Matt Cutts disavows himself from Google until October

Nothing makes this man smile more than great content.

Matt Cutts had always planned to work at Google for 4-5 years. After 15, the time has come for the head of the Webspam team to take his leave from now through October. Local Search Masters, along with the rest of the search engine marketing industry, will certainly notice his absence, and we wish him well. Cutts is known for making headlines with his announcements that often signal a change in the SEO landscape. He has insisted that his team of engineers is much better at fighting spam than he is, and that there is no reason to worry about Google. Cutts cites his lack of time with his wife as his reason for stepping away, and the couple is set to embark on quite the adventure, leaving their email inboxes and voicemails behind for ballroom dancing lessons and exotic cruises.

How to Perform a Google Analytics Audit

Since the recession hit in the late 2000s, company marketing directors have been with faced many challenges. In addition to shrinking budgets and smaller staff sizes, the expectations have actually grown enormously. I’ll never forget hearing a former supervisor of mine during this time period just simply tell me: “Well, we just have to do more with less.”

Yep, even five years later, the cliche is still alive and well, folks. Back then, Google was overtaking Yahoo, MSN wasn’t Bing yet, and basically Facebook was Social Media. Now, the Twitterverse is alive and well and likely just as important to a brand’s digital marketing strategy as Google organic. And speaking of Google, their social network, Google+, has many facets marketing directors need to pay attention to (even if for just practical reasons), like local pages and reviews. Point being, I haven’t even mentioned Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Vine and Instragram – the list goes on and on.

Marketing directors can’t do it all.

Remember, there are internal constituencies, donors, supporters, customers/clients and boards of directors to please as well. There are press releases to write, brochures to design, traditional media to buy and budgets to manage.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned keeping the website fresh and updated for top end usability, customer satisfaction, commerce, lead generation, resource delivery or any other digital business goals.

Prioritization is extremely hard for marketing professionals representing an organization. Non-Profit, Not-for-Profit, privately owned corporations and publicly traded companies all have to deal with this at some level. And for small businesses, it’s magnified more than ever.

Just when it seems like there are way too many things to keep up with and no clear cut answers – there is an answer.

Give yourself a Google Analytics Audit.

You remember that snippet of code you put into your footer the last time you redesigned your website? Come on. Admit you remember.

I know, it’s like changing the oil in your car. You try to remember to do it every 3,000 miles, but in reality, you skip a few to save time and money – but risk paying the consequences later.

Point being, it’s easy to forget that it exists and that you have to do it. But just like not-minding that friendly sticker on the inside of your windshield, ignoring your Google Analytics data can really hurt your company in the long run. But rather than use fear as a motivator, marketing directors need to stay proactive in checking and analyzing their Google Analytics data to justify all the decisions they’re expected to make on a daily basis.

Having been in those shoes for much of my career, I can tell you the number one reason why people don’t pay attention to their Google Analytics data (other than “not having time” – which is just an excuse) is simply that they don’t know what to look for.

It’s okay, don’t be embarrassed. You’re not alone. Not many marketing directors actually know what to look for and how to interpret the data they find in Google Analytics.

In what may be an ongoing blog series (if not here, then definitely at Cabedge.com – where I blog regularly), I’m going to start pointing out what to look for, and how it can help make strategic business decisions, both from a marketing and customer experience perspective.

To get us started, here are the top things you should look at FIRST in a basic Google Analytics Audit.

 

1. Check your visitors flow

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 3.33.26 PM

Find it by selecting “Audience” from the left hand menu, then Visitors Flow. This view allows you to see a visual representation of where users enter your site most often, how they get there, and what they do when they get there. Select “Source/Medium” from the green drop down menu to see a breakdown of where your traffic comes from. “Direct” refers to users who type your URL directly into their browser’s address bar or click on a bookmark or link to get to your page. Google Organic refers to Google searches in which the user clicks on a link to your website located in the Organic portion of the search results page. Google CPC refers to searches in which the user clicks on a link to your website located in the yellow top or side portion of the search results page or clicks on a link to your site from the Google Display network.

Most folks are concerned with their overall traffic numbers. How many page views? How many visits did we get? The visitors flow tells you much more important data that this. It’s important to remember when evaluating how your organization can improve, not to worry about the volume of traffic, but to pay closer attention to the traffic flow and engagement levels.

