How to Act Like an SEO Expert: Four mistakes to avoid when performing SEO experiments

In yesterday’s post I explained my creative process for uncovering new and interesting search marketing ideas. In this post I want to focus on the other critical element toward becoming an expert: endless experimentation. Of course testing must be done carefully to avoid arriving at the wrong conclusions, which will bring us to another of my favorite topics: human error.

As I like to do, let me explain my process with an actual example.

Last month there was an interesting post on SEOmoz about session IDs and HTTP cookies. In the post, Rand asserted that search engines don’t support cookies, and it’s therefore another alternative to controlling robot access to a site. Very clever; I don’t know how I didn’t think about that first! :-)

Well, in the comments, King questioned the validity of the original assumption that search engines don’t accept cookies. Here is what he had to say:

I’m not sure its [sic] really true that search engines (Google at least) don’t accept cookies. I recently (well 6 months ago) created a site that checks for cookies before allowing customers access to the shopping cart. If cookies are disabled it sends the user to a[n] info page on the topic Google indexed the actual shopping cart page perfectly well, they totally bypassed the “cookie info” page, and never indexed that at all. Cookie checking was done entirely via PHP code.

For a while I have assumed that Google does not support cookies, but the truth is that search engines are constantly being improved and have evolved over the years. For instance, years ago search engine crawlers did not follow links embedded in JavaScript, but recent experiments have proven that at least Google does follow the less intricate ones.

So, this was a perfect candidate for a simple experiment. Let’s confirm whether search engines accept cookies or not. As best I can, I like to follow the scientific method. Read more

Avoiding the Bounce House: Optimizing your Search Marketing Campaign

bounce_house1.jpgGetting solid rankings is a lot of work, and properly organizing keywords and landing pages is no trivial task either. Why not make the most out of it once you have started getting the traffic? After beginning a successful PPC or SEO campaign, it’s time to maximize the returns from it.

There are a lot of metrics that search marketers can track, but these are the three that deliver 80% of my results: Bounce Rate, Conversion Rate, and Return on Investment (ROI). Read more

Tracing their Steps: How to track feed subscriber referrals with Google Analytics

people_walking.jpgOne of the most important measures of success for a blog is the number of RSS subscribers. There are many blog posts out there about how to increase your number of subscribers. They range from the use of bigger, more prominent and attention-grabbing RSS buttons, to offering bonuses for signing up. While you can use all sorts of tricks, at the end of the day it is really about the value you give to your visitors on an ongoing, consistent basis. Personally, I subscribe to any blog that sparks my interest, but as soon as I see the quality drop I unsubscribe just as quickly. So many blogs, so little time!

Let me introduce another way you can increase your RSS subscribers that I have not seen covered anywhere. It works by identifying your best RSS referral sources and focusing your marketing and networking efforts on those.

Read more

Watch out, Feedburner's numbers are woefully inaccurate! … but why?

This was Rand's response to a comment I made about Rand's confirmation of Aaron's claim that an RSS subscriber is worth 1000 links.

Here is my comment:

Wed (6/27/07) at 07:38 AM

Very useful links. I really like the Adwords tip.

An RSS Subscriber is Worth a Thousand Links – well said, Aaron, and very true (though I'd say, rather, 250 or 300)

I think it all depends on the quality of the links, the content on your blog, and your audience.

I checked some A-list blogs to compare subscribers count and inbound links:

SEOmoz

13,109 subscribers

998,000 links

76.13 links per subscriber

Problogger

25,579 subscribers

543,000 links

21.23 links per subscriber

Copyblogger

19083 subscribers

196,000 links

10.27 links per subscriber

Shoemoney

9737 subscribers

127,000 links

13.04 links per subscriber

John Chow

5,818 subscribers

127,000 links

21.83 links per subscriber

The gap doesn't seem to be so big.

What got me intrigued was the fact that bloggers are losing credibility on Feedburner's ability to accurately count RSS subscribers. I noticed, especially on Seomoz that RSS subscriber numbers jump up and down drastically, usually during weekends.

We all like to see our reader stats, count and traffic as a measure of whether we are doing things right or wrong. When WordPress.com dropped the RSS stats tab, they motivated me to host my blog on this server. I am glad they did as I have a lot more flexibility now. I will write a post with more details on the move soon.

I decided to dig deep for clues as to how Feedburners assess the subscriber count. I had the feeling they were measuring the hits to the RSS pages. But, how they account for the hits coming from aggregator services like Bloglines, Google Reader, etc was the question.

