London City Skyline

Optimising your Images to Improve SEO

There are a lot of small ways to improve the overall optimisation of your website that many people may overlook. One way is to make sure that any images you add to your site are well optimised. A website with well optimised images will always outrank a site with poor image optimisation, so it’s important to make sure your images are up to standard if you want to get ahead of the competition. Fortunately, this is very easy to do. Take a look at our top tips below for better image optimisation.

Naming your files

London City Skyline

One of the simplest mistakes people make when saving and uploading an image is not choosing a good file name. Choosing a short but descriptive filename is a good way to tell Google what the image is and what it’s about, as well as possibly adding in a keyword.

Avoid default filenames such as image3323.jpg. Instead, try to describe the image in a few words. For example, if you’re uploading an image of the London city skyline you could call it just that – london-city-skyline.jpg. As a matter of best practice, you should always avoid spamming keywords or adding long file names.

Inserting alt text

Adding alt text to your images is another easy way to optimise your images and let Google know what they are about. Alt text is a short bit of text that shows when the image is unavailable for any reason, such as if images are disabled by the reader’s browser or if they have trouble with their internet and cannot correctly load the page.

How to add alt text using the WordPress media library

Luckily if you are using WordPress, there are two easy ways you can add alt text to your images. One way to do this is through the WordPress media library. Select the image from your library – on the sidebar to the right you will then see an option to add alt text to that image.

You can also change this each time you add the image to avoid spamming the same alt text across all of your images. You can also add alt text by clicking the “Text” tab from the page editor in WordPress. This lets you see the html text for the page and is useful for a lot of other things. Any images already in your post, such as the image above, will have an alt section, for example alt=”How to add alt text using the WordPress media library” />

Reduce your image sizes

Loading times are a hugely important factor when it comes to SEO. The longer a website takes to load, the more likely it is that people will leave your site – especially on mobile. Having a large image will increase loading times, as the image will still have to be loaded at the original size. For example, imagine you have downloaded a great image to use on your site, but the image dimensions are huge.

reducing-file-size-with-pixlr

Unless you’re using a full page template it’s unlikely that you will need an image with a 1000 pixel width. The images in this post for example are scaled down to a width of 680 pixels which fits nicely on the page and helps to reduce loading times. If you don’t have Photoshop or image editing software, there are a number of free tools you can use online such as Pixlr.com. To help reduce loading times even further and improve your overall optimisation, you should also make sure the file size is as small as possible.

A quick recap

  • Name your image file appropriately
  • Add alt text to your images
  • Make sure your images are not too big – reduce the image size and resize them to fit your page

If you would like to discuss this subject or any SEO concerns, Get in touch with us today. Visit our blog often for more updates from our SEO Team.

 


Why Google Reviews are Fundamental to your Business

You won’t be shocked to learn that online business reviews are one of the most influencing factors during a consumer’s journey. Consumers are actively researching about products and services on Google, with 3.5 billion searches per day you need to make sure your business has a fair chance of being found. Reviews on Google could be the first point of contact consumers have with your business, so it’s important to ask, are your reviews ready to spark a sale?

Let’s clarify a few terms:

Google’s Local Pack will display the most relevant businesses to match your search query and the location specified or what’s near you. See below how a search for ‘restaurants in London’ shows where the restaurants are located and important details such category, opening times and of course reviews.

local-pack

 

Google’s Knowledge Panel provides a brief description of a business, photos, and all the important details. It often includes interesting information that Google has collected such as popular times to visit. You will find a business’s Knowledge Panel when searching for the business name but only if they are verified on Google Plus.

knowledge-panel

 

Getting your business on Google

One of the first steps to getting reviews on Google is to set up a verified business profile on Google My Business. Fill your profile with images and get active on Google Plus by sharing posts.

As Google continues to innovate local search, the sooner you start working on your Google Local Profile the better. You could soon find your business featuring in Google’s Local Pack, giving potential customers a quick insight to your business vs your competitors. You will also see your own Knowledge Panel on Google providing consumers with important information before they even visit your website.

