Create your first report in Google Data Studio

When working with Google Analytics, you do not always want to stick with just a secondary dimension. Sometimes, you also want a third and fourth dimension. But in Google Analytics’s standard reports, that’s not possible. And the custom reports you can create in Google Analytics are very satisfying to look at. Maybe it’s my perfectionism talking, maybe not. But if I want to create a report, I want it to look nice. Luckily, there’s this tool called Google Data Studio. And oh my, I love it!

What’s Google Data Studio?

If I’d had to explain what it is: Google Data Studio is a tool in which you can visualize your data. You can connect all types of data to Google Data Studio, like Google Sheets, you can upload CSV files and…..drumroll Google Analytics! And it connects really really easy with Google Analytics.

Google Data Studio Data Connectors

You can create all sorts of reports with nice graphs, charts, and tables, bringing your data to life. I’m not thoroughly going to cover every aspect of Google Data Studio, you can use Google for that. But my goal for this post is that you’re going to give Google Data Studio a try and create a nice report with more than two dimensions!

Connect Google Analytics to Google Data Studio

In order to get Google Analytics data in Google Data Studio, you need to make a connection between the two. The only requirement is that you have a Google Analytics account and a Google Data Studio account. Since they’re both Google products, this connection is easy to set up. And therefore shouldn’t hold you back from trying Google Data Studio. The steps are explained in this post about connecting your Google Analytics account.

Add data source to report in Google Data Studio

Recreate the Source/Medium report in Google Data Studio

When I first tried Google Data Studio, I was surprised how intuitively this tool was. The first thing I did to get more familiar with the data tool was to recreate one of my favorite reports in Google Analytics: the Source / Medium report. You start with adding a chart, in this case, a table.

Adding a chart in Google Data Studio

It automatically adds Source and Sessions. Cool thing is that the distinction between dimensions and metrics is immediately visible. The dimensions are green, the metrics are blue. It’s very cool to see the wide range of dimensions and metrics Google Analytics has to offer.

If you click on ‘Source’ you can replace that dimension by scrolling through the dimensions or if you already know the name of the dimension, by typing the name in the search field. The same goes for metrics. To recreate the Source / Medium report, we need to add a couple of metrics.  

  • Dimension: Source / Medium
  • Metric: Users
  • Metric: New users
  • Metric: Sessions
  • Metric: Bounce Rate
  • Metric: Pages / Session
  • Metric: Avg. Session Duration
  • Metric: Goal Conversion Rate (or Ecommerce Conversion Rate)
  • Metric: Goal completions (or Transactions)
  • Metric: Goal value (or Revenue)

Since we have an online shop, I’m adding the Ecommerce metrics to my report:

Recreating the Source / Medium report in Google Data Studio

And there you go! You’ve just recreated the Source / Medium report in Google Data Studio. And this is exciting already of course because you just witnessed for yourself how easy it can be. But now, we’re going to add some cool to this report.

Customize that report

If you use UTM tagging and use campaign, content and term tags, you can add all of these in a report! Give it a try. Your first reaction might be that it would be awesome to have all that information in one table. But you’ll quickly see that your report becomes too cluttered and obscure.

Adding a lot of dimensions to your Google Data Studio report

If you want data to speak for itself then reports must be readable. So adding a lot of dimensions to your reports is not something you want. Think about on what levels you want to see your data. If you want to see just your traffic from search engines there’s no need to see data from other traffic sources right?

In which cases would you like to see more than two dimensions? I love the combination of Source and Landing page. And even more so the combination of Source, Landing page and Campaign to check how my marketing campaigns are doing. Other dimensions that are insightful is Device category, Source and Landing page. Or Region, Source and Landing page. Or if you’re more international, like us, Country, Source and Landing page.

Several dimensions in one Google Data Studio report

Add some fun

Google Data Studio offers filters that easily allow you to specify your data even further. And I’m a fan of specifying your data because it gives you so much more context. You can add Source as a filter, Medium, Campaign, Country, you name it, you can filter it. Make sure it makes sense though. For me, this is such an awesome feature of Google Data Studio!

Adding filters to your Google Data Studio

You can also add a date range filter, which allows you to adjust the date range to your own likings. This makes sure that your dashboard isn’t just a one-time thing, but a dynamic dashboard you can use at all times.

The first thing I always do when I create a report is adding the date range filter. And I really sit down and think about what kind of filters I want. I sometimes even draw out the report I’d like to see by hand on a piece of paper and then create it in Google Data Studio.

There are some cool features that you can add in the table itself. For instance, you can add heatmaps to your columns so that you can easily spot rows that stand out from others.

Adding heatmaps in Google Data Studio

You can even compare date ranges so you can see if you’ve gotten, for example, more sessions from a particular source. And you can give it all the colors and fonts you want, keep the readability in mind though!

Adding date range comparison in Google Data Studio

Conclusion

Starting with Google Data Studio is not as hard as you might think. And for me, it allows me to have more fun with Google Analytics data. If you catch yourself spending time on building the same reports, or adding the same secondary dimensions over and over again, it might be a good idea to just as well create that report in Google Data Studio. It will save you time and the cool thing is that you can share your report with others.

Read more: Learn how to create a Google Search Console dashboard »

The post Create your first report in Google Data Studio appeared first on Yoast.

WordPress SEO

The definitive guide to higher rankings for WordPress sites

This is the original WordPress SEO article since 2008, fully updated for 2019!

WordPress is one of the best content management systems when it comes to SEO. But even though it gets a lot right “out of the box”, there’s much more that you can do to improve your performance.

Optimizing your site using the tactics and best practices outlined in this article will help you improve your rankings, gain more subscribers or sales, and have a better website in general.

Because good SEO should be ingrained in all aspects of your online marketing and PR, this guide covers quite a lot of ground! It’s a long read, so feel free to use the table of contents below to jump around. Or, just download the PDF and get comfy on the couch!

Before we start…

This article assumes that you’re using our Yoast SEO plugin, which adds significantly more features and SEO tools to WordPress. If you’re not already using it, you can set it up right away with our beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO.

If you’re using another SEO plugin, like All in One SEO or Ultimate SEO, most of the principles will still apply. Of course, we’d prefer you to switch over and make use of our extremely powerful WordPress SEO plugin, which is why we’ve written a migration guide for you. It’s a really easy process!

Table of Contents

1. Get your basic WordPress SEO right

Out of the box, WordPress is a pretty well-optimized content management system. A basic setup can provide a strong foundation — even without extensive customization, theme optimization, and plugins. That said, there are a few things you should do to increase your chances of ranking, refine your workflow, and make sure your website is perfectly optimized.

By putting the right basic settings in place, and applying a few simple techniques, you can ensure that you have a strong foundation to build upon!

1.1. Check your health

First things first. Before you make any changes to your site, it is a good idea to see where you are now. There’s a lot to gain from getting it right: running your site on a modern server with updated software, at a web host that offers great performance. So ask yourself: on what hardware and software is your site running? What is your hosting plan? Are you using a budget shared hosting provider or have you invested in a dedicated hosting plan at a well-known web host that fine-tuned its servers for use with WordPress?

To get a sense of what is going on behind the scenes of your site, you can install the Health Check plugin. This plugin gives you loads of technical insights and helps you get information that outside parties can use to help you improve your site.

Health Check is incredibly helpful — so much so, that the WordPress team is now going to include the plugin in the core WordPress environment.

Health Check recommends updating an outdated version of PHP

1.1.1 Check you’re using suitable hosting

According to WordPress’ technical requirements page, the recommended hosting plan to run WordPress should include a modern version of PHP, MySQL or MariaDB, and HTTPS support. It is possible to work with older server software, but that is not recommended. If you’ve installed the Health Check plugin, you can see the technical details of your installation. In addition, if you open the dashboard of your hosting provider, you should be able to see what type of plan you are on.

Remember, paying for good WordPress hosting pays dividends.

1.1.2. Upgrade to PHP 7.0 or higher

Many WordPress sites still run on outdated versions of PHP. One look at the WordPress stats reveals that almost half of the sites still run on a PHP version in the 5 series, while PHP 7.0 and up has been available for more than three years.

Backward compatibility is cool and all, but it’s holding back WordPress as a technology and site owners from getting the most out of their sites. These old versions of PHP don’t receive any more security fixes and are thus increasingly vulnerable to attacks.

Luckily, the WordPress team has dropped support for anything older than PHP 5.6. In December 2019, that minimum supported version of PHP will be upped to PHP 7.0. After that, it will follow the release schedule of PHP more closely.

So, one of the most important things you can do to improve the performance and security of your site is upgrading your hosting environment to a modern version of PHP. There are a lot of benefits to this:

  • PHP 7 offers an incredible speed boost.
  • It runs a lot more efficient, meaning less stress on your server.
  • Bring loads of modern development features.
  • It’s a much safer and more secure environment.
  • It’s future proof.

Now, this is something we all want, right? If you’ve checked your current hosting set-up in the previous section, you have an idea of what your site runs on now. If this shows outdated server software like PHP 5.5, it is a good idea to update this, if possible.

However, take special care before doing so. Ask for help if you’re not sure what you are doing.

Here are some steps to take:

  • (Always!) Backup your website.
  • Make a local staging environment based on a modern version of PHP.
  • Install the backup of your site on that server.
  • Test thoroughly to see if everything works properly.
  • Upgrade your live site — most of the times, your hosting provider can do this for you.

We have a post that shows you how to set up a test environment for your WordPress site. WordPress.org has a post on the advantages of updating your PHP version and what to take into consideration when doing that.

1.1.3. Make sure you’re using SSL and HTTPS

Historically, adopting SSL (getting an HTTPS URL, and a green padlock icon in the browser URL bar) was an optional tactic. Many sites, arguably, didn’t need the extra level of security which SSL provides.

Now, however, having a valid SSL certificate installed is mandatory — search engines may ‘penalize’ sites without valid SSL certificates and setups (and/or show warnings next to their search results). It’s also generally good practice for all websites to use SSL, to prevent hackers and third parties from intercepting requests and data.

Additionally, many modern site speed and performance techniques require a valid SSL/HTTPS setup. To take advantage of new, faster web technologies like HTTP/2, browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox require the website to have a valid SSL certificate.

If you want to move to SSL and ensure that your site is served correctly over HTTPS, we have a handy guide with tips & tricks for moving to HTTPS.

1.2. Check your site settings

It’s worth spending some time clicking through all of the sections in the WordPress Settings menu, as many of the options there can impact the SEO of your WordPress site.

In particular, it’s worth double checking your Privacy settings, to make sure that you’re not accidentally preventing search engines from indexing your website. That’d definitely hurt your visibility!

You should also make sure that your Writing and Reading settings are all set correctly, these control your default categories, and what should be displayed on your homepage. Don’t forget to give your site a strong tagline in Settings → General, too!

Your permalink settings define what format your page and post URLs will take, which can have a big impact on SEO. So if yo u’re creating a new site, one of the first things you should do is change your permalink settings, which you can find in Settings → Permalinks.

If you don’t change your settings from the default, all of your pages and posts will have URLs which look like example.com/?p=123. Whilst this is perfectly okay, it’s not particularly nice, and it might impact how users and search engines perceive the quality and relevance of your pages.

Changing the permalink structure alters the components, ordering, and structure of your website’s URLs. It’s important to select the right structure when initially setting up your website, as changing it later can cause SEO issues.

We usually recommend that people use a structure which creates URLs which look like example.com/post-name/, or example.com/category/post-name/, depending on how much importance they anticipate placing on the categorization of their content. For most WordPress sites, choosing either of these options will be perfectly suitable.

For the first option, you can just change the permalink setting to /%postname%/, like so:

Changing the permalink settings to ‘Post name’, in Settings → Permalinks

To include the category, you can select “Custom Structure” and change the value to /%category%/%postname%/.

