Warren Lee – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Sat, 26 Jul 2014 17:21:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6 How To Integrate SEO Ranking Tools With Analytics Tools /integrating-seo-ranking-tools-analytics-tools-195617 /integrating-seo-ranking-tools-analytics-tools-195617#respond Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:20:39 +0000 http:/?p=195617 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools and more general web analytics solutions are both critically important for site analysis, but they don’t often work well together. This is a how-to guide for integrating SEO ranking tools with analytics tools. The main benefits of integrating SEO ranking tools with tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Marketing Cloud […]

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools and more general web analytics solutions are both critically important for site analysis, but they don’t often work well together. This is a how-to guide for integrating SEO ranking tools with analytics tools.

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The main benefits of integrating SEO ranking tools with tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Marketing Cloud include:

  • A single reporting platform by which to evaluate your SEO performance
  • Continued visibility into SEO performance in the aftermath of the shift to 100% keyword not provided
  • Ease of bid optimization or co-optimization of paid search and SEO

In this article, I aim to address critical considerations and common pitfalls when integrating an SEO tool such as BrightEdge, Conductor, or Searchmetrics with an analytics tool such as Adobe Marketing Cloud or Google Analytics. (If you are integrating your SEO tool with Adobe Marketing Cloud, this is also referred to as a “Genesis Integration.”)

Whether you are integrating your SEO tools within your analytics tools for the first time or you have already integrated both platforms, it is worthwhile to revisit some basics around how your attribution modeling is configured within your existing solution.

Tip: It is a best practice to use attribution models that reflect your advertising goals and business models.

For example, from a search marketing tools integration perspective, if you group your keywords within your SEO tool of choice into categories such as branded keywords and non-branded keywords, then given the fact that these keyword groups generally serve differing marketing objectives such as driving awareness versus driving conversions, then it makes sense to use different attribution models to measure the performance of different keyword groups. If you’re scratching your head at this, let’s explore it further.

While it is important to be aware of the many attribution models one can consider for multi-channel marketing ROI analysis and budget planning, for the purpose of this article, I will focus on the only two that matter with respect to correctly integrating your analytics platform with your SEO tools provider.

Last-Touch Attribution

Last-touch attribution, aka last-click attribution, means that 100% of the conversion value goes to the last marketing channel with which the customer interacted before buying or converting.

For example, if a customer types in a non-branded keyword into a search engine and finds your website for the first time, then signs up for an email and visits your website a few days later, then clicks on a paid search ad the next day, and finally comes back to your site later from a branded natural search keyword, then the full attribution value of the conversion goes to the branded natural search visit.

First-Touch Attribution

First-touch or first-click attribution is a model that attributes 100% of the conversion value to the first marketing channel or traffic source with which the customer interacted.

For example, if a customer types in a non-branded keyword into a search engine and then discovers your website, then subsequently receives an email and several display ads before clicking through the website from the email, the attribution still goes toward the initial non-branded natural search visit.

Tips For Integrating SEO Tools With Adobe

It is very important to note that many people incorrectly assume that the default setting for their analytics tools is set to last-click attribution. Did you know that if you are using “Paid search detection” settings in Adobe (my former employer), also known as the “paid search equals natural segment” to segment out your natural search traffic, then, by default conversion is set to first-click. “paid search detection” plugin provided by Adobe is a powerful and popular tool, but it is important to be aware of the drawbacks of this tool from a marketing tools integration perspective.

Drawbacks include:

  • Cannot extend conversion attribution beyond the visit
  • Cannot classify the data – in Adobe Marketing Cloud
  • By default – conversion is set to first-click

Fortunately, Adobe offers a much more suitable method for integrating SEO data into your SEO tool of choice. If you are an Adobe customer and are setting up an integration with an SEO tools provider, I recommend that you consider leveraging an EVAR approach to segmenting your SEO data before sending it to the SEO tools platform.

Benefits of the EVAR integration approach include:

  • You can extend conversion out beyond a visit, i.e., you can set a longer cookie duration rather than a session-based duration (highly recommended)
  • You can classify the data — e.g., by brand terms and non-brand, or by pages
  • You can set any attribution method such as first- and last-touch (both are recommended)

The only drawback to be aware of is that the EVAR approach requires some ongoing maintenance. Specifically, every landing page needs to be specified in the settings, which means that if you create new content, then you need to update the EVAR to reflect the pages that you want included.

Tips For Integrating SEO Tools With Google Analytics

If your analytics tool of choice happens to be Google Analytics and you plan to send your Google Analytics data to another SEO tools platform, then, as with the EVAR approach from Adobe, do note that you are able to leverage several attribution model settings. Again, I highly recommend aligning both first-touch and last-touch settings to measure the overall performance of each keyword group based on the general objectives of each keyword group.

Conclusion

Both first-touch attribution and last-touch attribution settings are important to utilize when you integrate your SEO tools with your analytics tools.

If you have keyword groups in your SEO tool that are designed to attract people at the moment of purchase, or if you have a business model that is mostly transactional with a sales cycle that does not involve a consideration phase, then you may want to consider linking these keyword groups to data within your analytics tool that is configured toward last-touch attribution.

If you have keyword groups in your SEO tools that are designed for creating an initial awareness of your brand, then you may want to consider linking these keyword groups to data within your analytics tool that is configured towards first-touch attribution.

Tip: If you are integrating your SEO tools with your reporting tools and are only using one attribution setting, or you do not know which attribution setting applies to your data in your SEO toolkit, then you have integrated your SEO tools with your analytics tools incorrectly.

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Is Search Marketing No Longer Sexy? /search-longer-sexy-186652 /search-longer-sexy-186652#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:30:52 +0000 http:/?p=186652 I started writing this article about the sexiness of search from the “green room” at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA — so in case you don’t already know me, you can probably surmise that I might be a geek. Why was I at the Museum? That’s where the LiveRamp 2014 conference was […]

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I started writing this article about the sexiness of search from the “green room” at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA — so in case you don’t already know me, you can probably surmise that I might be a geek.

