The Search Taxonomy: Getting Inside the Mind of the Searcher

May 27th
posted in

Bill from SEO By The Sea published a good article entitled "Writing Content for Small Businesses Online", in which he talks about search taxonomies.

For those new to the topic, I thought I'd go over it, and show it applies to SEO strategy.

I'm basing this article on the study "A Taxonomy Of Web Search"(PDF), by Andrei Broder. Andrei is VP of Search Advertising at Yahoo, although he wrote this report while he was with AltaVista.

What Is A Search Taxonomy?

In summary, a taxonomy is the practice and science of classification.

In terms of search, we focus on classifying keywords into three distinct classes - navigational, informational and transactional.

If you can determine user intent behind keyword queries, you can better target your keyword strategies. For example, if your aim is to sell goods online, you may choose to focus on transactional queries e.g. "where can I buy an LCD monitor....", as opposed to informational queries e.g. "power requirements of an LCD monitor......".

There is, of course, a lot of cross-over between these three types of queries, which I'll address shortly.

The Three Types Of Searches

In the study, keyword queries are divided into three groups.

Navigational

A navigational query indicates the searcher wants to find a specific site.

For example, a search for "BMW" most likely indicates the the user wants to find BMW.com. Navigational queries usually only have one "right" answer. The user either finds the site they are after, or they do not.

Informational

An informational query indicates the searcher is looking for specific information.

For example, "symptoms of cancer", "San Francisco" or "Scoville heat units". Informational queries tend to be broad. The informational query doesn't tend to be site specific.

Transactional

A transactional query indicates the searcher wants to perform a web-mediated activity. For example, "buy LCD TV online".

If your aim is to sell goods and services online, you might focus more on transactional queries than informational queries. The problem with such classification, of course, is that it is narrow. We can't really determine user intent from just looking at the keyword, however this classification gives us a useful way of thinking about which keyword terms might be the most useful in achieving our goals.

Results Of The Survey

There are some really interesting results in this report.

24.53% of people want to get to a specific website they already have in mind. This is a navigational query

This is why brand, and making your brand memorable, is so important. Searchers often type a site name into a search engine, rather than type http://www....etc into the address bar. Optimizing for the name of your site is imperative if you want to catch navigational queries.

68.41% of people want to find a good site on a particular topic. They don't have a specific site in mind. This is an informational query

A lot of SEO is focused on this type of query.

Why did people conduct their searches?

  • 8.16% were shopping for something to buy on the internet
  • 5.46% of people were shopping to buy an item, but not on the internet
  • 22.55% of people wanted to download a file (i.e. image, music, software, etc)
  • 57.19% None of these reasons

What were people looking for?

  • 14.83% were looking for a collection of links to other sites regarding a particular topic
  • 76.62% The best site regarding this topic

Interesting, huh. Site's like About.com and Mahalo capture both these types of queries.

Eye Tracking Studies

Now, with these figures in mind, check out this eye tracking study.

Although the test data is limited, it is interesting to note that sites targeting a transactional query can be further down the search result set than the informational query and still receive attention, if not a click.

When conducting an informational query, if searchers don't see the information they want in the first search result, they will refine their search. The same goes for navigational queries.

If you're targeting the transactional query, however, the wording of your title tag could give you an advantage over those who rank higher than you. When conducting a transactional query, searchers often hunt further down the result page, or across to the Adwords, to see which listing sounds most interesting to them.

How To Integrate This Knowledge Into Your Strategy

So how do you apply this information?

If you choose to focus on one type of query.....

Know Your Users

There are many cues of relevancy left by the market. All you have to do is look for them.

Look at the ads

Google typically only shows AdWords ads above the organic search results *if* they generate a high clickthrough rate (CTR). And since advertisers using AdWords are paying for every click, you can presume that for expensive keywords many of those ads are matched up with strong user intent.

Tools like SpyFu ad history and KeywordSpy can help show you who has been advertising on those keywords for the longest period of time. Those who have been doing it a long time are typically either optimizing their ad copy OR losing a lot of money.

Where Are They Searching From?

Google's keyword tools, Insights for Search, and Google Trends show where a particular search query is popular (and if there is any interesting news that is driving search queries). In addition to seeing the query breakdown by country (or state, or city), you can view ads from different locations by using the Google ad preview tool and/or the Google Global plug in.

Understanding Search Demographics

Google's Insights for Search categorizes user searches for the broad match version of a particular keyword

Microsoft offers a tool to categorize content.


Google's Ad Planner lets you select pre-defined audiences, websites, and keywords to analyze.

Both Microsoft and Quantcast offer similar functionality on a per website or per keyword basis.

What Did They Recently Search For?

Microsoft offers a search funnels tool which allows you to research keywords they recently searched for prior to searching for a keyword, OR keywords they searched for after they searched for a keyword.

Microsoft also has an entity association tool which can be used to find keywords that were co-occuring in the search or searched for in the same session.

Commercial Intent?

Microsoft's Online Commercial Intent tool estimates if search queries or web pages have a high probability of being informational or commercial in nature.

Who is Getting The Click?

Since Google AdWords factors ad clickthrough rate into their calculations, you can presume that the top advertisers are either getting a decent CTR, or are paying through the nose for clicks.

Compete.com's keyword destination data lets you know the relative click volume sites receive for a particular search query.

Further Analysis

Beyond data from the above tools, you can also infer a lot of data just by putting yourself in the mind of the consumer

  • Determine which type of search you're targeting - informational, transactional, navigational - and segment the audience accordingly
  • Align your site to the intent of the user. For example, a searcher who is after information is going to want to see an authoritative looking site. What is an authoritative looking site? It will differ depending on the market you are in, but it is highly unlikely the searcher will react well to a site plastered with advertising. The site will have markers of authority, such as recommendations, perhaps a display of qualifications, and information laid out in an "academic" way (Wikipedia), as opposed to a blatant sales pitch (Multi-Level Marketing). The transaction searcher will want confirmation (e.g. a big logo) s/he has arrived in the right place.
  • Look for emotional angles and user intent targeting strategies that competing businesses are missing. Is free shipping a big deal? Is everyone trying to sell to a person that is looking to research and compare? Find a compelling way to stand out and differentiate yourself from the competition. Even if you are only targeting 30% of searchers you can still get more traffic being the only person doing that rather than the 8th consecutive similar offer.
  • Track user behavior to confirm intent. Get people to sign up for more detailed information, note which pages people spend the most time on, which keyword terms lead to conversion, etc. Feed this information back into your strategy

The transactional user is more likely to forgive ads. In fact, they may even welcome them, so long as the advertising is relevant.

