Training

SEO 101: Web Analytics

Web Analytics for Beginner SEOsAs I mentioned in my post about off-page optimization factors, keeping track of site traffic and visitors is extremely important. You really need to understand where your traffic is coming from, what keywords are driving the traffic and why so that you can optimize your site. It can be complex and confusing, though, so what is a beginner SEO to do?

  • Check with your host. Most hosting companies offer at least some sort of bare bones log-based web analytics as part of your package. Many times this consists of something like AWStats or Webalizer, which are pretty standard and offer stats that are probably sufficient for very small sites. Study these and get familiar with some of the nooks and crannies, like where your traffic is coming from and what keywords are driving the traffic.
  • Go real time. If you haven’t heard of Yahoo’s MyBlogLog, it’s an online social site that’s especially targeted to blogs, but other sites are welcome. It’s big with SEOs. In addition to all of the social networking and community building opportunities, you can pay for their statistics service ($25 per year) and see real time traffic information for all of the pages to your blog/site. All you have to do is paste some tracking code within the BODY tags of your template or pages. The information is incredible – where your traffic is coming from today, what they are clicking on within your site and what outbound links they are clicking on. Reports can be run for various time periods. It’s a hidden feature that you need to check out.
  • Get a full-blown analytics package. If you’re looking for free and don’t mind Google having access to your data, sign up for Google Analytics. It’s a slick, feature-rich analytics program with most of the bells and whistles beginner SEOs could want. In fact, there is a learning curve in trying to find all of the features and figure out what they mean. Like with MyBlogLog, you have to insert tracking code on pages you want Google Analytics to follow. If you run an ecommerce site, it can even track conversions with some advanced set up.
  • Do it yourself. If you don’t like the idea of Google or anyone else having access to your stats, you could run log-based analytics software on your own. This is time-consuming and, as your site grows, can become impractical because log files can be huge. You might have to download your log files and run the software to analyze them or install analytics software on a dedicated web server. One free option is WebLog Expert Lite which also offers paid versions with more features. Running log-based web analytics software used to be the norm. I’m only offering this as an option to those who are really paranoid about their data. By the way, Google also offers a log-based solution called Urchin, but, it’s definitely not free.
  • Go commercial. There are zillions of commercial web analytics packages available with all sorts of wiz bang features. The problem with wiz bang is that many of us wind up banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out the wiz. From experience, I highly recommend spending time trying out trial versions of any analytics product you are considering. See if you understand how they work. Find out how available support will be for you. Some of these companies charge you a ton for the product, give you a few months of support and then want a contract for continued support and updates. Be absolutely sure about what you are buying into. One company I know of spent thousands on one of the top log-based analytics packages, couldn’t get it running properly for months, then couldn’t understand the interface once they got it running, had numerous tech and support issues and finally abandoned it altogether, losing several thousand dollars in the process. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. Understand what you are getting.

What do most SEOs favor? An informal, very unscientific poll of my LinkedIn contacts came back with Google Analytics as the definite top choice. Again, this was a very small sample and by no means authoritative, but it does seem that Google’s freebie has its fans in the search marketing community. On the commercial side, Clicktracks and Mint were also mentioned. (Note: you’ll find people who both love and hate all of these, so test, test, test before making a final decision).

By the way, it’s worth mentioning that a log-based tracking system will track every action on your site – clicks, server calls, spidering, whatever. If you want to use analytics that depend on tracking code on your pages, be sure you have the code on ALL pages. Anything without the tracking code will be invisible to your analysis software or service.

Keep in mind that these suggestions are for newbie SEOs and not for you advanced folks out there. Some of these will seem simple to power users, but someone who has never studied web analytics in the past should find these recommendations easier options for starting out.

Standard
SEO

Reciprocal Linking for Ranking is Anything But Dead

Over the past couple of years I’ve heard the mantra that the value of reciprocal linking is diminishing daily, to the point where it’s no longer worth the time and effort.

Even Google’s Matt Cutts has said, “As Google changes algorithms over time, excessive reciprocal links will probably carry less weight.”

