SEO Chaos! That was my topic last month. Ever since Google blacked out keyword-level data, people have been scrambling to substitute or replace it. Not surprisingly, I received a lot of emails about that article, asking how to use Google Webmaster Tools (WMT) data as a replacement source.

The general answer is that you can’t use WMT data as a true replacement data source. That’s because Google Webmaster Tools does not collect any information about user engagement on your site. Instead, it collects user behavior on the search results page.

However, you can use your WMT data as a proxy. (Hey, some data is better than zero keyword data!) Below, I’ll share some tips — and a lot of visuals — for how you can do just that.

Getting Started: 6 Key Elements To Build Your WMT Dashboard

In order to take full advantage of your WMT data for storytelling and insights, you’ll need to build a dashboard that surfaces meaningful findings. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution; however, there are some important elements to keep in mind as you build yours. The below tips will help you maximize the value and insights from your effort.

1. Be Granular

Even though people love to talk about big data, the real insights are on the micro level. Considering that, make sure you export your data at the most granular level possible (e.g., daily sets, filtered by image, Web and mobile) and set the filters to the countries that matter.

2. Clean Your Data

Exporting data is only half the job; you also need to clean-up your data. Often, the limitations of the export format can cause some special characters to be imported incorrectly. They can often end-up looking something like this: _¡„„â_µ„Û_ü.

Make sure you remove any data points that are irrelevant before you start building your dashboards. In addition, you also need to eliminate any substitution entries. Such entries occur when there are not enough clicks. For example, a substitution entry may reflect a value of < 10.

3. Segment & Categorize

In order to surface interesting insights and findings, you will have to slice/segment your data. As you’ll see further down in the charts, it becomes really interesting when you start segmenting your data even deeper. The example below takes the “Convertible” terms’ CTR, and then divides them even further by branded vs. unbranded.

As you can see in the example, on first glance it looks like Convertible terms are doing average. But once you divide them, you can see that the branded Convertible terms have an amazing CTR while the unbranded ones are significantly lower.

4. Don’t Just Report The Data — Use It To Tell A Story

The most important thing to consider when reporting search-specific data is that it needs to answer business-relevant questions, and tell a story that makes sense to a marketer.

Instead of telling management — or your client — that they have less traffic, tell them what’s really going on. For example, you could say, “The data show that you have increased your visibility around Convertible-related terms; however, you experienced a big decline in truck-related content.”

5. Make It Interactive

When it comes to reporting, I find that nothing impresses clients more than the ability to analyze and evaluate the data in real-time. As you build your dashboard, strive to make it interactive, so its users can drill down into the data.

All of the dashboards that I use allow me to “doubleclick” into the data, to filter and adjust ranges and terms. This function allows me to respond to clients’ questions immediately, instead of telling them that I will need to get back to them.

6. Align It With The Business KPIs

Make sure that your WMT dashboard is aligned with your business or product lines, or those of your client. For example, if your organization looks at the business by model or service line, align your report around that. Consider making one view for each line of business instead of merging it all into a single view.

This Is What A WMT Dashboard Could Look Like

Enough talk, let’s get to the visuals! Below, I’ll show you an example of what a WMT dashboard could look like and how you could use it.

The high-level dashboard below consists of numerous screens, and highlights some meaningful metrics that I use to tell a brand’s story. Most of the metrics are pretty self-explanatory, but I hope they give you some inspiration or ideas. (Note that in order to support the visuals, I’ve added some rules to separate branded vs. unbranded and some product-related keywords.)

top-10-items

The graph above highlights the top 10 terms by impressions. It shows some of the default Google Webmaster Tools data such as impressions, clicks, average CTR, and average rank, as well as the overall reach and monthly ranking history.

CTR-by-type-&-category

The above chart highlights the difference in CTR depending on the keyword category and whether it is unbranded (yellow) or branded (green). It illustrates how your meta descriptions, microformats and titles are performing in terms of answering the consumer question.

