Chances are if you’re reading this, SEO analysis is part of your life in some capacity, whether it is auditing for a client, creating a campaign strategy, or reporting performance to the higher-ups. How to sharpen the SEO analysis sword is something that I’ve really been wanting to write about for a while because great analysis and reporting underlies effective problem solving and objective decision making that is part of so many great campaigns.
1) Use tools as a filter for looking at websites, not the other way
This may seem on the face of it, so obvious that you’re probably gonna want to bounce from this blog post, huh? You may think that this is so self evident that it should not even be on this list – well, it is and let me tell you why: looking at a website while running tools on it gives a third dimension to the data. There is a big difference between glancing at a website and truly analyzing it. I find that many people simply peek at a website quickly before diving into tools and looking at the website through the tools, this is patently incorrect. The real critical lens is looking at the website and using tools as filters to highlight certain features of the website. I am not even going to lie, early on when I started SEOing I definitely spent a couple cycles every once in a while wondering why ‘the numbers’ looked so off, only to have a DUH! moment as soon as I looked on the site.
Putting it into practice
- Start to understand how the tools you use everyday work. How are they grabbing data? How complete is the data? This will give you an idea of how seriously you should take the data.
- Anytime, literally ANYTIME, you’re looking at tool output you should have a second window open with the actual site – no minimizing!
- Don’t move too fast through the data, analyze. I was guilty of this one too when I was starting out. Take your time, really look at things and always drill down.
2) Look at multiple data sources because a different data set or a different view can give you a whole new picture
I’m a huge tool omnivore. I will try anything and everything and find the beauty in it – I even tool hunt in my spare time! Fiendish, I know but not without cause. I believe that if you’re looking at one data source, you’re not getting the complete picture. I never use just one keyword tool (or even just 3). I never use just one backlink tool…and so on for any other SEO activity. I build in redundancies into everything I do. I try to be smart about it though, to save myself time. I ask myself a couple questions when deciding on what tools from my arsenal to use. Is this a quick and dirty look under the hood? There are some tools that are great for just the down and dirty. Am I trying to be exhaustive in my analysis? In this case, I start running tools that I know have different data sets to get a complete picture, this is especially true for link tools for backlink analysis.
Putting it into practice
- Try lots of free tools and try free trials of lots of paid tools. There is so much great stuff out there and if you have you have the time to tinker, it is well worth your time. Check out the following articles by some of my fellow ninjas to get ideas for some pretty sweet tools worth testing.
- Browser Plugins
- Data Visualizing Tools
- Bing Webmaster Tools
- Pinterest Tools pinterest super cool, I couldn’t resist 🙂
- Give tools that don’t give you insights the boot quickly. It is really easy to get into the habit of running the same tools just because you’re in the habit of doing it. Don’t fall into this habit.
- Don’t get too comfortable with the tools or methods you’re using. Commit to always try new ways of solving problems. One way to do this right now is to dig through your bookmarked how to SEO blog posts and try one of the the ‘cool things’ you found, saved, and forgot about 😉
3) Fetching too little data or presenting too much Information
Proper data gathering and information presentation are the two unsung heroes of SEO analysis. You’d be surprised how often people grab a screenshot of the graph from Google Analytics for organic search and used that in external reports. Fail. Especially when you have a wealth of data, such as what Google Analytics provides, you cannot get away with presenting unsegmented screenshots and pie charts as complete data. Drilling down into data is something that is critical to the success of any analysis you do. Personally, I think it is always worth taking the extra time to verify the completeness of your research. On the other side of the coin, there is presenting too much data and too much research. The big rule here is that you never want to present a big giant data explosion spreadsheet to anyone. You want to make sure that you have a well manicured and well formatted document of course but as an analyst, it is your job to do the actual analytical legwork and to present only the creme off of the top, so decisions can easily be made based on the document you created or problems solved.
Putting it into practice
- Starting right now, commit to taking the extra time to drill down deeper and segmenting more then you ever have into the data that you have available to you for the problem you’re try to solve for or the phenomena you’re analyzing.
- Critically revisit the last piece of analysis that you did and critique the presentation of the document. Is the document formatted in a professional matter? Is data presented in an objective and non-misleading way (i.e. are ratios and percentages explained with all the necessary raw numbers to give them proper context)? Are recommendations and conclusions action oriented? A thought experiment that I like to use to test how actionable a particular piece of analytical reporting is, is: can I hand this off for someone to act upon and can they write ‘done’ on everything I recommended. If I am doing analysis for something to aid in decision making the though experiment I use is: if I was the decision maker, would I have all the necessary and sufficient information to make an objective and maximally beneficial decision based on analysis provided?
