AOL Web Search Powered by Bing

As Rik announced in a recent blog post, as of January 1, Bing now powers AOL web, mobile and tablet search, providing paid search ads and algorithmic organic search results to AOL properties worldwide and exclusively in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Most major Bing Ads products are enabled for AOL search traffic worldwide, providing our clients with additional high-quality volume and more ways to reach their desired audience.

Key takeaways for advertisers

  • Bing now powers web search traffic across all devices for AOL: mobile, tablet and PC.
  • Our partnership with AOL brings a greater market share to the Bing Network. Currently, one in five searches are powered by Bing. By integrating Bing with the number three and five top search providers in the U.S., Bing now serves nearly one-third of all PC web searches in the U.S.
  • AOL has many established web properties, such as AOL.com, with strong brand names and an affinity among its user base who generate several billion search queries each year.
  • AOL’s high-quality audience is similar to the audience Bing and Yahoo offer today – both audiences have higher household incomes, the majority have attended college, they skew slightly female and the majority of users are ages 35+.2 Both audiences also spend more online than average Internet searcher.
  • In general, we anticipate a 5-8% increase in click volume in the U.S. In order to optimize this expected increase in click volume, we recommend that advertisers consider increasing their budgets to take advantage of the incremental quality volume available.
  • Most current ad products will be enabled for AOL’s search traffic, such as:
    • Ad extensions including Sitelink Extensions, Dynamic Sitelinks, Location Extensions and Call Extensions.
    • Annotations including Long Ad Titles, Bolding and Merchant Ratings; Customer Ratings will be in beta at the time of launch.
    • Product Ads will be in beta at the time of launch.

As Prince called out in this blog post, you’ll notice several changes within Bing Ads, including the Campaigns page, Reports page, the Google Import experience, and Keyword and Campaign Planners. We have also made changes in Reporting API. Read this blog post to find out more.

Call to action for advertisers

All existing campaigns are automatically opted-in to take advantage of additional volume available on the Bing Network. To ensure you are taking full advantage of this opportunity:

1. Increase your budgets. In general, you can anticipate an increase in click volume of 5-8% with additional AOL web search traffic available through the Bing Network. Make sure your budget allows you to take advantage of growing volume availability.

2. Monitor and adjust your bids, ads and keywords soon after Bing begins to power search traffic from AOL beginning January 1, 2016.

We believe that the extended reach combined with the controls within Bing Ads will give digital marketers additional opportunities to reach even more customers at the right ROI.

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Yahoo & Google Together Again In New Search Deal

Three year deal to put Google’s results and ads into some of Yahoo’s search results needs US Department of Justice approval and still might get vetoed by India or EU action.

 

google-yahoo-2015d-1920

Reunited, and it feels so good. Well, we’ll see if that line from the classic song plays out for Yahoo, which has revealed it wants to be together with Google again in a deal for search results. The deal excludes Europe, almost certainly to avoid anti-trust issues there. It also will depend on US Department of Justice approval.

The Deal, In Summary

As part of today’s Yahoo earning news, it revealed a new search deal with Google:

In October, the Company reached an agreement with Google that provides Yahoo with additional flexibility to choose among suppliers of search results and ads. Google’s offerings complement the search services provided by Microsoft, which remains a strong partner, as well as Yahoo’s own search technologies and ad products.

Wondering how Yahoo and Google can be together, when Yahoo is supposed to be with Microsoft? What we mean by Yahoo and Google being together again? And what’s in the deal? Come along.

Isn’t Yahoo With Microsoft?

If you’re thinking that Yahoo and Microsoft have a search deal, you remember correctly. They do and renewed that in April of this. year. Our FAQ: The New Yahoo-Microsoft Deal, Explained story also had more background on that.

As part of the renewal, Yahoo agreed that Bing’s ads would appear on 51% of the desktop searches that Yahoo delivers. The other 49% could be “powered” by Yahoo’s own ad system or from any third-party that Yahoo wanted to use.

As it turns out, by July, Yahoo was spotted testing using Google’s search results and ads. Clearly, Yahoo liked how it went. Now it’s planning to do more.

