The Hidden Risk of Trusting Link Building Networks

Yesterday someone emailed me this quote

"People that pay for things never complain. It's the guy you give something to that you can't please." ~Will Rogers

and I think it is true on so many levels. If you want real feedback from someone ask them to put their money where their mouth is. Few will, and so most free feedback is garbage.

But when you pay for something you are giving a much stronger/cleaner signal, which is easy to trust & value.

What a lot of SEO professionals don't realize is that when they rent text links many of them are paying for their own demise. If you go through a central link broker that operates at scale you are telling them:

  • what areas your business is focused on
  • what keywords are important to you
  • what links you are buying
  • how much you think you will make from the marketing

That is fine if you are a huge company with tons of other quality signals which can't be replicated. But if you are a smaller company, what happens when that link broker is also a web publisher? Hmm... xyz is spending $5,000 a month with us to promote that site...well they must be making some good money off it - lets clone it. ;)

The equivalent to trusting most your link buying to a single link broker would be doing a public export of all your bids and conversion data for PPC. You wouldn't stay profitable very long with that strategy, and if you share your link purchase data with some of the shadier (and more well known) link brokers you can expect the same result.

A friend of mine recently mentioned buying some links and then seeing a number of sites pop up which seemed suspiciously associated with people who work behind the scenes at their link broker. Oooops!

Buying links from a central network is not only risky from a Google risk management perspective, but also from a "thanks for the data, fool" perspective.

Google Still Busy Killing Off the Link Graph, One Link at a Time

Now that big media practices keyword stuffing, engage in link selling, are invested in SEO start ups, and are selling SEO services perhaps they won't publish ill-informed pablum when writing about SEO. :D

Don't hold your breath waiting on that, but...

Now that newspapers are looking to sell SEO services, Google is rumored to be out and about asking them to remove links:

We understand that newspapers are currently being contacted by Google and being asked to remove links (especially those placed after the articles have been written – ie comment links and links that are placed for payment in articles weeks or months after it had gone live). As a company, we have been aware that placing links in articles once they have picked up PR is not an uncommon practice in the industry, and we also knew that it would probably come to no good which is why we stayed well away. However, we do have some legitimate links on these sites that were placed as part of a press release or an interview and these are slowly being removed through no fault of our own. So much for all the hard work eh?

Google is warning newspapers from linking out and is warning webmasters not to do guest posts. It turns out that any and every link is a bad link in their warped mental model of the web. :D

The random surfer must be quite inebriated. And lost.

As Google controls more traffic and the value of a #1 ranking increases Google continues to filter filter filter the web graph.

The good news is that as Google's view of reality is increasingly warped & their guidelines reflect reality less and less they create a greater opportunity for some competing company to come along and build something better. And for any professional SEO who reads between the lines there is value in Google misleading the rest of the herd.

About a decade ago Sergey Brin stated they didn't believe in spam. A decade later they don't believe in the media and don't believe in links. What happened?

Recent Interviews

I was recently talking to Chris from Warlock Media, and he mentioned a blog post where he wrote "There are more sharks and less fish these days and the trend looks to continue for many years to come." I think as winners accumulate capital and markets consolidate being involved as a person well known in online marketing will become less enjoyable. I explained some of my thoughts on that front in the most recent Ruud questions interview.

This is part of the reason I love the publisher model so much more than the consultant model. Our SEO Book customers are great, but we have to sort through a lot of hate from the bottom 90% to attract a lot of the top 10%ers. My wife is a top 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%er, and we recently did an interview with Boardroom Couple.

And here is yet another interview. :)

Strategizer Review, Wordtracker's New Tool

Wordtracker continues to add value beyond their position as a well-respected keyword research tool provider.

Wordtracker Logo

About Strategizer

Strategizer Logo

Wordtracker's keyword toolset has long been popular for finding additional, longer tail keywords to apply to your search or PPC campaigns. Strategizer integrates with Google Analytics to incorporate your current keywords into the Strategizer tool to help you analyze groups of related keywords to determine how viable those groups are to your campaign.

Wordtracker takes the view that you should not be focusing on a single keyword, but rather "keyword niches". In the example on their site they use donuts. Essentially it's presented as

  • The single search term in the areas the marketer sells to is 2,400 per month
  • The expected click through rate is 8% as they were ranked in position 3, totaling 192 visitors per month
  • Conversion rate was pegged at 4% so the expected sales numbers would be about 8 sales a month

In Wordtracker's opinion focusing on a single keyword might be a losing effort for this marketer because the entire donut niche produces about 450,000 searches a month (chocolate donuts, glazed donuts, chocolate glazed donuts, and so on) and it will likely take him years to rank for that single keyword. So the focus with this tool is more on the long tail side of things.

Long Tail Keywords

In theory this makes sense but in some markets you can compete with less difficulty if you own the exact match domain and can scale the marketing, content, and link building with degrees of success. There are other ways to compete as well so while there is great wisdom in paying attention to the long tail of a main keyword there are some other factors to consider as well.

The most actionable keyword research data you can get generally comes from your analytics program. So a tool which can integrate with your current analytics program and expand on your profitable (or help you find more profitable) keywords is a definite win. While there can be some concern about using Google Analytics on your site (giving Google your data and such) it's hard to argue how deep and powerful their analytics program is.

Strategizer and Google

A lot of spy tools provide "keyword value" estimates based on traffic and cost-per-click figures. While that is a good barometer of how valuable a keyword might be in the eyes of a search engine, keyword data specific to your site (which factors in real traffic numbers as well as conversions) is the best way to analyze your current site architecture for expansion or improvement.

A tool like Strategizer can be quite helpful in interpreting that data and providing additional keyword options based on the keywords found in your Google Analytics program. Furthermore, mining additional keywords which are found in niches that are already converting for you (with help from Wordtracker) is really quite a win because it's real data that is almost instantly actionable.

How Strategizer Works

You need to integrate your Google Analytics account with Strategizer for the tool to work. Once you do, you'll be given report options.

Note that Wordtracker recommends having more than 20,000 non-paid search engine visits prior to processing that data (this can be a cumulative number met over months of data). In order for their niche set up and model to function correctly you do need a decent amount of data as the model is trend-based from a higher-level overview rather than a focus on individual keywords.

Here is the options page:

Strategizer Options

The time period and the country, territory, and language settings are self-explanatory. You also have the option to choose an "Advanced Segment" which can be:

  • All Visits - defined as all non-paid search engine visits
  • Default - segments in your Google Analytics account which Google has defined
  • Custom - segments in your Google Analytics account which you have specifically defined
  • Dynamic - segments which you can define as you create your Strategizer reports (this feature is not yet available)

As the third option is not yet available and there are not a ton of custom segments set up here we'll go with "Default"/"All Visits".

A Strategizer Report

A Strategizer report groups your keyword in up to 2,000 niches. The initial report looks like this:

Strategizer Full Report

The data presented is pulled from your Google Analytics keyword report and grouped into niches by the Strategizer tool. Each keyword listed in the row is the perceived main keyword for the keyword niche and the keywords that fall under a niche classification include that main keyword as part of their phrase.

So what Strategizer does is take your exact match keywords from your Google Analytics account (the actual keyword used to produce a visitor) and convert them into broader reports (niches) for all keywords containing that exact keyword found in your analytics account.

Keyword Niche Analysis in Strategizer

Before getting into how the data is presented, understanding how niches work in Strategizer is pretty important as it is the basis of the analysis going on within the tool.

The reports will not break niches down by individual keywords so having a firm grasp of how a niche is defined will help you understand and more efficiently use the tool.

*Note, a niche's name (link building in this case) is derived from an exact match keyword on your site. So in this case someone searched for link building and clicked on SeoBook.Com in the search results.

Strategizer sees the keywords that are bringing you traffic and uses that exact keyword, link building in our example, to set up a niche. Then, Strategizer pulls in broad match keywords for that keyword which brought you a visitor per Google Analytics (link building in this case) via the AdWords Keyword tool to populate the "Niche Size (Google)" Column.

