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Archive for October, 2010

How SEO works

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in SEO

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Nobody walking among the mere mortals on Earth, including your humble narrator, knows exactly how the page ranking at Google works in complete detail.  We do however know many of the attributes that count and the basic structure of the formula. The process starts with hundreds of attributes that are scored and then the real magic happens when they blend these scores.

The Magic SEO Formula

  1. Attribute Points * Attribute Weight = Attribute Score
  2. Sum(Attribute Score)
  3. Sort Descending ( Attribute Score) = Page Rank

Attributes come in several different flavors and two common ones we call “the-more-the-merrier”,  “the sweet-spot”, and “Value over time”.  These are far from the only type of measurement but it helps us here with an example of how competing with one type using a strategy of another is a major mistake.

Let’s start by defining how a sweet spot attribute works. For discussion purposes only, let’s say that the sweet spot in keyword density is 2% so at 2% you get the maximum points then as you move away from that point the points decline. The farther from the sweet spot, the lower the points and this goes for over or under the sweet spot. So this is a case where more is not always better.

Another type of attribute is the more-the-merrier and an example of this is the back link. In this case, the more you can get the better. Not all back links are created equal in this world. Some back links are worthless or might even be cause for penalty if they are purchased or grossly off topic. The value of the back link is based on the trust and authority of the source of the link. A front page link from cnn.com is very different than a link on an obscure sub page in some unknown web site. The authority juice from the source flows to the target. It is possible that links from sources that Google does not like such as known link farms could actually be negative but as everyone knows, proving a negative is exceptionally difficult. My guess is that links from bad places have no authority or trust level at Google so they transfer zero to the points.

The process is more complex than just these simple statements and you have to consider the type of site that is being processed. In a simple world we have editorial, reference, commercial, and many others and content is treated differently depending on its type. For example in an editorial site like cnn.com, the older the article the lower its value. After all, who wants to read yesterday’s news. In a reference site like Wikipedia.com, older is often better since it is a well established highly referenced page.  The example of this is Einstein’s theory of Relativity, very old but also well respected.  So older is better in one case but worse in the other.

One thing about SEO that makes web site owners crazy is that most of it is outside of their control. This does not mean that you cannot influence it, but you cannot directly control it. Back links are one of many examples of this in that you probably do not have control over the other site pointing to you but you can influence the link by proactively seeking them.

Themes NOT Keywords are the core of the logic and Google has been working on this challenge for a long time. A theme is a broad collection of related keywords and they cross support each other.  If your site theme is Adwords then terms like PPC, SEO, Adsense, Display Network, and many others are going to support your theme. The more your site is about your theme, the higher you will rank for your keywords.

Nobody knows the exact percentage, but our guess is that 80% or more of the organic score comes from off-site items. This is just like the real world in that your reputation is more about what people say about you than what you say about yourself.

There are a thousand ways to earn the top position in Google, all of them hard. When people get into a discussion of SEO, they desperately look for one thing to grab onto and to run with it. But SEO is about a collection of attributes and in some cases you have to rank low in one to rank high in the other.  Keyword density in your page title is a great example of this. For discussion purposes, let’s say that your page title is worth 10 points and you have 5 words in the title then each word is carrying a weight of 2 points. If you reduce the total number of words to 3 then each word is worth 3.33 points resulting in an increase of more than 50% on fewer words.

In the last 16 years, I have seen the calculations evolve from very simple to today’s nuanced logic and over that time I have noticed that most successes have been accidents but with a common theme. The people that rank well for their keywords are largely good communicators that are passionate about their topic. So write and publish what you love and do it consistently over a long period of time and you will eventually win the game.

Can I prove what is written here? Absolutely positively no. Anyone who tells you that they can tell you exactly how the Google Search Algorithm works is lying to you.  I do believe that there is a preponderance of evidence supporting the statements in this article and that it this is generally correct but certainly not absolutely accurate.

Dear Saint Google,

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in adwords expert

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

The virtual stockings are hung by the SERP with care, in hopes that Saint Google soon will be there.  The AdWords Experts are nestled all snug in their beds while visions of new features danced in their head and I am sure you know all the rest.

Every year in the fine tradition of the Christmas letter, I write an open letter for the things I want to see in Adwords.  Before I get started with the details I would like to note that many of the things I asked for in prior years I actually got, so maybe this letter isn’t as silly as it seems.

Group the Changes

This year St. Google gave us lots of new features. Working with Google is a lot like having Christmas every day because you are often only one click away from finding the newest and latest changes.  Google rolls out hundreds of updates each year and it makes managing Adwords a difficult task. We would like to see them slow the process down and batch the changes together with reasonable documentation. We could have a few major releases each year rather than 300 small ones. It is actually a rare day when we do not find some unknown change that sneaked in under the radar.

