The Return of GoTo / Overture (and AOL)?

Feb 27th

Overture wasn't able to build itself into a credible search destination in part because their brand was positioned incorrectly as being primarily about paid ads that only would backfill with other results in when the ad auction was empty, so as a destination it was seen as a payolla engine. Likewise AOL peaked because it was seen as a walled garden & couldn't keep up with DSL and the open web.

Search engines have recently pushed aggressively to revive the Web 0.1 game of walled gardens. Ever since I have been in search, Ask has been a (the?) leader in arbitrage. To this day IAC is Google's #1 advertiser & while AOL's search marketshare keeps dropping like a rock, Ask has managed to hold their marketshare relatively constant while over-monetizing the search results.

Even though Ask exited algorithmic search, IAC's stock price is up over 160% since they split off their other companies.

What makes that growth even more impressive is when it is compared against Google or Yahoo!.

Yahoo! bowed out of search, outsourcing to Bing. Over the past year Yahoo! has dialed up on over-promotion of their verticals in the search results quite aggressively.

In the above search result, Yahoo! ...

  • added an "official site" label & favicon to the PPC ad
  • inserted Yahoo! finance
  • inserted Yahoo! Search sitesearch
  • inserted Yahoo! Deals coupons (with a huge graphic)
  • inserted Yahoo! Downloads (with a big button)

While Yahoo! has been able to increase "engagement" they have done so in part at the expense of losing users.

Surely some of that loss is due to Google's Chrome promotions, but that doesn't put Yahoo! in any stronger of a competitive position going forward, especially as Google clones their portal model.

Increasingly, when we search & when we surf the web it is getting harder to leave the networks we are on. Facebook offers advertisers discounts for advertising other Facebook pages. YouTube signs premium content partners like Motor Trend (and backfill garbage) & then advertises the manufacturer YouTube channels next to that content. The user never leaves the portal throughout the entire process & brands are forced to buy their own pre-existing brand equity, or Google will sell it off to competitors.

Google recently added a Yahoo!-like global portal navigation bar at the top of their pages & Google+ gets over-represented in the organic search results. Even while not logged in & doing advanced longtail searches Google still shows promotional Google+ boxes like this one:

A couple years ago Amit Singhal said:

“We deal with those responsibilities by having very concrete principles. All rankings are decided algorithmically, and the focus is on user benefit, not advertiser or commercial benefit. We ask ourselves, ‘Can a random company who does not want to be part of any Google system be harmed by a change we’re proposing?’ If they are, we won’t do it.

Today that is simply not true.

Then again, who would expect the head of organizing the world's information during the information age to have a year or two of foresight? Or, is the double-speak intentional:

"Things keep happening where you can’t even trust [Google's] word. I don’t think they were ever not evil." - Danny Sullivan

Now that Google may show AdWords ads at the bottom of the search results, Google is testing showing fewer organic listings on navigational searches. In some cases the 7 Google Places listings act as 7 results & the search results only contain 3 other listings. What's even uglier than this is a new enhanced AdWords sitelink option where a single ad unit takes up nearly a third of the screen real estate on a large monitor (and much more on a smaller screen).

And that doesn't account for all of Google's various vertical search services & the ways Google inserts itself into the sales stream, with...

  • Google Checkout & Google Wallet
  • Software: Android Apps, Chrome Apps & their Enterprise Marketplace @ google.com/enterprise/marketplace/
  • Google Offers
  • Google Books ebook sales
  • Google Music song downloads
  • YouTube movie rentals

And even when you leave Google, they invest in heavily SEOed sites and are still tracking you wherever & however they can, even if it violates Safari or Internet Explorer terms of service. Such an anti-privacy policy works brilliantly for ad networks (so long as users do not get creeped out) as the ad networks can slice and dice who receives how much credit for any measurable online action.

As Google redefines how credit is shared & competes more directly against publishers, those publishers need to adjust their business models. If Google grows too parasitic & captures too much of the value creation they will turn the media against them & give billions of Dollars worth of coverage to smaller search upstarts that actually respect their users.

Both DuckDuckGo & Blekko are increasing traffic & monetization.

Along with the nepotistic portalization of search, the rise of algorithmic journalism that can turn Tweets into an automated story puts further pressure on publishers. As the web becomes a series of walled gardens the opportunity in SEO diminishes, which is why some SEO websites want to drop the SEO label.

Want to see what Google will look like in a couple years? Set your default search engine to Yahoo! or Ask & you can see the future today. The push for social garbage & nepotism over quality will last until Google's search traffic chart looks like the above Yahoo! chart. At that point we will focus more on Bing & other search engines.

It's Our First Pandaversary!

Feb 24th

Sharing is caring! Please share :)

Embed code is here.

Google Panda Algorithm Infographic

Setting Up Actionable SEO Dashboards in the New Google Analytics

There have been many mixed reviews about the latest Google Analytics UI. Putting the frustration of having to learn a new UI aside (here's a great guide to navigating the new Google Analytics interface), the new Google Analytics actually brings to the table great customization options. One of my favorites being custom dashboards.

Both the old and new interfaces offer a standard dashboard that acts as an overview of your analytics profile. But where the new UI has its advantage is with your ability to create your own dashboard - in fact, you can create up to 20 of them for each profile.

Creating Dashboards

The first thing we'll want to do is click the "+ New Dashboard" link on the left navigation of your profile's Home tab. Google will then ask you to name the dashboard and to choose either a "Blank Canvas" or a "Starter Dashboard." The Starter Dashboard is just like the default dashboard you already have in Google Analytics, so let's choose "Blank Canvas." Now it's time to populate your dashboard with widgets.

There are two ways you can customize your new dashboard:

  1. Use the "Add Widget" feature on your dashboard
  2. Navigate to the view you want in Google Analytics and click the "Add to Dashboard" link.

When you use the "Add Widget" feature, there are four types of widgets you can choose from:

  1. Metric - This will show you a single metric as well as a "sparkline" for that metric (which is basically a tiny line graph)
  2. Pie - Displays a breakdown of various metrics in pie chart form
  3. Timeline - A graph (only) of any metric (or compare two metrics) over any period of time
  4. Table - Your traditional Google Analytics table, but it can be customized to only display what you've setup (including filters)

You build each widget the same way you would segment/filter data in Google Analytics normally. The key here is saving the view to your dashboard so you can quickly login and review performance without having to set everything up again.

As you add more widgets to your custom dashboard, you can easily drag, drop and rearrange your widgets into one of the three dashboard columns.

Now that we know how to setup dashboards, let's take a look at some useful SEO dashboards you should consider creating.

SEO Monitoring Dashboard

The purpose of this dashboard is simple: a quick look into the health of your SEO campaign.

Widget #1: Total Organic Non-Branded Keyword Traffic (Metric/Timeline)

With this metric/timeline widget, we're simply wanting to look at our total number of organic, non-branded search traffic. Remember, with the metric widget, you can only look at a single metric. If you only want to see the total number of visits, add a metric widget. However, if you'd like to see the total visit count broken out over the selected date range, you'll want to add it as a timeline widget.

For this widget, we'll add a Metric/Timeline with the following dimensions:

Nonbranded Organic Traffic

Widget #2: Total Organic Non-Branded Keyword Conversions (Metric/Timeline)

In this widget we're looking to get a snapshot of just how many total conversions (or transactions) that have been generated by our non-branded organic keyword referrals.

For this widget, we'll add a Metric/Timeline with the following dimensions:

Non-Branded Organic Conversions

Just like before, if you'd prefer to see this over time you can change this widget to be a timeline instead of a metric widget.

Widget #3: Total Organic Non-Branded Keyword Traffic (Table)

This widget filters out your branded search keyword referrals so you can get right to the keywords you're most interested in. You may also consider adding an additional filter to remove (not provided) if it takes up a significant number of the results.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Non-Branded Organic Keywords

You'll notice that I didn't choose any goals for the secondary metric. We'll cover that in the next widget. For now, we want to get a good understanding of what keywords are driving

Widget #4: Total Organic Non-Branded Keyword Conversions/Transactions (Table)

In this widget we're looking to get a quick look at our top converting/transaction keywords. Once again, I recommend filtering out your branded search terms. Depending on how many important conversion points you want to keep track of, you may need to add more than one widget of this type because you can only view two metrics in each Table widget.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Non-Branded Organic Keyword Conversions

Widget #5: Top Social Action Content (Table)

You'll find it easier to navigate to this report in the Standard Reporting section of Google Analytics (Audience > Social > Pages) and adding the widget using the top navigation bar in Google Analytics. The goal of this particular widget is to quickly see which content on your site is getting shared the most in social media. That way you'll know what content topics have the best chance of going viral.

By default Google will show you information for only Google+, in a future post I'll walk you through how to get other sites like Twitter and Facebook setup on here, too.

If your blog content lives under a /blog/ subfolder, you may want to consider filtering the report to only look at that content.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Social Action Content

After I added the widget to our SEO Monitoring dashboard, I went back and edited it to also include total visits as well.

Widget #6: Top Content Traffic & Conversions (Table)

In addition to knowing what content is getting shared the most, I like to keep an eye on what blog content is getting the most traffic and conversions.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Top Organic Landing Pages

Don't forget to filter in just your blog content if that is the area you want to focus on.

Widget #7: Organic Search Engine Referrals (Pie)

I like to keep an eye on which search engines are sending me traffic and how it changes over time. The best way to get a snapshot of this is to add a pie chart widget.

For this widget, we'll add a Pie with the following dimensions:

Search Engine Referrals

I chose to only look at the top three organic search engine referrals, but you can select up to six for your pie chart.

Widget #8: Page Load Speed (Table)

We also need to keep an eye on any pages that are loading slow. We can actually setup the widget to only look at organic traffic page load speeds, although it would be in your best interest to look at all your content, not just that just with organic visits.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Page Load Speed

The above table shows you your top ten slowest loading landing pages, and also includes how many visits that pages receives. You can sort by either, but it's probably best to tackle the pages with the slowest load time first.

Widget #9: Site Search Keywords (Table)

The final piece to our monitoring puzzle: a list of keywords being searched for the most on our internal site search. This is a great way to generate new keyword ideas and to find new usability ideas (more on that later).

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Site Search

I also like to add conversions as a dimension to this widget so I can not only keep an eye on which terms are getting searched for the most, but also which lead to the most conversions.

Website Redesign Dashboard - SEO Focus

So it's time for the dreaded redesign process. You have a pretty good idea of what's ahead: long nights, lots of frustration and hopefully, a great looking website not too far down the line. With this dashboard you can quickly gain insight into what changes you should be making in the upcoming redesign to help out your SEO campaign.

