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8

(not provided) – What’s That Mean, Google?

If you haven’t heard, about a week ago Google rolled out a change that affects your data in analytics.  I started seeing (not provided) as a natural search keyword.  Google has decided to go all SSL on us people who log into Google, and based on how they built it, that hides the keyword data from our analytics.  They’re telling us it’s for privacy.

(not provided)

Let’s put it this way – if you have 100 natural search visitors in a month, and they all come to your site by Googling a different keyword, you’d expect to see 100 different keywords in your natural search keyword report.  Now, if 50% of those 100 people were logged into Google (ie., logged into Google Plus, or Gmail, or Docs, etc.), you’d see 50 different keywords, and one (not provided) stat showing 50 visits.

Sucks.

When I first heard the news I looked at my Google Analytics.  The (not provided) only represented .001 of my natural search visitors.  I checked again today, and it’s up to .05 of my visitors.  I expect it to grow as it continues to roll out through data centers, and as more people started joining up with the Google products that make them log in.  Does this roll into mobile too?  I assume so.

Why Is Google Really Doing This?

I don’t know.  Right now it only affects natural search.  If a user clicks an AdWords ad from Google.com, the keyword referral data is still passed through whether the user is logged into Google or not. Speculation is that display companies are using natural search data to better target their ads, and since Google is focused on the display game now (trying to own it… which they’re completely on par to do), they’re possibly trying to lock away some of their keyword data.  But those same companies can normalize the same keyword data from Yahoo/Bing and still be close.

If (not provided) grows, and a percentage of your keyword referral data is lost, will people start getting “rank crazy” again?  Will people start scraping Google for rankings they think they should rank for, versus knowing they should (or shouldn’t) rank for with traditional ranking reports?  Google hates when we scrape them and inflate their AdWords numbers.

But what really ticks me off is that I use my keyword data to better my visitors’ experience.  With personalized search, social search, and all the cute little things Google does now, I get a lot of interesting queries in my keyword report.  Sometimes they’re things I wouldn’t normally rank well for, but because there’s”some relevance” with my site, I get these rare keyword entries.  They often inspire me to create content.

If I had a site for plastic sneakers, and I got a one time natural search keyword visit for “how to run with plastic sneakers and not get blisters,” I might assume there’s a pocket of people with that same question. I might write a blog post and answer the question.  I might put an article on my main site to attract visitors. In the end, this might provide a great value to searchers, and my own website.  But now, if the user who entered this query was logged in, I’d never see it in analytics.  Inspiration may never hit. Everyone loses.

Ok, maybe right now it’s not something to freak out about.  It’s another “Google wait and see” game, but we’re used to that now, aren’t we?  This is just an odd one.  Data is so important to content providers.


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16

SEO Fantasy Camp

They say you ground your current experiences in past experiences. I worked in the music industry in the 90′s. Think Napster, Chemical Brothers, and music festivals.  For me, the SEO blogosphere is reminiscent of that time.

I’ve been doing SEO for 11 years. There have always been SEO rock stars. Like Hendrix, many of them were pioneers of a new frontier. These SEOs are still around, but for one reason or another, many seem to have gone the way of Foreigner.

But today it’s a much different scene.  We have a much bigger industry and heap of digital communication platforms. We’re so much more than just the HighRankings forum now. Still, I continue to see an odd centralization on today’s perceived rock stars. Almost as if there’s a (gasp) mainstream.  Its amazingly cool to watch people sign autographs at SMX, even if these people won’t reply to you on Twitter. It’s also funny to see the egos on some of these peeps, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the singer of Everclear (That’s right whatsyourname singer from Everclear… Took me 10 years but I’m finally calling you out!  I didn’t forget our fight!).

How can there even be a mainstream?  There are hundreds more verticals than styles of music, hundreds more strategies than pop song formulas, and an endless need for experimentation. When’s the last time a rock star in the mainstream did anything new?  And I’m not counting a meat-dress as experimental.

Looking back, Sphinn was pretty bad. Some of the most useless SEO content was sphunn up because of the name of the author or curator. But if you bothered to dig deeper, there was some great indie stuff. Google Plus is better because of the difference in interaction, but can be just as bad. In this case the curator (or DJ???) gets more rock god status.  Twitter is the wild west, but my choice for really digging deep.

With all that said, there’s still great, “followable” people who have achieved rock star status. Rand Fishkin’s team at SEOmoz is still making hit songs. My friend Wil Reynolds and the SEER team still teach me actionable stuff weekly. They’re still highly relevant for the style of SEO I do.  Alternatively, other friends like Eppie VojtIan Howells, John Doherty, and Mike King make me take notes – these guys may not be on the Billboard Top 20, but they’re brilliant players.  That’s who’s on my feed reader and my Twitter list.  I have a lot more of these indie rock guys than the mainstream players (with notable exceptions).

