Tracking Results and Measuring Success : Competitive and Diagnostic Search Metrics (part 4) - Rankings, Crawl Errors

11/8/2012 2:59:13 AM

4. Rankings

Many people get obsessed with checking their rankings. Rankings do have some correlation with traffic. However, do not spend too much time on this activity. For one thing, many tools that are available today for checking rankings scrape Google results, which is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google results vary by user, and the scraped results do not represent what everyone is seeing. Therefore, rankings data is not as useful an indicator as many of the other metrics we have discussed.

Rankings data can be helpful in a few scenarios, however:

  • Where a #1 (or a very high) ranking for a trophy search term provides brand value

  • When there is a sudden significant change (such as a move from position #5 to #50, or a similar change in the other direction)

  • Where a long-term trend can be established, such as a steady improvement in position, or a steady decline

While evaluating this data, bear in mind that the search engines are constantly being tweaked. Google is believed to tweak and test its algorithms every day. This can result in a lot of movement in rankings on a regular basis, and this type of movement is usually meaningless from an SEO perspective.

What follows are some examples of tools that allow you to obtain rankings data. For one, you can get the data directly from Google Webmaster Tools (see Figure 17).

Figure 17. Top search queries report

Google handily shows the top 20 queries for which your site came up, as well as the queries that were clicked on the most. This is nice data to give you a snapshot of where things stand.

Enquisite Optimizer provides some visibility into rankings data, as shown in Figure 18.

Figure 18. Enquisite search phrases report

Last but not least are the tools from Thumbshots. For example, the Thumbshots rankings tool provides rankings data as well, but offers the novel additional feature of enabling you to pull the rankings for two sites at once, and get comparative data in a graphical form, as shown in Figure 19.

Figure 19. Thumbshots rankings report

Many other tools allow you to collect rankings data. Some of the most important ones are:

Whatever tool you choose to use, or even if you do your checks manually, remember to stay focused. Rankings move back and forth on a regular basis due to changes in search engine algorithms. Focus on changes of significance as we previously outlined, and use traffic and conversion measurements for day-to-day measurement of progress.

5. Crawl Errors

Complex websites will ultimately develop errors. This will come from moving pages where the publisher forgets to redirect the old page to the new page; or the publisher makes a mistake in her robots.txt file and prevents the crawling of key parts of her site. It can also happen that someone links to the publisher’s site, but she implements the link incorrectly by linking to a page that does not exist (perhaps as a result of a typo).

5.1. Tools from the search engines

All of these things are easy to diagnose in either Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Tools. Figure 20 shows the Crawl Issues page in Bing WMT.

Figure 20. Bing Crawl Issues page

You can see that Bing will provide data on 404 pages, pages blocked by REP (which is short for Robots Exclusion Protocol), dynamic URLs that might be troublesome for Bing, malware-infected pages, and unsupported content types.

Google provides similar data, with some notable differences (see Figure 21).

Figure 21. Google crawl errors

Notice the additional types of errors provided. In addition, if you look at the 404 report in Google WMT, you have the option of seeing what pages link to the page generating the 404 error, as shown in Figure 22.

Figure 22. Google 404 errors report

The great thing about the 404 reports in both tools is that you can spot pages that have been implemented with the wrong URL on your site, and you can spot whether someone links to one of your pages using the wrong URL. In the latter case, 301-redirect the page that received the bad link to the correct page, and pick up an easy link. In short, 404 errors provide great opportunities to request updated links from sites linking to old URLs.

5.2. Third-party tools to check for crawl errors

Some excellent third-party tools are available for seeing how a search engine crawler will look at your site. One of these is SEO-Browser. Use this tool to see how search engine crawlers look at your web pages. This can be useful during a technical SEO evaluation of a site, or when debugging site indexation problems. Figure 23 shows the basic view from SEO-Browser for the TripAdvisor home page.

Figure 23. SEO-Browser

Interestingly, this report indicates that the website shows that the surfer used an unknown browser. It might be interesting to determine why that is happening. If you look at the Amazon home page using the Advanced mode, you can see some interesting data as well (see Figure 24).

Figure 24. Amazon Advanced mode

The Advanced view provides a wide range of stats above the view of the web page itself. Down toward the bottom of Figure 24, you can see that Amazon offers a screen reader version of the page.

Another excellent tool is the SEOmoz Crawl Test Tool. It provides an extensive set of statistics on any website you choose to check. Figure 25 shows a small sample of the data provided.

Figure 25. SEOmoz Crawl Test tool

The tool also provides a detailed look at some of the more important pages on the site, including the indexing status in the major search engines, the most important keywords, metadata, and the number of internal links to the page.

Tools such as these that provide a crawler’s-eye view of your web page or website can be effective in helping you to rapidly diagnose problems with your site.
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