To further illustrate this point, here's a look at the niche "link building":

For the niche of "link building" you are shown the following columns in the "Analysis" tab (we'll cover the other tabs in a bit):

  • Keyword Niche - the niche defined by Strategizer via an exact match keyword in your Google Analytics program.
  • Keywords - the number of keywords with the Niche Size (Google) data point that actually brought traffic to your site. So out of 665,000 searches done on broad matched variations of the keyword link building, we received at least 1 visit from 1,932 keywords.
  • Visits - total number of visits from those 1,932 keywords.
  • Niche Size (Google) - total number of searches, broad match based on the keyword that defines the niche (link building in this case) via the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.
  • % Market Share - the percentage of searchers that end up as visitors on your site, compared to the total number of searchers out there for that niche (Visits/Niche Size).
  • Bounce Rate - percentage of visits which left on the entrance page
  • Goal CR - percentage of visits that resulted in the completion of a goal
  • E-Commerce CR - percentage of visits which resulted in a e-commerce transaction
  • Per Visit Value - defined as revenue/visits

For the niche of "link building", there could be all sorts of variations within that niche as the niche size is populated by broad matched keywords from the AdWords Keyword Tool. This niche could include:

  • link building training
  • how to do link building
  • cheap link building
  • link building training program
  • link building tools
  • link building majestic seo
  • and so on...

So just to summarize:

A keyword niche is set up by an exact match keyword found in your Google Analytics report. The keywords that make up the niche are broad match keywords pulled in from the AdWords Keyword Tool

Additional Strategizer Reporting Options

Strategizer gives you 4 tabs to work with:

  • Analysis
  • Site Usage
  • Goal Conversion
  • E-commerce

The tool also offers handy, robust exporting and filtering features.

Tabbed Options

You can also select up to 5 keywords and link through to Google Insights:

Google Insights

You have the following filter options (all are "greater than or less than" except for "Keyword Niche". In "Keyword Niche" you can choose to include, exclude certain keywords or just work with the one's you've targeted by checking them off).

Filtering Options

We went over the Analysis tab earlier in the post when discussing the link building niche. The other tabs, which have a few unique metrics, are as follows:

  • Site Usage
  • Goal Conversion
  • E-commerce

Site Usage

The Site Usage tab includes a few other metrics not included in the Analysis tab and removes some data points which are not relevant to the actual usage of your site:

Site Usage Strategizer

The new data points are:

  • Pages/Visit - average number of pages viewed during a visit to your site. Repeated views of a single page are counted.
  • Avg Time on Site - average time spent on your site over the visits within that keyword niche
  • % of New Visits - percentage of visits by people who have never visited the site before

Goal Conversion

Goal Conversion

The Goal Conversion tab will show you the percentage of visits within your keyword niches which resulted in goals that you defined in your Google Analytics account.


The E-commerce tab does about exactly what you think it will do, gives you data specific to any e-commerce items you are tracking within your Google Analytics account. There are a couple of new data points here as well.

Ecommerce Tab Strategizer

Strategizer will show you:

  • E-commerce CR - percentage of visitors which resulted in an e-commerce transaction
  • Transactions - total number of transactions completed
  • Average Value - the average value of a visitor (factoring in transactions and overall visits)
  • Revenue - revenue, including tax and shipping, from e-commerce transactions
  • Per Visit Value - determined by dividing revenue by visits
(Note that our Google Analytics account didn't have this enabled, but if we would have this is one of the areas where Strategizer really sings in terms of trying to show you how much money is on the table in different keyword themes).

Targeting Options

You may only want to investigate certain keywords niches at any given point so Strategizer gives you the option to target specific niches and makes it quite easy to remove targeting and re-apply it.

So if you just want to look at a specific niche topic, take "links" for example, then you filter by niche name:

Sort by links

Click on the niche you want to target (highlights in green):

Strategizer Check Target

Then click the target button and set your filter to include niches that are targeted:

Click Target

Strategizer Filter

Pick the ones you want to target (highlighted in green) then click Target/Untarget (the targeted choices change to red):

Green Link Filter

Then you have the ones you want to evaluate:

The sorting and filtering options are quite deep which is much needed given the vast amount of data you are given to work with.

Strategizer Wrap Up

As you can see there are lots of data points to play with inside of Strategizer. Since the data is pulling right from your Google Analytics account you know that the conversion data and value data are both fairly accurate.

The sorting options can help you get a good look at keyword sets which need further investigating as to why they may or may not be performing as well as other keyword sets across all the metrics in the Strategizer tool.

Due to the tremendous amount of data available it makes sense to utilize the sorting options within the Strategizer toolset to help weed out keyword niches which are really low volume sets and could distort results. With great data comes great responsibility so it would be wise to play around with the filtering options within the tool to sort through results or metrics which might not be overly important to you.

Right now you can't drill down into specific keywords but that is a function Wordtracker is considering.

Is Strategizer Right for You?

I really like what Wordtracker is doing with this tool. Many times you might be working with tools which are just "estimates" and are usually not very accurate anyway. I would say this tool is a more than solid investment for:

  • Site owners with good amounts of traffic
  • Site owners with defined goals and conversions in Google Analytics
  • PPC folks who can mass identify strong (and weak) performing keyword sets to further investigate for their campaign structure
  • Anyone who is serious about understanding their site and site architecture
  • Someone who wants a higher level overview of how their site and site structure are performing across a variety of important metrics
  • And any site owner who wants to understand as much as they can about their site, their site's engagement, and to identify areas for increased (or decreased) attention.

Logo Part Deux

Pricing Options

Product Tour

$1 Trial

Wordstream PPC and SEO Tool Review


Another Option

Based on the negative remarks directed at Wordstream in comments on this review (about aggressive "flexible" sales techniques, long-term client contracts, etc.) & a discussion with one of our friends who manages a number of large AdWords accounts, we recommend Optimyzr, as Timmcg did below.

Modified Broad Match for the Win

Since Google added modified broad match ad targeting to AdWords, it is typically a far more efficient use of a business owner's time to manage the longtail of search with modified broad match and negative keyword targeting rather than managing thousands and thousands of low traffic terms. Using modified broad match and the desktop Google AdWords Editor makes many "optimization" features in some DIY PPC platforms obsolete. And I write this as a person who offers one of the more widely used free keyword list generators.

Finding secret uncovered keywords that no other ads are showing against? That ship has largely sailed. Really broadly matched targeting on broad match keywords guarantees most terms with significant value will have multiple bidders aggressively competing in the ad auction, with Google both carrying ads across from other related keywords and lifting floor ad prices based on the performance of related keywords.

An Example of Using Modified Broad Match

Here is an image Google shared when they first publicly unveiled modified broad match.

The beauty of modified broad match is it allows you to capture a vast array of longtail terms using just a handful of keywords. For example, if one wanted to cover longtail concepts around "keyword tools" or such one could add something like this:

  • +keyword +tool
  • +keyword +tools
  • +keyword +research
  • +keyword +programs
  • +keyword +software

The above would target thousands of different unique keyword tool related searches (like: downloadable keyword research tools, online keyword software, etc.) without requiring a person to manage thousands of independent terms. And then let's say a particular term tends to have little to no value to your business. For example, let's say people wanting "free" rarely convert to paying clients. You could then add that term as a negative match -free to block your ads from running against searches containing that term, or you could add it as a negative match to that campaign and then set up a second campaign with lower bids that doesn't block those sorts of modifiers. In such a way you could quickly capture most the cream from the longtail while blocking out the worst bits of it (or bidding significantly less for the lowest value portions), while having minimal management overhead.

So Why do People Still Pitch Huge Keyword Lists?

Some parts of search largely run without direct keyword control anymore. And those that you can easily control are far more efficient to control with tight targeting on the head and the above broad match strategy on the tail.

That leads one to ask Why were huge lists of keywords ever popular?

The Original Reason

Overture was a pioneer in paid search. Google was highly inspired by Overture when they created AdWords. In fact, Google had to give Yahoo! a bunch of their shares before the Google IPO to settle a lawsuit for violating Overture's paid search patents. Google ended up winning search by both owning distribution (while Overture relied on syndication partners) and having a more efficient ad auction. One of the reasons the Overture / Yahoo! Search Marketing ad auction was less efficient is they would put a far lower priced bid first if someone bid on a specific term and a competitor bid higher for a broad matched term.

For example, if your competitor bid $50 for web hosting and you bid 10 cents for shared asp web hosting and nobody else bid on that term, your 10 cent ad could show before the competitor's $50 ad.

This inefficiency in the Overture ad auction is part of what drove the demand for creating large lists of keywords. It is also a big part of why Yahoo! struggled to compete against Google in search. By the time this problem was fixed, Yahoo! was aleady well on their way to outsourcing their search & search ads to Microsoft.

The Current Reason People Still Promote Huge Lists of Keywords

The reason large lists of keywords which get next to no traffic remain a popular "marketing" approach (in spite of modified broad match existing) is those lists are quick to generate and they allow some people to show they are doing "lots of work" to justify management fees, even if that work is of marginal efficacy.

