Analytics

15 Ways for Using Google Analytics to Track Your SEO Efforts for Free

Want to know how to use *only* Google Analytics to track your SEO efforts? Here, 50+ SEOs share their best hacks for using the free tool to track SEO.

Elise Dopson Elise Dopson on November 18, 2019 (last modified on November 20, 2019) • 21 minute read

Did you know that 67% of all clicks go to the first five organic results in a search engine?

SEO is more important than ever. Advertising is getting the big bucks in terms of marketing spend–but people are steering clear of paid ads in search engines in favor of organic results.

So, how do you reach page #1 and be in with the chance of driving even more traffic to your website?

It’s unlikely you’ll do it alone, or that a single strategy will work.

You need to constantly measure your SEO performance, change what isn’t working, and continue with what is.

In fact, there’s probably a free tool that you’re currently using to track your on-site metrics: Google Analytics. That leaves you questioning:

Does Google Analytics Help SEO?

The short answer? Yes.

Google Analytics contains valuable data that your business can use to monitor (and improve) SEO performance–from keywords to organic pageviews.

Here are 15 use cases that show how our experts use Google Analytics for SEO:

  1. Sync your Search Console account
  2. Create SEO-related goals
  3. Use the organic visitors segment
  4. Compare non-organic visitors to organic
  5. Find top-performing content
  6. Look at top-performing landing pages
  7. Use the Content Drilldown report
  8. Add annotations to track content updates
  9. Use the Multi-Channel Funnel report
  10. Track keywords in Google Analytics
  11. Find referral sites
  12. Manage your PPC spend
  13. Check how Google views your website
  14. Create custom dashboards
  15. Set up alerts

Click the links above to jump to a specific section, or continue scrolling to learn how you can use Google Analytics for SEO.

*Editor’s note: Before we dive in with the details, start getting to grips with the data inside your account with our Google Analytics SEO dashboard. You’ll be able to view the most popular metrics by the page on your site:

is google analytics good for seo

1. Sync your Search Console account

“My number one tip for measuring SEO with Google Analytics is to connect Analytics to Google Search Console,” says Leadhub‘s Kim Doughty.

“If you’re just using Google Analytics without using GSC you will never see the whole picture. With GA and GSC linked, you can use queries to identify opportunities for improvement with target keywords and the pages you want to rank for.”

SCORE‘s Nabil Freij adds: “Google Search Console tells you what keywords people are using to find your content, what content they’re finding and where it’s ranking on Google.”

“You can analyze the information and determine ways to improve the optimization of your pages, so you stand a better chance of ranking on the first page of Google,” Freji says.

how to find keywords in google analytics

Medicare Plan Finder‘s Omar Fonesca explains: “Another valuable section is ‘Search Console’ which will provide you more in-depth information into the Landing Pages and Search Queries (Keyword Terms), based on Clicks, Impressions, CTR %, etc.”

“You can also analyze what ‘Countries’ your traffic is coming from and what ‘Devices’ they use to find you!”

NameBounce‘s Axel DeAngelis explains how you can use this synced data: “For example, using the GSC data to A/B test title tags and meta descriptions can give you a higher search click-through rate over time.”

“By doing that, you can court Google’s RankBrain algorithm and boost your rankings in a more controllable way,” DeAngelis adds.

2. Create SEO-related goals

Chris Sheehy says that Sidewalk Branding Co “always start any SEO campaign by first setting up Google Analytics including Goals along with the creation of corresponding conversion page(s) to track not just when someone views a page with a conversion element on it (like a Contact Us or Request Info forms); but to report when a form like this has been successfully filled out and submitted.”

“These conversion pages are sometimes called acknowledgment pages and simply notify the submitter that the form has been received,” Sheehy continues.

“This page should have its own URL and include the NOINDEX meta-tag, so they are not displayed organically, which will reduce false-positive hits and add reassurance to the client of reporting accuracy.”

Plus, Growth Hackers‘ Jonathan Aufray says: “When measuring SEO using Google Analytics, you don’t just want to track your organic traffic. What you want to do is measuring the quality of your organic visitors.”

“How? By setting up goals such as leads generated coming from organic SEO. What we check are how much organic traffic a page gets and most importantly how many leads we got from those visitors. Higher the conversion rate, the better.”

WealthTurbo‘s Jon Tabbernor summarizes: “This is a great way to compare SEO efforts compared to other marketing campaigns such as PPC or social media.”

