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Posted by randfish

In early June of this year, SEOmoz released some ranking correlation data about Google’s web results and how they mapped against specific metrics. This exciting work gave us valuable insight into Google’s rankings system and both confirmed many assumptions as well as opened up new lines of questions. When Google announced their new Places Results at the end of October, we couldn’t help but want to learn more.

In November, we gathered data for 220 search queries – 20 US cities and 11 business "types" (different kinds of queries). This dataset is smaller than our web results, and was intended to be an initial data gathering project before we dove deeper, but our findings proved surprising significant (from a statistical standpoint) and thus, we’re making the results and report publicly available.

As with our previous collection and analysis of this type of data, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Correlation ≠ Causation – the findings here are merely indicative of what high ranking results are doing that lower ranking results aren’t (or, at least, are doing less of). It’s not necessarily the case that any of these factors are the cause of the higher rankings, they could merely be a side effect of pages that perform better. Nevertheless, it’s always interesting to know what higher ranking sites/pages are doing that they’re lower ranking peers aren’t.
  2. Statistical Signifigance – the report specifically highlights results that are more than two standard errors away from statistical significance (98%+ chance of non-zero correlation). Many of the factors we measured fall into this category, which is why we’re sharing despite the smaller dataset. In terms of the correlation numbers, remember that 0.00 is no correlation and 1.0 is perfect correlation. It’s in our opinion that in algorithms like Google’s, where hundreds of factors are supposedly at play together, data in the 0.05-0.1 range is interesting and data in the 0.1-0.3 range potentialy worth more significant attention.
  3. Ranked Correlations – the correlations are comparing pages that ranked higher vs. those that ranked lower, and the datasets in the report and below are reporting on average correlations across the entire dataset (except where specified), with standard error as a metric for accuracy.
  4. Common Sense is Essential – you’ll see some datapoints, just like in our web results set, that would suggest that sites not following the  commonly held "best practices" (like using the name of the queried city in your URL) results in better rankings. We strongly urge readers to use this data as a guideline, but not a rule (for example, it could be that many results using the city name in the URL are national chains with multiple "city" pages, and thus aren’t as "local" in Google’s eyes as their peers).

With those out of the way, let’s dive into the dataset, which you can download a full version of here:

  • The 20 cities included:
    • Indianapolis
    • Austin
    • Seattle
    • Portland
    • Baltimore
    • Boston
    • Memphis
    • Denver
    • Nashville
    • Milwaukee
    • Las Vegas
    • Louisville
    • Albuquerque
    • Tucson
    • Atlanta
    • Fresno
    • Sacramento
    • Omaha
    • Miami
    • Cleveland
  • The 11 Business Types / Queries included:
    • Restaurants
    • Car Wash
    • Attorneys
    • Yoga Studio
    • Book Stores
    • Parks
    • Ice Cream
    • Gyms
    • Dry Cleaners
    • Hospitals

Interestingly, the results we gathered seem to indicate that across multiple cities, the Google Places ranking algorithm doesn’t differ much, but when business/query types are considered, there’s indications that Google may indeed be changing up how the rankings are calculated (an alternative explanation is that different business segments simply have dramatically different weights on the factors depending on their type).

For this round of correlation analysis, we contracted Dr. Matthew Peters (who holds a PhD in Applied Math from Univ. of WA) to create a report of his findings based on the data. In discussing the role that cities/query types played, he noted:

City is not a significant source of variation for any of the variables, suggesting that Google’s algorithm is the same for all cities. However, for 9 of the 24 variables we can reject the null hypothesis that business type is a not significant source of variation in the correlation coefficients at a=0.05. This is highly unlikely to have occurred by chance. Unfortunately there is a caveat to this result. The results from ANOVA assume the residuals to be normally distributed, but in most cases the residuals are not normal as tested with a Shapiro-Wilk test.

You can download his full report here.

Next, let’s look at some of the more interesting statistical findings Matt discovered. These are split into 4 unique sections, and we’re looking only at the correlations with Places results (though the data and report also include web results).

Correlation with Page-Specific Link Popularity Factors

Google Places Correlations with Page-Specific Link Popularity Elements

With the exception of PageRank, all data comes via SEOmoz’s Linkscape data API.

NOTE: In this data, mozRank and PageRank are not significantly different than zero.

Domain-Wide Link Popularity Factors

Google Places Domain Link Factor Correlations

All data comes via SEOmoz’s Linkscape data API.

NOTE: In this data, all of the metrics are significant.

Keyword Usage Factors

Google Places Keyword Usage Correlations 

All data comes directly from the results page URL or the Places page/listing. Business keyword refers to the type, such as "ice cream" or "hospital" while city keyword refers to the location, such as "Austin" or "Portland." The relatively large, negative correlation with the city keyword in URLs is an outlier (as no other element we measured for local listings had a significant negative correlation). My personal guess is nationwide sites trying to rank individually on city-targeted pages don’t perform as well as local-only results in general and this could cause that biasing, but we don’t have evidence to prove that theory and other explanations are certainly possible.

NOTE: In this data, correlations for business keyword in the URL and city keyword in the title element were not significantly different than zero.

Places Listings, Ratings + Reviews Factors

Google Places Li<br />
stings Correlations 

All data comes directly from Google Places’ page about the result.

NOTE: In this data, all of the metrics are significant. 