Conversely....

Integrate All Three Search Types

One of the problems with the study, as noted in the study, is that it is very difficult to determine intent just by looking at the keyword.

For example, an informational search could end up being a transactional search once the user is satisfied that with the answer to the information they were seeking. For example, "symptoms of flu" might turn into a purchase for a flu remedy.

That's why it can be a good idea to target all types of query, in an integrated way.

Carefully consider how you word your title tags. Integrate brand aspects for the navigational query i.e. "SEOBook.com - SEO Training Made Easy". Convey the information you provide "i.e. SEO Training" and transactional information i.e. the implication is that people can buy "SEO training". This information is also repeated in the snippet, although webmasters often have less control over this aspect.

Keep in mind that transactional doesn't just mean e-commerce. It can relate to any desired action, such as a sign-up to a newsletter, or a request for more information.

One aspect of web marketing that is getting more important is building communities and tribes. People who will return, in other words. You're unlikely to engage a community of people if all you ever offer is transactions. This is why Amazon integrates reviews and other social aspects in order to hook people in on a number of levels, even though the primary aim is to sell goods. Also check out Bill's excellent "Bills Blues" example.

What approach do you take? Do you narrow in on one type of query? Go wide and try to catch all three? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Is Trust The New Competitive Advantage?

May 21st

There is an interview on Open Forum in which Seth Godin interviews Richard Branson. The question is: Why is small business is better than big business?

Branson explains how he structures Virgin so that it is a series of small companies. People know each other by first name. People need to know each others strengths and weakness, and collaborate, and be responsible for the work they do. Branson believes this open small company results in a better service to clients.

Check out this article on Harvard Business:

In the worst economy we've seen in decades, Passlogix, a privately owned 100-person software development company, just received over a million dollars in prepaid commitments for the next three to five years of service....Now, how do you explain that? The bigger companies aren't getting similar deals.....I think it's a trend. And understanding it might just be the difference between failing and thriving in this economy.

The difference, the article goes on to suggest, is the trust factor.

People need to be able to trust companies to deliver. And in the current climate, where big companies are just as likely to go to the wall as small ones, big companies no longer have the advantage of being trusted to deliver by virtue of their size.

Small companies can build trust quickly in ways that big companies cannot.

How To Establish Trust

SEOs and marketers spend a lot of time trying to get traffic to sites. This is a difficult task, but it's a task that only solves half the problem.
The problem is how do you get traffic to you site and get it to do what you want.

If my traffic dropped by 50% tomorrow, I couldn't care less, so long as conversions stayed the same or increased. Traffic, like ranking, is is not a good metric of success, unless you're selling advertising by the page view, and even then it can be seriously misleading. i.e. how many people acted on the ads?

What makes people engage? Underlying all transactions, is that the buyer trusts the seller to deliver.

In order to help establish trust, consider these factors, especially if you're operating in an area where you're looking to sell an ongoing relationship:

Familiarity & Personality

It's never been easier to build a personal, trusted brand. Twitter, social networks, e-mail lists, blogs and other personal communication channels all make it easy for people to see how you think and act before they engage with you.

If you're seen often enough, in the right places, doing good things, people will come to you, because the known feels safe. The unknown is risky.

This is why PR and networking are critical. They help establish familiarity, which leads to trust, especially if the same person customers see writing articles/Twittering/networking is the same person who answers the phone.

Let customers to know you before you know them.

Reputation

Do you have markers on your site that show you have earned a good reputation? Credible media mentions? Recommendations from satisfied customers? Proof you've got customers?

Again, a quick search is likely to reveal the state of your reputation.

Stability

With companies going to the wall left right and center, stability is a major factor for any long term engagement.

Ever worked with a colleague who is inconsistent and unpredictable? Is that trustworthy? Consistency and predictability build trust.

Respond to emails and inquiries promptly. Say what you'll do, do it, and then tell people you've done it. If you've been operating for a while, make a point of saying it - anything that screams "consistency and predictability".

Immediacy

Do you trust that web site with (c) 2004 at the bottom? Is it still going? Google is chock full of outdated search results from companies, that, on face value, show no sign of life. That's not a good look in the current economic climate.

Staying up to date and engaged is important, especially if the real time web becomes more established, which I strongly suspect it will. Customers will expect companies to communicate using the same method and channels they do, and these channels increasingly favor the immediate and frequent over the slow and infrequent.

Transparency

Big companies have long indulged in being secretive, unapproachable and oblique. It isn't very appealing.

Why on earth would a small company follow this model? Plenty of them do, presumably to create the illusion they're just like a big company. But big no longer means better like it used to.

Open people and companies build trust. If a company is transparent in it's operations, people are more likely to trust them. Show people who you are, what you're about, and what problems you can solve for them. It's often a good idea to say if you can't solve someone's problem, you'll tell them, and recommend to them someone who can. By doing so, you'll even build trust with non-customers, and you never know who they'll talk to. Every engagement is an opportunity.

There is nothing worse, from a trust point of view, in a company saying they'll do something, and then not do it.

Big companies often fall into this trap because their sales force are separated from their operations divisions, and the sales people are working on commission. Sales people can promise the world in order to get the signature, knowing they're not the ones who have to deliver. That's some other faceless divisions problem.

Small companies seldom have this problem, a problem Branson also tries to counter by organizing small.

Got any ideas on how to build trust? How have you built trust with your customers?

The Next Big Shift In Web Marketing

May 20th

There was an article on TechCrunch entitled "Jump Into The Stream"

In short, the article is about how the internet appears to be going through its next big shift. It is moving towards becoming a stream of immediate information. The web is being organized by "nowness"

This real-time stream has been building for a while. It began with RSS, but is now so much stronger and swifter, encompassing not just periodic news and musings but constant communication, status updates, instantly shared thoughts, photos, and videos.