3. Use the organic visitor segment

When using Google Analytics for SEO, Vic Spall of Browser Media recommends to “ensure that you are using segments and filters to remove spam traffic for accurate reporting. There are two main types of spam traffic that will ruin your reports – crawlers and fake referrers, and ghost spam.”

“Using filters, traffic will need to be excluded under referral traffic – this is relatively simple to do as you need to do is exclude the domain (you can also use regex to capture multiple iterations of known spammy domains that use different TLDs, for example). This solves the problem with the first type of spam traffic.”

Spall continues: “However, you may also get spam traffic coming via direct, in which case you need to exclude traffic that does not match your hostname. See ya later, ghost spam!”

“Filters, which should be set up on a new view in Google Analytics so you’re not messing with raw data, will prevent spam traffic from showing up in your reports from the day you implement it. But what about removing the crappy traffic retrospectively?”

“This is when segments come in. Segments are your friend,” Spall adds.

google analytics segments for organic traffic

“The first and easiest steps to utilize Google Analytics to track organic traffic is to set a custom dashboard that is segmented for organic traffic only and to show every metric that is important to someone’s specific business,” says Erez Kanaan of Kanaan & Co.

In fact, total organic traffic is the most popular Google Analytics metric that SEO experts track regularly:

best google analytics seo metrics

4. Compare organic visitors to non-organic

You’ve got your Google Analytics data broken down by organic visitors.

But Company Man Studios‘ Joe Fortunato thinks you should “focus on specific pages and track metrics for Organic traffic, then exclude organic traffic and measure those metrics as well.”

“Successful SEO efforts will show an increase in organic traffic and metrics, but by excluding the organic traffic, you’ll be able to pinpoint poor user experience or design that can be improved on, providing an additional boost to SEO efforts.”

5. Find top-performing content (and update it)

When we asked Shotkit for their best SEO tip when using Google Analytics, Rachel Kaiser said: “Regularly run down a report of your top performing pages and see what you can do to optimize them.”

“Maybe that’s updating them with fresh content, maybe its adding a stronger call to action… whatever you need to do to really get maximum return from the areas of your site that are already ranking in search and to keep those pages in the top results.”

HubSpot’s Alex Birkett explains: “For example, are there pages that have dropped significantly in organic traffic? Probably some promotion and update potential for those pages.”

“How about pages that get a lot of traffic but drive very little business value? CRO potential there,” Birkett adds.

Best Company‘s Alice Stevens explains: “It’s also a great tool for tracking the effectiveness of specific pages. You can track pageviews, dwell time, and see which internal links get the most clicks. These measures can help you understand how effective your content is, find pain points, and make changes to improve your content.”

Summarizing, Daniel Whittaker of dreamfree says: “Discover what your best performing blog post is and do more posts in the same topic area.”

6. Look at top-performing landing pages

“Tracking your best landing pages is one of the most underrated SEO tricks. This data can help you increase page views, decrease the bounce rate and identify top and least converting pages,” says BforBloggers‘ Aayush Bhaskar.

Bhaskar adds that they go through their “top landing pages a month and optimize the top 10 for:

  1. Readability and user intent (increases dwell time, decreases pogo-sticking)
  2. Conversion (helps me make more money)
  3. Google’s freshness algorithm (Keeping the article up to date)”

Zivadream‘s Lynell Ross explains: “This report shows which individual content pages are driving the most sessions and the source of the traffic (social channels, Google searches, etc).”

“This allows you to evaluate the content on your site and make changes to underperforming pages. It also allows you to see which types of content are the most successful so you can adjust your strategy moving forward.”

google analytics organic landing pages

Ben Johnson of Sagefrog Marketing Group explains how to find this report: Simply hop under behavior and look under top landing pages and filter by organic, or go under channels, organic and make your secondary dimension landing page.

Plus, Netpaths‘ Cayley Vos says: “This will give you an idea of what problems your customers are looking to solve And the questions they have. Use this data to optimize your pages to provide answers to their questions.”

7. Use the Content Drilldown report

Shaan Patel says that Prep Expert‘s “best tip for measuring SEO using Google Analytics is breaking down your non-sales page impressions and clicks via the Content Drilldown tool.”

“We use this especially to track our blog content pages to see what topics are trending well, so we can further optimize them with FAQ schemas and other lead magnets.”

8. Add annotations to track content updates

“For a company like [G2] in the midst of pruning and optimization, it’s important to track the results and document them,” writes Hannah Tow.

“An easy way to do this in Google Analytics is to use the annotation feature on a specific date. Using the annotations in Google Analytics, this helps us benchmark the performance of an article post-optimization.”