2. Don’t forget to change dates and “compare to” 

A screenshot of the Visitor Flow page in Google Analytics after changing the comparative dates

One thing marketing directors can glean from Google Analytics data is how effective a past or recent campaign was. Clicking the dropdown arrow next to the date range in the top right corner allows the user to compare time periods. From the visitors flow, it inserts percentages to display the differences. From the Audience Overview, it shows clean line and chart graphs by day. This is a valuable feature to use before clicking anywhere else in analytics, is it’s important to compare various time periods, and also be conscious of the period of time you’re looking at while combing through your data.

Check back on Cabedge.com later for more information on how to draw conclusions from Google Analytics to make more data driven strategic organizational decisions.

Dig in by identifying a pattern or peak day in your traffic, then drilling down to referral sources to see where that traffic came from, and cross reference with key operational initiatives – such as a new employee press release, a community event or press conference – or perhaps a new TV campaign that began to run around those dates.

3. Acquisition (formerly called Referral Sources)

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 11.24.47 PM

Clicking on “All Sources” will give you an overview of of all traffic coming to your site and what it does when it gets there. It’s not only important to look at volume and evaluate what marketing efforts might be driving the most traffic, but it’s equally as important to look at things like time-on-site (average visit duration), bounce rate, percentage of new visits and Goal Completions. These factors truly represent the “engagement” effectiveness of your site and can help marketing directors evaluate more than just the quality of their website.  Using these reports, marketers can get even more valuable information, such as which ad spends provide the most ROI.

4. Goals and Funnels

Now located under “Behavior” after the recent Google Analytics changes, one of the most important things to do on all websites is to set up Goals and Funnels as well as “events.” This allows for both URL-based tracking funnels (via Goals) and tracking pixels to be placed on key portions of your site (via Events). Goals and Funnels allow for the “Events Flow” to be used to see how users are responding to desired conversion paths (such as shopping cart check-outs or “request more info”), or where they’re dropping off. Additionally, the “Events Flow” view will show you where your visitors are entering your conversion funnel from. For example, if you’re running Google Adwords campaigns as well as Facebook campaigns and hitting it hard on organic search efforts, you can measure each against one another very easily.

5. In-Site Analytics

A screenshot of the In-page Analytics page in Google Analytics

A nice way to see where users are clicking on your pages. The percentage view enlightens you to the most popular spots on each page, and takes the guessing game out of your decision making with real data on how users interact with your design layout.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to get lost in Google Analytics and spend way too much time trying to figure out what it all means. But if you simplify it to these five steps and look into it once every two months, it can drastically help your decision making process as it relates to all areas of your integrated marketing strategy and strategic business plan implementation

Paul Hickey is the managing director of Cabedge Design, LLC – an Atiba Company – and chief marketing geek for the Atiba Family. He specializes in strategic web design, organic and paid search, brand creation and helping clients and partners accomplish business goals. Paul loves writing and communicating, and helping drive relevant traffic to websites. Follow him on Twitter @cabedge.

Paul on Google+

 

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Writing for SEO Checklist

SEO being chipped into a rock, symbolic of writing for SEO.
Illustration by Kevin Kennedy, strazi.org

At Sitemason, when I begin to write for our blog or marketing pages, I often run through a checklist of SEO best practices. Not because I’m especially concerned with being technically perfect and appeasing the search gods (AKA Google), but because what’s good for search engines is good for readers. Writing in general has one overarching rule, and I make sure it’s my number one consideration when I begin writing: “Make sure your topic provides authentic obvious value beyond self-promotion.”

It is not merely enough to write content for the sake of filling a page because you should have a blog updated weekly. It’s nothing more than a waste of your time and your readers. Writing needs to communicate something of value. Whether it’s a support article or a company announcement, there needs to be focus and intention in communicating the main points.

In a distant second place — but where the art of SEO really kicks in — crafting the language of those “main points” should receive considerable attention. In the world of search, you may know them as “keywords.”

Below, I’ve provided a 17 point checklist that I reference when I begin writing. It’s broken up into the three parts: Planning, SEO Specific Tasks, and Social Media Promotion. Additionally, I’ve tried to provide an example for each, as if we were writing for SEO with this article (which I’d have to do anyway!).

Planning

 Make sure topic provides authentic obvious value beyond self-promotion

As mentioned, this single point is by far the most important consideration when writing, period. Whether you agree with me or not, I’ve concluded “yes,” this article provides a benefit to readers by supplying them with a writing reference guide when considering SEO. Everyone loves a checklist!

