Natural Search Blog


Talkin ’bout RSS… on the Chris Pirillo Show

Want to listen to me rant and rave about the power of RSS as a content delivery channel for search marketers? That was a rhetorical question. Frankly, who wouldn’t! ;-) So now you get your chance, on my interview on the Chris Pirillo Show, which was just podcasted today. Chris interviewed me last week at Search Engine Strategies. Have a listen.

New eyetracking study: where Google searchers look and click

aggregate mapI found the eyetracking study from Enquiro and Did-It unveiled last week at Search Engine Strategies and covered in Search Day fascinating. The aggregate heat map shown on the right (larger version here) shows where participants focused their eyes (and their attention) the most. As you can see, the first listing not only drew the most attention; the full listing was read more fully from left to right, than other listings.

Visibility drops the further down the search results you go, and clickthroughs drop even more markedly (as you can see from the graphs below). This got me thinking about Zipf’s Law. Zipf’s Law is applicable to Top Ten Lists, as Seth Godin explains, perhaps Zipf’s Law might be applicable to the SERPs (search engine results pages) too? (In general terms, Zipf’s Law states that being #1 is much, much better than being #2 which is much, much better than being #3 and so on. So dominating a Top 10 list is critical.) Although these graphs don’t follow Zipf’s Law exactly, nonetheless given this data I’d consider it foolish to be complacent if your search listings are not at the very top of the SERPs.

What is it about searchers that makes them so blind to relevant results further down the page? Is this due to the “implied endorsement” effect, where searchers tend to simply trust Google to point them to the right thing? Or is it just the way humans are wired, to make snap decisions, as Malcolm Gladwell insightfully explains in his new book, Blink? According to the study, 72% of searchers click on the first link of interest, whereas 25.5% read all listings first, then decide. My guess is that both effects (“implied endorsement” and “rapid cognition”) play a role in searcher behavior.

A few other important take-aways from the study:

  1. 6/7 (85%) of searchers click on natural (“organic”) results (not 60/40 as the search engines and PPC (pay-per-click) vendors would have you believe).
  2. The top 4 sponsored slots are equivalent in views to being ranked at #7 – #10 natural.
  3. (corollary to #2): This means if you need to make a business case for natural search, then (assuming you can attain at least #3 rank in natural for the same keywords you bid on) natural search could be worth two to three times your PPC results.

In all, a superb research study. Great job Did-It, Enquiro, and EyeTools!

line graph of visibility
line graph of clickthroughs

Retailers and Catalogers: Sign up for this free webinar from Catalog Age on SEO

If you’re interested in practical, no B.S. advice on how to achieve higher rankings in the natural search results, this is the webinar for you: Wednesday, March 9 at 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific. It’s brought to you by Catalog Age magazine. I’ll be the main presenter, with Joan Broughton, VP of Multichannel Programs/Online at REI, presenting a case study (Disclosure: yes, REI is a client), and Shaun Ryan, CEO of SLI Systems expounding on keyword research tools and tactics. At the reasonable price of FREE, you’d be a mug to pass this up! Sign up here, and do it now.

Become.com shopping search engine coming into its own

Become.com is a pretty cool little new shopping search engine, specializing in product reviews and other info for the research-oriented consumer. Its index is now up to 2.2 billion pages in size, all of it taken from shopping-related web sites in the US. It’s in public beta now, so give it a whirl. You’ll need to register as a beta user before you can start using it. www.become.com

RSS and SEO: Implications for Search Marketers

Hello from Search Engine Strategies in NYC. Yesterday I spoke at the Webfeeds, Blogs, and Search session. My talk was focused on on implementing RSS feeds as part of your search engine marketing strategy. I’ve made my Powerpoint deck available online at www.netconcepts.com/learn/rss.ppt.

A lot of people mistakenly lump blogs and RSS together, but RSS has infinitely more applications beyond just blogs! For example: news alerts, latest specials, clearance items, upcoming events, new stock arrivals, new articles, new tools & resources, search results, a book’s revision history, top 10 best sellers (like Amazon.com does in many of its product categories), project management activities, forum/listserve posts, recently added downloads, etc.

There are some important tracking and measurement issues to consider when implementing RSS:

I consider personalized RSS feeds to be “best practice.” As of yet I’m not seeing much yet in the way of personalization within RSS feeds, but that will come I’m sure. It has to. Having only one generic RSS feed per site is a one-size-fits-all approach that can’t scale. On the other hand, having too many feeds to choose from on a site can overwhelm the user. So how about instead you offer a single RSS feed, but it’s one where the content is personalized to the interests of the individual subscriber. Yet if the feed is being syndicated onto public websites, you’ll want to discover that (by checking the referrers in your server logs) and then make sure the RSS feed content is quite consistent from syndicated site to syndicated site so that these sites all reinforce the search engine juice of the same pages with similar link text. Or simply ask the subscriber his/her intentions (personal reading or syndication on a public website) as part of the personalization/subscription signup process.

IMPORTANT: An oft overlooked area of RSS click tracking is how to pass on the search engine juice from the syndicating sites to your destination site. Use clicktracked URLs with query string parameters kept to a minimum, then 301 redirect not 302. This is important! 302 redirects, also known as temporary redirects, can hang up the search engine juice. Search engines recommend you use 301 redirects, also known as permanent redirects. Surprisingly, Feedburner and Simplefeed both use 302 redirects. Tsk tsk!

Sites using your feeds for themed content to add to their site for SEO purposes could strip out your links or cut off the flow of the search engine juice using the nofollow rel attribute or by removing the hrefs altogether. Scan for that and then cut off any offenders’ feed access.

Some more “gotchas” if you don’t set things up right:

RSS is great for link building. Any SEO worth his/her salt should be making use of RSS as part of a link building strategy, or at least making plans to use it soon. In addition to RSS, there are some other effective blog-related link building strategies, like:

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