Interest Takeaways and Notes from this Research:

  • In Places results, domain-wide link popularity factors seem more important than page-specific ones. We’ve heard that links aren’t as important in local/places and the data certainly suggest that’s accurate (see the full report to compare correlations), but they may not be completely useless, particularly on the domain level.
  • Using the city and business type keyword in the page title and the listing name (when claiming/editing your business’s name in the results) may give a positive boost. Results using these keywords seem to frequently outrank their peers. For example: Portland Attorneys Places Results
     
  • More is almost always better when it comes to everything associated with your Places listing – more related maps, more reviews, more "about this place" results, etc. However, this metric doesn’t appear as powerful as we’d initially thought. It could be that the missing "consistency" metric is a big part of why the correlations here weren’t higher.
  • Several things we didn’t measure in this report are particularly interesting and it’s sad we missed them. These include:
    • Proximity to centroid (just tough to gather for every result at scale)
    • Consistency of listings (supposedly a central piece of the Local rankings puzzle) in address, phone number, business name, type
    • Presence of specific listing sources (like those shown on GetListed.org for example)
  • This data isn’t far out of whack with the perception/opinions of Local SEOs, which we take to be a good sign, both for the data, and the SEOs surveyed :-)

Our hope is to do this experiment again with more data and possibly more metrics in the future. Your suggestions are, of course, very welcome.


As always, we invite you to download the report and raw data and give us any feedback or feel free to do your own analyses and come to your own conclusions. It could even be valuable to use this same process for results you (or your clients) care about and find the missing ingredients between you and the competition.

p.s. Special thanks to Paris Childress and Evgeni Yordanov for help in the data collection process.

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog
Post image for Google the Answer Engine

One of the topics that emerged from Pubcon was “Should SEO’s Focus on Where Google is Heading”, and I’m going to agree with Aaron that focusing on short term algorithmic holes isn’t a smart thing for most people (churn and burn folks–you keep on keeping on). I agree that most publishers should focus on where Google is going. However, the one thing I think publishers need to be aware of and be wary of is Google’s transition to becoming an answer engine.

this represents a clear and present danger to every web publisher…

When I refer to Google trying to become an answer engine, what exactly do I mean? I mean that Google will provide the answer right on the SERP itself if possible and, more frequently, from a Google-owned or Google-maintained property. What exactly do I mean by that? I would be willing to bet that at least one Googler is hunched over a monitor somewhere trying to figure out how to convert voice searches into standardized results. Get out your best Jean Luc Picard impersonation, grab your android phone, and say “COMPUTER … Show me airline prices from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on March 15th.” Now imagine that Google, using its recently acquired ITA travel data, could show you the 5 cheapest flights without needing to send you to the airline, travelocity, or any of the other intermediaries.  Good for Google, good for the user … but scary if you are a publisher.

Google has been moving in this direction for years with queries like [what is george washington’s birthday]

There’s no need for the person performing that query to visit any website because Google became the answer machine.  Earlier this year, they began making inroads in commercial searches for things like [mortgage rates]

Google’s latest incursion into becoming the answer machine came from its local results when they began stealing … err aggregating … reviews from other sites and mixing them with their own on place pages.

IMHO this represents a clear and present danger to every web publisher. For a while, Google will be content to let publishers keep serving the information that Google hasn’t figured out how to gather efficiently/profitably, even if that means referring users to low quality, demand media style pages from About.com and eHow.com. However there’s no doubt in my mind that once Google thinks they can do better, they will scrape your data and throw you under the bus without a second thought … cause it’s all about the users, right?

The one exception that may leave you a leg to stand on is if you are a brand and are building some sense of brand loyalty. If users type in [<brand name> + <keyword phrase>] Google will show less “Google answers”. For example [george washington’s birthday wikipedia] or [bank of america mortgage rates] contain none of the Google properties. Of course, it would seem to me that this is a massive conflict of interest as far as Google is concerned, but I’m not a legislator, so what do I know.

The days of being a pure affiliate and building sites without any thought to branding are coming to a close. They will never disappear completely, but there will be less of them. The purely keyword-based traffic without a hint of branding is going to become more competitive and, in some cases, you will be competing with Google itself or with Google owned properties like Boutiques.com. Heed these warnings Caesar and fear the Ides of March …
Creative Commons License photo credit: Michal Osmenda

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Google the Answer Engine


Michael Gray – Graywolf’s SEO Blog

Generally I have not been a huge fan of registering all your websites with Google (profiling risks, etc.), but they keep using the carrot nicely to lead me astray. :D … So much so that I want to find a Googler and give them a hug.

Google recently decided to share some more data in their webmaster tools. And for many webmasters the data is enough to make it worth registering (at least 1 website)!

AOL Click Data

When speaking of keyword search volume beakdown data people have typically shared information from the leaked AOL search data.

The big problem with that data is it is in aggregate. It is a nice free tool, and a good starting point, but it is fuzzy.

Types of Searches

There are 3 well known search classifications: navigational, transactional, and informational. Each type of query has a different traffic breakdown profile.

  • In general, for navigational searches people click the top result more often than they would on an informational search.
  • In general, for informational searches people tend to click throughout the full set of search results at a more even distribution than they would for navigational or transactional searches.
  • The only solid recently-shared publicly data on those breakdowns is from Dogpile [PDF], a meta search engine. But given how polluted meta search services tend to be (with ads mixed in their search results) those numbers were quite a bit off from what one might expect. And once more, they are aggregate numbers.

Other Stuff in the Search Results

Further, anecdotal evidence suggests that the appearance of vertical / universal results within the search results set can impact search click distribution. Google shows maps on 1 in 13 search results, and they have many other verticals they are pushing – video, updates, news, product search, etc. And then there are AdWords ads – which many searchers confuse as being the organic search results.

Pretty solid looking estimates can get pretty rough pretty fast. ;)

The Value of Data

If there is one critical piece of marketing worth learning above all others it is that context is important.

My suggestions as to what works, another person’s opinions or advice on what you should do, and empirical truth collected by a marketer who likes to use numbers to prove his point … well all 3 data sets fall flat on their face when compared against the data and insights and interactions that come from running your own business. As teachers and marketers we try to share tips to guide people toward success, but your data is one of the most valuable things you own.

A Hack to Collect Search Volume Data & Estimated CTR Data

In their Excel plug-in Microsoft shares the same search data they use internally, but its not certain that when they integrate the Yahoo! Search deal that Microsoft will keep sharing as much data as they do now.