If you previously had ?p=<postid> as your permalink, WordPress will take care of all the redirects for you. This is also true if you change from /%postname%/ to /%category%/%postname%/.

If you have an established site and change from any other permalink structure, you might want to consult our article on changing your WordPress permalink structure and the tool that you’ll find within it.

1.3.1. Choose WWW or non-WWW

You need to think about what you want your site to show up as www.example.com, or simply example.com. Make sure that in your general settings, in Settings → General, the version you want to show up is properly reflected:

Setting the site URL to include or omit ‘www’

From an SEO perspective, there’s little difference either way. Additionally, most hosting and server setups will automatically redirect requests for the ‘wrong’ version, to the version you’ve selected. That makes this primarily a branding consideration — which approach feels best for your site?

From a technical perspective, there’s not a huge amount of difference, either. Some setups might have some minor headaches if they omit the ‘www’ component, but these are increasingly rare.

2. Optimize your content

Your site should provide the best content on your chosen subject — period. People are looking for engaging, authoritative articles and trustworthy answers to their questions. Writing high-quality content for your WordPress site begins with your own unique ideas or distinctive take on a particular topic. But it also means presenting these ideas in a well-structured and accessible manner. Together, this will help you attract the audience you’re looking for and keep them engaged.

2.1. Research what your users want and need

Before writing your content, you should think about what search terms you want to be found for. Every page or post should be optimized for a specific keyphrase.

But how can you determine what keyphrase you want to be found for? To find out, you need to do keyword research. In this process, you should ask yourself questions such as: what terms do I want to rank for? How realistic is that I can rank for these terms?

Imagine you have a baking blog and you’re passionate about sharing your favorite recipes and baking techniques. Optimizing a post for a term such as [best cake recipe] isn’t such a realistic goal, because it’s a very general term. There’s a lot of competition for such general terms. Instead, you should think about finding your own niche. This niche could be [healthy, low-sugar cake recipes] or [French patisserie you can make at home].

Within a niche, you can become a true expert. Your expertise can enable you to create content that goes beyond that of your competitors. You can go deeper than others, or shed light on different angles of the same topic. For this, you’ll want to focus on long tail keyphrases. A long tail keyphrase might be [how to make a low-calorie vegan blueberry cheesecake]. A keyphrase like this is more specific, and therefore easier to rank for. Also, it’ll be more suitable for your specific niche topic.

It’s also important to think about what your audience actually wants to achieve by searching for a specific term. This is called search intent. For example, they could be looking for the answer to a specific question and you are able to provide the necessary information. Or they might want to buy a specific product that you can offer them. Think about the needs of your visitors and address them by creating content accordingly.

Need a hand doing keyword research properly? Our Keyword research training can help.

2.2. Write great content for your users

After you’ve done your keyword research and you know the topics you want to write about, you need to get to the actual writing. Most of the time that’s easier said than done. To get from an idea to a great piece of content, most likely you’ll have to follow a cycle of drafting, writing, editing, and rewriting.

Your first draft can just be an outline of your structure. You don’t have to write out everything in perfect prose at this point, but make sure that you follow a logical structure. For most pieces, that will include an introduction, your main points of argument, and a conclusion. Of course, this will vary per genre – a recipe will have a completely different structure.

You can flesh out the points further in the writing phase, where you try to come up with a first complete version of your text. Finally, in the editing phase, you should check whether your piece is engaging and easy to read. You might be an expert on your topic, but your audience probably isn’t (yet). So try to make your writing as accessible as possible. When in doubt, it’s always best to ask a friend or colleague for some feedback. Another good trick is to read your text out loud to yourself. You can even let your computer speak it. It will give you a better idea of whether everything flows nicely.

2.3. Optimize your individual posts & pages

When writing or editing your post, there are a number of elements you need to pay special attention to in order to make it SEO-friendly. These elements include your subheadings, your title, and your meta description. All of these need to reflect the topic of the specific post.

Don’t forget, SEO-friendly doesn’t just mean that it’s easy for a search engine to grasp the topic of a page. More importantly, it means that your visitors can get the gist of your page at a single glance.

Your meta description and your title might be a deciding factor for whether visitors click on your page in the search results in the first place. And once they’ve visited your site, elements like subheadings can be critical for visitors to decide whether they want to stay on your site.

2.3.1. Set your focus keyphrase(s)

One important rule is not to use a focus keyphrase on more than one page. Otherwise, you might end up cannibalizing yourself. Most of the time, you don’t want to rank for multiple pages on the same keyphrase, because it means that you’re setting yourself up as your own competition.

It’s also important to include the focus keyphrase in crucial elements of your post such as the title, the introduction, your subheadings, and your meta description.

All of these elements are crucial signals for what your post is about. Since your focus keyphrase is, in fact, the main topic of your page, it’s a logical consequence that you should make sure this topic is reflected in all of these elements.

The same logic holds true for your text overall: you need to make sure that you don’t stray off-topic; if you stay on-topic, it should follow naturally that you use your keyphrase multiple times throughout your text. But avoid stuffing your text with your keyphrase just for the sake of it. If you find it hard to include your keyphrase in your text a sufficient number of times, it might be a sign that you should take a different approach to the topic.

To avoid repetition, you can use synonyms. Synonyms are words that mean exactly the same or more or less the same as your keyphrase. An example of this are the words film and movie. Search engines will recognize that they have the same meaning, which you can also check by having a look at the search results: if you search for movie, film will also be highlighted in the results, and vice versa.

You can also make use of related keyphrases to optimize a single page for similar, related terms. You can use these to give context to your keyphrase. For example, if your keyphrase is [pumpkin soup] your related keyphrase might be [winter weeknight dinners]. This second, broader term gives additional information about your topic. It can also create coherence by establishing a link to similar pages on your post.

The Yoast SEO Premium analysis makes it easier to optimize your post thanks to word forms, synonyms, and related keyphrases.

2.3.2. Optimize your permalink

In most cases, your post’s URL should probably contain your focus keyphrase, so that it’s obvious what your page is about from the link. That said, you should always try and keep your permalinks short, descriptive, and clean — don’t put unnecessary words in for the sake of it!

Before you publish new posts or pages, you may also wish to consider removing ‘stopwords’ from your permalink. These are words like “a”, “and”, and “the”. When done carefully, this may make your permalinks more readable, and easier to use or link to. Posts with especially long titles may benefit from this approach.

For posts which have already been published, we’d recommend being careful when changing permalinks. If people have already linked to your pages, changing the URLs may make a mess. Even though WordPress will sometimes redirect users to the new location (the redirects manager in Yoast SEO Premium handles this automatically, and more reliably), changing URLs can impact performance.

2.3.3. Optimize your page title

Each page’s title — the contents of the HTML <title> tag — can be one of the most important factors for ranking well in search results. Not only is it the literal title of the tab or browser window, but it’s also the first line people see in the search results. It describes what your page is, or is about, and acts as an advert which encourages users to click.

On many websites, the default structure for posts and pages isn’t necessarily the most optimal approach for SEO. A title like “My blog » Cooking » Carbonara recipe” isn’t as compelling or effective as “My 20-minute delicious carbonara recipe | My Blog”.

It’s critical that you think about the structure of your titles, as well as the content of the title on each individual page. Typically, it’s worth considering that:

  • Search engines may put more weight on the early words — so trying to get your keywords near the start of the title might make you more likely to rank well.
  • People scanning result pages see the early words first. If your keywords are at the start of your listing your page is more likely to get clicked on.
The Snippet Preview in Yoast SEO gives you an idea of how your post will look in search engines. Use it to make your content stand out!
The Snippet Preview in Yoast SEO gives you an idea of how your post will look in search engines. Use it to make your content stand out!

For more info on how to create enticing titles for your posts, read our article on crafting good titles for SEO.

Did you know? You can use Yoast SEO to structure your titles!

You can control the default structure of your page titles and descriptions in your Yoast SEO plugin. There are two parts of the plugin that control these. First of all, as soon as you install and activate the plugin, you get an ‘SEO’ section in your WordPress admin.

Navigate to SEO → Search Appearance and you’ll see a bunch of tabs for different types of pages on your site.

For each post type and taxonomy, you can set a so-called Title Template — as well as meta description templates. For posts on our site this looks like this:

Here are yoast.com’s settings for the individual Post URLs
Here are yoast.com’s settings for the individual Post URLs

This allows you to use components and variables to control how your page titles should behave by default. Of course, these can be overridden on a page-by-page basis.

For example, in the image above, you can see how we’re automatically grabbing elements like the title of the page, to stop us from having to manually write titles from scratch for every page.

There are all sorts of variables you can use in the titles and meta description, and they’re all listed and explained in the help tab on the page.

For advanced users, there are some additional cool features. For instance, you can use cf_<custom field name> to drop in any custom field — either from a post meta value or a user meta value.

NOTE: When you use these templates, be sure to check that your title tags behave as expected when viewed on the site. If they don’t, you may have a problem with the way your theme is built, and you might need to check the “Force rewrite” checkbox in our options. You can also follow these instructions to modify your templates.

2.3.4. Use headings correctly

Headings are great for structuring your content and helping readers process information in bite-sized chunks. They can also be helpful in describing a page’s layout and focus to search engines.

WordPress transforms the headings you put in your content into their respective HTML tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3> and so on). That makes it important to think about which type of headings you use, and in which order. Getting that wrong can make your content harder to understand.

Although most themes for WordPress get the basics right, it’s worth making sure that your template sets your post title is an <h1> tag, and that you’re not using <h1> tags anywhere else in your page or your post content.

Your post content should then ‘flow’ naturally; for example, large, significant headings should use <h2> tags, subsections should use <h3> tags, and then subsequent new sections should use <h2>.

To learn more about why proper headings are important, please read this article on headings and SEO. In addition, you can read our article about the heading structure for your blog — from which a lot applies to non-blog WordPress sites too.

2.3.5. Optimize your meta description

A meta description is primarily used search engines to show a description of your page in the search engine results, usually below your page title.

Tailoring and writing a descriptive meta description can encourage users to click your results in the search engine, even if you’re not necessarily ranking in the top position. It’s an advert, and your opportunity to impress.

Writing compelling, informative descriptions of your page content for every page on your site is best practice and gives you the opportunity to attract more visits.

Whilst it might feel like a lot of work to craft descriptions for every single page and post, it’s worth the effort.

We don’t recommend automated descriptions

Some themes and plugins try to produce descriptions automatically, by taking the first sentence or so of a post. This is a clever shortcut, but it rarely produces good descriptions.

The first sentence of a post is often introductory information, which doesn’t provide a great summary or an enticing advert!
The only well-written description is a handwritten one, and if you’re thinking of auto-generating the meta description, you might as well not do anything, and let the search engine pick and control the snippet.

Auto-generating a snippet is a “shortcut”, and there are no real shortcuts in SEO!

If you don’t provide a meta description, the search engine will generally try to find the keyword which was searched for in your page, and automatically pick a string around that — and highlight the searched phrase in bold in the results page.

Automatically generated snippets (whether by plugins, or search engines) are rarely as descriptive or as compelling as hand-written ones. So, we recommend that you use the meta description field you find in the Yoast SEO plugin to write a meta description. Make sure it entices the reader to click through and make sure that it contains the focus keyword of your post or page at least once.

NOTE: Search engines may choose to ignore your meta description if they think that it’s unsuitable for the page, or they might choose to show a custom description from the page content if they think it’s a better fit. There’s no way of forcing them to use your specific snippet.

2.3.6. Optimize your images and media

An often overlooked part of WordPress SEO is how you handle your images, videos, and media content.

To make sure that search engines can understand your images, you need to think about how you name and format your files. Writing descriptive accessible text descriptions helps, too, and can improve your performance significantly. As an added benefit, you’re also helping out readers who rely on assistive technologies like screen readers.