I thought the article gives us a compelling way to think about this shift:

First and foremost what emerges out of this is a new metaphor — think streams vs. pages. In the initial design of the web reading and writing (editing) were given equal consideration - yet for fifteen years the primary metaphor of the web has been pages and reading. The metaphors we used to circumscribe this possibility set were mostly drawn from books and architecture (pages, browser, sites etc.). Most of these metaphors were static and one way. The steam metaphor is fundamentally different. It’s dynamic, it doesn’t live very well within a page and still very much evolving. A stream. A real time, flowing, dynamic stream of information — that we as users and participants can dip in and out of and whether we participate in them or simply observe we are a part of this flow.

But isn't this just social media marketing? We've known about that for a long time now. Yes. But the concept of "nowness" and immediacy give us a great way to make sense of it, and a better understanding of how to make it work for us.

One of the criticisms we often hear about search engines is that a lot of the information is dated. Google has tried to address this problem by focusing on sources such as Wikipedia, that have a community of updaters, or pointing you towards news content, if your search is time dependent, or allowing you to sort by date. Search is also rather anonymous, as opposed to personal.

The appeal of Facebook/Twitter is that they provide an immediacy of information. There is a constant flow, updated often. They also provide this information in the context of a trusted filter i.e. your friend network. That's a big shift in how information will be accessed, especially as more and more people come to view the web from this perspective.

If the web is indeed a place, it is starting to look less like a library, and more like a river.

What Does This All Mean For The SEO?

It means SEOs will need to think more about what traffic is, where it comes from, and how to hook it.

Look at where people are spending their time. Increasingly, it isn't on web pages or sites. It's within a trusted channel that provides a flow of information. So a site owner needs to think about how to direct these streams towards a site, and make sure people hang around long enough to buy what the site owner is selling before they move on.

Obviously, search engines aren't going to disappear. Nor are people going to stop publishing web pages. Nor are they going to stop visiting web pages. But what are the characteristics of social media activity, and how does it differ from search visitor activity?

I think the main characteristics of this channel are immediacy, the fleeting visit, trust, relevancy, and remarkable-ness.

So:

  • Encourage user registration on your site to help lock people in
  • Offer time-limited membership deals
  • Offer forums, tools, multiple content formats, and other interactive elements that mimic the appealing aspects of social media
  • Be unique, memorable and remarkable so people talk about you to their friends
  • Go niche. Me-too and generalist is unremarkable
  • When going broad, leverage existing networks to facilitate faster growth
  • Focus on establishing trust

The Twitter/Facebook/Social Media streams are like the rest of the web in that most of it is junk. So how do people filter the noise and focus on the good bits? Trust is one aspect.

Do people say "Hey, look at this great secured loans site?". They don't. We'll, not unless they're pimping for said secured loans site. The stream is not going to favor the mee-too approach, either. It's going to favor the remarkable approach. Do people on social media sites point out the mundane?

So re-read Seth Godin, and think about "being remarkable", and how to apply it to your strategy.

Incidentally, when asked about Twitter today, Larry Page had this to say:

I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real time search. At first, my team laughed and did not believe me. With Twitter, now they know they have to do it. Not everybody needs sub-second indexing but people are getting pretty excited about realtime

Google aren't asleep on this issue.

  • Over 100 training modules, covering topics like: keyword research, link building, site architecture, website monetization, pay per click ads, tracking results, and more.
  • An exclusive interactive community forum
  • Members only videos and tools
  • Additional bonuses - like data spreadsheets, and money saving tips
We love our customers, but more importantly

Our customers love us!

Site Testing That Isn't Tedious

May 19th
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Do you know what attracts your readers? What headlines they respond to most? Do they respond to pictures? Do they know what your offer is?

No doubt we all agree that testing is a good thing to do. We can see clearly if our ideas are working or not. But a lot of testing is, quite frankly, tedious.

Measuring user behavior patterns and visitor paths is, in most cases, worthwhile, but there is always a trade-off in terms of the time it takes to setup and run such testing verses the reward for doing so.

Here are a few cheap and cheerful testing ideas that don't take a lot of time, but can improve your site performance significantly.

1. Write Your Copy, Then Leave It Alone For A Day

One of the best ways to test the effectiveness of your copy is to simply leave it until tomorrow before you hit publish.

It can be very hard to read your own copy objectively, especially as you're writing it. It is often laced with emotion, and the impulsive desire to just finish the damn thing and get it out there.

By leaving it until the next day before you hit publish, you force yourself to re-read your copy in a more objective light. You allow yourself a mental separation between your writer and editor brain function.

When editing, replace long words with short words. Break up long sentences into short ones. Minimize. Eliminate duplication. All copy benefits from rewriting.

Leaving copy aside for a day is the cheapest way to get the objective help of an "editor", without actually having to hire one.

2. Get Someone Else To Read Your Page Aloud

It's a good idea to read your copy out loud. It helps you spot weaknesses more easily.

It's an even better idea to get someone else to read it aloud.

You'll experience your copy how other people will hear it in their heads. Does it get your message across when it is read by someone who doesn't know the point you are eventually going to make? Does it sound like they want to read what is coming next, or do they sound confused or bored? Are the most important points emphasized? Is it obvious what the desired action is?

It can be difficult to spot these factors when reading copy in your head, but blindingly obvious when someone else reads it back to you.

3. Basic Split Run Test Using Adwords

Even if you're focusing on SEO, Adwords is a great way to test the effectiveness of your your chosen keyword terms and site copy.

Once you have a keyword list for SEO, run a short adwords campaign against those keywords. Test the titles and descriptions you plan to use. Test the performance of your landing pages by swapping out one page for another on different days. You can then feed this information through to your SEO campaign. Run with the winners, and cut the losers.

Keep in mind the Adwords won't perform just like a SERP listing, because a lot of people ignore advertising. However, this method is likely to give you a rough idea on what people who search on your chosen keywords are really interested in. Chances are if it works in Adwords, it will work even better in the main SERPs.