Brooke Logan of Sagefrog Marketing Group adds: “This can help you determine in future metrics if these changes helped with SEO improvement.”

google analytics annotation

Brian Jensen of Congruent Digital summarizes: “Most SEO changes take days, weeks and sometimes months to bear fruit which can make impact difficult to evaluate.”

“Utilize annotations and annotate each SEO optimization you make in Google Analytics – you’ll have a clear benchmark to measure improvements from your optimization efforts.”

9. Use the multi-channel funnel report

Earlier, we mentioned how you can break down your organic visitors by the Organic Traffic segment. But ScienceSoft‘s Liubou Zubarevich shares a word of warning: “Your organic users might be not so organic. GA’s source can’t be overwritten.”

“If a user came to the site by an organic search, and then came back later directly, GA remembers that they came via search and leaves their source as organic. Therefore, you should remember that traffic source is a characteristic of a session, rather than a user.”

Ana Kravitz of Mixed Analytics shares a smart workaround: “By default, Google Analytics attributes conversions to the most recent traffic source (except in the case of direct traffic, in which case it will look back for a known traffic source).”

“To better measure the full effect of SEO, check Assisted Conversions in the Multi-Channel funnel report. This will show you when SEO played a part in driving conversions, even if it wasn’t the last click.”

10. How do I track keywords in Google Analytics?

“The biggest problem with using Google Analytics to track success with SEO is the keyword field is largely “(not provided)” so it’s difficult to combine the keywords people use with behavior on the website,” says Brandon Howard of All My Web Needs.

“While this is certainly not a perfect solution, I suggest integrating Google Analytics with Search Console and looking at Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages in Google Analytics.”

“If you have proper on-page SEO and URL architecture, this will at least show you the landing pages people are hitting when coming from Google and that will give you an idea of the top focal search terms people are using to find you.”

Julien Coquet also recommends “getting a premium solution such as Keyword Hero to get more useful data about SEO performance.”

Keyword Hero is one of the several SEO tools that our experts use in conjunction with Google Analytics:

seo tools for google analytics

…But CanIRank‘s Christy Kravetz says: “Don’t stop there, though!”

“Total all the traffic coming in from related or longer-tail phrases that contain the optimized phrase. We refer to this as “halo traffic.” It’s important to look at the fuller picture of what’s being brought in on an optimized term, rather than just looking at traffic on the exact phrase. The value is higher than you think!”

In fact, MonsterInsights‘ Chris Christoff is one of the 34% of experts who recommend checking the “top Google Search Terms daily if you want to measure your SEO efforts accurately.”

how to use google analytics to track SEO

Christoff continues: “If you’re targeting a specific keyword, you can see how well that word is performing, and where it currently ranks. Checking this information daily allows you to make gradual, effective adjustments to your SEO strategy.”

11. Find referral sites

“If you are engaging in active off-page SEO strategies, it’s important to know if you’re building links and how they are impacting performance,” writes Kerry Sherin of North Star Inbound.

Sherin thinks you can “use Google Analytics referral data to find links that aren’t reported in other tools and also to find relevant reporters or bloggers to pitch to based on those that have already linked to your site.”

12. Manage your PPC spend

Kim Hawkins says that for Events Wholesale, “monitoring our Google Analytics has been vital to ensuring we make money from all of our advertising efforts [because] Analytics shows us exactly which keywords convert into sales, and which ones do not.”

“By closely monitoring our keywords and conversions, we ensure that we do not waste a lot of money on poorly converting keywords.”

Hawkins continues: “We also advertise through Bing and Yahoo ads, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube, but most of our revenue consistently comes through Google. We are able to monitor the results of all of our advertising efforts through Google Analytics.”

(You could do this the other way round, too. Some 86% of experts use their PPC data to support their SEO campaigns.)

13. Check how Google views your industry

The category of your website is important in Google’s eyes. They want the sites ranking on page #1 to be authoritative–which is why sites with a niche topic tend to rank better.

LinkBuildingHQ‘s Haseeb Najam explains how you can use Google Analytics for this: “You can check the interest categories of your sites visitors. This can help you to position your site E.A.T. score and adjust the content.”

“Go to Audience > Interests > Overview in Google Analytics. It will show you Affinity Categories, In-Market Segments & Other Categories”

Affinity Categories in Google Analytics

Najam continues: “As a publisher, you can use this data to see the main interest of your website visitors and plan the content marketing accordingly.”