Why was I at the Museum? That’s where the LiveRamp 2014 conference was held. Amid the annual event put on by the data technology company, I was inspired to step away from the noise and reflect. After a fireside chat with 30+ year CMO veteran Patrick Connolly, currently of Williams-Sonoma, I couldn’t get one particular idea out of my head: Is search still sexy?

The LiveRamp marketing conference was all about the latest trends and the future of digital marketing. There was a great deal of discussion around topics such as “audience accuracy” and a plethora of acronyms around marketing tactics like DSP, DMP and SSP and RTB. But SEO? It was absent from the Alphabet Soup.

The conference was mostly an executive crowd, and as far as I’m aware, there were over 1,000 attendees. That’s not a massive data point, but I think it’s an indicator that SEO is losing its allure in the C suite.

SEO Was Never Sexy To Begin With

Then again, according to an Altimeter Group study conducted back in 2012, SEO was way at the bottom of the Sexy scale to begin with. The study below was composed of 56 interview subjects: 25 from global fortune 500 companies, and 31 were agency employees, consultants and thought leaders. Check out how small SEO is on the scale.

Content types

I find it interesting that this 2012 study didn’t peg display and retargeting very high, and that social or mobile weren’t at the top.

Fast forward to today, and it seems marketers are all abuzz about these two marketing vehicles. And as evidenced by the conference sessions, it seems that improvements in audience segmentation technology and remarketing are suggesting that display and remarketing are going to be increasingly important in 2014, as well.

Of course, this makes total sense. Marketing is good. Targeted marketing is better. Today, understanding your target audience is age-old marketing 101 that’s coming back in style in a whole new way.

With all of the data at the hands of current marketing professionals, everything about the average web surfer’s habits, including where they go online and offline is available for use. It’s Big Brother for everyone.

Let’s talk about how an efficient, integrative SEO/SEM process works:

While SEO priorities in 2014 seem low on the totem pole and other targeted paid media is getting more attention lately, in my opinion, it’s a mistake for C-level execs to exclude SEO from broader, more sexy discussions about cross-channel marketing.

Case in point, with paid search, it is generally expensive to buy awareness keywords, especially when we consider that performance marketers traditionally focus on return-on-ad-spend (ROAS). Yet, this is where SEO can really shine. Furthermore, SEO strategies can go well beyond attempting to improve organic positions for high cost CPC terms. Here is one such strategy.

The Integrated SEO + Every Other Marketing Channel Strategy That No One Is Talking About

  • Build a list of high CPC keywords that will have an impact from a demand or conversion perspective.
  • Group this list into campaigns to target different types of audiences based on strategies that speak to different audience personas, aka cohorts.
  • This data is then handed over to the SEO team to determine the top websites that are ranking in Google for each of those profiles/personas.
  • Identify the top ranking websites (in SEO or paid results) that reach the consumers that search on those specific high-cost keywords. Use these SEO ranking results to refine your strategies around your display content efforts.
  • As part of the display strategy, marketers might also take steps to ensure they are deploying tracking that will allow them to improve targeting within paid social campaigns.
  • Plus, if email info is obtained, marketers can improve the relevancy of email campaigns, as well.

At SMX this week, I had a conversion with Tim Mayer, who is an expert in such strategies. Currently, Tim is serving as CMO of Trueffect.com. I asked Tim about his take on aligning SEO and other marketing vehicles, particularly with display, and here are a few additional points that he shared with me that are worth mentioning:

There are a lot of advantages to tagging your search clicks within your display ad server:

1. You can truly figure out attribution and who was the last click. This means you won’t end up paying out the CPA to ad networks when the last click was really a search click, as well as paying the PPC to AdWords. Often, advertisers run search and display in different silos and end up double paying for conversions!

2. Leveraging first-party cookies as a tracking mechanism, you will also enable longer strings of ad activity and better understand the impact of the many touches that happen prior to a conversion event. This will help justify the impact of upper [sales funnel] activities such as display.

3. Passing your AdWords Ad group id through in the tag is also a good idea as it can help you better recreate the customer journey/story with your data.

As you can see, SEO data can be used to improve paid search ROI by improving the way we target paid social, display and email campaigns. It’s a truly holistic approach to integrated performance marketing; yet, as far as I can tell, no one else is talking about this much.

Why is that? To me, this makes SEO very sexy, and I’m just trying to bring sexy back.

Chart image courtesy of Altimeter Group used with permission.

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Prioritizing SEO Strategies In 2014: Where To Focus /prioritizing-seo-strategies-2014-181998 /prioritizing-seo-strategies-2014-181998#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 15:20:43 +0000 http:/?p=181998 Although there may not be a one-size-fits-all SEO strategy — due to the fact that ideal strategies will vary greatly between industries, company capabilities and business models — one thing remains true for everyone regardless of the size of the search team: ruthless prioritization of SEO efforts remains a critical component of SEO planning tasks. […]

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Although there may not be a one-size-fits-all SEO strategy — due to the fact that ideal strategies will vary greatly between industries, company capabilities and business models — one thing remains true for everyone regardless of the size of the search team: ruthless prioritization of SEO efforts remains a critical component of SEO planning tasks.

Still, prioritizing SEO efforts often presents itself as a common challenge, especially for those that lack direct experience managing both SEO and analytics regularly enough to gauge the impact of potential SEO changes.

Proficiency in SEO prioritization depends on one’s ability to correctly assess the impact of changes within an increasingly ambiguous data model, so it requires not only a deep understanding of technical SEO and SEO best practices but also solid statistical analysis capabilities to boot.

