I was unpleasantly surprised recently to discover an absence of ‘search queries’ in Google Analytics. Recent changes by Google have changed the quality of the search queries in Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and the Keyword Planner. These are tools used to see where visitors come from, what search terms they used to find a site and to discover ‘related’ terms to build content. Information has been shuffled around between the tools, especially regarding search terms. Because of these changes, I’ve looked more closely at WP SlimStat as an alternate tracker.
This post is really focused for small business site designers using WordPress for the website frontend. Content analytics are important for developing some ranking in local search results, so the site will have some chance at appearing in search results.
Changes for Search Queries in Google Analytics:
Information Coming From Webmaster Tools
Another change is the lack of data for ‘organic search’. Half or more of the keywords used in searches now show up as ‘not provided’. According to BrightEdge, ‘not provided’ appears for all searches made by people who are logged into their Google accounts while searching. As of mid-2013, this was impacting about half of all search; eventually, all Google search data will be excluded because all searches will be done as a ‘secure search’. Most of the keywords showing up under Search Queries in Webmaster Tools are those coming from other search engines.
Basically, Google is not providing information about which keywords are used by your site visitors when they use Google to search. It’s not like Google is hiding this information from themselves. They certainly store it, they just aren’t sharing it anymore.
What Happened to the Keywords Tool?
Around the same time Search Queries moved to Webmaster Tools, the free Keywords Tool was taken down and moved into Adwords as the Keyword Planner. In order to find information on potential keywords, you need to have an Adwords account. Great. More spam in the inbox.
The combination of these changes makes finding relevant keywords difficult and cumbersome.
Why Have a Google Analytics Account?
So we now ask, what is the point of Analytics if important relevant information about your site is no longer available? It seems Analytics is recording data on site visits and traffic, but the site owner needs a Webmaster Tools account to find keywords used in search on search engines other than Google. Does this make any sense?
What is left in Analytics are the page views, which just hints at what the visitor was searching for when they landed on the page. The page content provides an answer: if you are using an SEO plugin, you already know what the keywords are. But if you want to find out what people were searching for around the topic that made them click on your page, this information is not readily available through Google products.
Enter WP SlimStat, a free WordPress plugin
Using WP SlimStat to track visits can provide search information right in the WP site admin panel. On this site, for instance, a post about the Boldy theme shows that searchers have very specific queries about the portfolio page, setting up the homepage images and the logo. The search query information helps generate more specific content that may not have been covered in the original post.
What does WP SlimStat provide? Generally, the reports provide an overview for top posts, pages, search terms, where traffic comes from (links or search engines), top countries and even page rank for Google and Alexa and Facebook shares. You can look at stats historically for a year or specific month. Stats are generated in real time as well.
Bear in mind that the plugin is still drawing from Google’s search results, which are no longer showing 50% of the search queries. But what Google provides, WP SlimStat shows, along with other search engine queries.
One of the best features of this plugin is the developer’s active involvement in the WP support forum. Camu continually improves the plugin, adding new features each year.
WP SlimStat also provides a ‘spy view’, providing specifics about each visitors location data, movement across your site from page to page, and filtering by IP address and the source of the inquiry (search engines or links.) Hooked in with InfoScan, you can actually see the location of the searcher. That Scorpio rising came right to the forefront when I discovered this feature: I could tell when a potential client had already visited my pricing page.
I’ve been tempted to dump Analytics altogether and just use WP SlimStat. Why bother feeding Google information about sites when they provide nothing in return? It’s a tradeoff: I allow Google to track visitors to my site, they provide the search queries in Google Analytics back to me, right? Not so much anymore.
Analytics is one of the first things webmasters set up. But if Analytics is no longer helpful and the data coming through Webmaster Tools is inconsistent with Analytics and inaccurate, using a simple site plugin to track visits and queries seems like a completely sufficient alternative.