Compared to agencies and brands with large marketing budgets, small businesses are often at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to investing in intelligence-driven marketing tools and resources. In turn, this presents challenges in how small businesses can access key analytics data, and thereby develop sound strategies for SEO and web marketing.
Fortunately, there are many analytics insights that can be gained through tools that are free to use. Both Google Analytics and Google Search Console are two web analytics platforms that can yield a wealth of insights if you know where and what to look for. Sure, it helps to have advanced tools for backlink analysis and crawlability insights, but oftentimes these more robust tools come at cost.
With an emphasis on what data is available for free, below are some of the most important website analytics metrics that lend to critical insights for small businesses who are engaged in SEO.
1. Organic Traffic
While many SEO and web marketers like to track keyword rankings and search visibility, at the end of the day, it all boils down to organic traffic. Sure, it’s helpful to keep on eye where a site ranks for certain keywords. However, the most impactful measurement of SEO success is organic traffic.
Organic traffic, which can be tracked and analyzed with Google Analytics, is a reflection of how many users visit a site from organic search, namely Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo. This data can be easily sorted and broken-down to extract more granular SEO insights, like sources of organic traffic and keywords.
Unfortunately with Google Analytics, the ability to view keyword data is extremely limited. As you can see in the example below, 96% of the keywords driving the 4,806 organic sessions are “not provided,” which doesn’t offer much use or strategic application.
However, under Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages, we can see which pages of this site are generating the most organic traffic. These insights can help marketers understand which pages or articles of a site are true SEO assets. In turn, improvements can be made to optimize how users engage with these pages, which can increase SEO potential as a result.
2. User Engagement
Dovetailing on the previous metric, the manner in which users engage with a site can directly impact SEO performance and organic traffic. An SEO ranking factors study conducted by SEMrush highlighted user engagement metrics (time on site, pages per sessions, and bounce rate), as three of the top 5 most important variables.
What does this mean for small businesses and SEO? In short, it’s no different than enterprise level SEO for big brands and ecommerce stores. The focus should always be on the user and providing a seamless, top-notch experience that keeps visitors engaged and on a site for longer periods of time.
In addition to having a well-designed and responsive website, the content itself needs to resonate with users. Easy to digest paragraphs, relevant images, and thoughtful calls-to-action (whether to related content or contact prompts) all impact user engagement.
So instead of trying to jam more keywords on a page to appease Google, prioritize website usability and how well visitors interact with your site. Pay attention to behavioral metrics in Google Analytics, like Average Session Duration (time on site), Bounce Rate, and Pages per Session. If you find that users are spending just a few seconds on a page and bounce rate is over 80-90%, then it’s a good indication that a page needs improvement.
3. Site Health
Optimizing for site health and crawlability is vital for SEO; however, it’s also an important component that easily goes overlooked. Site health is an umbrella category that involves page speed (or how fast a page renders for users), crawl errors and broken pages, duplicate content, and other more technical SEO elements.
While there’s a lot that goes into optimizing for site health, in a nutshell, you want to provide a fast-loading website that’s free of any crawl errors and duplicate content. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is a good place to start in pinpointing issues that may be bottlenecking how fast a site loads. It’s a free tool that delivers actionable suggestions on how to troubleshoot and optimize aspects of your website for both mobile and desktop browsing.
Other solid platforms to monitor and find site health issues are Google Search Console and Screaming Frog. Like Analytics, Google Search Console is a key platform to better understand how Google sees your website. It can notify you of crawl errors, responsiveness issues, structured data inadequacies, and duplicate meta data.
Screaming Frog, which is a paid tool, offers robust scanning capabilities that help paint the entire picture of a site’s overall health. While this tool might not be justifiable for a small business’s in-house SEO efforts, it’s a must-have asset for SEO agencies and consultants.
4. Customer Reviews
Not only do customer reviews influence a business’s reputation and conversion rate, but it can also influence SEO and ranking in the Google Local pack. Although there are a number of unique factors that determine who appears in the Google Local pack, volume of customer reviews can offer a competitive advantage.
In terms of Google reviews, Google My Business is the primary hub to monitor, track, and respond to customer reviews. While this is not exactly a website analytic metric by any means, it is a critical factor for small business SEO and reputation management. In the left hand column of the Google My Business dashboard, you can see all “Reviews” that customers have left and you can choose to respond to each review as needed.
Beyond simply monitoring and responding to reviews, it’s smart to implement a review generation strategy that prompts customers to leave a review after they visit a business. This can be done by collecting emails via post-purchase opt-ins or wifi access portals, and later following-up with a thoughtfully-articulated ‘leave a review’ email. Or businesses can get creative with other means, like custom business cards, novel incentives, and integrated social media strategies to encourage more positive reviews.
Understanding which websites are linking back to your site can be an insightful SEO metric that has several implications. Earning backlinks from relevant, trusted sources is what determines a site’s domain authority and overall ranking potential. Conversely, a site with poor quality links from irrelevant sources can be damaging for SEO. In turn, backlink analysis has become a best practice in the search marketing community.
Although somewhat limited in terms of data, Search Console does have a Links feature that allows users to see where a site is getting backlinks from. The tool shows both internal links and top linked to pages, but also top linking sites, which is essentially where backlinks are coming from.
In cases where you find poor quality backlinking sites, these domains can be disavowed to maintain the integrity of your site. While the disavow tool is often reserved for sites that have previously engaged in sketchy link building practices in the past, it can be a crutch for situations that demand extensive link cleanup.
Other tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush make backlink analysis a little more in-depth and streamlined. For instance, these tools enable you to see the backlink profile of any website, including competitor domains. This can help yield new opportunities for businesses to create listings on directories, social media platforms, and other sites where they might not be present.
By analyzing competitors’ backlink profiles, you can better understand how authoritative they are and why. This can offer a wealth of insight into missed opportunities that can help you bridge gaps with your own SEO strategies.
Analytics Insights That Inspire SEO Strategies
While some of these analytics metrics fringe between on-site and off-site variables, together they make up some of the most important insights for small business SEO. Sure, other factors like citations are important for local SEO. But as it pertains to actionable analytics insights that inspire SEO strategies, understanding where your traffic is coming from, how users engage with your site, and where your site needs improving can all have a big impact. Add reviews and backlink monitoring to the mix, and you have a solid framework to better manage your analytics.
Tyler Tafelsky is the lead search marketing specialist for Captivate Search Marketing based in Atlanta, Georgia. Tyler’s profession extends into many facets of search marketing, including organic SEO, Google Ads, and content strategy. His work has been featured on publications like Search Engine Watch, Rank Watch, and UpCity.