Below is our original un-revised Wordstream review from over a half-decade ago, back right around when modified broad match first launched, but before it was widely used.

Wordstream Review

Wordstream Logo

Wordstream is a suite of online marketing tools which cover Keyword Research and Management for PPC and SEO Campaigns. They also offer a Firefox plug-in which we'll cover in a bit. Wordstream gives you access to three free tools:

  • Free Keyword Niche Finder
  • Free Keyword Suggestion Tool
  • Free Keyword Grouper

While there are many free and paid keyword tools on the market Wordstream does offer more in the way of integration with industry leading products like Google AdWords and Google Analytics. Recently Wordstream earned the Editor's Pick award in the Google Analytics Application Gallery:

Google Marketplace Award

Wordstream's keyword data is produced via "blended" data which they acquire from multiple sources. The discuss their data sources on the FAQ section of the Free Keyword Tool. It's important to note that they do not simply pull keyword data from Google like many other "keyword research" tools do.

Both PPC and SEO campaigns can fall victim to poor organization which leads to poor site or campaign architecture which eventually leads to poor results as data becomes more and more difficult to accurately manage. Wordstream aims to aid in your keyword research, PPC campaign management, and SEO execution.

Free Tools

Free Keyword Niche Finder

Keyword Niche Finder

The Keyword Niche Finder attempts to find niches of a core keyword. In this example I chose insurance. Usually, I've had better results with this tool by using really broad keywords. The longer you get into the tail the less associations the tool can perform hence the less niches available for you to analyze. Keyword Niche FInder Insurance Results

You can choose to have the niches emailed to you (you'll get a zip file of all the niches shown on the screen, not all the available ones so be sure you've got the ones you want, and they come as separate .csv's within the .zip) and you can get started sorting through the niches shown to get an idea of what part of the insurance market you may want to pursue. Let's say I'm not interested in travel insurance. So I click the X to get rid of that and another niche pops up, "uk" insurance. Note the number of niches has gone down and I'm left with a new niche to evaluate, "UK", within the insurance market.

Keyword Niche FInder Arrows

So after sorting through the available niches I've narrowed it down to the following niches:

Keyword Niche Finder Trimmed

So I've decided to pursue the life insurance market so I click on the bucket and I'm shown 774 keywords for that niche. As you can see, there is a filtering option but that is available to paid subscribers. Relative frequency refers to their "blended data" approach meaning the term life insurance quote typically is searched more often than life insurance exam in aggregate.

If this is the only niche you want to target simply remove the other niches and request the emailed .csv (need to leave at least 2 active niches for export though). This way you'll receive the keywords you want for further processing in whatever spreadsheet application you use. This tool is somewhat limited as it is a free tool but it can be a pretty useful way to get a broad view of niches available in a specific market when first starting out.

Plus, it's a pretty slick way to bounce back and forth between different niches without having to re-query a keyword tool every time you want to look at a different market.

Free Keyword Grouper

Keyword Grouper

Wordstream's Keyword Grouper tool where you can enter up to 10,000 keywords and have Wordstream group them by category and word/modifier association.

This tool can be quite useful when you pull data from something like your web analytics or PPC programs and receive a variety of new keywords back. The Keyword Grouper tool will group using modifiers (cheap, free, buy, etc) which helps you identify new market segments or new keywords you may have been missing out on initially.

I think the idea behind the tool is solid but I also think you'd want to spend some time going through your own results to further refine your data. The following screen shot was produced after entering the following data:

  • home insurance 88
  • auto insurance 39
  • home insurance company 33
  • auto insurance quote 28
Keyword Grouping Results

The groupings are mostly sensible and they also filtered in some modifiers that I didn't originally include but ones that I know are valuable in this industry. Aligning your keywords to your site's structure is always a good idea when doing SEO and this tool can help a bit in that area. The tool (free) is not perfect but it does provide useful, actionable data.

Wordstream put out a helpful Keyword Grouping white paper as well.


Free Keyword Tool

Free Keyword Tool

Wordstream's Free Keyword Tool does exactly what you would expect it to, it gives you keyword data. Their "blended" method of aggregating data can be found here.

My Favorite Feature

When you export the keywords you are given the top 10,000 sorted from the highest relative frequency to the lowest! Car insurance returned over 45k results and I am now able, for free, to download the top 10k keywords in order of search volume. This is a killer feature for any keyword tool, much less a free one. Consider that:

  • Wordtracker goes up to 1k
  • Google AdWords is less than Wordtracker
  • Even some Competitive Research Tools do not offer the ability to export 10k results with sorting enabled!

Keyword Tool Results

So that about sums it up for their free tools. I personally like how Wordstream keeps feature bloat out of these tools. So many times you see these keyword tools come out and start making up their own custom metrics which at some point involve:

  • Total number of competing pages
  • Some form of KEI
  • Some made up metric to distract you from the fact that all they are doing is pulling data from Google and recycling it :-(

A keyword tool, which pulls data from sources other than Google, has some inherent value as we know that Google's data often has disagreements within their own tools so it's important to have one or three third party sources of data.

Paid Tools

Wordstream's toolset is broken down into 4 groups of tools:

  1. Discover Keywords
  2. Manage Keywords
  3. Create PPC Campaigns
  4. Create SEO Content

Discover Keywords

Keyword Suggestion Tool

A simple keyword tool where you enter your desired keywords and get up to 10,000 results for your search. Wordstream also provides an area where they suggest related words and synonyms which you can easily add to your keyword search by clicking the check mark adjacent to the modifier.

The keyword results section offers up your selected results with the following options pertaining to how deep your results will go:

  • 15
  • 50
  • 100
  • 200
  • 500
  • 1,000
  • 5,000
  • 10,000

Keyword Suggestion Tool DW

From here you can whittle down to the keywords you want to add to your campaign (you can add these keywords to your Wordstream database from inside the tool).

The speed and depth at which these keywords are returned at are both very impressive compared to other keyword tools.

Spy on the Competition Tool

Similar to how the Google AdWords Keyword Tool operates, you can place a URL + check all the pages on a website or just a specific page in the search bar and get keywords relevant to whatever site/page you searched on.

Wordstream Spy Tool

Where I think this tool falls short is in the categorization data that the AdWords tool returns when you place a URL in their search box. The AdWords tool basically gives you a nice head start into potential site structure options via how they break down the categories and keywords within a URL that you search on. You can use Wordstream's organization capabilities after you are done adding the keywords into your database but I think having the initial breakdown that AdWords provides is slick and something Wordstream may want to consider as they continue to develop their toolset.

Enable Continuous Keyword Discovery

In a world filled with buzzwords used simply to sell you on recycled products or feature bloat you may look at this as say "riiiiiight". However, this is actually a unique point of differentiation between Wordstream and every other keyword tool on the market.

Continous Keyword Discovery

This tool gives your Wordstream keyword database real time access into keywords that are bringing you traffic from either your Google Analytics account or, if you don't use Google Analytics, a custom Wordstream tracking code you can embed on your website.

If you make the decision to utilize Wordstream to manage your keyword database then this is a killer feature. No other keyword tool offers such a feature, that I'm aware of anyway. So if you are not overly interested in combing through your analytics reports frequently in order to find additional keywords to target, then this feature will be beneficial to you as the new keywords automatically pop up into your Wordstream database.

It's also useful for transitioning these keywords into a PPC campaign you may be managing in Wordstream either as a new keyword to bid on *or* as a negative keyword. So this tool is also handy for being a negative keyword finder as well.

Other Ways to Import Keywords

Wordstream allows you to copy and paste keywords into your account and initially tag them as either "Paid", "Organic", or "Suggested" keyword sources.

Copy and Paste Keywords

You can also download a tool which analyzes your web server logs for keywords

Server Log Keywords

You can also upload a CSV or TSV file...

Upload CSV/TSV

So those are the ways you can initially find and upload keywords with Wordstream. The second function of Wordstream's workflow is actually managing those keywords.