“Google will show you the categories that it deems fit for your website. You can triangulate from these 3 category types to find some common interest/category. This should be your main category to establish your site as an authority.”

14. Create custom dashboards

“My best tip for measuring SEO using Google Analytics is to make your own custom reports,” says Magic Freebies‘ Alice Gerwat.

“You can save custom reports based on just one section of your site to cherry-pick specific metrics such as average time spent on the page and the number of entrances to the page by date.”

Gerwat continues: “For example, this is useful for seeing which blog posts are the most popular on your website and for gauging how much organic traffic you’re getting through your blog.”

CJ Redmond shares the custom dashboards that Page 1 Solutions create for their clients:

  • General SEO Dashboard: This gives us a broad look at our SEO campaigns.
  • Content Performance Dashboard
  • Topic-Specific Dashboard: This will show us the most viewed pages related to a product, service, or topic. and Top Keywords in a given topic.
  • Geographic Areas: This is especially useful for our local SEO clients.”

Robbie Richards explains how these reports can also help to understand your funnel: “For a lot of our clients, we build custom reports that show traffic and conversion growth from organic across each landing page in the solutions, features, and blog subfolders. This allows you to show value at the top, middle and bottom of the funnel.”

Joseph Colarusso of ESM Digital adds: “You can segment by channel, URL, location, etc. This gives you the ability to really focus on a piece of your website traffic so you can draw conclusions.”

*Editor’s note: Struggling to create custom reports inside Google Analytics? They can be fiddly. Instead, browse from our selection of pre-made Google Analytics templates. They already contain the most important SEO metrics and sync data from your Google Analytics account:

SEO dashboards for google analytics

15. Set up custom alerts

“Google Analytics Custom Alerts are an often-overlooked weapon in the search arsenal,” says Ridgeway‘s Nick Maynard.

“Just set up triggers for your chosen parameter (say when Organic Traffic increases by 5% or Bounce Rate falls by 2%) and Google will send an email alert, making it easy to stay on top of key metrics.”

7 SEO Metrics to Track in Google Analytics

When we asked for Candide‘s best tip, Sam Coppard advised to “make sure you’re measuring the right metrics. You could be a traffic generating machine with a million organic users every day, but if none of them convert, who cares?”

Our experts recommend tracking these SEO metrics inside your Google Analytics dashboard:

  1. Bounce rate
  2. Dwell time
  3. Time on page
  4. Site speed
  5. Mobile traffic
  6. Return on investment
  7. Organic conversion rate

Click the links above, or jump to a specific SEO metric:

1. Bounce rate

First Union‘s Madison Ruos thinks that “regardless of your goals, paying attention to bounce rate and user behavior will provide an idea of how users interact with your site.”

“With this information, you can better optimize your site. You want visitors to stay on your site for as long as possible,” Ruos adds.

One of those is bounce rate: The percentage of people who arrive on your website and “bounce” after viewing just one page.

So, what does a good bounce rate look like? Robert Taylor of Advantix Digital explains: A “bad” bounce rate can be both too high and too low.”

“For example, if bounce rate is 0%, that can mean that your Google Analytics tracking code is firing twice, making it impossible for a bounce to be recorded. On the other hand, too high of a bounce rate, over about 70%, can indicate issues with user experience or poor site design.”

Melanie Hartmann of Creo Home Solutions argues that you can analyze the Behavior Flow report for bounced traffic: “We do this to see where site traffic ends up and where/when they decide to leave. This allows us to modify and test our website to increase engagement and conversions.”

google analytics behavior flow report

Valuechain‘s Alex Knight agrees, and recommends to “filter by your key landing pages, and check out the bounce rate and session duration metrics.”

“If your content is relevant to the people visiting the page, then Google will recognize that and your content will rise up the page rankings to be found by more people. But it’s all about how much value your content delivers to the user, and that’s best measured in behavior metrics.”

2. Dwell time

“To me, bounce rate can be manipulated and hence cannot be a ranking factor,” writes Farasat Khan of IsItWP.

“Therefore by utilizing Google Tag Manager to track “dwell time”, you will be able to exclusively know that users from Google as traffic source are having a lesser dwell time, hence you will need to optimize your page for better meta titles.”

“This advanced technique requires you to play around with GTM and get your reports available in the behavior section of Google Analytics,” Khan adds.

3. Time on page

Marty Spargo of SEO is Life likes the All Pages report because “not only does it show your top-performing pages by pageviews to guide future content creation and optimization, but it also shows “Avg. Time on Page.” This is a crucial metric to show how engaged visitors to that page are.”