Google offers numerous keyword research tools, but getting them to agree with each other can be quite a challenge.

There have been some hacks to collect organic search clickthrough rate data on Google. One of the more popular strategies was to run an AdWords ad for the exact match version of a keyword and bid low onto the first page of results. Keep the ad running for a while and then run an AdWords impression share report. With that data in hand you can estimate how many actual searches there were, and then compare your organic search clicks against that to get an effective clickthrough rate.

The New Solution

Given search personalization and localization and the ever-changing result sets with all the test Google runs, even the above can be rough. So what is a webmaster to do?

Well Google upgraded the data they share inside their webmaster tools, which includes (on a per keyword level)

  • keyword clickthrough rank
  • clickthrough rate at various ranking positions
  • URL that was clicked onto

Trophy Keywords vs Brand Keywords

Even if your site is rather well known going after some of the big keywords can be a bit self-defeating in terms of the value delivered. Imagine ranking #6 or #7 for SEO. Wouldn’t that send a lot of search traffic? Nope.

When you back away the ego searches, the rank checkers, etc. it turns out that there isn’t a ton of search volume to be had ranking on page 1 of Google for SEO.

With only a 2% CTR the core keyword SEO is driving less than 1/2 the traffic driven by our 2 most common brand search keywords. Our brand might not seem like it is getting lots of traffic with only a few thousand searches a month, but when you have a > 70% CTR that can still add up to a lot of traffic. More importantly, that is the kind of traffic which is more likely to buy from you than someone searching for a broad discovery or curiosity type of keyword.

The lessons for SEOs in that data?

  • Core keywords & raw mechanical SEO are both quite frequently heavily over-rated in terms of value.
  • Rather than sweating trying to rank well for the hardest keywords first focus on more niche keywords that are easy to rank for.
  • If you have little rank and little work to do then there is lots of time to focus on giving people reasons to talk about you and reference you.
  • Work on building up brand & relationships. This not only gives your link profile more karma, but it sends you a steady stream of leads for if/when you fall out of favor a bit with the search engines.
Those who perceive you well will seek you out and buy from you. But it is much harder to sell to someone who sees you as just another choice amongst many results.

Search is becoming the default navigational tool for the web. People go to Google and then type in “yahoo.” If you don’t have a branded keyword as one of your top keywords that might indicate long-term risk to your business. If a competitor can clone most of what you are doing and then bake in a viral component you are toast.

Going After the Wrong Brand Keywords

Arbitraging 3rd party brands is an easy way to build up distribution quickly. This is why there are 4,982 Britney Spears fan blogs (well 2 people are actually fans, but the other 4,980 are marketers).

But if you want to pull in traffic you have to go after a keyword that is an extension of the brand. Ranking for “eBay” probably won’t send you much traffic (as their clickthrough rate on their first result is probably even higher than the 70% I had above). Though if you have tips on how to buy or sell on eBay those kinds of keywords might pull in a much higher clickthrough rate for you.

To confirm the above I grabbed data for a couple SEO tool brands we rank well for. A number 3 ranking (behind a double listing) and virtually no traffic!

Different keyword, same result

Informational Keywords

Link building is still a bit of a discovery keyword, but I think it is perhaps a bit later staged than just the acronym “SEO.” Here the click volume distribution is much flatter / less consolidated than it was on the above brand-oriented examples.

If when Google lowers your rank you still pull in a fairly high CTR that might be a signal to them that your site should rank a bit higher.

Enough Already!

Enough about our keywords, what does your keyword data tell you? How can you better integrate it to grow your business?

SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.

Here’s a sure-fire way to get ranked high in Google.

Piss people off.

Reportedly, DecorMyEyes founder Vitaly Borker was arrested and charged with defrauding customers, and making repeated and violent threats to customers who attempted to return defective goods.

Not a fan of “How To Win Friends And Influence People”, then :)

This bit will interest SEO fans:

Hello, My name is Stanley with DecorMyEyes.com,” the post began. “I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”It’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven

If you look at the backlinks for DecorMyEyes.com, you’ll find a significant volume of inbound linking, some of which is junk, but also includes links from the likes of the New York Times. The high-profile links are a direct result of bad publicity.

Of course, this has always been the fly in Google’s ointment. Google’s link-oriented approach to ranking reflects the attention a site receives. This doesn’t necessarily mean the site is endorsed, and in this case, the opposite is true.

Facing a PR disaster, in all senses of the word, Google were quick to act:

We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live

Hmmm….was the algorithmic solution “if domain = DecorMyEyes.com, then PR=0″ :)

Jokes aside, Google outlined the options they could have taken to prevent such a problem, but chose not to, then cryptically hint at the step they did eventually take:

Instead, in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result

Reading between the lines, it is clear that…….erm…….hmmmm………I don’t know about you, but I’m none the wiser! That could mean anything! Assembling a team of hand editors to baby sit the results of an algo, or the beginnings of some frightfully clever semantic analysis.

Hard to tell.

Google make out the case is an outlier, although that would only be true on the surface. The fundamental problem, for Google, is link context, and that is a far more difficult problem to solve.

Link As A Vote

When Google started, they used a clever backlink check as a form of voting. The more backlinks a site had, from sites deemed to be authoritative, the higher the rank.

But the web has changed.

These days, we have Facebook and social media. Most people on the web aren’t web publishers in the traditional sense. Most people participate on the web, but don’t have their own websites. They post on other people’s sites, over which they have little control. Google has to make sense of all this, because Google still wants to know what information people pay the most attention to.

The beating heart of a link is a mark of attention.

Google collects markers of attention.

As the PR – as in public relations – problem with DecorMyEyes reveals, popularity and authority calculations are not enough. Google’s black box also has to figure out context. Most SEOs would guess Google is putting a lot of work into semantic analysis.

This is why it is becoming increasingly important to treat SEO as a public relations exercise. Links can come from anywhere, and whether they are no-followed, scripted or otherwise, they are all markers of attention. Google’s job will always be to collect them, and make sense of them. To the webmaster, all markers of attention are valuable.