 Define primary and secondary keywords

Keywords have traditionally been the glue of SEO. It’s a way to bind the distilled message of an article to a search engine’s index. Outside of the content itself, defining your keywords is the single most important SEO consideration you can make.

For this article, I’ve settled on “Writing for SEO Checklist” as my primary keyword. It’s not a coincidence it’s the title of the article! The title is the keyword, and not vice versa. I could use “SEO Checklist” or “Writing for SEO”, but “Writing for SEO Checklist” better describes the content, and specificity is crucial. Unless you have an enormous budget or you have written THE definitive guide to something, competing for generic search terms is a losing proposition. Use keywords that are concise, catchy, and descriptive.

 Page should target a single searcher intent

I want this article to reach people searching for a reference guide to help them consider SEO in their writing. This is the WHY of the article. Defining that statement right there will help me keep my writing focused and always consider that person searching the web. “Writing for seo checklist” won’t win any popularity contests, but the people who search that term should find this article.

 Research keywords and determine if related keywords might be more appropriate

Google (AdWords specifically) and many other SEO services like Moz and Raven have great keyword research tools. If search result rankings are important to you, you’ll want to spend some time researching keywords to make sure you’re both using the right keywords and not contributing to an over saturated topic where your article would be of little value to the general public, or more importantly, your site users. For example, I’d originally considered “SEO Checklist” for my title and primary keyword, but upon researching, found it to be rather diluted and decided on something with more specificity. However, if the article does gain traction, it could compete for “seo checklist” as well.

SEO Specific Tasks

 Generate a concise Description based on keywords in less than 160 characters

The Description is the snippet of text that appears beneath the link when presenting your content in search engines and social media sharing. Keeping it short means that the entire description will appear in the preview for your link. This is the one-liner describing your writing and should include your keywords. We’ll use “An SEO checklist of best practices to consider when writing online, from the folks at Sitemason.com.” Keeping it around 100 characters provides the added benefit of using the description when sharing on Twitter as well (and leaves room for a URL and a couple @’s or #hashtags).

Screenshot of SERP preview for this article

 Window title & article title have matching keywords

Make sure your window title (the one that appears atop a browser for a given page) matches the title of your article. This is SEO 101, and any modern CMS will do this for you, however it’s always worth double checking. For this article, I’ll make sure “Writing for SEO Checklist” is both the title at the top of the page and the window title in the browser.

 Primary keyword phrase appears in page URL

The path of the page should match your title/keyword, all lowercase, without spacing, and preferably a dash ( – ) between each word. This article’s path will be /blog/writing-for-seo-checklist

 Images on the page employ descriptive, keyword-rich alt attributes

If you’ve ever run a site audit, you’ll know that missing ALT attributes gives errors that makes you think the world is coming to an end. Search engines HATE it when images don’t have ALT attributes. These are the short descriptive titles for an image that do not necessarily appear on the page, like:

<img src="/images/writing-for-seo-checklist-illustration.jpg" alt="An illustration header image by Kevin Kennedy at strazi.org for the Writing for SEO Checklist blog post" />

ALT attributes are expected both so search engines can better understand the image and for accessibility purposes for visitors who are visually impaired or who turn images off.

 Title is < 75 Characters

Similar to limiting your description to < 160 characters, keeping a slim page title is important for the same reasons. The entire title should fit nicely on a search results page. More than 75 characters will truncate the title, risking a reader overlooking the article if they can’t read the whole title. “Writing for SEO Checklist” weighs in at a lean 25.

 Word count should be a minimum of 500

Unless you’re running a haiku blog, how often can you say something meaningful in less than 500 words? Readers and search engines suggest it’s unlikely. I don’t think I’m going to have any problem though, as I’m already over 1000 and still have a ways to go.

 Make sure the page is the only URL on which the content appears

If the same content appears on multiple pages, search engines will treat those pages in one of two ways: assume it’s spam or split the traffic. Both are no good. Avoid duplicate content everywhere on your site.

 Add internal links to reference your own published work

Keep the juice flowing by referencing pages on your own site to keep readers engaged and hopefully moving towards a transaction. By linking to another blog post or a marketing page with more details about a topic, you’re increasing the authority of your writing and site in general. Traditionally, the basic algorithm of search engines is “clicking a link is voting for a piece of content.” The more votes, the more likely a page is to be highly ranked. Here’s a link to my other writings on SEO at sitemason.com. See how that works?

