With the updated search query data provided in Google’s Webmaster Tools you have a powerful tool to help improve organic search results. Not only can you view rankings for most of the organic keywords for which your website’s pages appeared in recent search results, but more importantly, Google displays data such as Impressions (the number of times one of your web pages appeared in the search results for a keyword phrase), the number of Clicks and Click-Through Rates (CTR) for each keyword as well as data on the web pages/files returned in the search results.
You can use this data to improve organic search results including:
- Improve Click-Through Rates by improving the listing.
- Determine important keywords for which you should attempt to improve rankings.
- Learn what pages to optimize to improve results.
- Discover problems with pages and files being retuned in search results.
Examining the search query data Google provides also should make it very clear that the search listing itself is as important as or more important than the position where it appears in the search results, that indeed organic keyword rankings do vary widely, and that it’s important to focus on the correct keywords. Google gives you almost all the data you need to determine the best keywords to focus on from among the keywords for which your site appeared in the search results (If you don’t have Google’s Webmaster Tools see the “For More Info” section below).
Background: The Problem with “Traditional” Ranking Reports
Experienced Search Engine Optimizers have been working to “wean” clients from reliance on keyword ranking reports for a number of reasons, including…
Keyword rank reporting has become more and more inaccurate. Over the last couple of years more and more searchers are seeing different search results depending on their location and personalization effects (see Mark Johnson’s “The Future of Google’s Search Personalization” for more on personalization)
Most importantly: Organic search results are not primarily about rankings. Rather, for most web sites it’s about the actual traffic that reaches the site from the search listings and the actions these people take once they reach the website. A position 1 ranking does little for you if few people are searching on the phrase or clicking through to your website.
How to View Search Query Data in Webmaster Tools
- From the Webmaster Tools Dashboard, choose “Your Site on the Web” then click on “Search Queries” (A in Screenshot).
- Optionally choose a breakout for a search vertical such as mobile search (B in Screenshot) or a specific country.
- Modify the Date Range from within about the last 30 days, if desired.
How to View Search Query Data in Google Webmaster Tools
This first screen will display a table of the keywords (Queries), Impressions, Clicks, CTR, and the Average Position in addition to a chart of Impressions and Clicks over time and some summary data. Click on any of the column headings to sort by that column. In the screen shot below the data is sorted by Clicks (Descending).
Average Search Query Data Display
Note. For more information about the data provided on the Search Queries Page see http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35252
Drill In for a Breakout by Keyword
The Average Position data in the initial display is exactly that, the average position for this keyword across all the searches in the time period. You can drill down on every keyword for much more useful data.
Click on a Query (keyword) in the table to see expanded data including a breakout of the ranking positions where the query appeared as well as the clicks to a page for each position or range of positions as well as a listing of the pages on your website that appeared in the results.
Keyword Data Details
Examining The Detailed Query Data You Should Notice:
Keyword Positions Do Vary. Notice in the above search query breakout that for this one keyword, “heys luggage”, pages appeared in position 4 about 36 times, in position 5 over 1,300 times, but appeared the majority of the time within positions 6 to 10. Try looking at some of your keyword data, even for one day. It should help make it clear that keyword positions change not only over time, but that a keyword may appear in different positions for any searcher (This is in part due to the searchers location and personalization affects).
The Listing Is More Important Than The Position in the Results!!! Notice that in many cases the click-through rate (CTR) is about the same within a few ranking positions one way or the other. In other words, very often about the same percentage of people click on a listing whether it appears in position 3 or position 6, for example. I believe, from my experience, that this is because in many cases there are only few listings that are enticing and relevant to a searcher within a range of search results. Searchers scan through these listings looking for relevant listings that entice them to click through to the page. It often doesn’t matter if the listing is in position 3 4, 5, or 6 because the listings in between a few positions are likely not to be very enticing or relevant to the searcher (However you’ll likely see that listings in position 1 clearly get the lion’s share of clicks in many cases).
There are often many top position listings with few impressions or clicks. Many sites will rank in top positions for many phrases that result in very few impressions or clicks. This is because there is very little competition for many of these phrases and few people search on them. In addition, many of these phrases are likely to be irrelevant to a site’s primary conversion goals so that even if people were searching and clicking on them they would contribute very little to the conversion goals of the website. This should help make it clear that developing a report of all the keywords for which your site reached top rankings is meaningless! Improving organic search results – i.e. increasing business from organic search – is about improving listings and rankings for the right keywords, those that are being searched on in reasonably significant numbers and that are relevant, while improving the listings to entice people to click through to the web site where these visitors can then take the action(s) you desire once.
Conversions: Site visitors who that take the action(s) you desire – Whatever that action is. For some it’s an immediate sale, for others it’s an inquiry or a newsletter subscription, and for some it’s a phone call or future visit to their facility, etc.