In fact, one of my own quick search engine optimization tips is: The acid test for a potential link is if there is a natural, logical reason for that site to link to you. If not, then you don’t want the link.

If Google’s recent rankings are any evidence, then that mantra is dead wrong and Matt, it ain’t working!

Over the past few months I have noticed that fairly new sites with thousands of reciprocal links, frequently using keyword phrases for anchor text, have come out of nowhere to rank extremely well, sometimes dominating their space. Some are just using power reciprocal linking. Others are combining thousands of reciprocal links with another supposedly dead black hat technique, triangular linking, sometimes called a mini-net.

For this article, I’ll use an example of a site using purely reciprocal links to power it.

Here’s one site that didn’t show up in Google Trends until about March and is now ranking #2 for “sunglasses” in the Google serps.

Google Trends for reciprocal link driven site

The site itself is pleasant enough, but until recently, the only way to contact whoever is running it was using an e-mail form. No address or location information is given, nor is any information about who owns it, just that it is incorporated in Toronto. All I can tell from a domain check is that it was registered with GoDaddy.com and the I.P. is in Albany, New York. They don’t appear to want you to have much information about them. Only recently have they added a telephone number so that orders can be placed by phone.

Not what I would call a trusted, authority site.

What appears to be driving the rankings for this site is the sheer volume of backlinks to it, mostly from reciprocal linking. The site includes a link page that lists hundreds of their link buddies, almost none theme related. The links are from every variety, size and flavor of web site, blog and directory out there.

So much for the value of link theme.

Here’s what Yahoo! Site Explorer sees:

Backlinks for this reciprocal link driven site

See that correctly? This site has 184,079 links to it! By comparison, I did the same backlink check for the Coca-Cola web site, a trusted site with a long history and authority. It only has 87,971 backlinks.

Clearly, reciprocal links are still working and well for many sites that otherwise would be left in the dust by longer established sites with more history and backlinks with theme focus.

I still don’t recommend this magnitude of reciprocal linking, though. Google is supposed to consider massive link trading to be spam, even though it currently appears to be ignoring it’s own statement:

“A spike may indicate either a topical phenomenon (e.g., a hot topic) or an attempt to spam search engine 125 by, for example, trading or purchasing links.”

Apparently, if you can get enough links of any kind, you can still power your way to the top in Google.

At least for the moment.

Standard
SEO

Google “Do you mean…?” Results Baffling

Lately I’ve noticed that the “Do you mean keyword?” results in Google vary quite a bit from a toolbar or search box search. For instance, let’s take a search for “rayban sunglasses” as an example. Most folks search for “ray ban sunglasses” (with the brand name as two words), but there is still a large number of searchers looking for the brand name as a single word.

Here’s what I get as I write this:

Image of search for rayban sunglasses

You’ll see that the Ray Ban sunglasses catalog page for FramesDirect.com comes up #3. Nice, but notice the “Do you mean ray ban sunglasses?” link at the top.

The Google Do You Mean link

Click on that and you’ll get this:

Google ray ban sunglasses result

Still a nice #3 ranking, right? Well, maybe not. Do the exact same search for “ray ban sunglasses” in the Google search bar:

Google search bar

This is what happens. A totally different result:

Google results from search bar

The FramesDirect.com page drops to position 6.

At first, I thought this might simply be a case of different data servers serving up different results in much the same way you can get different results from search bar searching. But, it appears to be consistent. Each and every time I click on a “Do you mean…?” link I will get one result and then a totally different one from a search bar query.

Is Google favoring pages in the “Do you mean…” links for some reason? I tried this in several different browsers (Firefox, IE7, Opera, Safari), not signed into Google with cleared caches and get the same actions every time.

Curious…

Standard
SEO

Importance of Diversity in SEO

Tip - Diversify content for searchI’ve discussed image and video optimization in my various S E O 101 posts and free eBooks, so I thought I’d point out some quick examples of how a variety of content can give you a kick start in search engines in this world of Universal Search.

