SEO Isn’t Just Google

This post originally appeared on my blog.

Back in October I had the pleasure of speaking at Buffalo’s first WordCamp for WordPress users. Before my presentation I made it a point to sit in on the other sessions that were in the same track as mine.

When discussing SEO, all the sessions I saw mentioned only Google. The Google logo appeared throughout, Google’s PageRank was discussed, Google search result screen captures were used, and so on.

The presenters for an SEO-specific session even went so far as to embed a video of Matt Cutts (from Google) in their presentation and declare that Matt Cutts stated that WordPress is the best platform for SEO.

For context, Matt Cutts appeared at a WordCamp in May, 2009 to discuss his search engine (Google) for an audience using a particular platform (WordPress). Matt even said, WordPress automatically solves a ton of SEO issues. Instead of doing it yourself, you selected WordPress (at about 3:15 in the video). He’s pitching his product to a particular audience to validate their technical decision (he’s just saying they don’t need to manually code these tweaks).

If while watching that video you heard Matt Cutts declare that WordPress is the best platform for SEO, then you are engaging in selection bias.

This same selection bias is also happening when developers work so hard to target Google and not any other search engines. If you convince yourself that Google is the only search engine because you don’t see other search engines in your logs, then perhaps you are the reason you don’t see those other search engines.

To provide context, this table shows the ratio of searches performed by different search engines in August 2012 in the United States. These are from comScore’s August 2012 U.S. Search Engine Rankings report.

Google Sites 66.4%
Microsoft Sites 15.9%
Yahoo! Sites 12.8%
Ask Network 3.2%
AOL, Inc. 1.7%

It’s easy to dismiss 16% when you don’t know how many searches that translates to.

More than 17 billion searches were performed in August 2012. Google ranked at the top (as expected) with 11.3 billion, followed by Microsoft sites (Bing) at 2.7 billion. The breakdown of individual searches per engine follows:

Google Sites 11,317,000,000
Microsoft Sites 2,710,000,000
Yahoo! Sites 2,177,000,000
Ask Network 550,000,000
AOL, Inc. 292,000,000

To put this another way, for every four (ok, just over) searches using Google, there is another search done in Bing. For every five searches using Google, there is another one done using Yahoo.

If your logs don’t reflect those ratios in search engines feeding your site, then you need to consider if you are focusing too hard on Google to the detriment of other search engines.

Now let’s take this out of the United States.

Considering Bing’s partnership with the Chinese search engine Baidu, contrasted with Google’s battles with the Chinese government, it might be a matter of time before Bing tops Google for Asian searches. Given the size of the Asian market (over half a billion users), if you do any business there it might warrant paying attention to both Baidu and Bing.

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Confusion in Recent Google Updates

This post originally appeared on my blog.

Google pushed out some updates recently which have had SEO experts and spammers, as well as the average web developer or content author, a bit confused. It seems that some sites have been losing traffic and attributing the change to the wrong update. It also seems that some of this has percolated up to my clients in the form of fear-mongering and misinformation, so I’ll try to provide a quick overview of what has happened.

Exact Match Domains (EMD)

For years identifying a keyword-stuffed domain name for your product or service was considered the coup de grace of SEO. Frankly, on Google, this was true. For instance if my company, Algonquin Studios, wanted to rank highly for the search phrases web design buffalo or buffalo web design then I might register the domains WebDesignBuffalo.com and BuffaloWebDesign.com. I could even register nearby cities, like RochesterWebDesign.com, TorontoWebDesign.com, ClevelandWebDesign.com, and so on, with the intent to drive traffic to my Buffalo-based business.

Google has finally taken steps to prevent that decidedly spammy user-unfriendly practice. With the EMD update, Google will look at the domain name and compare the rest of the site. If the site is a spammy, keyword-stuffing, redirection mess, then it will probably be penalized. If the domain name matches my company name, product or service and (for this example) is located in the area specified by the domain, then it will probably not experience any change.

In all, Google expects this will affect 0.6% of English-US queries.

Panda/Penguin

While spammers panicked about this change, some not spammy sites noticed a change at about the same time. This may have been due to Panda and Penguin updates that rolled out around the same time and have been rolling out all along.

Considering the Panda update was affecting 2.4% of English search queries, that’s already a factor of four more of an impact than the EMD update. Considering that Google pushes out updates all the time, tracing one single update to any change in your Google result position is going to be tough.

A couple tweets from Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team at Google, help cut to the source instead of relying on SEO-middle-men to misrepresent the feedback:

This one details the number of algorithm changes that regularly happen:

The trick is trying to recognize what on your site might have been read as spam and adjust it to be user-friendly, not to try to tweak your site to beat an ever-changing algorithm.

Disavowing Links

This one ranks as confusion for a web developer like me.

