For most people, the term "search engine" has become synonymous with the name "Google." But what many don't realize is that, aside from the generic search engine capabilities, Google also offers plenty of free tools to help improve your SEO and get the most out of your site. The following guide offers helpful advice on pairing services like Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools to tweak your site and kick up your search engine ranking a few notches.
How to Use Google to Improve Your SEO: General Google SEO Tips
Since Google is still a search engine at heart, you'll need to implement a few SEO tactics in order to take full advantage of the tools Google offers to help optimize your site. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Don't neglect the power of "off-site" links. Google places a lot of emphasis on links, says Chris Dawkins, CEO of Trace Media Marketing, a New York City-based SEO and Internet marketing firm. In other words, the more links that point back to your website, the higher Google will rank your site.
2. Reach out to sites with similar keywords. Ideally, says Dawkins, you want to obtain links from high quality websites that are related to your target keywords. If you want to reach a high search engine ranking for "Chicago tutors," for example, your best links would come from other sites that also rank well for that search term. Reaching out to these sites through social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook has become a popular and highly effective method of obtaining external links.
3. Maintain your "on-site" optimization. This involves the more commonly known aspects of SEO, says Dawkins, such as creating accurate, but descriptive, meta tags and regularly posting keyword-rich content to your site. Naturally, if your site is about cars, for example, the more well placed, automotive-related terms you use within your content, the better SEO ranking you'll likely get as Google crawls your site.
Dig Deeper: 13 Must Have Blog Techniques & Tools
How to Use Google to Improve Your SEO: Utilizing the Google Webmaster Tools
Google's Webmaster Tools help you to identify and fix problems within your site, such as broken links, which enables you to boost your SEO by making it easier for search engines to crawl your website. The Webmaster Tools also help you to see where on the Web your site traffic originates from – an invaluable tool for improving and marketing your site.
The Diagnostics Tool
"Your site is not going to be relevant for that search term if you don't have that content," says Rob Docherty, an SEO consultant based in Louisville, Kentucky. "Google will tell you to fix the problem, then they'll come back and index that page," he says of the tool's diagnostics tab.
Sometimes during the creation of websites, developers block search engines from accessing content and forget to undo the action. The Webmaster Tools' diagnostics feature will notify you if you've accidentally blocked out Google and other search engines from crawling your site.
You can also use the diagnostics tool to spruce up your search listings with better titles and meta descriptions for your pages. One way the tool does this is by providing a list of all of your website's pages with the same tags, enabling you to click on the duplicate tags so that you can modify them accordingly.
The Statistics Tool
Using the statistics tab under the Webmaster Tools, you can find out how Google users are getting to your site. It allows you to track incoming traffic, and view the top Google search queries that your site appears in.
The statistics function is extremely helpful when paired with other services, such as Google Analytics, since it enables you to view which "off-site" links are providing you with the most traffic.
Dig Deeper: Using Predictive Analytics on Web Data
How to Use Google to Improve Your SEO: Generating Search Terms through the Google Adwords Keyword Tool and Google Trends
While it seems that Google has been steadily pumping out different applications for generating search terms, there are two core services that will help you identify the best keywords and topics to integrate throughout your site:
Google Adwords Keyword Tool: This tool offers keyword suggestions based on the terms you enter or based on your site's content. It provides statistics on the number of people who search for that search term monthly, as well as how many advertisers compete for the term. It also gives you the option of three different result views:
1. Broad match: This view will give you all of the search phrases that include the particular keyword. For example, a broad match result for "smartphone apps" might include "cheap smartphone apps" or "apps for smartphones."
2. Phrase match: The phrase match view will provide results with the keywords in the same order you entered them. In this case, the query for "smartphone apps" might generate search terms such as "smartphone apps for iPhone" or "smartphone apps for business."
3. Exact match: Unlike the other options, exact match will show you data on the exact search term, without variation.
One of the biggest advantages of the Adwords Keyword Tool, says Docherty, is that it lets you view and exploit the competition for certain topics, especially if your site is content-driven. "The Google Adwords Keyword Tool is something I use on almost a daily basis," he says, "especially for gleaning ideas for articles to blog about on my site."
Google Trends: Google Trends is a tool that allows you to see how often terms are searched for over a period of time. By providing a view of search terms on a line graph, the tool can help you to predict traffic volume for certain keywords, recognize certain seasons where terms are most popular, and locate the country where your primary search terms appear most.
"It's a good way to learn what people are and will be talking and searching about," says Docherty. "Even when I'm looking for domains, it gives me a bird's-eye-view for finding something good to build a site around."
Dig Deeper: Converting Web Traffic Into Sales Leads
How to Use Google to Improve Your SEO: Measuring Traffic and Conversion with Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a valuable tool for understanding how people use your website. One of its many uses is the bounce rate, for example, which informs you of how many visitors click away from your site before navigating to the other pages. "This is a very important number because it tells you how effective your landing pages are at pulling visitors deeper into the site," says Dawkins of Trace Media.
With this type of information, you can change or include certain keywords throughout your site content to make sure visitors that land there, stay there, because they've found what they're looking for.
This leads to another important feature of Google Analytics: the ability to pair your findings with other Google tools. Once you've gathered the necessary information from Google Analytics, you can use the data in conjunction with Google's Website Optimizer, for example, which enables split testing of modified pages. After you've made improvements to a page, you can set the Website Optimizer so that a certain amount of viewers see the old version of the page, and use Google Analytics to compare and analyze the results.
Using this combination of Google's offering of free tools, you can tackle myths about the difficulty of SEO and handle a considerable portion of its implementation on your own. But throughout your process, Docherty says, always keep in mind that content is, indeed, king. "If you see that people are searching for a certain term that isn't extensively covered on your website, maybe it's worthwhile to churn out a couple more pages on that topic," he says. "It really comes down to thinking about content."