Quite often, the keywords you imagine are the most important don't work so well in practice. Or perhaps the title tag you were planning on using might not be enticing enough. For a small sum, you can test keyword effectiveness before embarking on the long and involved process of SEO, link building and ranking, which you'll have to live with for years.

4. Are You Selling The Solution To The Problem

Say you want to build a mailing list by giving away a free e-book.

These days, that's a boring offer.

Unfairly, e-books have a bad reputation because they are often perceived as low value and are frequently associated with scams. "Free" on the internet is essentially meaningless, given that most things on the internet are free.

Instead, sell the solution. i.e "Do you want to know how to find the top five investment funds in any market? Do you want to find the funds that have consistently returned over 10% p/a for the last ten years? Sign up for our free e-book download that answers these questions, and more"

Much more enticing than "free e-book give-away". The form (e-book) is not the important bit, the benefit (finding the right investment funds) is the important bit.

The internet has a lot in common with direct marketing. Proven and tested direct marketing methods dictate we should "sell the sizzle", wherever appropriate. The idea is that people don't buy products and services, they buy the benefits of those products and services. They ask "what's in it for them?"

Does your copy always move towards answering this question? Read your copy aloud. If it doesn't, then rewrite until it does.

5. Does The Picture Sync With The Message?

Pictures are powerful attention grabbers.

But do you have the right image? The right image is the image that helps you sell. Grabbing attention doesn't necessarily translate into sales. Flickr is full of attention grabbing images that will never sell themselves, or anything else.

In terms of doing business, a picture, like words, should relate to the product or service. A picture's function is to increase sales. If it doesn't, it shouldn't be there.

The most obvious relationship is direct i.e a picture of the product or service. Modern advertising tends to focus on indirect relationships, such as implied association with people who use the product. i.e. a group of cool skater kids hanging out may advertise Vans footwear, even if you don't actually see the shoes in shot. The benefit for the audience is to become part of this cool tribe. More indirect methods tend to be used in brand building advertising.

The closer you are to direct marketing, the more direct the imagery tends to be. If you want to sell an Apple iPod Touch, you show a big picture of one. Basic stuff, right? But it's surprising how many sites use vague imagery that might look cool, but gives the viewer no idea what the site is about, or doesn't lead them to identify with your product or service.

Don't ask "Is this picture worth a thousand words? ", ask "Does this picture tell the customer a thousand words about my product or service?"

Got any more cheap and cheerful testing methods? Add them to the comments.

Google Webmaster Central Guide

May 15th
posted in

Google Webmaster Central have just updated their toolset, so now might be a good time to review it.

For those new to Webmaster Central, Google offer a set of very useful tools that provide an insight into how Google handles your site. You can find out how your site is crawled, what keywords you rank for, and if there are any problems.

You can sign up here.

Lets step through the features, and share some ideas on how to best use the data Webmaster Central provides. For those already familiar with Webmaster Tools, it would be great if you could offer newer users some of your tricks and tips in the comments.

Check Out Our New Look

Once you've signed up, you'll be greeted with a dashboard screen. This is where you list all your sites.

Not a major change, but a nice, clean layout that makes it easier to navigate. The dashboard gives you a quick overview of top search queries, crawl errors, and links to your site.

A nice feature is that you can have data forwarded to your email address.

Google outlines the changes here.

The Toolset

Google have provided a useful toolset to help diagnose site problems, and give you insights into how to perform better in Google's index.

Site Maps

Webmasters should submit a Google Sitemap to ensure their site is crawled.

Whilst not necessary, as Google should be able to crawl your site via links, it's a good idea to have the sitemap in case there are problems during the regular crawl. To create a Google sitemap, you can use Google's generator script. There are also various third party tools to help you do this.

Also see "Subscriber Stats" below.

Crawler Access

You can use this tool to test your robots.txt file. Check out this article about why you might use a Robots.txt. You can also use this tool to generate a robots.txt file, based on drop down options.

You can also use this tool to remove a URL from Google. Careful with that one ;)

Site Links

You can specify which site links you want to show. Sitelinks are the indented links below a listing in the search engine result pages.

Sitelinks look like this:

It's a good idea to specify pages that users will find most useful, and that display a consistent theme for your site. You can also block irrelevant pages from appearing in the site links using this tool.

Settings

If your site targets a specific country, you can specify this information. This is very useful if you have a .com, but target visitors in a country outside the US. The tool makes no difference if you already have a country specific TLD, however.

The preferred domain setting enables you to specify which URL you want crawled, the non-www version, or the www version.

Why would you do this?

www.acme.com and acme.com can be seen by crawlers as being two different domains. This can sometimes lead to duplicate content issues. So it's a good idea to pick one or the other, and specify it in Google tools.

The crawl rate setting allows you to slow down the search spiders crawl rate if you're having problems with the spider gobbling to many of your server resources. By default, Google sets the crawl rate for all sites.

Top Search Queries

Find out which keywords you rank for, which keywords send you the most traffic, and which results users clicked through on. If you rank for a lot of keyword terms, but aren't getting much click through, you might want to review the wording of your title tags.

You can also sort this data by device, such as mobile. You can find out which Google country domains send you the most traffic, as well as sorting by image search, and you can specify a date range.

Links To Your Site

You can find out which sites are linking to you, and what anchor text they're using. You can also download this data in the form of spreadsheets.

Keywords

Find out the most common keywords found on your site.

Are these words consistent with the theme of your site? If not, you need to balance out the content by adding more on-topic pages.

Internal Links

Shows which pages are most heavily linked internally, and from where. You can also see if pages are linked from non-www or www "domains". Aim to get internal linking consistent i.e. from either non-www or www but not both, and make sure your money pages are well linked.

Subscriber Stats

Find out how many people subscribe to your RSS feed via Google Reader. You can also submit a feed as a sitemap.

Crawl Errors

This useful diagnostic tool will show you which pages Google is having problems crawling. There is a breakdown by web, mobile, and mobile WML.

Crawl Stats

Use this tool to find out how many pages are crawled per day, and the time spent downloading those pages. This can reveal problems such as slow servers and page load errors.

Crawl stats also give you a PageRank distribution chart. However, like the toolbar, take this data with a grain of salt. I've found it bears little relationship to site ranking, and the real PR of pages is only known by Google.

