In the Guide, you have, so far, learnt how to plan for and execute a search engine optimization and promotion strategy. However, this is not a one-off process, but an ongoing and iterative process, where you tweak and refine towards ever better ranking.
To inform this iteration, it is vital that you objectively monitor your performance, using measurable indicators and statistics.
(a) Tracking PageRank (PR)
As I have indicated previously in the Guide, you can find out your Google PageRank at any time by using the Google Toolbar.
Bear in mind that the PageRank system is a logarithmic system, where the average page rank of all pages on the web is just 1.0 (so at PR10 there are just a handful of sites, whilst at PR0 there are tons). The system is also a zero-sum game, in that an increase in the PR of one site is effectively offset by a tiny reduction in the PR of every other site (so that the average stays at 1).
As the internet is always growing and average PR stays the same, you should therefore expect your PR to decline slowly over time (all other things, including SEO, being equal). You can predict how your PageRank might change in the near future by using Rustybrick’s PR Predictor.
You might not be aware of this, but Google makes available to the public a key which gives you direct access to the index database compiled by their crawler. You can obtain you own API key at no charge from: http://www.google.com/apis/
Once armed with your key, I suggest you use the excellent Tracker from Digitalpoint, which allows you to track changes to your PageRank over time (for any number of different URLs).
(b) Key Word Performance Reporting
A simple tool to get you going is the GoogleRankings tool, which allows you to enter a keyword chain and see where your domain appears in Google’s search rankings for that combination.
With your API, you can sign-up for two further great services. The first of these, Google alert, is a useful free-subscription service, which allows you to receive emails showing changes to top rankings for your selected keywords. The second is the GoRank Google API keyword tracking tool (also free) which allows you to monitor multiple domains and keywords all on one page. The easiest way to learn is by doing, so get cracking!
(c) Monitoring your Traffic Rank
Begin by downloading and installing the Alexa Toolbar (and join over 10 million other people who have done the same). Tailored toward website owners and SEO freaks, it provides detailed statistics and information about the Web sites that a user visits (through tracking the surfing habits of it’s millions of Toolbar users).
Alexa gives each site a traffic rank. To get into the top 100,000 sites is the obsession of many. However, do recognise that Alexa has it’s limitations. Firstly, it has much greater penetration in Korea than elsewhere (so Korean sites disort the results). Secondly, at the lower end of the rankings, your own visits to your site can make a big difference to your rankings (as your own activity is also polled by Alexa).
For all it’s faults, Alexa is about the only reliable way to get any kind of idea where your site lies in terms of traffic, relative to your competitors. If you are still miles behind after a few months, try tweaking your keywords and content to more closely mimic (without copying) your successful opponent. Hopefully, you will reap the benefits!
(d) Checking your Back Links
The easiest way to check your Google backlinks is to type link: followed immediately by your domain name. However, Google filters out of these results any internal links and similar links. To trick Google (and force her to leave those in) type your domain name into the Google search bar, with a plus sign between the dot and the tld domain filename. The two cominations for Doug are:
antique-door-knocker.+com (retrieves more results)
For a rigorous and on-going analysis, take your Google API key back to Digitalpoint’s Tracker, a wonderful two-in-one tool which allows you to track (filtered) backlinks and PageRank for loads of individual URLs on just one page.
(e) Interpreting your own Web Statistics
You should not neglect your own log files or site statistics in seeking to understand the success of your SEO strategy. If you don’t already have a stats package installed, I recommend Webalizer or AWStats.
Ignore hits and files. A hit is any element called by your browser when it requests a page. A file is a hit which actually returned data from the server. Given that a single page may register a single hit or hundreds of hits (if it contains lots of images or external scripts and style sheets) it is not very useful data for any kind of comparison.
Unique Visitors are recorded through each new IP address that hits you site. This under-estimates the total, as people visiting your site from the same IP address (such as people on an office network) will be counted as a single visitor. Repeat visitors are a sub-set, where the same IP address has visited more than once (and will be over-estimated for the same reasons highlighted above). If you visitor numbers are on the rise, the chances are that your SEO strategy is yielding results.
Page Views or Page Impressions (PI) measures the number of pages served. By dividing this into total visitor numbers, you can also derive the number of pages the average visitor views. Page views can give you an idea of whether or not visitors are finding what they need on your site and progressing through it or viewing a single page and leaving.
The key measure for you is the Referrer data, where the link a visitor clicked on to arrive at your site is counted as a referrer or referring site. By tracking the number of referrals each month that you get from each search engine (and comparing this to their respective market shares) you can get an idea of how your performance is improving over time.
Search terms and search strings appear in the referring url and can tell you a lot about the key words you have successfully optimized. You might find that you are getting traffic on some unexpected terms and failing on some you hoped would do well. However, this could in fact mean you have hit on some useful words that your competitors have missed! Feed back your findings into future SEO activities.
The Browsers section will typically show you which search engine robots are visiting your site, how often and with what result (ie. how many pages they are viewing). If you spot any areas of underperformance, re-read the crawler guidance at the robot homepage (to make sure there is nothing you are doing to impede the spidering of your site).
Now for some final conclusions and advice on site migration (to your new, optimized masterpiece) …