Manage Keywords

Wordstream puts out three options for keyword management:

  1. Organize Keywords
  2. Find Negatives
  3. Prioritize Workflow

Organize Keywords

At first glance it seems a bit overwhelming, but it's not. You have the following features/options available to you:

  • Automated keyword grouping suggestions on the left side, which you can accept, show, hide, or decline
  • Keywords in your campaign sorted by paid, organic, or suggested (based on tagging you control), new keywords found via your analytics or AdWords tie in, date filtering options, view by keywords that are grouped and ones that are not grouped.
  • The ability to add buckets of filtered keywords to a PPC campaign
  • The ability to use their new SEO Content feature to tie into your CMS and create content for a specific keyword
  • Goals and Action data, available for customization within your settings options
  • Export keywords

Organize Keywords

Keyword Group Explorer

The Keyword Group Explorer gives you keyword grouping suggestions based on your keywords. The buckets in yellow are ones which have been accepted by the user as groups and the ones in gray have not been. You can decline the grouping by clicking the gray X or accept it by clicking the check mark. You can hide these suggestions by clicking the light bulb in the bottom of the sidebar.

keyword group explorer

So I'll investigate the puppy suggestion. I click on the suggestions and I'm shown keywords specific to puppy or puppies.

puppy grouping

This groups all the keywords containing puppy or puppies into one bucket. You can rename the group by clicking "create keyword group" in the right corner. You can also hover over any individual word in the keyword group to delete it and filter out any other keywords containing that modifier.

I renamed the group "Puppy Stuff" just to illustrate the ability to customize your groups. So back to the Keyword Group Explorer, turned off other suggestions for now and ta-da, there is Puppy Stuff.

puppy group explorer


The little arrow indicates the sub-groups Wordstream automatically created with the keywords in the Puppy Stuff bucket (I named this pretty horribly as you'll see in a second). So if you click on the arrow you'll see the sub-groups Wordstream automatically created (I should have left it as Puppy!):


Puppy Sub Groups

Similar to the main groupings you can click on the check to accept, the X to decline, or the keyword to see the keywords within that group for further grouping and refinement. Hover over a group and see the following:

Puppy Hover Stats

This gives you the top keyword in that sub-group. The stats are as follows:

  • 15.2% represents how much traffic this group could produce, saying the keywords within the puppy stuff training group accounts for 15.2% of the traffic for the main group Puppy Stuff.
  • 16.5% represents the % of keywords in this group accounting for that same percentage in the parent group Puppy Stuff. So this group has 16.5% of the keywords in the entire group.

If you right click on a group you get the following options (applies to groups and sub-groups as well)

Rollover Options

Some of these items are self-explanatory but the de-duplicate option is pretty sweet. Click on that and you'll see duplicate keywords across your groups. This is handy because it really lets you refine your lists pretty quickly and efficiently. You can choose which group to remove duplicates from:

de duplicate

Another neat feature is if you click on the jack looking icon in the keyword results you can get options to search Google Trends, the Google Search Results, Bing's xRank, and Bing's search results:

Google Bing Integration

Google Bing Search Box

You can use this method to keep creating more and more sub-groups if desired but usually 1-2 levels deep is good enough. You don't want to integrate so tightly that someone has to click 17 times to get to an article that could have been easily served on a sub-page within a top-level category.

Negative Keyword Selection

This tool allows you to search for negative keywords at the group and sub-group levels. It highlights the words that might be irrelevant to your campaign and gives you the option to accept the modifier or deny the modifier via a yes/no option. So what you are saying yes/no to is the highlighted word, not the phrase itself.

negative keywords

They also have a checkbox option which keeps potential negative keywords out of this report IF they have previously resulted in conversions (via your AdWords/analytics tie-in data).

Once you add a negative keyword in there you can choose phrase, broad, or exact match as negative keyword options. You can manually add negative keywords as well.

One option I'd like to see is "add full keyword/phrase or just highlighted modifier" rather than just adding the modifier.

They also offer a feature which tries to associate a selected negative keyword with other ones that appear in this report. So for instance, I checked off Chesapeake and hit yes, then I was presented with this:

Related Negative Keywords


Prioritize Workflow

Wordstream's products play to agency type accounts and workflow is a big part of what they offer. The Prioritize Workflow tool allows you to review workflow information at the group, sub-group, and account level.


From here you can:

  • Segment groups with no sub-groups into sub-groups
  • Associate an ad group with a keyword group
  • Associate a landing page with a keyword group or groups
  • Cleanse a group (takes you to the negative keyword tool)
  • De-duplicate groups

The columns are as follows:

  • Relevance - A custom score which is derived initially from the amount of keywords within a group and how many visits they have driven. Typically the higher the relevance the more important the group to your traffic levels.
  • Visits - Total number of visits per group of keywords
  • Keywords - Total number of keywords within a group
  • Group Size - If you get the triangle it means you've exceed the group size you set (or was set by default) in the Wordstream Settings panel which is found under the Settings Tab - Wordstream Settings
  • AdWords/Landing Pages - Shows whether or not a group is associated with a landing page or an AdWords account
  • Filthiness - Shows (based on settings that can be modified in Settings - Wordstream Settings) if you've exceed limits set for negative keyword candidates as a percentage of the keyword group.

The Relevance field has some customization options:

Keyword relevancy

So you can play with this a bit and throw in goals and value of goals as variables as to show which groups are not only driving the most traffic, but are also producing the most goals. Usually you'll find custom keyword performance metrics are not so great because they don't use any relevant data. Here though, Wordstream is using 3 of the most relevant pieces of data when it comes to keywords and keyword importance

  • Actual Traffic
  • Actual Conversions
  • Value of Conversions

That was an overview of what Wordstream can do for finding and managing your keywords both on the paid search and organic search side. The third piece of Wordstream's suite of tools is the PPC Campaign Management option.

PPC Campaign Management

Wordstream's Create PPC Campaign tab takes you right into a nice, clean (dare I say Google like) interface. Here you can pretty much do everything you can do with the AdWords Editor.

You can do all of the following here:

  • Download an existing campaign
  • Create a new campaign (for uploading or exporting later)
  • Set your campaign name
  • Set your campaign budget
  • Adjust your campaign status
  • Choose Search and/or Content Network
  • Work with Content Network bids
  • Set a start and end date
  • Work with language and location targeting
  • Assign ad groups to campaigns
  • Interface with Google's Conversion Optimizer

Moving Keyword Groups to Ad Groups

It is very easy to move one of your existing Wordstream Keyword Groups into Ad Groups. All you need to do is go to Manage Keywords - Organize Keywords right click on the ad group (we'll go with Puppy Stuff) and select "Create Google AdWords Ad Group"

keyword group adwords group integration

Then you are brought to a screen where you select the campaign you want to add it to:

Create Ad Group

Then the group is added to the Create PPC Campaign interface where you can work with just about everything you are use to working with within AdWords.

Currently you can only work directly with the AdWords interface but you can export your campaigns in both Yahoo and Microsoft AdCenter format.

Landing Page Assignment

In the same way you export Keyword Groups to AdWords AdGroups you can associate landing pages by simply clicking "Associate Landing Page with Keyword Group" in the Manage My Keywords - Organize Keywords area or in the Prioritize Workflow Area.

Adding Conversion Goals

If you tie into Google Analytics this is already added automatically added (each time you add a Goal to analytics).

Conversion goals

You can manage them here and add ones manually. This is managed in the Settings - Conversion Goals tab.

So this feature is pretty sweet on the SEO side of the house because with that custom Relevancy data we discussed earlier you can get a real, honest picture of which set of keywords are performing well and perhaps where more sub-groups of that keyword need to be investigated for more content and hopefully more conversions.

The goals can be viewed right in the Organize Keywords area and keywords can be sorted by completed goals which is handy when you are refining your campaign.

So this is really another piece of their unique feature which we talked about earlier, Continuous Keyword Research. If you choose to manage your campaign within Wordstream it is really a slick set up for SEO (and PPC) and they are looking to beef up the SEO side of things in the near future which is exciting.

Create SEO Content and Wordstream Firefox Plug in

seo firefox

Wordstream's Create SEO Content feature within your account is a tie in with the Firefox Plug-in. The plug-in is really useful if you utilize blog software for web publishing and especially if you have multiple content authors.

The firefox plug-in loads in the left side of your browser and ties into your existing Wordstream database giving you the option to do keyword research as well as create blog entries right from the plug-in in either:

  • Wordpress
  • Blogger
  • Drupal
  • Typepad

If you are self-hosting the blogs/sites on WP, Drupal, or Typepad you'll have to provide your login URL and the URL for adding content. You can use your own CMS as well, but you'll need to manually log in to these CMS's/Blogs.

The image below shows you how the keywords are presented (in groups similar to the Wordstream tool), the content tie-in to the right, and the keyword options on the bottom:

  • Top Ten Keywords
  • Longer Tail Variations
  • Questions associated with your selected bucket

Seo Plug-in Overview

And when you are writing your content the tool will show you instances of the longer tail keywords in your copy as you write it!

Seo Plug In Content Creator

In the first image the second tab shows "My Keywords". This is the tie in to the existing Wordstream database (your private database) and allows you to start building out your site structure, pretty cool stuff. The "associate content" link indicates that you have not associated a page with your keyword(s).