Many of you know that I do search engine optimization for FramesDirect.com as well as manage and edit their blog, which is high on eyewear fashion, celebrity sunglasses and so forth. Our readers love to get scoops on who’s wearing what on TV and in films, so when the new Iron Man movie came out (great flick, by the way), we started getting questions about what sunglasses Robert Downey Jr. wore in certain scenes. In the opening scenes, Downey is wearing Ray Ban 3320 sun glasses, so I wrote a blog post on it appropriately titled Ray Ban 3320 Sun Glasses in Iron Man.

At the same time, I posted an image of those Ray Ban 3320 sun glasses on Flickr, complete with a title, description, tags and links back to the blog post and product page at FramesDirect.com. When you post an image at Flickr and include a title, tags and description, it’s like posting a web page which is spiderable and can be indexed by the search engines. The links are “nofollow” but the pages can still rank and bring you traffic.

Since Google drives the most search traffic, optimization tends to favor it, but we have all discovered that the different engine rankings can vary wildly. Including images, as well as videos, podcasts, etc., can help you rank across engines.

Below is a screen shot of a Yahoo search for “iron man sunglasses” where you will see the blog post ranking at the top as I write this. Cool!

Yahoo search for Iron Man sunglasses

In Google, the blog post doesn’t rank on the front page at all, but the Flickr image does at #7:

Google search for Iron Man sunglasses

See how important it is to diversify your content across the board? Granted, #7 isn’t as good as #1, but because the different engines have different algorithms, diversifying your content types across different media (text, images, videos, podcasts, etc.) you get ranking opportunities you would not otherwise have.

And, as a bonus (not shown), a Yahoo Answers question that I answered about what shades Downey wore in the movie came in at #8. Again, the links back to you in Yahoo Answers are nofollow, but they can still bring you traffic. More exposure! Even better if your answer is chosen as the best!

If you’re real lucky, you’ll get something like we got recently for a search in Google for one of our top selling products:

Google search for Sable Water Optics Goggles

Results #1 and #2 are pages from the FramesDirect.com web site, #3 is a video posted on YouTube featuring company CEO Dr. Dhavid Cooper, #4 is a New York Times article featuring the goggles and linking to us and #5 is the same video as #3 but posted to Metacafe.com.

So, be sure to cover your bases. My rule of thumb is that whenever I do a blog post, I take all of the elements of it and find search friendly places to do supplemental (but not duplicate) posts that can link back to it. These places include Flickr, Yahoo Answers, YouTube, Twitter and the FramesDirect.com Fan Page over at Facebook. This is by no means an all inclusive list, just a few places to get started.

Diversity is the key!

Standard
News

Live Product Upload Down

I get an error message with Live Product UploadHope you’re not trying to upload a feed to Microsoft’s Live Products shopping service this morning because it’s down. I get a Runtime Error if I try to access the upload page at http://productupload.live.com/.

I suspected something funky earlier this week. I set up an account for my client, FramesDirect.com, and uploaded a rather large feed, something like 25,000 products (hey, it’s a huge site with LOTS of eyewear products). According to Live Products, which is much like Google Base and even will accept a Google Base feed, it can take up to 36 hours for the feed to be live. This was on Monday and late Friday night the upload still showed “processing” as the status. Thirty-six hours, huh?

No word yet on what is happening.

Hope I didn’t break it. 😉

Update: OK, Live Product Upload appeared to go back up around noon Pacific Time. However, the feeds I uploaded on March 10 are still showing “processing” today, March 15.

Again, so much for the “36 hours” mentioned on the site. You’d think if there were problems with the feeds, which have to be refreshed every 30 days, Microsoft would at least alert me to them.

Sheesh. I know it’s free, but most aggravating.

Update #2: Whoops! Checked at 5:15 p.m. Pacific time Saturday and it’s giving that Runtime Error again.

Update #3: Looks like it’s back up, but it’s been seven days since I uploaded my client’s feed and it STILL says “processing” in the Product Upload control panel. I filled out the feedback form requesting an explanation at Day 6, but no word back yet.

