Going Beyond Rankings With Google Analytics

Going Beyond Rankings With Google Analytics

23rd April 2013

Imagine a world without search engine ranking data.

Imagine a world without keyword data.

With the introduction of personalised and localised search as well as the dreaded (not provided) data in Google Analytics, this is where I think we will be in the very near future. I don’t know about you but I am finding ranking data and keyword data more and more unreliable as the weeks go on, which is what has led me to writing this post.

We need to open our eyes to other measurement metrics so we can start to re-educate clients and CEOs to other ways of tracking performance that does not include rankings. I am going to focus on showing you different reports from within Google Analytics to help you achieve this.

Google Getting Stricter

Over the past six months, we have seen a couple of instances which indicate that Google are getting stricter with tools crawling their index to obtain ranking data. Back in December, Raven posted a message explaining to their customers and followers that they would no longer be able to offer Google ranking data within their platform. The reason for this service drop was due to Raven having access to a number of Google APIs and Google were threatening to shut their access off if they were to continue scraping the search results for their rank tracking tool.

This was a big decision for Raven and caused a lot of other rank tracking providers to sit up and listen to what was being done.

I have also heard and witnessed that Google are getting a lot stricter with the number of times you can perform a search query in a certain time frame. We have 24 people in the Koozai Southampton office and over the last few months, the number of times those damn Captcha codes are popping up is increasing. Having spoken to a few other agencies, they are also having the same problem.

In a nutshell, Google are tightening the reigns when it comes to conducting searches and crawling their index for ranking data.

Personalised Ranking Data

Not only are we battling with Google to obtain ranking data, the results that we are getting in standard ranking reports is not accurate.

Personalised search is playing a huge part in what listings an individual sees when they search and this is set to increase in the coming months.

What this means is that when ranking tools report on ranking data, the results shown will not be what every person searching will see so our reporting is flawed and we are looking at inconsistent data.

Educating Site Owners

For a while yet, clients and CEOs will still want to see ranking data as a form of performance metric as this is what they are so used to receiving but we need to re-educate them. We can do this by slowly by introducing other more meaningful metrics to open their eyes to better ways of tracking performance from their search campaigns.

In this post, I am going to walk through some of the reports that are readily available in Google Analytics that we can all be using to show performance without ranking data.

Visitor Growth and Numbers

Alongside rankings, a lot of people get very hung up on the number of visitors that a site is receiving. Although this is a metric that should be considered and reviewed, there are so many more meaningful metrics that would offer better insight into how a site is performing. For now though, as we are looking at alternative ways to measure other than rankings, I am going to include this.

If you are going to look at visitor numbers, it is important not to focus month on month as seasonal trends and other factors can come into play. Visitor numbers should be compared year on year for a particular month. Google Analytics have made this really easy to do now within their date comparison settings.

GA Comparison Dates

Once you have the data, go to the graph and click on the Month tab. The graph will then change to show you month on month data for each year in a different colour so you can easily see how you are performing traffic wise compared to the previous year.

Visitors Year on Year

Getting Around (not provided)

If your website is receiving (not provided) keyword data, then chances are it is getting a little frustrating not knowing how people are reaching your site.

My colleague Anna Lewis gave a great example of a workaround when she a recent talk at BrightonSEO, which I am going to share with you in more detail now.

When you are working on any SEO project, you should have a list of keywords that you are targeting for each page of the site. Get this out and have it to hand. The list will need to contain the page URL in one column and the target keyword in the other. As long as you have this, this workaround should work for you.

Firstly, you need to navigate to the Organic traffic data from within the Traffic Sources section of Google Analytics.

Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic

From here you will need to apply a Secondary Dimension to show the landing page. If you click on Secondary Dimension and then start typing “land” it should appear in the list.

Landing Page Secondary Dimension

Next, you need to apply an advanced search to only show the (not provided) keywords.

Advanced not provided Search

You should now have a list of all the landing pages that have received traffic in the time period you have set from the (not provided) keyword.

If you export this data and marry it up with your target keywords per URL list, you will have a better understanding of the keyword that is driving traffic to the page.

Landing Page Report

In the previous example, we were using the Landing Page data to give us an idea of what traffic the (not provided) keywords are driving into the site. We can use a similar method to measure how much traffic a particular landing page receives each month, match that up to the target keyword and monitor how much this increases each month.

Using this method, you don’t need to worry about personalised search or localised search as you are seeing actual data for your site.

Firstly, navigate to the Landing Page report:

Content > Site Content > Landing Pages

I recommend doing this task for the top 20-50 landing pages otherwise the data can become unmanageable.

Export the data into a CSV file and tidy it up so you have a list of the pages with the traffic for each. Then using your list of target keywords for the URL, marry up the two lists so that you have the target keyword in the second column.

You should pull this data off each month so that you have a rolling spreadsheet that shows you how the traffic to reach URL is increasing or decreasing each month.

Landing Page Traffic by Month

Using a simple line graph in Excel, you can then see visually which landing pages are increasing or decreasing in traffic each month.

Traffic by Landing Page Graph

If you have goal tracking or ecommerce tracking enabled for your account (you should have if you don’t!!), then you can follow the same instructions above to get even more beneficial data from your account. Rather than looking at traffic for your top landing pages, you can look at goal completions, transactions or revenue. You could even look at it all in one report!

Your report could look like this which allows you to see how your site is performing each month for the more important metrics:

Landing Page Goals by Month

Conversions, Transactions and Goals

I don’t know about you, but one of the most annoying things for me within the standard Google Analytics reporting is that when you are looking at conversions or goals attributed to a keyword, landing page or source, it only shows as a percentage. This isn’t going to help anyone with their analysis!

The way around this is to use a Custom Report.

I have created report that looks at conversion data as numbers from three different methods:

  • By Medium
  • By Keyword
  • By Landing Page

Click on the following link and add to your own Google Analytics profiles.


You will now be able to see the report with three separate tabs as shown below:

Custom Report Tabs

The screenshot below shows you an example of the data that will be shown if you click on the Conversions by Medium tab. If you don’t have Ecommerce tracking enabled for your site, a lot of the data cells will be blank.

Conversions by Numbers Report

By using this Custom Report, you will be able to export data much faster saving you a lot of time when you are reporting on the numbers each month.

Showing clients and CEOs this kind of data should reinforce the performance of a campaign and help you to begin moving away from being fixated on search engine rankings. Surely an increase in revenue and sales is more important than climbing a ranking position for a keyword or two!


These are just a few ways that you can use Google Analytics to highlight some of the other metrics that are important when it comes to an SEO project. As I said at the start, the main thing we all need to remember is that it is going to take some time to try and re-educate site owners and CEOs that focusing on rankings is not always going to be the best metric.

Have you got any other examples of reports in Google Analytics that you use to show performance metrics? I would love to hear from you.

Featured image wooden blocks source


Written By
Samantha Noble is the founder of Biddable Moments and a former editor and contributor to State of Digital.
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