In fact, it has been estimated that although nearly 80 percent of employees collect data or use data for decision-making, only 38 percent have the skills and judgment to use data successfully.

Expert proficiency assessing the priority of SEO tasks also requires being more of what I like to call a “right-brain analyst,” blending creativity with knowledge of SEO and a firm grasp of what drives your business in order to build out a comprehensive list of SEO opportunities. If your SEO team (or agency supporting your SEO efforts) does not understand your audience and business model, then definitely start there.

There are a number of areas where you can focus SEO efforts and literally hundreds of tactics that can be deployed. So how will you chose where to prioritize your energy to maximize your results? If you already have a large percentage of your overall website traffic and/or conversions coming from SEO, then you will also need to consider how to incorporate SEO defensive strategies as a top priority within your overall SEO plan.

In addition to SEO defense, here are a few areas that may be top priorities for your SEO program in 2014.

Mobile SEO Strategies Are Top Priority In 2014

Experts have been going on about the increasing importance of mobile marketing ad-nauseum over the last few years, and the data certainly suggest that those heralding the importance of Mobile SEO have been right all along.

Research conducted with Nielsen shows that 48% of mobile consumers start their purchase journey with paid and organic search results. And according to BI Intelligence, to date, approximately 60% of all online devices are now smartphones or tablets.

Mobile usage continues to rise. In fact, data from Emarketer suggests that in 2013, mobile device usage was the only media device type that showed year-over-year increases in consumer usage. If you don’t already have a mobile optimized site or mobile strategies in place then check out this excellent resource.

Prioritizing Social Media & SEO

According to eMarketer, by 2017, internet users that use a social network will reach 2.55 billion people. That’s staggering considering that the US census bureau estimates the world population to be just over 7 billion. Globally, 1 in 4 people use a social media network, and nearly 88% of marketers will use social media marketing this year.

social-media-stats

Social media adds value in many areas beyond search that include research and development, customer support, demand generation, branding, HR and sales. With all of the value-add opportunities that social media presents and the plethora of technology and data available, it can be easy for marketers to lose focus, and it can be challenging to keep SEO and social media aligned effectively.

Thus, social media also presents its own unique prioritization challenges. The companies that will get the most value out of their social media efforts will be those that are able to overcome the challenge of effectively scaling social media across the organization with a clear understanding of the key areas of value that social media brings.

Prioritizing SEO & Paid Search Integration

It never ceases to fascinate me that, in general, although organic marketing drives 90% of traffic and paid efforts drive less than 10%, no matter where you go, organic marketing remains heavily under-invested compared with paid marketing activities.

SEO has the power to bring massive efficiencies to your overall marketing program. However, in a do-more-with-less world, in order to build more “free” traffic, you need people to scale. Not to mention these people need to be able to effectively leverage the amazing data and tools available to us today.

Hiring SEO talent with technical and analytical backgrounds can be a challenge, but when you have the right folks in place, some of the biggest search marketing wins you can achieve will be realized by combining your paid search data with your SEO data to improve your results. If you are not looking at paid and SEO data side by side, definitely start there.

Prioritizing Personalization & Audience Segmentation

Understanding your audience is critical to the success of your marketing efforts, and search marketing is no different. At Adobe, we use our own tools to help us test and customize our messaging so that it is most relevant and engaging to our audience with special consideration to where they are in the customer life cycle.

Beyond audience segmentation based on the phases of the customer life cycle, you may even consider another method of segmenting your audience into other groups, often referred to as cohorts. By taking this next step, you can identify what types of products or website content appeals most toward specific audience members. You can also craft messaging that resonates most with different types of visitors by testing psychology-based behavioral targeting to improve your results.

Whatever approach or combination of methods you employ toward crafting your messaging and behavioral targeting, testing the impact across multiple marketing vehicles such as paid search and SEO continues the yield the best results.

Scaling SEO

How are you scaling your SEO efforts in 2014? If you do not have an in-house search team, then perhaps 2014 is the year to make bringing SEO in-house a priority. If you already have SEO in-house, then consider the many opportunities to be found by aligning the team appropriately with the right cross-functional colleagues within your own organization to help you scale your SEO efforts.

I was fortunate to be one of the first in-house SEO team members when Adobe decided to bring all of search marketing in-house, almost three years ago. I’ve seen firsthand that the benefits of an in-house SEO team include improved ROI and cost savings. Additional intangible benefits include sales support, product support, regional support, tighter stakeholder support and improved speed to market.

Additional considerations to help scale your SEO efforts in 2014 include investment in SEO tools and technology while finalizing your SEO budget. If at all possible, I always advocate making room in your budgets for SEO training for key employees that will impact your SEO results which includes non-SEO folk like engineers and interaction designers.

There are many other SEO tactics and strategies to consider for 2014, but what are your top priorities this year for SEO? Let’s continue this conversation in the comments — I’d love to hear where you are focusing your efforts in 2014. And I’ll continue to share top strategies and SEO tactics on my Twitter stream @warrenleemedia as I come across them, as well.

Stock image used by permission of Shutterstock.com

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The Intersection Of SEO & Web Design /the-intersection-of-seo-web-design-180308 /the-intersection-of-seo-web-design-180308#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 13:55:15 +0000 http:/?p=180308 As technology advances and web usage evolves, so do SEO best practices. Web designers now have more choices and technologies available than ever before. As we enter 2014, I expect we will continue to see advances in web design that bring even more options. I thought it would be helpful to revisit the top SEO […]

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As technology advances and web usage evolves, so do SEO best practices. Web designers now have more choices and technologies available than ever before. As we enter 2014, I expect we will continue to see advances in web design that bring even more options.

I thought it would be helpful to revisit the top SEO considerations relating to some of the latest website design trends, which include parallax, responsive, and HTML5 design.