You can also right click on any keyword and get direct access to the following queries:

Search Features


I stole these images from Wordstream's great piece on their plug-in as they do a great job of showing the CMS integration:

Wordstream's Firefox Plug-in

A Handy Dashboard Ties it Together

In your account you have access to a dashboard that shows the following stats in one spot:

  • Top New Search Queries (from Analytics)
  • My Search Query Database Size
  • New Negative Keyword Possibilites
  • Best Performing Search Queries
  • Search Query Conversions
  • Possible Grouping Options Based on Queries
  • Worst Performing Queries
  • Best Performing Groups


Great Wordstream resources can be found here:

About Wordstream

Wordstream User Guide

So What Do You Think?

Wordstream certainly has lots and lots of features as well as some nice features not present in any other quality keyword tool (that I'm aware of) such as:

  • Continuous research (being able to bounce from keyword set to keyword set right in the same interface and managing those keywords as well)
  • Being able to research keywords in clusters/groups with a click of the mouse, then automatically showing sub-categories
  • Their database, likely because it pulls from many sources, does a solid job with long tail keywords
  • Using your analytics and AdWords reports to automatically pull in new keywords for you to act on, to track goals on, and so forth is a fantastic feature as we discussed earlier (being able to truly see the more valuable keyword sets within your site's architecture)

Overall Wordstream has a robust PPC offering along with a strong SEO toolset offering. In discussing their future plans on the SEO side they did state that they are continuing to improve their UI (which I quite like) as well as continue to add SEO features and tools to their current offering. Their current SEO offering is on par, price wise, with many of the other non-Google tools out there, and offers just as many features as some and more features than others.

They have a 7 day free trial available and I think it's worth spending some time with their toolset to see if it fits in with your current workflow. You can manage multiple sites (profiles) so long as you own and operate the sites. You can also get an agency account with Wordstream so you can manage client accounts as well. Each type lets you add multiple users to the account to assist with whatever your workflow needs happen to be.

Check Out Wordstream

Wordstream Pricing Options

And So The Margins Race Toward Zero

Yahoo! & Associated Content @ Yahoo! Video

The backfill content business model has had a great run over the past 5 years, but with today's announcement of Yahoo! acquiring Associated Content, it certainly feels like it is getting toward the beginning of the end for that model for most folks.

  • Demand Media has grown eHow aggressively & struck partnerships with the likes of USA Today, and has recently been in the news about looking to do an ~ $1.5 billion IPO. If you look at Richard Rosenblatt's past sales you will see that he is quite good at selling right at the top.
  • Former Googler Tim Armstrong rebuilt Aol around their internal SEED platform which targets content at longtail arbitrage opportunities & leverages their premium Google ad feed.
  • Associated Content struck deals with companies like Thomson Reuters, Cox Newspapers, Hachette Filipacchi and USA Today. And they just landed a $90 million payday in the sale to Yahoo!

Yahoo! still has north of 10% search marketshare and can probe new & trending content ideas in real-time, while also using their huge distribution to market the new features. The fast data and instant distribution likely double the value of the business model for them. Take average content, tie it to a trusted brand, and immediately give it huge distribution and you have a winning formula. Assuming Yahoo! does a good job of integration this is probably one of their better acquisitions.

About a year ago a friend told me he bought some Yahoo! stock and I told him I thought he was nuts, but if I saw signs of decent integration of this content then I think they just increased their longevity of their company probably by a decade or more. And the part of this model which works great is that they view this content not as a replacement for their premium content, but as a backfill for the keywords they would like to target which don't have enough demand to pay for premium content creation. Some of the smarter independent webmasters have long understood that part of publishing profitably online means having featured content which loses money but builds awareness, and a second bucket of content which leverages that reputation to profit. That understanding is where the term "linkbait" came from, but now the big companies are playing the same game.

Here is a list of Aol properties, and as soon as they show strong profit growth you can bet they will use their stock to purchase more sites

You could put up similar network maps for the likes of Expedia, BankRate, Yahoo! subdomains,, etc. etc. etc.

If Google continues to keep the algorithm fairly similar over the next couple years (ie: overall domain authority = relevancy panacea) it is pretty obvious what is going to happen to a lot of online categories. They will get watered down search by search as these publishing companies reinvest profits into creating a second, third, or fifth site in profitable categories.

If many people are using the same approach that will often create opportunities for other approaches. The good news for the average webmaster is that as the bland one size fits all approach (based on domain authority) gains momentum is that it will likely force Google to adjust. And it will make people become more loyal to great sites when they find them. As such general purpose sites grow I almost think it adds value to sites which look a bit unpolished and look like they are created from am amateur hobbyist. Thoughts? What say you?

How to Fix the Broken Link Graph

When Teoma launched in 2002 GoogleGuy made the following comment:

"I just have one question. Are the Overture results on top an April Fool's Day joke, or is that for real? ;) "

Since then Google has put ads above their organic search results, done selective self-serving within their "organic" results, and built a business that is pulling in over $20 billion a year. It turns out aggressively carpet-bombing the web with ads is no joke. :D

But the net effect of that success is that many people know the value of links. SEO is a zero sum game, and so if you don't engage in heavy self promotion you will remain obscure on Google's linkless internet:

  • no one links honestly any more.
  • all links are suspect.
  • no one links freely any more.
  • those that do link freely are considered naive.
  • page rank is specifically worth money.
  • links are currency.
  • articles that once contained great links - no longer link to story targets.

On the web ideas (and business models) spread quickly. So as companies learn that Google encourages and pays you to pollute the web with garbage that is what many people will do. Google goes so far as to explicitly state what not to do, and many people view that as a checklist of opportunities, as it wouldn't be on that list unless it worked. ;)

The lack of community and camaraderie within the SEO industry both remarkable & unsurprising give that the SEO industry is a bit of a canary in the coal mine in terms of adopting new best practices (or worst practices, in some cases).

  • At the lower end of the market people are operating like robots, mechanically spamming in a way that sure feels like crapping on the virtual living room floors in established public forums.
  • Just yesterday I read a blog post listing me amongst a list of resources where everything recommended had a link - except for our site. The lack of link was so bizarrely out of place that they literally had to explain why they didn't link to our site. Crazy stuff, especially from an SEO "professional" who claims to like and value your work!
  • As attention becomes more scarce, many people are willing to do anything to get a bit of it.

Meanwhile Google has no issues funding that very "linkless" web pollution by paying the likes of Demand Media to syndicate their ads, and encourage the use of rel=nofollow on links while trying to build out the model for digital sharecropper overlords. Google has pushed so far on nofollow that content spam is the single most profitable SEO business model going today.

The end result of this business decision? Google becomes its own nemesis by funding spam:

This triple occurrence of Optimization by Proxy creates a self-reinforcing cycle where the made-for-adsense website owners are rewarded with cold hard cash for their efforts. What's worse, this cash flow has been effectively subtracted from the potential gains of legitimate content producers. One can say that the existence of Google search/adsense/adwords makes all this commerce possible in the first place, but this does not make the downward spiral of inefficiency disappear.

What is even more strange about the above quoted article is that a Google search-quality engineer submitted it to Hacker News using "Sufficiently advanced spam is indistinguishable from content" as the title & wrote the following:

All of the fascinating things about signals are confidential for all of the reasons listed in the article, and Google has been sued so many times by sites that think they should rank better than they do that I can't really give examples.

I think it's safe to say though that there are a lot of people worried about and thinking hard about what the web is turning into and how to rank it appropriately.

Most of the content is no longer written by devoted hobbyists, people no longer link as often to things they like, and much of the content on the front pages of reddit, digg (and sometimes even hackernews) was put there by people trying to make your search results worse.

Given that Google pays for the creation of content and is the most profitable distribution channel for many webmasters, few businesses have anywhere near Google's influence on "what the web is turning into."

The smaller the corpus of voters there are the fewer people you need to influence to manipulate the search results. And so stuff like this becomes popular:

But if you have a live and flourishing link graph then efforts of spammy delight won't be able to compete anywhere near as well against the best sites. The problem is the best sites often remain in obscurity & even when they spread through social networks most of those links use nofollow.

The powerful element of links is that they give search an informational bias. Most other forms of user feedback (even awareness) are to some degree driven by ad budget, which would give the results a commercial bias that would cut Google's AdWords revenues.

