Google Analytics. Google Analytics is an exceptionally powerful Web metrics package that offers a great range and depth of information about who’s visiting your site and what they’re doing after they arrive. It offers more information, I think, than many small businesses need. It’s also free, which is music to anyone’s ears.
When Google launched Analytics, there were immediate concerns about allowing Google to see your site “naked,” warts and all. People asked, Do you really want to expose your site like that to the search engine that has such great impact on your online success? The suggestion was that Google might use the data to influence your natural search rankings, manipulate the cost of AdWords spending, or worse.
My opinion: I don’t believe those concerns are legitimate for the vast majority of small businesses. You’re kidding yourself if you think Google cares about the 103 unique visitors you had yesterday and which pages they visited. On the PPC side, if you’re spending $8/day on AdWords, Google doesn’t care which keywords bring the most traffic to your site. It’s nothing personal; they just have more important things to worry about.
While I recommend Google Analytics for most small businesses, the bigger you are, the more you spend on PPC, and so forth, the less likely I’d recommend it. You can probably afford a different metrics program that doesn’t share all your data with Google.
Google Maps/Local Business Center. If you’re interested in acquiring local search traffic, this is the biggest no-brainer on the list. Google wants to know who you are, where you are, and what you do… so sign up and tell them! Beyond your basic business data, you can also upload coupons and photos, which may help catch a searcher’s eye.
Bill Slawski, who writes often about local search at SEO by the Sea, suggests two reasons a small business should use Google Maps/Local Business Center: “The information used in Google’s local search comes from a lot of different sources, and can be inaccurate. Verification means having control over that information and making sure it’s correct. The second reason is more proactive: There are a lot of interesting local search patent applications pending from Google, involving things like driving directions and transit information guides and offline shopping services. Getting involved now may provide the chance to participate in some very interesting and innovative programs with Google in the future.”
Google Base This is Google’s hosted database platform, where you can upload just about any type of data imaginable and put it into Google’s system. Many local real estate agents and brokerages are using this heavily, and giving themselves a better shot at visibility when searchers make real estate queries on Google.com. If you have products or other structured data, this may be a good way to let Google know about it and potentially drive traffic to your site.
Google Website Optimizer. Optimizer is a tool that lets you test various combinations of content on your Web pages. It’s a free tool that lives inside the AdWords system, so you’ll need an account there to use it. What it does is bring the previously high-end mechanics of A/B testing and multivariate testing to small businesses. For example, if you’re not sure which “Add to Cart” button placement will spur more sales, Optimizer lets you run live tests on your Web site and reports the results when the test is over.
Pat Schaber, who blogs about small business marketing at LonelyMarketer.com, recommends Website Optimizer because it “gives companies the opportunity to find out what piece of content, image, or call to action convinces their audience to take that next step with them. If enough conversion data can be compiled, a small business can learn from the Optimizer results and use that highly converting text or image across other marketing mediums.”
One of the most useful services released by Google in recent years is its powerful Google Alerts (http://Google.com/alerts). This free tool allows you to receive e-mail notifications when keywords and phrases that you specify appear on websites, blogs, online news channels and more.
Here are 10 ways to leverage Google Alerts for your business:
1. Business Name -- Keep track of websites that mention your company. This is an opportunity to send a note of thanks or address an issue if something derogatory is posted like a complaint about customer service. Big companies track mentions of their businesses online and you should too.
2. Personal Name -- Find out where you're mentioned online. This is especially important for prominent figures such as authors, speakers, celebrities, and individual service providers.
3. Website -- Track where your website is mentioned by creating an alert for your domain. Leave off the leading "www" and instead just specify your domain and extension such as "authoritypublishing.com."
4. Blog -- If you host a blog, follow the website guidelines above to create an alert for your blog domain. This should also produce results if your blog link is posted somewhere with a specific pointer to one of your pages.
5. Titles -- If you distribute articles for online marketing purposes, create an alert for each article title so that you can track where your articles are appearing. Authors can use this same strategy for tracking book titles.
6. Industry Research -- To stay on top of industry news, create alerts for keywords and key phrases for your industry. For example, I have alerts for "publishing industry" and "business book." This makes it easy to stay on top of news, competition and much more. If you are using social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, this can help you locate useful content for micro-blogging or to give you topic ideas to cover in your blog.
7. Competitive Research -- If you want to find out who is talking about your competition or where they are being mentioned, create alerts for each competitor's business name and/or website URL.
8. Lead Generation -- If breaking news can produce leads for your company, use Google Alerts for related phrases. For example, if you own a human resources firm and want to find out what companies are hiring in Sacramento, you could create several alerts: "now hiring Sacramento," "job posting Sacramento," and "job listing Sacramento."
9. Lead Research -- If there is a company or client that you want to land, create alerts to stay on top of their most recent online activity. This can provide valuable insight into what they company is up to and who is talking about them.
10. Top Client Research -- Track activity for your top ten or twenty existing clients. This can give you valuable insight into what they're up to, and also provide you with reasons to contact them. For example, if one of your clients receives major media coverage, you will learn about it right away and can send them a note of congratulations.
Useful Google Search Tricks
Exact Keyword Search: You can specify exact keywords by putting a plus sign (+) in front of the word. For example, if you search for the word "publish," Google search results would include "publishing" and "publisher." Adding a plus sign to the beginning of the word (+publish) will ensure that you only receive exact matches.
Exact Key Phrase Search: When you search for a phrase, Google results will returns anything that includes all of the words in the phrase, not that exact phrase. But if you enclose your search in quotes ("how to publish a book"), the results will only include that exact phrase.
Alternate Keyword: To return a search with alternate results, use "OR" between the words (the letters OR must be capitalized). For example, "author OR writer" will return results with either keyword. For a more complex search, you can put part of the phrase in parenthesis: (author OR writer) "business books".
Synonyms: If you want your search results to return related terms, use a tilde (~) in front of the word. For example, if you use this feature to search for the word "~author," Google returns results that include "book," "writer," and "literature."
Search a Single Website: If you want to track new entries on a specific site, you can use the "site:" operator. For example, if you want to track mentions of business books on the New York Times website, your search would look like this: "business book" site:nytimes.com.