 Use external links when appropriate to reference useful or contributing sources

Link building in general is a great way to generate traffic to your site. External links are often used as a reference tool to provide readers with more in-depth coverage of a topic on another site, as a mini-bibliography, or just to provide some link-love. If a popular site notices they’re getting traffic linked from your blog, that could open a business opportunity or, at a minimum, make them more apt to return the favor. In this article, we have a handful of external links to outside services.

 Use schemas if content contains a transactional event

Search engines rely on formats set by schema.org to understand the types of content in a blog post and specially format the results. Examples of this might be an event or tour dates, an office location, a promotional product for sale, etc. Search engines are displaying results more and more specialized to provide the most context possible to the search user. This article doesn’t have an example, but I especially use schemas when promoting an event so it’s more likely to be picked up by aggregating calendars. Here’s an example of an event search result for “nashville meetups”:

Example of an event serp for nashville meetups

Learn more at schema.org and checkout schema-creator.org to quickly build embeddable schema code for your event.

Social Media Promotion

 Post article to social networks you actively use

This article isn’t especially about marketing, so I’ll keep the promotion recommendations to a minimum and chime in where I think they help SEO. If you only have five connections on Google+, that’s a good sign it’s probably not worth the effort. Engagement is a much more valuable metric than simply posting. Focus on those networks where you are an active participant. If you’re a small organization, that probably means Facebook and Twitter. If there’s an active conversation around your content on Twitter, and you get a lot of traffic from t.co, that’s more valuable than a couple here, a couple there, etc.

 Try to post @somebody who would benefit from reading your article

Using Twitter as a newsfeed is fine, but it’s not likely to increase engagement. Tweet at people or tag Facebook users you have a relationship with in your industry, or somebody you know was having a problem you’re addressing in your writing. This will get the conversation going in a personal way, and increase the likelihood of user engagement. Search engines promote content with active social media conversations.

 Use keyword based #hashtags when posting to social networks

A great way to contribute to an active conversation is through hashtags. Take a few minutes to research hashtags related to your keywords, and include the top one or two in your Tweet. For this topic, there’s obviously an extremely active #seo conversation on Twitter which would be difficult to gain traction, but it doesn’t really cost you anything other than 4 characters. For our Tweet, I think I’ll probably use the more dedicated #seochecklist hashtag but probably include #seo as well.

Billy on Google+

 

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SEO Moneyball: Hashtags are Becoming More #Important

Nashville SEO associate Jackson Martin's Moneyball image is shown, featuring a man on a baseball diamond.

Google+ finally bit the bullet and added hashtags in May, joining other major social media networks in utilizing the functionality to let users click on a hashtag to search related posts.

The search giant has now taken its use of hashtags even further, adding the feature to normal Google search results. Now, if you were to search something like #SEO you would see this on your results page:

a screenshot of a google search for #SEO

The right side is a listing of all the posts on Google+ using the hashtag, and under that you have options to search the same hashtag on either Twitter or Facebook. Meanwhile, the normal results page has posts using the hashtag on sites like Tumblr or Pinterest and regular webpages that use the function too.

If you are signed in to Google, the results on the right side will feature posts from people you follow or public posts.

Google engineer Zaheed Sabur explained the new function in a Google+ post:

In May we added related hashtags to the Google+ stream, turning any post into an opportunity to go deeper and explore what’s interesting to you. Today we’re bringing a richer hashtag experience to Google Search. Here’s how it works:

– When you search on Google for a hashtag, say [#AmericasCup] or [#WaterfallWednesday], a set of relevant Google+ posts may appear to the right of regular results.
– You’ll only be able to see posts that have been shared publicly or shared with you.
– If you click on any of these posts you’ll go to Google+, where you’ll see the full set of relevant posts.
– You’ll also see links to search for these hashtags on other social sites.

This means that utilizing hashtags in your social posts (especially Google+) is important- now more than ever. Not only does the function allow your messages to be discovered by more people with relevant interests, but now it gives you free, organic search real estate if leveraged properly.

Joining the conversation around relevant topics to your business gives you the opportunity to gain credibility and visibility. Being able to join that conversation on the first page of Google search results can multiply each of those tenfold.

Not using hashtags now becomes, if nothing else, irresponsible social marketing by a company. Every post doesn’t need one, but your brand needs to be visible in these searches. SEO companies already do so much keyword research as it is; taking another five minutes to see what’s trending on social media only makes sense given its greater significance as we move forward.