Years ago on porn search Matt Cutts stated "One thing to consider is that our rankings (because of PageRank and the link structure of the web) often lean more toward information sites. You usually have to look a little more deliberately to find porn on Google." And last year a Google search engineer on Reddit stated: "Incredibly, we take an active role in ignoring porn search. As in, we neither care nor not care about whether our changes affect the search for porn. I'm quite impressed myself at how good it is given this, and sometimes I wonder how much better it could be..."

The point being that Google can choose to be a passive reflection of the web, but they choose *not* to and have impacted the web by perverting the link structure. Even Google engineers admit "people no longer link as often to things they like" - this is not due to "scalable algorithms" - but due to a long history of calls for spam reports, calls for paid links reports, threatening to remove PageRank, pushing rel=nofollow out for a niche purpose and then claiming it to be a panacea, associating (non-Google!) link selling with bogus cancer cures, creating the AdSense API, excessive emphasis on domain authority, claims like "we are packrats at Google. We never seem to throw out information about the link structure of the web. :)", etc.

Yes any new webmaster can quickly rank any trashy content in Google - not on their own site - but on one owned and controlled by a Google arbitrage partner like Demand Media.

Google engineers focused on making their own jobs easier (by making links harder to get) rather than encouraging and promoting the advancement of the corpus of content & links/votes they rely on. The fundamental question for search is if the ecosystem is healthier with many micro-parasites or fewer macro-parasites. I always promote diversity as a good thing, but capitalism typically promotes homogenization to increase yields. That will work for Google right up until...

  • some of the large arbitrage players form their own ad network, or sign an exclusive deal with Bing
  • quality publishers pull out of search and people prefer to ask their own communities what is good rather than searching to find bland 3rd grade answers wrapped in AdSense which point Google will start promoting other sites & building a new model. Or they will become irrelevant.

But Google is not required to go through that pain.

They could undo the years of FUD that destroyed the link graph by stating the importance of outbound links, and then putting a bit of weight on it. It is something that was hinted at in the past, but the focus on making links harder to get has undermined the utility of using links as *the* measuring stick for quality because "people no longer link as often to things they like."

Advanced Web Ranking Review

Advanced Web Ranking (further referenced as AWR) is a fairly robust website rank checking product which is recommended by lots and lots of people in our forums. There are many rank checking tools on the market, some worthy of mention and many not (although some of that is just do to feature overlap). AWR is one of the more full featured ones out there.


Overview of Advanced Web Ranking

AWR is a software based tool which can be purchased on its own or as a package with Advanced Link Manager (a powerful link tool worthy of it's own review in the near future). AWR has 4 product levels which you can choose from (the bundle prices are nice with Advanced Link Manager but we will focus on just the AWR prices here):

  • Standard
  • Professional
  • Enterprise
  • Server

Picking a Version

A good comparison can be found here.

Quite a few folks find the Standard version to be just fine. However, if you are into local search or if you want AWR to create printable reports for you, then you may want to drop the extra $100 to get the Pro Version which includes printable reports, reports by email, the ability to custom brand your reports, and a nice local search feature which we'll cover in a minute.

If you need more advanced features such as:

  • Managing multiple users
  • A more intuitive project manager
  • Triggers which will automatically alert you when certain things change, can be helpful if you run this remotely or if you run auto updates and only want to be notified if certain parameters change.
  • Advanced Web Ranking Triggers Option
  • Ability to assign different proxy servers on a per project basis

They also offer a built in keyword suggestion tool with the standard and pro versions which hits up Google Suggest and Word Tracker:

Keyword Suggestion Screenshot

The one up in the Enterprise version is the built in Keyword Research Tool which gives you the Google AdWords KW Tool, Wordtracker if you have an API for them but I normally do keyword research outside of this tool so I don't pay much attention to this feature.

The enterprise version also offers a Google Preview tool where you can preview results in other Google search engines across the globe and in select regions/cities, which is helpful if you have clients all over the map.

Setting Up a Project in AWR

When you first start using AWR it can be pretty daunting, lots and lots of features. I find that focusing on what I bought the product for, a kick ass rank checking tool, helps me avoid some of the feature bloat I think it has (keyword tools and such). Although the way the segment the products removes most of the bloat in my opinion.

You start a project by selecting your search engines like so:

Advanced Web Ranking Search Engines

They have over 1,000 search engine options including Google Data Centers (and corresponding IP addresses) that you can plug into the tool as well as many country specific ones

Then you select your keywords, and you can color code them for easier charting and tracking.

Adding keywords to AWR

The next step is to add the websites you want to track, for this example I'll just throw one in but you can add more here or you can add some from the competing websites you find right in the Top Sites report provided by AWR:

Adding sites to AWR

The next two tabs we'll skip but they are pretty self-explanatory.

So now you've got your keywords, the search engines you want to track, and the website you want to track so you're ready to rock.

Using AWR

The first screen you'll see is as follows, I ran an update when I set up the project so it's already been run through but that is usually the first step.

AWR initial project screen

There are a slew of reports within AWR:

  • Current Rank
  • Keyword Rank
  • Search Engine Rank
  • Top Sites
  • Overview
  • Visibility
  • Keyword Analysis
  • Competition

It's important to note that when you add keywords to AWR it will automatically check sub-pages of your site for any keyword you enter and they associate www and non-www as default.

I originally started the example project with Coca-Cola products (mainly Vanilla Coke of course) but there wasn't much data there so I went with a different example.

I went with Geico.Com and the keywords car insurance, auto insurance, car insurance quotes, and motorcycle insurance quotes.

Current Rank Report

The Current Rank report will show you current rankings of your keywords within the search engines that you chose within the project set up screen. You can select the keyword, the search engine, and the site to get your current position, previous position, change since last update, the page you are on, and the best ranking you've achieved with those parameters.

Current Rank Report

You can choose "Expanded View" to see the rankings for all keywords within that specific engine if you want a broader view of things:

Extended Data View

The chart feature shown here is from their example as I don't have historical data on this project but you can see where there are added competing sites in the lower left corner and they correspond with the chart's colored lines showing the ranking trends of those sites, and your's, for the highlighted keyword. This is extremely useful when looking at trends as well as trying to keep an eye on competitor strategies, what's working and what's not working, etc.

Current Rank Chart

Some other options in the Current Rank report, in terms of viewing keyword reports, are the ability to only show keywords which are in the top 10/20/30/40/or 50, only show keywords that are ranking at all, check by multiple dates in addition to variables like keywords in the top "xyz" spots or ones that moved up or ones that moved down, and a few other tweaks as well all over multiple update dates.

Keyword Rank Report

The Keyword Rank report is kind of similar to the Extended Data view in the Current rank report where it groups keywords by search engine and website by selecting the website and engine from the left column (Google in this case, omitted in the interest of redundancy). Also note how you see the sub-page listed for one keyword and the main domain for the same keyword as Geico has two listings for that keyword in Google.

Keyword Rank Report

Shows similar data like position, previous position, change, page found on, and best rank.

If you have lots of keywords you can categorize them with the Category Data option (helpful for larger sites and grouping keywords which are aligned to specific pages or sections of your site) which is something not available in the Current Rank report.

It has a charting feature as well. It groups it by keyword and uses little icons to denote the different sites (if you are tracking multiple sites) so each colored line represents a keyword and you can click on a specific keyword to highlight the line (as the others are lighter to avoid a messy interface).

Search Engine Rank

The Search Engine Rank report groups the selected keyword with the search engines to quickly show you how you rank across the search engines for that particular keyword.

Search Engine Rank Report

Again, another nice visual graph option which is kind of a staple of AWR (lots and lots of visual data points). The site is tied to a search engine via a line graph with the icons used in the Keyword Rank Report to denote different sites. These charts really become powerful if you are able to track things like your link building efforts or other marketing efforts and tie them into how each engine responds to those types of practices.

Search Engine Report Chart

Similar to other reports, the multiple dates feature can help you compare trends across a variety of timelines defined by you within the program.

Top Sites

The top sites report shows the top (10 in this case) sites that are ranking for the highlighted keyword in the highlighted search engine. The cool thing here is you can add sites from the top sites report right to the websites you are tracking. Adding those competing sites will help you keep an eye on the competition and hopefully spot some trends that you can capitalize on sooner rather than later.

Top Sites report

This is also a cool report to find sites that are consistently ranking for core and longer-tail keywords across your SERP's. Most of the core keywords might be similar but identifying competitors that are winning the core keyword AND long tail keyword battle could give you a nice headstart into figuring out what they are doing, how they are doing, and so on so you can go ahead and improve on those strategies and start to move past them in key areas.