And Yahoo Had Been With Google Before?

Years ago — back in 2000 — Yahoo was partnered with Google to carry both Google’s search results and ads. That partnership maintained for many years, until Yahoo eventually developed its own in-house search technology and ad serving systems in 2004.

Yahoo gave up its own internal search technology when its search deal with Microsoft was formally established and got the go-ahead in 2010. But as that deal never performed as expected, and Yahoo’s been especially looking over the past two years for ways to generate more revenue from search beyond its deal with Microsoft.

What’s In The New 3-Year Google Deal?

Let’s go to the Form 8-K filing on the deal and look at the officialese, which I’ll break down as best I can into regular speak:

On October 19, 2015, Yahoo! Inc., a Delaware corporation (“Yahoo”), and Google Inc., a Delaware corporation (“Google”), entered into a Google Services Agreement (the “Services Agreement”). The Services Agreement is effective as of October 1, 2015 and expires on December 31, 2018.

Right off, we’re talking just over a three-year term. However, the agreement can end early for various reasons, as explained more below.

Google To Power Both Mobile & Desktop

Next up, this:

Pursuant to the Services Agreement, Google will provide Yahoo with search advertisements through Google’s AdSense for Search service (“AFS”), web algorithmic search services through Google’s Websearch Service, and image search services. The results provided by Google for these services will be available to Yahoo for display on both desktop and mobile platforms.

Basically, this says that Yahoo can show Google’s search results. And by search results, that means both the editorial “free” listings as well as the ads. Yahoo needs to serve both, because it has no editorial listings of its own, no crawler that combs the web for such content. And Yahoo probably can’t — or can’t afford — to show Google ads against editorial listings provided by Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Could Yahoo Go Over 51% On Mobile With Google?

Yahoo also can use these results for both mobile and desktop. On desktop, it’s limited to a cap of 49% that potentially could come from Google, as Microsoft is guaranteed the other 51%.

On mobile, Yahoo has no such limit. There, it could choose to fully serve out Google results even at the expense of its own Gemini ads system.

Deal Excludes Europe, Probably For Anti-Trust Reasons

The deal is for these regions:

Yahoo may use Google’s services on Yahoo’s owned and operated properties (“Yahoo Properties”) and on certain syndication partner properties (“Affiliate Sites”) in the United States (U.S.), Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Middle East, Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru, Australia and New Zealand.

You can see all of North America is covered. Several Asian countries are included, as are Australia and New Zealand. Parts of South America are also covered. What’s missing? Europe.

Why not Europe? Google already has an anti-trust action happening against it in the European Union. It probably does not want the attention or criticism of doing a deal with Yahoo there, especially with Google already having a 90% or more marketshare in many EU countries.

Yahoo Has Flexibility, Could Skip Google Search Entirely

Next, this:

Under the Services Agreement, Yahoo has discretion to select which search queries to send to Google and is not obligated to send any minimum number of search queries. The Services Agreement is non-exclusive and expressly permits Yahoo to use any other search advertising services, including its own service, the services of Microsoft Corporation or other third parties.

Basically, this says that Yahoo doesn’t have to guarantee anything to Google. It could decide to send no queries to Google, if it wanted to.

Yahoo Gets Cut Of Ads, Amount Not Said; Image Search Named

How about getting paid? Well…

Google will pay Yahoo a percentage of the gross revenues from AFS ads displayed on Yahoo Properties or Affiliate Sites. The percentage will vary depending on whether the ads are displayed on U.S. desktop sites, non-U.S. desktop sites or on the tablet or mobile phone versions of the Yahoo Properties or its Affiliate Sites. Yahoo will pay Google fees for requests for image search results or web algorithmic search results.

This is pretty standard, saying that Yahoo will get a percentage of what Google makes off its ads that are shown on the Yahoo network.

That percentage can — and probably will — vary depending on whether it’s from desktop or mobile.

Interestingly, there’s no minimum guarantee from Google to be paid to Yahoo. That’s sometimes the case in these deals. It was in the original Yahoo-Microsoft deal.