Rank-distribution

The above chart shows the rank distribution for the brand’s top terms. It colors them by branded (red) vs. unbranded (blue). (It gets really interesting if you color code further by theme.)

Number-of-keywords

The above chart is a great tool to monitor the amount of content you have in the eyes of Google. In other words, it shows you the number of terms you are visible for. For additional clarity, this data was segmented by images (green) and content (blue), but it could be segmented by a number of other elements, such as theme, brand, or rank, etc.

CTR-by-Rank-Category

CTR-by-rank-brand

The two charts above show you the CTR by position and key phrase theme; you can also break these down further by branded and unbranded terms. For example, the above table shows you the difference in CTR by position for branded and unbranded Convertible terms.

Impressions-CTR-day-of-week

This set of charts shows the clicks (red) and CTR (green) by day of week. It provides a lot of insight about consumers’ behavior in regard to timing and intent. For example, this slice of the data helped us identify a key trend for one of our beauty brands.

It revealed an increase in research-related terms (such as makeup tips, etc.) during the Thursday-Friday time period, and more purchase intent terms between Friday and Sunday. We use insights like this to plan media in other channels such as display, radio and broadcast.

Taking It A Step Further

As you think about developing your own WMT dashboards, you might want to drill-down a bit further. For instance, you could also look at impressions by day of week and then by theme. This would help you uncover when people search for different topics, weekday vs. weekend. Or you could start to segment your mobile vs. desktop results, and explore where the differences are and why they exist.

But beyond getting more granular, you also might want to combine your data with another source to discover additional learnings. For instance, you could merge your WMT data with the actual search volume from Google AdWords. Doing so would reveal the percentage of your true reach and highlight areas of opportunity.

You also might want to consider looking beyond key terms, and evaluate the performance of the content/pages on your site. If so, you could also build dashboards like the ones above for the URL-based data from WMT.

The Complete Picture

Now that you have a sense of how to use WMT data to drill down on specific metrics, I’d like you to get an idea of what a comprehensive dashboard looks like. Bringing it all together really helps you see the complete picture. Below are a few examples of full dashboards I created and currently use for our clients. (Click any image to see it larger.)

1. Monthly Performance & Leading Terms Dashboard

Monthly-Performance

2. Theme-Specific Dashboard (Monthly Performance & Leading Terms)

Theme-specific-dashboard

3. Trending & Visibility Dashboard

Trending-Visibility-Dashboard

4. YTD Dashboard (Shows Month-Over-Month Historic Data)

YTD-Dashboard

WMT Data — Your Best Bet

Sure, it would be great if Google gave us keyword-level data again; but, I’m doubtful that will happen anytime soon, if ever. Your best bet is to start leveraging your WMT data as a proxy, and invest in building dashboards that will help you understand your performance.

Are you using WMT data as a proxy measure? What has/hasn’t worked for you? Share your tips with the community here!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Analytics & Marketing Column | Channel: Analytics | How To Guides | How To Guides: Marketing Analytics

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About The Author: is Director of SEO Operations for Catalyst, a leading search engine marketing firm that delivers digital marketing solutions for Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 organizations. Spiegel defines the organic search process at Catalyst, creates and enhances the agency’s SEO offerings, and oversees teams of SEO practitioners who deliver strategic counsel and tactical input for SEO initiatives.



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  • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

    Ugh. Special characters and rich text makes me cringe. _¡„„â_µ„Û_ü FTW.

  • Michelle Pagliarulo

    Very interesting & helpful information!!

  • David

    Benjamin,

    Your post is very good – in particular the granular reporting approach and the dashboards are IMO right on target.

    But I do have a problem with GWT data – I do not agree that “some data is better than no data” – because no data is better than bad data.

    I’ve tried very hard – and people smarter than I like Ian Lurie at Portent have tried (and he’s blogged about it publicly – disclaimer, I work for Ian) to make the GWT data “make sense” or even be consistently inconsistent – no dice.

    So while your overall approach & execution is fantastic, I’m not confident at all that the data feeding these specific reports is any good because GWT samples, averages (etc.) the data.