I’m not saying you need to go alternative. I’m saying you should check to see if you’re looking deeply enough for your taste in SEO. And if you’re not stealing licks (in other words, actively applying what you learn), you may not be following the real artists of today’s SEO scene.

SEO is about searching; it may take a while longer to uncover some new personal rock stars, but so what?  Is this your passion?  Rawk on!!!


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4

What Should You Be Writing About?

In a previous post I was ranting about how the marketing industry seems to write for the sake of being noticed, but it’s akin to millions of people throwing confetti in the air.   We’re taught that content is king.  We’re told it will help us stand out and/or get noticed by the search engines.  Here’s the reality – nobody really stands out if they’re just writing small, non-descript content.  It’s just noise.  You’re actually doing more harm than good by wasting readers’ time.  Usually a single post determines whether you get added to an RSS feed, retweeted, liked, or linked.  It’s likely not going to make much of a dent in Google either.

I suggested not rehashing someone else’s opinion, but coming up with your own.  Simple enough, right?  If you don’t have a take, or something to offer, maybe don’t write.

So what does that leave?  What do you write about?   Where do you start?   Hell if I know – I’m not in your industry and haven’t taken the time to think through your industry.  But I do have a couple places you might think about going (these are my sources of inspiration).

1. Technorati – If you use Technorati wrong, you stand the chance of writing duplicate content. But if you search for a keyword (use the advanced search), and scan the resulting topics alone, you should have your first ingredient for an angle. What’s missing? Write it.

2. Your Sales Team Or Customer Service – These guys know the ins and outs of customers needs or problems.  Have a meeting, and figure out what the issues are.  Write something that gets ahead of these issues.  This alone might be content for years.

3. Q&A sites - From Quora to Yahoo Answers, people are asking questions.  If you don’t like the answers you see, then add your own to those – and your own – websites.

4. Use Social Mention - Conversations are happening, and even though you’re not in them, you can facilitate the conversation with something well written and targeted.  Social Mention will help you track those conversations on topics you are an expert about.

What are your sources of inspiration?

I’m begging the marketing community – please drop “content is king” and replace with “unique, relevant opinions are king.”  I can’t take the flurry of noise in my inbox, reader, and twitter stream anymore.


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0

SEMrush Review

I love when clients ask, “What keywords am I ranking for?”

Well, unless you’re ranking for a keyword, and people are clicking through (where I can see it in your analytics), I have no idea.  I suppose I could do a few hours of keyword research and run that through a rank checker to see if you’re in contention.  Or I could use SEMrush.

SEMrush is a great tool, with a lot of keyword data for both PPC and SEO.  Basically they create their own ranking index of the web.  And, they’re pretty accurate.  It’s great as a competitive tool – enter in a competitor and check out what they’re ranking for.  This is eye-opening for several reasons.  With estimated volume along with each keyword, it’s great to illustrate keywords you’re not optimizing for (and maybe should be).

It does a few other “nice to have” things, like providing quick snapshots of competitors in Google.  Granted, you could do this yourself pretty quickly with your own Google search, but SEMrush gives you a decent .csv output.  I also like the competitive ad review feature (helps you figure out how your ad copy stacks up with your competitors).

This tool has been out for a while, though I’m always surprised how underutilized it is.  Give it a spin.


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0

Fortune 100 And Social Media – How Engaged Are They?

I’m a firm believer that social media has very few – if any – actual rules (and minimal “best practices”).  Somehow many companies are still sitting and waiting for other companies to try something first. They spend so much time watching and not doing. Reading recipes and not cooking.  Worrying so much about the returns that they don’t dip their toe.

This not a good plan.  What works for others may not work for you, even if it seems like an obvious match. That’s about the only thing I’ve ever picked up watching others engage in social media.

If you are one of those companies who think what others do will determine your appropriate steps, Flowtown released this infographic that might help you realize just how behind you are.  Granted, this doesn’t really speak to strategy, just platform usage, but it’s indicates that after the last 3-5 years, social has pretty much validated itself as worth continuing.


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3

eCommerce Duplicate Pages Can Lead To SEO Opportunity

You know how Eskimos supposedly have the highest number words that mean “snow” than any other language.  OK, maybe that’s an urban legend, but as an SEO, how would you optimize a site for such redundancy?  If you’re working on an eCommerce site, you probably feel like you have that problem all the time.

“I have 30 collection pages here that would be a good landing page for shirts!!!  What do I pick?  Where do I start?”

Do you decide to try to get all the pages to rank for shirts, and hope that one comes up well in the rankings?  Do you pray to the duplicate content filters gods and just wait and see what ranks?  Do you beg the catalog managers to change the collections (which is probably an uphill battle that could have a dangerous effect on usability and sales).  Or do you get more proactive in your SEO efforts?