Finally, Yahoo is obligated to pay Google if it uses its editorial (“algorithmic”) search results for web listings or images. This is likely to ensure that Yahoo doesn’t take Google’s listings but shows Yahoo’s own ads against them. In such a case, Google would be earning nothing yet providing a service.

Terminating In Case Of US Opposition

At the end, we get this:

Either party may terminate the Services Agreement

(1) upon a material breach subject to certain limitations;

(2) in the event of a change in control (as defined in the Services Agreement);

(3) after first discussing with the other party in good faith its concerns and potential alternatives to termination

(a) in its entirety or in the U.S. only, if it reasonably anticipates litigation or a regulatory proceeding brought by any U.S. federal or state agency to enjoin the parties from consummating, implementing or otherwise performing the Services Agreement,

(b) in part, in a country other than the U.S., if either party reasonably anticipates litigation or a regulatory proceeding or reasonably anticipates that the continued performance under the Services Agreement in such country would have a material adverse impact on any ongoing antitrust proceeding in such country,

Some history here. Back in 2008, Yahoo wanted to do a deal with Google. The US Department of Justice decided that would be bad on competitive grounds, so the companies abandoned that.

The DoJ decision left Yahoo with Microsoft as pretty much the only choice for doing a deal. As a result, the deal that Microsoft eventually offered to Yahoo in 2009 was much less lucrative than the one it offered in 2008, when it was competing with Google.

In the years since, the deal arguably has helped Yahoo drop from a second-place search engine in the US with its own search technology to a third-place competitor that’s dependent on others.

Clearly, there’s a fear that the US competition authorities still might not favor a Yahoo-Google tie-up, despite the fact that Yahoo is less dominant than it last was and a potential argument that the previous DoJ objection helped lead to Yahoo’s current decline.

In fact, at the end of the filing, there’s this:

In connection with the Services Agreement, Yahoo and Google have agreed to certain procedures with the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) to facilitate review of the Services Agreement by the DOJ, including delaying the implementation of the Services Agreement in the U.S. in order to provide the DOJ with a reasonable period of review.

This is all going to the Department of Justice for review. If approved, the companies will move ahead. Unless….

The EU And India Get Final Word

Even though the deal isn’t involving Europe, the agreement has termination language that involves possible EU objections:

(c) in its entirety if either party reasonably anticipates a filing by the European Commission to enjoin it from performing the Services Agreement or that continued performance of the Services Agreement would have a material adverse impact on any ongoing antitrust proceeding involving either party in Europe or India, or

The deal does involve India, where Google also faces anti-trust scrutiny, so the language including India makes more sense.

Google is almost certainly so paranoid that the agreement might impact its on-going anti-trust actions in both the EU and India that if gets the idea either political entity will object, the whole deal could be closed.

Other Termination Reasons

There’s a few last boilerplate reason the agreement might be terminated:

(d) in its entirety, on 60 days notice if [sic] the other party’s exercise of these termination rights in this clause

(3) has collectively and materially diminished the economic value of the Services Agreement.

Each party agrees to defend or settle any lawsuits or similar actions related to the Services Agreement unless doing so is not commercially reasonable (taking all factors into account, including without limitation effects on a party’s brand or business outside of the scope of the Services Agreement).

In addition, Google may suspend Yahoo’s use of services upon certain events and may terminate the Services Agreement if such events are not cured. Yahoo may terminate the Services Agreement if Google breaches certain service level and server latency specified in the Services Agreement.

If I read this correctly, either party could end with 60 days notice for any reason. Just because. There’s also a nebulous “certain events” that aren’t itemized, unknown reasons Google could terminate. Yahoo can drop if Google doesn’t serve content up quickly enough.

Stay Tuned For More!

The deal is a big deal, even if Yahoo is no longer the search powerhouse it once was. We’ll have further coverage of reaction and more details, as the emerge, so stay tuned to Search Engine Land.

5 Ways Social Data Can Enhance Marketing Data

Social Data

The nature of social media – public, real time, immediate – and the abundance of data collected on users, activity and engagement, provide a greenfield of opportunities to use social data to enhance and support marketing data.