Using the proper alt attributes for images, and transcripts of videos are also something that we check in the content analysis functionality of our Yoast SEO plugin.

We have a longer article on image SEO and one writing alt tags, which can give you more tips to fine-tune your image optimization!

2.4. Maintain your content quality

2.4.1 Keep your content fresh and up to date

As Google strives to show its users the best and up to date information, you should keep track of your content and revise it regularly. Even more so, because you don’t want to show the visitors of your website outdated, redundant or incorrect information.

If you publish regularly and have hundreds, or even thousands, of blog posts, this is easier said than done. That’s why we’d advise focusing on two specific areas when it comes to content maintenance: updating cornerstone content and preventing keyword cannibalization.

2.4.2. Update your cornerstone content

Some pages on your site are more important than others. The most valuable content of your site is called cornerstone content. We’ve written extensively about cornerstone articles and how they can improve your rankings.

In short, these posts or pages:

  • contain essential information for your audience;
  • are complete, up-to-date and well-written;
  • show authority;
  • get the most links from related posts within your own site;
  • rank higher than your other articles on the same topic;
  • get most organic traffic to your site.

When you’re in doubt where to start with updating your site’s content, always give priority to your cornerstone content. Your business relies on them, and they should never go stale!

2.4.3. No outdated cornerstones with Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO makes it a little easier to keep your cornerstones up to date at all times. If you use Yoast SEO on your site, you can mark a post as a cornerstone article. Doing so, these articles will undergo a more rigorous SEO analysis. In addition, they’ll appear in a separate list in your post overview, which makes it easy to browse through them and check if they’re still up to scratch.

If you’re on Yoast SEO premium, keeping track of them is even easier. The Stale cornerstone content filter only shows your cornerstone articles which haven’t been updated in the last 6 months. You’ll find this filter in your post overview. If it doesn’t show any posts you’re good, and if there are one or more posts in it, make sure you check and update them!

Here are yoast.com’s settings for the individual Post URLs
Here are yoast.com’s settings for the individual Post URLs

2.4.4. Keyword cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization means you’re eating away your own rankings by creating too many articles for the same or similar keywords. If you have a dozen articles on the same topic, search engines don’t know which one of those they should rank highest. As a result, you’ll be competing with your own articles for a high position in the search engines.

If you publish frequently, as we do at Yoast, you’re bound to run into keyword cannibalization issues someday. That’s why we’ve created a framework on how to deal with keyword cannibalism. In short, you’ll have to:

  • Find out for which keywords it’s happening;
  • Analyze which content performs best for those keywords;
  • Keep the best performing posts;
  • Decide if you should merge the other posts into the better performing one;
  • Or just delete and redirect them.

Check out this detailed guide on content maintenance by Joost de Valk to learn how to go about this.

2.5. Avoid accidental duplicate content

2.5.1. What is duplicate content?

Duplicate content issues arise when search engines encounter multiple URLs with the same or very similar content. As a result, search engines don’t know which of these URLs to rank higher, resulting in lower rankings for all of them.  

In the previous section, we’ve already addressed keyword cannibalization, which is caused by writing about the same topic too often. But most of the times, the root of duplicate content is technical and can happen without you even noticing.

For instance, some content management systems add session IDs or parameters for tracking to URLs. Or, you might have www and non-www versions of a certain page indexed. Accordingly, you’ll have multiple URLs showing the exact same content.

Besides the technical reasons, your articles can get scraped or copied by other parties. So, there are many different causes for duplicate content, as you can read in this extensive article on duplicate content.

If you want to find out if your site suffers from duplicate content, you can use these duplicate content tools to check your site for issues.

2.5.2. Solutions for duplicate content

How you should solve your duplicate content issue depends on the cause of the issue. In general, there are three ways to go about this — in order of preference:

  • Whenever possible, avoid creating duplicate content. If your system creates session IDs in the URL, try to turn that off, for instance.
  • Can’t avoid creating them? 301 redirect those URLs to the original version.
  • Really need to keep a duplicate article? Make sure to add a canonical link to the original version in the <head> section of the duplicate article. It will show search engines what the original version of the article is, so they can pass the link juice on to the original version. In the next section you’ll find out how easy this is with Yoast SEO.

If you want to learn how to solve specific duplicate content issues, check out Joost’s ultimate guide on causes and solutions for duplicate content.

2.5.3. Set a canonical link with Yoast SEO

With Yoast SEO, it’s very easy to add a canonical link to a post or page. No need for a developer! Just go to the Advanced tab in the Yoast SEO metabox below your post or page. There, you’ll find the Canonical URL field where you can enter the URL of the original article — the one you want to point search engines to:  

Fill in your canonical URL in the advanced section of the Yoast SEO metabox
Fill in your canonical URL in the advanced section of the Yoast SEO metabox

If you don’t set a canonical, Yoast SEO will set a self-referencing canonical for you. This means that the article will point to itself. Learn why self referencing canonicals are beneficial for SEO.

2.6. Support international audiences

To optimize your site for audiences in several countries or language regions, you’ll need to optimize both your content and your technical setup.

Let’s start with the content aspects of international SEO. Doing targeted keyword research and writing fresh content for each audience is crucial. Take items for clothing, for example. An American vest is a completely different garment from a British vest, or a Dutch vest, or a French vest, or a Spanish vest… you get the point. We don’t recommend using automated translations. Invest time and resources in proper research and translations with which to optimize your keywords and copy.

Another important aspect of international SEO is picking the right domain structure. Generally, a different ccTLD (e.g. www.yoast.de) for every variation is only a good option for very large companies with big budgets. In most cases, subdirectories (e.g. www.yoast.com/de) are the way to go.

Search engines want to display the right language version of your site to each visitor, whatever country they’re from. To help them, you need to implement hreflang. hreflang is code that tells the search engines what language variations of a page are available and helps prevent duplicate content problems. It’s quite a complex piece of code, but our hreflang guide helps you along the way — or, you can take our Multilingual SEO training.

3. Optimize your site structure

A solid site structure helps your users and the search engines navigate your site. On top of that, it will make clear what pages on your website are most important. There are two pillars to a good site structure: organizing your site and contextual internal linking.

3.1. Organize your site

Organizing your site will help you set up a navigation path from your homepage right to your individual posts and pages, and back. Adding categories and subcategories will bring order to chaos. Ideally, your site should be organized as such:

You should always make sure your homepage is clear and easy to navigate. Cluttering the homepage with too many options will make your site more difficult to understand. Adding a clear menu and breadcrumbs helps your user navigate your site wherever they are.

3.2. Connect your content with contextual internal linking

Besides organizing your site, you need to link up your content within your copy. We call this contextual internal linking because these links always appear within the context of a text.

Contextual internal links set up a network of pages, which points your users to related content. In a post on keyword research, for example, linking to an article on SEO copywriting makes a lot of sense. For search engines, these links provide insight into how pages are related to each other as well.

Always make sure that the number of links to a page reflects the importance of that page. Our ultimate guides get a lot of links from individual posts about related topics. This helps users and search engines understand that these guides are crucial pillars of our site.

When adding a contextual internal link, make sure the link makes sense within the context of the current page. Moreover, always use anchor texts which accurately describe the page you’re linking to. This provides users and search engines with the context they need to assess whether the link is useful.

3.3. Manage your categories and tags

WordPress has two default ways of structuring your content: categories and tags. Categories add hierarchy to your content and group topics broadly. On a website about cooking, pasta could be a category. Tags are non-hierarchical and can be used to describe your post in more detail. Dinner party themes, for example, could be a tag.

When setting up your site structure, pick a number of main categories. Adding them to your menu can be a good idea, especially if you only have a blog. If you have a blog and several products, a different setup might make more sense. Make sure your categories are roughly the same size. If your categories become too big, make subcategories. Your category pages can be great landing pages, especially for eCommerce sites

Tags are useful for users exploring topics, but they are often misapplied. It’s important not to use too many tags, and to use them more than once or twice. Remember, you want to group your content, not just give it a description.

If you want to structure your content differently, WordPress also allows you to create custom taxonomies. Always consider carefully whether your custom taxonomy groups content in a way that makes sense and helps your visitors.

3.4. Manage your archive pages

If you use categories and tags, you will automatically create archive pages. These pages contain a list of the posts and pages within a certain category or tag. Besides categories and tags, there are date-based archive pages and author archives. These archive pages need managing because they cause SEO problems if you don’t.

First of all, you want to prevent search engines from indexing archive pages that don’t make sense on your site. You can use the Yoast SEO plugin for this. You do this under SEO → Search Appearance, where you’ll find the following options on the “Archives” tab:

The settings above are the settings for our site. As you can see, we’ve completely disabled the date-based archives, as we don’t use those. Any date-based link will redirect to our homepage because of this setting. We’ve left the author archives untouched, but we have set the subpages of those archives to be noindex, follow by default. This way, you’ll never land on page two of an archive on our site from the search engines.

If your blog is a one-author blog, or you don’t think you need author archives, use Yoast SEO to disable the author archives. Also, if you don’t think you need a date-based archive: disable it as we have. Even if you’re not using these archives in your template, someone might link to them and thus break your WordPress SEO…

There is one type of archive that is noindex,follow by default in the Yoast SEO plugin: your own internal search function result pages. This is a best practice from Google.

3.4.1. Pagination

If you have lots of posts on your WordPress site, you might want to think about how your pagination looks and works. Otherwise, you might find that your best content is ‘buried’ deep in your site, and users and search engines may struggle to find it.

There are two things, in particular, you need to think about:

  • You should check that your theme supports rel=”next” and rel=”prev” for paginated archives. If that sounds a bit complex, don’t worry — the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin takes care of this for you automatically.
  • You should consider customizing how your pagination looks and works so that it’s a bit more helpful for users and search engines. We really recommend checking out the WP-PageNavi plugin!

You’ll probably want to add breadcrumbs to your posts and pages. Breadcrumbs are the links, usually above the title post, that looks like “Home > Articles > WordPress SEO“. They are good for two things:

  • They allow your users to easily navigate your site.
  • They allow search engines to determine the structure of your site more easily.

These breadcrumbs should link back to the homepage, and the category the post is in. If the post is in multiple categories it should pick one.

To get breadcrumb navigation to show you on your pages, you may need to adapt your single.php and page.php files in your theme, and include the code for breadcrumbs from the Yoast SEO plugin. You find the settings and instructions on how to do that in the SEO → Search Appearance section.

3.6. Manage your HTML & XML sitemaps

You can use XML sitemaps to tell Google and the other search engines that your site has been updated. Our WordPress SEO plugin automatically configures your XML sitemaps, so you don’t have to worry about anything. We generate sitemaps for your different post types, including your images, and make sure that it generates and loads really quickly.

We intelligently split your sitemaps up into smaller bits, so Google only has to fetch one new XML “sub”-sitemap when a post is published.

You can check and manage which types of your content, archives, and templates should be included in your XML sitemaps in your SEO → Search Appearance settings. Content types which are set to not show in search results will be automatically excluded from your XML sitemaps.

Lastly, our XML sitemaps support has a pretty complete API, allowing developers to add or change functionality through their plugins and themes. Our own Local SEO, News SEO and Video SEO extensions (which generate their own, specific sitemaps) are built on this API, and, other plugins frequently build their own solutions on top of our system.

For larger or more complex sites, it might make sense to provide an HTML sitemap, too. This is a normal page on your website, which helps users navigate to deeper or more specific content.

4. Speed up your WordPress website

If your website is slow, you risk frustrating your users. That makes them less likely to engage, browse, convert, or visit again. That, in turn, can make them less likely to share your content, link to your pages, or recommend your brand.

In short, speed is an important part of WordPress SEO, and a huge part of the overall user experience. That means that it’s critical to measure and manage your performance — especially for users on mobile or slower connections!

