Natural Search Blog


Website Optimizer – Great Tool For Tracking CRO

If you have a Google Adwords account, you have access to the Website Optimizer tool that is a very nifty application to get a great idea of the Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). PPC campaigns nowadays do not come cheap and the crucial factor is to keep track of the conversion rate of your sales funnel.

The actual conversion process involves testing a landing page leading to a signup or filling in of a form or a thankyou page in the event of a successful sale of a product. With Website Optimizer, you can set up experiments that involve Multivariate testing or A/B testing to track which version of the landing page is pulling in the desired results.

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Measuring Link Bait

Last week, Stephan Spencer talked about The Social Media Underground over at Search Engine Land. While the broad brush strokes of the article were across social media, the technique of link baiting however was very much at the center. Of course there are endless ways to paint on the link bait canvas, but in many cases, there will be an element of social media involved, which may also mean time and/or money.

Link bait can be a powerful tool, especially when used in conjunction with a powerful social media network. Like many things however, it generally comes at a cost. Even if there aren’t any direct costs, such as engaging writers or paying for services directly, there will at least be direct time if you or your company creates the link bait yourself, and potentially in-kind costs, such as helping to return the favor or similar for someone else within your social media network.

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Amazon’s Secret to Dominating SERP Results

Many e-tailers have looked with envy at Amazon.com’s sheer omnipresence within the search results on Google. Search for any product ranging from new book titles, to new music releases, to home improvement products, to even products from their new grocery line, and you’ll find Amazon links garnering page 1 or 2 rankings on Google and other engines. Why does it seem like such an unfair advantage?

Can you keep a secret? There is an unfair advantage. Amazon is applying conditional 301 URL redirects through their massive affiliate marketing program.

Most online merchants outsource the management and administration of their affiliate program to a provider who tracks all affiliate activity, using special tracking URLs. These URLs typically break the link association between affiliate and merchant site pages. As a result, most natural search traffic comes from brand related keywords, as opposed to long tail keywords. Most merchants can only imagine the sudden natural search boost they’d get from their tens of thousands of existing affiliate sites deeply linking to their website pages with great anchor text. But not Amazon!

Amazon’s affiliate (“associate”) program is fully integrated into the website. So the URL that you get by clicking from Guy Kawasaki’s blog for example to buy one of his favorite books from Amazon doesn’t route you through a third party tracking URL, as would be the case with most merchant affilate programs. Instead, you’ll find it links to an Amazon.com URL (to be precise: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060521996/guykawasakico-20), with the notable associate’s name at the end of the URL so Guy can earn his commission.

However, refresh that page with your browser’s Googlebot User Agent detection turned on, and you’ll see what Googlebot (and others) get when they request that same URL: http://www.amazon.com/Innovators-Dilemma-Revolutionary-Business-Essentials/dp/0060521996 delivered via a 301 redirect script. That’s the same URL that shows up in Google when you search for this book title.

So if you are a human coming in from affiliate land, you get one URL used to track your referrer’s commission. If you are a bot visiting this URL, you are told these URLs now redirect to the keyword URLs. In this way, Amazon is able to have its cake and eat it too – provide an owned and operated affiliate management system while harvesting the PageRank from millions of deep affiliate backlinks to maximize their ranking visibility in your long tail search query.

(Note I’ve abstained from hyperlinking these URLs so bots crawling this content do not further entrench Amazon’s ranking on these URLs, although they are already #4 in the query above!).

So is this strategy ethical? Conditional redirects are a no-no because it sends mixed signals to the engine – is the URL permanently moved or not? If it is, but only for bots, then you are crossing the SEO line. But in Amazon’s case it appears searchers as well as general site users also get the keyword URL, so it is merely the affiliate users that get an “old” URL. If that’s the case across the board, it would be difficult to argue Amazon is abusing this concept, but rather have cleverly engineered a solution to a visibility problem that other merchants would replicate if they could. In fact, from a searcher perspective, were it not for Amazon, many long tail product queries consumers conduct would return zero recognizable retail brands to buy from, with all due respect to PriceGrabber, DealTime, BizRate, NexTag, and eBay.

As a result of this long tail strategy, I’d speculate that Amazon’s natural search keyword traffic distribution looks more like 40/60 brand to non-brand, rather than the typical 80/20 or 90/10 distribution curve most merchants (who lack affiliate search benefits) receive.

Brian

New Google Analytics still poor experience

Back in May I gave the new Google Analytics design a negative review, primarily because it made it impossible to view at a glance how many people in what area of the world are viewing your site. I’d also panned it for making one unable to view both Page Views and Visits together simultaneously.

Google Analytics Logo

Despite my griping, they rolled it out anyway with this feature unchanged, and they made it impossible to view the data through the old UI as of July 19th. They report adding more requested features, but how about adding back some of the functionality they destroyed? Perhaps they’re more involved in getting the daily data processing issues resolved, and admittedly I’d agree that would surely be a higher priority. I’m just still flummoxed because it seems so unnecessary to revoke good functionality in the first place.

I’ve found yet another irritating change that I consider to be even more serious: you apparently can’t view the data in monthly units – only daily:

Google Analytics graphs don't display monthly figs
(click to enlarge)

Why did they revoke the ability to visually compare monthly periods?!? Most search marketers I know like to compare overall figures from month to month since it tends to reduce some of the spikiness of short-term bursts, and lots of folks are using monthly billing cycles and such.