Overview Report

The Overview tab kind of puts a lot of stuff into one spot for you, which is nice for reporting and such. Below is a screenshot of the basic overview with the options panel open.

Overview Report

So here you have three options in the upper left corner, Search Engines/Keywords/Websites. Whichever one you choose the remaining two are used as data points for that selection. Examples are as follows:

  • Websites - Keywords grouped by Search Engine
  • Websites - Search Engines grouped by Keywords
  • Search Engines - Keywords grouped by Website
  • Search Engines - Websites grouped by keywords
  • Keywords - Search engines grouped by websites
  • Keywords - Websites grouped by search engines

A good example of this in practice can be found here. If you are looking for a higher level of how things are going, quickly, then this is probably the report you want to be looking at. It will show you movement in each area for each data point (what's going up, what's going down, etc) which you can then investigate further in the specific reports we discussed before.

Visibility Report

The visibility offers the same input/output relationship as the Overview report (choose websites, keywords, or search engines as input and the other 2 will be the data points you can play with). A screenshot is probably helpful here.

Visibility Report

Here you can see all sorts of juicy information about the sites you are following, the keywords you and they are targeting, and the coverage for all the sites in the search engines you care to follow. We've charted you to death here, suffice to say there is a chart for this as well (another great reporting feature). They have some custom stuff at the bottom like Visibility Score, Visibility Percent, Site Rank, Average Site Rank. These formulas are explained by them here. I personally find that quickly browsing the results gives me the same idea of coverage and site strength as these custom metrics do but we all know some people love custom, special metrics.

Keyword Analysis Report

This is a report that I personally don't use as I do not feel keyword density is something worth looking at as a ranking metric, other than to plug in a competitor's site to see what keywords appear most often on the page. This report shows a ton of words and phrases for each site/page, the density of the word or phrase, and total occurrences of that word or phrase. It shows some other basic info like total words on the page, whether the page employes global no-follow links, size of the page, meta information, and page rank. Also, it shows the page title, link text, and image alt tags.

Keyword Analysis Report

It can be kind of useful when comparing two sites and their on-page text occurrences and you can view changes over time as well. It has a basic original content filter as well but I much prefer SeoBook's Duplicate Content Checker for that type of stuff.

The Competition Report

This report shows total competing pages in the various engines for your keywords. Not incredibly useful for me, I just want to know how strong the top ranking sites are, the amount of competition is irrelevant if most of it is suboptimal. Conversely, I don't care if the total number of pages are really low if the ranking sites are really strong :-) .

Competition Report

Additional Reporting Options

As we mentioned earlier, AWR has fantastic reporting options in their Professional plan and most of the reports mentioned above (Current Rank, Keyword Rank, Overview Report, Top Sites, and Search Engine Rank) can be printed out for your own use and more importantly for your use with client work. All reports are can be customized and can be branded as well.

They have a great user guide and the section on printable reports can be found here.

Local Search Engines

In addition to the Google Preview Tool (Enterprise Edition) which lets you define engines by location AWR allows you to check Google Maps and Yahoo Local for Rankings, which is a terrific feature if you are involved with local stuff. It comes preset with many of the larger cities in the US and capitals of foreign countries.

Here is where you add it (you can customize by long/lat but I just chose Pittsburgh here).

Local Pittsburgh

Then you go back to project settings and add it to your engines

Local Add to Engine

Update the project, then check out the top sites report where you can right click on a listing and view it in the search results and view the local 10 pack right there, cool stuff!....

Local Results

Local Map

Additional Links

AWR comes with a downloadable and HTML version of their detailed user guide here.

Pricing options here, and feature overview here.

Final Thoughts

AWR is a top notch rank checking product used by many of the members here at SeoBook and is even better when combined with Advanced Link Manager (which we'll cover in another post). It is one of the most feature-rich products on the market and does not attempt to upsell you at every corner either. For a full-featured product, it's at the top of my list.

The support is solid as well. They actively monitor their forums, have 2 phone numbers to call, and have a live chat feature for your convenience.

At the end of 12 months you'll have to purchase a maintenance plan which is really inexpensive when you consider what you get with the software.

It can be slow at times (due to human emulation settings and the overall feature set) if you are running large query sets and find your updates taking awhile some tips are to get a second machine to run the checks or rent a dedicated box somewhere for cheap dollars, remote in and run it like a remote desktop (a great tip shared by a member here).

Hope this will give you some insight into how useful AWR can be. They have many, many sorting settings as well (which are common to most reports) so you really can get a lot out of this tool if you understand most of the capabilities from the start. Their user guide can be a bit overwhelming so hopefully this will give you kind of a basic look on what it's core strengths are.

Update Rank Checker

We updated rank checker this morning - sortable columns, faster code, works with the new Google SERPs, etc. If you are one of the dozens of people who filled out a support ticket and didn't get a reply...always check to see if updates are available before filling out a support ticket. And even then we probably don't need support tickets, because it rarely takes us more than a day to update our plug-ins as Google changes.

SEO is a Zero Sum Game

In much the same way that people have developed banner blindness there will be an eventual blindness toward other forms of ads.

People only need to be screwed by a gem like the following about once before they lose trust in sharing *any* personal data with anybody.

The above example is a great example of the scumbag affiliate mindset. Find whatever loopholes in the law exist, and exploit them right up until they are illegal and you risk a fine. If it is profitable enough keep running it until you get fined.

The problem with such exploitative ads is that they ruin the game for everyone. And so the best networks backed by companies who intend to be around for decades typically don't want to run those nasty ads.

The alternative way to build yield is to be more efficient by knowing more. This is part of the reason Google and Facebook are trying so hard to collect as much information as possible AND give each other blowback for their efforts. If you know someone really well and have more data than anyone else then it can be quite hard for others to build a comparable yield. This is true for your own site, but is especially true in terms of creating a distributed ad network.

Distributed ad networks are quite powerful because over time the ad unit can change as personal preference and advertiser preferences change. And with each ad load the network is collecting more data, which can be used to make the network more efficient and price gouge advertisers.

Most online businesses do not aim to operate at the core infrastructural level though, and competition is even more fierce due to a lower barrier to entry. As information is shared publicly people try to clone it precisely (or, at a minimum, create heavily inspired renditions of it). The easier your business model is to clone the more expensive it is to share your information publicly. There are over 1 million AdSense publishers. With Google sharing data down to the page and keyword level that market will get pretty efficient pretty quick.

But techniques and business models can get worn out. Even ad clicks are heavily reliant on vertical and user type. Internet Explorer users have a much higher CTR than more sophisticated web users who are more aware of advertising.

In one market we sent out a few emails to relevant sites by hand and 2 of the 5 people bitched us out because another webmaster with a similar domain name had sent them about 100 emails in the last year, and wouldn't stop even when asked. The technique of investing thousands of Dollars into relevant content and then mentioning it to a few relevant people was, to some degree, killed ... at least in that vertical.

Wherever trust is placed abuse follows, and so we have what Brett Tabke eloquently described as Google's LinkLess Internet:

  • no one links honestly any more.
  • all links are suspect.
  • no one links freely any more.
  • those that do link freely are considered naive.
  • page rank is specifically worth money.
  • links are currency
  • articles that once contained great links - no longer link to story targets.

Google might care more about the damage they have done, but looking the other way has been too profitable. As Brett concluded: "Not by design, but think about this: if you click a link from Google and go to a page, and that page has no interesting off site links - then you are going to turn around and go back to Google."

When trying to organize the web there are always going to be philosophical points of view & business goals that are reflected in the relevancy algorithms. When Google was small and nimble they rooted for the little guy, embraced the affiliates who were their earliest advertisers, and claimed to be a uniquely democratic view of the web. As Google grew they realized that they were near the yield limits of direct marketing, and so they claimed brands are how you sort out the cesspool.

If you build brand you can create new search demand, but for most publishers search is a 0 sum game. For you to win somebody else loses. You are targeting the exact same existing demand as someone else is. It is certainly true for AdSense publishers and affiliates, as well as most other online publishing business models. Even offline publishers are willing to lose money so long as they can bleed dry a strategic competitor.

How are brands responding to Google's call to promote brands? They are exploiting the holes Google is gifting them:

More major media companies are looking for ways to find cheap content. Thomson Reuters, Cox Newspapers and Hachette Filipacchi have run articles supplied by Associated Content, one of several companies, such as Demand Media and AOL's SEED, that mines reporting from masses of freelancers for as little as $5 a story.
Though Mr. Keane and his media partners declined to provide details, an executive with knowledge of these deals indicates the media partners have paid anywhere from $75 to $120 per article as well as a share of any related ad revenue.