Next step, get your reviews

Make getting reviews part of your after-sales strategy. Include calls to action on your website, customer emails, newsletters and if you have a shopfront then make a sign. However, there is no better way of obtaining reviews than personally requesting them.

Your customers can leave a review via your Knowledge Panel, Google Maps Listing or Google Plus Profile. Just look for the little box ‘Write A Review’.

Keep in mind the following:

  • To get stars, you need at least 5 reviews
  • For your business to be found in the Local Pack you’ll likely need to invest in Local SEO
  • Consider how many reviews your competitors have
  • When you get a review, thank your customer or address any concerns they might have highlighted

Positive reviews are essential to your local SEO but there are many other factors that influence your position within the Google Local Pack. If you are concerned about your ranking position we offer a free initial consultation to discuss your concerns. Call today on 01444 645018.


Keeping your WordPress website safe and secure

 

keeping-your-wordpress-website-safe-and-secure-1

 

SEO is a slow process – it takes lots of time and hard work to reach the first page. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for your rankings to drop if Google’s algorithms detect an issue with your website. For example, a hacked site will quickly be flagged by Google and will drop in rankings, or be removed from result pages if the problem is severe. This will take a long time to recover in rankings.

Ning Song, a software engineer at Google wrote a blog post in October last year detailing the changes to the algorithms that target hacked spam in search results:

“We are aggressively targeting hacked spam in order to protect users and webmasters.

The algorithmic changes will eventually impact roughly 5% of queries, depending on the language. As we roll out the new algorithms, users might notice that for certain queries, only the most relevant results are shown, reducing the number of results shown

This is due to the large amount of hacked spam being removed, and should improve in the near future. We are continuing tuning our systems to weed out the bad content while retaining the organic, legitimate results.”

Source

It is undoubtable that since then Google has refined its algorithms to target hacked content. Fortunately if your site is on WordPress there a few easy steps you can take to prevent hackers and vulnerabilities from having a negative impact on your rankings. These simple suggestions could potentially save your time, rankings and revenue in the long run.

Take a look at our suggestions below:

Keep your WordPress version up to date

keeping-your-wordpress-website-safe-and-secure-2

 

WordPress regularly releases new versions, often including bug fixes and new features that will help to improve your website. You or your site administrator will typically receive an email if a new update is available, or if WordPress has automatically updated – so you will have plenty of notice when a new version is released. It is important to keep WordPress up to date to avoid potential vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit.

As a precaution, you should take a backup of your website before updating WordPress in case of incompatibilities with any themes or plugins that you’re using, as these may not yet have been updated to work with the new version of WordPress. If you’re not sure about updating WordPress, speak to your site administrator.

Make sure your theme is up to date

keeping-your-wordpress-website-safe-and-secure-3

 

Just like WordPress, your theme may also be updated regularly. You can check if a new version of your theme is available by going to your WordPress dashboard and checking your available updates, or checking your themes page. This is part of the essential framework of your website, so again it is important that you take a backup before updating your themes.

You should also remove any unnecessary themes that aren’t in use on your website, as these can quickly become outdated and create vulnerabilities in your website. Take a look at the example site below:

 

keeping-your-wordpress-website-safe-and-secure-4

 

In this case, Executive Pro and Genesis are both in use, but the others are not. Default themes such as Twenty Fifteen, Twenty Fourteen etc. are typically left hanging around on WordPress sites. These optional themes are added when WordPress is first set up – so unless you’re using them you should remove them as a matter of safe practice. Fortunately these are easy to remove, just click on the themes and delete the ones that are not in use. Make sure you do not delete the active themes that are being used!

Keep an eye on your plugins

keeping-your-wordpress-website-safe-and-secure-5

 

Plugins are great – they can add new features to your site and provide easy customisation. However, these can easily get out of hand. Ideally you shouldn’t have lots installed on your site. The more plugins you have, the more updates you will need to run to keep them in check. This will also mean a higher chance of incompatibilities between plugins, themes and WordPress, leaving your site vulnerable to hackers and potentially causing other issues.