Well, almost all.

DecorMyEyes turned it into a marketing strategy, but in terms of SEO, it was never going to last. First rule of SEOClub is that you don’t publicly embarrass Google.

The Lesson

Be interesting.

In a useful way.

Oscar Wilde said “the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about”. Malcolm Mclaren said something similar: “bad publicity isn’t as good as good publicity, it is ten times better”. Brendan Behan “All publicity is good, except an obituary notice”.

Get positive ratings. “Encourage” reviews. Go to where your customers are, and get the conversation started. Do you have a story? Be controversial, if it suits. Find an angle and work it. Link out.

When you think PR, think Public Relations.

SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.

For years Google has championed the concept of an open web. Some took it as an altruistic sign, while others thought it was a convenient angle to commoditize complimentary business models.

Google pushed for net neutrality but made wireless connections an exception. Why would they do that? Could it be they are invested in disrupting that market elsewhere?

As Google started to reach the bulk of potential returns based on direct response they started to lean on brands as a signal of quality & recommend brands more in their search results. When you search for Amazon you might get 8 or 9 links from the official site & even on some generic keywords Google recommends associated brands.

When you think about what brand is, it is a mental shorthand for a concept. It leads to increased recall, fatter sustained profit margins, and thus the ability to spend more on marketing. If Google is to put more weight on reviews and look at sentiment analysis then of course that will benefit the larger players who invested into establishing positive associations, even at a young age. The results of such branding efforts are quite powerful.

And even moreso if you don’t use them for evil, Pepsi! :D

In the past Google has positioned that affiliates are evil (the body language says it all IMHO), though there are Google’s remote quality rater documents which provide further proof to anyone with lingering doubts.

As Google is becoming the affiliate they are getting direct signals into what consumers like most & are able to serve them a personalized recommendation engine. New extended ad formats & using location data will allow Google to further drive down the organic results.

Not only does Google sell CPA priced product ads on their search results, but they also allow your Google Base account to drive additional product links, which gives them over 150 million products to advertise. The name of the game is to give Google a bit more data to get a higher clickthrough rate & thus have a higher quality score & be enabled for additional profitable opportunities sold at below fair market rates. That seems like a free lunch and works great, up until the day Google decides to use the aggregate data to compete directly against you. ;)

Google now runs a thin affiliate site in Boutiques.com. Google’s ability to recommend consumption behaviors not only impacts ecommerce, but every type of media in the world. They control the ad rates of various advertisers & can create custom ad integration opportunities.

Youtube offers related videos, a never-ending personalized streaming service in LeanBack and ads which users can select from.

When Google started scanning books it was supposed to be for search, rather than to have ebooks for sale. A couple lawsuits later and today Google finally opened up their ebook marketplace.

One of the leading features of Google’s ‘open’ marketplace is DRM: “Publishers can choose whether or not to lock down their books with DRM. Google also says it will have a strict privacy policy that forbids it from using your book buying habits to advertise to, or profile readers.” If you are outside of the United States the store is simply unavailable. That same article states that “Google hopes to layer on social features into the service in the near-future and says the infrastructure is in place to let people buy both a digital and paper copy of a book in a bundle.”

Would that be Google moving from pushing bits & people to pushing physical products?

Google announced their copyright “improvements” in front of the Viacom vs Youtube copyright lawsuit appeal.

Meanwhile Google is the same company which published this & recommends keygens and serials when you search for a brand. Google promises to fix that later issue – something that has only took them a few YEARS to do, even though they were blocking porn words (& other words that could have earned them negative press) much sooner.

In much the same way that Google has captured most of the revenue streams they will be able to with direct response ads, I think they realize that they will need to work better at managing property rights of big media & other publishers if they really want to drive brand advertising revenues. This will likely lead to a decline of the “anything goes” web.

If you think of the whole reason Google was so liberal in their approach to supporting (and even funding) copyright violation it was so that they could weaken the positions of the companies that hold those rights, such that Google can eventually negotiate a deal with them. But the main thing holding back Google music is that based on Google’s past performance the labels do not trust the idea of a digital music locker hosted by Google. After all, Google AdSense ads are what allow sites dedicated to downloading MP3s from Youtube to be monetized today.

Google offers promotional links on Youtube & knows how much money they are missing out on. Google’s boondoggle of using public relations to paint a clean show publicly while using legal loopholes to circumvent the intent of the law was good for getting them into a strong market position, but if they want to have a leadership position in more big media markets they will need to get buy in from established players.

Google wants to get big into television ads. And that is going to mean having better respect for copyright. To some degree as we see the Google business model change we will see their approach of “paying anyone to steal anything & wrap it in Google ads” (to soften up copyright) change to a model where the put themselves as a gatekeeper on DRM content & push the “official” sources of the media (and try to make a cut of the profits). Already on Youtube if you view certain content from outside the United States they will tell you that it is unavailable in your area.

Google’s first video store was a complete failure. Once again they are pushing hard on video with Google TV & by buying the DRM company widevine. Big media companies have opted out of Google TV awaiting more favorable deals.

Part of such deals will ultimately rely on backroom payouts coupled with hard coded promotions. There will be a lot of collateral damage as entire categories become unprofitable. I think we are seeing the organic search results take a page from the ad book: pay to play.

Google’s old model of paying people to scrape content & wrap it in ads was leading to a market for lemons, driven by Gresham’s theorem. Much like how the most fraudulent banks could afford to buy out less fraudulent ones, and how Chinese milk with melamine was cheaper than real milk sent real companies into bankruptcy, the search results were suffering from the age of scrape/mash/publish. Given the surrounding economic forces crushing newspapers, Google was making things worse than they needed to be.

Those who are creating original high-quality content have real business costs. Google paying scraper sites like Mahalo and Ask to borrow your content & wrap it in ads means that you are sometimes getting outranked for scraped duplications of your own content. That drives down publisher margins and pushes marginally profitable publishers into losing money.