Having 30 pages that speak to the same thing gives you a lot of opportunity, after you trim the fat.  How are the duplicate pages created?  Are they based of parametric filters?  Sorting?  Internal search queries?  Which pages get the lion’s share of the traffic?  What have the best conversion rate or least amount of bounce?  Which are really the important pages in your pack?  Determine the fat and the lean; make this step one.

Once you figure this out, you should work to close these paths.  Granted, on a dynamic platform you may not have the ability to add per-page meta robots, nofollows, or a tightly tuned canonical tag.  What about Webmaster Tools, and their cool parameter-blocking feature?  It might be an option.

Let’s be honest – in enterprise SEO, it’s really not likely that you’ll be able to tighten the site to your exact specifications, no matter how big (and hard working) your team is.  In enterprise SEO, it’s about locating the biggest holes and plugging them first.  It might be more of the 80/20 rule, or a matter of specific initiatives to tie with other channels.  Just don’t expect to eat the whole pie.

So back to our opportunity.  Once you’ve cut the fat and done your best to get it off your plate (which may require you to monitor Google to see if their internal duplicate content consolidation is working), you get to have fun.  Let’s say you’ve been able to identify five pages that would be good candidates for optimizing with the term “shirt.”  Let’s go a step further and pretend they’re the same types of shirts – tee shirts.  Do your keyword research.  Grab up the best terms.  Compare your current placement for each term, against your competitors.  Look at PPC data (helps you understand demand and opportunity).  Look at each page’s back link portfolio (or hit up Linkscape) to get a sense of what page is likely already juiced up.

Pretty soon you’ll find that for your five pages, you have a handful of similar terms that need a home:  tee shirts, printed tee shirts, cotton tee shirts, etc.  That’s right, folks.  You’re probably going to be playing with the long-tail… the SEO devil’s playground.  Expect to keep notes while you plug some content in, and fuel with backlinks.  Wait a few weeks (or months depending on how strong your site is), and measure.  Was there MOM/YOY growth (a lot of eCommerce is seasonal)?

The goal here isn’t just to avoid cannibalizing terms, but not to cannibalize themes as well.  You really want to theme these five pages out.  For duplicate page A, start theming it about printed tees.  The cool style, what people like about them, the variety in full body prints, etc.  For duplicate page B, start theming out the cotton blends and how they’re durable.  Get creative, and start dabbing your uniqueness all over each canvas, using different colors.

Once your done, sit back and watch.  Start measuring.  Keep a log.  You put in a lot of work that hopefully benefits depending on how well your decisions were made at step one.  Maybe you find it didn’t pay off as well as you’d like, but I assure you, after doing eCommerce SEO for 10 years, it takes practice getting your methods down.  And because ROI is your challenge, you might find it’s also you’re best friend since it’ll keep you happily employed.


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0

Google’s New +1 Product One-Ups Facebook’s Like Button

Google, always trying to push social search (despite early missteps), has a good one here.  The new +1 button, rolling out now (when you’re logged into your Google account and choose to opt into the experiment) lets searches know how popular a listing is, ala StumbleUpon’s plugin.

After speaking with Google, this is not yet affecting rankings or quality score, but they said it will.  Straight from a product manager’s mouth.  He couldn’t tell me when – they need to evaluate, I’m sure.

But this is a useful thing to reinforcing CTR on a brand, not to mention owning more search engine result page real estate.  Thanks to social additions, my listing now pushes other sites below the fold even more than before.  If I own a few top listings, I can ultimately “black out,” or push a fourth or fifth under the fold:

Is it like Facebook’s Like button?  Definitely, especially since soon you’ll be able to add a +1 widget to your websites.  But this has something Facebook doesn’t have… the ability to “like” something in Google results.  That’s pretty big.

More info here.


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2

Where Is SEO for Mobile Going?

Updated: Feb 23 2011
Customers still rely heavily on search engines to find web-based mobile sites.  It’s not unlike traditional SEO in many technical ways (Google still cares about the keywords and the links), but is very different when optimizing for user or customer value.  To optimize for search engines on behalf of the mobile user or customer, you have to think about what the mobile searcher is looking for when searching on a phone.  The answer:  relevancy, speed, and good usability.  Identify your landing pages that are best suited for them and think about how you can optimize for the phone.  We’re trying to attract mobile users in addition to desktop/laptop users.  But mobile users have a larger sense of urgency.