A quick recap

  • Take backups before updating
  • Make sure WordPress is up to date
  • Update your themes and remove any that are not in use
  • Keep your plugins up to date and don’t install too many to reduce vulnerabilities

If you would like to discuss this subject or any SEO concerns, contact us today. Keep an eye on our blog for more updates from our SEO Team.


SEO Strategy in an Increasingly PPC Dominated World

The layout of Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages) has changed dramatically over the years. With maps, videos, images, featured snippets, the Knowledge graph, news and various personal suggestions all claiming their place, the first page of Google’s SERPs is now almost unrecognisable.

As marketers, one of the biggest shakeups we’ve seen this year is the increasing real estate given to paid search.

In February of 2016, Google announced (after years of testing) that paid search ads will no longer appear on the right hand side of the SERPs and that for ‘highly commercial’ terms, they’ll show an additional ad at the top, thereby increasing the space given to paid advertising from three places to four.

Four paid search ads and Local within SERPs

 

Paid search ads that didn’t make the top four places were moved to the bottom of the page. This meant that for some ‘highly commercial’ queries, you could see no less than seven paid search ads, which severely limited the number of organic possibilities.

The reasoning behind this shift was fairly sound and understandable. With the explosion of mobile usage and the corresponding local signals, Google wanted to standardise the listings across devices.

For many brick-and-mortar businesses, this meant a renewed interest and push for better local listings. The reward for appearing in the local three-pack was never more attractive. With the local listings appearing just beneath the top paid ads and above the normal organic ones. In essence, jumping into first place for anything organic.

More recently, and somewhat more controversially, Google has started to offer paid listings in the local finder as well, reached after clicking “More places” from a local three-pack in the main Google search results.

This is yet another piece of prime real estate that has been sold to advertisers.

Paid search ads in local listings

What does this mean for organic listings?

Before answering this question, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind these changes.

Search engines and Google, in particular, have become increasingly good at understanding user intent. If I’m searching to buy a laptop and search the exact laptop model with the words ‘buy’ or ‘purchase,’ Google knows and understands this intention, and being a strictly commercial one, they’d most likely present me with a series of paid search ads.

Is this a bad user experience? The answer, in most cases, is no. I’m looking to buy a laptop, I know what kind of laptop I want to buy and at this stage in my decision making process I just want to be presented with options of where to buy it. My intent is purely commercial and transactional. Displaying a series of paid ads is more relevant to me and provides better performance for advertisers. In many ways, a win-win situation.

It’s the informational ‘Micro-moments’ that SEO strategy should be attempting to target. The billions of queries that are not highly commercial and offer some scope for branding and connection.

There are over 3.5 billion searches on Google a day. Over 15% of these search queries have never been seen before.

Google’s engineers now feel confident enough in RankBrain’s ability to sift through these unrecognised queries (sorting them into vectors and assigning a ‘probable’ meaning to them) that they’ve recently announced RankBrain is now used in every search. It has become the third most important ranking signal (after links and content).

As we mentioned in our article about semantic search, we’re moving away from strings to things. Towards meaning and providing true value to the user.

A combined PPC and SEO search strategy

Having a combined SEO and paid search strategy is a good way forward for many companies. Particularly for e-commerce sites.

You’d have a carefully targeted PPC campaign with different landing pages for the commercial ‘I-want-to-buy-now,’ moments and a strong organic presence for people at the informational and research stages. Rather than competing with each other, these different listings would compliment one another, reinforcing your brand and presence at every stage of the decision making process.

The path to purchase is fragmented and non-linear. More so now than ever before.

The consumer journey has been fractured into hundreds of tiny decision-making moments at every stage of the ‘buyer’s funnel’—from inspiration to purchase.