Up to 36 hours my ….

Update #4: Turns out Microsoft did respond. I found it in my spam folder, but the remedy is a pain and might turn into a major project. Google Base feeds are supposed to work with Live Product Upload, but now I’m being told to cut the feed into smaller chunks and see if that works. The feed is something like 25,000 products. This is pretty lame, Microsoft.

Update #5: I split the feed into two and uploaded both over a day ago. I’m looking at the Live Product Upload control panel now and it shows these and the two earlier March 10th full uploads as still processing (I’d delete them, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to do so). This is getting old…

Update #6: …really old. Splitting the feed into two equal parts had no effect. Still says “Processing” as do the two feeds I uploaded on March 10. If we have to split this baby into a dozen pieces to upload it every month, we might pass. I sent an e-mail back to Live Product Upload support. I’ll let you know what they say.

Update #7: It took two weeks, but after a few e-mails to support, the tech folks at Microsoft got the feeds up and live. Now that they’re up, I need to make some changes and upload again. Problem is, I’m getting that Runtime Error in ‘/’ Application error again! Sheesh!

Standard
SEO

Online Retail Optimization: Will It Blend?

Getting found in blended search creates new opportunities and challenges for retailers.
Getting found in blended search creates new opportunities and challenges for retailers.

Online retailers face more competition than ever these days and, with the onset of blended or universal search, on-page optimization just won’t cut it anymore to get pages ranking at the top. Although site architecture is still important in your overall SEO strategy, today’s search results are filled with a variety of resources besides web pages.

For instance, take a look at a search for “The Monkees” on Google (hey, I’m a child of the 60s and I dig The Monkees!):

A blended search result for The Monkees

Notice the lack of traditional web pages in the results? You’ve got music results, news results, the ever-present Wikipedia result and a YouTube video with just a single web page above the fold. These are your blended results. News, images, videos, web pages, audio files feeds and blogs can now come up in search results. All of the major search engines are on the blended search bandwagon.

So, what is the first question you need to ask about your online retail site? Easy.

Will it blend?

Blended search is about different ways, actually, opportunities to get traffic to your site, not just about site architecture. As an example, an all Flash site would not be a good idea for a retail site. Spiders still can’t read Flash. However, add a blog and some feeds to that Flash site with images, good textual content, videos and so forth, and you’ll cover a lot of bases that your site would otherwise miss for coming up in blended search results.

Blended search gives you chances to pull traffic in ways other than your product page rankings. Your images, videos, books, news, feeds and audio files can get you traffic and back links from all types of places on the web.

So, where to get started?

1. HTML SEO basics are still important. Create quality content in all forms – textual, graphical and video. See my post S E O 101 for beginning optimization steps.

2. Videos help in search engine results. Multiple videos can actually show up in the top 10 rankings and have a high click rate.

3. Get social. Ratings, reviews and comments from social sites can show up in the top search engine results. Build relationships in sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.

4. Create a MySpace video page. As with #3 above, participate in the social scene.

5. Show them how. “How to…” searches are very popular. Create a video for your specialty or product and put it on your own site as well as on YouTube, Metacafe, Yahoo, etc.

6. Name your images and graphics. Use captions and ALT attributes when possible. Include brand, product, number, etc. See my post S E O 101: Image Optimization for more tips.

7. Always, always, always include a picture with your products. In addition to a higher click rate when an image is present, sometimes products won’t appear in feeds that pop up on various sites if they don’t have an image associated with them. Make your images available for Google Image Search (through Google Webmaster Central).

8. Feed them. Product feeds can be pulled from various sources all over the web. You want your products to be among them. Start out by uploading a feed to Google Base and MSN/Live Product Search. Both are free. Once you’re comfortable with the way product feeds work, try paid feeds like ShopZilla or Yahoo Shopping.

9. Match product titles in feeds with what is being searched for most often. For example, are there more searches for something general like “Ray Ban aviator” or are most queries for something more specific like “Ray Ban 3025” for your products?

