"How to Use Search Queries in Google Webmaster Tools to Improve Your Site"

Maile Ohye from Google unveils how webmasters can leverage the Search Queries feature in Google Webmaster Tools to improve their website visibility in search engine results pages (SERP).

See the full Google SEO video on YouTube at How to Use Search Queries in Google Webmaster Tools to Improve Your Site

Hi, I'm Maile Ohye.

I'd like to share some other ways I use Search Queries information from Google Webmaster Tools to improve my site.

Search Engine Pipeline

To give some background, the first step of the search engine pipeline is crawling, then indexing, and last is search results, which includes ranking and display of results to users.

Search Queries data sheds light on this 3rd step in the search engine pipeline.

If a user clicks and comes to your site, that's where traditional Google Analytics comes in.

Search Queries, however, also displays impression data—meaning you'll also have information about searchers when they see our site but might not click through.

Search Queries as "Search Engine Optimization" in Google Analytics

A couple of years ago, Webmaster Tools data was integrated as SEO Reports in Google Analytics.

Often we see people who want to bring more visitors to their site over focus their attention on search queries and ranking when they're even bigger gains in search friendliness if they investigated how their site is crawled or they reduced duplicates so that their site was more optimally indexed.

Ranking is just one part of the process to conversion

Additionally, while search queries feature provides lots of actionable information, the ranking of your pages in search results is only one part of the process to the ultimate goal of having users convert on your site—whether conversion is buying a product or becoming a subscriber.

You still need to provide a great result and a good user experience on your site.

With this covered, let's take a look at Search Queries in Webmaster Tools.

Search Queries in Webmaster Tools

Search Queries is tabbed with Top Searches and Top Pages.

There's also a filter button, the ability to set a date range going back several months, download information, or even to see the change rate during the prior but equal time interval.

Search Queries Definitions

Some other words on this page might be new to you so let's review definitions.

Now, let's go into an approach that I use when investigating the Search Queries feature.

Understand your business and your audience

Before even look at a business' Search Queries data, I start by asking the questions to understand the audience. Sub questions to keep in mind as you improve your site are:

Filters to see your audience

On the Search Queries page, the default filter is set to "Web".

When it comes to better understanding the audience who sees your site in search results, select "Filter" and you'll notice the breakdown of the searchers given their country and search types—like "Web" and "Image Search".

Consider whether your site satisfies the needs of your audience in key countries

If your visitors often come from several countries, you can begin evaluating whether your site properly meets their needs and if it's worth investing more time to do so.

For example, given that much of the audience come from Canada in addition to the United States, if we were a business looking to develop, we could try writing content tailored to issues in Canada.

Avoid search personalization while investigating

As you investigate individual queries, it's often helpful to use an "incognito" window, or a browser without stored cookies, or where you're not logged in to Google, so that personalization does not affect your results.

Sorting by clicks

Going back to the main Search Queries page, one of the first things I do is "Sort by clicks" rather than by the default sorting of impressions.

This is because impressions—while extremely valuable—can initially blur the real picture of my site since they can refer to both qualified and unqualified queries.

Once queries are sorted by clicks for this date range, you'll have on display the Google searches that bring your site the most traffic.

Just to repeat. Once you've sorted by clicks, these are the actual Google queries that bring your site the most traffic.

I often start here because, after knowing what audiences I want to attract, it's good to know what I'm already doing well before I start making changes.

Be aware that changing the date range can change the results, so you may want to look at also a 3-month time range, and then even keep track of your queries overtime by downloading the data.

Search queries yearly trends

Webmaster Tools provide up to 3 months of history. Often businesses want to see yearly trends for searcher behavior that changes with the holiday shopping season, Valentine's day, or back to school.

To see yearly trends requires downloading the information.

Investigating Top Queries

Questions to ask yourself as you investigate are:

As you investigate the queries that bring your site the most traffic, simulate the entire searcher experience, from their possible location and motivation, to performing the query, to viewing the search results display, to clicking on your site, and then the user experience.

More advanced Google Analytics users can also tie-in their knowledge here.

If you click the query, you'll see the pages that appear in results for the query. Hovering on the arrow provides a preview of the page. If there are different URLs with duplicate content, improve your site by consolidating the information—perhaps with the 301 redirect or rel="canonical".

Unexpected search queries

If there are pages that you wouldn't expect to rank for the query, check how many clicks they have. If you feel it's significant, then check out the page, take notes—because after reviewing more of your queries and more result pages you'll need to determine which pages and for which user experiences you'd like to prioritize improvements.

Missing expected search queries

If, when you sorted by clicks, you were surprised that certain queries were missing from the list, you might begin investigating why:

Information about improving the title and snippet displayed in search results can be found at http://goo.gl/efW2k

Sorting by CTR

After we've investigated by sorting by clicks, let's now sort by CTR.

Take note of which queries are performing as expected and—that's before—investigate how your site appears in search results for the query:

Categorizing queries

Within understanding of impressions, clicks, and CTR, you'll likely want to start organizing your queries into categories that will simplify tracking them and making improvements:

Often with smartphone/desktop slicing.

For example, for the Webmaster Central blog, I might wanna break down our queries into branded terms that we definitely should rank for.

These are often navigational queries of users looking for our site. Now I'll check my CTR for these queries to make sure users are able to reach my site.

Another category of queries that might be useful are those strongly correlated with conversion. If the goal of our Webmaster Central blog was to provide readers the latest in Google news for site owners, we might start categorizing queries that match this goal, like "google seo tips 2012" and "google seo secrets 2012".

I might also notice that searchers use technical terms to find our site. So I might have another category on how our site performs for technical instruction.

Investigating categorized queries

For each of these categories, I'll make sure to understand the users' mindset as they perform the query, where they're located and even whether their device might change their behavior, then whether my pages search results display is compelling. Furthermore, if they click on my site, does the content match their expectations? And are we providing a great user experience?

Back at the main Search Queries page, let's now check out the Top Pages tab.

Search Queries Top Pages

Sorting Search Queries Top Pages by clicks

If you sort your Top Pages by clicks, you can see that, for a given date range, these are the pages most visited by searchers, whereas before we saw the query that brought our site the most traffic, now we're seeing the pages most visited by searchers.

It's probably pretty obvious that you want to investigate these pages to make sure that they're clear, well-written, and providing easy way for a visitor to further navigate your site, buy your product or otherwise convert.

Google Analytics helps you understand users' onsite behavior

You can gain a better sense of what users are doing on these pages through Google Analytics.

Sorting Search Queries Top Pages by impressions

Next, you can sort Top Pages by impressions. Because these pages are often shown to users in search results, it's likely that Google considers them relevant pages.

Given that these Top Pages are valuable from a search engine perspective, you can use them to link to your high quality but lower ranking or less featured pages for more visibility for users and search engines.

Optimizing Top Pages

To optimize Top Pages:

  1. Accept that Top Pages for users and Google might not be what you originally imagined.
  2. Check that all Top Pages are user-friendly and perhaps even conversion-friendly.
  3. Consider utilizing your Top Pages to internally link to your high quality but lower ranking pages.

Increasing your online business

Search Queries and ranking are an important step in bringing qualified visitors to your site, and meeting your business goals.

Remember they're not the only step.

For example, better marketing can lead to more searchers looking for your product or service; good content can upsell to your visitors; and then providing a great user experience can bring direct referrals and repeat customers.

Our team hopes you can make use of the search queries feature to improve your site.

Thanks for your time.