Before you start doing any search engine optimization (SEO) work on your site you should implement tracking on your site. If you don't track events on your site you will not be able to target your SEO efforts and follow up on the results. If you haven't read my SEO Basics post you should take some time and do that. In that post I talk about tracking in two different ways, both tracking your visitors (or traffic) as well as "tracking" your site content behavior via Google Webmaster Tools. In this post I will explain more about the tracking part of SEO.
This is what most people think about when you talk about SEO tracking or tracking in general online. There are a lot of different tools for doing this but I prefer to use Google Analytics for a number of reasons. First of all it's a product that has been around for a long time and have big development resources but still is free to use. Yes I know, nothings free, but I'm giving up information that Google already have to get this great service. Then it also integrates with Googles other tools like Google Webmaster Tools and Google Adsense which is my only income for this site.
The big point of tracing is to see were your visitors come from and there behavior on your site. If you know the source of your traffic you know were to spend your effort to increase your traffic. If you see that someone linked to your site from a specific forum and many users follow that link then maybe you should get involved on that forum and try to bring more traffic. At the same time you might see organic traffic coming in to you blog but the bounce rate are high. A bounce is a user that comes to your site looks at one page or post and then leaves. If your bounce rate is high that indicates that the user, after reading your post, doesn't find anything else interesting and leaves. By adding a list of related posts you might get the user to read more posts and lower your bounce rate.
If you don't track this kind of behavior you will never know if your SEO efforts is worth while or not.
After setting all this up your next step will be SEO changes to your site that might result in changes that breaks your site markup which is not god for SEO. By using Google Webmaster Tools you will know exactly how the Google bot interprets your site and how Google indexes it. Say for example that you manage to break the Microformats markup your sites page rank will suffer until you fix it. The structured data markup is very important and Google Webmaster Tools make sure that it is correctly interpreted by the Google bot.
So keep an eye on the information about the markup and crawler errors and try to correct them as fast as you can. There are also tools for fetching your site "as the Google bot" to verify changes you make. If you are satisfied with a change there is an option to submit it for crawling right away, cutting the "time to market" for your changes.
Performance and up time
Performance is key to SEO. Google want to present the most relevant matches for a user search and that include loading times. If a user have to wait for more then three seconds they will find the information or service elsewhere. If you have read my blog in the past you know that I'm passionate about hosting. When it comes to shared hosting (several customer shares the same server), where most people start out, the cycle has been the same for the last decade. A new company rises with good performance and prices, over sells there infrastructure and it all slows down and you have to switch providers again.
You need to keep track of up time and performance for your SEO efforts but also to follow up on your hosting provider. A good service for tracking your sites performance and up time is Pingdom. For a single site it's free to use.
Tracking your site is key to follow any changes and getting input on what you need to do next with your content or service. It will also improve your ability to understand your users and provide them with the content they really want which will impact your online success. If you haven't already read my SEO basics post, do so and also read the Google SEO Starter Guide linked from that post. That is the official guide from Google on basic SEO. I also hope that you follow my RSS or subscribe via e-mail for new posts on this subject.
When you have setup all the tracking for your site you should watch this video made by Maile Ohye who is with Google. She talks about SEO for startups in this video. Some of the tips are focused on a regular site which tries to sell a product or a service but most of the tips are universal and could be applied to any other type of site, a blog for example.