How Feedburner estimates the number of RSS readers?
Read more

Can you trust Alexa's numbers?

It is very important to understand that there is no way for external metrics tools such as Alexa, Compete, Ranking, Netcraft, etc. to provide accurate data. Their information is collected from their respective toolbar usage. Alexa has the broadest distribution, but there are still a lot of people that don't use those toolbars or browser plugins. Their data is particularly useful if you are in a technical field: search and affiliate marketing, web development, etc. A large portion of your potential visitors probably have one or more of these toolbars installed.

A while ago, there was an interesting project regarding the efficacy of those metrics. Read more

Great Content + Bad Headline = Mediocre Results

You can spend a few hours researching, structuring, drafting and proofreading a great post, to completely miss it by choosing a really bad title. I recently submitted a carefully crafted rebuttal to the Seomoz article: Proof Google is Using Behavioral Data in Rankings. The post generated some controversy and some heated discussion as to the validity of the tests and results. I read everything. And, given my technical nature, I decided to dig deeper in myself. I ended up with slightly different conclusions about the experiments. If you want to find out please read the post at Youmoz.

Now, here's the bad news. As Kurt, wisely points out, I tragically missed the mark by poorly choosing an empty title: "Relevance feedback".

Kurt (86)

Sat (6/16/07) at 05:38 PM

Good post… well thought out and presented… gave it a thumbs up. Unfortunately, it will most likely get overlooked by most readers due to its title/headline. Look at the article you're a referencing, "Proof Google is Using Behavioral Data in Rankings". You know that headline will bring in some clicks. It was moved to the blog of SEOmoz from the Youmoz section (even with its flawed testing and logic). The mozzers aren't stupid… they know this type of headline and article will stir up some controversy and bring in some links. I'm no expert copywriter… far from it. I just hate to see a good post sit on the sidelines because of a bad headline.

The title I chose did not offer the reader any incentive to click or learn more. I guess that I operate in two modes: engineer and marketer and that I forgot to flip the switch while writing this post.

First, let me state that his remarks about the mozzers are valid for most journalists, trade publications, social media sites, etc. It is human nature to judge books by their cover. If the cover is crap, the content must be crap. That is how we normally think. Read more

Segment visitors by intention with Google Analytics

As I mentioned before, understanding what visitors want and giving it to them is the key to a successful website. That is the big picture.

Now let me tell you how to actually measure this. My tool of choice for this is Google Analytics.

With Google’s Adwords Conversion Tracking you can define goal pages and track conversions that happen once visitors land on those pages. For example: thank you pages for signing up, downloading a white paper or for purchasing a camera.

Many e-commerce websites have a multi-step check out process. Once you hit the “buy” button you are taken to a page where you can select the quantity of the selected product and other variables. After this you are taken to a page where you input your shipping information. Later to another page for you to input your billing information. Followed by a confirmation page and finally to the thank you page. This is commonly known as the “conversion funnel”.

You can use funnels to identify and reduce drop-out rates throughout the conversion process. Google analytics provides tools to create such funnels and reports to measure them.

The main problem is that most people optimize their conversion process, but don’t measure and optimize their persuasion or pre-selling process as well.

Once a visitor clicks on the “buy” button, he or she is already set on buying the product, but the path to conversion starts way before that, it begins with the persuasion process. I explained that process on this post.

In short, visitors come to your site with a specific mindset (expecting something in particular and the keywords they type are the best clue to what that is). It is important they land in the right pages and that those pages induce them to move to the next step in the persuasion process.

Now let’s see how we can use Google Analytics to segment your visitors based on what they want. Read more

Measuring your affiliate success

As an affiliate you have many advantages.  You don’t need to keep inventory; manage people, suppliers, banks, etc…

You only need to concentrate on marketing.  Find good and reliable merchants and create content to pre-sell their stuff.

I started as an affiliate 5 years ago and I can attest that it works. You can gradually build a good source of income selling other people stuff.

If you are an entrepreneur as well, your journey should not stop there.  You need to plan for building something of value that you can later sell.

My affiliate years tough me a lot about marketing and business.  As a geek I didn’t have those critical skills.

In order to grow your affiliate business you need to carefully track what is working and what is not, down to the keyword level.  This is an advantage that merchants have over their affiliates:  their analytics software can give them all of this critical information.  These systems are not designed for affiliates.

Let me share a tip:  a technique I used as an affiliate to better track my campaigns. Read more