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Webmaster's Toolkit - SEO & Analytics


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A high-level introduction to SEO and web analytics resources for WordPress. Presented at WordCamp Toronto 2012.

A high-level introduction to SEO and web analytics resources for WordPress. Presented at WordCamp Toronto 2012.

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  • Good morning, everyone. My name is Andy McIlwain. I’m an organizer of the Toronto WordPress Group and organizer of WordCamp Toronto 2012. Thank you for joining me today. My work with the web started off as a hobby. I was creating sites for fun. As I grew up and headed into college, I realized that this was something I could turn into a career.Since graduating, I’ve worked in web marketing and freelanced as a front-end WordPress developer.
  • So, what are we talking about today?
  • My goal for this presentation is to give you a high-level introduction to improving and measuring your site’s performance on the web. I’m by no means a guru when it comes to SEO or web analytics, so if you were expecting me to blow your mind, I’m sorry to disappoint. What I’m providing here is a collection of resources that should come in handy for whatever web projects you’re tackling.
  • You’ll also notice that I’m reading my presentation to you, and not wandering around the front of the room, talking off the cuff. I have a nasty tendency to ramble, so for the sake of time – and sanity, and the people watching on – I’m going to try and stay on message as much as possible. Reading helps.
  • Feel free to ask questions and toss in your suggestions whenever you want, by the way. And if you’re worried that you may have missed something, hold tight – my notes will be available online afterwards.
  • I’m a big fan of templates and systems. I think that consistent structure is more liberating than restricting. By defining your routines and using the same tools regularly, you’ll spend less time fussing over processes and more time on getting things done.
  • I’m also a fan of ripping other people off. Not maliciously, mind you, but in a constructive way. As the saying goes, why re-invent the wheel? You should take what’s already available, use it for your own purposes, and refine it over time to suit your needs.
  • To get things started, let’s look at search engine optimization, and the tools available to help you pull rank and do better in search.
  • I don’t see SEO as a black art, and I don’t believe in gaming the system.In my opinion, the objectives of search engines and SEO practitioners are one and the same: we want relevant traffic brought to the right pieces of content.For search engines, this means providing the best set of results possible. For site owners, this means providing the best content possible.
  • Yes, content is at the core of what you’re doing, but good content alone isn’t enough. You need to provide the right signals to search engines so they know that your content is the best match for what their users are looking for.In other words, content being king doesn’t matter if nobody recognizes the kingdom.You could also think of your site as a brick n’ mortar retail store. It doesn’t matter how nice your interior is, or how great your products are. If nobody knows that your store exists, you’ll go out of business.
  • In the past, the signals were relatively simple – stuffing keywords and title tags.As time went on, signals became more complex. We were thinking more about referrals, and who was linking to who. The term “link juice” started to get thrown around as a metaphor for the reputation that pages pass to one another through links.Today, the signals are even more complex – localization, social media, personalized search results, mixed media types, and so on. Google’s search algorithm considers thousands of factors when generating their search listings. The algorithm is Google’s equivalent to KFC’s recipe of eleven secret herbs and spices, except Google is changing their secret recipe on a regular basis.
  • Needless to say, I don’t think it’s worth spending time chasing a moving target like Google’s search algorithm. Even if you’re a brilliant engineer who loves a challenge, there are other, more valuable things that you could be doing with your life. My advice? Make use of the resources that are available to you online, follow the best practices put out by Google, and stop obsessing over the little things. That said, here are some resources that should be in your toolkit:
  • First up is the Beginner’s Guide to SEO from SEOmoz.Much of what I know about search optimization comes from the team at SEOmoz. Originally founded as an SEO services company in Seattle, they’ve since pivoted to focus on their excellent suite of SEO tools.Their Beginner’s Guide to SEO is a crash course in site optimization, covering everything you need to know to make your site rank well. You should also make a habit of checking out their blogs.
  • The Webmaster Series is a collection of videos from Google’s Webmaster team. Of particular note is Matt Cutts, software engineer and head of Google’s anti-spam team. He’s an ambassador of sorts for Google in the SEO community. In these videos, Cutts and his colleagues answers user questions about best practices and how Google handles certain issues.
  • This post is a great guide to performing a technical SEO audit on any kind of website. It’s also an example of why you should take time to hit community sites on a regular basis. In between the generic “write great content and you’ll make BILLIONS!” blog posts, you’ll find gems like this. The team at SEOmoz also have a checklist worth checking out.