Although I am a huge fan of incorporating all three design choices when appropriate; in all cases, site architecture and accessibility remain the primary SEO concerns.

Most people know that designing with the end user in mind also helps improve SEO rankings. There are technical reasons why this is the case and why it’s of paramount importance to design with the user in mind. This article focuses on this concept in more detail, and I provide actionable next steps for SEO professionals to consider when thinking about website interaction and user experience design.

Website Design Trends

Parallax design puts web content on one page, at the user’s fingertips, and can be a great way to lead a consumer through a storytelling process. Every site I’ve worked on that has adopted some type of parallax storytelling design has seen improvements in conversion rates.

But, as Janet Driscoll Miller’s excellent post discussed, although this type of design makes things easy for the end user, it can be a challenge from an SEO perspective. Having what is essentially a one-page website makes it difficult to leverage a variety of search terms and use SEO best practices to get visitors to your page. That said, I’m still a huge fan of this design choice, even as an SEO professional, because you can still develop fantastic parallax designed webpages that have more than one page.

Better yet, when possible, you might consider incorporating a few parallax designed pages as part of your main website experience versus creating a separate website.

Responsive design is Google’s recommended method of designing for multiple devices. There are tremendous user experience advantages to adopting responsive web design concepts that allow your website to perform optimally for multiple devices.

In addition to the user experience benefits of responsive web design, the primary benefit for SEO is that it does not dilute your link equity. In other words, responsive web design gives you one URL for both your mobile site and your main site, which means that you are more likely to do a better job increasing your external backlink count to each page versus having to drive links to two separate URLs.

I have heard of switchboard tags, but I am personally not convinced they pass 100% of the link value. However, as Bryson Meunier has pointed out, responsive design also presents some important SEO considerations to be aware of. Primarily, one URL could limit your ability to segment your keyword targeting toward keywords that are more appropriate for mobile users.

HTML5 has been touted as the next big thing in web design, but implementation can be troublesome for SEO. HTML5 designs can be amazing, interactive and inspirational, but if they aren’t coded properly, Google sees an empty page.

For example, in this post we can find examples of great HTML5 animation. However, here is what Google finds when it crawls the page:

SEO Web Design Javascript

Many websites that incorporate all the visually appealing aspects that popular HTML5 coding delivers also heavily incorporate JavaScript, which makes it difficult for search engine bots to understand the content. It is possible to show static content that represents your HTML5 content so that bots can better index your website.

Unfortunately, few website developers take the time to make a static version of the content for search bots. Of this showcase of 20 examples of CSS3 Animation, almost all of them are practically invisible to search engines.

When Less Is More

Normally when I hear the words, “We need to reduce some content,” I immediately think “SEO disaster.” When I am done shuddering, I remind myself that sometimes less is more. According to Columbia Business School researcher Sheena Iyengar, the typical American makes 70 choices per day.

In her TED talk “How to make choosing easier,” she sheds light on the value of providing fewer choices so that consumers have the ability to more easily make decisions.

Iyengar’s insights can be applied not only to the consumer product examples she provides, but to web design and SEO best practices, as well. People are overwhelmed with choices, and when a website design includes an abundance of categories and subcategories, audiences may disconnect — they’ll avoid making a choice if they are too overwhelmed.

Iyengar advises us to cut the extraneous and provide fewer categories/subcategories to help people narrow down their choices. This applies perfectly to web design and SEO.

As a result of recent changes by Google like Hummingbird, marketers are observing that placing too much emphasis on topical subcategory pages could be a bad SEO strategy. Historically, more categories were good for SEO because they meant that we had more content that could be ranked for body/torso terms.

Given Iyengar’s talk and the recent Hummingbird changes, though, perhaps it is time to rethink how many categories and subcategories you offer to the end user and evaluate the performance of these types of pages to ensure that they remain effective.

Cognitive Dissonance & Web Design

The theory of cognitive dissonance states that people have a drive to reduce dissonance to create consistency and a feeling of control — to make their expectations match their reality. According to the theory, when people are unable to do so, they will simply avoid whatever is making them feel out of control.

Similar to Iyengar’s idea that too many choices can make end users disconnect, cognitive dissonance tells us that when a website isn’t easy to navigate or offers too many choices, the user would rather leave than negotiate through an environment that feels too chaotic.

To provide the best website experience, we should let data and the user experience drive our design. Only by doing this can we ensure we aren’t alienating our target audience.

SEO professionals particularly need to be aware of the cognitive dissonance that can occur at the keyword-to-landing-page level. The keywords you optimize for must match the landing-page experience that a searcher would expect.

Because of this principle, I recommend routinely sorting SEO entry pages by bounce rate. Then, start with the pages with the highest bounce rate and double check the types of search keywords that were driving traffic to those pages to ensure that the entry page provided an adequate response to the top entry keywords.

Now that keywords are “100% not provided;” this can still be accomplished by checking keywords from Bing as a relatively good proxy.

Reasonable Surfer Patent

When we design our pages with the end user in mind, we should also be keeping in mind Google’s reasonable surfer patent. According to this patent, the most prominent links and the links that are clicked more frequently pass more internal page rank.

This means that if you are making changes to your website’s main navigation or if you move prominent links to less prominent locations, there is a possibility ranking declines will ensue. This is just another example of how closely SEO is tied  to website design.

There are many situations where website design choices can help or hurt your SEO efforts. Many of the trends in website design indicate that accessibility and website architecture best practices are still important considerations.

We benefit both our users and ourselves when we design webpages in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or confuse users, but leads them to links, categories or subcategories to find the content they need. Creating pages with our end users in mind and combining web design best practices with SEO best practices is a win-win.