4.1. Measure your site speed

Measuring the speed of your site can be confusing. Different tools give different scores and results, and sometimes even give conflicting information.

That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide on how to measure your speed — it’ll walk you through the basics of picking the right metrics, to using the right tools for the job when it comes to monitoring and diagnosing issues.

4.2. Improve your site speed

Once you’ve identified what and where your bottlenecks are, the next challenge is to make hosting, theme, plugin and performance tweaks to speed things up.

Page speed optimization is a discipline in its own right and spans well-beyond WordPress SEO. That means that the biggest opportunities will vary from site to site, and situation to situation. For some sites, the easiest wins might come from changing hosting or utilizing a CDN; for others, it might mean re-assessing their use of plugins, or, altering how they load CSS and JavaScript.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t get started, though. We’ve put together a great guide on some page speed tools and easy wins which you can use to get the ball rolling.

5. Secure your WordPress website

WordPress is the most-used platform for website management in the world. It powers 33% of the web (March 2019). While that is awesome, it also means that WordPress is the most targeted platform for hackers. When running a WordPress website, basic security is dealt with by the platform, but there are things you can do yourselves to make your website more secure.

That starts with your own login. The default username in WordPress is admin, so change that first. Otherwise, a hacker’s first guess for your username is just too easy. The same goes for your password. Passwords like ‘123456’ and ‘welcome01’ are just not enough. Use a password manager like 1Password or LastPass and pick a 20+ character password instead. WordPress also has a number of plugins for two-factor verification, so adding that to your website is easy as pie as well. Do it.

There is more you can do, of course, please read our article detailing WordPress security in a few easy steps. We’ll highlight some of the recommendations below.

5.1. Make regular backups

The next thing we’d like you to do is create regular backups. In case your site gets hacked, or something else goes wrong — for instance, when updating a plugin or theme —, it’s important that you revert that change in a heartbeat. Regular backups make sure that this can be done.

In WordPress, there is a wide range of backup options to choose from. Several plugin developers have created nice software solutions for you, so you don’t have the technical hassle of that backup. At Yoast, we recommend and have good experiences with the Blogvault backup solution. That service has additional benefits like creating staging sites and easy migration options.

5.2. Harden your setup

Hardening your setup starts with picking the right hosting company for your WordPress website. That’s just the start, as every host will do its best to help you out, but it’ll still be your responsibility to harden your setup. Also, tools like Cloudflare are good friends for any company/website in this.

An easy first step is to limit login attempts. By limiting the amount people can try to login to your website — close your login form after five false logins, for example — you are hardening your install against brute force attacks and other malicious acts targeting that form.

The next thing you need to do is to make sure that your WordPress install, including plugins and themes, is always up-to-date. Updates might fix security issues as well. Make sure to check regularly for updates, and keep your WordPress install up-to-date.

Another important thing to realize is that you are dealing with security every time you add a new user or writer to your WordPress install. There’s an article in the WordPress Codex regarding Roles and Capabilities you should read. It comes down to giving permissions only to those that need it when they need it and only for the time they need it. No need to give a guest blogger administrative rights to your website, right?

Authentication Keys and Salts work in conjunction with each other to protect your cookies and passwords in transit between the browser and web server. Make sure to change these keys when installing a new WordPress instance.

Another easy fix that we’d like to mention is to make sure your template files can’t be edited from the WordPress backend. You can do this in AppearanceEditor. When a hacker managed to get passed your login form, this is really the easiest way to add evil code to your website. Hardening this involves changing your wp-config file.

5.3. Use monitoring and logging

Security is an ongoing process. You need to keep a keen eye on any breaches and keep your website as secure as possible. You could put part of your WordPress security in the hands of, for instance, a company like Sucuri. In case of a hack, they fix this asap. For your own monitoring, you could check your site on a regular basis with their Sitecheck tool. There are a couple of plugins that can help you secure your WordPress site by, for instance, monitor files on your server, like WordFence, iThemes or Sucuri. Pick your plugin of choice, as long as you make sure that security is monitored.

It can also be useful to just keep track of everything that’s happening on your website like file changes and logged in users. There are several plugins and tools for that as well, like WP Security Audit Log. Keeping track of these things makes sure that you can find irregularities in your install and act on these, or find what happened when in case of a security issue.

6. Cater to your mobile visitors

People are always on the move these days. From city to city or conference room to conference room. People are waiting in lines, at cinemas, at the bakery, at lunch. And what do we do when we are on the move or waiting? Indeed, we check the weather, read the news, check social media or order clothes in that new online designer shop our friend texted us via Whatsapp, iMessage or Signal. What’s more, our mobile devices are becoming the de facto way of browsing the web, even when we’re at home, lying on our couch. We visit mobile websites. You, as a website owner, need to cater to your mobile visitors.

According to Statcounter, mobile market share surpassed desktop market share almost all of 2018. This means that if you are only optimizing for desktop visitors, you are not optimizing for the majority of your visitors. Of course, it depends on your specific niche, since those numbers could be different. Google Analytics can give you the exact numbers for your site.

With a mobile market share like this, there is no way you can consider your mobile website an ‘extra’. Maybe it’s time to make mobile the default. It’s time for mobile SEO.

6.1. Make sure your theme is mobile-friendly

After making sure that your site is fast, make sure your website, or rather your theme, is mobile-friendly. Making your website mobile-friendly starts with making sure the links are not too close together, and buttons are easily clickable. Your font should be consistent and shouldn’t be too small and your images not too big, both in file size and dimensions.

We’d like to highlight two specific mobile theme optimizations below.

6.1.1. Use responsive design techniques

Responsive design means that the design of your website adapts to the screen size your visitor is using. You can do this by using specific CSS media queries. We wrote about responsive design way back when, but in the basis, things are still the same. You have to address certain ranges of screen widths and design for those. Most WordPress themes should be responsive by now.

Depending on the part of the world you are targeting, no, depending on how fast their mobile internet is (2G? Already at 5G?), you might want to change a couple of things. Think about how you use images on your site. Are you using any text enhancements or font variations that might hinder a good performance of the mobile website? Responsive design helps you build a more focused website. That brings us to the second optimization:

6.1.2. Prioritize what’s important to mobile users

Take a step back and look at your website: what do your users want to do here? Define the four to six main tasks your user performs on your website and focus on these. Maybe even give the most important task a big fat call-to-action button.

Here’s an example: If you have a local business, the two main tasks might be calling you or finding the directions to your business. That means you could add these as a special mobile menu, for instance, — some kind of bar that is visible all the time. Focus on your visitor’s main tasks and make their life as easy as possible. How to find these top tasks? Ask your visitors! Also, check Google Analytics for the most visited pages on your mobile website. More about Analytics further down this article.

6.2. Consider using AMP

If you are using WordPress, you could serve Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) as well. AMP is a 2015 initiative by Google and some major publishers. It allows for fast mobile pages and does so by stripping some of the design. AMP these days is used for both static content and dynamic content like news articles. AMP has pretty strict code requirements, so be sure to validate your AMP pages frequently.

One of the challenges you as a website owner might have is to make sure the AMP version of your website aligns with your branding. Make sure your visitor — used to visiting your desktop/responsive website — still clearly understands that he or she is visiting your pages. Luckily, the difference between design on all these platforms can be minimalized.

If you are looking to kick-start the AMP version of your WordPress website, be sure to check the official AMP plugin. This will add an AMP version of your website after installing the plugin.

7. Analyze and improve your performance

A good SEO campaign relies not only on implementing changes but also measuring the impact of those changes, seeing what works and doing more of that. Google has developed two amazing tools to analyze the results of your website and to identify new opportunities where you could focus on in the future.

The first one, for analyzing results, is Google Analytics. By adding Google Analytics to your website, you make sure all user data will be stored in your own account. You can, for instance, check how many visits your pages get, how many of your visitors convert, how many visitors immediately leave your website after landing on a certain page and much more. Within Google Analytics, you can see how visitors behave on your website. Here’s how to track your SEO with Google Analytics.

The second tool is meant to analyze how your website performs and to see how visitors find you in the search engine. That tool is Google Search Console. By exporting and sorting through your search queries and impression data, it’s easy to identify opportunities where you could focus on improving clickthrough rates, content, and/or rankings.

7.1. Set up and integrate Google Analytics

To start with Google Analytics, you need to create an account. Click the ‘Start for free’ button to start. To set up your account, you need to add an Account Name first. This could be your company name. However, when you’re about to add other websites to your account, we recommend choosing a more generic Account Name. Also, you can always change your Account Name later when you want to.

After setting up your account, it’s time to add a property: the website you want to add. Insert the Website Name and the Website URL. Make sure you add the precise URL: http:// or https:// and with or without www for collecting the right data.

Create a new account in Google Analytics

After setting up your property you can choose for yourself if you want to enable, some of the data sharing settings. Each data sharing option gives you a clear explanation of what you will be sharing enabling it.

Now you’re almost ready to go! The last step to connect your website to your new Google Analytics account is adding the tracking code to your website. After successfully creating your account and adding a new property you’ll see this screen with your Google Analytics tracking code on top:

Copy the tag to your site

This tag needs to be added to your website. The easiest way to do this within WordPress is by installing a Google Analytics plugin such as the MonsterInsights Plugin for WordPress. Installing this plugin, you don’t need to touch the actual code of your website to connect with Google Analytics. You just simply install and activate the plugin, insert your tracking ID and you’re set!

For more technical readers, it’s also possible to add the tag manually to the head of every webpage or to add the tag to Google Tag Manager.

Now your website is connected to Google Analytics, it will start collecting data of your users. Start clicking around to see what all can be found within the data or start reading one of our blog posts about Google Analytics for helpful tips.

7.2. Set up your Google Search Console account

The second tool we think is important to set up is Google Search Console. We’ve already created this step by step guide on ‘How to add your website to Google Search Console. We recommend going through all steps and you will be all set! In brief, these are the steps you’ll need to follow:

  • Create or sign in to your Google Search Console account.
  • Click ‘Add a property’ under the search drop-down.
  • Enter your website URL in the box and click ‘Continue’.
  • Verify your website — within the Yoast SEO plugin, you can easily copy and paste the meta tag to make it work.

After connecting your website to Google Search Console, it will start collecting data about the performance of your website. Connecting through Yoast SEO, you can also immediately find errors within the WordPress backend and easily create redirects to reduce the number of errors when you have an Yoast SEO Premium subscription.

7.3. Other useful tools

Of course, there are plenty of other useful tools out there to get valuable insights into your website and to find SEO opportunities. Everyone has their own favorite tools, so it’s important to just start playing with different tools to find out what tool brings you what you need most.

There are all-in-one SEO tools which give you a complete overview of your performance and there are more in-depth tools which give you more specific data. Think about site speed tools, duplicate content tools, site analysis tools, keyword research tools and much more.

Some tools we use besides Google Analytics and Google Search Console:

Bing Webmaster Tools

Within the Source/Medium section of Google Analytics, you can see what percentage of your traffic is coming from Bing. When this is a sufficient amount of traffic, you might want to create a Bing Webmaster Tools account as well. Bing Webmaster Tools is the Google Search Console variant for Bing. It shows you your site’s health and performance in the Bing search results.

Ryte

Ryte is one of the all-in-one SEO suites you could use to analyze on-page SEO. The tool crawls your website to give you a bunch of data on indexation, errors, links, speed and much more. You can try Ryte for free to see what it has in it for you. Ryte even integrates with Yoast SEO.

Google Lighthouse

Google Lighthouse is a Chrome extension which you can download for free. With the Lighthouse tool, you can easily generate a report with scores for Performance, Progressive Web App, Accessibility, Best Practices, and SEO. This report will give you a quick overview of how your site is doing and you can immediately start working on the areas that need the most attention. You can also use the web-based version on web.dev/measure.