  • You’ll hear about this plugin a lot this weekend. Created by developer Joost de Valk, the WordPress SEO plugin keeps you from having to dive into your WordPress theme code. Some key features include:Meta Data: Set post titles, descriptions, canonical URLs, and search engine indexing rules. If you’re not familiar with canonical URLs, they are very important for preventing duplicate content; in essence, they tell search engines where the definitive version of a page can be found. Useful for ecommerce sites, especially.Breadcrumbs: These on-site navigation elements are useful for users and search engines. For users, it gives them a visual cue to your site’s content structure. For search engines, it helps with site links, the indented page listings that appear on search results.XML sitemaps: These files provide search engines with a comprehensive list of your site’s entire page structure. It aides with page indexing, as search engines will know exactly what pages they need to crawl.
  • Scribe is a premium WordPress plugin from the team at Copyblogger. It’s built for content marketing, and provides a fairly comprehensive workflow for writing and optimizing your website copy. It analyzes different parts of your page content – such as title or description – and makes recommendations for improvements.
  • These two applications will crawl a website, checking for broken links and fetching simple meta information (page titles & descriptions). Very, very useful for performing site audits.SEOmoz ran a comparison of the two programs last year:
  • Microsoft and Google both provide a suite of tools for webmasters to monitor their website’s performance in search results. If you’re wondering whether or not Microsoft’s Bing search engine actually matters, the answer is yes – Microsoft has been strategic with their partnerships to make Bing the default search engine for various consumer devices, and their market share is growing. Their webmaster tools aren’t too shabby, either. SEOmoz reviewed the new webmaster tools from Bing earlier on this year: is also a good segue into the next half of my presentation – web analytics.
  • You can think of web analytics as a giant iceberg. At the tip of the iceberg are the metrics that we are most familiar with – visits, visitors, popular pages, and so on. These are the kinds of metrics that you’ll see presented by super-simple products like Stats.Further down the iceberg are the rich chunks of data that actually give you some insight. Which 3rd party sites are referring visitors to you? What search keywords are driving the most purchases?Below the surface, we get to the meaty stuff: Campaign tracking. A/B testing. Goals. This is where the true value of web analytics lies – correlating user behaviour to business data. We’ll dive into goals a bit more in a minute.Before that, though…
  • There is one point that I’d like to stress above all others: analytics aren’t perfect.If you compare reports from one product to another, you will see discrepancy. This could be from a page tag not loading; it could be from cookie settings on the client’s system; it could be an IP address getting filtered. The list goes on and on.That said, use web analytics for trending. Don’t sweat the small stuff. This advice isn’t mine, actually – it comes from Brian Clifton, the author of Advanced Web Metrics. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about this subject, especially Google Analytics, I highly recommend picking up his book.
  • There are two kinds of web metrics: off-site metrics and on-site metrics.Off-site metrics measure data external to your website. Examples include Alexa Web Rankings, which measures your site’s relative popularity on the Internet, and Klout, which measures your influence on Twitter. Other popular vendors that provide a deeper dive into data include Nielsen, Compete, Hitwise, and ComScore.Off-site metrics are useful for comparing your site against others in your industry, but getting access to high-quality information can be very pricy.On-site metrics are what we usually think of when we talk about web analytics. On-site metrics measure what happens on your website. And I want to be really, really clear on this: you need on-site analytics. No excuses. Without on-site analytics of some kind, you’re flying completely blind.
  • Sign up with Google Analytics if you haven’t already. Get the JavaScript tags on your site. If you’re not comfortable touching theme code, Yoast’s Google Analytics plugin can do the hard work for you.Next, set up Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. Although I touted their usefulness for SEO, they’re also extremely useful for troubleshooting problems with your website and providing useful insights on user behaviour. Again, if you’re not comfortable with touching code, Yoast’sWordPress SEO plugin can help you configure your site to work with these services.Once you have Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools set up, you’ll see Webmaster Tools data into your Google Analytics reports. This gives you more detailed information that you wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise.
  • So, congratulations! You’re now collecting data on your website. But metrics are useless if you don’t know what you’re measuring, or for what reason. By default, Google Analytics provides you with some generic performance reports, but their relevance to your organization or business is mediocre at best.Luckily, AvinashKaushik – a brilliant leader in the space of data analytics -- has put together an amazing blog post diving into goals and KPIs for digital marketing.
  • In a nutshell, you need to determine your business objectives first – what are you trying to achieve with your web presence? Once you’ve figured that out, you must define the goals, and the KPIs that indicate progress towards goals.In Avinash’s example, we see a business objective of lead generation; the website goal is to capture leads, and the KPI is subscriptions to an e-newsletter.Avinash has made a few pre-made custom reports available for Google Analytics to help you jump start your work in building plans like the one in this example. You can find them here:
  • Google Analytics is great for many things, but it can also be very overwhelming.For more straightforward or specialized reports, here are some other services worth looking at:
  • is a relatively inexpensive way to get usability feedback from users. If you want to see how a real person goes about completing a task on your website, UserTesting is a good start.