You might also consider renaming this dashboard to be a Usability dashboard so you can frequently check-in on how well your site is performing for your visitors.

We'll be borrowing a few of the widgets in our SEO Monitoring dashboard, but also adding a few. Let's first look at which widgets we should be re-adding to this new dashboard:

Widget #1: Top Converting Keywords (SEO Monitoring Widget #2)

A website redesign offers a great opportunity for keyword inclusion throughout our site's architecture (navigation, URLs, etc.) With this widget we can keep an eye on which keywords we should be focusing these optimization efforts on.

Widget #2: Top Social Action Content (SEO Monitoring Widget #5)

Which social networks are engaging the most with your content? What pages are getting the most engagements? Answering these questions will help you create a user experience that is not only tailored to your top social network traffic drivers, but that also encourages social sharing.

You'll also want to look closely at what makes the content in this report so shareable. Is it because of the way they are laid out? The images they use? These insights can really help you carry that experience throughout your new site.

Widget #3: Top Converting Content (SEO Monitoring Widget #6)

Just like with the top social action content, you want to keep an eye on the content that is working best (and worst). This will allow you to duplicate your successes and (hopefully) eliminate your failures.

Widget #4: Page Load Speed (SEO Monitoring Widget #8)

The redesign is the perfect time to address page load speed problems. Take a look at the slowest rendering pages in this table and determine what the common problems are that are slowing the load speed down.

Widget #5: Site Search Keywords (SEO Monitoring Widget #9)

Site search is great for finding new keywords, it's also a great way to figure out what problems people are having navigating your site. With this widget you can quickly see the types of content people are expecting to find on your site - but aren't able to.

On to our new widgets!

Widget #6 & #7: SEO Geographic Summary (Table) & Language (Table)

Is it time to consider translating your site for a new geographic audience? This type of change will definitely need your attention as an SEO. It's also an opportunity for you to branch out your link building into new languages.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Geographic Summary

The organic traffic filter I have in place is definitely optional. I think it helps keep the data set you're looking at more consistent by restricting it to organic visits only like the other widgets are set to.

For the Language widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Language Summary

You'll note that I also filtered out all non-organic traffic here, too.

Widget #8: Top Exit/Bounce Pages (Table)

For this particular widget, we're once again trying to identify problem pages. Any pages that have a high exit/bounce rate should get a close review to see if the cause for people leaving can easily be identified.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Exit and Bounces Summary

It's important that we filter out any blog content that naturally creates high bounce rates. If you also have an event like a Account Login on your site, you may wish to use Google's Event Tracking to filter out those visits as well.

Widget #9: Mobile Devices (Pie)

Which mobile devices are your visitors using to access your site? Are you getting a substantial number of visits? Do you anticipate it growing during the life of the next site design? More than likely this will be an area of focus for your redesign. It's important that you know exactly which devices your consumers are using to view your site so you can ensure compatibility.

For this widget, we'll add a Pie with the following dimensions:

Mobile Summary

Widget #10: Browser Conversion Rate (Table)

Finally, I like to take a look into what browser our visitors are using most, and what their conversion rate currently is. We all say we test all browsers for compatibility, but there are always pages that were rushed or that just fell through the cracks that might not be presenting themselves the way you had hoped.

For this widget, we'll add a Pie with the following dimensions:

Browsers Summary

Holistic Dashboard

It's no secret that to succeed in today's online marketing world you need to be doing more than just SEO. Not just from the sense that other marketing efforts can help drive in new leads, but because it helps your SEO campaign succeed.

This dashboard highlights how your PPC and social media efforts are performing, so you can take that information and apply it to your SEO campaigns.

Widget #1: Top Social Action Content (SEO Monitoring Widget #5)

This widget will allow us to keep track of what types of content are performing best from a social perspective.

Widget #2: Top Referral Conversion/Transaction Sources (Table)

Within this report we'll be able to quickly see which social networks are the most profitable in terms of conversions and/or actual transactions. This is a great way to see which social networks respond well to your offering, and that you should be investing more time in.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Social Conversion Sources

Ideally you'll want to setup a filter to only look at social networks. If you're good about tagging your URLs with custom variables, then you can change the filter to look at the medium and enter the medium value you use for social URLs (example: social).

Widget #3: Top Paid Converting/Transaction Keywords (Table)

Ever since the (not provided) update, we've all lost out on valuable keyword data. But just as Google hoped we would, we can get this information from our PPC spend. With this widget we'll look at the keywords that are driving the most conversions/transactions for our PPC marketing, so we can look into targeting them in our SEO marketing, too.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Top Paid Converting Keywords

Widget #4: Top Paid Revenue Generating Ad Groups

Just like with our previous keyword widget, I also like to look at the top performing ad groups. This is a good way to know what top level topics are performing the best for your paid search campaigns, so you can prioritize them in your SEO campaigns.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Top PPC Ad Groups

Widget #5: Top Paid Landing Pages (Table)

If you're not using custom landing pages for your paid search campaigns, this is a great way to see which keywords are working best for the various pages on your site. I like to run these types of tests before I commit to any keywords for SEO.

For this widget, we'll add a Table with the following dimensions:

Top Paid Landing Pages

That's just three of the 20 dashboards you could setup in Google Analytics. What are you adding to your dashboards to make them more actionable?

  • 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
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  • Additional bonuses - like data spreadsheets, and money saving tips
We love our customers, but more importantly

Our customers love us!

Focus on The Business Model

Feb 5th

Google's Take on Search Plus Your World

A few weeks ago Google announced the launch of Search Plus Your World, which deeply integrates social sites (especially Google+) into the Google search experience to make it more personalized.

While Google claimed that the socialization was rather broad-based, the lack of inclusion of Facebook & Twitter along with the excessive promotion of Google+ raised eyebrows. While the launch was claimed to be social for personalizing results, the Google+ promotions appeared on queries where they were clearly not the most relevant result even when users are not logged into a Google account.

Google+ Over-promotion

A couple weeks ago when Google announced Google Search Plus Your World competitors collectively complained about Google over-promoting their own affiliated websites.

Twitter was perhaps the loudest complainer, highlighting how Google basically eats all the above-the-fold real estate with self promotion on this @WWE search.

It is no surprise that folks like Ben Edelman, Scott Cleland & Fair Search chimed in with complaints, as this is just a continuation of Google's path. But the complaints came from a far wider cast of characters on this move: the mainstream press like CNN, free market evangalists like the Economist, Google worshipers indoctrinated in their culture who wrote a book on Google & even ex-Googlers now call into question Google's transparently self serving nature:

I think Google as an organization has moved on; they’re focussed now on market position, not making the world better. Which makes me sad.

Google is too powerful, too arrogant, too entrenched to be worth our love. Let them defend themselves, I'd rather devote my emotional energy to the upstarts and startups. They deserve our passion.

The FTC's Google antitrust probe is to expand to include a review of Google+ integration in the search results.

Facebook & Twitter launched a don't be evil plugin named Focus On The User, which replaces Google+ promotion with promotion of profiles from Facebook& Twitter.

For the top tier broad social networks framing the idea of integrating promotion of their networks directly in the search results is a natural & desirable conclusion, but is that just a convenient answer to the wrong question?

  • Whether Google ranks any particular organic result above the corresponding Bing ranking in Google's now below-the-fold organic results is a bit irrelevant when the above the fold results are almost entirely Google.com. But is the core problem that we are under-representing social media in the search results? According to Compete.com, Facebook & YouTube combine to capture about 16% of all downstream Google clicks. Do we really need to increase that number until the web has a total of 5 websites on it? What benefit do we get out of a web that is just a couple big walled gardens?
  • If Facebook is already getting something like 20% of US pageviews & users are still looking for information elsewhere, doesn't that indicate that they probably desire something else? Absolutely Facebook should rank for Facebook navigational queries, but given all their notes spam, I don't like seeing them in the search results much more than seeing a site like eHow.
  • The he said / she said data deals are also highly irrelevant. What is really needed is further context. Before Google inserted Google+ in their search results the Google+ social network was far less successful than MySpace (which recently sold for only $35 million). If social media is added as an annotation to other 3rd party listings then I think that has the opportunity to add valuable context, but where a thin "me too" styled social media post replaces the publisher content it lowers the utility of the search results & wastes searcher's time. Further, when those social media results are little more than human-powered content scrapers it also destroys the business models of legitimate online publishers.

Over-promotion vs "Search Spam"

At any point Google can promote one of their new verticals in a prominent location in the search results & if they are anywhere near as good as the market leader eventually they can beat them out of nothing more than the combination of superior search placement, monopoly search marketshare, account bundling & user laziness. What's more, they can make paid products free and/or partner with competitors 2 through x in an attempt to destroy the business model of anyone they couldn't acquire (talk to Groupon).

Amit Singhal is obviously a brilliant guy, but I thought some of the answers he gave during a recent interview by Danny Sullivan were quite evasive & perhaps a bit inauthentic. In particular, ...