4) Don’t miss the forest for the trees
When doing analysis, it is often easy to get too focused in one place and miss the overall picture. All to often, analysis is bogged down to just, say, onpage keyword strategy and internal linking, missing the boat on off page strategy or content strategy. It is really easy to miss the boat the other way around as well. It is so important to keep a global perspective when doing analysis; more specifically, all your analysis should somehow lead back to important KPI’s and therefore, the bottom line for your company or your clients business. To truly meet the individual business needs, you need to be prepared to analyze broadly to see patterns and opportunities, in addition to being able to drill down.
Putting it into practice
- Try to somehow document your clients/ your company’s key business objectives and KPI’s fore the campaign being analyzed – this is so important because this is the weight by which you measure success or failure. Having a clear idea of what these are will also help you not less your analysis digress. In a word, make your clients business, yours as well.
- Make sure you have a clear definition of what qualifies as a problem worth further analysis. I have a little thought experiment that I use: Does what I am looking at have the potential to move the needle up or down? I also ask myself, does answering this question/solving this problem involve more work and opportunity cost, then the potential value that solving it will bring? By keeping these little questions on my mind, I fall into Alice’s data wonderland a lot less often.
To wrap up, I am curious if you all have some common analytical pitfalls that I may have missed or ideas on how to make an SEO analysis sharper.
Keeping the balance between reporting a lot while reporting “not too much” is not easy but that’s the key! Thanks for the great insight, Bonnie. I know you are great at reporting!
Thanks for chiming in 🙂 I *definitely* agree that keeping the balance is incredibly hard. For me, the biggest struggle is when I find tons of juicy stuff but then the key question is what is important enough to include in the actual document to the client or stakeholder, since after all not everything that is cool and shiny to me is the same way for the person I’m reporting to…they aren’t as nerdy about the the data as I am, they just want answers to questions or solutions. There are also cases where I’m doing routine reporting and I hit on top of a huge iceberg of a problem on a site, but the discussion of which may be outside of the scope of what the report is about – should it be included? If it is included, should it be a line item or featured? These are mini decisions that one has to make all the time when doing a lot of this stuff
My little compromise for my struggle between depth of analysis and what I present is in how I structure the document, so I force myself to flesh out the most important stuff related to the commissioned query by always including an ‘executive summary’ that addresses the key discussion points that matter to the person getting the document and I include all my seo nerd data stuff deep in the body of the document. I know that executive summaries are popular but I don’t think of them so much as part of a template, which is their usual usage, but rather as a conceptual tool to help me organize everything correctly, in my head and on paper.
Lol – so that is a loooonnng response but I think you hit on a hugely important point 🙂 🙂
Well said! SEO (and life heh) is all about balance.
I’ve found that putting time aside, at least on a semi-regular basis, to refine analysis processes is highly beneficial. It might be hard to find the extra time, but continued refinement to the analysis process itself is key, and in the long run will save you time and money.
Thanks for the great post!
Josh – I try to do the same, revisit the stuff about quarterly=) ….even within the space of a couple months, new tools will come out, other tools get cool updates, Google will change things, and you’ve gotta refine your methods with the movement of the tide…and I agree, you definitely save a ton of time by trying to get into a habit of doing it semi regularly.
I think there is a thin line between not enough info and head spinning data. I think you have to feel out your potential client prior to sending this type of data over to see if it will intimidate them or actually make them inquisitive.
There certainly is a thin line and that is a great point, a bunch of it depends on who you’re working with. It is so important to have flexible enough processes to be able to narrowly tailor them to a clients specific informational needs. You also run into the cases when you’re working with someone for the first time and you’re not sure how much of the data they want to see….in those cases I tend to try to strike at the mean and include the cream – the analysis – at the top and just link down or otherwise refer to the data which I include deeper in the document – that way if they wanna drill down, they can and if they don’t they can safely ignore that bottom part of the document.
Thanks for the great insight and post, Bonnie! I loved your comment about not presenting a “a big giant data explosion” to everyone – I think a lot of SEOs take for granted the knowledge and know-how they’ve accumulated over time and don’t realize that a lot of others outside of the field really have no idea what we’re talking about. Like you said above, people just want answers to questions or solutions.
Hey Venessa – there’s definitely an art to presenting the information in a way that is instantly actionable…and yes, when you do SEO everyday, so it is very easy to forget that the audience receiving the document may not be a subject matter expert on the topic. Thanks for your nice comment ^_^
Bonnie you forgot the most important tip and that is a super tallented SEO expert as yourself is needed. Nice article as always.
aww thanks so much 😀 😀 I’m so happy that you thought it was a good read!
It also helps to visually view the code. I find a lot of problems like massive code bloat, spammy meta, comment or title tags and using the H1 tag several times which don’t show up on most SEO tools.
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