HTML Suggestions

Use this tool to find duplicate and missing title and descriptions tags.

Tips On How To Use This Data

A recent Google presentation outlined this process for using Webmaster Tools to fix and find broken links. The bigger your site is, the more likely broken links are to crop up. This tool is also very useful if you've recently moved your site, and now have different URLs.

  • Download your crawl error sources report from Webmaster Tools
  • Fix any "on site" not found links
  • Group external not found links by domain and sort
  • Evaluate external not found links to prioritize
  • Contact external sites to get links fixed
  • Set up redirects for links that can't be fixed
  • Implement a 404 page
  • Make reviewing and resolving not found links a periodic task
  • Evaluate how top ranking data changes over time, and look for ways to fix SEO issues if any rankings disappear

Drive More Traffic

Webmaster tools will tell you which keywords you rank for, some of which, you may not have been aware.

Go to the keyword ranking page, and see where you rank for certain terms. Are any of these terms valuable to you? You can estimate the monetary value of keywords by using Google Adwords estimator.

Find the page that is ranking well, and optimize further, either by tweaking the on-page content, boosting that page in your internal linking structure, or increasing the number of external links.

Remove Duplicate Tags & Descriptions

You're unlikely to ranked for pages that Google thinks might be duplicates. Make sure all your pages have unique title and description information. You can use the HTML Suggestions tool to do this. Again, this is a task you should perform periodically.

Enhance 404 Error Pages

Got any page not found errors?

You can make your 404 page a bit more useful by embedding a Google widget that helps your visitors find what they're looking for by providing suggestions based on the incorrect URL. This will hopefully prompt people to search further, rather than click back.

Enhance Clickthrough

The top queries tool features a column that shows you which pages users clicked through on most often.

If you've got a lot of pages ranking, but few click-thrus, you need to tweak your title tag data. Also, load up those search results and see what title tags your competition is using. Someone else is getting those click-thrus, so it's a good lesson to help you zone in on user intent for certain keywords. Keep tweaking until more pages receive click-thrus.

Got any tricks and tips? Add them to the comments.

Further Reading

Get Rich Quick: What Can We Learn From The Hard Sell?

May 12th

Do aggressive marketing practices repel you?

Or make you more likely to buy?

Is it a cultural thing? For example, does hard sell work in some cultures, but not others?

Dear Friend......

;)

Personally, when I experience the hard-sell, I immediately become suspicious that the product is worthless. After all, shouldn't the product or service, if useful, pretty much sell itself?

Having said that, I have, on occasion, bought from people using the hard sell. Curiosity sometimes gets the better of us all :)

The fact that aggressive sales strategies are used so often tends to indicate such approaches do work. Let's take a look at some of these tactics, and if you can think of more examples, please add them in the comments. Also, if you've had success using such tactics yourself, please share your experiences.

The Time Sensitive Offer

A time sensitive offer, as the name suggests, is an offer that has a specific time limit.

Typically, the more time people have to think about something, especially impulse buyers, the less likely they are to take action. So the time sensitive offer will always create a sense of urgency - combined with jeopardy. People feel they might miss out if they don't act immediately. Like many hard sell tactics, it is based on fear. In this case - the fear of missing out.

Typical examples:

  • Limited places available: "Only ten places left!"
  • Limited stock available: "STOCK CLEARANCE!! WE ONLY HAVE A FEW OF THESE LEFT!! GET IN QUICK BEFORE THEY SELL OUT!"
  • Deadlines: "This offer will end at midnight, tonight! After then, we close the program" (Of course, they re-open it again at regular intervals)

Some people use PHP or Javascript date includes to put today's date in the content, and the offer expires tonight. Of course, the same thing happens tomorrow, and every day for the next year. Others go so far as popping up a clock that counts down your 5 minutes before the special pricing offer expires.

Creating Hype

The hype level of the hard sell is usually off the scale compared to most legitimate business offers.

I recall an offer last year where the hype level for a vaguely SEO-related service was getting quite ridiculous. Like many other people, I was getting bombarded with emails at every step of the sales process.

They were going to launch in a few weeks. They were just about to launch. They launched. They had launched, but there was still time to sign up!

The aim is to create an event.

The advertiser also needs to make some fairly outrageous claims. Trouble is, when everyone is making outrageous claims, then s/he needs to make even bigger ones in order to get noticed.

It sometimes helps if you print a lot of zeros on an over-sized check to really ram the point home.

How do you avoid getting sucked in?

Hard work was intoxicating.

But sitting in the ‘counting house’ counting money was frankly even more appealing. I frankly don’t know how much money and time I spent before I got wise. Or should I say wiser.

The moment of wisdom came when I started recognising the red flags.

  • I started avoiding anything ‘instant.’
  • I started avoiding anything that offered ‘tsunamis of customers’
  • I started avoiding anything that had fancy cars, surfboards, planes, jets, boats.
  • I started avoid anything with graphics of cheque books and bank balances.

Secret Or Unfair Advantage

Everyone loves to know something the next guy does not. Or gain an advantage. Anything that creates a shortcut to effort. And creating an air of mystery or invitation to a select club is very enticing.

Of course, if the secret or unfair advantage was significant, you've really got to wonder why anyone would sell it for $89.95 to faceless unknowns.

Social Proof Of Value

Social proof involves making the assumption that other people are better informed that you. People like to go where other people have gone, as it feels less risky that way, unless they all happen to be buying tickets for the Titanic, of course.

Social proof takes the form of case studies, personal recommendations, and, as often happens on the internet, shilling. Ever tried to look for a review of a product that has been sold hard? Chances are the only reviews of the new $2,000 course that ***will change the world forever*** you'll find are from affiliates.

Example (combined with time sensitive offer): Server Issue: "Our server crashed (yeah, right) due to the number of responses. We're so sorry to all those who missed out! So we've extended the offer for one more day!"

Some merchants warm up an email list by giving away prizes in exchange for testimonials as you get closer to the launch date. They even let you know that the more outlandish the testimonial is the greater the chance of being featured and winning a prize. Such false endorsements are meant to fool the rest of the list into thinking they are missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. And anyone who contacts them during the sales pitch gets a special link ***only for them*** to place their order the night before the general public.