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Hummingbird In The Trenches: A Canary In The Coal Mine /hummingbird-in-the-trenches-a-canary-in-the-coal-mine-177187 /hummingbird-in-the-trenches-a-canary-in-the-coal-mine-177187#comments Fri, 22 Nov 2013 14:00:52 +0000 http:/?p=177187 I’ve been gathering and analyzing reports and in-the-trenches data from in-house marketers about Google’s Hummingbird, and I believe what I am seeing is on par with finding a dead canary in a coal mine. Pardon the morbid analogy, but the writing is on the wall, folks, and it has been for a while. Change is […]

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I’ve been gathering and analyzing reports and in-the-trenches data from in-house marketers about Google’s Hummingbird, and I believe what I am seeing is on par with finding a dead canary in a coal mine. Pardon the morbid analogy, but the writing is on the wall, folks, and it has been for a while. Change is here, now. canary-in-coal-mine

The following observations from other SEO experts and in-house marketing professionals all lead me to conclude that Hummingbird marks a new paradigm of SEO that revolves around concepts and not keywords.

Keep reading for compelling evidence and, more importantly, what you should be doing about it as marketers.

New SEO Paradigm

With the advent of Hummingbird and recent changes to the lack of availability of keyword data, it is clear that the SEO landscape is one that is often wrought with change and ambiguity. With the advent of these recent changes, a new paradigm of SEO is evolving that is less about keywords and more about concepts and topics.

This isn’t a new idea — Bill Slawski predicted this in an article titled “Should you be doing concept research instead of keyword research?” over a year ago — but in recent months, the shift in focus on concepts and not just keywords has become more noticeable.

We’ve heard directly from Amit Singhal about Google’s direction:

We’ve always believed that the perfect search engine should understand exactly what you mean and give you back exactly what you want. And we can now sometimes help answer your next question before you’ve asked it, because the facts we show are informed by what other people have searched for. […] We hope this added intelligence will give you a more complete picture of your interest, provide smarter search results, and pique your curiosity on new topics.

This is telling of the transition that has taken place on the Google search engine results page (SERP).

Today, signals such as keyword co-occurrence, user behavior, and previous searches do in fact inform context around search queries, which impact the SERP landscape. Note I didn’t say the signals “impact rankings,” even though rank changes can, in some cases, be involved. That’s because there’s a difference. Google can make a change to the SERP landscape to impact 90 percent of queries and not actually cause any noticeable impact on rankings.

Here’s how: given that the Google SERP is also now aiming to “pique your curiosity on new topics,” it appears that refined topic modeling, more knowledge graph references, and semantic signals are coalescing. As a result, they are driving a shift away from a traditional focus on keywords to a focus on concepts and topics. Still scratching your head? Read on.

Three In-The-Trenches Observations From SEO Experts

1. Markus Renstrum, Head of SEO, Yahoo

“What we have seen at Yahoo is that the strategy of the ‘topic page’ is no longer working. We have large databases of movies, musicians, news related topics that were interlinked from the articles and it worked great. Now, in general the search engine prefers to surface the latest article instead of a topic page, and again, this is in my mind a way of relying fresh, trusted content instead of static topic pages. They know Wikipedia will represent the topic page on every SERP, and the rest are the latest news from trusted sources.

Moving forward, for us it is all about being seen as a quality source; content, platform and authorship, and be surfaced on specific or generic terms with the latest story using the article page instead of a topic page.”

2. Michael Ngyuen, Director of SEO, Shopzilla.com

“Hummingbird is a continuation of Google’s effort to provide answers directly in search results. Within the retail query space, we’re seeing a clear trend of Google shifting traffic toward product pages at the expense of category and topical pages. As Google is able to improve its ability to understand the context of a page, I expect Google to do a better job of answering the intent of user queries. My recommendation for site builders is to focus on delivering great experiences that are direct answers to a user’s search. Google is going to figure out how to get users to those answers.”

3. AJ Kohn, Owner, Blind Five Year Old

In his article “The Hummingbird update,” AJ Kohn observed:

“Based on client data I think that the May 2013 Phantom Update was the first application of a combined topic model (aka Hummingbird). […] Hummingbird refined the topic modeling of sites and pages that are essential to delivering relevant results. […] But now they’ve been able to extract entities, understand the topics to which they refer and then feed that back into the topic model. So in some ways I think Hummingbird allows for a type of recursive topic modeling effort to take place.”

And, in further correspondence:

“Hummingbird blends natural language topic modeling with entity based topic modeling for a more precise measure of topics overall. Publishers simply need to use those subjects appropriately in their content (i.e., limit pronouns), link out to entities to establish graph relationships and implement schema.org markup when possible.”

Concept (AKA Topical Research) Vs. Keyword Research

To fully understand the difference between concept research and keyword research, it’s important to understand how search engines are evolving to use search entities to improve the relevancy of search results for a given query. “Search entities” (as opposed to entities that relate to people, places, and things) are primarily about relationships between keywords. Relationships between keywords or entities help provide a layer of semantic relevancy. Let’s simplify this further and look at a type of query that benefits from co-occurrence and one that clearly doesn’t.

When you search on the keyword [jaguar], it’s difficult for Google to determine whether you’re looking for information on a giant cat or a sports car. But add in the keyword [XK], and it becomes clear you’re interested in info about the car. The more keywords you add, the better the engine understands what it is you want. Refine your query to [Jaguar XK parts], and you get accessories. Change that to [jaguar xk for sale], and presto, more co-occurrence equals a better search result. Or does it?

Most of the time, it does equal a better search result; however, co-occurrence can occasionally yield strange results. Below is a good example.

On a Google search for [Where is the best albacore fishing in the world?], you will also find that there are results matched to pages about the game, World of Warcraft. While this is clearly not what the question was about, for the most part, Hummingbird appears to have been an improvement toward helping users answer questions.

In fact, we’ve noticed that it even appears to have impacted paid search. Impressions of question-related keywords have spiked by 50 percent in broad match paid search campaigns compared with several months prior to the Hummingbird announcement.