Google news has been described as a sewage factory plagued with nefarious players & is now undergoing clean up as well.

Slowly but surely the search results will fill up with official hotel sites, official music sources, official video sources, official ebook sources, etc etc etc … with Google putting a big foot on the gas & accepting whatever cut they can get. If they want to avoid regulatory scrutiny they need to work with the official sources (which are every bit as politically connected as Google is).

As that shift happens the longtail spam model will lose out on its profitability because it will be forced to compete with higher quality content that is automatically mixed into the search results. (The whole point of universal search was to allow Google to short cut certain types of information right into the core search results…as they start making money from micro-payments and such look for that trend to accelerate).

Ultimately what has doomed most portals was that they were willing to produce second rate holder stuff that filled out a vertical and was ‘good enough.’ What makes Google so powerful with the stealth backdoor portal approach is that it allows them to mix 3rd party content without forcing them to either absorb the cost or create low quality backfill stuff on their own.

One area that is ripe for ad innovations is books:

I’m genuinely glad to have Google enter this market because it will be reaching potential customers at a unique point in their book-buying journey: at the point of web search, not at the point of searching the bookstore. This means many things you didn’t realize a book can help you with—overcoming depression, remodeling a bathroom, making friends and influencing people—will now be surfaced alongside all the YouTube and other results Google will offer. This is a net plus for books.

But the ultimate effect of Google e-books, if Google knows what’s good for it, will be the creation of an ad-supported publishing model.

Now that books are digital & Google has rights to sell them I would expect in the next year or 2 that Google starts to display them in the organic search results more aggressively. The free samples can be monetized via ads & upsells of the whole book. That endless stream of editorially vetted content could put a dent in the content farm business model.

SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.
Post image for Sonos Wireless Dock Review

Since my last Sonos post a few months ago (see Sonos Review), I’ve really become a big Sonos advocate. I’ve been telling people about it and recommending it to anyone who asks. In fact I’ve even added a Sonos S5 to the master Bedroom. So when Sonos asked me if I wanted to review their new Wireless Dock, I was pretty excited.

The wireless dock is a dock for your iPod/iPhone/iPod Touch that allows you to connect to your Sonos music system. You plug the unit in to the wall, sync it with your Sonos system and, in less than 2 minutes, you’re ready to start playing music. The best way to use the wireless dock is to put it near your main audio system, so if one of your friends come over you can play music directly from their player throughout your house without needing to move files around. It’s really painless. The second best way is to put a  Sonos S5 in a guest room so your guests can play their own music. When you set up a wireless Sonos dock, my advice is to configure it to autoplay on the most appropriate Sonos Player.

There is one criticism I have about the wireless dock: it won’t work with an iPad. Right now I’ve got a jury rigged iPad Dock and JVC Soundstage for when I’m watching Weeds Reruns on Netflix while making dinner … err …  I mean Ted Videos … yeah, that’s the ticket … ’cause the native iPad speaker is too low. If the Sonos wireless dock had a slot that accommodated an iPad I could replace those two with one unit. Other than that, it’s a nice addition to the Sonos product line.

Disclosure: This is not a paid review; however, I was sent a Sonos Wireless Dock for review.


Creative Commons License photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani

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This post originally came from Michael Gray who is an SEO Consultant. Be sure not to miss the Thesis WordPress Theme review.

Sonos Wireless Dock Review


Michael Gray – Graywolf’s SEO Blog

Posted by Justin Briggs

If you want to boost rankings, few things are as effective as link building. It’s also the one of the hardest and most time consuming parts of SEO. I’d love to hear from others, so in the comments below share your best or most unique tips for link builders.

Following are nine of my tips to help you as a link builder. You may already be using some of these, but hopefully you’ll find a helpful nugget of information in here.

#1 Hide Behind Content StrategiesSomeone Hired a Link Buildersomeone hired a link builder

If you want to want to engage in less than pearly white link building tactics, do it behind cover of content based tactics.

Consider some of the tools available today, which can publicly show link velocity graphs (links acquired over time).


Graph from MajesticSEO.com

If a spike in links acquired happens without any other change to your site, it may appear a bit suspicious. I recommend starting your link building push at the same time as launching content. This way, there is a corresponding purpose behind a spike in your link profile.

#2 Be Approachable

When sending out link request emails, try to be approachable. I recommend including an offer to speak with them over the phone. It’s just one more trust element, and can set you apart from mass link request emails. Another way to be approachable is building links as a girl. Girls seem to build links more effectively than boys.

girl link builder Geoff, who’s been working with me on link building recently, wrote a pretty clever post about using OKCupid data to improve link requests.

Being non-traditional can help put people at ease. Recently, I got a link by using this in a link request email.

 "I think it’d be epic to bust out in Spanish like Stewie on Family Guy while blowing the head off a zombie with a shotgun"

A non-conventional link request is more effective than a standard "Dear Webmaster" email. And always test your emails, because some small changes can go a long way. I was able to increase my response rate on a campaign from 20% to 87% by reframing the link request. I find that less formal emails work better.

#3 Know the Basic of Sales

A few of my more valuable experiences as a link builder were the ones that taught me how to be better at sales. Knowing how to be persuasive can improve your link building. I recommend approaching a link building request as a sales pitch to be closed.

  • Build a relationship first.
  • Help them out.
  • Be a bit manipulative.
  • Frame the request.
  • Create a sense of urgency.
  • Overcome objections.
  • Make them a hero.

Some books I’ve enjoyed reading are Never Eat Alone, Predictably Irrational and the Little Red Book of Selling.

#4 Mining for Information

Dig in deep to find a prospective linker’s contact information. It’s a bit like stalking, but spending the extra time to find a way to get in touch can pay off.