  • "The overall takeaway that I have in my mind is that people are judging a product and an overall direction that we have in the first two weeks of a launch, where we are producing a product for the long term." If the product wasn't ready for prime time you were not required to mix it directly into the organic search results right off the bat. It could have been placed at the bottom of the search results, like the "Ask on Google" links were. Bing has been working on social search for 18 months & describes their moves as "being very conservative."
  • "The user feedback we have been getting has been almost the other side of the reaction we’ve seen in the blogosphere." Of course publishers who see their content getting scraped & see the scraped copy outranking the original have a financial incentive to care about a free & automated scraper site displacing their work. They don't get those pageviews, they don't get that referrer data, and they don't get those ad impressions. Google's PR team is anything but impressed when another company dares do that to Google.
  • "The users who have seen this in the wild are liking it, and our initial data analysis is showing the same." Much like the Google Webmaster Tools shows that pages with a +1 in the search results get a higher CTR, this Google+ social stuff also suffers from the same type of sampling bias & giving the listings a larger and more graphical stand out further help them pull in much more clicks. Any form of visual highlighting & listing differentiation can lift CTR. I might be likely to click on some of my own results more, but when I do so you might just be grabbing a slice of navigational searches I was going to do anyway where I was looking for something else I posted on Google+ or my Google+ account or the account of a friend & so on. Further, aggregate data hides many data points that are counter to the general trend. I have seen instances of branded searches where the #1 organic site was getting a CTR above 70% (it even had organic sitelinks, further indicating it was a navigational search) and for such a search in some cases there were 2 Adwords ads above the organic results & then the Google+ page for a brand outranked the associated brand in the SERPs for those who followed it! That is a terrible user experience, particularly since the + page hasn't even had any activity for months.
  • "Every time a real user is getting those results, they really are delighted. Given how personal this product is, you can only judge it based on personal experiences or by aggregate numbers you can observe through click-through." First, publishers are not fake users. Secondly, as mentioned above, there is a sampling bias & the + listings stand out with larger & more graphical listings. If they didn't get a higher CTR that would mean they were *really* irrelevant.
  • "out of the gate, whereas we had limited users to train this system with, I’m actually very happy with the outcome of the personal results." They could have been placed at the bottom of the search results or off to the side or some such until there was greater confidence in the training set.
  • "People are coming to a conclusion about the product today, within the first two weeks, and they’re not fully seeing the potential where we can build this product around real identities and real relationships." If a publisher promotes a site to the top of the search results & then says something like 'we will improve quality later' they are branded as spammers. In the past Google has justified penalizing a site based on its old content that no longer exists on the site. Investing in depth, quality & volume is a cycle. If others get prohibited from evolving through the cycles due to algorithms like Panda then it becomes quite hard to compete as a new start up when Google can just insert whatever it wants right near the top & then work on quality after the fact.
  • "We don’t think of this as a promotional unit now. This is a place that you would find people with real identities who would be interesting for your queries." If this is the case then why does it only promote Google+?
  • "We’re very open to incorporating information from other services, but that needs to be done on terms that wouldn’t change in a short period of time and make our products vanish." The problem is, if a company builds a reputation as a secretive one that clones the work of its partners & customers then people don't want to do open-ended transparent relationships. Naive folks might need to see the blood and tears 3 or 4 times to pick up on the trend, but even the slowest of the slow notice it after a dozen such moves.
  • "I’m just very wary of building a product where the terms can be changed." Considering Google's lack of transparency & self-promotional bias on the social networking front, would you be fully transparent and open with Google? If so, then aren't the search algorithms complex enough that it would make sense to make those transparent as well? How can you ask other social networks to increase transparency at the same time Google is locking down their search data on claims of protecting user privacy?
  • "It’s not just about content. It’s about identity, and when you start talking about these things and what it takes to build this, the data needed is much more than we can publicly crawl." This is where being trustworthy is so crucial. Past interactions with Yelp, TripAdvisor & Groupon likely make future potential partners more risk adverse & cautious. Outrageous "accidents" like those that happened with Mocality & Open Street Map from playing fast and loose further erode credibility. And even when Google hosts the media & has full access to user data they still rank inferior stuff sometimes (like the recent Santorum YouTube cartoon fiasco), even on widely searched core/head keywords.

The big issue is that if people feel the game is rigged they won't have much incentive to share on Google+. I largely only share stuff that is irrelevant to tangentially relevant to our business interests & won't share stuff that is directly relevant, because I don't want to be forced to compete against an inferior version of my own work when the deck is stacked so the inferior version wins simply because it is hosted on Google.

As we move into the information age a lot of physical stores are shutting down. Borders went bust last year. Sears announced the closure of many stores. And many of the people shopping in the physical stores that remain are using cell phones for price comparisons. Given Google's mobile OS share this is another area where they can build trust or burn it. A friend today mentioned how their online prices on Google Product search almost always show a lower price near the header than the lowest price available in the list - sometimes by a substantial margin.

Identity vs Anonymous Contractors

In the past we have mentioned that transparency is often a self-serving & hypocritical policy by those atop power systems who want to limit the power of those whom they aim to control.

When Google was caught promoting illegal drug ads there was no individual who took the blame for it. When the Mocality scraping & the Open Street Map vandalism issues happened, all that we were told was that Google "was mortified" and it was "a contractor." If people who did hit jobs could just place all the blame on "the contractor" then the world would be a pretty crappy place!

Eric Schmidt warned that "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." That sage advice came from the same Eric Schmidt that blackballed cNet for positing personal information about him. Around the same time Eric offered the above quote, Google was engaged in secret & illegal backdoor deals with direct competitors to harm their own employees.

What happened to Google recruiters who dared to go against the illegal pact? They were fired on the hour:

"Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening?" Schmidt wrote.

Google's staffing director responded that the employee who contacted the Apple engineer "will be terminated within the hour."

When Google+ launched they demanded that you use your real name or don't use the product. They later claimed that you can use a nickname on your account as well, but there is a difference between a nickname and pseudonyms.

What is so outrageous about the claims for this need for real identities is that past studies have shown that pseudonymous comments are best & Bruce Schneier highlighted how we lose our individuality if we are under an ever-watchful eye:

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

In many markets ads and content are blended in a way that is hard to distingush between them. Whenever Google wants to enter they can demand greater transparency to participate (and then use the standard formatted data from that transparency to create a meta-competitor in the market.)

Increasingly Google is placing more of their search data & their webmaster-related functions behind a registration wall. If you are rich & powerful they will sell you the data. If you are the wrong type of webmaster that aggregate data can be used in *exceptionally* personal ways.

User Privacy

Ahead of Google updating their privacy policy Google has directed a large portion of their ad budget toward ads about how they protect users online.

What better way to ensure user privacy than to allow them to register their accounts under psydonyms? The real name policy on Google+ was part of what made Google want to stop providing referrer data for logged in users who search on Google. This has had a knock on effect where other social sites are framing everything, requiring registration to read more of public user generated content & sending outbound traffic through redirects.

Google's new privacy policy allows them to blend your user data from one service into refining the experience (and ads) on another:

If you’re signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries – or tailor your search results – based on the interests you’ve expressed in Google+, Gmail, and YouTube. We’ll better understand which version of Pink or Jaguar you’re searching for and get you those results faster.

Google & Facebook's war (against) user privacy is catching media and governmental attention. Microsoft highlighted some of Google's issues in their "putting people first" ad campaign & the blowback has caused Google not only to publish PR-spin "get the facts" styled blog posts, but to launch yet another ad campaign.

EU regulators have asked Google to pause their privacy policy changes.

Bogus Testimonials & Social Payola

Is social media a cleaner signal than links? If search engines put the same weight on social media that they put on links it would get spammed to bits. It won't be long until a firm like Ad.ly offers sponsored Google+ posts.

Some have suggested that you won't be able to buy Google+ followers however Google already includes user pictures on AdWords ads (even when they desire not to be & even when they didn't endorse the product that Google suggests they endorsed). In due time I expect Google will indeed sell followers & other user interactions as ad units (just like Twitter & Facebook do).

Further, celebrities sell Tweets to advertisers. When they are hot their rates go up:

When Ad.ly introduced self-destructing Charlie Sheen to Twitter, he was paid about $50,000 per tweet. It was worth it. Sheen’s tweet for Internships.com generated 95,333 clicks in the first hour and 450,000 clicks in 48 hours, created a worldwide trending topic out of #tigerbloodintern, attracted 82,148 internship applications from 181 countries, and added 1 million additional visits to Internships.com.

Search engines might consider these to be clean signals if those same search engines were not busy buying the manipulation of said "relevancy" signals.

Attention is purchased to create demand. It isn't comfortable to put it this way, but we are trained to obey authority & to like what others like:

The average Facebook user has 130 friends, which equates with four degrees of separation to thousands of people, Mr. Fischer said. Metrics like that led him to believe that if Facebook could figure out a way to capitalize on "social endorsements," it would be like creating a word-of-mouth campaign that could reach millions of people simultaneously. Since the campaigns would come from a friend, they would theoretically be taken more seriously than, say, a TV commercial, he said.

On an individual basis reviews and ratings get faked everywhere. Even stodgy old slow-moving institutions like colleges game their ranking systems.

There recently was a question raised about how Google's rating systems skewed high on the underlying data. Surely Overstock (the same Overstock Google penalized earlier this year) wouldn't promote Google's trusted stores aggressively on their own site if it made their business appear worse than it actually is, thus a positive bias must be baked in to the system.

Entire categories of demand are created by those tied in with power cost shifting to create bubbles. The federal reserve helped spark a real estate bubble with low interest rates. FBI warnings of mortgage fraud were ignored. Consumers were constantly fed propaganda about "real estate only goes up." Then when that bubble popped, the US government bailed out those who caused it & burned trillions of Dollars propping up home prices. The government even bailed out a company that is now shorting the housing market (when that company was about to get bailed out the secretary of treasury leaked that material non-public information to some of his criminal investor buddies).

Does all the above sound circular, conflicting, corrupt & confusing? It should, because that is how power works & comes off as seeming semi-legitimate when acting in illigitimate ways. The perception of reality is warped to create profitable opportunties that are monetized on the way up and the way down.

Millions of kids take drugs that address the symptoms of being a child full of energy, imagination & entusiasm. In some cases they may need them, but in most cases they probably don't. The solution with the highest economic return gets the largest ad budget, even if it only treats symptoms.

Web Scrape Plus+ (Now With More Scraping)

When the +1 button & Google+ launched, Google highlighted how they would use the + button usage as a "relevancy" signal. Google recently started inserting + pages directly into the search results for brands & right from the very start they were using it as a scraper website that would outrank the original content source.

Google used the buy in from their promised relevancy signal to create a badge-based incentivized system which acts as a glorified PageRank funnel to further juice the rankings of these new pages on a domain name that already had a PageRank 10.

I recently read a blog post about how anyone could do the above & the opportunity is open to everyone. But the truth is, I can't state that something will become a relevancy signal that manipulates the search results in order to get buy in. Or, if I did something which actually had the same net effect, Google would likely chop my legs off for promoting a link scheme.

Recently the topic of Google+ as a scraper site came up yet again via Read Write Web & on Hacker News a Googler stated that it was "childish" to place any of the blame on Google!!!!!!

Google determines how much information is shown near each listing & can create "relevancy" signals in ways that things tied to Google get over-represented (look at the +1 count here). When they do that & it destroys other business models *of course* Google deserves 100% of the blame.

Thin Content & Scraper Sites

Remember the whole justification for Panda was that thin content was a poor user experience?

In spite of sites like eHow getting hit, Google is still pre-paying them to upload content to Youtube.

Now that the (non-Google hosted) thin content has been disappeared (and the % of downstream traffic from Google to Youtube has more then doubled in the past year) it is time for Google to take another slice of the search traffic stream with Search Plus Your World:

The Google vs Facebook locked down walled garden contest will retard innovation. As the corporate internet silos grow larger the independent web withers. Them going after each other may leave room for Twitter, but it doesn't leave lots of room is left for others, as the economics of publishing have to work or the publishers die.

Start ups that were on a successful trajectory were killed by Panda:

The startup had been on a roll up until last February when Google altered its ranking algorithm with the release of “Panda.” The changes decimated TeachStreet’s traffic, and the company never quite recovered.