Hotjar

To get insights on how your visitors actually move, scroll and click on your webpages, you could use a tool like Hotjar. This user research tool also has options to add polls or surveys to your site to start doing research. You can try it for free, and the paid packages have competitive prices.

Interested in more valuable tools? Check our list of favorite SEO tools here!

8. Promote your site

You put a lot of time and effort into the content of your site and making sure that readers can find that content via search engines thanks to SEO, but there are other ways to get people to visit your WordPress site and read your posts. But how do you get and grow such an audience? Simply writing posts and putting these out there won’t do the trick: you need to promote your site!

8.1. Encourage engagement

It’s always fun to interact with your readers, but how do you get them to engage? With engagement, we mean all the different ways people can interact with your post. It could be leaving a comment, sharing it on social media or taking action on the topic in general.

But how do you get people to engage? You can always ask them! Write in an engaging way, and then ask your readers for their opinion. Then respond to these comments in order to keep the conversation going and build a relationship with your readers.

Engagement also benefits SEO, as it shows that your site is alive and active. If you want to dive deeper into blog engagement, you can read our post on how you can increase blog engagement.

8.2. Grow your reach

Using social media is the best way to reach and grow the audience of your blog. You should be active on the social media channels where your (potential) audience is present. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter are examples of popular social media. It might be a lot to decide on, so you can find out more in our blog post on social media strategy: where to begin?

8.3. Build a mailing list

In addition to using social media to promote your blog, it is often a good idea to invest in a digital newsletter. Let people sign up for it and send out emails with your latest blog posts and some other fun facts.

Make sure that you offer a subscribe field beneath your posts and on other visible places on your website. Make sure that your newsletter is mobile-friendly. But, most of all, make sure your newsletter is truly something special! We use MailChimp for our newsletter, which is free up until 2,000 subscribers.

8.4. Amplify your content

The number of blog posts published every day is enormous, which is why it’s becoming much harder to stand out. Your articles have a big chance of getting lost in the vast sea of content. To help your content reach its full potential you need to amplify it.

If your content is original and well-structured, you’re probably able to reach new audiences. Take a look at how you can reach new audiences, beyond your organic reach.

Maybe advertising on Facebook or Instagram might be a good way to reach new audiences for your content? Analyze what channels you already use and decide where you can do more in order to broaden your audience.

9. Conclusions

This guide gives you a lot of stuff you can do on your WordPress site. It goes from technical SEO tips to conversion tips, to content tips, to conversation tips, and a whole lot in between. There’s a catch though: if you want to rank for highly competitive terms, you’ll have to actually do most of it and create great and compelling content in the process.

You’re competing with every other website and business on the planet for attention, visitors, and outcomes. That means you have to put in a lot of hard work!

But don’t worry — we’re here to help.

So if you want to keep updated on the latest news about WordPress, SEO, and our plugins, then you can subscribe to our newsletter and stay one step ahead of the competition!

In the meantime, want to reread this ultimate WordPress SEO guide?

Download the PDF now!

The post WordPress SEO appeared first on Yoast.

The ultimate guide to UTM tagging

Welcome to the wonderful world of UTM tagging! This is a must-read for everyone that wants to track their marketing efforts and everyone who needs an extra hand with creating their own UTM tags.

  • What are UTM tags?
  • Why should you use UTM tags?
  • What UTM tags are there?
  • Channels to use UTM tags for
  • How to set up a UTM protocol?
  • How to find UTM tags in Google Analytics?
  • UTM tag don'ts

    What are UTM tags?

    UTM tags are parameters you can add to links that point to your website that send extra information to Google Analytics. Perhaps you’ve clicked on a link from a newsletter and saw all bunch of weird stuff in the URL.

    These things are UTM tags. And people use them to track their marketing efforts so that they can analyze that effort in Google Analytics.

    Why should you use UTM tags?

    Google Analytics recognizes a lot of traffic and places traffic in buckets. If you explore the source/medium report, you can see how Google Analytics sees this traffic and where it ends up. If you’re wondering how Google Analytics sees traffic from Facebook or your newsletter, grab your mobile phone, make sure you’re on 2G/3G/4G/5G and visit Facebook or your newsletter and click on a link that points to your website. At the same time, check your Real-Time traffic sources report and see if you show up there and how you show up. If you see that Google Analytics recognizes you as direct / none, then Google Analytics doesn’t know where you came from.

    Let’s say you have a lovely newsletter. Its content is awesome, there are links to your site. There are upsell buttons, images that link to your site. You’ve got the whole shebang! You’ve put a lot of effort into these emails because you’ve heard that they can really help your business. And you’d like to see if you get any traffic from your newsletters, if your readers buy anything, and you’d like to see which types of content they find interesting and what not. So you go to the place that can help you with these types of questions: Google Analytics! And you’re searching and searching, but you can’t find anything. You know why you can’t find them? The links in your emails weren’t tagged and all that traffic ended up in a bucket called direct / none.

    That’s where UTM tags come in. With UTM tags you add extra information about what types of things your audience clicked on from sources that don’t automatically add this type of information. All those items like image clicks, button clicks in your newsletter can be tracked by using UTM tags.

    If you don’t tag your emails, your PDF’s and your social efforts, you have no way of knowing what to optimize. Or how to optimize. You wouldn’t have a clue on what works for your business and what doesn’t work.

    What UTM tags are there?

    You can use 5 UTM parameters to define your traffic more precisely. Let’s go over them one by one.

    1. utm_medium
    2. utm_source
    3. utm_campaign
    4. utm_term
    5. utm_content

    Medium

    Open up the Medium report in Google Analytics and see what comes up. Google Analytics recognizes certain mediums by itself, like: organic, referral, cpc. It can recognize email but this doesn’t have to mean it can recognize traffic from your email campaigns. Google support defines medium as: “The advertising or marketing medium”. For me medium is an umbrella term, it’s a general bucket where a lot of things can belong to.

    Source

    Source is a bit more specific, you can see what I mean when you just look at the Source report in Google Analytics. Here you’ll see types of search engines, websites that are referrers, social media platforms and so on. Google support defines source as: “Identify the advertiser, site, publication, etc. that is sending traffic to your property”. It all comes together when you look at the source/medium report. Here you’ll see which source belongs to which medium. The UTM tag Source is mandatory when tagging your links.

    Campaign

    You’re most probably only going to see data in the Campaign report in Google Analytics if you have AdWords campaigns or using UTM tags for campaigns. Google support defines the Campaign tag as: “The individual campaign name, slogan, promo code, etc. for a product”.

    Term and Content

    There isn’t a standard report in Google Analytics for the Term tag and the Content tag. It’s only possible if you add one of these as a secondary dimension or if you create a custom report. Just like the Campaign tag, you’re only seeing data for these two tags if you used that in UTM tags. Google support’s definition of the UTM Term tag is: “Identify paid search keywords”. That’s specifically for AdWords but later on you’ll learn that you can use the Term tag for anything you’d like. Google support defines the Content tag as: “Used to differentiate similar content, or links within the same ad”.

    Channels to use UTM tags for

    There are marketing channels where UTM tags come in very handy. Always tag your email marketing efforts. If you use PDFs that people can download or are send to people as an incentive and that PDF contains links to your site, UTM tag those links. That way you can see if people are actually coming to your website using that PDF. And if there are upsells or other conversion goals, like a make an appointment button, you can check in Google Analytics if your PDFs are converting or not. Google Analytics can recognize traffic from Facebook and Twitter and such but you can only analyze that traffic on a source/medium level. And apart from that, you don’t know if you’ve gotten traffic from other people sharing links to your site on a social platform. If you want more information about your social media efforts, use UTM tags.

    How to set up a UTM protocol?

    This is actually the hard part. You need to think about a constructive, sustainable UTM protocol you can use for your channels which can be scalable. You must think about a strategy that can deal with change because you never know where your business is headed. Important to know is that Medium and Source are related to each other, all other tags don’t necessarily have to be related to each other. Each step adds more information to your data. It’s a way of classifying your traffic.

    The Medium UTM tag is the most general UTM tag of them all. This is a big bucket of data that is collected by the same medium. And since we’re talking about ways that drive traffic to your site, we’re going to use an analogy to make things more clear. You can see UTM tags as if it was a way of transportation. A medium can be a car, a plane, a boat and so on. And I can compare mediums to know which type of transportation is working for my website at the moment.

    Source is a smaller bucket, but still a pretty large one. The source is related to the medium. If we take the analogy of a car, a source can be the brand of the car. By looking at the source, we know if we can better spend money on trying to get more traffic from brand X or on brand Y.

    We’re narrowing our data with campaigns. We don’t only want to know which brand of car drives more traffic and converts better but also which type of car is most successful. If Yoast was a car brand (that would be awesome), we want to know if Yoast sedans convert better than Yoast SUVs.

    And because we can, we send more information about our data to Google Analytics. By adding a content and term UTM tag. We can distinguish purple and green Yoast cars with the content UTM tag. And we can add more information like green gear change Yoast SUVs and compare that to automatic green Yoast SUVs. Gear change information can be send with the UTM term tag. See how much information about one specific type of traffic I can gather just by using UTM tags?

    As I hope this example tells you, is that you can use UTM tags to give you more information about your data. The challenge is to think of especially mediums and sources that last. Thinking about on which level you want to see data and compare data can be quite the challenge. What kind of information do you need to improve your marketing further?

    Example: medium=email

    When I was setting up a UTM protocol for Yoast, I was dying to see some examples I could use for Yoast. But the frustrating thing was that each of the sources I consulted saying different things. And I understand why; it’s about what works for you as an analyst and what works for your business. Here’s how WE use UTM tagging for our emails.

    We have different types of email, for instance our standard newsletter that contains our latest updates. And we have Sales emails that we only send to our subscribers when we have a sale. They both belong to the same medium which is email. And I’m using source to distinguish the type of email. For our standard newsletter I use the date on which the newsletter is send on. But if you’re more interested in the day of the week or the time you send the newsletter, use that as a campaign. It all depends on what kind of information you’d like to see in Google Analytics. We could also add term and content tags for our regular newsletter but decided we don’t need to see more specific data.

    For our Sales email we use the name of our sale for the UTM campaign tag. The cool thing is that if you use that campaign tag for everything you’re doing to promote your sale, like Facebook posts, you can later on analyze which marketing channel worked best during the sale.

    Black Friday campaign UTM tag

    We use the UTM content tag to distinguish buttons from text links so we can figure out if people are more inclined to click on a button or on a text link later on. If you have more than one button, you can use content tags like: button-1, button-2 etc. etc.

    We use the UTM term tag to identify the page the link points to. This last one isn’t really necessary because you can also tell this by looking at the landing page in combination with the campaign. But of course, you can add other information in the UTM term tag like the color of the button or the category the page of the link belongs to.

    But in the end, it’s all about what YOU, as an analyst, would like to see in Google Analytics! It’s about gathering information about the behavior of your audience, about how to get more insight into your audience.

    How to create a UTM protocol yourself

    Write down all your marketing efforts on a piece of (digital) paper. What are you doing with email? What types of email do you have? And what kind of things are you doing on social? And perhaps other channels. Are you running campaigns? Map it all out. And then just write down possible UTM tags for all of them and check if it’s useful for you or not. Keep trying different ways of UTM tagging till you finally have a structure that works! And try to visualize how it will look in Google Analytics. So get familiar with the source/medium and campaign report.

    There are Google Sheets out there that help you, like this one from Annie Cushing:

    Annie Cushing’s Google Analytics Campaign Tagging Tool

    Using such a Google Sheet will help you with consistently tagging your links. Google also has a tool you can use to create links with UTM tags:

    Campaign URL builder

    When you’re done creating the UTM protocol it’s vital that everyone in your team that has to deal with UTM tagging is aware of this protocol. And of course, it’s very important that everyone uses it in a consistent manner.

