Note: This post is part of a series outlining my favorite tools for designing, implementing and evaluating an effective search strategy. If you're interested, you can also read others in the series: tools for content strategy; tools for technical seo audit
In SEO, a lot of what we do has to be backed up by data. I can’t do my job effectively, nor can I ensure results for my clients, without the right data. That’s why reporting is so important – it pulls all the numbers flying around into one place so executive teams can review and react accordingly.
I often see my clients using a mix of dashboards and spreadsheets to track their data. This is time-consuming and inefficient. When I come on board with a new client, one of the first things I do is move all reporting to one location. I help them identify which tools they need for reporting, and then set it up so they can easily access information whenever they need it. Here's a look at the tools I use most, and recommend for my clients, too:
Google Search Console
In SEO, Google Search Console (previously known as Google Webmaster Tools) is like the Holy Book. It's full of wisdom, and if anything goes wrong that's the first place you look for guidance. It's the place to go for troubleshooting. Basically, Google Search Console lets you look at your site through Google's eyes. This makes it very easy to spot any red flags that are affecting your search rankings.
Google Search Console (GSC) also lets you track both branded and non-branded keyword performance. With GSC, you get automatic email alerts on indexing, sitemap issues, warnings if your site is hacked, etc. It is always free and it should be used freely and frequently to solve basic SEO issues as they arise.
(Free up to 10 Million hits)
For new companies, Google Analytics is a great place to start. This tool offers standard reporting that’s easy to understand for users at all levels of the business. Google Analytics can help you understand which sites are sending customers your way. I use this with Google Data Studio (more on that shortly), which puts all analytics into a single report. This is really helpful for the executives and decision-makers. They can easily pull the info they want to look at, and it’s all in one place. For me it’s good because I don't have to pull data from multiple tools every time I want to know something. Basically, it saves you a lot of time, and it's free.
There are other tools such as Adobe Analytics (Omniture) but it's overkill for most sites and paying for the support it requires is a must, and expensive. Implementation with Omniture is almost always custom and there's not much generic documentation out there.
Google Analytics also has a premium version where you get more advanced features.
Starts free and goes to $10,000+ USD for premium version with technical support from an approved agency partner.
STAT Search Analytics
(Starts at $500 USD per month with one-year contract.)
This is a really robust tool that provides keyword tracking, gives you a daily SERP screenshot, an actual image of ranking positions and lets you tracking competitors closely to avoid being blindsided. With STAT Search Analytics you get a dedicated account manager to help you create dashboard and also do staff training. It's definitely more advanced than the free tools listed here, and the price reflects that. But I think it is worth it if your business volume is large enough.
Google Data Studio
This program is great because it can connect to literally any data source – Google Analytics, Google Search Console, SQL, BigQuery, etc. Having everything in a single view for the entire organization makes it much easier for executives to use the data.
When reporting is succinct and easy to read, the organization can view results and make decisions as needed, instead of having to wait for monthly reporting. I like this dashboard because it is very flexible, users can select different date ranges and see updates in real time.
It also provides an overview of all things SEO, but has the option to go more granular. For example, it's very easy to set up filters that will segment reporting for separate sections of your website. If you have multiple product categories (clothing, eyewear, gadgets, etc.) and you're looking at Google Analytics, it's hard to get a good overview of everything. With Google Data Studio, it's easy to filter all those metrics and have them on one page to compare side-by-side.
(Price varies, typically starts at $1,000 per month.)
Think Periscope Data as a more advanced version of Google Data Studio. This tool is really for the more advanced SEO consultant, and companies that have a data science team.
Where Studio functions with simple drag-and-drop technology, Periscope is a more custom solution. You need to know SQL to create dashboards and charts, and it can manage a high volume of data. At $1,000 per month, this software is a bit of an investment. Of course, if you're already using playing with big data, it can really make sense to invest in all the appropriate data tools as well.
I really recommend this tool for clients that already have a data science team, because you will have a huge volume of data to work with. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of rows of data, even for a small business. Processing that level of raw data is very complicated, so you need someone with the expertise to organize and structure the information uniformly. But once they do that, you can have some really deep insights across all your marketing data. I can work within Periscope for my clients, but what would take me a week to do a proper data scientist could do in an hour.
That's it for my favorite reporting tools. If you want to see more in this series, you can go back and read my post on the best content strategy tools. And stay tuned for the next piece, where I share the best methods for link building, boosting partnerships and building a brand and relationships.
If you’d like to learn more about how I work, or just talk to me about SEO, send me a message!