For SEO to succeed, we need to address these ‘Micro-moments.’ We need to answer people’s questions, exceed their expectations and meet them at whatever stage of the decision making process they are currently in.

As a recent study by Google concluded – you need to be there, be useful and be quick. Therein lies the key to success online.


Integration of Search Console in Google Analytics

In May Google announced that Google Search Console could be deeper integrated with Google Analytics but what exactly does this mean, what insights will it give and how do you enable this feature?

Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps website owners and marketers manage and monitor how they appear in Google organic search results. Google Analytics focuses on the data that the traffic creates once it has reached your website.

Search Console allows you to analyse a websites performance in Google search. It shows you data on Total Impressions, Clicks, CTR and Average Position for keyword phrases that the website is ranking for. These phrases may not have been identified as phrases to target but could still be driving significant traffic to your website.

Anyone wishing to analyse, understand and improve organic traffic from Google will be interested in this update. Essentially the Search Engine Optimisation reports in Analytics have been replaced with a Search Console section. The new reports combine Search Console and Analytics metrics, allowing you see the data for organic search traffic from both in one report.

What do the reports show?

The reports pull in the following data from Search Console – Impressions, Clicks, CTR and Average Position and the following from Analytics – Sessions, Bounce Rate, Pages/Sessions, Goals/Ecommerce, Conversion Rate, Transactions and Revenue. For the first time this data appears side by side.

landing-page-report

There are 4 new reports – Landing Pages, Countries, Devices and Queries which are found in Analytics under Acquisition.

analytics-searchconsole-reports

Landing Pages Report

Each landing page appears as a separate row within the report and allows you to see at glance how the organic search traffic performs for that specific page, how visitors reached the website and what they did when they go there.

What does it all mean?

It means greater actionable insight into the performance of a website for organic search results. The landing page report joins acquisition data with behaviour and conversion data. You can therefore see at landing page level how many clicks, the average position, bounce rate and conversion rate that page gets.

Let’s say for example you had an optimised landing page for pink girls bikes – mymadeupsite.co.uk/pink-girls-bikes with a form set up as a goal, you would be able to see the keywords that had driven traffic to that landing page and at a rolled up level what happened to the visitors when they were on the site. Did they bounce? Did they navigate further into the website? Did they convert? It creates insights which creates actions to better optimise the landing page.

Devices Report

This report allows you to deep dive into the devices – desktop, mobile and tablet and how they arrive and navigate your website, You can see at a glance the comparison between Click Through Rates (CTRs) and Goal Conversions of desktop, mobile and tablet and the landing pages and search queries behind them. This is incredibly valuable data. Back to Pink Girls Bikes you might see that the conversion (remember a form was setup as a goal) is better on desktop and mobile than a tablet. This might mean you review how the form looks or is setup for a tablet user to help improve that conversion rate. You might also notice that some landing pages perform better on mobile than desktop and therefore may look at why that is.

This all sounds great but how do I enable it?

You will need to link your Search Console and Analytics properties through Analytics.
Step 1: Navigate in Analytics to Acquisition > Search Console where there are 4 reports – landing pages, countries, devices and queries. Select one of them and select “Set up Search Console data sharing”:
Step 2: Select “Property Settings”
Step 3: Scroll to the bottom of the page and select “Adjust Search Console”
Step 4: Select the site to be linked, Save and Select “add a site to Search Console”
Step 6: Start gaining valuable insights

Summary

In summary integrating Search Console with Analytics will enable a deeper understanding of search data from beginning to end and enable actionable insights such as:

  • Understanding the search queries that are ranking well for each organic landing page rather than the website as whole
  • Examining how desktop, mobile and tablet users find and interact with the website
  • Improve landing pages in two specific ways:
    • Improving the landing pages where many users are arriving at the landing page (high click through rate and impressions) but not spending time on the website by navigating through the site (pages/sessions), immediately exiting the website (bounce rate) or not converting to a goal (eg: filling in a contact form).
    • Improving the search presence of landing pages where the users are navigating further through the website and converting but have a low click through rate.