Any Idiot Can do it, Fast, Easy, & Nearly Automatically

A friend recently got this via email, which captures the essence of the 'anyone can do it' pitch.

We gave you solid PROOF. Proof of how 37 people walked in our office on a Monday morning in May with:

  • NO product
  • NO website
  • NO technical experience

And they ALL walked out Friday at 4 p.m. with their very own Internet business. Amazing, isn't it?

Now, listen to this very carefully:

If you are remotely interested in attracting more wealth into your life at a faster speed, our elite Internet marketing team can transform your life forever. It sounds clichéd, but it's true.

In some cases during the sales process you will see testimonials from teenagers, senior citizens, AND people with severe disabilities. They are showcased and exploited to remind you that if they can do it then surely you can too.

My friend also had a call with one such group about their 'mentorship program' where it was a tiered list of interviews that were made to look like qualification interviews, but were actually more like boiler room sales sessions, where certain people's times were limited and they just happened to open up right now if you have $5,000 of space on your credit card.

One group asked Aaron banal SEO questions via email one month, and was then selling a how to SEO course less than a month later. They went from completely ignorant to masters in record time. So long as they sell to desperate, inexperienced, and/or stupid people it is a strategy that works. For that target market they only need to be confident and know slightly more than your prospective customer to pry a few dollars out of their wallet.

Cross Selling

Cross selling involves selling an additional product or service to an existing customer.

This is not just a method used to hard sell, it's a highly efficient way to market. It is cheapest to market to those whom you already have built up a relationship.

Intimacy & Relationship Building

Guerrilla Marketing is an approach to marketing that has become very popular on the internet, mostly to get over the barrier of anonymity.

One aspect central to Guerrilla marketing is the importance of building up a personal relationship, so the sales pitch will often be personality driven. It involves telling personal stories about familiar situations and problems that have been overcome. It is the polar opposite of the anonymous, depersonalized copy of the sales brochure.

Some "business opportunity" merchants create fake "application forms" which accept everyone with a credit card and a pulse.

Hard Selling is Not All Bad

There are many potential bad customers who take take take and have no intent of doing any real work. Get rich quick ponzi schemers offer a more compelling offer to them than you or I ever would, and so they filter them out of the marketplace *

I was getting better clients thanks to the get-rich-quick merchants.

They were weeding out the people who simply wanted it easy. They were weeding out those who got impatient because they tried something for 10 minutes and weren't getting results.

They were weeding out all those for whom hard work is like a disease.

* If your price-point is one of the lowest in your market and you do not charge recurring fees and the get rich quick folks enter your market then you will likely need to increase your prices and/or change your business model to filter out that bottom tier of customer and restore your faith in humanity. Even having 1 in 10 customer interactions be unpleasant can become unbearable.

Many hard sell techniques cross over into softer-sell conventional marketing and sales. We recently added a pop up to this site offering a free SEO course via email, and it did increase our conversion rates. The proof of any marketing technique can be found in the bottom line: did it make more money than other techniques?

I'd be interested to hear your experiences. Do you use these techniques? Have you bought from people using these techniques?

Are You a Master of the Obvious? 5 Easy Tests

May 8th
posted in

I'm reading a book called "In Search Of The Obvious". It makes many references to another book, written in 1916, called "Obvious Adams". The book outlines the simple truth of marketing, which is that the best marketing solutions should be evident. They should be obvious. They should be simple.

1916?

But isn't that the deep, distant past? This is the internet age. Everything is different now. We're living in a complicated age, surely!

Not really.

It's not different now because while circumstances change, the human condition remains the same. And those who don't learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat it. Looking at what happened in Vietnam will tell you what will happen in Iraq. There is plenty of advice that stands the test of time, and I think this truth is a great one.

A search for any marketing strategy should be a search for the obvious.

Five Tests Of Obviousness

The book outlines five tests to see if an idea, a strategy, or a solution is obvious.

The Problem, When Solved, Will Be Simple

If an idea is clever, ingenious, or complicated, it's not obvious.

History is full of of simple solutions to complex problems. A search engine, although complex in execution, is a simple solution to a complex problem. You type a topic you're interested in, and the search engine shows you where to find information on that topic. E-mail lets you send messages to other people instantly. A mobile phone lets you call people from anywhere.

Anyone can understand these solutions.

Does It Fit With Human Nature

Will it be accepted by a wide range of people when you tell it to them?

Will your mother understand it? Will you friends? Will the guy behind the counter at the shop? Do you feel comfortable explaining your idea to these people? These people are a cross section of human nature. They will be indicative of the wider community in which your idea will exist.

Because these people won't understand industry conventions and technical jargon, in order to explain it, you'd need to strip your idea down to the basic features and benefits. Does it still work?

Put It On Paper

Write your idea down on paper.

Write it as if you were explaining it to a child. Can you do so in three sentences? When you find the right words to describe your idea, it will sound simple. If it sounds complicated, it's probably not a great idea.

Does It Explode In People's Minds

Do people say "now why didn't we think of that before"?

You've probably had that experience yourself. It's the head-slapping moment. From that moment on, the matter appears settled.

No further talk seems necessary.

Is The Time Right?

Many ideas and plans are obvious, but occur at the wrong time. Ask yourself if the time for this idea has passed? Or is it some way off in the future?

For example, given the existence of Twitter, would you start a blog that pointed out interesting things on the internet? The time for a blog pointing out interesting things on the internet has clearly passed.

Does this all sound too simple for the complicated internet?

A lot of people start with simple ideas and deliberately make them complex. By making ideas complex, they make themselves sound clever. They use complicated charts and diagrams. They use big sounding, empty phrases. Some people certainly buy into that approach. By buying into it, it makes them appear clever, too.

But is that what people really want?

Do you buy goods and services that confuse you?

Isn't the real aim to be self-evident?

Apply These Ideas To The SEO Pitch

So why is SEO so difficult to get across to people? Why aren't there hordes of people knocking down your door to sign up? Do people's eyes glaze over when you tell them what you do?

I think that happens because the language is wrong. SEO hasn't been boiled down to the simple idea.