    How to find UTM tags in Google Analytics?

    All this time we’ve been talking about UTM tags, we’re talking about traffic sources. If you want to know how to find each tag in Google Analytics, you need to be in the Acquisition section.

    The utm_medium corresponds with the Medium variable in Google Analytics. And utm_source corresponds with the Source variable. If you click on ‘Source’ right above the table, you only see the Source. And if you want a more general view, click on Medium.

    In the Acquisition section you can find an item called ‘Campaigns’. Here you can find your data about the utm_campaign tag.

    If you want to find the utm_content and utm_term tag, you need to do a small extra effort. You can only see these if you add a Secondary dimension in the standard reports in Google Analytics:

    In Google Analytics the utm_content is called ‘Ad Content’. The utm_term is called ‘Keyword’ and you can add these variables as a secondary dimension to your reports. If you want all of your UTM tags in one report, you need to create a custom report.

    UTM tag don’ts

    There’s no need to add UTM tags on links that are on your site. If you do use tags on internal links, you’ll overwrite the original source of your traffic. So for instance, if someone from a paid Facebook post comes to your site and clicks on a link in the menu that’s UTM tagged and buys a product, there’s no way of knowing that your paid Facebook ad was the source that lead to a conversion.

    2. Using Campaign tags that are too general

    Tags that are completely the same, end up in the same bucket in Google Analytics. If you’re using a campaign that is specifically for email, but someone else in your team is using the same campaign for a completely different thing on social, these will end up in the same bucket. But they’re both completely different things! You don’t want to draw the wrong conclusions so you want to be sure that you’re not mistakenly receiving data from a different campaign with the same name. For sales campaigns I suggest to add a date. For channel specific campaigns, add something that relates to the source, like utm_campaign=fb-daily-post.

    3. Not consistently using UTM tags

    Every time you misspell a tag or use an uppercase tag instead of a lowercase tag, a new tag is created. Why is that a bad thing? Well because of this:

    UTM tagging gone wrong in Google Analytics

    Rows 5 and 6 are examples of tagging gone wrong and as you can see, traffic from these UTM tags get a separate row. But it’s traffic that belongs to row 1, the sales/email source. Now these numbers are small but what if that number is bigger?

    4. Not using the utm_source tag

    This one is mandatory. And if you want to be completely safe, use the Medium, Source and Campaign tags to avoid tracking errors.

    5. Tagging guest posts

    If websites have links that point to your site, they’ll be easy to recognize in the referral section in Google Analytics. The same goes for if you write a guest post for someone’s website. You can see this traffic in your referral report.

    6. Create too specific Medium tags

    As said before, you want your Medium tag to be as general as possible. If you create too specific Medium tags then you’re missing the meta view of all efforts that belong to that medium. You don’t want utm_medium=facebook because how can you measure all of your social media efforts in Google Analytics?

    7. Using sensitive information in tags

    You don’t want to share business sensitive information in your UTM tags, information you don’t like others to know. Because with UTM tags, that’s publicly visible. The same goes for personal information, don’t store data which can be traced back to a specific person.

    8. Use tags that aren’t recognizable in Google Analytics

    If you don’t know what it means just by looking at it, it’s not very suitable as a tag. You make your life a whole lot easier if you can tell what it is without having to go to the link. It really helps you to analyze your Google Analytics data.

    Read more: How to create and use dashboards in Google Analytics »

    The post The ultimate guide to UTM tagging appeared first on Yoast.

Google Tag Manager: an introduction

Perhaps you’ve heard about it: Google Tag Manager. Google introduced this tool 5 years ago, a tool that would make marketers less dependent on developers and that would, therefore, speed up your marketing process. Google Tag Manager has evolved over the years becoming a more complete and easy to use tool. Here I want to explain why you should sign up today, if you aren’t using Google Tag Manager already. 

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Before I go on to introduce Tag Manager, I do want to say a word of warning. Tag Manager is a powerful tool, and like any power tool, it should be used with care. Don’t just add tags that look appealing to you but you don’t fully understand. For instance, you might bring in a tag that could harm your site because the code is not safe. Or use a tag that influences your data tracking. If you’re not sure or in doubt of a certain tag, have someone who knows JavaScript take a look at it. Luckily, Tag Manager has a great Preview and Debug mode that lets you validate code before you publish.

What is Google Tag Manager?

If you have closer look at the term Google Tag Manager, you can guess what it’s about. It’s a tool developed by Google to manage your tags. But then the next question arises: what’s a tag? A tag is a snippet of code. There’s a whole bunch of analytics and marketing tools out there that work with JavaScript code. For instance, the Google Analytics tracking code – the one you add to your site to track your site’s traffic with Google Analytics – is JavaScript code.

Did you ever had to wait for a developer to add a piece of JavaScript to your site? Or to test whether that code wasn’t harming your website? Then you know how much valuable time that can take. With Google Tag Manager you can add these pieces of JavaScript or tags yourself. Google Tag Manager even has the ability to test whether you’ve implemented the tag correctly.

Running every tag from Google Tag Manager has two big advantages. First of all, you’ll have an overview of the tags you’ve added. Secondly, you’re in full control of measuring the effects of your marketing efforts.

What can you use it for?

Because Google Tag Manager allows you to add JavaScript to your site, you can use it for a lot of things. You can use it to get more insight in the behaviour of visitors on your site – ‘events’ like clicking on a button – but also to get tags of third party tools on your site. It will even help you to add structured data to your pages!

Google Analytics and Tag Manager

One of the most used tags that’s managed in Google Tag Manager is the Google Analytics tag. Not only can you add the Google Analytics tracking code. You can use Google Tag Manager to create, for instance, custom dimensions, events or content grouping. This means that you can track if people click on your buttons, if they scroll down to a certain point on your page, if they watch your videos and so on. All the cool things you can do with Google Analytics events, can now be managed in Google Tag Manager. And you won’t need a developer for it!

Other third party tools

Google Tag Manager supports a lot of third party tags, like: Adwords, Adobe Analytics, Bing ads, Hotjar, Crazyegg and so on. You can find the complete list on the Google Google Tag Manager support forum. You can use Hotjar tags to finally get those heatmaps – a visual representation of where people click on your site – you wanted to have. Or run surveys and A/B tests on your site. Getting data like that can help you bring your conversion rate to the next level.

Google Tag Manager and structured data

But there’s more! You can also use Google Tag Manager to implement structured data on your site. Structured data is extra information you add to your page in a specific format. Google can show this information in the search results, which makes it more likely people click on your result and engage with your page.

At the moment, we’re working on a new and practical course about structured data. In this course, you’ll learn how structured data works and how to implement it with Google Tag Manager yourself. Don’t miss the launch and keep an eye on our newsletter!

Where to find Google Tag Manager?

Google is ubiquitous with its tools. If you visit: google.com/analytics/  you can see all tools Google has developed to help you with your marketing strategy. In addition to Google Analytics, there are tools to help you boost conversion or perform customer surveys. And, of course, there’s Google Tag Manager. You can sign up for free! Wait! Free, you say? Yes, free!! So what’s stopping you?

After you’ve signed up, you can create an account for your website, your iOS or Android app or your AMP pages:

Create a container in Google Tag Manager

Just provide the URL of your site as the container name and then select web – if you want to implement it on your website. After you’ve created this container, Google Tag Manager will ask you to add a piece of code in the <head> and <body> of the page. I promise, this is one of the few things you might need a developer for, when it comes to using Google Tag Manager.

install Google Tag manager on your site

Luckily, if you’re using WordPress, you can easily add the Google Tag Manager code using a plugin called DuracellTomi’s Google Tag Manager for WordPress. Please note that you only have to use the GTM-XXXX code.

If you’re using another CMS, please check out the quick install guide for more information on how to get started.

After you’ve inserted the Google Tag Manager code to your pages, you’re ready to create your own tags. This can be done in a so called workspace that looks like this:

So now you’re all set up and ready to add those tags to your site.

And now?

We’ll be doing more posts on Google Tag Manager soon. Explaining the practical side of things like how to create variables, triggers and tags, and how to implement structured data with it. We’ll also help you understand how to combine Google Tag Manager with Google Analytics to use it to its full extent. So stay tuned!

Read more: ‘How to use Custom Dimensions in Google Analytics’ »

Social buttons: How to add and track them on your site

To help your blog gain more readers, you can make use of social buttons which allow your current readers to share interesting posts on their social media accounts. But how should you go about implementing them? In this post we’ll explain how we’ve done this at Yoast and will give you some pointers on how to get started.

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What are social buttons?

For those who don’t know what social buttons are: They’re the buttons that you’ve seen around the internet that are usually placed somewhere below a blog post that allow readers to share articles on various social media platforms. This is great for gaining extra exposure and thus also getting more traffic to your website.

At Yoast, our social buttons look as follow:

Social Buttons

How did you implement these social buttons in WordPress?

Now you might be wondering about how these buttons were implemented. Your initial thought might be that this was added with some kind of plugin. However, at Yoast we decided to add it to our theme. This gives us extra control in how we style and display things. Of course we could have decided to add these buttons to a plugin, but the added benefit would be minimal for us.

We’ve decided to place the code for the social buttons in a template partial. This way we can easily embed it throughout the website without having to drastically edit template files or having to embed the buttons manually per post.

Here’s a basic example of how we implemented a social button for Facebook. Note that not all the code is actual production code and has been replaced with psuedo-code to make implementation easier to understand.

<?php
// File: <theme_folder>/html_includes/partials/social-share.php
function facebook_social_button() {
$article_url = get_article_url(); // Psuedo-code method to retrieve the article's URL.
$article_url .= '#utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=social_buttons';

$title = html_entity_decode( get_og_title() ); // Psuedo-code method to retrieve the og_title.
$description = html_entity_decode( get_og_description() ); // Psuedo-code method to retrieve the og_description.
$og_image = get_og_image(); // Psuedo-code method to retrieve the og_image assigned to a post.

$images   = $og_image->get_images();
$url = 'http://www.facebook.com/sharer/sharer.php?s=100';
$url .= '&p[url]=' . urlencode( $article_url );
$url .= '&p[title]=' . urlencode( $title );
$url .= '&p[images][0]=' . urlencode( $images[0] );
$url .= '&p[summary]=' . urlencode( $description );
$url .= '&u=' . urlencode( $article_url );
$url .= '&t=' . urlencode( $title );
echo esc_attr( $url );
}
?>
<div id="social-share">
<div class="socialbox">
<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" data-name="facebook" aria-label="Share on Facebook" data-action="share" href="<?php facebook_social_button(); ?>">
<i class="fa fa-facebook-square text-icon--facebook"></i>
</a>
</div>
</div>

The above code could be used in a similar fashion for other social media platforms, but it can vary greatly in terms of URL structure. We advise you look at the documentation of your desired platforms to ensure compatibility.

To include these social buttons in your blog posts, open up single.php in your theme’s folder and paste the following snippet where you want the buttons to appear:

<?php get_template_part( 'html_includes/partials/social-share' ); ?>

That’s it! If you don’t want to collect interaction data from these buttons, then this is all you need. If you want interactions to be tracked, then read on.

Tracking Interaction with Social Buttons

Having nicely styled social buttons in your website is one thing, but tracking the actual interactions with them would be even better.
At Yoast, we use JavaScript to ensure the tracking of the social media sharing is done correctly so we can easily see what social media platforms are popular among our readers.