Phones are not used like desktops and laptops.  They’re not even like iPads.  Customers on the mobile are on the move.  Assume they’re short on time; they may quickly be approaching a bus stop, or walking into a store.  Maybe the light just turned green (scary but true) and they need to get back to driving.  When we optimize for a mobile page, we need to identify and provide the key answer in the title, meta description, and body copy with as few words (and keywords) as possible.  We need to be much more concise and specific so the mobile user can identify the best results faster.  We need to spend closer attention to the query intent.  If that means more specific mobile landing pages (and less general, high-keyword frequency pages), so be it.  Granted, that goes against some traditional SEO strategies.  From the little data that’s been revealed from Google about differences in the way they approach mobile sites, it’s our best hypothesis that they’ll continue reevaluating your keyword choice from a mobile perspective.  You already get personalized, GPS powered mobile results from Google sniffing your smart phone browser now, so this isn’t really a stretch.

The mobile searcher is likely searching for a quick one sentence answer.  Or a  price.  Or a location.  Or a quick review.  Microformats and location tagging will likely take a larger role.  Mobile users don’t want to zoom in/out of a page all the time (if their phone even enables it); they’ll often back out and view other Google results for the best visual snapshot (even if it’s not the most relevant page to the query).  Usability plays a different, but equally as important role as it does now.  In general, if our goal as SEOs are about driving qualified traffic from the query all the way to the shopping cart, sometimes we need to be focused on design and usability.

Old school technical SEO still needs to be a factor.  Most developers create a different URL for mobile sites when it’s not necessary.  I see the “m.” subdomain used.  If you share your mobile link through an online social channel, you’re sharing the m. version.  If your logic properly redirects a user through that link to your desktop version, you’re still being served a redirect.  Some loss in link juice there even if its a 301.  At least use an /m/ directory and turn off internal linking user agent switching so you can get some links that help your overall domain authority.  Currently Google has their normal Googlebot, and Googlebot-Mobile which crawls content for traditional phones – not smart phones (with the exception of a recent iPhone Googlebot that’s been testing).  Google believes that smart phones can see the web just fine and doesn’t need their own bot.  If that’s the case, there really isn’t much reason to create a new URL anyway if the content you want a person to see on the phone is the same as the content on the desktop.  Just create a different CSS sheet to create a more mobile layout.

Mobile will only continue to grow.  Additionally, more iPad-like tablets are slated to come out, which blurs the lines a little more between what is a mobile device and what is a desktop device.  Google will continue to take the non-desktop search and web experience seriously.  So should we.


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0

More Local Listings Equal More Ecommerce Traffic

The major web platforms are looking at targeting users with local functionality. Many see this as a major growth opportunity in 2011 due to the higher use of smart phones. Google is especially focused in this area as of late, arguably more than ever before. As online retailers, who may not have heavy connectivity with their brick and mortar counterparts, local SEO may not seem like something that provides much – if any – online traffic. But it does. Especially with recent Google changes.

If you haven’t noticed, Google changed the way they display their local searches. They appear to show up more often, and resemble traditional natural search listings. The result is that other non-local listings are getting pushed down under the fold, and more local listings are being clicked.

Each listing provides 2 destination links: the main link (which leads to your main site), and a places page.

When you show up in the local searches, the main link provides pretty good traffic. In most cases, the searchers that click a local link were looking for local information. The destination of this link doesn’t satisfy, but it’s a chance for your homepage to capture the users interest and maybe persuade them from getting off their couch and driving to the store to buying online.

The other link, Places (formerly called Local Business Center), is a nice thing to have because it provides opportunity to really sell your local store. You can provide an exclusive coupon, or promotion. Within the Places page, there’s yet another link that you can control.

There’s opportunity with this link since you control it. Maybe design a landing page displaying synergies between your web and brick and mortar stores. Can you buy online and return the product in the store if you’re not satisfied? Promote that here. Do you have exclusive in-store printable coupons? Display that here. Experiment with this traffic, and develop something special knowing that these are local-minded shoppers (at least they were at the time of entering their first query into Google.


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9

Why I Think SEO Is Marketing

I was recently asked in an email why I consider SEO a marketing channel. Among several things, good marketing and advertising work to get messages out about the value of an item, and provide you with information. Most subscribe to this definition. Marketing helps those who are interested see if they really want and need it, and helps inform producers.

So does Google.

SEO helps those people who have interest, and are qualified enough to make a digital inquirey, find this information. SEO also helps create that two way, open engagement that more people are expecting of the maturing internet.

I work with a lot of huge brands, typically in the ecommerce space. It all holds very true for them. Doing SEO work is about caring for the customer more than the product. Hopefully the product was made with an audience segment in mind; SEO is bridging the gap using the internet’s elected hub – Google.

Yes. It’s textbook marketing taking you back to college. But it’s breathing on land now, and doesn’t require gills. The nervous system hasn’t changed. The song remains the same.

Once you make the site technically crawlable and findable, you need to make it work. Sure, you can pass it off to merchandisers or usability or any other group that should have an interest in what to do with the search traffic you deliver, but they won’t know what brought them there like an SEO will.

As far as I’m concerned, marketing is part of the broader definition of SEO in the modern age, still keeping it your most powerful acquisition channel by far… If done right.


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