“Ideally, you want to see an average time on page of several minutes. This is a strong signal to Google that users liked what they found on your page,” Spargo adds.

Ben Cook of JC Social Media adds: ” As a rule of thumb, if a page is recording an average of below 2 minutes, extend it, improve it and ensure it’s valuable for readers from the intro.”

4. Site speed

Eric Rutin of Kids Dental Brands thinks you should “make sure you are monitoring your page loading speed [because] slow pages affect conversion and SEO. People often just look at the site’s overall speed and overlook the individual pages.”

You can find this by heading to Behavior > Site Speed > Page Timings:

check page loading speed in google analytics

“With this information, you will know where you need to compress certain images, minify CSS and Javascript, or leverage browser caching,” T3‘s Andrew Vinas adds.

Seifert Media‘s Stephen Seifert summarizes: “Having the ability to see what pages are lagging in load time can prioritize SEO tasks to better the overall performance of your site. Site speed is also an important Google ranking factor, making this Google Analytics SEO tactic critical.”

5. Traffic from mobile devices

Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in early 2018.

Because of this, No Bounds Digital‘s Stefano Deurandi Subotic advises to “closely monitor mobile traffic.”

“In the age of mobile-first traffic, it’s so important to track engagement of mobile users because it would help us to spot and react timely on irregularities that could affect search engine ranking,” Subotic adds.

track mobile traffic google analytics

6. Return on Investment (ROI)

Aleksandar Pesic of Market Republic argues that you should “forget about traffic, bounce rate, avg. page session and other metrics which don’t show how much money your efforts are bringing.”

“You should pay attention to these aspects, but focus on tracking goals that show ROI. You can show your client reports of keyword positions and traffic but if they don’t see the results on their bank account it won’t matter,” Pesic adds.

BankBound‘s Brian Reilly adds: “What is SEO worth if it’s not generating qualified leads? Zero in on conversion actions specifically from organic traffic along with Assisted Conversions from organic traffic using Multi-Channel Funnels.”

Superior Honda‘s Charlie Tatum adds: “This report will help you measure conversions that are linked to organic searches.”

“If your conversion rate is low, think about what specifically the user wants when using keywords that lead to your site. Make conversions as easy as possible on pages that are receiving the most traffic.”

7. Organic conversion rate

“My favorite way to use Google Analytics for SEO is looking at traffic vs. conversions,” writes Gary Stevens of Hosting Canada.

“The way I do it is by comparing the traffic I get for every single page against every conversion for every single page. This allows me to create a traffic conversion rate which helps me schedule out the time I need to allocate towards conversion strategies on specific pages.”

Stevens continues: “It’s easy to be pleased when you look at a website page and see the number of hits you get on it. All of that traffic isn’t worth much if it isn’t helping you make money.”

“Using Google Analytics to help evaluate conversion is one of the best ways to increase website revenue. It also can point out any negative trends that are occurring which you might have not noticed otherwise. Conversions should be going up every month.”

*Editor’s note: Found your most important SEO metrics? Instead of sieving through your Google Analytics account to find them on several reports, pull your data into our SEO Overview dashboard. You can handpick your SEO KPIs and view them all in one place:

google analytics SEO template

How to Use These Metrics to Improve Your SEO

Regardless of the user experience metrics you pick, Matthew Edgar says: “Using event tracking and goals in Google Analytics, you can understand how people are engaging with your website after clicking on a search result.”

“The more you can improve how people engage, the better your chances of improving your SEO performance.”

Edgar continues: “Tracking these engagement metrics also helps you figure out if you are ranking for the right terms–sure, you may rank number one and drive a lot of traffic from a particular term, but if people searching for that term aren’t engaging with your content, should you really be ranking for that term?”

Final thoughts

Are you ready to start harnessing the SEO power that Google Analytics holds?

“In all the SEO data analysis, don’t forget to immerse yourself in your ideal customer’s mind. A close understanding of your customer will create truly powerful insights from your data,” ProfitReach‘s Mark Reynolds summarizes.

“The more you look at the data, the more familiar you become with the people who use your website. But what’s more important is to take action.”

None of your time spent analyzing Google Analytics is worth it if you don’t make regular website and SEO changes and improvements.”

About the author
Elise Dopson
Elise Dopson Elise Dopson is a freelance B2B writer for SaaS and marketing companies. With a focus on data-driven ideas that truly provide value, she helps brands to get noticed online--and drive targeted website visitors that transform into raving fans.
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