webmasters, Google Analytics provides a wealth of information that can give you an accurate snapshot of your website’s strength in the eyes of search engines. One of the most useful metrics, especially when compared with intelligence from Google Webmaster Tools on impressions and clicks, is organic traffic.
To see your organic traffic numbers in Google Analytics, select the “Traffic” heading, then navigate to “Search,” then to “Organic.” Here you will find some crucial information about the health of your site in the eyes of search engines. For example, you can see how many visits you’ve received in a given time period from organic search results, and this, paired with the impressions data from Google Webmaster Tools, will give you a fairly accurate picture of how your SEO tactics are doing.
Other very important information a webmaster can get from this page is how many pages on average were browsed per visit, how long visitors spent on your website, and the bounce rate–the percentage of single page visits within the time frame you’re examining. A high bounce rate is a good indication that you’re not serving searchers’ needs, and need to re-think either your design or your content.
Check Your Social Stats
The “Social” report on Google Analytics is a relatively new addition to the Analytics toolset, but it can help a webmaster better understand a website’s social positioning. Social sharing has become one of the most rapidly expanding metrics to evaluate a website’s performance by, and sites that perform well in the social sphere have real staying power.
This new report will show you how many visits your website received via social referral. How is sharing content on Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter impacting your website traffic?
It might seem like your seed has a long and dangerous road ahead of it before it bears fruit, but analyzing these key metrics can give you a good picture of your seed’s strength–and let you know what you need to do to ensure that your garden grows to its full potential.Google+