All of these insights should help build a better user experience and in Google’s eyes a better search experience too.


The End of Referral Spam as We Know it?

Although, still unconfirmed by Google, it looks like there have been some big changes in how referral spam is handled in Google Analytics. We have been seeing a steady decline over the last month and the last week in particular.

It looks as if Google began aggressively filtering from mid-to-late February.

There are still accounts with some minor issues, but nothing compared to what we saw a few months ago.

Having examined over 100 analytics accounts, it does indeed look like referral spam is coming to an end. At last. We hope.

What is Referral Spam?

Wikipedia defines referral spam as

“Referrer spam (also known as referral spam, log spam or referrer bombing) is a kind of spamdexing (spamming aimed at search engines). The technique involves making repeated web site requests using a fake referrer URL to the site the spammer wishes to advertise.”

What does Referral Spam Do?

 

Google Analytics

 

Basically, referral spam was an inconvenience. It was something you had to continually filter, monitor and explain. It wasted a lot of time. If it wasn’t filtered properly, it would also mess up your other metrics and skewer averages.

These automated requests would overload servers and slow down load times. With slower speeds and higher bounce rates, this would eventually translate into lower rankings. Many webmasters also feared the security implications, some of this spam traffic could be looking for WordPress, plugin and server vulnerabilities.

According to Jennifer Slegg from the Sempost, it looks as if the spam is being filtered after hitting the site, with it still visible in real time and then Google applies a filter before it hits the acquisition reporting.

Hopefully, this spells the end of referral spam as we know it.

For further reading, see How to Stop Spam Bots from Ruining Your Analytics Referral Data and for a free SEO and Analytics Audit contact us today!


Starting at the beginning…

Keyword research starts a successful online presence and marketing campaign. But what is it? How can you do it better and what does it actually mean?

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is about what people type into search engines to find what they need.  It is essentially the gathering of search terms which are firstly relevant to your website and secondly that people are actually using. For example people who wish to buy a bicycle may type in the word bicycle into Google’s search box.

How do I find more information on keywords?

Google has a handy tool called Keyword Planner which you can access if you setup a Google Ads account. You can use it in different ways to give you keywords ideas and their search volume. The Keyword is the term typed into Google and Search Volume is the amount of times that keyword is typed into

Let’s run through an example. If I owned a Bicycle store and wanted to research keywords where would I start? How about the words around Bicycle? Would you target cycle, bicycle or bike? If we look at these words in Google’s keyword planner we can see the results below:

We can see in keyword planner that bike and bicycle have search volumes of 33100 and cycle has a much lower volume of 6600. What is interesting is that by also searching for the plurals bikes is also a top volume term of 40500. We might therefore think about targeting the keyword bikes more than we would cycles.

Competing for a search term like bike on its own will be extremely competitive. Let’s say our example business is actually a specialist in children’s bikes. So we need to think around the word children and bike and research the combinations of children, kids, boys and girls with the bicycle words.

Keyword Avg. Monthly Searches (exact match only)
kids bikes 14800
girls bikes 9900
boys bikes 5400
kids bike 3600
girls bike 3600
childrens bikes 2900
boys bike 1600
childrens bike 1000
kids bicycle 590
girls bicycle 480
boys mountain bikes 390
boys bicycles 260
children bike 210
kids bicycles 170
girls bicycles 140
kid bike 110
children bicycle 90
child bicycle 70
boys bicycle 70
kid bicycle 30

 

It is interesting to see the difference between some of the plurals and how much more search volume there is around girls than boys.  But what about delving deeper into what are known as long tail keywords such as a coloured girls children’s bike?

Keyword Avg. Monthly Searches (exact match only)
pink girls bike 140
pink kids bike 40
kids pink bike 40
pink girls bikes 20
pink girl bike 10
pink girl bikes 10
pink girls bicycle 10
pink kids bikes 10
pink childs bike 10
kids pink bikes 10
pink kid bike 10
pink kids bicycle 10
pink childrens bikes 10
kids pink bicycle 10
pink girl bicycle 10
pink kids bicycles 10

 

We can see above that the keywords “pink girls bike” has the most potential traffic. By taking these journeys through the keywords we can start to build a strategy and target the keyword that has the potential to drive the most traffic.