I recall watching a video a few years back where Jill Whalen addressed a marketing conference of non-SEOs. She was talking about SEO, but I'm not sure the audience were responding all that well, mostly because it was new concept for them.

However, when Jill got to the end of her speech, where she talked about a local dentist who had been about to go broke because he had a lack of patients, and after Jill did her work, she said "and instead of going broke, he had to hire more staff!".

At that point, you could see the the audience just light up. The MC noted it, too, and commented on it. The language resonated. At that point, the idea became simple and obvious.

SEO is really about growing business.

Everyone could relate to that, where they couldn't relate to rankings, links, and keywords or any of the other process elements SEOs often talk about. A lot of SEO pitches, particularly to customers who are new to SEO, focus too much on the "how". However, the "how" is not evident. Rankings, links, keywords...none of that is simple.

The evident thing is that more customers arrive on the site and buy, or sign up for, something.

So, when pitching SEO, try to focus a lot less on the "how", and a lot more on the "why". Structure your offering around improving the customers business. If you can't do that, there is no point doing SEO. SEO, in itself, is not evident.

The business building benefits of SEO certainly are.

Respect For DMOZ

May 6th

Ah, DMOZ.

Whilst I was scanning through Barry's blog at SEL, I came across this post he mentioned entitled R-E-S-P-E-C-T for DMOZ.

A DMOZ editor complains "Everybody loves Google, everybody loves Wikipedia - so why doesn't everybody love DMOZ?"

My blog post would be rather long if I listed all the reasons why I think people don't love DMOZ, so I'll stick to fisking the contents of the editors post.

For those who don't know what DMOZ is, and that would be the vast majority of web users, DMOZ is a largely redundant internet directory that came about back when Yahoo! Directory was too slow at processing listing requests.

Webmasters familiar with DMOZ will appreciate the obvious irony, given that you can now get a Yahoo Directory listing in a couple of days, whereas DMOZ is a hit and miss affair, specializing mostly in "miss".

Let's take a look at the points raised:

Ask people how they search the web, and most will tell you what Google does well, what Wikipedia does well - and what DMOZ doesn't do well.

Ask people how they search the web, and you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who knows what DMOZ is, let alone outline it's faults.

The reasons for that will become obvious.

Perhaps you heard something on the news about the Somali pirates and want to learn more. .... Now what about Somalia in general? How did it get to this point? What's the history of the country, and what's going on with their government? How do you find answers to these questions without wasting a lot of time? This is where DMOZ shines....you can go to DMOZ's Somalia category. Start with Guides and Directories to find background information.

Students of philosophy will recognize this as an argument by selective observation. Cherry picking, in other words.

Well, it would have been had the author cherry picked an example that actually supported her argument. If you go into the recommended category, Africa/Somalia/, what will you find?

One listing.

For Wikipedia.

You just couldn't make this stuff up.

One could go into the sub categories, and whilst there are some useful listings there, there is nothing I couldn't find in greater detail in Google or Wikipedia. Helpfully, DMOZ frequently suggests I actually go to Wikipedia instead.

Who am I to argue?

Anyway, let's compare another search to see how well DMOZ does.

If I want to find out about SEO, I get presented with this category Web Design and Development: Promotion

Whilst there are some fine resources listed there, is this a useful reflection of SEO in 2009? Who are Majon International, for example? Why is Eric Ward seemingly the center of the SEO universe? Nothing against Eric, BTW.

Likewise, if I want to find out about New Zealand, it seems that "Hallidays Timber Limited" is very important, as they are the only site listed at the top level, as is - of all things - Usenet.

I could go on.

I'm sure there are great DMOZ categories, but like all things DMOZ, it's very much a hit and miss affair. Wikipedia and Google are a lot more "hit", and a lot less "miss", which is why people use them, and not DMOZ.

Sometimes they use 'relevant' keywords and page titles to game the system and achieve a higher ranking than they really deserve

Couldn't let that one go.

Apparently using keywords and page titles "games" the system. If they thought that were true, then why is DMOZ supposedly ""gaming the system" using titles and relevant keywords, too?

DMOZ certainly does irony well.

There's all sorts of relevant information to be found on the web, and the broader the topic the more useful DMOZ is.

Well, quite frankly, no it isn't.

If I want broad information, I use Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is infinitely more useful than DMOZ because it solved the problem DMOZ failed to do. It ran an editing system that anyone could contribute to easily, thus creating enormous value in terms of relevant, timely content. Updating and editorial was both transparent and immediate, which needs to happen, lest the information become outdated.

DMOZ chose to place editorial control in the hands of a small cabal of editors, and in so doing, made the directory opaque, unresponsive, and outdated.

That's the final irony.

The editorial policy of DMOZ killed DMOZ.

What About Your Non-Customers?

May 5th
posted in

If you want to increase revenue, should you focus on getting more out of your existing customers? Slicing your offering finer in order to better appeal to a segment of the existing market?

That's one way.

But how about looking closely at non-customers. Why are all those people not buying what you, or any of your competitors, have to offer? Are there any commonalities between the non buyers?

I'm reading a book called Blue Ocean Strategy. The author offers the following example that illustrates why focusing on the commonalities of the non-customers can be a good idea:

Think of Callaway Golf.

It aggregated new demand for its golf club offering by looking at non-customers. Rather than fighting to win a share of the existing golf market, they looked at why people hadn't taken up golf.

By looking at why people had shied away from golf, they found one commonality uniting the mass of non-customers: hitting the golf ball was perceived as being too difficult. The small size of the club head demanded enormous hand-eye co-ordination, took time to master, and took a lot of concentration. As a result, this was no fun for novices, so they avoided taking up the sport in the first place.

So what did Callaway do?

They built a club with a bigger club-head, thus making it much easier to hit the ball. Not only did this open up a whole new market of buyers, it appealed to players in the existing market who were having the same problem

What Do Your Non Customers Have In Common?

Let's take a look at the SEO industry.

In my experience, a commonality of non-buyers of SEO perceive that SEO simply won't work. They fear they will pay money, and not get any results.

Therefore, in order to convert more of the non-SEO customers to buyers, the SEO should focus heavily on mitigating the risk of non-performance. They should also clearly demonstrate value.

