Despite the fact that ranking reports violate search engine guide­lines, cost search engines millions of dollars each year and waste massive amounts of elec­tric­ity to process, they’ve long been the staple for measur­ing SEO ROIHowever, in 2010 ranking reports all but went the way of the dinosaur thanks to Google’s large scale person­al­iza­tion and their new “Instant” search results.  Google’s Instant search and person­al­iza­tion features increase rele­vancy and speed for users but, also reap absolute havoc on ranking report soft­ware render­ing them essen­tially inac­cu­rate and useless.  While good for engines and users, inno­va­tions like this became prob­lem­atic in terms of measur­ing SEO ROI.  Unlike other tools, the data compiled by ranking reports came directly from search engine making it extremely valu­able infor­ma­tion. Due to these changes and without reli­able ranking reports, there was no way to collect and measure SEO rank­ings or posi­tion­ing data about specific URLs directly from search engine results.

The good news is that every­thing changed in Decem­ber, when Google updated Google Webmas­ter Tools (GWT).  Google’s “Holiday Update” includes several new features that search savvy marketers are going to love, espe­cially the “Top Pages” tab.  “Top Pages” provides impres­sion data (some­thing we’ve never had before), click data and ranking posi­tion data about top perform­ing pages in Google search results.  “Top Pages” also provides URL specific data not to mention, it is where you’ll find the actual Google user queries respon­si­ble for driving traffic to a specific URL.  It also provides average posi­tion data for URLs in Google search results.  (Posi­tion data is an average which can vary slightly from actual results depend­ing on the number and type of results being returned.  URLs can also rank differ­ently in differ­ent loca­tions depend­ing on the query.)

So, what does this mean to search marketers?  GWT provides data about URLs perform­ing in Google’s organic search results and assists in measur­ing SEO success.  Addi­tion­ally, it provides infor­ma­tion to help search marketers improve pages based on the intent of the searcher.  This is exactly the kind of crit­i­cal data neces­sary to prop­erly and effi­ciently prior­i­tize organic keyword visi­bil­ity efforts.  This data helps ensure that online strat­egy aligns with stated busi­ness goals.  Best of all GWT data comes directly from Google and it’s a breeze to setup but, that’s not all.  In addi­tion to query data by keyword for specific URLs and posi­tion data, GWT provides a number of handy features.

Email forward­ing – Allows Google to share impor­tant infor­ma­tion such as malware noti­fi­ca­tions and alerts about crawl issues via email.

Site perfor­mance – Reveals poten­tial perfor­mance issues that impact users and lower conver­sions.

Crawl errors – Provides aware­ness about costly dead links and/or site outages that might other­wise go unde­tected.

Fetch as Google­bot – Ensures that redi­rects, dynamic pages and rewrites work as expected.  It also helps ensure textual content is index­able.

HTML sugges­tions – Helps assure that pages are unique and that user intent is addressed by the snippet displayed in SERPs.

Links to your site – Provides data about other sites linking to your site.

Sitelinks – Allows block­ing of search results that may not be rele­vant to user intent.

It’s impor­tant to note, no single plat­form or tool provides an all encom­pass­ing view of data for a website.  Despite the impres­sion of the digital space, data is frag­mented online as well as offline and between various plat­forms includ­ing, search engines. In addi­tion to frag­mented data there is even data that is simply missing.  How much?  That depends on the “health” of a site and it’s ability to prop­erly report data.  The sophis­ti­ca­tion of your digital marketers deter­mines your extent and your aware­ness of these issues. All of these factors can combine to increase the prob­a­bil­ity that data is skewed, a fact that isn’t often real­ized until it’s to late.  Whether your looking for ranking data, want to know if your site has been hacked or you’re just inter­ested in keeping your site fit for search, Google Webmas­ter Tools is one of the best sources for SEO related data.

At Search Discovery Inc. we use multi­ple sources to ensure accu­rate measure­ment for SEO report­ing.  We assist clients every­day with setting up their own Google Webmas­ter Tools account.  If you need help with setting up Google Webmas­ter Tools or find major discrep­an­cies between GWT and data from other places, let us know. We provide complete data measure­ment quality assess­ment services to help you and your orga­ni­za­tion make better deci­sions.