The only feature Google has added that I think takes potential fun away from blogs (or any site that allows commenting) is the tool to disavow links. This tool allows a site owner to essentially tell Google not to count links pointing at it when figuring PageRank.

One reason I don’t like it is that it allows sites that have engaged in black-hat SEO tactics and have ultimately been penalized by Google to undo the now-negative effects of paid links, link exchanges and other link schemes that violate Google’s terms. While this is good for sites that have been taken to the cleaners by SEO scammers, I still don’t like how easily they could be excused.

Another reason I don’t like it is that all those liars, cheaters, scammers, spammers, thieves and crooks who have spam-posted to my blog can go and disassociate those now-negative links to their sites. Sadly, associating their sites with filth of the lowest order by careful keyword linking (as I have done at the start of this paragaph) is the only ammo I have with which to take pot-shots at their spam juggernauts.

This new tool means you might not see spammers harassing you to remove their own spammy comments from your blogs. Which is unfortunate, because ignoring them seems only fair.

Just this morning Matt Cutts tweeted a link to a Q&A to answer some questions about the tool:

The post includes some answers intended to address concerns like mine.

Meta Keywords, Redux

As I have said again and again, the use of meta keywords is pointless in all search engines, but especially in Google. This doesn’t stop SEO snake-oil salesmen from misrepresenting a recent Google update to their prospects.

Last month Google announced its news keywords meta tag, which does not follow the same syntax that traditional (and ignored) keyword meta tags follow. An example of the new syntax:

meta name="news_keywords" content="World Cup, Brazil 2014, Spain vs Netherlands"

From the announcement, you can see this is clearly targeted at news outlets and publishers that are picked up by Google News (your blog about cats or your drunk driving lawyer web site won’t benefit):

The goal is simple: empower news writers to express their stories freely while helping Google News to properly understand and classify that content so that it’s discoverable by our wide audience of users.

For further proof, the documentation for this feature is in the Google News publishers help section.

In short, unless your site is a valid news site, don’t get talked into using this feature and fire the SEO team that tries to sell you on it.

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Getting Started with Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful asset for marketers, site administrators, and business owners, but with a seemingly infinite quantity of data points, graphs, segments, and reports, it can be completely overwhelming.

At Algonquin Studios, we encourage all of our clients to sign up for Google Analytics because of its many benefits and because it’s free–it really is a no-brainer–but that’s just the first step. Once you’ve signed up, then what?

Step 1: Understand Your Web Site

In order to use Google Analytics successfully, you need answer one big, general question about your web site:

What is the purpose of your web site? Why does it exist?

At this point, there’s nearly universal agreement that if you run a business, program, charitable organization, or pretty much anything else, you need a web site. But why? Are you hoping to sell products, promote to a larger audience, or just make it easier for people to find your phone number? There could be any number of reasons and you may have many, but, in order to get the most out of Analytics, you need to understand what they are.

It’s also useful to identify your target audience. What group of individuals are you hoping will access your web site? Doctors, grandmothers, hockey players, men in general? Try to be as specific as possible.

Step 2: Identify Your Goals

Let’s say that you’re a partner at a law firm and you’ve identified that the main purposes of your site are generating leads and reinforcing your firm’s reputation. From there, you can identify the following goals:

  1. Build interest by providing information about services and related content.
  2. Capture leads (via email or phone).
  3. Reinforce qualifications through firm history and accomplishments.

Step 3: Pick Your Measurement Tools

At this point, you can determine the data points and reports in Google Analytics that will help you measure the success of your site. These are often referred to as Key Performance Indicators or KPI. For example, here are some indicators that could be useful to your sample law firm:

Time on Site/Page – Since many of your goals are related to your site visitors reading content, you can examine how much time they’re are spending on your site and its individual pages to determine if they’re actively engaging with that content. It will be especially important to review the time spent on the pages you’ve deemed most crucial to your goals of building interest, capturing leads, and reinforcing your qualifications.

Bounce Rate – Another indicator that will show whether users are actively viewing pages and continuing to interact with your site is Bounce Rate. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits that only include one page view. A low bounce rate indicates that your visitors are viewing several pages before exiting and implies that they are interested in your content and and engaging with it in a meaningful way.

Visitor Loyalty – If your law firm is attempting to reinforce its qualifications, you may expect to see a high percentage of return visitors. Strong visitor loyalty implies that your content is engaging and can help strengthen your position as a trusted resource. However, a high percentage of new visitors implies that a lot of potential clients are viewing your site. In general, it’s healthy to have a mix of each visitor type.

Keywords – The Keywords report identifies the search terms that drove users to your site from Google or other search engines. While returning visitors will probably access your site directly or search for your firm name, new visitors may be searching for services that you provide or for a firm in your geographic location. If you’re not seeing the results you expect, this indicator may show that you need to adjust your content to include better search terms.