Guarantees

The SEO industry tends to shy away from offering guarantees. This is understandable, given that rankings aren't controlled by the SEO, and therefore guaranteeing a ranking is simply being misleading.

But why focus on guaranteeing ranking? How about guaranteeing that you'll add value, instead?

Ask yourself: can you guarantee to deliver more value to the client than they pay you? Can you increase the value of their business by doing so? If you answer no to such questions, then you'll begin to understand why there are so many non-SEO customers.

Figure out what the customer perceives as valuable, and guarantee to deliver it. After all, what is the difference between a contractual obligation and a guarantee? You need to deliver regardless, but a guarantee just sounds better. It certainly helps mitigate the sense of risk.

Let The Customer Decide What Is Valuable

A lot of SEO sites describe the services an SEO thinks s/he can deliver.

Instead, how about asking the customer what services they think are valuable. You'll learn a lot just by asking such a question. And the more people you ask, the more chances you'll have of spotting commonalities.

How about running an Adwords campaign that asks people to answer a few simple questions about why they don't buy SEO services?

This could work for any good or service, of course - not just SEO.

You'll also see what language potential customers use. It is especially important when stating benefits to do so in the customers terms. Your language should be their language.

They'll feel you understand them.

What would an SEO that spoke exclusively in the language of the customer look like? I guarantee it would look nothing like most of the SEO sites out there right now.

How Bad do They Want it?

When Aaron interviewed Perry Marshall about using AdWords to find market opportunities Perry suggested asking consumers how bad they want something and how hard they are struggling to get it.

Ignore the answers where consumers say they aren't struggling very hard. Look at the answers where the consumers find something extremely difficult, and need that thing badly.

That is good or service people will gladly pay for.

People Who Can't Afford What You Offer

There is a huge, huge market for SEO services. Everyone could be doing better in the search engines.

So you've got to ask - why aren't SEOs getting through to these people? Is the SEO offering simply wrong?

The price will always put some people off. But rather than dismiss these people as non-customers, think about what you can sell them for what money they do have.

Perhaps they can't afford a full campaign, but they certainly might be able to afford a one hour phone call. How about providing a pay-per-minute SEO phone line? How about providing a specific e-book, personalized to the customers site and problem? They can do the work themselves, you just outline exactly "how".

This could always lead to more work when they do have more of a budget.

Customers Who Don't Know What SEO Is

The size of this market is the biggest of all.

The reason this market remains untapped is mostly down to language and visibility. SEOs simply aren't talking the same language, and both parties cross like ships in the night, unaware of each others presence. That's if they get anywhere near each other to begin with.

Why are you going to yet another SEO conference? Why aren't you going to dental conferences? Or hotel conferences? Or any other conference where general marketing is being discussed?

You might be the only SEO there!

All industries have common problems e.g. how to acquire new customers. You know how to do that. They don't. That's valuable to them. They need you.

You need to go where they are, and talk their language. Get hold of their trade magazines and visit their websites. What language do they use to describe their problems? I guarantee it isn't the language you read on SEO blogs and bulletin boards each day. It is a million miles from there.

Look the problems that you can solve, and use their language to describe what you do.

Got any tactics and ideas on how to turn non-buyers into buyers? Add them to the comments.

The Next Development In Search

May 4th
posted in

Have you seen Wolfram Alpha?

Wolfram Alpha is a search service being released this month that, depending on who you listen to, will either change the internet forever, or provide another useful research tool.

Either way, it does hint at the possible future direction of search services.

Wolfram Alpha hasn't been launched as yet, but you can see some screen shots here. The major difference between Wolfram Alpha and existing search services is that it answers questions, as opposed to returning a list of pages.

For example, a search on "what is the GDP of France" will not only give you a straight answer, is will also bring up a page of related information, complete with graphs and charts.

Compare this with Google's "answer":

By comparison, Google is a step removed from the answer. The onus is still on the searcher to dig for it.

Will Search Engines Becoming Less Passive?

Meanwhile, Google appears to be working on a new, intelligent news distribution system.

When asked by reporter Sharon Waxman, Eric Schmidt confirmed development of a a platform “that will bring high-quality news content to users without them actively looking for it". This news feature would launch in about six months.

Could this be anything more than a glorified RSS reader?

Hard to tell.

However, it may well signal a change in approach from Google being a passive search tool to taking a more active role in data aggregation and channel selection.

When Google says they will not be a content producer, I think this implies they are therefore neutral. However, in the case of Google News, we can see that Google already exerts significant editorial control over the channel, which, at very least, makes them a biased editor, as opposed to neutral.

One criticism of Google News is that it favors content from mainstream media outlets. Whilst Google have included blog search, it is pushed to the back in the form of an archive link. In this respect, Google is very much the friend of the big brand, and the status quo.

Will the new service place control back in the hands of the user? If so, does this present new opportunities for the SEO in the news traffic business?

Schmidt:

The first two news organizations to get this treatment, Schmidt said, will be the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Perhaps not, but certainly a development worth watching.

Where Is Search Heading?

Search is still primitive.

When we use a search engine, are we really looking for a list of sites, or are we looking for answers to questions?

I'd argue we want the latter, but the limits of technology deliver us the former. Wouldn't it be so much better if when we searched for something, we received an answer, and a page of credible, collated data? Much like Wolfram Alpha promises? Is that where search is heading?

In the Future Of Search, Marissa Meyer speculates about active devices that search for data before we're even aware we need it.

It would be much nicer if we had a device with great connectivity that could do searches without interruption. One far-fetched idea: how about a wearable device that does searches in the background based on the words it picks up from conversations, and then flashes relevant facts?

This notion syncs with Eric Schmidt's reported description of Google's new, as yet unreleased, news service:

But Google does have plans for a solution. In about six months, the company will roll out a system that will bring high-quality news content to users without them actively looking for it. Under this latest iteration of advanced search, users will be automatically served the kind of news that interests them just by calling up Google’s page. The latest algorithms apply ever more sophisticated filtering – based on search words, user choices, purchases, a whole host of cues – to determine what the reader is looking for without knowing they’re looking for it.

The common themes are increased levels of personalization, and a more intelligent search service.

What other developments in search will we see in the next few years?

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