online marketing

In case you missed it, I was in Las Vegas last week for PubCon 2009. It was my first PubCon and as you can imagine, lots of fun! As far as presentations, every presentation was great but I do have a few favorites. Here they are in order of appearance…

- One of my favorite presentations at PubCon was Rob Snell's "Ecommerce and Shopping Cart Optimization." Rob always impresses me with his creativity and common sense approach to increasing conversions with things like original content creation. Rob stressed liberating manufacturer content in addition to creating original product descriptions and content. Maybe it's a "southern thing" but is for certain, Rob is no "Dummy" when it comes to ideas for developing great content to increase ROI.

- Another great presentation was Ted Ulle's "SEO Design & Organic Site Structure." Ted's FRANKENSITE analogy was really great! He focused on the importance of keeping things simple and setting goals early. Ted offered some other really great advice about documenting decisions, graphic design being placed lower down the priority list and why "code geeks" shouldn't write copy. Splitting a cab with Ted was also a big thrill, it's not every day I get to ride with celebrities.

- Vanessa Fox's "Multivariate Testing and Conversion Tweaking" presentation was really interesting. In addition to providing recent data about the average number of keywords per query, Vanessa dove into the topic of personas and the role they play in conversions. According to Vanessa, focusing only on ranking reports can cause you to miss important information. That said, I've already pre-ordered Vanessa's new book and strongly suggest you do too.

- As always, Matt Cutts was truly entertaining during the "Interactive Site Review: Organic Focus" session at PubCon. (Tip, if your site is obviously spamming don't sign it up for review! ;) ) I know Barry has been giving Matt a hard time about not attending conferences lately but, Matt really went above and beyond even shaving a spammy head or two at PubCon 2009 :).

- Greg Hartnett, Michael McDonald, Barry Schwartz, Lee Odden and Loren Baker teamed up for "Search Bloggers: What's Hot and Trending?". This session was a jam packed PowerPoint free dialogue between the best in the industry.

- Saving the best for last, my favorite session was "Super Session : Search Engines and Webmasters." Shawn from Microsoft was up first and talked about Bing's recent changes. He demonstrated Bing's hover preview feature and talked about the new and improved MSNBOT 2.0b According to Shawn, Steve Blamer expects to win search and acquire 51% market share with Bing. After Shawn, Matt Cutts presented Google's "State of the Index." Matt talked a lot about the importance of site speed and Google's new social search experiment. He suggests digging deeper into Google Webmaster Tools as well as subscribing to the blog and YouTube channel.

PubCon was a great conference and I strongly suggest it to anyone interested in interactive marketing. Thanks again to Neil Marshall and the PubCon staff, Barry Schwartz and Search Discovery Inc..

It's becoming more and more clear that ranking reports are no longer reliable. Users are noticing personalized SERPs more and more and they're catching on to obvious inaccuracies generated by traditional ranking report software. These inaccuracies are caused by differences in query IP, query data, account status, web history, personalized settings, social graph and/or other. As a result, there is a growing shift away from rank report software to analytics for accurate SEO measurement.

Prior to personalized search results, SEO relied heavily on ranking reports in order to measure SEO campaign performance. SEOs create "ranking reports" with software that submits automated queries directly to search engines, a.k.a. "scrapes search engine results." Despite the fact that automated queries are against Google Webmaster Guidelines, waste energy and cost Google millions of dollars each year to process, scraping search engine results is still a popular practice. Obviously it’s in the engines best interest to take steps to prevent these queries.

Analytics software on the other hand is different, it works independently of search engines. Analytics relies heavily on code embedded within pages as well as human interpretation of data. Until recently, analytics software has been used only to “tell a story,” but not for the precise measurement SEO requires. Site analysis focuses on trending and establishing a “comfort level” with data determined to be "good enough" by the analytics specialist. Analytics platforms are designed for anyone to use, specialist and non-specialist alike. In many cases, analytics specialist themselves have little analytics experience, expertise, knowledge about how search engines work or an understanding of searcher intent. How can we expect anything different, when WAA itself still doesn’t teach things like transactional queries?

"To optimize scent trails, make sure that when the intent is transparent, the scent trail on any chosen term matches that intent. It doesn't matter if the trail starts with PPC (pay-per-click) or organic search. Prospects usually hope to find one of two things: the answer they seek or a link that takes them to the answer."