It gets a bit tiring to say brand is the solution, but water flows downhill. And so if Google wants to promote brands, who wants to promote the business models that have been banned from AdWords? How many second and third chances might you get if Google by default already hates your business model? If you have a term paper writing service that they penalized you are likely down for the count.

As a service provider understanding Google's business objectives helps you understand where it is easiest to build returns. If they already like something then you might only need to give it a small push to get it over the hump. If you are pushing something that Google is moving away from then you are pushing uphill the whole way.

Not every SEO client project makes money. In fact, at the start of new ongoing projects it is a near certainty that both parties start losing money. There is a different approach to each type of business, and it is far easier to be profitable promoting what Google wants to promote.

The same SEO technique is typically worth much more when applied to a strong brand than when applied to a small business. Recently there has been a bunch of GARBAGE misinformation polluting the SEO space about concepts like "the brands hiding on Google." Why? That is where the ad budget is.

Brands can practically fall over the finish line and still win - even with an incompetent SEO practicioner doing the work, so even as Google is promoting brands, SEO firms are lining up to claim brands are not getting a fair shake.

Truth is brands have it easy, and there are tons of ways to bake SEO into other advertising + marketing efforts.

There was a recent Google update which impacted many websites. Googlebot has been going crazy, but as some sites drop others went up. It makes little difference to Google, and they probably prefer to have the results mix up (even if it sacrifices relevancy a bit) because it prevents people from becoming too comfortable.

Part of why Google wants to mix new verticals into the search game is that the more people they have competing against each other the more leverage Google has over the game:

Google says users will be able to buy digital copies of books they discover through its book-search service. It will also allow book retailers—even independent shops—to sell Google Editions on their own sites, taking the bulk of the revenue. Google is still deciding whether it will follow the model where publishers set the retail price or where Google sets retail prices.

Google can be content running at a loss or break even in new verticals because they are buying marketshare which can be used to enhance relevancy. "We're quite comfortable having a diverse range of physical retailers, whereas most of the other players would like to have a less competitive space, because they'd like to dominate." - Dan Clancy. Once they have the marketshare and data, they can ramp up on pricing.

Google also unveiled a new 3 column search result layout, and has no intent of offering a broadly marketed easy way to revert back to the old version. There is a legacy URL that still works, but for how long is anyone's guess. The new search result layout allows searchers to dive deeper into various verticals. And some have speculated that the change to the layout could cost Google some ad clicks, but if it did those losses would be temporary. Many of Google's vertical search services have limited relevancy, and the inline integration in the regular search results was hit or miss (I once saw a Philip M. Parker auto-generated book at #2 in the organic search results for a competitive keyword). :D

But when you think of the types of verticals Google is now promoting, to some degree you could almost think of them as ad channels / categories where Google is buying market data and/or taking a second bite at the apple on monetization to grow the search pie.

  • Where are most videos hosted? Youtube.
  • Discussions? What do most free web forums & QnA websites use to monetize their websites? AdSense.
  • Books? Google Editions is launching in the next couple months.
  • Updates? Google will eventually likely buy Twitter.
  • Product search? Could that eventually tie into the Google affiliate network?
  • Maps & Local? There is an ad for that ;)

If Google knows you want something local or recent then those are just additional dimensions to target ads against. And if many users like vertical x after searching for something then Google can use that usage data to promote that vertical more aggressively in the regular search results. Google can optimize everything from search suggest right on through to ad targeting.

And as paid content models mature, Google's focus on verticals ensures they stay at the heart of the transaction flow, giving them the data needed to improve relevancy and recommend featured paid content.

In the broader sense of marketing, I think the idea that SEO is primarily fulfilling demand is one of the reasons many people dislike the business model. The idea of being one of many shifting choices doesn't sound very exciting to most people, especially if they don't know much about the relevancy algorithms:

in this post industrial information age, if you are just one more entry in an algorithmically defined index, the index algorithm makes even the most amazing employee the digital equivalent of a 1909 Ford production worker. Ford didnt care if you were the most productive in the plant. Google doesnt care if you are the most valued brand in the index. They will assign their own value to you. You are just one more entry into an equation. An equation that you dont have access to.

The bigger issues with simply filling existing demand are that you miss some organic start up opportunities because you are not growing the pie. You miss the transformational business models. You won't create a Paypal or a Skype or a Google with an SEO oriented strategy. And even if it is successful, it can be quite bland and boring as you are not covering new ground:

The technology business is fundamentally the innovation business. Etymologically, the word technology means “a better way of doing things.” As a result, innovation is the core competency for technology companies. Technology companies are born because they create a better way of doing things. Eventually, someone else will come up with a better way. Therefore, if a technology company ceases to innovate, it will die.

These innovations are product cycles. Professional CEOs are effective at maximizing, but not finding, product cycles. Conversely, founding CEOs are excellent at finding, but not maximizing, product cycles. Our experience shows—and the data supports—that teaching a founding CEO how to maximize the product cycle is easier than teaching the professional CEO how to find the new product cycle.

The other big problem when you are just selling existing solutions into existing value systems is that it often means you promote outdated products, hyped crap, and anything that is in a bubble. And if you think otherwise, take a look at the ads on your website and see if they promote the best solutions, or the solutions which produce the highest yield.

All throughout history man has fought for and stole what is his. Some legally gained, some not. But even the legal systems are a reflection of the most profitable business models. It's why Warren Buffet believes that derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, except for *when he owns them* ... and it is why no bankers are in jail and bonuses are at record highs when unemployment is still so high. Most the recovery was fraudulent ponzi finance and the individual has to fight for whatever scraps they get. For most people search presents the same type of opportunity as a debt-based finance system, where success seems just within reach, but is not.

I am just as guilty as anyone else on that front, but it does feel good to run at least 1 or 2 websites which aim to have meaning. I just wished they provided as much yield as the other stuff does. :D

As search gets smarter perhaps one day they will!

But for now search is still a zero sum game ;)

Text Link Ads in 2010

Originally Link Diagnosis was a fairly well received free link analysis tool. But since its launch its role in the SEO game may have quietly changed.

While surfing around the SEO space I checked out the iAcquire white paper, which explained that they own LinkDiagnosis. iAcquire, which claims to be a corporate link building tool, apparently states that they use your research to service their clients. See the following image from their report!

John Andrews has warned against using tools for link builders by link builders, and highlights some of the related dangers

Now a well know link building service provider is offering a tool for managing link building. Part of the pitch is that only a professional link builder really knows how to build a good link building tool. I don’t disagree… but I do think the last person I want to share my link building activity data with is a professional link builder.

Just think of how valuable your link building activity data would be to someone in the link building business! That service will aggregate a vast database of places people get links from, people (webmasters) contacted for linking purposes, and perhaps even the costs of links negotiated. Wow… what a great resource for a professional link builder to data mine.

Is iAcquire Text Link Ads 2.0?

After selling Text Link Ads to MediaWhiz, it appears that iAcquire might be TLA 2.0.

Consider the following:

  • It is using anonymous domain name registration and the website doesn't list any names, which is weird for a site which claims to be founded by an elite group of SEOs experienced in serving big brands (as big brands would probably want to know *who* they are working with)
  • It is recommended by Andy Hagans on his personal site, and Andy generally wouldn't recommend anything without being paid to do so (after all, right after the link Andy wrote "I don’t plan to actively blog on this site or anything, but I want to use it to link to the existing projects in which I’m invested.")
  • the angled blue design on ReviewMe & LinkDiagnosis look similar, indicating that perhaps the same designer may have been involved in both projects, or that at a minimum the later was inspired by the former

  • on CrunchBase it states that at least 1 former TLA employee is involved with the project, as referenced in the following image quote

The TextLinkAds brand and website were crushed by Google, and yet many of the people involved with it (who sold it off right before it got penalized) have gravitated to a new brand of link brokering, whilest the old site remains penalized.

How long before Google starts honing in on this segment of the web the same way they honed in on the Text Link Ads network? If you are using a free tool to hunt for linking opportunities and the company that owns the tool is using your labors to hunt for link opportunities as well, are you perhaps wasting some of your time? Are you competing against yourself by handing tons of data over to websites with strong domain authority which only need to replicate a few of the links you get to beat you? Might it make sense to pay a few pennies to use something more trustworthy which won't harvest the fruits of your labors and use them against you?

Take a second look when looking at a lot of the free stuff online. Something that at first glance seems altruistic might have ulterior motives and hidden costs which only appear later, when a brand new competitor comes out of nowhere! And it is even worse when you are funding them with your market data and ad Dollars.