What should I do with this information?

The information can help create the strategy for the website in terms of content, how to describe the service being offered in the most valuable way and most importantly how to drive relevant traffic to the website.  For example, when creating a website you can group related keywords into categories and think about creating category pages on the website to target that specific market. In the example, we might want to think about creating a page targeting the words pink, kids, girls and bikes. By creating content that’s relevant with associated terms like pink girls bikes, this in turn will help the website rank for the shorter keyword searches “bikes” and “girls bikes” where the larger search volume is, while also obtaining high rankings for the specific long tail search. Also, by targeting the long tail keywords around pink girls bikes it might be that you are targeting people who have the intention to buy rather than people who are just researching the topic.

In summary keyword research essentially helps create and refine a website to market itself to the people searching for it. If you know how people are searching for what your business provides, you have found your market.


An Introduction to Small Business and Semantic Search

Search engines are changing and they’re evolving faster than ever before. Have you ever felt that Google knows exactly what you are looking for? That you are being prompted with suggestions that are eerily close to what you have in mind? Sometimes even before you’ve finished typing your query. How does Google understand your thoughts so well? How can it possibly know what you’re looking for? Welcome to the world of semantic search.

Semantic search is one of the most exciting developments of our time. It is also one that is levelling the playing field between large and small businesses. Now, even small businesses have a place in the search results – a place where they can attract visitors and triumph.

What is Semantic Search?

The word semantics comes from Ancient Greek and involves the study of meaning. Attempting to find meaning is nothing new on the internet.

Indeed, Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the modern web, originally coined the term semantic web, which is defined as “providing a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.”

semantic_search_hummingbird

Although the theory and concepts behind semantic search are fairly easy to grasp, their very mechanism and the mathematics behind them are incredibly complex.

We are moving from a web of things to a web of people. From strings to things. Gone are the days where you can hide behind a large faceless portal and expect to build trust over the Internet.

The Knowledge Graph

The knowledge graph is often referred to as the brain behind semantic search.

Amit Singhal, the head of the Google Search team, retired last week. His replacement is John Giannandrea, none other than the man behind the Knowledge Graph, the recent Rankbrain update, the so-called Hummingbird algorithm and most of Google’s artificial intelligence initiatives in the last few years. With John around, AI and semantics will undoubtedly remain the major focus for Google.

John, like most techies, is a huge Star Trek fan. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Star Trek cannot help but be impressed by the computer onboard the Starship Enterprise – you know, the one that responds to voices, and that gets increasingly intelligent over time. The computer that ‘understands’ what you are asking it.

This is exactly where Google is headed. The search engine takes our queries, tries to understand the words, and delivers the same results a human would – the same results a friend would give you. And not just any friend, a close friend. A friend who understands you, who knows your current and previous locations, who knows your tastes and preferences and most importantly, knows your intentions.

Central to this new understanding is the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge graph semantic search

 

The knowledge graph uses fuzzy logic, which was first identified in the 1960s by Dr. Lotfi Zadeh, professor emeritus of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Fuzzy logic is a way to introduce “degrees of truth” into mathematics. It ascribes a mathematical value to logical variables, rather than a straight binary “yes” or “no.” Unlike traditional boolean logic, fuzzy logic allows Google to introduce probabilities into its calculations.

Each time you query Google, the results appear via semantic search, in the form of a list of possible answers. Google attempts to interpret the meaning of every query, by using all the information it has on you (for example, your location, search history, preferences, associations, friendships, your friends’ reviews, shopping history, the content of your emails and much more). It does all of this in order to give you answers based on your intent. Something which Google has become surprisingly good at over the years.

What can small businesses do?