How To Use The Query Data To Improve Your Search Results…
Improve CTR by Improving the Search Listing – Look for keywords that resulted in significant numbers of Impressions (i.e. the number of people searching on the query phrase) but have low Click-through Rates. Then determine if this is indeed an important keyword for the site, i.e. is it very relevant to the products or services etc offered? If possible check your PPC conversion results for this phrase and/or see if there’s enough traffic and conversion data in your analytics to help you determine if you should focus on improving results for this keyword phrase. If it is an important keyword phrase check your search listing and try to improve it by taking some of the following steps:
Make Your HTML Page Title More Enticing. Many people optimize HTML Page Titles to try to improve rankings but they forget that the Page Title also needs to help entice people to click on the listing. The HTML Page Title is almost always displayed as the first line in the search listing truncated to 60-65 characters in Google (A in the screen shot below). Search on the keyword in Google and find your listing. Look at some of the competing listings. Which ones seem enticing to you? Can you make your Page Title more enticing while improving, or at least not hurting. the ranking for the keyword (As long as you leave the keyword(s) about where it appears currently in the title you should be ok)?
Example of a Google Search Listing
Improve the Search Listing “Snippet”. The snippet is the description displayed under the first line in the listing (B in the screen shot above). It could be a snippet that Google created from text on the web page, it might be from the Meta Description Tag for the page, or it may be your site’s Open Directory description.
If Google created the snippet from the text on the page, can you modify the text to try to influence the listing or add new text to the page including the query that Google might use for the snippet (Of course remember that your human visitors to the page come first. Don’t make changes for search engines that will make your page less effective for your site’s human visitors).
If the search engine snippet is coming from the Meta Description Tag can you make it more enticing?. You might also optimize the page text to see if you can get Google to create a snippet from the text on the page instead of using the Meta Description Tag.
In some cases Google may display the description for your site from the Google directory as the listing snippet (this usually only happens for home pages). The Google Directory is based on the Open Directory Project (OPD, dmoz.org). You might try updating your OPD listing to make it more enticing, but we may all be dead and gone before it actually gets updated (2012 is, after all, only 2 years away. Sorry OPD!). Instead you can use a Meta tag to tell search engines such as Google not to use the OPD listing. Here’s a page in Wikipedia with some format examples (With this Wikipedia page open in a browser do a page search for “noodp”), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta_element
Rich Snippets, Local Results, & Other Types of Results. The above tips on influencing the snippets in search listings apply primarily to the traditional organic search results, but things have been changing. As you probably have seen, more and more local results from Google Maps are being displayed in the main Google search results page. These listings are quite a bit different than the traditional listings. See our article on Improving Local Search Results for more about improving these listings. There can also be other types of results in the search listings such as video, images, news etc that you can influence in other ways that we did not cover here.
Also, Google has been displaying more Rich Snippets in search results such as ratings from review sites or business listing sites and other structured data. You can start learning about Rich Snippets in this Google article http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=99170
Check The List Of Pages Being Retuned In Searches.
Google shows you which pages appeared in the results for each search query. Click though to each of them to check…
Are there any problems with the page such as Include pages, frames pages, pop-ups that are being viewed from search results without the normal site navigation?
Is it an effective page for this keyword? If not can you improve the rankings for this keyword for another page on the site even de-optimizing this page if needed?
Is the page no longer valid, but your web server is not handling Page Not Found errors correctly? See this article for much more about Page Not Found (404) errors
High Impressions, Lower Ranking Position. This is basic SEO 101 here, but look for important keywords that resulted in significant numbers of Impressions to try to improve search positions (there’s no sense trying to improve results for keywords for which no one is searching), ideally queries with a decent click-through rate, but that appear in lower search positions. I believe if a keyword is important to your organization and it’s not averaging position 1 then you should continue try to improve its ranking, if possible. Position 1 usually gets the largest share of clicks. We see this for PPC results too. However the conversion rates for position 1 are often lower than for other positions, but since you are not paying per click for organic listings, then reaching position 1 should lead to increased conversions.
First determine this if this is an important keyword for you, i.e. is it very relevant to the products or services etc you offer? Again, if possible check your PPC conversion results for this phrase and/or see if there’s enough traffic and conversion data in your analytics to help you determine if you should focus on improving results for this keyword phrase.
If it is an important keyword then you should try to improve its average ranking using all the standard SEO methods such as optimizing the best page (Google shows you which pages are already ranking well for the phrase. One of those pages may be a prime candidate to optimize more), improving the search listings (see this topic above), link building (internal and external) etc.
Keep Testing New Keywords Too
Google’s Webmaster Tools will only show data for keywords for which a page/file from your website appears in the search results. There could be other search phrases and variations of search phrases for which your web pages are currently not being found. It makes sense to always be testing keywords in new or modified content on the website and/or in a PPC campaign.
For More info
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