For Google to properly answer a question such as the query above, it would also have to know that there is a relationship between albacore and fishing and that because albacore are migratory, the query is also temporal. Thus, the most relevant result for the best fishing spot in the world will be different based on the freshest content and not an aged article with strong link signals or co-occurrence signals.

That’s a lot to ask of a search engine, which is why search engines will continue to invest in further exploration of search entities as well as public and commercial knowledge graphs. As they continue to do so, the SERP landscape will continue to evolve into more of a blend of topical and specific responses to queries, giving more cause for marketers and/or publishers to consider different strategic approaches to provide relevant, optimized content for both types of responses.

This means that keyword research should go beyond search volume analysis, toward uncovering different concepts and aspects related to the keyword as well as uncovering related queries that people might use when they search for background information related to that keyword.

The Evolution Of Keyword Research

The biggest challenge of concept- or topic-based research is that it can represent a paradigm shift for how SEO influences change in an organization, content strategy, or even content hierarchy and categorization decisions.

We have traditionally focused on keywords and search volume data surrounding those keywords to drive our SEO strategies. Going forward, we will also expand our focus to include this idea of concept research. Not only because it is what search engines are moving toward, but because it helps us better organize and add more depth to our content to the benefit of our audience. Our focus on creating valuable content to answer searcher’s questions is not going away, but we need to adjust it to include a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach that might also include more background information and related topics.

In the past, we used the Google Keyword Tool to conduct keyword research. Today, Google Keyword Planner has replaced the old Keyword Tool. I prefer not to use the planner tool as an indicator of actual search demand — the numbers just vary too greatly from prior to the change to warrant any credibility beyond a relative measure.

Google Trends has also been a decent relative measure of insight into keyword demand and includes a “related searches” and “rising searches” section. The related and rising searches may be more useful to monitor than ever before, especially given recent changes related to Hummingbird.

Today, as a result of the Hummingbird change, keyword research that considers auto-suggest results from tools like ubersuggest.com could be more valuable in your overall content strategy. Also, keyword research that includes semantically relevant keywords from free tools like LSIKeywords.com can potentially help search engines better apply more relevancy to your content, especially for content that is optimized for long-tail queries.

Beyond Keyword Research

Beyond changes to content strategy, the in-the-trenches observations also suggest that in some cases SEO website architecture and site design adjustments (such as a shift away from excessive deeply nested subcategories and deep hierarchical navigation in favor of smaller taxonomies and shorter paths to deep content) could be another strategic consideration relating to internal site architectural optimization considerations. Here’s why.

Although there are some exceptions to the rule, Google typically does not like to land users on search results pages from its own search result page because it causes the searcher to have to do two searches. The same idea would be true if Google moves to turn the SERP landscape into more of a topic page for each keyword.

If you have important (revenue generating) content on topic-level pages that you do not have on deeper detail-type pages, anecdotal evidence and data suggest that Google similarly does not want to send searchers directly from one topic page (the Google SERP) to your topic page, which is kind of like sending a searcher back to a search results page. As a result, this might jeopardize any value that you gain from your topic pages.

Do you believe Hummingbird marks a significant change in the world of SEO? Do you have any data or in-the-trenches observations you would like to share? If so, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Warren Lee.

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SEO & Social Media Alignment /seo-social-media-alignment-174775 /seo-social-media-alignment-174775#comments Fri, 25 Oct 2013 13:02:42 +0000 http:/?p=174775 I recently presented at SMX East on how SEO and Social teams can no longer operate separately. Why? Because social media is playing an ever-more important role in SEO, and it has the potential to be disruptive to the status quo. Everywhere I turn, I find examples: personalized rank results, results with rel-author that display in […]

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I recently presented at SMX East on how SEO and Social teams can no longer operate separately. Why? Because social media is playing an ever-more important role in SEO, and it has the potential to be disruptive to the status quo.

Everywhere I turn, I find examples: personalized rank results, results with rel-author that display in Google search more prominently, and recently, # searches that incorporate G+ hashtag queries as part of the Google search experience.

The Value Of Aligning Search & Social

social-couldbe-disruptive-aspanda

Traditionally, SEO has focused on content, website architecture and linking. These areas of focus are still critical, but as social media gradually becomes more important for SEO, it’s also about identity, relationships and content.

Identity-based signals can potentially include agent rank, relevancy and the engagement graph. Quality content, on-page relevancy and on-page optimization signals are all still important.

Plus, the impact of relationships can be clearly seen in personalized results. I’ve personally experienced this change reflected in a # Google search result — a mere 36 seconds after I made a post on G+.

Scaling SEO & Social Media

Scaling social media best practices across an organization can play an important role within SEO strategy. The larger your social footprint, the more impact social media will have on your SEO efforts.

To scale our own social efforts, my employer, Adobe, has moved from a distributed organizational alignment toward a multiple hub-and-spoke model. With a focus on four core areas that revolve around measurement, management, innovation and enablement, Adobe has a clearly defined engagement process that also helps us scale social media.

We have implemented defined social media policies and guidelines for social engagement so that employees are empowered to use social media, helping Adobe scale our efforts. In addition, cross-functional training sessions on social media and SEO best practices are an important aspect of scaling our social media efforts.

As part of this training process, we also invite guest speakers from leading brands to share social media best practices with our employees. Through these sessions, we have learned that social media holds significantly more value than its direct contribution to revenue. The value of social media can also be extended into areas that include R&D, marketing, sales and support.

Data-Driven Alignment

As part of the alignment between the social media and search teams, we sought to determine the impact between social media and SEO.

To accomplish this, we first had to align on our key performance indicators (KPIs). We discussed what dashboards should be shared, and we asked ourselves several questions:

  • How do we prove sales and conversion goals for social media?
  • Can social sentiment data inform SEO strategy?
  • Can we use SEO keyword data to inform social outreach?