Jackson on Google+

 

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SEO Moneyball: Bing has integrated image search with Pinterest. How can you take advantage?

Nashville SEO associate Jackson Martin's Moneyball image is shown, featuring a man on a baseball diamond.

The goal of Moneyball is to get the best results out of the least money spent. In other words, Billy Beane viewed his baseball team as a business, looking to get the best value or ROI. Beane’s Oakland teams made the playoffs four straight years in the early 2000s despite being in the bottom five teams in salary.

As a sports fan and a sportswriter, reading Moneyball changed the way I look at baseball like few other things have. Each week, I’ll try to do the same thing with SEO for you in this series, SEO MoneyBall, using some deeper statistics to give you a better look at how to improve your web presence. This week, I look at the evolving relationship between Bing and Pinterest, and how you can take advantage.

We’ve written before about why you should start taking Bing seriously. With all that information in mind, let’s take a look at a new feature of the search engine that you can take advantage of to leverage even more search traffic.

Now, whenever you search for images on Bing, related Pinterest boards will show up on the right side of the results page. This means that relevant Pinterest users will see a huge increase in views and followers simply by doing what they already do.

a screenshot of a Bing search results page for images of the Nashville Predators

“Lately, we’ve noticed that the most interesting pictures on the web are being collected by people, not computers,” the statement by Bing says. “On sites like Pinterest, passionate curators can build up a collection of ideas that shows off their unique style. We started to ask ourselves, what if we could have the best of both worlds, combining the power of algorithms with the taste and judgment of real people.”

The value to companies is obvious. By promoting products and interesting content, businesses can drive search traffic even more through image search than they already do. By continually utilizing Pinterest, companies generate free advertising that now can be searched by anyone, even people not on the social media site.

Bing had previously partnered with Pinterest in April with its “Pin to Pinterest” feature, which allows users to pin images to their boards directly from the search page.

The search engine has also merged search with social media before, incorporating Yelp! And Facebook into the front page of its search results.

Bing is always evolving, and staying up to date with its progress is a great way to dominate search traffic from the search engine. Having an engaging profile and interesting boards can only drive more traffic and conversions to your website.

 

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SEO Moneyball: Recovering from Penguin and Panda

Nashville SEO associate Jackson Martin's Moneyball image is shown, featuring a man on a baseball diamond.

The goal of Moneyball is to get the best results out of the least money spent. In other words, Billy Beane viewed his baseball team as a business, looking to get the best value or ROI. Beane’s Oakland teams made the playoffs four straight years in the early 2000s despite being in the bottom five teams in salary.

As a sports fan and a sportswriter, reading Moneyball changed the way I look at baseball like few other things have. Each week, I’ll try to do the same thing with SEO for you in this series, SEO MoneyBall, using some deeper statistics to give you a better look at how to improve your web presence. This week, I go through ways to recover from the Google Panda and Penguin updates.

The latest updates from Google threw a number of websites into upheaval this year. Penguin and Panda penalties were severe, and many companies are still in the recovery process.

Let’s start by addressing what these updates changed, and then get to what you can still do to rank once again.

Google Panda

Google Panda doesn’t allow borrowing content

Panda primarily penalized websites for poor quality content. Google as a product needs to direct its users to the most interesting and informative pages on their search topics. Writing content that provides no new value is a red flag to the company, so this update penalized those sites which add similar, boring, and not useful content to the internet.

The process to recover from this can include many steps, but the most important is to freshen up your content and rewrite your website. Redo the existing pages, and add more pages that support your main topics. Beyond just getting yourself back into the search rankings, you want your website to provide value to whoever is looking at it, so this step can help all aspects of your web presence.

Google Penguin

Penguin was an algorithm update that penalizes sites for bad backlinks. It was intended to combat black-hat techniques, but it hit a number of honest sites too. Links categorized as spam or ones that may have been paid for result in penalties that affect a website’s Google search ranking.

Unfortunately, the only way to clean up your profile is to manually go through your links in Google Webmaster Tools to see which ones are the cause for your penalties. Once you’ve found the bad links, your courses of action are either to contact that webmaster or to use the Google Disavow Tool.

Conclusion

While each of the updates had good intentions, Google was heavy-handed in applying penalties. A number of businesses running clean SEO principles were hurt, and they now have to get back to focusing on the fundamentals just to get back to their original rankings. It may be time consuming, but there are clear steps to take to get your page back to the top results that it needs to be.

Might as well start right now.

Jackson on Google+

 

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