“We lost a lot of our traffic, and overnight we started talking to partners for biz dev, not for acquisition,” he said. However, many of the potential partners wanted to know about an outright acquisition.

About.com was also smoked by Google:

The biggest worry, though, is that the decline of About.com itself may be irreversible. Fewer people are clicking on About ads placed by Google and the site’s own display ads have dropped in value.

The company has attributed this decline in value to Google’s decision last year to downgrade About pages in its search results. With more than 80% of traffic coming from search, the Google denigration was indeed a blow but About’s problems may be rooted in something deeper.

Keep in mind that the reason these websites were hit was that they were claimed to be thin & thus a poor user experience. When the NYT bought About.com one of the top competing bidders was Google!

Now that the "thin content" has been demoted in the search results Google can integrate deep content silos from Google+, like this one:

That is an 8-word Google+ post about how short another blog post is. I like Todd & do like to read his writings, but here Google is clearly favoring the same sort of content they would have torched if it was done on an independent webmaster's website.

How Google has raters view other websites that redirect traffic is based upon those sites having a substantial value add. Clearly in the above example there was nothing added to the interaction beyond sharing a bookmark with a punchy tagline.

If Google wants to use the + notation to pull up that other referenced page then perhaps that can make sense, but to list an 8-word Google+ page in the search results nearly a year after the Panda algorithm is outrageous. This sort of casual mention integration in the search results occurs on expensive keywords as well. Not only do they list your own Google+ posts...

...but they also list them from anyone you follow...

In addition to information pollution, the other big issue here is time. Google wants to make forms more standardized to make filling them out faster & they give regular sermons on the importance of fast search results. Yet when I do a navigational search, Google delivers two AdWords ads, a huge Google+ promotion, and then the navigational search result barely above the fold.*

*Since I thought the above was obnoxious, I renamed our Google+ company page to S_E_O Book to help Google fix their relevancy problems.

Can anyone explain how Google's speed bias is aligned with putting plus junk right at the top, even on brand searches? Yahoo! has been pretty aggressive with putting shopping ads in the search results, but their implementation is still a better user experience than what Google did above.

And Bing offers an even cleaner experience than that.

Due to how Google integrates Google+ in such a parasitic way I see no incentive for participating on their network except when I have something that is outside of my domain of expertise, something that I am not targeting commercially, something that is thin, or something irrelevant to say! That incentive structure combined with Google's photo meme feature will ensure that content marketers will help plenty of people see Star Wars stuff ranking for mortgage loan search queries.

When you own search/navigation you own language. that position can easily be extended into any other direction/market in a way a social graph can not:

"The only technology I’d rather own than Windows would be English," McNealy said. "All of those who use English would have to pay me a couple hundred dollars a year just for the right to speak English. And then I can charge you upgrades when I add new alphabet characters like ‘n’ and ‘t.’ It would be a wonderful business."

Further, Google can chose at any point to respond to or ignore market regulations in accordance with whatever makes them the most money. They can also fund 3rd parties doing the same (like undermining copyright) to force others to strike an official deal with Google to be "open."

A lot of businesses live on small profit margins, so Google's ability to insert itself & fund criminal 3rd parties aligned with Google's internal longterm interests is a big big big deal. Companies will learn that you either work with Google on Google's terms or you die.

When a public relations issue brews they can quickly change their approach and again position themselves as the white knight.

Brand Equity & Forcing the Brand Buy

Yahoo! put out a research paper highlighting activity bias, stating that the efficacy of online advertising is often over-stated because people who see ads about a topic were already more closely tied in with that particular network & that particular topic before they even saw the ad. As an example, any person who sees an AdWords ad for hemorrhoid treatment was already searching for hemorrhoid-related topics before they saw your ad (thus they were in the subset of individuals that might have came across your site in some way if you were in the search ad ecosystem or not).

This sort of activity bias-driven selection bias (homophily) exists on social networks online & offline.

Google did research on incrementality of ads & they came to the opposite conclusion as Yahoo! did. Google suggested you should buy, buy, buy, even on your own branded keywords. They suggested that testing was expensive (no mention that the only reason it is expensive is because Google chooses not to make such tools easily accessible to advertisers) & that the clicks were so cheap on branded keywords that you should buy, buy, buy. Many advertisers who mix brand & non-brand keywords together don't realize that they are using the "returns" from bidding on their own brand to subsidize over-paying for other keywords.

Google Analytics is the leading & most widely used web analytics program. They can share whatever metrics help them sell more ads (defaulting to crediting the last click for conversions, even if it was on a navigational search to your site) & pull back on features that are not aligned with their business interests (SEO referral data anyone?)

This goes back to Scott McNealy's quote: "The only technology I’d rather own than Windows would be English. All of those who use English would have to pay me a couple hundred dollars a year just for the right to speak English. And then I can charge you upgrades when I add new alphabet characters like ‘n’ and ‘t.’ It would be a wonderful business."

Analysts didn't understand why Google CPC rates were down 8% last quarter while overall search clicks were up 34%. The biggest single reason was likely more clicks on adlinks on branded AdWords ads. While a brand buying its own keyword typically pays far less per click than what some of the biggest keywords go for, the branded keywords typically have an exceptionally high CTR. Those additional clicks dragged down Google's average CPC, but the extra revenue they offered was a big par of the reason why Google was about to grow at 25% even though their display network only grew at 15%.

That slow growth of display is in spite of Youtube now serving over 4 billion video streams per day & Google adding display ads to log out pages.

Online views are not the same as TV views. A comScore study found that 31% of display ads are never seen. In spite of that, US online advertising will reach nearly $40 billion this year.

Google wants to insert itself as a needed cost of business in the same way credit card companies have.

On Google Maps they put an ad inside your location box.

Even if most people don't participate on Google+, Google can still force advertiser buy in through over-promotion of the network in the search results. On your branded keywords they may drive your organic listing below the fold & put Google+ front & center.

Facebook earnings are still growing much faster than Google's & Facebook encourages advertisers to advertise their Facebook pages, so even when you pay for the click Facebook still keeps the user. Facebook is adding apps to the timeline & is trying to win VEVO music video hosting from YouTube.

While Google is primarily known as a search company, it is getting harder to get off of Google though any channel other than a toll booth. Google keeps driving the organic search results downward, while Google verticals fill up many of the organic results that remain. Many companies already buy Google ads on their own YouTube content. Some buy ads on Google to drive them to their Youtube videos & then buy ads on their own Youtube video to promote their websites. Soon Google will try to push you to buy them on your Google+ page as well. Google is becoming a walled garden:

Google wants to control more elements of your social world now. They don’t just want to be a search engine.

Is that so bad? Maybe not. It’s certainly no different from how other companies, from AOL, to Microsoft, to Apple, to Disney, to Facebook, have viewed the world — as ideally a walled garden, an all-consuming platform that most people use for pretty much every form of entertainment and social interaction.

A lot of people thought that Google was somehow different. They were, of course, wrong.
...
To move forward either as the old Google or Google+, Google needs to be capable of making fair deals with the partner ecosystem. It needs to curb its instinct to kill competing media companies that were actually producing great content that Google helped you find.

I suspect there will be plenty of bloodshed before Google figures that one out.

"This is the path we’re headed down – a single unified, ‘beautiful’ product across everything. If you don’t get that, then you should probably work somewhere else." - Larry Page

Google no longer believes in the concept of the open web. Blame it on Larry Page becoming the CEO, blame it on him talking to Steve Jobs & Steve telling him to make fewer and tighter products, blame it on Google funding eHow, or blame it on basically anything. But if you go back far enough, much of the stuff that is going on now was clearly envisioned a decade ago:

I was lucky enough to chat with Larry one-to- one about his expectations for Google back in 2002. He laid out far-reaching views that had nothing to do with short-term revenue goals, but raised questions about how Google would anticipate the day sensors and memory became so cheap that individuals would record every moment of their lives. He wondered how Google could become like a better version of the RIAA - not just a mediator of digital music licensing - but a marketplace for fair distribution of all forms of digitized content. I left that meeting with a sense that Larry was thinking far more deeply about the future than I was, and I was convinced he would play a large role in shaping it. I would rather jump on board that bullet train than ride a local that never missed a revenue stop but never." - Douglas Edwards

What happens when the Google+ version of your content outranks the version on your own site? And what happens when your branded channel and/or your fans become a vertical ad silo Google sells to your competitors?

I tested submitting a couple posts to Google+ with a Wordtracker top keywords list & valuable keywords (on a cpc*traffic) basis in posts about top keywords. Those posts rank #2 or #3 in Google for many people that follows me. No harm to me since those posts were irrelevant to this site, but if they were about my theme & topic I just would have out-competed myself. When Google outranks you (even with a copy of your content) they get to taste the data again and sell off the attention another time. You only get a slice of that monetization, even when it is your work that is being monetized. Maybe it is great for stuff that is somewhat less relevant and/or keywords that are so competitive that you otherwise wouldn't score for them, but we have to be really careful we don't out-compete ourselves. Though if Googke keeps this up they won't be the only ones monetizing it. Give it a few months and celebrities will be selling sponsored Google+ posts based on some metric created by multiplying search volume, CPC & how many followers they have.

Is Bing Better? Will Enough People Ask That Question to Matter?

For years Google built their reputation as being the search engine that offered the cleanest & fastest search results. They were known for monetizing less aggressively than the competition. But over the past couple years Google has dialed up their ads to where they now send a greater ratio of ad traffic than organic search traffic. One Google engineer recently described the ability to rank highly in Google without buying their ads as being a bug that was getting fixed!

Google's big risk in their coupling of aggressive monetization, aggressive self-promotion & changing how users feel about user privacy is that they can create the perception that users should go elsewhere for for an honest or trustworthy search. This not only builds momentum for smaller search services like DuckDuckGo & Blekko, but has also won praise for Bing from Gizmodo, Dave Winer & The Next Web.

Kill The Bugs!

Feb 3rd

You can learn a lot more about what Google really thinks by reading what their new hires say. They are not yet skilled in the arts of public relations & make major gaffs like this one:

Instead of being able to SEO the entire Internet, businesses can now only affect the search results for a tiny percentage of users. That's a good thing because SEO can't scale, and SEO isn't good for users or the Internet at large.

If you look at the Google experience from the standpoint of customers, it's pretty good. Users get relevant search results and ads. Advertisers get their content on top of everything else. It's a good compromise between advertising and usability, and it works really well. It's a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug. Manipulating Google results shouldn't be something you feel entitled to be able to do. If you want to rank highly in Google, be relevant for the user currently searching. Engage him in social media or email, provide relevant information about what you're selling, and, generally, be a "good match" for what the user wants. - Googley Jon Rockway

Would love to hear someone more senior confirm this as the official Google company position, however they are too skilled at public relations to make that blunder (at least outside of foreign AdWords ads that tell you to "forget SEO").