We also studied the impact of social signals on SEO rankings and observed only a marginal correlation that could not be tied to causation.

Social media can help with amplifying content marketing efforts, but we do not want to only use social media as a means to promote our own content. Instead of shouting out our marketing message in a vacuum, we’ve found much more value in listening to our audience in social media. The value of social media goes well beyond any direct impact to rankings.

Social media can have a larger, indirect impact on the overall performance of search marketing efforts when social data is used to inform content marketing strategies. With social data, our audience is telling us what websites they frequent when they are not on our website and what content resonates with them most. This allows us to plan our content marketing so that we position meaningful content in front of our customers wherever they happen to be online.

Strategic & Tactical Alignment

To fully leverage social media and SEO, we coordinate regularly across departments to discuss alignment opportunities, tactical next steps, and strategies for each quarter. SEO processes that involve working with the social media teams include SEO best practices and training, keyword research support, support with rel-author implementations and linking recommendations.

We also leverage a variety of tools to improve SEO in our social media channels. Within our Adobe Experience Manager platform we have automated internal linking recommendations, and we’ve integrated SEO best-practice recommendations within the CMS. We also use BrightEdge to align social listening capabilities with SEO performance data.

Innovation

Social conversations can inform keyword strategy, and search keywords can inform social content strategy. This process is a virtuous cycle because social engagement boosts search performance, which increases social signals and drives more social conversations.

By aligning search and social, the value of both SEO and social media can be enhanced. SEO is no longer just about content, linking, and site architecture; it’s also about building social identity, relationships and engagement. The data from social and SEO isn’t just for looking back; it can guide your future strategy.

By using social data to determine what customers want and where they prefer to consume online content combined with SEO data, you can develop a strategy that can target your customer in a way that is seamless and well informed. I’ll be speaking further on the topic of enterprise SEO & social media on November 19 at the SMX Social Media Marketing event in Las Vegas.

Image courtesy of Adobe

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SEO Talent In High Demand — How To Hire An SEO /seo-jobs-in-high-demand-hiring-an-seo-172668 /seo-jobs-in-high-demand-hiring-an-seo-172668#comments Fri, 27 Sep 2013 12:53:57 +0000 http:/?p=172668 Quality people to fill high-profile SEO jobs are in high demand. There is a talent war ongoing between advertisers and tech companies that compete ferociously for SEO people who have data science knowledge. That talent is scarce and comes at a premium price. One of the reasons this talent is so rare is because the […]

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Quality people to fill high-profile SEO jobs are in high demand. There is a talent war ongoing between advertisers and tech companies that compete ferociously for SEO people who have data science knowledge. That talent is scarce and comes at a premium price.

One of the reasons this talent is so rare is because the SEO world moves at a fast pace, presenting unique challenges for its practitioners. Search data is now being encrypted, for example, so keyword data is no longer available for organic clicks. This encryption was done quietly and without fanfare. Only SEOs with a deep technical understanding and a passion to follow the game as the rules change will be successful.

Finding A Purple Squirrel

In the world of headhunting, we call these ideal employees purple squirrels. You only find one of these once in a lifetime. They are game changers and visionaries. They are most difficult to find and even harder to keep from being poached once on board.

This tempts many employers to ask the question: Is it a good idea to hire someone smart that doesn’t necessarily have an SEO background, but has the capacity for SEO work and can be trained in SEO? Although this approach may have its benefits, certain situations require advanced SEO insights that simply evade those who are too green around the collar.

We're Hiring

Having someone on board who can put effective policies and processes into place which guide non-SEO folks may be the best alternative to the ever-evasive, rock star SEO. If there is someone in your organization with deep SEO experience, then you may have more flexibility to hire someone without an SEO-specific background.

Candidates with Web design, analytics, social media, PR, journalism and project management backgrounds can fill SEO-specific positions and perform well so long as there are effective SEO policies and processes already in place. This will undoubtedly create a space for creativity and an exchange of ideas without adding strange SEO baggage or misinformation to your company.

What To Look For On A Resume

So, the question is: how do we find that ideal SEO candidate? Big Data, you say. OK, let’s feed the machine, let it crunch the numbers and spit out the best candidate for the job. This New York Times interview with a major search engine HR guru takes a look at a data-based approach to HR strategies.

The data-based study revealed no relationship between the way interviewers scored a prospective employee and the way they actually performed in their job. To offset this challenge, the company implemented programs for assessing the kinds of attributes that predict occupational success at the company.

At the top of the to-do list was: end hiring polices based a candidate’s GPA in school, as well as policies giving useless interview brainteaser questions, in favor of structured behavioral questions that have a clearly defined rubric for how people on all sides of the equation should be assessed.
chess

When seeking a candidate with the ideal SEO attributes, the ultimate fit for an SEO with potential regardless of experience and education was one with the characteristics of a grandmaster chess player.

Look For Passion

In any interview I conduct, the first thing I look for is the person’s passion for the game. There’s only one way to become an accomplished chess player, and that’s to play the game and play it to win.

SEO is no different. You have to be able to see the whole board all the time and keep future strategies in mind while you play the tactical game of anticipation, attack, defense and reevaluation as the other player, or in this case, the customer makes counter moves, or the search engine king changes the tactics.

The SEO expert must be creative, curious, data-driven, detail-oriented, self-starting, strategic, tactical and a team player all at the same time. He or she must be a systems thinker and keep the big picture in focus since every move impacts the outcome.

What To Ask In An Interview

The best questions to ask SEO candidates during an interview are behavioral and situational interview questions. Here are a few examples of these types of questions which can help you get a clearer understanding of whether the candidates have the attributes you’re looking for.