When you think of semantics, you have to think about transparency and understanding. Semantics is all about you and the reasons you started your business in the first place. It’s about putting your passion on display and showing visitors what makes you stand out. What makes you special? And more importantly, why should visitors give you their business? First and foremost it’s about building trust.

Semantic search is so all encompassing and vast, that any attempts to manipulate it are doomed to failure. As a small business with limited time and resources, concentrate on the basics. Having a carefully optimised website, with a strong local presence and valuable content. Content that is going to help people. Content that is going to answer their questions and built trust.

It’s of little surprise that one of the most visited pages on any website is usually the ‘about us’ page. More so for e-commerce sites. People relate to people, they want to know about the people behind the site. A carefully thought out and written about us page goes a long way to building confidence.

Key Points for Small Businesses to keep in mind

  • What makes you special?
  • How do you stand out from your competitors?
  • Which qualities do you have that will make people trust you?
  • Think about your target demographics, the people you are trying to reach, your potential customers, what kinds of questions might they have? How are you addressing these questions?
  • Are you addressing these questions using the language your target audience would use?
  • Identify the problems that your business will help solve. How will you go about solving them? What solutions do you offer?

It is now more important than ever to provide real value to the end user. To take full advantage of semantic search, we have to go back to our basic values.

In other words, we have to provide value, answer visitors’ questions and exceed their expectations. The goal is to establish trust and build lasting relationships. As Tim Berners-Lee also stated, “The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people.”

 

For further reading on semantic search I recommend any books or articles written by David Amerland, his small business easy checklist and for a more technical (Google patent themed) reading list – seobythesea.


A Guide to Custom Reporting Using the Google Analytics Spreadsheet Add-on

funtastic analytics

A technical puzzle posed by a client had me scratching my head for a while. It went a little something like this

Client: “We would like to show data from our Google Analytics live within the site”
me: “….”
me: “….”

Custom Reporting Dashboards

Monthly reporting to one side there are a number of ways we can create custom reports within Google Analytics or using third party tools such as Cyfe (I love Cyfe), trouble is this either involves providing a public URL, scheduling reports to run periodically and emailing them on set days/dates or stakeholders logging into Google Analytics and finding the reports you have created.

All very useful yes, but I know very few clients that can actually wrap their heads around Google Analytics never mind dig for data to help them make decisions. So why not create custom dashboards that are part of an internal system, or even nearly live data dashboards that can be accessed at any time?

The Solution

I am not a coder by default, I understand various graphic languages such as HTML, CSS, a bit of PHP & JavaScript and can read and bend them to my will (read:hack them to get them to do what I want), but that’s where it ends. Imagine my dismay after spending days trying to get my head around Google Analytics superProxy, I did get there after a few days and had a working dashboard (to a degree), but hooking the Core, Real-time & Multi Channel APIs is not easy, besides that you need the “App engine”, Git Hub scripts … it goes on.

Then it quickly dawned on me, if it was that hard for me, how hard would it be to try and translate what I have learned to someone else?

Turns out Google had already thought about this and offered the solution to my puzzle at the same time. So enter the “Google Analytics Spreadsheet Add-on”, once you get your head around some of the terminology & you are in the swing of configuring the custom reports you can have a live interactive graph of your data setup within 15 minutes.

Setting up the Google Analytics Spreadsheet Add-on

1 – Login to Google Drive using the same username and password that you use for Google Analytics
2 – Click on New > Google Sheets from the left hand navigation

create new sheet
3 – Click on “Add-ons” from the sheet menu, then “get add-ons”

manage add-ons

4 – Search for “Google” in the search box and select Google Analytics by clicking the “Free” button

ga add on
5 – An alert box will appear requesting various permissions, scroll down within that box & click “Accept”

 

request permissions

Using the Google Analytics API within Google Sheets

Now that we have the API hooked up to our Google Sheets, we want to start polling the API, there is an extensive list of Dimensions and Metrics we can pull from the API all available here, but for the purposes of this walkthrough we are goiing to pull some basic stats..

