The heart of many a search engine optimization/search engine marketing campaign is Google Analytics, used to track the clicks on your website and track the impact of the things you change over time. For example, you can use it to track the efficacy of advertisements, email blasts, and SEO campaigns.
Installing Google Analytics on your site just requires you to put the Google tracking code on every page of your site. If you use a CMS like Joomla, Drupal or WordPress to create your site, you should find this easy to do using one of the freely available extensions, of course I authored the one for WordPress.
SitescanGA, a tool that analyzes Google Analytics installation on your servers, can be very helpful in ensuring you’ve got all the right code on all the right pages.
Google Analytics Tracking Code Debugger
If you're going a bit more advanced with your Google Analytics tracking, the tracking code debuggerextension for Chrome is very helpful as it allows you to see just what Google Analytics tracks for the current page.
Get Clicky is another great tool for analyzing the traffic on your site, especially if you're one of those people wearing a tinfoil hat that don't want to use Google Analytics. It's got one nifty feature that GA doesn't have: you can watch users navigate your site in real time. This means you can see what pages they land on, what they click on, one they download, when they leave. Using the Spy tool you can even follow a given IP address through your site in real time to see what information on your site is attractive to people, and what information they never seem to look at.
Tip: There’s a free WordPress plugin for Clicky that makes it easy to install on every page, authored by yours truly.
Clicktale goes a bit further than Google Analytics or Clicky: it will actually record your customers surf and then allow you to watch video’s of them surfing on your site. It can show you where your customers click on your page using colors to highlight click activity. This kind of visual analysis is critical for identifying “hot spots” and “cold spots” for a given web page, and for comparing web page designs.
Most of us know that the upper left corner of the screen is better than the lower right corner of the screen, and that what’s most important about your site should often be in the top half of the page, but every web design has its “flaws”. You may love the big graphic of a tarantula on your hope page, but Clicktale will prove to you that the second many people see it they click the back button. It will also show you when a particularly good graphic or piece of copy has earned an even better position on the page than it has.
Google Website Optimizer
On a related note, Google provides a great tool for testing multiple versions of a page quickly: Google Website Optimizer. Using it, you can create two versions of a landing page and then use this tool to present both to customers for a period of time. You’ll then be able to see which page pulls more clicks and which one closes more sales. You do have to add codes to your pages for Google to monitor, but the process is quick. You can actually test several pages simultaneously, and you can generate reports which you can provide to others that communicate what the testing has demonstrated.
Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools has many useful utilities for analyzing and evaluating your site’s performance, and it’s still under utilized by people all over the web. For example, the Crawler Access tool will ensure your robots.txt file is correctly configured to ensure only the pages you want indexed by Google appear in searches.
There are webmaster tools that will assist you in making a smooth transition of content and traffic from one domain name to another, tracking incoming links to your site, seeking out and destroying Malware, and in assessing the speed of page loads on a site.
Fetch as Googlebot is one of my most loved features, as it allows you to fetch a page exactly the way Googlebot would, and shows if there are any issues that prevent Googlebot from accessing your content.
Google Cache (Text Only Version)
Another way to see your site as Google sees it is to Search for your page then click the Cache link next to your search index listing. This will show you a hopefully recent version previous version of your page. Click the Text-Only link, in the upper right corner of your page, to see the text on your page as Google sees it. In indexing your site, google looks for keywords in the domain name, in the Title tag, in the Heading (H1, H2, H3…) tags, etc.
If your website is supposed to sell Motorcycles, but all the keywords are Sales, Training and Special Offers, Google won’t be sending you much traffic. Or if your content is buried beneath 10 paragraphs of bullshit about other stuff, it's not helping either.
Wirify gives you another way too see the relationship between text and graphics on a page. This is handy when you are looking at complex pages and you want to see the relationship between the number of graphics and the amount of text on a site, and you wa
nt to see where these elements appear respective to one another in a schematic. Or if you just want to use the layout of another site to inspire you for your own site.
To use this tool, just visit the Wirify page, drag the Wirify by Volkside link onto your bookmark toolbar. Visit any page and click the link to see a wireframe version of your site.
Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer lets you see all the people who link to your site. Incoming links from other relevant and well linked websites are critical for ensuring that your page will rank well in Google listings. This tool is also useful for seeing who links to your competitors, which may give you new people to contact in your link building campaign.
Google Insights for Search
Some search terms are just better than others, and search term value changes over time. Google Insights for Search lets you rank keywords against one another and lets you see their performance over time. The best thing, from a marketing perspective, it to have a website that sits on a keyword which is starting a meteoric rise. For example, if you are the only cell phone accessory store with content about the iPhone the week the iPhone is announced, and your site is equipped to close sales, you’ll likely draw a lot of traffic and sell a lot of product.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool
Another critical solution for evaluating the usefulness of keywords is to examine the with Google Adwords Keyword Tool. You input a series of search terms and Google tells you how many people searched for those terms, and searched for related terms, both globally and locally. Click on the headings at the top of the table to sort by keyword, number of searches or competition. Competition is a measurement of how many people are actively marketing on that term through Google Adwords. This gives you some idea of how hard it may be to rank for the term.
Be sure to play around with exact match and phrase match features here, as it might increase / decrease the search volume incredibly.
As time goes by the number of browsers people use to surf the Internet increases. Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Mozilla, Opera . . . and for every browser a dozen or more versions. BrowserShotsmakes it easy to see how your page looks to all these browser, thus highlighting any issues that may make the site unusable. This free service can take up to an hour to load images for a selected website, but for a low monthly fee you can get priority processing.
Contrast Ratio Calculators
For anyone who creates websites that must support people with disabilities, Contrast Ratio Calculators are critical. They allow you to check colors, and indeed whole pages, for conformance with international standards. One such test is the AccessKeys Color Report. It will provide short reports which are handy for quick tests, and it will provide a tag by tag detailed report as well.
Remember when choosing colors for your website that a pretty big percentages of men around the world are at least partly color blind. Having good contrasting colors in your design is important for them.
Quix is an extensible bookmarklet, developed by yours truly, that allows you to easily access all your bookmarks and bookmarklets, across all your browsers, while maintaining them in only one spot. All you have to do is remember the shortcut for the bookmarklet. Basically it is a command line for your browser. So you can type bitly, and bring up a tool to shorten with bit.ly, etc. If, like most developers, you have fifty browser-based analysis and editing tools you used every day, Quix will save you many clicks and key strokes.