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:
With those out of the way, let’s dive into the dataset, which you can download a full version of here:
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).
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.
All data comes via SEOmoz’s Linkscape data API.
NOTE: In this data, all of the metrics are significant.
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.
All data comes directly from Google Places’ page about the result.
NOTE: In this data, all of the metrics are significant.
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.
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. … 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)!
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.
There are 3 well known search classifications: navigational, transactional, and informational. Each type of query has a different traffic breakdown profile.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
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.
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
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 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.
Both Yahoo! and Microsoft have confirmed that they will start testing the Bing algorithm live on some Yahoo! traffic this month. One of the big questions from the SEO perspective is what happens to Yahoo! Site Explorer? If it goes away then webmasters will need to get link data from web indexes built by SEO companies, perhaps either Open Site Explorer and/or Majestic SEO.
Yahoo! also offers a link: search in their BOSS program. While they have stated that the BOSS program will live on, there is little chance of the link: operator working in it over the longrun as Bing has disabled inbound link search on Bing.Blekko, which is a soon to launch search start-up, doesn’t have much to lose in sharing data. In the short run anything to gain awareness will likely make them money in the longrun. And so they are doing just that:
Blekko is also showing just about all the behind the scenes data that they have to determine rank and relevancy. You can see inbound links, duplicated content and associated metadata for any domain in their index.
Blekko will also come with custom slashtags which users can use to personalize search. And end user feature for average users? Not sure. But it will be interesting to web developers & power searchers. There are already heated debates in the comments on TechCrunch on if people will use that feature. IMHO the point isn’t for it to be an end user service for average searchers, but to be one which generates discussion & builds loyalty amongst power users. And clearly it is working.
They are also following the Jason Callus-Anus strategy of anti-SEO marketing (while giving SEOs tons of free data)
The SEO gamers, content farmers and link shoppers are not going to be happy. These guys are flooding the web with content designed to turn a profit, not inform, and the searcher pays the price. One company alone generates literally tens of thousands of pages every day that are solely designed to make money from SEO traffic. Slashtags are the perfect way to bypass them and search only the sites you like.
One more reason the content farmers aren’t going to be happy: we’re opening up all the data that is the core foundation of their business. Link data, site data, rank data – all there for everyone to see. In one fell swoop the playing field just got leveled.
I think a core concept which many search engines have forgot (in an attempt to chase Google) is that if you have a place in the hearts and minds of webmasters & web developers then they will lead other users to your service.
Money is one way to buy loyalty. And Google will pay anyone to syndicate their ads, no matter what sort of externalities that leads to. But now the web is polluted with content mills. Which is an opportunity for Blekko to differentiate.
Since Yahoo! is a big publisher they had mixed incentives on this front. They do share a lot of cool stuff, but they are also the same company which just disappeared the default online keyword research tool and replaced it with nothing, and they recently purchased a content mill. This was a big area where Bing could have won. They created a great SEO guide & are generally more receptive to webmaster communications, but they have fumbled following redirects & have pulled back on the data they share. Further, if you look at Bing’s updated PPC guidelines, you will see that they are pushing out affiliates and chasing the same brand ad Dollars which Google wants. Bing will be anything but desperate for marketshare after they get the Yahoo! deal in place.
Blekko goes one further than the traditional sense of “open” for their launch. They not only give you the traditional open strategy:
Furthermore, we intend to be fully open about our crawl and rank data for the web. We don’t believe security through obscurity is the best way to drive search ranking quality forward. So we have a set of tools on blekko.com which let you understand what factors are driving our rankings, and let you dive behind any url or site to see what their web search footprint looks like.
but they also offer a “Search Bill of Rights” which by default other search companies can’t follow (based on their current business models):
1. Search shall be open
2. Search results shall involve people
3. Ranking data shall not be kept secret
4. Web data shall be readily available
5. There is no one-size-fits-all for search
6. Advanced search shall be accessible
7. Search engine tools shall be open to all
8. Search & community go hand-in-hand
9. Spam does not belong in search results
10. Privacy of searchers shall not be violated
And so based on the above they appeal to…
From a marketing perspective, their site hasn’t even launched yet and there is *at least* a half-dozen different reasons to talk about them! Pretty savvy marketing.
The other day a person contacted me about wanting to help me with ad retargeting on one of my sites, but in order to do so they would have had to have tracked my site. That would have given them tons of great information about how they could retarget all my site’s visitors around the web. And they wanted me to give that up for free in an offer which was made to sound compelling, but lacked substance. And so they never got a response.
