Using Webmaster Tools for Content Strategy
What Happens Before The Click
What Happens Before The Click

Last week, we talked about a simple workflow for using Google Analytics to inform your content planning. We looked at the Content Drilldown report, and used it to reveal the gaps in your existing content, helping you plan your editorial calendar.  While looking at content performance is interesting, have you ever wondered how your content performs before the click?

  • How many web searchers see your content in search results?
  • Which keywords and content get a lot of eyeballs, but relatively few clicks?
  • What topics could you add to your editorial calendar to exploit strong search interest?

Today, we’re going to continue our exploration of data-supported content decisions. Most digital marketers have added Google Analytics to their business websites and blogs. However, the complementary Google Webmaster Tools is often overlooked. It’s quite simple to set up, and once you do, you have access to a useful set of pre-click data on how your content is performing in organic search.

Webmaster Tools integrates with Google Analytics, so you won’t be adding another dashboard to check. Once you connect the accounts, the new data will show up under the Traffic Sources > Search Engine Optimization report. Since digital marketers are always busy, if you’re manually checking your visibility in Google, this will save you time.

Setting Up Webmaster Tools

You’ll first have to sign up for Webmaster Tools at Be sure to use a Google Account that has administrative access to your Google Analytics account. That will make it easier to connect them later.

Once you’re signed in, click the red “Add Site” button to verify that you control the site. Enter the URL of your business blog or website, and Google WMT will create a unique verification code for you.

This might be the point at which you’ll need a little developer help if you don’t have FTP access to the site, but it’s very little help. Download the HTML file (which is empty, it just needs to exist on your web server as proof that you control the site). Then you or a developer will need to upload the file to the root directory (the same folder as your home or index page) on your hosting server.

There are alternate means of verification, like adding the code as a meta tag to the header of your site, or having it look up your Google Analytics account, but I’ve never had good luck with these methods. Also, if your site is on WordPress and you change your theme, you might lose the verification code (and your data till you figure out that you’ve done it.) So if at all possible, stick with the recommended method. It’s recommended for a reason.

Once that’s done, return to Webmaster Tools and verify the site. Once it’s verified, you can connect it to your Analytics account.

Log in to the dashboard, click the Traffic Sources tab and then Search Engine Optimization > Queries. It will tell you that you need to enable Webmaster Tools. Click “Set up Webmaster Tools data sharing” and you should see your new WMT account as an option to connect at the bottom. Apply those changes, and you’re off to the races.

There’s a slight data lag with Webmaster Tools, so don’t be concerned if it takes a day or two for your new data to show up. Once it does, you can see how your content performs before a visitor clicks through to your site.

More Information > Better Content Decisions

You can quickly look at your site’s performance in terms of impressions, clicks, average position, and click through rate (CTR). The Queries report will tell you which keywords or topics are generating the most visibility and clicks. The Landing Page report look at the individual posts or pages on your site, and how they’re performing in search.

You can filter these reports on the fly using the search bar or the advanced filter tool, which is just above the list of top keywords (Query view) or content (Landing Page view). Filtering will let you drill down to see your average ranking, which is called “position” in this report, for specific content or keywords. A little digging around should show you topics and keywords that have strong search interest (lots of impressions).

You can create a running list of “opportunity rich” keywords and topics, and use that list to inform your editorial calendar. Additionally, you can investigate content that is getting high impressions, but low clicks or CTR. If the average position for that page or post is >10, it’s not showing up in the first page of search results.

These pages might be good candidates for spending a little extra time beefing up the SEO.  Small adjustments in the title, URL, or description might deliver more site visitors. (No, search engines don’t rank based on the description, but visitors do click based on it, and those clicks are what you’re after anyway.) Alternately, you might create new content on that topic, and link between the two posts, improving overall authority for your site on the subject.

Once you can take a peep behind the curtain at what is happening with your content when people are previewing it in search, you can make any adjustments you need to make sure you’re offering them what they want.

To a certain extent, content marketers will always be guessing at what their audience wants. But if data from Webmaster Tools can provide good clues, why not make it a more educated guess?

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About the Author

Kat French
Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.

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