  • Real-time analytics for your site. Google is starting to do more with real-time data reporting, but it’s still in beta and not entirely reliable.
  • Simplified A/B testing with an extensive list of satisfied customers. Some names you may have heard of: Starbucks, Lending Tree, TechCrunch, Shopify, CBS, and Disney.
  • Intuitive, visual overlays that show how your site is actually being used by visitors. Note that, unlike Google Analytics, these are premium services.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Webmaster’s Toolkit:SEO & Web Analytics WordCamp Toronto 2012
    • 2. Who is this guy?(I mean, seriously? That shirt? That hair?)
    • 3. Andy McIlwainOrganizer, Toronto WordPress Group & WordCamp Toronto 2012 (Goes by @andymci everywhere on the internets.)
    • 4. What are we talking about?(Alternative title: “What is he prattling on about?”)
    • 5. Improving + Measuring How is your site doing on the web?
    • 6. I’m reading like a champ. (That college degree needs to be good for something, right?)
    • 7. Not clear? Ask questions! “Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much.” – Francis Bacon
    • 8. Building a Toolkit Everyone needs their secret weapon.
    • 9. Don’t Re-Invent the Wheel Just adapt it to your purpose.
    • 10. SEOSearch Engine Optimization
    • 11. SEO: A Common Goal Search engines want to direct users to relevant content.You want your content to attract relevant users from search engines.
    • 12. Building it doesn’t mean they’ll come. Content isn’t king if nobody recognizes the kingdom.
    • 13. Providing The Right SignalsGoogle’s algorithm is a complex, ever-changing secret recipe.
    • 14. Where do we start?Don’t waste your time trying to outsmart Google.
    • 15. 1. SEOmoz’Beginners Guide
    • 16. 2. GoogleWebmaster Serieson YouTube
    • 17. 3. SEO News & News & BlogsCommunity • SEOmoz best way to stay up-to-date on what’s • Search Engine Watchhappening in search marketing. • Search Engine Land • Alltop SEO Headlines Community Forums • Webmaster World • Digital Point • V7N Webmaster Forums
    • 18. 4. Conducting aTechnical SEO Audit
    • 19. 5. WordPress SEOPlugin by Yoast
    • 20. 6. Scribe SEOPlugin forWordPress
    • 21. 7. Xenu Link Sleuth& Screaming Frog
    • 22. 8. Webmaster Toolsfrom Google & Bing review of Bing tools:
    • 23. Web Analytics islike an iceberg.Tip: Basic stuff. Visitors, popular pages.Middle: More useful. Referring sites, keywords.Below the Surface: Campaign tracking, A/B testing, Goals.
    • 24. Analytics aren’t perfect. Use them for trending, not precise measurement. Source:
    • 25. Two Kinds of WebMetricsSource: Brian Clifton @
    • 26. Getting Started with Analytics1. Sign up with Google Analytics @ Get the JavaScript tags installed on your site. (Yoast’s Google Analytics plugin can help with this.)3. Set up your accounts on Bing & Google Webmaster Tools. (Use the same Google account for Webmaster Tools & Analytics!)Congratulations, your Google Webmaster Tools data will be linked to your Google Analytics account!
    • 27. The Importance of Goals If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, you’ll never score.
    • 28. Avinash Kaushik’sDigital Marketing &Measurement ModelSource: Custom Reports:
    • 29. Beyond Google Analytics Sometimes, you just need to kick it up a notch.
    • 30. 1. UserTesting.comFeedback from real people trying to use yourwebsite.
    • 31. 2. ChartBeatReal-time analytics, something that Googledoesn’t do too well right
    • 32. 3. OptimizelySimplified A/B testing. Covert your visitors!
    • 33. 4. CrazyEggVisual overlays and
    • 34. TL;DR – In Review1. Build a toolkit by making use of the resources available to you on the web.2. Use other people’s work as a starting point. Customize to fit your needs.3. Your site content is worth nothing if people don’t know that it exists.4. Don’t obsess over SEO. Not worth it. Learn the basics, play to Google’s rules.5. Skim headlines/forums to learn from the successes (and mistakes) of others.6. Make your life easier by using plugins like WordPress SEO and Scribe.7. If you don’t have on-site analytics set up, you’re flying blind.8. On-site analytics are pointless if you don’t have goals.9. Define your goals!10. Google’s free products are great for many things, but sometimes it’s worth spending money on specialized premium tools.
    • 35. Questions? Comments? Pitchforks? Torches? …flying shoes?
    • 36. Gracias.Send your hate mail to Lambast publicly on Twitter: @andymci