As a follow-up to last month’s article on doing effective SEO for your Website, I’d like to discuss now how to analyze the results of your SEO efforts. After all, how will you know which pages are performing well according to your expectations and where to focus your SEO efforts if your expectations aren’t being met? Well, perhaps the most effective tool you can use to help you target your SEO is a careful analysis of your site’s statistical data each month. In fact, you can even peruse this data throughout the month to track how various pages are performing with regard to keyword search usage, number of times a page is viewed, and more. I must confess that I don’t usually spend a lot of time monitoring these stats myself, but I do check them periodically just to see how different pages on my site stack up against one another and which search key phrases folks are using to find my site. That aspect alone is quite enlightening, as I pointed out in my December 2013 article.
There are multiple options to use in logging your site’s statistical data. Generally speaking, your Web host will usually offer you one of two options: Webalizer and AWStats. However, there is at least a third option called Google Analytics, although I’ve never tried it. For that matter, neither have I ever tried Webalizer. I’ve always used AWStats, so I am most familiar with how to use that service. I can only presume that these other two major players offer essentially the same data but with a different interface. It’s up to you which stats tool you choose, but if you decide later to switch to a different stats tool, you will lose all of your previous stats logs. I suppose it may be possible to copy all of your stats log files to a different directory on your site or on your local computer in order to preserve them, but without the AWStats software to view them, they wouldn’t be much use to you. Since I’ve never tried switching from one stats tool to another, I am uncertain about this aspect. Furthermore, since I’ve never used Google Analytics either, this loss of data may not be the case with them. You can learn more about what they have to offer at http://www.google.com/analytics/.
At any rate, one of the first things you should do after establishing a new Web hosting account is to set up the analytics for the site. Doing so will enable your analytics tool to begin accurately monitoring visits to your new site right away. Failing to do so will cause you to miss logging any visits that occur prior to setting it up for your site. If you’re unfamiliar with how to do this, you should contact your Web host’s technical support for assistance.
Once you have the stats tool of your choice set up on your site, you should wait at least a few days to a week before you check your stats, especially for a completely new domain name, since it will take a little while for the search engines to index your site and for the public to begin discovering it through their organic searches. In fact, it may even take a couple of months or more before your site’s traffic increases significantly from search engine traffic, mostly because of the newness of your domain name.
As you begin your stats review, one of the most helpful logs to review is the list of search engines which have directed visitors to your site. Because Google is the search giant in the industry with more 60% of the search market, the majority of your search engine traffic will likely come from there, with everything else falling into place after them. In fact, I usually begin at the bottom of the AWStats page and work my way back up to the top.
Starting from the bottom, I occasionally check the 404 and other error codes in the “HTTP Status Codes” section to see what problems folks may be encountering on my site. If I find something that needs fixing, I take care of it. I next like to pore over the list in the “Search Keyphrases” section to see what search phrases people are using to find my site. This may well be the most important stat to monitor insofar as SEO is concerned, since this is where you learn how folks are finding your site via the search engines. Some SEO writers I’ve read have stated that as much as 80% of all traffic to a site comes collectively from the search engines. That makes doing effective SEO very important if you want to increase your overall site traffic.
Because AWStats does not specify which keywords or phrases were used to search in which search engines, the only way I know to test the rankings of my various most-viewed pages is to go to the most frequently used search engine in my stats log and input the same key phrase there that I find on the “Search Keyphrases” list. If my site does not show up on at least the first two search engine results pages (SERP), I assume that was not the search engine used to discover my site using that particular search key phrase and I proceed to check it in the next search engine on the list.
I find it very intriguing to review the search key phrases that searchers have used to discover my site, as it provides a sort of window into the soul (so to speak) of what sort of things people are interested in which caused them to discover my site. It’s also quite rewarding when I see that at least one of my pages (the “Crowns of Reward” page I mentioned in my December 2013 article) shares an important faith message and continues to rank in the top ten most-viewed and most-searched-for pages on my site month after month. However, the number one most frequently viewed page on my site, after my domain’s start page, is a short tutorial I wrote to help folks fix that annoying “missing msvbvm50.dll” error you get in Windows Vista and later for any 32-bit software you have installed. While this page has nothing to do with digital evangelism for Christ, I can only hope that somehow a few of these searchers will also decide to check out the rest of my site and perhaps eventually choose to accept Christ as a result. Of course, I could add something to this page which highlights this prospect as well. In fact, I think I will do that shortly.
Next, just above the “Search Keyphrases” section, is the “Connect to site from” section, which contains the following subcategories: “Links from an Internet Search Engine” and “Links from an external page” to my site. Interestingly, I have noted that the “Links from an external page” frequently contains sites which evidently help webmasters check out their competition’s status on the Web. While I don’t care so much about trying to “out-do” my so-called competition on the Web and I rarely ever try to compare any other site’s keyword ranking with mine, I sometimes will go to these domain comparison sites to check out my own site’s metadata there just to see what these other prospectors for data actually found out about my site. Why so many people are checking out my site on these metadata sites is amazing to me, since I don’t really see my site as being any sort of major competitor with any other site. Perhaps they’re just curious about how my site managed to rank so highly on the particular key phrase that led them to my site in the first place.
There are several other sections which I personally monitor in AWStats, but for the sake of time and space the final section I will discuss for now is the “Pages-URL (Top 10)” section. This is probably the second-most important stat for you to monitor (after search key phrases), since it lists the file names of the top ten pages viewed on your site and the ranked order in which they fall according to the number of times they were viewed. The “Full List” link next to it will give you a complete list of every Web page on your site that was viewed for that month and the number of times each was viewed. Naturally, the more views a page has, the more popular it is. This statistical data will therefore help you discover which pages on your site are most likely getting your message out and which ones need either revising or deleting.
Of course, this article only skims the surface of the value of using site analytics to monitor your Website’s SEO effectiveness, but, hopefully, it helps you see the importance of doing so and will encourage you to spend more time mining and monitoring this data in the future. I will continue this discussion of using your Website for digital evangelism in my next article. To read previous articles on digital evangelism, visit the digital evangelism community on the CCMAG Website at http://community.ccmag.com. Until next time, I pray you will continue to do digital evangelism even more effectively for our Lord’s sake.
Michael L. White is the founder and Managing Editor of Parson Place Press, an independent Christian publishing house in Mobile, Alabama. His book Digital Evangelism: You Can Do It, Too! (Parson Place Press, 2011) is available wherever books are sold. For a list of his other books and articles, visit his Website at http://books.parsonplace.com.