Location – Geography-based reports and segments allow you to see where your users are located. This can be particularly important if you are targeting users from a specific area and may even influence your traditional marketing initiatives.

Step 4: Set Targets

Once you’ve determined which indicators will most accurately help you to measure success, you should set appropriate targets for each goal. These targets may be for a day, week, month, or longer, or they may even be for a specific time of the day.

Determining what your targets should be may not be easy at first, but you’ll get a feel for it over time. The key is to have a  goal number to work towards and compare against. The actual numbers are less important than the trends you’re seeing in the data.

Step 5: Identify Segments

If you want to take it a step further, try identifying any segments that could be applied to make certain reports more valuable. For example, you could segment the Landing Pages report by Keyword to see the keywords that are driving users to your top entrance pages.

Step 6: Review Your Data Regularly

There are many ways that you can utilize Google Analytics to measure your data. You can set up Goals, Alerts, Custom Reports, Advanced Segments, or Filters. You can even create reports that are automatically emailed to you on a regular basis. Or you can simply log into Google Analytics and review the default reports, focusing on the KPI that you’ve determined are important.

The key is reviewing your data on a regular basis. You can evaluate the success of your goals by measuring your KPI for a given period and then comparing them against past performance. Remember to focus on the trends, not the actual numbers.

Step 7: Adjust Your Site as Needed

As you review your data, you may identify areas of your site that need to be updated to improve user engagement or search engine performance. Ideally, you’ll see trends that reflect site growth and success, but you’ll need to set aside time to review the data and update the site on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Google Analytics can be a powerful tool, but to get the most out of it you need to know where to begin. Understanding your site and setting goals will get you on the right track. Then, you just need to pick your key indicators, set your targets, and get analyzing. Easy, right?

If you are new to Google Analytics, I highly recommend checking out Google’s educational library, but you should also consider just logging in and getting your hands dirty. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you stick with it, the rewards will be well worth it.

We Really Still Have to Debunk Bad SEO?

Author: Adrian Roselli  9/27/11

Image of bottle of SEO snake oil.I’ve been doing this web thing from the start (sort of — I did not have a NeXT machine and a guy named Tim in my living room) and I’ve watched how people have clamored to have their web sites discovered on the web. As the web grew and search engines emerged, people started trying new ways to get listed in these new automated directories, and so began the scourge of the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) peddler.

The web magazine .Net posted what to me is a surprising article this week (surprising in that I thought we all knew this stuff): The top 10 SEO myths. I am going to recap them here, although you should go to the article itself for more detail and the full list of reader comments. Remember, these are myths, which means they are not true.

  1. Satisfaction, guaranteed;
  2. A high Google PageRank = high ranking;
  3. Endorsed by Google;
  4. Meta tag keywords matter;
  5. Cheat your way to the top;
  6. Keywords? Cram ’em in;
  7. Spending money on Google AdWords boosts your rankings;
  8. Land here;
  9. Set it and forget it;
  10. Rankings aren’t the only fruit.

The problem here is that for those of us who know better, this is a list that could easily be ten years old (with a couple obvious exceptions, like the reference to AdWords). For those who don’t know better or who haven’t had the experience, this might be new stuff. For our clients, this is almost always new stuff and SEO snake oil salesmen capitalize on that lack of knowledge to sell false promises and packs of lies. One of my colleagues recently had to pull one of our clients back from the brink and his ongoing frustration is evident in his own retelling:

I have a client who recently ended an SEO engagement with another firm because they wouldn’t explain how they executed their strategies. Their response to his inquiry was to ask for $6,000 / month, up from $2,000 / month for the same work in two new keywords.

This kind of thing happens all the time. I recently ran into another SEO “guru” selling his wares by promising to keep a site’s meta tags up-to-date through a monthly payment plan. When I explained that Google doesn’t use meta tags in ranking, his response was that I was wrong. When I pointed him to a two-year-old official Google video where a Google representative explains that meta tags are not used, his response was to state that he believed Google still uses them because he sees results from his work. My client was smart enough to end that engagement, but not all are.

Because I cannot protect my clients in person all the time, I have tried to write materials to educate them. For our content management system, QuantumCMS, I have posted tips for our clients, sometimes as a reaction to an SEO salesman sniffing around and sometimes to try to head that off. A couple examples:

Along with these client-facing tips I sometimes get frustrated enough to write posts like this, trying to remind people that SEO is not some magical rocket surgery and that those who claim it is should be ignored. I’ve picked a couple you may read if you are so inclined:

And because I still have to cite this meta tags video far far too often, I figured I’d just re-embed it here:

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My ire doesn’t stop at SEO self-proclaimed-gurus. I also think social media self-proclaimed-gurus are just the latest incarnation of that evil. Some examples: