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SEO Research: Why opportunity is knocking for marketers doing SEO

October 21st, 2011 1 comment

A few years ago the idea of dedicating a landing page for a certain segment of traffic to a website was a novel idea. Then, with the rise of Google, PPC started becoming more popular.

When that happened, marketers realized that if they made keyword-specific landing pages, they achieved better results from the traffic they were paying for.

Marketers started to realize that they could make custom landing pages for other channels as well, like display ads and email campaigns.

There are other channels that most marketers haven’t capitalized on yet with a targeted landing page. One of those is organic search.

Take a look at the data on SEO landing pages in the following chart from the MarketingSherpa 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO Edition. For advanced marketers, SEO landing pages is an extremely effective tactic, but for the rest, it’s left untouched.  Read more…

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Google Caffeine: Use social media and quality content to get a jolt for your site

June 11th, 2010 12 comments

Earlier this week, Google formally announced the completion of its new web indexing system cleverly named Caffeine. According to Google, Caffeine provides 50% fresher results for web searches than its last index and is the largest collection of web content the search giant has ever offered.

Caffeine

Our old index had several layers, some of which were refreshed at a faster rate than others; the main layer would update every couple of weeks. To refresh a layer of the old index, we would analyze the entire web, which meant there was a significant delay between when we found a page and made it available to you.

With Caffeine, we analyze the web in small portions and update our search index on a continuous basis, globally. As we find new pages, or new information on existing pages, we can add these straight to the index. That means you can find fresher information than ever before—no matter when or where it was published.

– Carrie Grimes, Software Engineer, Google

This is great for those of us who use Google to search and find relevant results to our most common inquiries. Results will become timelier, more social and rely more heavily on keyword strings, ultimately providing more useful results as newer content can be indexed much quicker and from a much larger base of sites. Read more…

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Search Marketing: Tips on mastering the latest innovations in this mature category

April 14th, 2010 3 comments

Most experienced marketers tend to think of anything Internet-marketing related as new, cutting edge, and/or unproven. But a funny thing happened on the way to Google’s $180 billion market capitalization – search has become a commodity.

To wit, a site like GoodSearch. GoodSearch is a search engine, except it’s not. It’s really an advertising platform that donates 50% of its revenue to charities (“You search, we give”) that leverages the commodity of search, in this case Yahoo (which itself is powered by Microsoft Bing).

Google ClassicAnd, of course, GoodSearch is not unique in this respect. There are many businesses built on the commodity of search. Perhaps we’ll soon see a search futures market develop so it can be traded right along with pork bellies.

The paradox of search commoditization

Now here’s the rub. When most product categories achieve commoditization, innovation dies (think generic drugs) in favor of merciless cost cutting (since once a product is perceived as a commodity the only difference becomes price).

Search has been the opposite – innovation is still occurring at a breakneck pace. So we’re left at an interesting crossroads. Social media marketing is new enough that most marketers recognize the huge learning curve, print advertising is established enough that experience in itself is quite valuable, but search is a shade of gray. As the financial services ads (must legally) tell you, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Read more…

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Alumni Questions: Reliable case studies, SEO, and test design

December 28th, 2009 6 comments

Students and alumni of the MarketingExperiments Training and Certification Program often share their questions and concerns with our analysts before, during, and after they take one of our courses. The questions below are an example of the interaction you can expect if you attend a MarketingExperiments course:

Q: Do you know any other resources, except MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa, that are good at providing useful insights from case studies?

Believe it or not, I’ve been in this Internet marketing field for two years (you’re probably here a lot longer) and been through a lot of misleading information until I accidently found you guys and really learned how to test things and see if they REALLY work instead of blindly believing some “gurus” who told me something like…”this is tested and it’s working 100%!” (the only thing that was truthful was that 100% thing…the problem was that almost 100% of what they were telling me didn’t work.

Surely others – for example online marketing consultancies – will offer to advise you on changing your website to improve performance and will use a third-party testing tool to measure the impact. Also, some of the large-scale testing tool vendors offer hosted and/or managed service engagements using their products.

Unfortunately, as you said, most other organizations are not research focused. MarketingExperiments is a research institute dedicated to discovering what really works in online marketing to help our Research Partners, certification program students, and Journal subscribers succeed. So there are very few resources we can point you to.

One notable exception is the award-winning Get Elastic blog written by ecommerce analyst Linda Bustos. Get Elastic provides useful insights about SEO (search engine optimization), usability, analytics, email, shopping cart abandonment, and social media. Linda is also a MarketingExperiments certified optimization professional and knows our methodology inside-out.

Q: I’ve been through your Fundamentals of Online Testing course. You teach about landing page and order page optimization. I was wondering if you have some specific advice/studies where the SEO effectiveness of a campaign was tested (SEO, not paid traffic) because I can’t find any valid way to measure the effectiveness of an SEO campaign.

Regarding testing in which the primary channel is “natural search” or SEO traffic, we do have considerable experience working with companies and organizations for whom SEO is a significant portion of their demand, and we have published some research on the topic. In fact, all of our research is readily available for free in the MarketingExperiments Research Directory.

Raising HandsAs you’re already aware, based upon your question, there are a number of challenges associated with the dramatic differences between the key optimization factors over online marketers can control when choosing between PPC (pay per click) and SEO. Specifically, not only is there a relative dearth of information available to search marketers as compared to paid advertising, the search networks are comparatively opaque about their results-positioning algorithms and tend to change them frequently to confound SEO-gamers. Further, the rate at which changes to a site are detected by the networks and “shaken into the mix” is volatile and unpredictable.

Consequently, the MarketingExperiments approach is to evaluate the subject site/page based upon the principles of Offer/Response-Optimization – such as the Conversion Heuristic that you learn in the Landing Page Optimization course – then develop hypotheses about how to improve its performance and test those hypotheses using paid search traffic (which is designed to mirror the motivation profile of their ideal customers through SEO). This provides comparatively rapid and precise evidence about the specific factors of study. Then, those test results are used in concert with the latest SEO-algorithm information to develop the channel-specific page designs and a plan for deploying them to get the largest and most rapid performance gain.

Q: Do you have some advice/case studies about testing the effectiveness of an online service?

For example, a site like Traffic Bug submits your URL to social networks (Connotea, Propeller) automatically and claims that this increases your rankings and indexes your pages.

I want to do a test to see if what they say is true. I would take 10 very obscure pages (to be exact, profile links) that are rarely indexed by Google. I create 10 of those obscure pages on different URLs and do nothing with them. Then I create 10 pages on the same URL and submit them to Traffic Bug. I wait for seven days.

Of course, I make sure everything is satisfied in terms of validity and all that. So I wait for seven days (that’s the first milestone, I then check them again after 30 days but let’s focus on the period after seven days) and then take a look. My sample size is small but what I’m interested in is discovering if this service is highly effective in indexing pages on Google.

So if the first sample (that is not submitted) gets one out of 10 pages indexed and the second sample (which is submitted) gets nine out of 10 pages indexed, and I make sure that this is a valid test (using the MarketingExperiments validation formula from the Fundamentals of Online Testing course), can I assume an online service is very effective?

I wanted to hear your comments on this. What do you think is wrong/right with the above test and what would be some things to do for improvement? Also, do you think that a sample size of 10 is big enough for a test to discover whether an online service has a dramatic effect?

While the approach you described appears sound in principle, you will probably have difficulty actually achieving valid results based upon the circumstances you outlined. And even if the results are valid, they may not really answer your question.

In evaluation of a tool like this, a different approach may serve you better. When building an SEO campaign and links there are other things to consider:

  1. Are you sure where all these links are getting posted? Some indexing tools use less-than-kosher link-building strategies that can actually get your domain in trouble with search engine providers. The appearance of link spamming and posting links on flagged sites can cause domains to suffer penalties that can affect the ranking of their sites…occasionally on a permanent basis.
  2. Are these links actually driving traffic and revenue? Many indexing services cost money and you need to perform due diligence with an ROI analysis to see if the efforts are recouping their costs.
  3. Does the service provide a list of links they have generated for tracking? Not only is this good for tracking but allows you to see the places your links are getting placed. Some business owners consider it (as you should too), important to see the company you are keeping on these sites.  For example, are links to, “Adam’s XXX site” right next to your link or the content on these pages? You can use tools like Yahoo Site Explorer or Google Webmaster Tools to fish out these links, but the service should do this for you.
  4. It is important to note that we are not accusing Traffic Bug of doing any of these things, but with any sort of service along these lines you need to do your research first.

From your experience, how would you answer the above questions? Share your advice in the comments section.

Special thanks to Director of Sciences Bob Kemper and Research Analyst Corey Trent for their help in answering these questions.

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SEO shortlist: 10 search optimization sites and resources

June 24th, 2009 10 comments

If you’re joining us for this afternoon’s SEO live optimization web clinic, you already know the topic is way too broad for one hour.

Learning the fundamentals of search engine optimization is only step one. Keeping up with the frequent changes, learning and testing the latest best practices, and steering clear of the mountains of misinformation? That’s a full-time effort.

If you’ve been around the block with SEO, you’re already a regular reader of the following sites and tools. Still, when it comes to reliable SEO info, these resources consistently rise to the top of my shortlist.

10 SEO resources you’ll want to bookmark

That’s it? Why not an exhaustive list of 400+ SEO sites?

A few reasons: First, TopRank already has a megalist; it’s right up there (thanks, Lee!). Second, from the sources above, you can branch out to any number of free and paid tools and augment your own list based on your experience level, needs, and preferences. And third, if you really have time to regularly read more than a dozen sites on SEO, more power to you and your Google Reader and/or RSS feeds.

Feel free to add your own favorite SEO resources in the comments section.

And check back with the blog as we’ll be following up today’s SEO clinic with responses to the live audience Q&A, additional resources and specific articles, plus our clinic contest winners — some lucky marketers will not only have their pages optimized, they’ll also win seats at our Landing Page Optimization Training Tour.

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Analysts’ answers, part 3: SEO, AdSense and translation tests for Spanish-language sites

April 16th, 2009 1 comment

In the third and final installment of our series, our team fields questions about SEO, AdSense, and mirror sites stemming from our March 25th clinic, Optimizing Spanish-language landing pages. (Did you miss part one or part two of this series?)

Q: You suggest working on SEO and mentioned meta tags and keywords. Why? Google does not look at the keyword tag. I am confused.

A: To clarify the answer, while it’s true that Google and most other engines ignore keyword meta tags, the description meta tag still has value with search results. Keywords used not in meta tags, but in page titles and copy, URL strings, links, and other areas should correlate to the meta description whenever feasible. This not only benefits the organic search results, but in tying these areas together, you can see if the content on your pages is framed properly and consistently. That is, if certain keywords seem like a stretch, you might reconsider your copy, call-to-action links, and so on. This can be particularly useful when dealing with pages that feature more than one language, or in the case of Spanish-language pages, where grammar and usage issues may abound.

translation-magnifying-glassQ: Does Google Adsense allow you to display ads in a specific language?

A: If you look at the Google AdSense support page, you’ll notice that AdSense will serve relevant ads to pages based on the primary site language, even if the site contains multiple supported languages. This is based on the site’s primary language selected during the application process.

Additionally, users from WebmasterWorld note that ad language also depends heavily on the country of the visitor. Empirically, they report that Dutch language pages attract 50% Dutch and 50% English ads when visited from Holland, and 70% English, 20% German and 10% Russian ads when visited from Kazakhstan.

Q: We have English and Spanish sites that mirror each other except for language. When we modify content on the Spanish site to better target our Hispanic customers we get complaints from the Spanish speaking audience that they are not getting the same content. They perceive that they are receiving different offers and information (they are not). They want the same as what they see in English. Can you speak to this?

A: We would encourage you to investigate thoroughly before making drastic changes in response to a vocal, yet small, segment of the audience. We’ve seen a major online retailer phase out a major site feature because, as it turned out, one person made a lot of noise on the phone with an impressionable customer service supervisor. At the same time, of course, you don’t want to miss the boat and let negative publicity propagate. In fact, a JupiterResearch survey suggested that Hispanic Internet users are more likely than non-Hispanics to use social media for purchasing recommendations.

Your site should try to communicate clearly that the content is modified from the English version for language only, not offers. If you modify the site beyond just the language, you could test offering a link to an “exact Spanish translation” of the English-language site, right next to the link to the English-language site itself. That way, before a visitor ventures to check up on your English-language version, he/she will immediately recognize that there is an exact translation available. (To test this idea before investing in a major site revamp, link to a translated version of the site, as provided by a free translation service, then review the analytics data to see if there is sufficient demand to warrant a full translation.)

When we say during our clinics that we read every comment, we stand by our word. We hope you find these answers helpful and that they might generate further discussion about effective ways to optimize pages for Spanish-language markets. Comments? Additional questions? You know what to do …

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