Given that we live in “the information age” it is surprising how little people value data & how little they expect you to value it. But there are still a lot of naive folks online! Google has a patent for finding under-served markets. And they own the leading search engine + the leading online ad network.
At any point in time they can change who they are voting for, and why they are voting that way.
They acquired YouTube and then universal search was all the rage.
Yes they have been pretty good at taking the longterm view, but that is *exactly* why so many businesses are afraid of them. Google throws off so much cash and collects so much data that they can go into just about any information market and practice price dumping to kill external innovation & lock up the market.
Once they own the market they have the data. From there a near infinite number of business models & opportunities appear.
Google recently became the #1 shopping search engine. How did they respond? More promotion of their shopping search feature.
All those star ratings near the ads go to a thin affiliate / Google value add shopping search engine experience. Featured placement for those who are willing to share more data in exchange for promotion, and then over time Google will start collecting data directly and drive the (non-Google) duplication out of the marketplace.
You can tell where Google aims to position Google in the long run by what they consider to be spam. Early remote quality rater guidelines have highlighted how spammy the travel vertical is with hotel sites. Since then Google has added hotel prices to their search results, added hotels to some of their maps, and they just acquired ITA software – the company which powers many airline search sites.
Amongst this sort of backdrop there was an article in the NYT about small book shops partnering up with Google. The title of the article reads like it is straight out of a press release: Small Stores See Google as Ally in E-Book Market. And it includes the following quote
Mr. Sennett acknowledged that Google would also be a competitor, since it would also sell books from its Web site. But he seemed to believe that Google would favor its smaller partners.
“I don’t see Google directly working to undermine or outsell their retail partners,” he said. “I doubt they are going to be editorially recommending books and making choices about what people should read, which is what bookstores do.”
He added, “I wonder how naïve that is at this point. We’ll have to see.”
If they have all the sales data they don’t need to make recommendations. They let you and your customers do that. All they have to do to provide a better service than you can is aggregate the data.
The long view is this: if Google can cheaply duplicate your efforts you are unneeded duplication in the marketplace.
3 out of 4 ain’t bad. But they even on the one they missed, they still have an AdSense category for it.SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.
While a lot of the attention on AT&T and Apple in the past few weeks has been focused on the release of the iPad and new iPhone, the elimination of unlimited data plans is an equally important development, especially for website owners and publishers.
In prior years, AT&T offered unlimited data for a month; however, they maintained that a small percentage of users were using a disproportionate share of data. To compensate for this, they announced two new data plans and eliminated the unlimited plan. As I understand it, existing customers are grandfathered until they renew. Upon renewal, they have to choose. Engadget has an excellent breakdown of the details of the plan.
So what does this mean to website owners and publishers? IMHO if you are a publisher, you really need to evaluate your use of rich media and use of a mobile version of your site. If you think that AT&T dropping the unlimited plan is an aberration, you might want to reconsider that position. While free wifi may be on the rise, it’s not as ubiquitous as many in the valley would have you believe. I can find open free hot spots if I really need one, but it isn’t easy. So it’s not unreasonable to expect consumers to start being more conscious of their data use. Additionally, while smart phones and devices like the iPad, Blackberry, or Android can handle some rich media, studies have shown that many users prefer “lite” or mobile websites when on these devices.
From an SEO perspective, creating a mobile website has a few pitfalls to watch out for. In my experience, it’s best to avoid using a separate subdomain or subfolder for a mobile version; instead, you want to serve a different CSS version or serve modified content based on mobile user agents. Again this strategy is tricky if you don’t want to look like you are cloaking; however, as long as you serve the same content to Google’s mobile crawler as you do to mobile browsers, you will be fine (for more info, see this post from Google’s webmaster central team).
While using Word Press as a CMS has issues, this is one area in which it works to your advantage: there are multiple plugins to help you address the problem. I use WP Touch, but you can also use WP Mobile. I’m sure there are other plugins or adapters for other CMS systems. Make sure the systems can handle mission critical functions like shopping and ordering. In the month I’ve owned my iPad, I’ve made a dozen purchases from my iPad, which I suspect is a growing trend.
To wrap up, here is what I would concentrate on as a publisher:
This post originally came from Michael Gray who is an SEO Consultant. Be sure not to miss the Thesis WordPress Theme review.
Why You Should Care About AT&T’s iPhone Data Plans Even If You Don’t Own an iPhone