AHREFS Review: An In-Depth Look at a New Link Research Tool

Feb 1st

Ahrefs is the newest entry into the link research tool space. They use their own bot and their own index (which they state is based on information from a trillion website connections).

They claim their index is updated every 30 minutes and the fresh data is available to their users within 30 minutes of the actual index refresh.

Ahrefs also has a ranking database of roughly 45 million keywords from 9 different countries (US GB FR RU DE ES IT AU BR). The tools within their membership are:

  • Site Explorer
  • SERPs Analysis
  • Reports
  • Labs/Tools

Their pricing is very straight-forward and only increases or decreases based on volume of data you have access to. You can check out the easy to understand pricing on their pricing page (and they offer SEO Book readers a 50% discount on the first month).

Site Explorer

Ahref's Site Explorer functions in a similar way to Majestic's Site Explorer and SeoMoz's Site Explorer. You can choose a specific URL, the domain without subdomains, or domain with all its subdomains:

ahrefs-site-explorer

If we look at the Site Explorer results, you'll see an overview of the last 45 days or so from Ahref's crawl history:

ahrefs-site-explorer-overview

On the left you can see some interesting stats like the total number of backlinks, different referring IP's and subnets (class c blocks and such), unique domains, and the types of backlinks the site has (text, image, redirects, and so on).

In addition to the overview report, you have other research options to chose from:

  • New Links
  • Lost Links (great opportunity for you to swoop in and alert the linker + sell them on linking to you and your resources)
  • Anchor Text Profile
  • Pages Crawled on the Site
  • Referring Domain Breakdown
  • SERP Positions (organic ranking report)
  • Raw Export of the Data (up to your limits based on your pricing plan)

New Links

In the New Link tab you can go back to a previous month, or work inside the current month, and find newly discovered links by the day. Here is what that looks like:

site-explorer-new-links

Click on whatever day you want and you'll get a list of linking urls, the target link page, and the anchor text used for the link:

site-explorer-new-links-results

This report can help you reverse engineer, down to the day, a link building campaign that your competitor is running (always good to be out in front of a big link push by a competitor) and can also help you evaluate your own link campaign or even help you spot a link growth issue that may have resulted in some kind of penalty or over-optimization filter.

Now keep in mind that, based on their stated crawling guidelines, the stronger links from stronger sites tend to get crawled more frequently so the spammiest of the spammy link approaches might not get picked up on. For that level of deep research a historical report from Majestic SEO and a link status checker, like Advanced Link Manager, is likely a better bet.

You can export this report to Excel or .CSV format.

Lost Links

The Lost Links tab has the same interface as the New Links report does. For your own domain you might want to consider tracking your own links in something like Raven or Buzzstream but this tool does report dropped links down to the day. Combine that with their crawling preferences (better links = quicker attention) and you can spot drops of substance quickly.

You can use this report to find links that a competitor has lost, off of which you can contact the webmaster and see if you can't promote your site or similar content to earn the link your competitor was previously getting.

You can export this report to Excel or .CSV format.

Anchor Text

The anchor text report is exactly what you expect it to be. It lists the anchor texts of external links, the number of occurrences, as well as an expandable dropdown menu to see the pages being linked from and the pages being linked to on the site you are researching.

site-explorer-anchor-text-report

You can export to Excel or .CSV and choose to export everything, up to your limit, or just the current page.

Crawled Pages

This report will show you all the pages crawled by Ahrefs with the following stats:

  • Page URL and Title
  • Crawl Date
  • Page Size
  • Internal Links
  • External Links

site-explorer-crawled-pages

I would likely use this report (on competitors) for checking some of their more popular internally linked-to pages as well as checking out how they structure their site. You can also jump right to a site explorer report for any of the URL's listed on that report as well as check the SERP positions for any of them.

Referring Domains

One thing I like about Ahrefs is that it's straight and to the point. It's very easy to get in, get your data, and get out. Each report does pretty much what you expect it to. This report shows the referring domains + number links coming from that domain. You can access the links from each domain by clicking the Expand button next to the referring domain:

ahrefs-referring-domains

SERP Positioning

Similar to SemRush, Ahref's provides estimated ranking data for keyword sets on both Google and Bing/Yahoo in multiple countries (US, UK, AU, DE, FR, ES, IT, BR, RU). The tool shows the:

  • Position
  • Keyword
  • CPC
  • Estimated cost
  • Ranking url
  • Global search volume
  • Advertiser competition
  • Last date checked
  • Rating (estimated visitors per month based on assumed traffic distribution)

site-explorer-ahrefs-serp-history

The other cool thing about this report is that it will tell you the change from the last time they checked the ranking.

SERPs Analysis

This is similar to the SERP positioning report. Essentially, you enter a URL and you get the Google + Bing & Yahoo ranking data with those same metrics as stated above:

  • Position
  • Keyword
  • CPC
  • Estimated cost
  • Ranking url
  • Global search volume
  • Advertiser competition
  • Last date checked
  • Rating (estimated visitors per month based on assumed traffic distribution)

In addition to that, you also have the following reports:

  • Daily Stats
  • History of Changes
  • Ads Analysis

Daily Stats

ahrefs-daily-stats

This report shows you, on a daily basis, the following data points:

  • New Keywords
  • Lost Keywords
  • Total Keywords that moved up
  • Total Keywords that moved down
  • Total Positions up
  • Total Positions down
  • Rating Change (estimated percentage of traffic gained or lost)
  • Cost Change (rating change * CPC)

There are graphical charts for:

  • Search Engine Traffic (shown above)
  • Keyword Trend (total keywords ranking)
  • Traffic Cost
  • Bar Graph for New and Lost Keywords
  • Estimated Traffic Changes
  • Estimated Traffic Cost Changes

History of Changes

This report breaks down the keyword changes by day and how much the specific keyword moved up/down (and the corresponding page that is ranking).

You can look at a daily report, a 7 day report, 30 days, or a custom range.

ahrefs-history-changes

Ads Analysis

Ahrefs also incorporates Google (and Bing/Yahoo but I had a hard time getting figures for Bing/Yahoo) PPC data. You can pull in the ranking of the ad, the ad text, volume & CPC data, as well as last updated date & competition levels.

ahrefs-ad-history

You can look at just the keyword/ranking data or choose from their other 2 reports; keywords/ranking + ad text (Table + Ads) or just the PPC ad text itself (Ads Preview).

Reports

You can create reports for your own domain for free or a any other site as a part of your subscription. Each domain counts as a separate report, so you can enter as many as you are entitled to in this interface but they do count against your monthly allowance.

ahrefs-reporting-1

The report overview looks like this:

ahrefs-report-overview

Each tab represents a data point you can review. In any tab you can choose to export the visible page or the entire report.

There are quite a few filtering options here, as you can see below:

ahrefs-filtering

Your filtering options, report-wide, are:

  • URLs from - you can include or exclude based on user-defined data (exclude by word(s), domain extension, and so on)
  • Backlinks Type - you can choose to show, specifically, different backlink types (nofollow, image, frame, redirect, form, deleted)
  • Pages - show links only to a specific page
  • Subdomain - show links only to a specific subdomain
  • Countries - show links from specific countries
  • Anchors - show or exclude specific anchor text links
  • Referring Domains - show links from a specific domain, or set of domains only
  • IP - show links from a specific IP or range of IP's only
  • Subnets - show backlinks only from specific subnets
  • TLD - show links from specific TLD's only
  • Date - show links based on specific crawl period

The cool thing here is that you can layer on the filters as you wish. The following screenshot shows all filters selected and available:

ahrefs-report-filtering

The reporting is really quite powerful and provides numerous ways to quickly filter out junk links so you can focus on the good stuff.

Labs

There are 3 additional tools in their Labs section.

  • Ahrefs Top - Top 1 million domains by number of backlinks, completely searchable
  • Domain Comparison - compare up to 5 domains for different link metrics (see below)
  • Batch Domains - (see below) dump in a bunch of URLs and get a total count of backlinks, referring domains, and IP's. Unsure of the limit here but I did about 25 with no problem.

Here is a screenshot of the domain comparison feature:

ahrefs-compare-top

ahrefs-report-2

The Batch Domains feature looks like this (and is completely exportable!):

ahrefs-compare-domains-batch

Ahrefs is Worth a Spin

I was impressed with the speed of this tool, the exportability of the data, and the report filtering capabilities. It hardly hurts to have another link database to pull from, especially one that is updated every 30 minutes.

The tool is quite easy to use and it does pretty much what you expect it to. If you are into link research you should give this tool a try. The database appears to be a fairly good size for a new database and the ability to slice and dice that data from right within the web interface is a solid feature. If you do try it out, let us know what you think! We are also adding their link data to SEO for Firefox & the SEO Toolbar today.

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Jan 31st

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The Future of SEO Campaigns with Jon Henshaw & Taylor Pratt from Raven

Jan 26th
posted in

Raven SEO Interview.

Here is the audio if you'd prefer to listen :)

Play File (mp3 link)

Eric: All right, this is Eric over here at SEO Book and today I'm fortunate enough to be joined by Taylor Pratt and Jon Henshaw from Raven SEO Tools, thanks for joining us today guys.

Taylor Pratt: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, good to see ya!

Eric: All right, so we just have some questions here that I think our readers will appreciate and some of our members have been interested to know about as well.

So, without further ado I'll jump right in here.

Obviously you guys are essentially the creators of an all-in-one SEO tool set which has kind of morphed into a Web marketing tool set now with all of the different things that you've added and certainly have a vested interest in being on the right side of forecasting the future of what will be important to search marketers here in the short and long-term and certainly there's a lot of changes going on at the moment especially in the social area.

So, I'd just like to get your thoughts on where you guys see search going with respect to what's going to be important for us as search marketers to track, study and report on the clients; things like rankings, analytics, social signals?

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I mean I think I'll go first. This is Jon and as you said we kind of started out with just SEO and over time we have become more of that full-fledged internet marketing suite. And I would say that that was actually one of the first steps in sort of forecasting where things are going in the industry.

And at first while that was like our main focus what we started to see was sort of the merging of all of these different practices under one roof and so you saw a lot of people who just did SEO's, a lot of people who just did paid and they started to do both. And then social kind of came into that mix, that's the most recent thing, and so now you're seeing a lot of agencies doing all three and on top of that they're doing email marketing and that type of thing and so that was sort of our first step in saying SEO is not going to be enough; what we think is going to happen is most of these companies doing these sort of individual components of marketing are going to be doing them all.