Here are five ways social data can be used to enhance marketing data.

1. Use Social Data to Provide Added Value for Ad Selling

Online publishers have been selling ads based on data like visits, pageviews, subscribers, and impressions. But social data can be used to enhance the value of online publishers by proving larger circulation through social profiles, impressions on social networks and increased reach through shares.

Media kits should start to include social data as the added value the publisher provide to advertisers as well as post-advertisement reports that include impressions, reach, and engagement.

Additionally, publishers can add value by providing advertisers with the exact details on engaged-audience including the actual users who engaged with their content.

2. Use Social Data to Enhance TV Ratings Data

Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings

Nielsen recently add Nielsen Social as part of the TV rating offering by looking at people who tweet about TV shows and their audience. But social data can enhance more than just simple ratings and provide insight into the type of audience engaged with TV shows as well as the types of engagement.

Networks and cable TV can start looking at social data to make decision about the life or death of their programming beyond the traditional rating system and can provide the social data as an added value for advertisers.

In today’s DVR-heavy watching habits, ratings for live TV only give the networks partial information on how well their programming is doing with their audience. This data might have been able to save Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

3. Use Engagement Data to Test Messaging

Social media provides marketers with a cheap and quick way to test messaging with a highly targeted audience. By crafting several messages you can post to social media and measure the engagement levels each message generated with your audience.

Running simple A/B tests, poll questions, or even just asking your audience via tweets, LinkedIn messages, or Facebook posts, you can garner insight on the resonance of messages before you invest heavily in one message or another.

Companies that utilize social media as a testing field for messages, new product offerings, and validation of strategic direction can be better informed about their decisions by analyzing the engagement data in cross reference to the audience that engaged as well as to the way they engaged.

4. Use Social Ads Data to Test Creative

The emergence of social ads offers brands access to audience without the efforts of building that audience organically. In addition, most social ad platform include ad optimization as an integral part of the platform.

Marketers can utilize these platforms to test ad creative before they roll out major, expensive ad campaigns. Use engagement data to evaluate how well your ads are doing and what creative works better with your audience.

The hyper targeting the social platforms offer can ensure that your test is being done on a select, targeted audience without “tainting” your entire addressable market with test campaigns.

5. Use Social Trends to Research Keywords

Unlike in search, social media provides immediate feedback on keyword trends. Using data from the social networks you can uncover keywords and phrases that are on the upswing before they become completely apparent on organic search and this way create content that will get a head start on organic search.

Use tools like Twitter Trends, hashtag research tools, or social media measurement solutions to learn what keywords are getting more traction with your audience and what keyword trends are forming.

You can later insert these keywords into your editorial calendar and create content that will be optimized for queries and phrases that are already in use by your audience.

Summary

The integration of social data with traditional marketing data can enhance your understanding of trends and user behavior, and also can be used as an added value for publishers and advertisers.

The trend of incorporating social data into other data sources is only beginning; do you have any other ideas on how to use it?

How to Build Links Using Expired Domains

Expired

Many people have had great success snapping up expired domains and using those sites for link building purposes. One of the main reasons for this was that it saved work, as you could grab a site that already had content and backlinks and at least a baseline established presence.

However, after the past year with all the Google changes that make link building trickier than ever, this process is no longer as easy and safe as it once was, but it can still be valuable if you think about what you’re doing and don’t just buy every domain that has your desired keyword in it then hastily 301 redirect it to your own site or trash the content with links to your main site, expecting miracles.

Affiliate marketers are also fond of expired domains to use for their work so while we won’t go into detail on that, we will cover some topics that are relevant for that specific use.

How to Find Dropped/Expired/Expiring Domains?

Domain Tools is one of the main places that I check but there are many sites that list expired or about-to-expire domains that are up for grabs. Network Solutions has custom email alerts where you can put in a keyword and get an email when domains matching that are expiring so that’s a nice option for those of you who like a more passive approach.