  • How do you deal with ambiguity? Can you provide an example of a time when you made a decision on ambiguous data?
  • How comfortable are you explaining quarterly results? Can you provide an example of a time when you did? How did it go?
  • How would your co-workers describe your interpersonal skills? What words would they use to describe you? Why?
  • Can you talk about a time when you were able to negotiate a strategic change when others were against your proposal? How did you go about it?

These types of questions get at the heart of important traits in a search marketer. While interviewing, I look to find someone who is passionate about technology and who has the ability to influence others, deal with ambiguity and communicate effectively. Given that SEO needs to integrate with other cross-functional areas, interpersonal skills are also very important in learning how to staff your organization for success.

I also try to future-proof my decisions in the hiring process as the rise of the marketing technologist is at hand. The days are gone when the SEO expert could rely on intuition and gut feeling to put together a marketing campaign.

The SEO expert has to be part data scientist, or at least know their way around data so they can gain the insights necessary to understand the SEO strategy. Technology decisions will drive marketing capabilities, customer experiences, synergistic corporate integration, competitive positioning and even organizational efficiencies. The potential SEO expert has to understand technology to be able to operate in the new SEO environment.

seo work

I can’t think of a better analogy than comparing the SEO team of the future to the discipline and cohesive team of Navy SEALS. When the SEAL Team goes out on a mission, they have a clear understanding of the objective of the mission. Every team member is dedicated to the objective and is passionate and capable in executing their role on the team.

This is why it’s important to have clearly defined roles, and why you might also want to consider keyword research as part of the decision on setting the right title.

For example, if you’re looking for a manager-level person with 5 years experience, did you know that using a title such as “SEO specialist” or “SEO analyst” in your job posting might alienate a senior-level candidate? Using the spelled out broader title, such as Search Marketing Manager might appeal to a broader group of people.

However, it may include some folks with more paid search experience than SEO experience who want to explore the other search marketing roles. This can be a good thing only if you’re willing and able to train and mentor this type of candidate. It can be a common practice to inflate a title in order to attract a good candidate. However, offering an inflated title that doesn’t actually represent the role can lead to churn or other negative consequences.

It all starts with hiring the right people that fit into the team already in place with complementary skills and a burning desire to learn every day. The job of SEO is a constantly evolving discipline that requires a sharp mind and a creative attitude – a genius with an indomitable spirit to get the job done.

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SEO Ambiguity & Pattern Recognition /seo-ambiguity-pattern-recognition-169514 /seo-ambiguity-pattern-recognition-169514#comments Fri, 30 Aug 2013 13:30:11 +0000 http:/?p=169514 As search marketers, we constantly have to deal with ambiguity — whether trying to reverse engineer a Google algorithm or simply prioritize and forecast the impact of the SEO recommendations we’re making. In this article, we’re going to explore what drives SEO ambiguity. Spoiler alert: some major survival skills are required. When dealing with SEO […]

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As search marketers, we constantly have to deal with ambiguity — whether trying to reverse engineer a Google algorithm or simply prioritize and forecast the impact of the SEO recommendations we’re making. In this article, we’re going to explore what drives SEO ambiguity. Spoiler alert: some major survival skills are required.

When dealing with SEO ambiguity, it’s important first to note that the human brain is predisposed to seeking out meaningful and meaningless patterns. This concept, defined as “patternicity” by Skeptic Magazine founder, Michael Shermer, potentially creates two types of cognitive errors: we believe a pattern is real when it is not (Type 1), or we don’t believe a pattern is real when it is (Type 2).

As a survival mechanism, our brains have steadily evolved to embrace Type 1 errors, assuming that all patterns are real and meaningful. In SEO language, this means that overall, we are prone to creating data correlations where none exist.

seo-ambiguity

Image via Shutterstock

In a recent Moz blog, Rand Fishkin pointed out that data correlations do not always give way to causation, and I tend to agree.  Imagine you notice a data spike and need to determine whether it reflects a reporting error or is related to a specific change you made. Your pattern-detecting brain is inherently wired to associate the mystery with similar past experiences. This leaves you vulnerable to making a cognitive Type 1 or Type 2 error.

But if you take a moment and opt for a different route, such as using social data correlations (as Brian Massey did) to rule out a reporting error, you may have better results. When faced with ambiguous situations like this, just asking yourself whether you are inching toward a Type 1 or Type 2 error can help avoid false data correlations.

Patternicity also primes us to see the same pattern over and over again. The decision to change title tags is a great example of SEO ambiguity that can easily fall into this category. For example, perhaps you changed title tags in the past and witnessed an impact on rankings of those pages. But will changing the home page title tag impact rankings on other pages at risk as well?

If you assume a home page title tag change will not impact rankings on other pages, the potential risk of this decision may result in a Type 2 error. Making a decision based on the belief that the change will impact rankings avoids risk, but may result in a Type 1 error. Right or wrong, you are hard-wired to potentially make either a Type 1 or Type 2 cognitive error. And in true patternicity form, the more out of control we feel, the more patterns we find. Knowing this and arming yourself with more data will allow you to consciously avoid this type of SEO ambiguity.

Although pattern recognition certainly has its flaws, technology has made tremendous advances toward algorithms that use pattern recognition effectively. In response to the review arms race, or the current trend of buying or selling favorable product reviews, Cornell researchers developed an algorithm in 2011 that detected fake online reviews with a 90 percent success rate. The algorithm’s capacity for pattern recognition surpassed human ability to accurately detect the same patterns.

Once we are aware that our brains default to pattern seeking in response to ambiguous situations, it becomes easier to see how we are pre-wired toward cognitive limitation. When it comes to SEO ambiguity, remember, “this” isn’t always connected to “that.” The best defense is to be aware of this limitation. Think creatively and let go of any assumptions. And above all, test for statistical significance, while leaving room for possibility and results.

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