User Defined Data (UDD)

This has been at the top of my list for a long time and it’s so simple that it amazes me that it was not done a long time ago. Almost every system provides for UDD to cover things they simply did not think of, or that vary from customer to customer. In fairness to my friends at Google, they did roll out labels which addresses this a little bit but those are like putting band-aids on a shark bite.  We need actual numbers and codes with simple validation ability. We need this at all levels in the database including the campaigns, adgroups, keywords, and ads.

Advanced Keyword Matching

Google Adwords has only the most basic of keyword matching controls and this really needs to get better. We need the ability to express more powerful rules for the matching and I am not really talking about anything innovative here. Things like wildcards, phrase and broad combinations, capitalization and punctuation expressions and so on. All I am asking for is the same level of ability that we find commonly in Microsoft Excel, Access, or even Word. Surely, Google can beat Microsoft in this area.  Maybe the problem with this is it just is not complicated enough to get an engineer’s attention. The rules already exclude symbols and special charters so all the normal ones are available for this use.  I would be glad to spec this all out if anyone at Google is interested.

Negative Search Query Report

The search query report that is near and dear to any professional needs to have a negative counterpart. This report would show us search queries that were qualified by the keywords but then were lost to either rank or because they were excluded by a negative keyword.  What surprises me about this one is that it would be good for Google’s revenue yet they seem to resist disclosing this. In the logical flow of a search query, there must be a point where this data is simple to grab.

Move, Copy, and Paste

Last year, I asked for this and we got some of it but it still needs help. The ability to download into csv files and then push it back into the system made this area much better but it still is missing some very basic functions such as copying a campaign online. The Desktop Editor does this with no problem but for some reason this functionality never seems to make it to the online editor.

Centralize the Ads

This one kills me because it would save both advertisers and Google a ton of time and fixing it is just a simple relational database concept. Sometimes, especially with image ads, I just want to create an ad once and use it many times so there is a many to one relationship between the ad and the adgroup. I do not want a separate ad for each ad group and I certainly do not want to have to upload the same image ad for every ad group. On Google’s side, this would reduce the number of ads that have to be reviewed saving time and money.  This is especially important for image ads, which can take a week to get approved depending on the backlog.

Interactive Change Log & Alerts

Let’s call this one Twitter for Adwords. I manage well over 60 accounts and all my clients have full access to their accounts, as they should. I would like an alert when someone changes something or a campaign runs out of money without having to sign into an account and run a report. Google already logs the changes and all they would have to do is feed it to a secure application modeled after something like Twitter. Sometimes clients accidentally change things and did not even realize it. Some clients run out of money every day so the alerts have to be at least reasonably controllable with an on-off option by account. The alerts and change log need to be across the entire client center and subordinate client centers not per account.

Budget Controls

We would like to have full budget controls that do exactly what they are told.  Controls that allow us to set an Account, Campaign, and Ad Group budget distributions that do exactly what they are told to do. To reduce a budget for the month takes two changes and is subject to lots of error. You first have to reduce it to a pace that will come in where you need it and then you have to remember to change it on the first of the month to the new full month budget.

Clean up the Filters

The new interface has been in production for a few years now, yet the filters still have problems. There are very common combinations that are simply not available. The classic of these is that you cannot filter your active ads from the paused ones because the only options are Approved, Pending, and Disapproved. Here is a newsflash; there is a Review and Paused status.  Consistency would also be nice to have. All numbers should have the basic value test plus a range of values. Some fields like Avg. Position have better than or worse than, while Avg CPC has ><,  while clicks have <= and >=.  We also need to have filters work for all the data, not just the level we are at. For example, I should be able to filter ad groups with words in their name and positions for the keyword.  The rules should be if I can see the data on the screen, I should be able to filter by it.

Dataset Filters

We often find datasets we want to work with but there is no way to keep the dataset intact. For example, it is very common to filter high position keywords for this month and look at how they look year to date. The problem is as soon as you reset the date range, it changes everything. We need a function that says keep this dataset but show me a different time period.

We know this list is long but Saint Google gets to pick the ones we get. We will just wait with baited breath for the opportunity to shake the boxes under the tree next to the fireplace with cookies and milk.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night

The AdWords Monster

Mobile Marketing

Posted by Rob Dumouchel in Mobile Marketing

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Smart Phones are changing how marketing will be done in the future and in case you’re curious the future is today. If you have not been paying attention to trends in marketing for the last decade the process has shifted from product presentation to a strategy of engage and educate. This change in basic strategy results in a shift in where your marketing dollars are invested in engaging content rather than slick ads. Mobile marketing takes this evolution to the next level.