10. Manage your seller ratings. Shopping feed distributors like ShopZilla.com and Dealtime.com include ways for customers to rank their experiences with companies selling through them. You want yours to be as high as possible as these ratings can be a factor in how high your products rank on these sites.

And, probably my top recommendation would be to remember that you are creating all of this for the consumer, not the search engines. Write for the user in an easy to read format that makes sense. Become a reference source for your products so that site visitors will refer to you, link to you and come back to you.

Search results are like a good milkshake. The better the blend, the better the result.

And who doesn’t like a good milkshake?

😉

Standard
Training

SEO 101: Local Search Optimization

Getting found in local search results.
Getting found for local search queries takes more than having a web site with your address on it.

If there is any part of SEO that is currently ripe with opportunity it’s Local Search. A huge portion of search is for information local to the searcher (Palm Springs movies, Houston pizza, etc.), but a ton of local mom & pop businesses simply don’t know that there is such a thing as “local” search. Many folks think that search is, well, search!

So, now is the time to take advantage of this lack of understanding about local search and get your business in there! It takes more than just a web site targeted to a local audience. Rather, you need to know about about how local search works.

For instance, searchers are basically lazy and tend to search for a city name rather than narrowing down to a neighborhood or zip code, so instead of “pizza 92262” they’ll start their search with the city as in “palm springs pizza” as the query.

Also, take a look at what you get in a local search result:

Google local search exampleNotice that Google now provides ten results (with web site URLs and phone numbers) and a map with locations of the listings. You’ll also see the number of reviews that each business has received. Other search engines will give similar results, though, as of this writing, with a varying number of results mapped and listed. Also notice that the organic results show up below the local results – another reason to be in there if you can.

So, let’s jump into some tips to help you with your local search optimization.

1. Include your physical address. Make sure it is on every page on your web site. if you think slapping a postal address into the HTML address meta tag will help you get found in local search, think again.

2. Be central. Unfortunately, the search engines tend to focus on the city center, meaning that the first results that come up for a search like Boston bars will be those in center city. If you’re lucky enough to be centrally located, you’ve got a leg up on the competition. If not, you could try getting a mailing address that is centrally located, but the search engines will definitely frown on that. All it takes is one disgruntled person going to that location and finding a mailbox to report you. And, businesses without street addresses can’t get listed in Google local listings.

3. Optimize your web site. Regular SEO can have an influence. Be sure to use the name of your city in your content (our Palm Springs office, not just our office). Use your city name in your image ALT attributes and anchor text. See my S E O 101 series for general optimization tips. Make sure your classic SEO is location specific.

4. Optimize your local listing. In Google, go to Local Business Center. For Yahoo!, go to Yahoo! Local. For MSN (or Live or whatever they call themselves today), go to Windows Live Local Listing Center. Fill out the forms with all relevant information. Provide links, web pages, photos and coupons if available.

5. Get reviews. Reviews can have an effect on how you rank in the results. Lots of good reviews can only help you. Enlist friends, customers, relatives, business partners or whoever you can to write good reviews to get you started, but don’t spam. You’ll get caught.

6. Get listed in trusted sources. The search engines pull some reviews and listings from what they consider trusted sources like Superpages, Yellow Pages, Info USA, Localeze and Yelp. Some are free, some are for a fee, but listings in these can help. In Yahoo, del.icio.us rankings might also have some influence.

7. Make sure your data and category are accurate in #4 & #6 above.

8. A keyword-rich domain name can’t hurt.

9. Do local videos. These tend to have great click-through rates and can come up in Google blended results.

10. Cross link with maps on a trusted site like Mapquest.

11. Create a local listing for all locations. If you have more than one, don’t just create a local listing for the main one. Get them all in there!

As always, this barely scratches the surface of local SEO and is intended to get you started in the right direction. I go into more detail in my SEO workshop, offered to web site owners and small businesses. Check my blog at http://www.weboptimist.com for more information or contact me to set up a custom workshop for your business group of five or more people in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. Travel is possible for large groups.

This article will be updated periodically.

See my related S E O 101 posts .

Standard