search engine optimization

Matt Cutts provided some interesting details about where the industry is headed, last week at PubCon.

During the "Interactive Site Review" session, Matt suggested investigating the history of each domain name you own or plan to purchase. He suggested avoiding domains with a shady history and dumping domains that appear to have been burned in the past. To investigate the history of a domain, Matt suggests Archive.org. Matt said, blocking Archive.org via robots.txt is a great indication of spam when already suspected.

Matt mentioned speed several times. During the "Interactive Site Review" Matt said that webmasters need to pay more attention to speed. He pointed out that landing page load time factors into AdWords Quality Score and said speed will be a big trend in 2010. During Matt's "State of the Index" presentation, he pointed out Google's tools for measuring page speed and even mentioned webpagetest.org a third party tool. According to Matt, Google is considering factoring page load speed into rankings. Matt said, that Larry Page wants pages to flip for users on the internet. He illustrated this point with Google Reader's reduction of pages from 2mb to 185kb. Nothing official yet but, something to keep an eye on for sure!

During Q&A for "The Search Engine Smackdown" session Matt explained Caffeine as being like a car with a new engine but not an algorithm change. Matt said, Caffeine will help Google index in seconds and that it should be active within a few weeks on one data center. That said, Caffeine won't roll out fully until after the holidays. Matt pointed out that Google is built for load balancing and for that reason isolating individual IPs for Caffeine testing access is difficult. Matt also mentioned that AJAX SERPs and Caffeine aren't related but that Google will continue testing AJAX SERPs.

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.