I’ve found it useful to search email address on major social media sites, then cross reference any usernames or screen names I found with KnowEm. This can help find alternative ways to connect with a webmaster other than email.

I recommend using CTRL + F to search for rewritten email addresses. For example, check for [at], (at), a/t, [dot], d0t, etc. A lot of webmasters hide their contact information from spam bots by rewriting it. This destroys any obvious pattern, which can make finding the email tricky, but searching for some common rewrites usually does the trick.

#5 Get Smarter About Guest Blogging

“Matt made a point to mention that users are more likely to click on the first link in an article as opposed to a link at the bottom of the article. He said put your most important links at the top of the article. I believe it was Matt hinting to SEOs about this.” – Search Engine Land

As guest blogging becomes mainstream, it’s getting spammed more. I think guest blogging is great, but if this becomes a spammed link building tactic, expect it to become less effective, especially as SEOs start to automate guest blogging.

#6 Paid Links Work

Although I don’t support paid links, let’s just say that paid links work. There is a lot of risk associated with buying links, but if you’re going to.

  • Don’t buy obvious paid links.
  • Don’t buy from networks.
  • Don’t buy from anyone who discloses selling links.
  • Don’t use perfect anchor text, especially high value terms.
  • Buy links to link magnets and linkbait.
  • Mix it up and have no pattern.
  • Buy for juice / trust and not just anchors.
  • Donate and sponsor.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean I’m saying you should. SEOmoz doesn’t endorse buying links and there are ways to buy links without buying links.

#7 A Robust Profile, Not Just A Robust Link.

We all have a concept of the “perfect” link, but obtaining a link that’s relevant, high authority, and has the right anchor text is challenging.

I recommend building out a robust *profile*. Get what you can, where you can. I can get my juice in one place and my anchors somewhere else.

A lot of tactics that shouldn’t work still do, especially on sites that have an authoritative link profile otherwise. If you have a site with a strong link profile, but lacks anchor text optimization, think of some easy ways to get the anchor text you want.

#8 Understand Diminishing Returns

Shoot for domain diversity when building links.

At a certain point, the marginal value of a link from a particular domain starts to reduce. If you look at a factor like anchor text, the marginal value of a link may become negative.

diminishing returns

  1. Get a link from a domain
    and move on. (20 links on 20 domains > 20 links on 2 domains)
  2. Vary your anchor text often. (Over optimization can suppress rankings)

#9 Keep Up With New Tips and Tricks

Some of my favorites over the last few months are link profile visualization, Multi-links for Firefox, and that Excel and Google Docs have hyperlink functions. (Thanks to Tom & Ben for the hyperlink protip.)

I’ve even shared one of my own tricks, which is using GCSE to replace Yahoo! linkdomain.

Keeping your finger on the pulse of the link building community can help you find these little nuggets. Other than SEOmoz and Distilled, I really like stuff put out by Wiep, Ontolo, SEER, Blogstorm, and SEO Gadget.


I’d love to hear everyone else’s tips and ideas.

Feel free to connect with me on Twitter if you ever want to chat about link building. 

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 And now it’s PPC coming into the ring… he is looking ready to rumble! Pumping his fists, he’s showing off to the audience – looking to the left, to the right, and – wait, what’s that!? The crowd is going wild! PPC just straight out dissed SEO, who’s in the other corner, looking ready to strike! I tell ya, folks, I haven’t seen a rivalry this bitter since the great Northeastern College of Computer and Information Science Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings debate of ’07! Well, maybe more bitter than that, actually… the point is, PPC and SEO may be siblings, but their contention with one another can run deep. Danny helps us sort out the strife and bring this band of brothers together (and actually keeps his bias out of it, kind of!). Don’t forget to use your nails, boys!

Embed video
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Video Transcription

Hello, everybody. My name is Danny Dover. I work here at SEOmoz doing SEO. Today I’m excited about Whiteboard Friday. We’re doing "Sibling Rivalry: PPC versus SEO." As you can probably assume, I’m a big SEO junkie. I like making fun of PPC. I was talking to the PPC people on our team, Joanna Lord, who does that for us here, and she told me that I need to be on my best behavior. I need to try to be unbiased. I am going to try my hardest. I invite all of you to submit videos if you think that I am being too biased and you want to submit your viewpoint. Please submit them to my email address danny@seomoz.org. If it’s good enough, we’ll embed it on this blog so we can give people the biggest perspective possible. I know that working video cameras is hard for you PPCers. Just remember to hit record and take the lens cap off. This is not a good start to being unbiased.

Okay. So, PPC and SEO, the thing I’m talking about, of course, is what you see on search engine result pages. You’ll see on the top and on the right in the United States are ads. You’re going to pay for those. Those are what I am referring to when I talk about PPC, pay-per-click. SEO, search engine optimization, will be the rest of the page. Both of these, you know, they’re two different channels for marketing. They’re trying to accomplish the same goal. They’re both trying to drive traffic to a specific thing. Whenever you are looking at two different channels of the same thing, it’s important to figure out what are the pros, what are the cons, what are the strengths, and what are the weaknesses. How can these work together? When is it more appropriate to use one rather than the other? Let me talk about the pros and
cons of PPC and SEO.

The cons of PPC are really, really long, but I had to simplify it so I could fit it on the whiteboard here. With PPC, it starts really quickly. So, if you want to be showing up in Google for example, you can create an ad campaign and in the same day your ads will be showing up. It’s also a lot easier to measure than SEO. In fact, this is something I’m envious of PPCers. While I can use analytics and stuff, it gets complicated to try to measure SEO because you cast such a wide net. Whereas PPC, Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and everyone else have built some great interfaces. They’ve done some great things. So it’s a lot easier to measure your direct ROI on PPC.

The downside to PPC is that it cost a lot of money as compared to traditional SEO. You’re going to pay for every single click that comes through. That’s going to add up over time. In case you don’t know, it works on an auction system, so you’re going to pay more for more competitive keywords, which is not necessarily the same system with SEO.