So then the second thing which is really what we're dealing with now is so where is it going now? What is it that people need and I would say we're just sticking to how we approached it all along which is we're basically talking to the people who are doing the work out there. We're talking to the agencies, the individuals, the experts and we're asking them, what are your problems? Like, what are the problems that are still not being solved even just on the most practical level?

And so we take that information and we look at what we built and we go, okay, so how can we solve that problem with Raven? And that contributes a whole lot to at least our own roadmap. Taylor might want to talk more about sort of the future of things.

Taylor Pratt:Yeah and building off of what Jon's saying, when it comes to figuring out what I should be studying or reporting on I think we're seeing, especially like Jon said with social getting more into search, people having to turn to pay-for-click to get more data, having to study all disciplines of online marketing you can't just make the right call just by looking at what you can see in your analytics from an SEO perspective.

And so I think what we're seeing with people are that they're realizing, hey, I could be doing a lot better if I don't just look at my own stuff. I want to see what keywords are performing at the highest level on the pay-per-click side. I want to see what our audience is talking about on our fan page and on our Twitter account so that I know what topics I should be writing about that's going to get the most engagement.

And so I think we're moving towards a full landscape of online marketing and services and it's forcing SEO's to try and become more knowledgeable in those others fields as well.

And, as a result, you know, that's really what we were trying to do with Raven which was bringing together all that data so that you can be looking at it easily. Maybe I don't actually have to do the work when it comes to pay-per-click but I need to understand it and I need to know what I can take from that to improve my own SEO campaign.

And so really when it comes to reporting and actually managing that process we need people to be a lot more versatile in their skills, they can't just be focused on one niche anymore.

Eric: Those are all great points. I think too you guys must run into stuff like I think you could probably take ten people who are knowledgeable or successful with SEO that have been doing it for a while and they probably get four or five different opinions on what exactly SEO is. Is it...does it stop at rankings or does it stop at, you know, rankings plus traffic plus conversions plus leveraging all of the other data that you talked about. So that must be quite at challenge because I'm sure you guys have experience in the industry obviously and talking with some of the folks that you talk about, you must get a lot of different opinions on what exactly SEO is.

Jon Henshaw: Definitely. And you mentioned ranking which has been traditionally sort of a core component of what people think of when they're doing SEO and what they're actually reporting on to their clients.

And the thing is, is that what ranking was a few years ago, it's not the same as it is today. And I think we know why which is the search engines, particularly Google, it just depends on who you are, if you're logged in with your account, where you are, now obviously who you're connected with with G+ and because of all of those things who knows what results you're going to get..who knows what the results are going to be that you're going to get.

And so what's happening in sort of the rank checking world is it's getting really just unpredictable. I mean, you don't know what you're going to get. You have people at one end, and one of the biggest frustrations that I know rank checkers have, and I know this because we used to check them ourselves and now we, of course, use Authority Labs but I think all of them have the difficulty of that customer saying, well, this isn't what I'm seeing!

And so I think it's going to get worse and worse. And so I think what's changed with ranking is that ranking has become, or should be becoming, less important of a metric. And, instead the focus should be on organic referrals because that's really the most reliable thing that you can look at and report on.

So, in other words, if I were an agency or just even an individual SEO guy who was doing work for a customer I would make the metric be, am I increasing your organic traffic instead of where do I rank for your pet term? You know, and I think that's the biggest change. That's what I've seen over the past few years. There's still a lot of resistance to that just because they don't want it to be true but I think the reality is, is that rank checking is still going to be important because it still gives you an indication of health and gives you some idea of sort of how you're performing even if it's going to get to a point where it could never be 100% accurate.

So it'll still play a role and we're still going to keep having that data in our system but the big, big factor is going to be actually what Google Analytics is providing and whatever stacks package you use.

And to be able to say that we increased your organic traffic by 100% and on top of that your conversions went up. I think that's becoming more important.

Eric: Right, yeah. Do you guys have any plans to integrate that stuff? You do work with Authority Labs. Do they do a lot of stuff with their incorporating universal results that you guys might be able to do because I know some of the software tools do that? That could be helpful

I think especially on the agency side of things you find that people tend to lead their value add with rankings, right? I mean, you can but that's a big mistake. If anything, if you're going to have conversations about rankings you have to attach an element of conversion optimization to that too you can't just leave it at the door.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, and that's something that we're talking to Authority Labs with right now and they actually do provide universal results with the data and they're trying to update the API that we're using so we can actually present that.

So as soon as we can present that we're going to and then on top of that as far as where we're taking things in the future, we're going to be supporting the ability to edit your ranking results, the ability to import ranking results from other third parties. So, yeah, so we're working on that, it's not available right now, but that is something that we know people have been asking for, for quite a while.

Eric: Okay. So, we talked about all of these things with how the sort of element of ranking being less and less of a flagship sort of metric to report, at least on client sites or even on sites that SEO's might run themselves, affiliate sites, or sites where revenue is driven by AdSense or something to that affect.

But I think what a lot of people would be interested to know, and I love getting opinions on this from a bunch of people all across the industry, that if you were starting in an SEO company today how would you approach the key elements of the business, you know, what are the core competencies that you think not only that are effective, but I think there's something a disconnect between what is actually or what should be a core competency for an SEO firm, you know, link outreach, all of these things, but some of those things are hard to quantify to a client.

You know, we've reached out to 400 sites and we obtained two links. Well, that can be a bit difficult to report on but with things like link outreach or just good old fashioned PR, social development, community building, rankings, conversions, all of those things, what would you promote to your clients as the value add that your agency or your company would bring to the table?

Taylor Pratt: You know, if it were me back in my agency days what we tried to focus on was... we all say that we want to focus on conversions but I think getting even more specific than that, having specific interaction goals for different aspects of your organic traffic. So what I'd probably do is talk about how we look at both branded and non-branded traffic and we separate them. I want to have specific goals for my branded traffic that I expect them to be able to complete if they came to us organically.

And then from a non-branded standpoint, I want to be able to do the exact same things. And building off of what we talked about earlier I think going into those meetings now and telling them, hey, you know, looking at releases like when Google announced the whole not provided thing, as an agency I need to be prepared to say to my client, well, you know what, we have a work around for that. We have a pay-per-click campaign that's going so we can still get the traffic insight behind each keyword so we know which ones we should be focusing on the most.

And I think presenting it to the client as you being able to adapt to the changing market and you not focusing just on one individual aspect is really going to be what shows them that they should be going with you over somebody else.

Eric: Right, yeah, and I think those are good points. Because I see it too, sometimes people are starting an agency, they look for things that they can…you know, like rankings are still such a big thing and I know there was some press last year about how rankings are dead. I know Jon wrote a post kind of countering that and I did as well. I don't think that's the case either but I think it seems like people are still, or in some cases, leading with rankings. But the problem is it takes X amount of months to get there for some terms and then you find out that the traffic isn't there in the first place really if you're relying on keyword tools.

So, that's interesting because I think right now we have a lot of people that read this blog and in the community that sort of run their own sites a little bit and then you've got people who are doing some client work. Are you seeing more of an increase in folks who maybe in the past where just sort of individual SEO's that are now filtering over to taking on some more client stuff?

Taylor Pratt: Yeah, you know, I can speak for myself personally. I'm starting to take over Raven's pay-per-click work and going into it I knew enough just pretty much what any SEO would know, pretty much what any SEO would know about pay-per-click.

I wouldn't know enough to run a campaign from start to finish so starting to ramp up on that. And it's interesting that over the last couple of months, really since not provided or at least have seen, a lot more articles around pay-per-click showing up on industry blogs. It's starting to get a lot more coverage and I think people are starting to realize that, hey, I could pretty much get more concrete results out of my SEO program if I would just focus a little bit more time in these other areas.

Because, like you said around figuring out that, hey, if I'm targeting one keyword and a couple of months down the line once I start ranking for it, I'm not getting the traffic I expected, well, we could have identified that if we just ran a traditional test just to see.

I mean, you can run pay-per-click tests without even getting clicks. I just want to see how many impressions I can get so I can estimate how much traffic I could potentially get if I was ranking for that keyword.

So trying to get a better fit or a better feel for those numbers, there's a lot that you could be doing with that.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. The pay-per-click is absolutely the best keyword keyword research tool. So when you think of all of the time you spend digging through the AdWords keywords tool and then digging through like Wordtracker or other competitive research tools, if you took a few hundred bucks and threw it at PPC just for accidental clicks right and you threw a pay-per-click campaign up with all the keywords that you're looking at you'd be much better off.

Jon Henshaw: And, I was going to throw out that of course Google has done an excellent job of positioning it as one of your best options.

Eric: Yeah, yeah (laugh). And they're certainly not shy about throwing out those coupons either.

Taylor Pratt: No, they play me like a fiddle, that's for sure!

Eric: Yeah. I think the big thing, you know, in addition to on the SEO side of things with all of the stuff that Google's been doing and continues to do especially with the Plus 1 sort of approach, is the evolution of link building where a lot of times it's just been basic. Where we have all of these sort of tactics that have been working for a long time that I think it can be effective but I think if you're looking mid to long-term on trying to build out, if you run your own sites or even clients that you need to see that it is almost evolving into like a sales and PR type of role.

Do you think it's become a little bit less about pure link metrics like page rank or some of the other stuff that's out there like the (MAS) rank, (MAS) trust follow versus no follow or somewhere in the middle but I think it's definitely evolved towards being more of a relationship type of approach and a PR type of approach. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about that.

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I totally agree. If you look back on even the very early days of link building it was basically build a link anywhere you can get it. I mean, it didn't even matter what site it was, it didn't matter where it was on the page, then as that evolved Google evolved with that. It ended up becoming, well, you may not want it on the footer or you may want it in a different place or you might want to have it on a relevant page. There's still many industries, many site types that I would say even up to today, because I still hear stories from some pretty hardcore people out there that are like, oh yeah, footer links are still well alive for my particular thing.

But I think for the most part, for most people, you hit the nail on the head with it's about relationships. And so that's basically where we talk about predicting where things are going, well, we're seeing it as it's already there and it's only going to increase as far as what's important in link building is going to be building relationships with site owners, with editors, it will also be extremely important to build relationships socially so that you're connected with people who have some degree of influence socially. And so with that one of the things that you said is, is it important to care about (MAS) rank or page rank or any of these other things? And I think it still is important. So, and the way I approach it, which I think is a fairly practical way, is it's important to have as many pieces of data and metrics as possible.

