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 ROI. However, 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.