The code for this is relatively simple and depends on the Google Analytics Tracker being properly implemented into your website. Assuming this is the case, the following code will be of great help:

jQuery( document ).ready( function( $ ) {
	$( '.socialbox a' ).click( function( e ) {
		e.preventDefault();
		
		if ( typeof __gaTracker !== "undefined" ) {
			__gaTracker( 'send', 'social', $( this ).data( 'name' ), $( this ).data( 'action' ), document.querySelector( "link[rel='canonical']" ).getAttribute( "href" ) );
		}
	});	
});

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The above JavaScript snippet passes in some of the extra information we passed along to the anchor tag. This extra information can be identified by the data- prefix and is retrieved by calling $( this ).data( [...] ). This method allows us to easily extend the social-share div and add more buttons.

If you want more information on how Google tracks this information, you can read about it here.

Conclusion

As you can see, it’s not very difficult to add social buttons to your blog. Even tracking them in Google Analytics has become a breeze compared to past implementations.

All that’s left is to go and implement the buttons and allow your readers help promote your posts. Good luck!

Read more: ‘Social media optimization with Yoast SEO’ »

Understanding bounce rate in Google Analytics

“I came, I puked, I left” is a very famous definition of the bounce rate by Avinash Kaushik. But what does it mean exactly? When does a visitor bounce? Is it purely a visitor that hits the back button or is there more to it? And what can you tell by looking at the bounce rate of a webpage? In this post, I want to show you what it is, what it means and how you can improve your bounce rate. 

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What’s bounce rate?

Bounce rate is a metric that measures the percentage of people who land on your website, and do completely nothing on the page they entered. So they don’t click on a menu item, a ‘read more’ link, or any other internal links on the page. This means that the Google Analytics server doesn’t receive a trigger from the visitor. A user bounces when there has been no engagement with the landing page and the visit ends with a single-page visit. You can use bounce rate as a metric that indicates the quality of a webpage and/or the “quality” of your audience. By quality of your audience I mean whether the audience fits the purpose of your site.

How does Google Analytics calculate bounce rate?

According to Google bounce rate is calculated in the following way:

Bounce rate is single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server.

In other words, it collects all sessions where a visitor only visited one page and divides it by all sessions.

Having a high bounce rate can mean three things:
1. The quality of the page is low. There’s nothing inviting to engage with.
2. Your audience doesn’t match the purpose of the page, as they won’t engage with your page.
3. Visitors have found the information that they were looking for.

I’ll get back to the meaning of bounce rate further below.

Bounce rate and SEO

In this post, I’m talking about bounce rate in Google Analytics. There’s been a lot of discussion about whether bounce rate is an SEO ranking factor. I can hardly imagine that Google takes Google Analytics’ data as a ranking factor, because if Google Analytics isn’t implemented correctly, then the data isn’t reliable. Moreover, you can easily manipulate the bounce rate.

Luckily, several Googlers say the same thing: Google doesn’t use Google Analytics’ data in their search algorithm. But, of course, you need to make sure that when people come from a search engine to your site, they don’t bounce back to the search results, since that kind of bouncing probably is a ranking factor. It might be measured in a different way than the bounce rate we see in Google Analytics, though.

From a holistic SEO perspective, you need to optimize every aspect of your site. So, looking closely at your bounce rate can help you optimize your website even further, which contributes to your SEO.

How to interpret bounce rates?

The height of your bounce rate and whether that’s a good or a bad thing, really depends on the purpose of the page. If the purpose of the page is purely to inform, then a high bounce rate isn’t a bad thing per se. Of course, you’d like people to read more articles on your website, subscribe to your newsletter and so on. But when they’ve only visited a page to, for instance, read a post or find an address, then it isn’t surprising that they close the tab after they’re done reading. Mind you, even in this case, there’s no trigger sent to the Google Analytics server, so it’s a bounce.

A clever thing to do, when you own a blog, is creating a segment that only contains ‘New visitors’. If the bounce rate amongst new visitors is high, think about how you could improve their engagement with your site. Because you do want new visitors to engage with your site.

If the purpose of a page is to actively engage with your site, then a high bounce rate is a bad thing. Let’s say you have a page that has one goal: get visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. If that page has a high bounce rate, then you might need to optimize the page itself. By adding a clear call-to-action, a ‘Subscribe to our newsletter’ button, for instance, you could lower that bounce rate.

But there can be other causes for a high bounce rate on a newsletter subscription page. In case you’ve lured visitors in under false pretenses, you shouldn’t be surprised when these visitors don’t engage with your page. They probably expected something else when landing on your subscription page. On the other hand, if you’ve been very clear from the start about what visitors could expect on the subscription page, a low bounce rate could say something about the quality of the visitors – they could be very motivated to get the newsletter – and not necessarily about the quality of the page.

Bounce rate and conversion

If you look at bounce rate from a conversion perspective, then bounce rate can be used as a metric to measure success. For instance, let’s say you’ve changed the design of your page hoping that it will convert better, then make sure to keep an eye on the bounce rate of that page. If you’re seeing an increase in bounces, the change in design you’ve made might have been the wrong change and it could explain the low conversion rate you have.

You could also check the bounce rate of your most popular pages. Which pages have a low and which pages have a high bounce rate? Compare the two, then learn from the pages with low bounce rates.

Another way of looking at your bounce rate, is from a traffic sources perspective. Which traffic sources lead to a high or a low bounce rate? Your newsletter for instance? Or a referral website that sends a lot of traffic? Can you figure out what causes this bounce rate? And if you’re running an AdWords campaign, you should keep an eye on the bounce rate of that traffic source as well.

Be careful with drawing conclusions though…

We’ve seen loads of clients with a bounce rate that was unnaturally low. In that case, all alarm bells should go off, especially if you don’t expect low bounce rates. Because that probably means that Google Analytics isn’t implemented correctly. There are several things that influence bounce rate, because they send a trigger to the Google Analytics server and Google Analytics falsely recognizes it as an engagement. Usually, an unnaturally low bounce rate is caused by an event that triggers the Google Analytics server. Think of pop-ups, auto-play of videos or an event you’ve implemented that fires after 1 second.

Of course, if you’ve created an event that tracks scrolling counts, then having a low bounce rate is a good thing. It shows that people actually scroll down the page and read your content.

How to lower high bounce rates?

The only way of lowering your bounce rate is by amping up the engagement on your page. In my opinion, there are two ways of looking at bounce rate. From a traffic perspective and from a page perspective.

If certain traffic sources have high bounce rates, then you need to look at the expectations of the visitors coming to your site from those sources. Let’s say you’re running an ad on another website, and most people coming to your site via that ad bounce, then you’re not making their wish come true. You’re not living up to their expectations. Review the ad you’re running and see if it matches the page you’re showing. If not, make sure the page is a logical follow-up of the ad or vice versa.

If your page lives up to the expectations of your visitors, and the page still has a high bounce rate, then you have to look at the page itself. How’s the usability of the page? Is there a call-to-action above the fold on the page? Do you have internal links that point to related pages or posts? Do you have a menu that’s easy to use? Does the page invite people to look further on your site? These are all things you need to consider when optimizing your page.

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What about exit rate?

The bounce rate is frequently mistaken for the exit rate. Literally, the exit rate is the percentage of pageviews that were the last in the session. It says something about users deciding to end their session on your website on that particular page. Google’s support page gives some clear examples of the exit rates and bounce rates, which make the difference very clear. This comes directly from their page:

Monday: Page B > Page A > Page C > Exit
Tuesday: Page B > Exit
Wednesday: Page A > Page C > Page B > Exit
Thursday: Page C > Exit
Friday: Page B > Page C > Page A > Exit

The % Exit and Bounce Rate calculations are:

Exit Rate:
Page A: 33% (3 sessions included Page A, 1 session exited from Page A)
Page B: 50% (4 sessions included Page B, 2 sessions exited from Page B)
Page C: 50% (4 sessions included Page C, 2 sessions exited from Page C)

Bounce Rate:
Page A: 0% (one session began with Page A, but that was not a single-page session, so it has no Bounce Rate)
Page B: 33% (Bounce Rate is less than Exit Rate, because 3 sessions started with Page B, with one leading to a bounce)
Page C: 100% (one session started with Page C, and it lead to a bounce)

Conclusion

Bounce rate is a metric you can use to analyze your marketing efforts. You can use it to measure if you’re living up to your visitors’ expectations. As we have seen, visitors bouncing from your website don’t necessarily puke before they leave, in spite of what Avinash Kaushik says. Nevertheless, you want them to engage with your site. So you can use the bounce rate to decide which pages need more attention. Meeting your visitors’ expectations and making your pages more inviting for visitors all leads to creating an awesome website. And we all know that awesome websites rank better!

Read more: ‘Creating segments in Google Analytics’ »

Why use segments in Google Analytics?

When talking with customers about Google Analytics, you often hear the same thing: “I’m not really using Google Analytics because I don’t know what I’m looking at. It’s just too much”. And that’s a pity because you can learn a whole lot about your website and your audience with Google Analytics’ data. So, is there a simple way to use Google Analytics without getting lost? There might be, by using segments.

What’s a segment?

In Google Analytics a segment is a way to specify the data you’re seeing in every standard view. Google Analytics just throws it all in there, on one big pile of data. This means that when you’re looking at a standard view in Google Analytics you see: ‘all sessions of all visitors’, you see: total revenue, all pages, average time on page of all users, the landing pages of all visitors.

You might recognize this: You’re in the Acquisition section and you’re all happy, because you’ve created the perfect table. You’ve used the advanced filter option to include the Medium: “Organic” and you’re seeing the data you want to see. Then you think: “I’m curious to see which pages these visitors looked at, let’s take these filters to the next section of Google Analytics.” You hit the Behavior section and Poof! your filter is gone. Oh, the frustration!!!

If you want to know which pages people coming from organic search visit, you need to find another way. A segment helps you to narrow down the aggregated data Google Analytics shows, into data you want to see and need, to answer a specific question you have. You can use that segment throughout the sections, the segment doesn’t get lost when switching between sections. For instance, if we want to know which source customers who bought an eBook came from, we can create a segment of people who bought an eBook. By applying that segment and looking at the Acquisition – Source/Medium section, we can conclude that most of our eBook customers came from a newsletter. Goodbye frustration!

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Why do you need segments?

Without segmentation, all data you see is aggregated. This makes it really hard to draw conclusions. As Avinash Kaushik once said: “All data in aggregate is crap.” And I certainly agree with him. If you want to draw a valid conclusion, you need to specify your data.

For example, you can’t just say that most of your visitors visit your site around noon. Well okay, you can. But what does it mean? This data is so aggregated that you can’t build a strategy on it, it doesn’t provide any insight. Based on this data you might conclude that promoting a new product around noon is the way to go. But what if a large amount of your non-paying visitors visit your site around noon, but your high-potential visitors visit your site in the evening? Then you could’ve made the wrong decision based on non-specific aggregated data. So with a segment, you can zoom in on a specific part of your data. And if you do that right, you can make important business decisions that help your business move forward.

How to create a segment in Google Analytics?

First of all, creating a segment in Google Analytics isn’t dangerous. You can edit your segments, you can delete your segments, but you won’t delete the actual data you have. For me this was an important realization, because it meant that I could just ‘play’ with segments without any consequences.

The first step is thinking about what kind of segment you need. Which question do you want answered? What’s important for your business? And where can you find the data to create that segment? Do you want to segment on demographics of the user? And/or, the behavior of the user? Or, the technology the user uses to visit your website? And so on. Knowing what it’s called what you’re looking for in Google Analytics really helps when creating segments.

The second step is adding the actual segment. You can find the segment section at the top of the page in every view from Audience down to Conversions.

add a segment in Google Analytics

This means that if you’re in Dashboards, Shortcuts, Intelligence Events or Real-Time section, you can’t see the segment section.

System segments

Google Analytics offers ‘fixed’ segments which you can find in the ‘System’ section. A lot of these segments are pretty darn useful. For example, there’s an Organic Traffic segment that groups all visitors that came from an organic search result to your site. Very useful, if you want to know which landing pages these users visit. Another example: There’s a Mobile Traffic segment, that groups users that use a mobile device to visit your site. Very helpful as well, for example to find out if the ‘time on page’ is what it should be, this might say something about the mobile friendliness of your site.