With SEO it has a slower start-up. So, in fact, SEO can take a long time to start working. But it is essentially free. Once you do it once, it is in place and assuming best practices don’t change, which they usually don’t, it’s going to build on itself over time. The start-up cost is slower. It costs you less money, and it builds on itself over time. By that, I mean, with SEO if you get a link from The New York Times for example, that link’s going to help you for the lifetime of the link. If you run an ad with PPC, an ad that ran a year ago is not necessarily going to help you. To be fair, it could, you could argue it could help you from a branding perspective, but not in the same way that a mention in The New York Times would and actually give you direct link to and help you rank higher in Google.

On to the major contention points. This is where it gets a little bit more fun. The first one is budgets. PPC and SEO are generally put in marketing departments in companies. It varies of course. That means that they need to fight each other for budgets, along with all the other marketing channels. So, this is where I see the biggest contention. I think generally people realize that PPC and SEO are trying to accomplish the same thing — drive traffic. But PPC costs a lot more money up front. SEO costs a lot more money down the road to get these big initiatives through.

The next one is dev resources. Admittedly, SEO is much more dev heavy or development resource heavy than PPC. You could technically run a PPC campaign without any developers. But if you want to be creative and a better person, you could do SEO, and you’re going to need the help of developers. With marketing resources, people who are writing the ad copy and the people who are planning what the campaigns are going to be, it’s going to take more of your traditional markers, marketers to do that. Not markers. Although markers, you do use markers. So that could work. See that made sense. It did.

Lastly are the conflicting best practices. This is actually where when I am working with people at SEOmoz this is where we butt heads. With things like, especially when it comes to tracking, tracking parameters, this can be one of the biggest pros of PPC. It is really, really easy to measure. Part of that is implementing things that are not best practices for SEO, be it URL parameters or putting in a lot of duplicate content so you can test lots of different landing pages or be it keywords, keyword cannibalization. A lot of times you’ll be targeting the exact same words with your PPC campaigns as your SEO campaigns. That’s a good thing usually, because you want to dominate the entire SERP. But it also means that you can run into keyword cannibalization issues where pages you don’t necessarily want to rank organically start to. Don’t worry. I’ll talk about how to work with some of those things.

That brings us right into the tips for playing nice. The first one I think is probably the most important. Understand that you’re both working on the same team and that you need to unify your message. I said already, this will be my third time, you’re both trying to drive traffic. Make sure you are using similar phrases and that you’re trying to get to the same end goal when you’re doing this.

That segues nicely into the other one, which is learn each other’s jobs. I’ve actually learned a lot about SEO by trying to understand PPC. The same thing goes the other way around. Someone who knows a lot about PPC can learn a lot about improving their quality score by learning SEO basic best practices.

Share research and win. There are two important points here. The research. The first one that comes to mind is most of the SEO keyword research I do is through PPC tools. If you’re both trying to target the same words, it would make a lot of sense just to share that data. If you’re seeing words in SEO, like organic listings convert really well, you should probably tell your PPC person that as well. It’s just going to help the company as a whole.

The second one is share wins. Some days you’re going to have SEO wins. Some days you’re going to have PPC wins. It’s important to celebrate each other’s wins. You’re going for the same goal here. Plus, you get to celebrate more. If you’re at SEOmoz, this might be a Champagne Wednesday or something, right? The more you can drink in the office, the better. Share your wins. I highly recommend it.

This one over here is design campaigns together. I don’t necessarily mean have your SEO writing copy for your PPC campaign. I do mean talk about implementation. How are these landing pages going to be structured on the site? What are they going to look like? Are they nofollow? Are they blocked by robots.txt. What general ideas are you trying to target? The same thing with SEO. What message are we conveying through this URL structure? How is it going to affect quality score? Important things like that. Just make sure that multiple people working on these two different channels are working together when planning these different campaigns.

Number five is understand each channel’s strengths and weakness. So, PPC for example is great because it can be very temporal. If you want to get an ad up today and be what looks like ranking for something, which it’s really not, you can do it day of. It you just want to spend a lot of money, you can rank number one for whatever it is you want depending on your budget. Whereas SEO, you can’t do that. SEO, on the other hand, it will take you a lot longer, but for relatively low budgets you can rank competitively for high term. We see a lot of startups do this. They’ll have a great SEO campaign. They’ll do great content. They’ll start ranking for ridiculously competitive things. Mint.com did this originally. Their blog ranks extremely well for personal finance related things. They have a lot of great marketing channels, but SEO is one of the ones that really kicked butt and saved them, at least I’m assuming here, saved them a lot of money because they didn’t have to pay for the PPC ads, although they did on the side. But they didn’t need to. They drive a lot of traffic organically.

The last one is be liberal with rel=canonical and meta robots. This is more from an SEO perspective. By this I mean rel=canonical, if you’re going to have lots of URL parameters that show up a lot on blogs for tracking things, be liberal with this. Use it as much as you can. At SEOmoz, we’re trying to get it implemented on every single page so that if someone has a bunch of parameters through our URLs, it will always go back to one canonical version.

The second part of this is meta robots. There are very, very few cases where you should ever use robots.txt to block a page because you’re just creating a black hole in your website and you’re wasting links. But with landing pages for PPC it make a lot of sense to noindex them so they don’t start competing against pages that are SEO driven
, but you should share the link value within them. So, using a follow. There’d be a meta robots noindex follow.

I think that’s all I got, other than PPCers are big dum-dum heads. I invite you to share your own video clips explaining the other perspective of this. I appreciate your time. I’ll see you next week on Whiteboard Friday. Thank you.

Video transcription by SpeechPad.com



Follow Danny on Twitter! Even more to your benefit, follow SEOmoz! You know what? I’d love it if you’d follow me too: Aaron Wheeler.

If you have any tips or tricks that you’ve learned along the way, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Post your comment and be heard!