If I’m mistaken and there’s some where to set the period to display monthly, I hope someone will let me know. I hunted and hunted, and checked their help section to no avail. If they really did revoke monthly display, I can only reiterate further how bad this so-called “upgrade” really was! All glitz with little beneficial substance.

The Analytics team should borrow some of the members of the Google Maps team, since comparatively the Maps team seems to get it right a lot more lately.

Domainers Can’t Get No Respect

Last week the second part of my “Domaining & Subdomaining in the Local Space” pubbed on Search Engine Land, and I’m particularly pleased with it, although my friends can deservedly kick me around a bit for writing articles too long. I did quite a lot of research for the two-part series, most particularly for this second segment which was focused entirely on Local Domaining.

One of the main things that I’m pleased about was my effort to be as objective as possible in writing the article — not only did I want to report on what is going on in local-oriented domaining, and who’s involved, but also to provide some concrete conclusions and recommendations which people could take away. I was upfront in disclosing my past negative bias about domaining, and in the course of writing the article I found that I had to revise my assumptions a few times over – in favor of Domaining, actually. Working off and on, I wrote the article over the course of about two months.

While doing the research, I became aware that the Domaining industry seems to have a bit of “younger sibling complex” — as an industry, they wish to be considered a respectable, bona fide line of business. Unfortunately, they have a few things which have been hampering that aim to some degree:

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Where’s the Google search result?

I had a client ask me the other day where his traffic was coming from, since he couldn’t find his listing in the top few pages of search results for a keyword that was showing up in his analytics reports. The analytics system had reported that he’d received a number of visits from users who’d searched for “Keyword X” in Google and had clicked through to his site. Problem is, when he went and searched for “Keyword X”, he didn’t see any of his pages listed in the first dozen or so pages of results in Google, and he figured it’d be unlikely that a number of users would click very many pages deep anyway.

So, how did this traffic happen?

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen something like this happen. Probably a number of people have had the experience of calling up a partner or colleague to talk about something they see in the Google search results, only to find that the person at the other end of the phone sees a very different thing when they commit the same search in Google. The listing could be shown 9 places down from the top of the page instead of 2 places down, or it isn’t showing up at all for them while it’s showing plain as day for you.

Unfortunately, this is going to become a more and more common experience for webmasters. Google’s diversity of search products and results sets are becoming more and more differentiated for different users, and as this happens, people searching for the very same keyword are going to be seeing completely different search results. Read on for more details.

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New Google Analytics UI – A Downgrade

Google Analytics Logo

Google Analytics is updating their user interface and report presentation, and just as I feared, some of it is a downgrade in usefulness. I’ve been using metrics/analytics packages for ages now. At my old company many years ago, I helped set up and use NetGenesis NetAnalysis product to generate reports from our log files. We later used SurfAid and Coremetrics and Omniture. We also built our own, in-house reporting system to supply stats that we couldn’t get via off-the-shelf packages, and I personally programmed some of those and managed other developers who worked on them as well. So, I’m pretty familiar with analytic reporting systems, and I know what’s possible in designing them. I don’t like some of Google’s changes to their service.

Google Analytics has done what I’ve seen so many other analytics companies do: they’ve dumbed down the reporting presentation capability of their service, apparently gearing it primarily toward less-technical marketers and people who run Google ads on their sites or who advertise through Google. The trend with all these analytics companies seems to be to evolve solely towards generating report charts for marketing departments, focusing mainly on conversion statistics and prettified reports that have extracted the ability to easily see quantitative amounts over timeperiods, lulling the brain with pretty colors and obsessing more over slick Ajax/browser interactions than delivering statistical content in a meaningful way.

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New WordPress Plugin for tracking offline impact of SEO

We just released a new WordPress plugin, Replace by Referrer, which allows you to track the effectiveness of SEO and other online marketing activities by replacing text on your landing page based on the referrer (i.e. which search engine or site referred the visitor). So, for example, you might want to offer a different toll-free phone number depending on the search engine used by the visitor. That would give you the ability to track the number of phone inquiries delivered by each search engine. Pretty cool, eh!

It’s free and open source. Download it now for your WordPress blog or site. Enjoy!

How much traffic does the top keyword position garner on Google?

Have you ever wondered how much traffic the top keyword position on Google can bring a site, for a hotly-contested term? Or, how much traffic does the top slot get you, compared with the second slot?

Most of the major SEOs and top companies keep such figures as closely-guarded secrets. Even the search engines keep the numbers of searches by various keywords secret, using various techniques to hide actual values.

The much-touted Eye Tracking Study conducted by Enquiro and Did-It show that the first listings on Google SERPs are looked at and clicked upon the most by users. Most pros already concluded this through common sense, but it’s difficult to get actual traffic amounts associated with the rankings of listings on SERPs.

I’m going to change this situation right here, right now, thanks to new data that Google has graciously begun providing to the public, and thanks to a brief reshuffling of rankings on a top keyword for one of the sites that I manage. Read on, and I’ll elaborate.

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New Study – Importance of Rankings on Brand

http://www.internetretailer.com/dailyNews.asp?id=18250Key points:The “iProspect Search Engine User Behavior Study� also found that 62% of search engine users click on a search result within the first page of results vs. 48% in 2002, and 90% click on a result within the first three pages vs. 81% in 2002.

36% of search engine users associate top rankings with brand leadership

In addition, 88% of users will change engines or search terms if they don’t find what they seek within the first three pages of search results, up from 78% in 2002.

Brian

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