Custom segments

There are more segments to think of than the system segments Google Analytics offers. For instance, you can create a segment that filters out all visitors that spend less than half a minute on your site. Or you can create a segment that focuses on the organic traffic from all visitors from the Netherlands. Or, as mentioned before, create a segment based on the products visitors bought or a certain amount of revenue a visitor yielded.

I found this video on YouTube that explains creating a custom segment pretty well:

For me, a couple of segments are really useful. I have segments for every country that’s important for our business, for every product and for every product page. And I have a segment for every medium like Organic, Newsletter and in our case: plugin traffic.

Compare segments

A nifty feature in Google Analytics is the ability to add more than one segment for the same view of data. This means you can compare different segments. For instance, if you created a segment of visitors that stayed longer than 5 minutes on your website and created a segment of visitors that stayed less than 1 minute on your website, you can compare the two and find out more about the behavior of these two groups and in which aspects these two groups differ.

Conclusion

If you want to know what you’re looking at, when clicking your way through Google Analytics, segmentation is the way to go. If you have questions like, “how do the visitors from California behave on my site?” Or, “what are my newsletter visitors doing on my site?” “How’s my campaign going?” Creating a segment is the easiest way to go. It’s a way to dissect your data and actually know what you’re looking at, when looking at all the different sections in Google Analytics. Say farewell to your Google Analytics frustration!

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A new home for our Google Analytics plugins

Today we’re announcing that our Analytics plugins are getting a new home on MonsterInsights.com. One of the “problems” of a quickly growing business is that you have to choose what to focus on. We’ve made that choice: we’ll focus on building best in class SEO products, from plugins to reviews, eBooks and training programs. We’re very happy to be able to get our loyal Google Analytics for WordPress users a good new home at Monster Insights.

Google Analytics by Yoast becomes Monster Insights

Meet the new owner(s)

syed-balkhi-300x300The MonsterInsights.com team is managed by Syed Balkhi. You might know Syed from plugins like OptinMonster, Envira Gallery and more. Syed also runs WPBeginner.com, and is a fantastic entrepreneur. His businesses focus on conversion and business growth, which made our suite of Google Analytics plugins a nice fit.

What does this acquisition mean for existing users?

As Syed says in his post too: aside from new ownership and the new name, it’s business as usual. You can continue to use the plugin that you love without any interruptions.

MonsterInsights logo

The new name and logo for Monster Insights

With the experience Syed and team have, they’ll be adding new features and improvements to what’s now called MonsterInsights in the near future. They’ll update the plugin and give it the love it deserves. I have no doubt in my mind that this will lead to a far better plugin, very quickly.

A nostalgic moment

While I’m very happy about the decision to give this plugin a new home, I’m also feeling nostalgic. Google Analytics for WordPress was my first “major” plugin, even before WordPress SEO (now Yoast SEO) was a thing. It’s been “with me” for a very long time, but I trust Syed and team will take it to even greater heights.

I want to thank Syed for making this tough decision easier. Knowing that he’ll take care of the plugin and both our free and premium customers really made it easier to decide to do what’s right.

If you have questions, pose them in the comments and we’ll try to address them. Also, go ahead over to the new MonsterInsights site and read Syed’s welcome post.

WordPress & AMP: part II

My previous post about AMP lead to a ton of questions and rightfully so. We’ve been testing, developing and working hard in general on understanding what needs to be done to get AMP working without too many errors. This post is an update on where we stand right now, introduces an updated Yoast SEO AMP Glue plugin with new features and gives some more background on the why and what of it all.

The need for multiple plugins

The base AMP functionality is provided by the WordPress AMP plugin. In my previous post I recommended Pagefrog to add styling and tracking to your AMP pages. While it is a nice plugin, it caused more issues for us than it solved. The plugin adds a preview on every post edit screen. This preview is unneeded and there is no way to disable it, and it literally caused browser crashes in our backend.

The issues we had with Pagefrog made me decide to put in some time and created a set of design settings in our Yoast SEO AMP Glue plugin. When you update to version 0.3 of that plugin, you can safely disable Pagefrog and configure the styling on the SEO → AMP design settings tab:

Extra styling options

The Yoast SEO AMP Glue plugin also lets you put in manual CSS and some extra tags in the head section. This allows us, for instance, to have our preferred weight of our Open Sans font available and make the styling fit our brand a bit more.

You can also enable AMP for custom post types on the post types tab. The only post type that doesn’t work yet is pages, as support for that is being added to the main AMP plugin.

WordPress AMP design settings

Errors & testing AMP

We were getting quite a few errors in our Google Search Console AMP report for yoast.com. You can see our indexation and error graph here:

google-search-console-amp-errors

AMP debug mode

You can put any AMP URL into “debug mode” by adding #development=1 to the end of the AMP URL. If you then look in your browsers console – you might have to reload the page – you’ll see the AMP validation warnings. These are the exact same warnings that Google shows in Google Search Console. There are quite a few different types of errors and the Google search console report groups them for you.

I realize the error line in the graph above is not exactly convincing of our quality yet. The drop in errors we saw made clear that we were doing some things right. Now we have about a thousand posts on this blog, and almost a hundred on our development blog. So it’s clear that not all of our content is indexed as AMP yet, and not all of our AMP content is working nicely.

Missing featured images

The biggest source of our issues were Schema.org article errors. This was caused by one simple issue: a lot of our posts, especially the older ones, didn’t have a featured image. The WordPress AMP plugin then simply outputs schema.org JSON+LD tags without that image, causing those errors. The fix is simple: we now have a “default image” field in the design tab of our Yoast SEO AMP Glue plugins settings. It’s used when a post has no featured image. This solved half of our errors.

Testing Schema.org errors

To test whether you will be getting Schema.org errors, run your AMP URLs through the Google Structured Data Testing Tool. The output from that tool tells you which data is missing.

Missing site logo

The JSON+LD output also requires a site logo. While this is not an error we ourselves had, many reported this issue. The AMP plugin uses the logo set as your site icon in the Customizer, and omits it if you don’t have one set. We now let you upload a logo on the design tab of the Yoast SEO AMP Glue plugin too, if you want to use a different one.

Retrofitting AMP onto existing content

Part of what we’re doing with the AMP WordPress plugin and the Yoast SEO AMP glue plugin is “fixing” content that exists in your database to work with AMP. The posts on your site are stored as HTML in your database. The HTML of those posts does not necessarily to conform to what AMP HTML requires. For this purpose, the AMP plugin has a set of so called “sanitizers”. These are filters, run over your content, that remove tags and attributes on tags that aren’t allowed. They even remove some attributes when their values aren’t allowed.

We’ve added an extra sanitizer class in our own plugin to remove some more invalid attributes. Once we’re certain that these work, we’ll actually contribute these changes “upstream” to the AMP plugin. These changes have fixed the remainder of the issues we had.

Analytics integration

The only thing we lacked after Pagefrog was removed is tracking. Pagefrog took care of Google Analytics tracking for us. Luckily, adding tracking to AMP pages isn’t hard, so we coded a simple connection to our Google Analytics by Yoast plugin. If you have that enabled and configured, the plugin will automatically grab the account code from it and enable tracking for your AMP pages. You can, however, also choose to use a custom tracking code. If you do this, the plugin no longer integrates with Google Analytics by Yoast.

Facebook Instant Articles

Another thing Pagefrog takes care of is Facebook Instant Articles. There’s now a plugin from Automattic for that purpose, which we’re working on integrating Yoast SEO with. So you won’t need Pagefrog for Facebook Instant Articles either.

Conclusion

With all these changes, getting AMP to work on a WordPress site running Yoast SEO has become slightly easier and lots less error prone. We’ve updated our Setting up WordPress for AMP post with these changes. Good luck and do let us know of errors in the comments!

Google Analytics by Yoast: Free vs Premium

GA free vs premiumWe have two versions of our Google Analytics by Yoast plugin: a free and a premium version. We’ve had some questions about the difference between the two. And while we can mention the additional features the premium version offers, this doesn’t explain how those premium features could benefit you.

So in this post I’ll explain the difference between the free and the premium version of our Google Analytics plugin.

Features

Let me first tell you what the difference in features between the free and premium Google Analytics by Yoast plugin is:

 
Free Premium
Adds tracking code vinkje x2 vinkje x2
Tracking of 404 and search result pages vinkje x2 vinkje x2
Dashboards vinkje x2 vinkje x2
Specific reports vinkje x2 vinkje x2
Custom dimensions vinkje x2
Adsense tracking vinkje x2
24/7 support vinkje x2

You see that Google Analytics by Yoast Premium comes with some extra features compared to the free version. Let me explain what each of these features does.

Adds tracking code

This is really as simple as that: our Google Analytics plugin adds the Google Analytics tracking code, enabling you to start tracking the traffic on your site. This tracking code is also automatically altered when you check certain options within our plugin. So you won’t ever have to look at that tracking code!

Available for: free and premium

Tracking of 404 and search result pages

After you’ve installed our Google Analytics by Yoast plugin, within Google Analytics you’ll be able to find 404 pages that people have visited on your site. Also, if you have a search functionality on your site and you’ve enabled your site search, you’ll be able to see what people have searched for.

Available for: free and premium

Dashboards

This is a relatively new feature. It enables you to see the sessions to your website of the last month, and your site’s bounce rate for the last month. Just to give you an idea, the sessions graph looks like this:

Yoast Google Analytics Dashboard ‹ Yoast — WordPress

This will give you the ability to get a general overview of how your site’s doing, directly from your WordPress install. You won’t have to go to Google Analytics anymore to see what’s going on.

Available for: free and premium

Specific reports

Next to the dashboards, there are also specific reports that you can take a look at without ever going to Google Analytics. You can see your most important traffic sources, your site’s most popular pages, and countries that get you the most traffic from, all ordered by sessions:

Yoast_Google_Analytics__Dashboard_‹_Yoast_—_WordPress

Available for: free and premium

Custom dimensions

Custom dimensions are quite a powerful tool, but also require a pretty lengthy explanation. I’ve written a post about custom dimensions and what you can do with them. We now support 8 different custom dimensions:

  1. Logged In
  2. Post type
  3. Author
  4. Category
  5. Published at
  6. SEO Score (only when combined with our Yoast SEO plugin)
  7. Focus Keyword (only when combined with our Yoast SEO plugin)
  8. Tags

Let me take the custom dimension “Author” as an example to explain what it can do. It shows you how much traffic each specific author has generated over the period of time you select. Especially when you have multiple authors it comes in handy to see which one gets you the most traffic.

These custom dimensions can be viewed in Google Analytics, but also within your WordPress install:

Yoast_Google_Analytics__Dashboard_‹_Yoast_—_WordPress

Available for: premium

Adsense tracking

To be able to see Adsense reports within your Google Analytics, you need to add a specific tracking code to your site. If you have Google Analytics by Yoast Premium, you can do this by checking a box. If you’re a regular user of Google Adsense, this is something you’ll want (and need).

Available for: premium

24/7 support

Alongside those premium features, the premium version of Google Analytics by Yoast will also give you access to our 24/7 support team. If you have any trouble with your plugin or need help installing it, or anything like that, our support team is always ready to help you out!

Available for: premium

Concluding

Both our free and our premium Google Analytics plugins offer you great tracking and easily accessible insights. If you want to get the most out of your tracking and make money from your website, our premium version is the one for you. If you’re looking for more basic tracking features, the free version will probably be enough.

What about you? What do you use our Google Analytics plugin for? Let me know in the comments!

This post first appeared as Google Analytics by Yoast: Free vs Premium on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!