It's the same reason why I think that rank checking will remain important to some extent. I think the same is true with these different metrics. It's not going to be, nor should it be, the main thing that you focus on. The main thing that you should focus on, in my opinion, are relationships with people who are relevant to what you're trying to market.

And that's where what you just mentioned a second ago, that's where PR comes in. It's very PR-like. So that's where I think it's going and that's what we're going to be focusing on but we're going to continue to include those other metrics just because I think they help you see the full picture so that, for example, when you're doing research, trying to find sites or people that you want to connect with, that data really kind of helps round out your decision like, okay, this is all of the things that kind of get in here and even what I'm just looking at and making a judgment on, looks pretty good. I think I'm going to contact this person.

Eric: Like when I look for people that I might want to bring on board to do some link building for some sites it's almost like you ignore, to a degree, SEO experience and what you're focusing on is, is this person salesy? Are they good at PR? Where before it was more of a like hunker down and look for stuff I'll reverse engineer this and that and pull this report, which is all still important certainly

Jon Henshaw: Right.

Eric: But for those really premium type links that I think competition can't get you really ought to have folks like that going forward.

Jon Henshaw: And I think content should be thrown out there too which is..and I don't mean as if you write good content you will rank type of thing but more along the lines of one of the best link building outreach methods is guest blogging. And if you can present yourself in a way that is one that's not too salesy, but, two, can really, really benefit that site meaning you better have a good writer on staff or somebody hired on a contract basis, it's altruistic in the sense that I can get you something really good.

In fact, I'm going to go out of my way and I'm going to spend over $15 dollars on something. I might spend $100 or $200 buck to have a really good article put on somebody else's site with the idea that I'm going to have a decent link to my site. It'll be on a relevant site. So that to me is a pretty important component and that's something that we focused on too and we're going to continue to focus on. So, for example, we've automated some of that which is you can go through Textbroker on Raven or you can have your own writers on staff or through contract and then they can log in and they can save the articles that they write and our content manager.

Eric: Yeah, definitely - content, yeah absolutely. That's a great feature of Raven too. The example that I give sometimes in the forums when people ask about creating…how do we create a piece of content that's time tested. Like, I always give the example of David Mihm who creates the local search ranking sites. You can do something like that for your industry, I mean, just think of things like that. Most industries you can come up with something that the competition isn't doing and then you just... you almost don't have to significantly promote it after the first couple of times. People just naturally look for it. So, yeah, that's definitely a big piece there.

And I think, you know, like I said before, we have a lot of folks inside the forums and that read the blog that are different it's such a hybrid of people who market their own sites and they monetize it in different ways. They've got clients and all of these other things. We always talk about how creating your own product, ultimately, you know, it typically ends up being the most rewarding in the long run, certainly other methods can significantly increase your companies revenue or an individual Web masters revenue. But, when we talk about long-term things and not relying on affiliate networks or AdSense serving or things like that we talk about products and I think, you know, Raven is a great case study in identifying a particular market, the need of a market, creating the product and then just marketing it.

Because, I think, sometimes people miss that. It's such a multi-step approach, it's not just find a market and exploit it with a great product. There's another piece to it which is the marketing which I think Raven does an excellent job on. So, what I would like to hear from you guys is, can you give us some insight into how you sort of went from thinking about Raven to developing it to marketing it and keep improving on it because that's the other piece too. It's not just create a product and dump it in the market and hope people buy it and never touch it again. You know, just some of the biggest hurdles you face, pitfalls and best practices.

Jon Henshaw: Sure, I can talk from a marketing standpoint of Raven since that's what my role is here. I joined Raven about two years ago and we had a pretty good idea with how we wanted to actually end up marketing the product and the first year that I was here, what we wanted to focus on was really cementing ourselves as a tool in the SEO industry. We wanted to let everyone know that these were powerful tools, they were things that they could rely on and we wanted to be known as an authority in that market. And last year what we really spent our time doing was focusing on becoming more of a workflow and collaboration tool. While we had these features before we needed to make it known that, hey, if you work with a team, if you want to collaborate on products with your clients or if you have a couple of contractors that you're outsourcing stuff to, this is a tool that will make that easier and so that's really our 2011 messaging was really focusing heavily on that.

But now what we run into is, Raven does more than just SEO. We have social media tools, pay-per-click tools, email is integrated into there so how do we now market to everyone and convince them that we're not just Raven SEO tools, we're Raven internet marketing tools? And I think that's really what our focus is going to be in 2012 is showing them that, one, you need to have a toolset that is flexible in all of those different areas and, two, that Raven actually fits those needs, we're not just SEO tools anymore.

Jon Henshaw: I think from a product standpoint we really started off working with other agencies and, in fact, we launched it and took it back offline, in a sense into like a very private beta for about six to nine months and we worked just side-by-side with several agencies; some in the US and some in the UK and they really helped us refine how the link manager should work and the types of things that need to be reported on. And then from there it was....
Eric:I think we lost him.

Taylor Pratt:Oh no.

Eric: Just wait for him to sign back on here. Just to continue talking about the marketing side of things a little bit, do you find that once you've started the marketing initially it seems like that's a good bit of work but it also seems like on the other end it's almost just as much work after you sort of establish yourself in the industry you've got to keep, you know, pushing and going to all of these different events and all of these other things.

Jon Henshaw: (completely unaware of the drop off :D ): I won't say because there are some secrets, you know. And so, you know, while Taylor and the marketing team, it's there job to really let people understand what the product does. It's our job, at least on the product side, to figure out is the product solving the problems that need to be solved in the market? And so if we're trying to approach SEO and social and PPC and other areas, are we making..you know, they use our software, are we making it harder for them or are we making it easier for them? And of course we want to make it so that it's a no-brainer. It's, by then, simply using it and putting their team members on there they're saving money.

Not only are they saving money they're managing their data better and they're able to report the information easier to themselves or to their client and so that's sort of a high-level example without a whole lot of details. But, that's really what we're focused on is how can we make this easier, at the same time how can we make it more robust and do all of the things that people need it to do, how can we solve problems that are not being solved by anybody on the market right now? And that's really what we're focused on. And, of course, all of that includes trying to absorb all of the different feature requests which also gives us an idea of what people really need. It's not just we don't have to just sit there and guess or dream up something on our own in a bubble. The feature requests are something that's extremely helpful and we have a lot of them. We have people who use the system intensely and everyday and they come up with some pretty amazing ideas.

Eric: I think we cut out there a little bit after the beta discussion. But I think the gist of it is when people talk about creating products it's so much more involved than just develop, market and sell, right? I mean it's obvious and I think we're aware of that but I think when people hear the six to nine months that you took in beta and you were working with these other agencies, I think sometimes that's the point that gets missed. Because you look at Raven and it's like the interface is so clean, it's so easy to use that people think, wow, that's pretty simple right? I mean, I think its what Basecamp's competitors have been thinking for such a long time. It's so simple and easy, I could do that, right?

Jon Henshaw: I would say our biggest problem and the one that we're looking to solve this year is while you are somebody who knows exactly what you're doing, you know and when you get in there you know how to use the system, ah, that's simple. This does this I understand the terminology and what's going on here. It's not for the novice and so it's funny because there's that weird dichotomy there. And so you have somebody else that comes in and says this is the most complicated thing I've ever seen in my life.

I mean, and that's some of the cancellation messages that we get. It was like, what are you trying to do? And so our big or one of our big initiatives this year is to put education in place for those people and also for teams. We have a lot of agencies that are wanting the ability to say, hey, I really love what you're doing here, I get it.

I want my team to be on here but I need training. And so those are things that we're working on and then the other thing, on the product side, is incorporating more contextual help and so we've started to slowly roll out what we're calling the help box and so it's the first time that we've ever been to a tool in the system. You actually see this help box that pushes down everything else and that gives you a brief description, it gives you a really quick screen cast of what the tool does and then it also links you out to the knowledge base. So, those are things that as we grow and we sit back and kind of go, okay, where are we loosing people? Where are they getting confused? We know that that's something that we really have to work on.

Taylor Pratt: And there's an overlap with that with marketing too. I mean, we need to be teaching people how to use the tools. We're trying to do that more on the blog. You know, we also have that stance that we're not going to tell you how to do your job but we need to show you the benefits of using Raven when you are doing your job. And so like Jon said, that education, I think, is really going to be helpful for users who are still trying to figure out, all right, well, what's the logic behind this? Why is it important that these two tools are working together and we're trying to show that both within the tool itself but then outside too. So if you are just trying to evaluate it or you are looking for a tool and you're not sure if Raven does that, hopefully we'll be able to demonstrate that through our blog posts, our training Webinars what have you.

Eric: So, for 2012 are there any, you know, I'm sure no competitors are listening so feel free to just lay it all out there. For 2012, any product teases we can get? Anything you think that people might be interested in?

Jon Henshaw: Yeah, I'll tell you a few things that I've publicly talked about and then I'll hint towards one thing and then there are still several big things that I will not give a clue to that we're working on.

Eric: Fair enough :)

Jon Henshaw: And I will say also, if you go to our blog I think maybe in January or December I wrote an open letter to Raven customers and there's a really good rundown of all of the things that we did in 2011 and it's huge. I was actually shocked when I wrote it. I was like, I had no idea that we did all of this. It was a good year!
Eric: Yeah.

Jon Henshaw: But the things that we're going to be doing in 2012 I'm very confident is going to be a bigger year than 2011. And the other thing that makes me confident about that is we've been ramping up on developers. We are truly a software company now and we, I think, (this year) we've just had two developers start yesterday, I haven't even seen them yet, but it's something that we're getting even more aggressive on so I'm excited about that. The things that I can easily tell you about that we're going to be working on releasing soon is we have another major social update coming down the pipeline so when we launched our social stream, real time social streams, social monitoring, it didn't have everything I wanted but we did want to release it by (unintelligible) 32.19 so we had sort of finishing up some really awesome features that didn't quite make it in November will be coming out pretty soon.

We are actively working on the Chrome toolbar, that got delayed for several months but that is back on schedule. But you're going to see a lot of improvements in the social area particularly with Facebook and Twitter and the (stream). We're going to be doing more improvements on our AdWords management tool, so you'll see a lot of nice new things coming down there. We should be adding G+ and LinkedIn this year, probably first half of the year and we're also working on the ranking result importing which I mentioned earlier in the end of the year.

So, those are things that are more public. The one hint, the on thing that I will throw out there, just because it's really relevant to the conversation we've been having is we are focusing on relationships in a way that we haven't done in the system before. So there's going to be something exciting coming down the pipeline in regards to that as far as helping people who do link building outreach and other areas. So that's coming. I expect it in the first half of this year and that's something I'm really excited about.