- The Web Analytics Association "Knowledge Required for Certification" (also available in non-www version)

Analytics tracking code is usually implemented by URL without consideration for user path, intent, source or origination. In most cases the implementation is performed by someone other than the analytics specialist interpreting the data. According to some estimates as many as 45% of pages implemented with Google Analytics contain errors. Conversions from organic SERPs are the most difficult to track back to the original referrer. To compound that problem, site issues often prevent even flawless analytics implementations from reporting. Analytics failures are costly, often go unnoticed and undetected because NOTHING is in place to report when analytics doesn't report.

Quick examples & thoughts:
- Even if Avinash himself, implements Omniture and Google Analytics tracking code on every page of your site, users entering from SERPs via 301 or 302 redirect won’t be attributed as “Organic.” According to Google, "If your site uses redirects, the redirecting page becomes the landing page's referrer. For example, if a user searches for a specific keyword, such as 'used books' on Google, there will not be any referring data showing that this keyword was searched on Google. Instead, the referral will be shown as the redirecting page."

- High traffic major converters or blank pages that send users to a competitor? Either way, nobody will ever know because these pages lack analytics tracking code. URL naming conventions for most sites follow a specific pattern. Use the site operator to quickly spot check for URLs that seem out of the ordinary to be certain they include analytics tracking code implementation and aren't redirected. It's pretty common to find legacy pages from older versions of sites indexed.

SEO Analytics

- If these folks are quick evaluators, analytics tracking code might not execute before a new page loads and this SEO conversion might be credited somewhere else. Analytics won't measure landing page load time even though it's a highly important metric for users. Flash or otherwise, pages like these always have issues when it comes to tracking organic conversions.

SEO Analytics

- If your site goes down chances are you'll never know because analytics reporting goes down as well. Using a website monitoring service is always a good idea, just to be sure that conversions really are down and not your entire site.

Takeaways, until SEO expectations are more clear to the analytics community, SEOs should insist on performing SEO analytics audits as usual. When hiring analytics specialists, look for applicants who are willing to address websites from the user perspective and outside of analytics. Folks willing to question data accuracy and those able to identify analytics obstacles are highly desired. Key being, SEO is as concerned with what analytics is tracking as it is about what analytics should be tracking.

While I commend Adobe for its recent efforts to help engines index textual content locked in Flash, I have issues with the new "SEO Technology Center."

For example, the following video by one of Adobe's Senior Technology Evangelists states that tv.adobe.com "...rises to the top of the heap in the Google..." for [Duanes World] thanks to Adobe's new headless Flash player technology "Ichabod." According to Adobe's Evangelist, "Duane" could only be visible to Googlebot by having Ichabod change states in the Flash file, therefore exposing "Duane" as textual content. Unfortunately this is not correct as the cached version of the page from Google's SERP states "These terms only appear in links pointing to this page".

As shown in the Google SERP, "Duane" appears to Googlebot only in links pointing at tv.adobe.com and not in the Flash file as the video claims. Using the advanced "site:" operator to search for [Duane] within tv.adobe.com shows a number of pages with links pointing to AdobeTV using "Duane" as anchor text. Because these links use #anchors (fragment identifiers) which Googlebot ignores, in URLs, Google "credits" keyword relevancy to the root instead of the intended target URL.

As a result of this misallocation, tv.adobe.com ranks for [Duanes World]. Just as keyword relevancy is being misallocated in this case, so is PageRank as illustrated by the URL PR9 when compared with the Flash PR8. In fact, the SERP TITLE and snippet aren't from AdobeTV but rather DMOZ. To see this compare "Adobe TV" as seen in the SERP with "AdobeTV" seen on the page by users with Flash and JavaScript enabled. This is due to AdobeTV's use of dynamic JavaScript TITLE elements in (X)HTML.

With on page factors out of the way, as a side note it's also worth mentioning that the search engine results page in Adobe's video is based on the user's prior search history, while logged into a Google Account and Searchwiki appears to be activated. These personalization settings can all act to throw off the data in such an experiment.

This post isn't intended to bash Adobe but rather to point out some critical errors in their research. Please don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Adobe and have been for years. I think they make great products and appreciate all of the hard work done by Adobe's team of Evangelists. I understand that Adobe Evangelists are experts at Flash but, when it comes to SEO for Flash and interpreting Google SERPs, wish people wouldn't take their opinions blindly as being fact.

For the handful of us with expertise in SEO for Flash, it's a little awkward having to tell clients that Adobe's information isn't entirely correct. Either way, it would be nice to see more research as well as accurate and up-to-date information in Adobe's SEO Technology Center. It would also be great to see some of these best practices implemented at tv.adobe.com.