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog
Post image for Dealing With a “Scam” Listing For Your Company Name in the SERPs

Anyone who deals with the public sector will have to deal with negative listings about them in the SERPs at some point. The most damaging of these is the “scam” listing. In this post I’ll discuss some tactics you can use to handle them.

In this age it’s inevitable that some will say something negative about you and you need a strategy to deal with it…

I got the idea for this article when I read a post by Tim Ferris called Tim Ferris Scam – How to Deal With the Haters. The article offers some practical real world advice ( I’m particularly fond of the Colin Powell quote), but this post is really just about dealing with the SEO aspects.

First and foremost, approach the problem from a customer service perspective. Drop the person an email or, better yet, a phone call and FIX THE PROBLEM. If someone wrote a bad post about you when they felt they got the shaft, chances are good they will post another when you bend over backwards trying to fix it.

Let’s say that won’t work–or maybe you’re in an unsavory industry, like one that engages in rebilling. What do you do? Because you are almost always going to be an authority for your own name, ranking for “brand name + KWD” should be easy. One post, a bit of internal anchor text, and a few scraper links should do the trick. Make sure you use “brand name + scam” in the title and in the anchor text when linking to the page and try and use the phrase in the main body copy at least once.

Have more than one negative listing you want to displace? Wait til your post is scraped, rewrite your original post, and link to the most authoritative scraper and that too. Need another? This is the time to maximize the list of parasite SEO sites, like squidoo, google knol, wordpress.com, and others.

So what should you talk about on these pages? Explain why your product or service isn’t a scam. Speak directly to the problems or issues people are having. Don’t sidestep or put a spin on it. You can fool some people, but most people know when they are being lied to.

In this age it’s inevitable that someone will say something negative about you, and you need a strategy to deal with it. You can choose to be part of the conversation, you can use some of the tactics discussed here, or you can try a combination of both.

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This post originally came from Michael Gray who is an SEO Consultant. Be sure not to miss the Thesis WordPress Theme review.

Dealing With a “Scam” Listing For Your Company Name in the SERPs


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Michael Gray – Graywolf’s SEO Blog
Old Typewriter

If you pay attention to the ads that monetize most of the web, you’ve likely noticed a trend towards ads that promote content. Glance at these nifty alternatives to traditional banner ads, make some observations of your own, and then join me again at the end for my own analysis.

AMEX Content Ads for Open Forum Neutrogena Content Ads Fast Company and Chase Credit Cards Content Ads LDS Mormon Content Ads

Is web 2.0 moving marketers to view community-building is a desirable goal?

AMEX

The AMEX ads above are the strongest affirmative answer to that question. The ads’ main goal is to drive entrepreneurs to AMEX’s Open Forum initiative, where the business owners can pick up expert tips to manage their businesses. Not only that, but AMEX has developed a ‘Connectodex’ service that helps SMB owners make connections amongst themselves.

In exchange, AMEX gets brand awareness with excellent targeting, filling the top of the sales funnel. They’ve also got a direct response effort going on at the site itself that succeeds in balancing AMEX’s revenue goals with visitors’ learning goals. You might have also noticed the subtle ‘Apply Now’ call to action in the banner’s upper right corner that ties into this.

Neutrogena

This co-branded ad with the Glam network tries to target 20- and 30-somethings, judging by the models and the text of the ad. And instead of talking about “me,” the ad focuses on “you” by offering tips presumably geared towards their audience’s interest.

I didn’t click the ad (I already know how to stay fabulous, duh), but I’m guessing by the co-branding with Glam that Neutrogena’s chosen to answer my question in the negative. They don’t want to build their own community of 20-something women.

Chase / Visa / Marriott Rewards

The ad targets an  affluent demographic of travelling businessmen who would presumably care for a hotel-rewards card with content that solicits them by name, as with AMEX’s focus on business owners. But the approach appears to be the same as with Neutrogena – sponsor content without hosting/ “owning” it.

(As an aside, I think the particular piece of content they’re sponsoring is brilliant given the bulls-eye targeting it affords Chase/Visa/Marriott.)

CLDS / Mormon.org

The Church of Latter Day Saints (CLDS) has a pretty unique situation:

  • They have the express offline goal of bringing you into their community
  • Their website features more content, just like AMEX
  • The website’s format isn’t so much of a traditional online community where you have a multilateral conversation, but more of a guidance counsellor office type of place where you can put your questions to a missionary 1-on-1

As with other lead gen campaigns, the Mormons seem to have concluded that offering content and then gradually nurturing the lead is more effective than going for an immediate sale. This is reflected in their ‘Find a Meetinghouse [a Church]‘ call to action getting secondary treatment below the fold.

But by promoting their content (particularly with the clever flash-animated instant messaging  format), the CLDS is clearly promoting its content to build community.

What about SEO?

The lessons from these campaigns aren’t unique to banner ad campaigns.

When you’re buying or building links, you can be quite successful going with a content marketing approach. And if you own the community, you get the opportunity for both brand awareness/top of mind campaigning and your own customized direct response package. Which means you can be more aggressive with your SEO (eg by buying links) as well as reduce your dependency on search traffic. Inhouse community-building FTW!

{|- Last second update -|}

It appears the clairvoyant John Battelle called this as a 2009 prediction. In fairness, his Federated Media works with many of the companies employing this strategy, as he reveals in his 2009 Predictions: How Did I Do? post. Also, I recall Aaron Wall highlighting the foundation for this trend – advertisers creating their own content sites [not to be confused with website copy] – but it seems that hasn’t stopped them from advertising as Aaron suggested; instead they’re just advertising content.

Gab Goldenberg Gab Goldenberg wrote this post for Red Fly Marketing, an Irish search engine optimisation and online advertising company. You can find Gab on Twitter @GabGoldenberg.

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This post originally came from Michael Gray who is an SEO Consultant. Be sure not to miss the Thesis WordPress Theme review.

Is Web 2.0 Creating An Ad Trend Towards Promoting Content?

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