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.