Eric: Yeah, that definitely sounds interesting, I'll be watching for that. Well, it sounds like you've got a lot to do so I won't keep you much longer. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you guys for hoping on today. I'm going to get this up on the blog here. We'll put it in mp3 format so people can listen to it whenever they want, we'll get all of the text up there. For all of you listening out there, certainly give Raven a shot. I think you guys are still running 30-day trials, right?

Taylor Pratt: Oh yeah.

Eric: Definitely work with it a little bit. I personally have gone back and forth. I think a lot of folks maybe who are used to using software and things like that it might take an adjustment or two but I can personally let folks listening know that I'm going to put a lot more of my stuff in there. I just think it really just cuts down on a lot of the manual work; these crazy spreadsheets and my Dropbox is exploding and it's insane but definitely work with it and give it a shot.

It's going to be new especially to folks I think that do a lot of stuff that I might be doing with the software and stuff but it'll make your life a lot easier and the reporting is unreal. So, certainly give it a shot and, again, thanks to Jon and Taylor for hopping on with us today!

Taylor Pratt:Thanks for having us.

Jon Henshaw: Thanks for having us.

Eric: All right guys, take care.

From AdSense to SpamSense to Spam Cents

Google announced they rolled out their anti-overly-aggressive-ads algorithm. They didn't give a specific % on how much of the above the fold content can be ads, but suggest using their browser preview tool. Using that tool on Google.com's search results would of course score it as a spam site, but for some small AdSense webmasters that avoided Panda, Google may have drew first blood.

Much Quicker Updates

With a limited number of recoveries nearly a year after Panda, the first bite might seem like a big concern, however the "too many ads" algorithm updates far more frequently than Panda does:

If you decide to update your page layout, the page layout algorithm will automatically reflect the changes as we re-crawl and process enough pages from your site to assess the changes. How long that takes will depend on several factors, including the number of pages on your site and how efficiently Googlebot can crawl the content. On a typical website, it can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.

And for those who got hit by Panda then tried to make up for those lower ad revenues with more AdSense ad units, they probably just got served round #2 of Panda Express. ;)

Is it Screen Layout, or Something Else?

In the past Google suggested to a nuked AdWords advertiser that more of his above-the-fold real estate should be content than ads.

However Google has such a rich data set with AdSense that I don't think they would just look at layout. If I were them I would factor in all sorts of metrics like

  • AdSense CTR
  • average page views per visitor
  • repeat visits & brand searches
  • bounce rate
  • clickstream data from Chrome & the Google toolbar (so even if you are using other ad networks, they can still sample the data)

Some sites are primarily driven off of mobile views while other sites might be seen on large monitors. When Google sees every page load & measures the CTRs, tacking actual user response is better than guestimating it.

They could come up with some pretty good metrics from those & then for any high traffic/high earning site they could manually review them to see if they deserve to get hit or not & adjust + refine the "algorithm" until those edge cases disappeared. Google's lack of credible competition in contextual & display ads means they can negotiate pretty tough terms with publishers that they feel are not adding enough value to the ecosystem.

It's Not Just Algorithms Cleaning Up AdSense

In addition to these sorts of algorithms, over the past year they have manually hit networks of sites with the doorway pages label & disabled ad serving on sites or entire accounts where they felt there was a bit too much arbitrage. One of our SEO Book members pointed me to this thread where a lot of Pakistani AdSense accounts got torched last October & another sent me a sample termination email from Google similar to this one:

Notice that in the above:

  • There was no claim of click fraud, copyright issues, or anything like that.
  • There was no claim of advertiser complaints.
  • Google offers no customer support phone number, no "you might want to work on this" advice, doesn't list which of the sites in the account they felt could be improved, and RETROACTIVELY nuked past "earnings" ... depending on where it is in the schedule that can amount to anywhere from 30 to 50+ days (I remember Teeceo mentioned how they waited until the day before the AdSense payday to smoke his stuff way back in the day to have maximum impact!)

On Google's latest quarterly earnings call they highlighted how year on year Google's revenues were up 25% but the network revenues only grew at 15%. They also explained the slower network revenue growth as being associated with improved search quality & algorithm updates like Panda.

Left unsaid in such a statement was that until those algorithms rolled out, Google admitted they funded spam. ;) The whole AdSense & content farm problem was created through incentive structures with unintended consequences.

Is the Garbage Disappearing, or Just Moving to a New Landfill?

If you track what is going on with the Google+ over-promotion (long overdue post coming on that front shortly!) or how Google is still pre-paying Demand Media to upload video "content" to Youtube, Google still may be funding the same model, but doing so while gaining a tighter control of relevancy so they can better sort good stuff from crap (when you host content & track user response you have all the metrics in the world to determine how relatively good you think it is). If they over-promote these sites then in the short run they create the same skewed business model problem.

Sure hosting the user experience makes it easier to sort the wheat from the chaff, but the other big risk here is the impact on the rest of the publishing ecosystem. There will be lots of thin spam from popular people on Google+ (anyone launched a celebrity-focused Pay-Per-Plus site yet?) & in-depth editorial content might not be economically feasible in certain categories where there literally is no organic SERP above the fold.

I will complement them on their efforts to clean up some of the worst offenses (from the prior generation of "bad incentives"). If you were hit by it, Panda was every bit as big/brutal as the famous Florida update. If this update is anything near as significant as the Panda update (in how it impacts smaller independent webmasters) then it is going to force more of them/us to move up the value chain.

That may mean pain in the short run, but (for those who take it as a wake up call to develop brand & organic non-search traffic streams) far more rewards in the longrun for those who remain after the herd is thinned.

Working for "The Company"

Larry Page's view on working for the company:

My grandfather was an autoworker, and I have a weapon he manufactured to protect himself from the company that he would carry to work. It's a big iron pipe with a hunk of lead on the head. I think about how far we've come as companies from those days, where workers had to protect themselves from the company.

I think for many SEOs the idea of starting over is painful, but the best SEOs often enjoy the forced evolution & the game of it all. They don't roll over & play dead or forget SEO. And if Google didn't put hard resets in every once in a while, then the big hedge funds would be mopping up the SERPs and cleaning our clocks with the help of Helicopter Ben.

Areas For Improvement

Of course this could be taken as a positive post toward Google (and it mostly is), but I don't want to come across as a fanboi, so I thought I should do a shout out to a couple things they still need to fix in order to be consistent:

  • If Google is going to tell people that thick deep content is needed to gain sustainable exposure then they shouldn't be ranking thin + pages in the SERPs just because it is a Google product. Even people who have *always* given Google the benefit of the doubt (full on fanbois) found the Google+ placement in the SERPs distasteful.
  • Google's AdSense is still sending out some of those automated "you are leaving money on the table" styled emails reminding publishers to use 3 ad units. If such behavior may lead to a smoke job, then the recommendation shouldn't be offered in the first place. Right below the "use 3 ad units" there needs to be a "proceed with caution" styled link (in red) that links to the recent "too many ads" post.
  • Old case studies that are no longer in line with best practices in the current market should have some sort of notice/notification added to them so new webmasters don't get the wrong idea.
  • Some of the AdSense heatmaps are roadmaps to penalization. These should have been fixed before yesterday's announcement, but if they are still up there next week then Google is willfully & intentionally trying to destroy any small business owner that follows that "best practice" advice.

Your Feedback Needed

Since this update impacted far fewer sites than the Panda update, there are fewer sample/example sites. Did any of your websites get hit? If so, how would you describe ...

  • your ad layout
  • your ad CTR
  • you mode of monetization (AdSense, other, both)
  • the level of impact on your site from the update

Is Google Selling Investors Private Search Data?

Jan 18th

This is an interesting play:

BBVA, Spain’s second-largest bank by assets, is teaming up with Google to use its search engine results to provide advanced forecasts of hotel and tourism demand in the country, part of a plan to market real-time economic indicators to its clients.

The bank and internet group will announce on Monday a scheme called the “BBVA-Google tourism activity in Spain indicator”. The first pilot project has focused on measuring advance demand for hotel stays and tourism interest in Spain by using search engine data.

Private investors get to see that search data before anyone else does. If you have a retirement plan invested in stocks, then you are at an asymmetrical information disadvantage because Google is providing an in-depth look at that search data to competing investors who can trade on the information before it is public.

Is search traffic a big deal? Is there enough signal there to matter? Yes. And yes.

I read an investment report earlier today about a company where the hedge fund's rating & valuation was largely based on / justified by the SEO strategy of the underlying company & their current Google rankings...the report even had keyword ranking charts in it!

Was Google paid for giving BBVA access to the above data? Or was it thrown in as a freebie in exchange for getting over 100,000 BBVA workers to switch to the cloud & go Google on the enterprise software front?

If Google has over 90% search marketshare in many EU countries & is willing to leverage proprietary search data to win contracts in other fields, how does anyone compete against that data bundling?

Further, think of all the damage hedge funds & huge banks have done to societies the globe over this past decade & now Google is directly helping the bad guys.

That is Google's approach to their proprietary information: if you invest in their ecosystem and use their analytics tools you can't get your own analytics data (as they have to protect "user privacy"), but they will gladly sell that same data off to someone else.

If there is no public outrage at this "test" then the data units will start getting more granular. Rather than measuring categories Google may sell data on a per-site or per-company basis. Looking at how Google has consistently disintermediated "partners" everywhere else, if Google is feeling bold they may suggest that selling the data to others also permits Google to trade on the data as well.

What's far scarier than an angry search engineer looking at your large paid link buy or a rogue Google "contractor" hacking up your site? A Google hedge fund with a substantial short position on your stock. :D

Recall that Eric Schmidt has stated:

"One day we had a conversation where we figured we could just try and predict the stock market..." Eric Schmidt continues, "and then we decided it was illegal. So we stopped doing that."

Based on Mr. Schmidt's above comment, is it reasonable that Google now profits off leveraging their data for securities analysis? What made the above clearly illegal & what is going on now above board? What's the difference between them? Perhaps a "contractor" layer?

At the same time Google runs sweeping ad campaigns reminding people how Google protects them online, while hosting banking data in the cloud & making themselves a juicier hacking target.

Google warns publishers against using paywalls because it is a poor user experience while wiping out competing lead aggreagtors with new guidelines that are likely impossible to comply with. Sites like Highbeam Research get smoked by algorithms like Panda & the Google works with the folks who already have the legislature in their pocket to get them more data. The lesson here from Google is to provide a clean front end user experience and then sell the data back out the other end.

Everything is fine. Keep shopping (on Google.com + your Android phone)...Google will ensure the data is monetized to its full potential.

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