1 – Click on “Add-Ons” & select “Google Analytics & then “Create New Report”

create report

 

2 – On the right hand side of the sheet a 3 step form will appear with various input options

 

create report dialog

 

3 – Give the report a name, select the GA account, property and view you want to pull data from, then select the metric and dimension you want to poll. Clicking within the input fields will reveal option lists to make life a little easier
4 – I have chosen a simple report for Sessions by Source/Medium for this example, click create report when you are ready
5 – You will notice that a new sheet has been created which contains the configuration that you just requested. I have also added in “-ga:sessions” and max results of 3, (top 3 sorted by highest to lowest)

report config

 

Running Reports Using the Google Analytics Add-On

So far so good, pretty pain free eh? It gets easier again! I am not going to go into too much detail about start and end dates or “Last N Days” here as I wanted to keep it simple, but when you are ready to go again.

1 – Click on “Add-ons” > “Google Analytics” > “Run Reports”

run report

How easy was that! An alert box appears once more to inform of the status of the report you have just ran & in the background the eagle eyed will have noticed metrics magically appearing

run report alert

Sharing the Report

Now that our data has been generated, next we need to present it in a much more readable format and share it, as ever the inbuilt capabilities of Google Sheets not only makes this easy but the permission based access also makes it shareable only with the eyes that need to see it. In my case though I wanted to make my data publicly available. As with any data in spreadsheets we look to present it through graphs and charts.

1 – Highlight your data
2 – Within the sheets menu click “insert” & “Chart” and select the chart type you want to use to present your data
3 – click insert
4 – change the chart title to make sense of your data (click on the title to edit)

charted data

5 – Click anywhere on the chart and notice the small drop down arrow, select it and click on “Publish Chart”

publish chart

6 – From the alert that appears select “Embed” and click publish

embed and publish
7 – Copy the highlighted iframe snippet
8 – You can now take this snippet and publish to your own test area

What you will have is an interactive chart like this

Updating the data

There are 2 ways to handle updating the data within the reports you have configured, either manually run the report again and your chart will change, or, and this is the beautiful part, you can schedule the data to automatically update!

Scheduling Updates for Your Interactive Charts

1 – Click “Add-ons” within the sheets menu & select “Google Analytics” & then “Schedule Reports”

schedule reports

2 – Select the checkbox for “Enable reports to run automatically”

automated reporting schedule

3 – Select when you want your reports to run

4 – Click save

This scheduling flexibility to automatically update our Google Analytics data saves a tonne of time.

Conclusion

So now we have a free way to create custom reporting dashboards from our Google Analytics data where all we need to do is configure them once and schedule to automatically update. Other than an iframe snippet there is no scripting involved, no oauth to worry about and the inbuilt permissions of Google Sheets takes care of the data integrity.

The following videos are more in depth guides to my simplistic guide, what they do offer though are introductions to working with more dimensions and metrics and custom date ranges and much much more.

Introduction to the Spreadsheet Add-on

Building a Dashboard with the Add-on


Greater Haywards Heath Bike Ride 2015

Last Sunday, in what proved to be rather unfortunate weather conditions, we took to our road bikes and competed in the annual Greater Haywards Heath Bike Ride in aid of Kangaroos, a non-profit organisation that provides a wide range of recreational and leisure activities for children and young adults with severe learning disabilities.

The Greater Haywards Heath Bike Ride is the largest cycling event in Sussex and we all thoroughly enjoyed taking part.

Start Line Low Res IMG_2013_04_21_7698 (3)

We were overwhelmed by the support we received and are absolutely delighted to announce that we managed to raise considerably more for Kangaroos than our original target. The £1,468.42 we raised will certainly do a great deal for what is an incredibly positive, hard-working and inspirational organisation.

We would like to thank everyone who supported our effort through their contributions and wish Kangaroos all the best as they continue to provide a wonderful service to disabled children and young adults in Mid Sussex.

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