Everyone I know is trying to figure out how mobile marketing will impact their business and I believe that it will force a higher percentage of your marketing investment to be put into the material creation rather than the delivery vehicle. We will pay less for the ad delivery but much more for the creation of the content we deliver. In mobile marketing all of the old world product pitches are simply considered spam and mobile marketing will be driven by the opt-in list and very few will subscribe to your list if all you do is pitch your product. You have to give them meaningful value that is of interest to them or you will find that they have a very short attention span and a low tolerance for your message.

It’s the list stupid!

Mobile marketing is all about the list. How you gain new subscribers and how you develop your relationships with them are the critical success factors. For most small businesses the infrastructure of mobile marketing will be an SMS service provider. These businesses make it possible for small businesses to use this marketing channel without the huge overhead involved in short codes. Short codes and keywords are the gateway to the SMS process and setting this up is not cheap or easy. Just to get started a short code costs $1,500 per quarter and if you want a special vanity code the cost increases to $3,000 per quarter and this is a long way from delivering your first message. The SMS service providers leverage this by providing a shared short code from which they sell specific keywords. This is how texting a specific word to a short code gets you on the SMS list you want. The big advantage here is that without getting into all the technical challenges and costs a low cost relationship with a SMS service provider you can get your mobile marketing up and running in just hours.

The challenge to all of this is to get people on your list and then treat them so they value the relationship enough that you keep the permission to communicate that they granted you. You do this by clearly articulating the value they will receive and then deliver that value to them. Beyond this you have to get that message out into the market. And of course you have to perform this magic with 140 charters or less.

Talk to those who care about your message

Opt-in marketing has at its core the concept of talking to people that care about your message and quit trying to interrupt people who frankly do not care. People are understandably concerned with the messages that they receive because text messages are an interruption so what you say has to have value or your list will shrink and quickly die. Value is not just a routine discount for the day or a rehash of your print coupon. It needs to be something special that the person is likely to be interested in. Different audiences are going to value messages in different ways but the bottom line is they, not you, need to value the message.

Use QR Codes to Make Subscriptions Easier

The typical subscription process is a small word sent to a short code but even that can be a barrier for people and to the rescue in this is the QR Code. These are the square codes that you are starting to see in the market that look like this. The person simply uses their phone to scan this code and it sends the word and short code. When done like this the length of the keyword and the short code are no longer an important part of the process because it is all contained within the code and the person never has to interact with it.
There are several competing technologies to provide this functionality to the user but so far the QR Code appears to be the leader. Within these codes there are all sorts of interesting things you can do such as embed the identification of the source of the subscription by using different keywords. QR Codes can be used to connect to a web site, send a text message, dial a phone number, or just enter text.

Caution: Not everything works in all combinations

Mobile is rapidly evolving and like any newer technology there are consistency problems. Not everything works in all the combinations of apps, phones, and services. In our testing the code above worked on some combinations but not others. The iPhone failed to handle this properly with 3 of 4 apps we tested, but it finally did work with one. The DroidX worked the first time and we have no clue if we just got lucky picking the right reader or if the phone is just more open. What we are sure of is that the URL coding seems to be 100% supported but when you get into the other processes your success rate is at risk. Failing to set up the SMS message is either a program bug or a security feature depending on your perspective. The technology has the ability, but delivery may be inconsistent.

Opt-In or Spam – There is No Middle of the Road
“Consumers must ‘Opt-in’ to a short code program from their mobile device before they can be sent anything. Even an initial message that asks for permission is considered SPAM.” Unlike email the carriers have no problem identifying the senders of spam and taking immediate and decisive action for a rule violation.
In mobile marketing you either get them to opt-in or you are a spammer. There are lots of services that will rent out lists that were built in many different ways including contests and other offers. The key is they did not opt-in to hear from you so you better make sure that the value promised matches your message value or you will get a very negative response. If the list was built by offering discount meal coupons and you are going to offer a discount meal coupon then the list is golden. If however the list was built by a win a free trip offer and your offer is a discount for an oil change you need to run not walk away from that list. People do not just dislike being off message, they HATE it, and they can transfer that hate to the business that interrupted them with a message they did not want. Getting people to opt-in to your list is hard work and keeping them is even harder but it is the only way you can play this game.

Deliver Value or Die

I have already said this several times but it is worth repeating. If you want a relationship that allows you to communicate with your market you need to treat them with respect and talk about what they are interested in.

How this relates to Adwords

Building subscriptions is a common goal for Adwords and a subscription offer is a great way to get the relationship started with a low impact transaction. Lowering the commitment level of your conversions almost always increases the percentage of response and is an excellent way to find people interested in what you have to say.