    GIGO, no? (garbage in, garbage out).

    Love to hear your thoughts on this – please know I’m not arguing, just sayin’.

    David

  • socialjulio

    Good post. Would love to see a follow up with the companies that have tools/services to create the dashboards you mentioned.

  • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

    I thought it was German.

  • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

    Can this be automated?

  • http://www.imarketsolutions.com/ Matt Dimock

    What are you using to create your dashboards? Excel, or an online website dashboard provider?

  • http://www.benspiegel.com/ Benjamin Spiegel

    Hello David,

    I fully agree, if you look at my last article @Marketingland, you can see that I am a big opponent of “Voodoo math” and averages: http://marketingland.com/the-future-of-seo-reporting-a-call-to-the-seo-industry-62274

    However, our brands are constantly asking us to tell them how the consumer is behaving, what their reach is and how they can improve/what they should focus. Personally I think dashboards like this are good way to tell how one category is performing vs. another… I would never try to join it with real numbers, but it is a great directional and comparative indicator.

    And I am also just sayin.. ;)

  • http://www.benspiegel.com/ Benjamin Spiegel

    Yes, you would create a data-sheet that can be easily replaced every time the data is being updated.

  • http://www.benspiegel.com/ Benjamin Spiegel

    Nein, das war kein Deutsch!

  • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

    I bet it’s Spotfire.

  • David

    How do your clients take these reports? – that is, I’m wondering… do they tend to “read into” the data more than is really there despite providing context, caveats, and clarity around the data source?

  • http://www.bilalsarwari.com/ Bilal Sarwari

    It will be superb if you share some ready to use templates and user have to put their figures from WMT only.

  • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

    This is TIBCO Spotfire

  • http://www.benspiegel.com/ Benjamin Spiegel

    Most of our brands are looking for us to analyze all the information that is out there and tell them a “story”, inform them on how visible they are against their audience and where the gaps are. A lot of our brands are in CPG, they look at this info and compare it to the traditional shelf positioning in brick and mortar – “How visible am I versus my competitors?”

    It can also inform the content team, because it tells them: If my consumers are looking for “A”, does my messaging “Title & Description” is appealing to them. Do they engage with my content (CTR)?

    It also is a great source of data to surface insights/alerts to the content team. If you have an avg. position of 1 for a specific term, and your CTR is much lower then it should be for a position 1, something is wrong with the content, maybe another listing is answering the customer’s questions better than yours or a/your paid ad might be cannibalizing the traffic.

    I think it contains a lot of directional insights, not number by number but theme visibility against each other. And lets be honest, most brands do not care about keyword by keyword ranking, they look at their information by WHO or product / service line.

    AND FY I – I have not chosen this as my #1 source of data, Google made that choice for us ;)

  • http://www.benspiegel.com/ Benjamin Spiegel

    Yes, we used Tibco

    Spotfire. However, people should NOT get hung up on the software. Its simply charts… and not even pretty ones ;)
    Almost any application can do this. If you are new to data visualizations, I would recommend Excel.

  • http://www.imarketsolutions.com/ Matt Dimock

    @benjaminspiegel:disqus: I actually am a big fan of Excel. In fact, I had created a report (I dubbed it the Google Webmaster Tools Visibility Report), where I exported the raw data from Google and used line charts and pie graphs to report my progress on things such as brand vs. non-branded clicks and impressions, # of keywords ranking, etc …). Besides having to manually input the data, the reports looked fantastic! By the way – do you know if any of this data can be pulled with an API? I know Google offers an API for GWT, but last I checked it was very limited …

  • http://www.benspiegel.com/ Benjamin Spiegel

    Hello,

    I know its a bit late, but i wanted to answer this anyway. Yes, Google does have an API for Webmaster Tools Data:
    https://developers.google.com/webmaster-tools/

    We have started to use it for all our query and content data and have no complaints (so far). You can get more detailed info from this page:

    https://developers.google.com/webmaster-tools/docs/2.0/reference

 

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