Network Solutions Expiring Domains

Snap Names is also good, as is Drop Day. You may find that there are certain sites that are best for your purposes (whether it’s keeping an eye on ones you want or getting ones that just expired) so look around and figure out what best suits you.

Want a domain that’s at least 9 years old and has a listing in DMOZ? Domain Tools is where I’d go for that, for example:

Domain Tools Dropping Names

Of course if you come across a domain that you like and it’s not set to expire any time soon, there’s nothing wrong with emailing the owner and asking to buy it.

Domain may be for sale

How to Vet Expired Domains

  • Check to see what domains 301 redirect to them. I use Link Research Tools for this as you can run a backlink report on the domain in question and see the redirects. If you find a domain that has 50 spammy 301s pointing to it, it may be more trouble that it’s worth. Preventing a 301 from coming through when you don’t control the site that redirects is almost impossible. You can block this on the server level but that won’t help you with your site receiving bad link karma from Google. In that case, you may have to disavow those domains.
  • Check their backlinks using your link tool of choice. Is the profile full of nothing but spam that will take ages to clean up or will you have to spend time disavowing the links? If so, do you really want to bother with it? If you want to buy the domain to use for a 301 redirect and it’s full of spammy links, at least wait until you’ve cleared that all up before you 301 it.
  • Check to see if they were ever anything questionable using the Wayback Machine. If the site simply wasn’t well done 2 years ago, that’s not nearly as big of a problem as if you’re going to be using the site for educating people about the dangers of lead and it used to be a site that sold Viagra.
  • Check to see if the brand has a bad reputation. Do some digging upfront so you can save time disassociating yourself from something bad later. You know how sometimes you get a resume from a person and you ask an employee if they know this Susan who also used to work at the same place that your current employee worked years ago and your employee says “oh yes I remember her. She tried to burn the building down once”? Well, Susan might try to burn your building down, too.
  • Check to see if they were part of a link network. See what other sites were owned by the same person and check them out too.
  • Check to see if they have an existing audience. Is there an attached forum with active members, are there people generally commenting on posts and socializing them, etc.?

How Should You Use Expired Domains?

Many people 301 redirect these domains to their main sites or secondary sites in order to give them a boost. Others turn them into part of their legitimate online arsenal and use them as a proper standalone resource.

Some people add them to their existing blog network and interlink them. Some people keep them and use them to sell links. Some people keep them and try to resell them. Some people use them to try their hand at affiliate marketing.

However that’s talking about how people use them, not about how they should use them, but how you should use them is up to you.

I once worked with an account where we used tons of microsites. They were standalone sites that each linked to the main brand site and we built links to them. It worked for a while (and still works for many people according to what I see in forums) but as far as I can tell, most of those microsites are no longer in Google’s index or no longer contain live links to the brand site. That’s because in that case, it stopped working and became more of a danger than anything else. They served no purpose at all other than to host a link to the brand site, and since they gained no authority, it just wasn’t worth the trouble of keeping them up.

I’ve also dealt with someone who successfully bought expired domains and redirected them to subdomains on his main site in order to split it up into a few niche subdomains. He didn’t overdo it, and each expired domain had a good history with content relevant to what the subdomain was, so it all worked very well.

As mentioned early on, affiliate marketers also use expired domains. One big benefit of this is that if you plan to just use PPC for affiliate marketing, you don’t have to be as concerned about the backlink profile of the domain as you might not care that much about its organic rankings.

Some Good Signs of Expired Domains

Some of these probably depend upon the purpose you have in mind, but here are a few things I like to see on an expired or expiring domain but please keep in mind that these aren’t discrete defining features of a quality domain; they are simply a couple of signs that the domain might be a good one to use:

  • Authority links that will pass through some link benefits via a 301 redirect (if I’m going that route.)
  • An existing audience of people who regularly contribute, comment, and socialize the site’s content (if I’m going to use it as a standalone site.) If I’m looking to buy a forum, for example, I’d want to make sure that there are contributing members with something to offer already there. If I want a site that I will be maintaining and adding to and plan to build it out further, seeing that there’s an audience of people reading the content, commenting on it, and socializing it would make me very happy.
  • A decent (and legitimate) Toolbar PageRank (TBPR) that is in line with where I think it should be. If I see a site that is 7 months old and has a TBPR of 6, I’ll obviously be suspicious, and if I found one that was 9 years old and was a TBPR 1, I would hestitate before using it, for example. I also have to admit that while I don’t rely on TBPR as a defining metric of quality, I’d be crazy to pretend that it means nothing so it’s definitely something I look at.
  • A domain age of at least 2 years if I was going to do anything other than hold it and try to resell it.
  • Internal pages that have TBPR. If there are 5000 pages and only the homepage has any TBPR, I’d be a bit suspicious about why no internal pages had anything.

A Few Red Flags of Expired Domains

  • Suspicious TBPR as mentioned above.
  • The domain isn’t indexed in Google. Even if you look at a recently expired site and see it has a TBPR of 4 with good Majestic flow metrics, is 5 years old, and has been updated in some way until it expired (whether through new blog posts, comments, social shares, etc.), it’s safe to ssume it’s not indexed for a good reason and you probably want to stay away from it.
  • Backlink profile is full of nothing but spam.
  • All comments on the site’s posts are spammy ones and trackbacks.

Bottom Line: Is Using Expired Domains a Good Idea?

As with almost anything in SEO right now, some tactics aren’t really great ideas for the long-term but since they work for the short-term, people still use them. Some tactics that won’t work in one niche will still work well in certain other niches and some sites seem to be able to weather just about any algorithmic change in Google.

That’s why it’s hard to say that you shouldn’t do this, or you should do that, because every case is different, every webmaster/site owner has a different idea about risk, and a lot of people have made a lot of money off doing things that I personally wouldn’t do.

I don’t have time to keep up the blogging on my own site so I would never expect that I could keep it up on five sites, each devoted to a specific area of my industry, but with the right manpower and the right people, this can be a successful strategy for many.

If you plan to use them for affiliate marketing and you’re going to use PPC for that, you don’t have to worry about some of the things that you would have to be concerned with if you planned to rank well.

In the end, it depends on what you want to do, how much time and effort you have to put into doing well, and how much risk you can handle, just like everything else.

SEO Content Analysis Using Google Analytics

Since search quality indicators have become an increasingly important factor for search engines, evaluating SEO content performance in search engines using Google Analytics is becoming equally important.

Content analysis is made more complex with the loss of data from users logged into their Google accounts and, eventually, users from the Chrome browser as well.

This article is for individuals who are starting content analysis using Google Analytics. It describes a simple top down method for content insights.

Traffic Source Level

The traffic sources level view is the view of Google Analytics when only have one segment applied for a single medium or a medium and source. The traffic source level view is useful for getting a bird’s eye view of organic search engine traffic. This view is useful for mapping overall search performance, identifying any unusual drop-offs, and reading annotations.

Traffic source level data is useful for looking at broad trends, such as comparing year-over-year performance. However, this data ought to be taken with a grain of salt, since you run the risk of increases in traffic in one section of your site masking drops in other sections, when the data is viewed in aggregate at the traffic sources level.

Usually at the traffic source level, it’s useful to use advanced segments to segment by Google and Bing traffic. This helps identify if there is a nascent opportunity from Bing traffic. One way this can be easily done is by creating an advanced segment that include

  • For Google, Medium: Organic & Source: Google
  • For Bing, Medium: Organic & Source: Bing

Generally, after you have a bird’s eye view, it’s useful to conduct deeper drill-downs into this data by source – such as Google or Bing – in addition to medium, which is organic search for organic content research.

Site Section Level

The landing pages report is by far one of the most insightful reports for SEO content research. It can be found in the side navigation under standard reporting in content > site content > Landing Pages.

The beauty of the landing page report is that it tells you where organic visitors are landing on your website. I usually evaluate the landing pages report by segmenting it by source, such as Google or Bing.

Usually at this point, it is useful to break out the content into different sections of your website.

One way this can be done for an ecommerce site with a number of categories is to break out each category separately, as well as article and blog sections of your website. For a lead generation based site, it may be useful to break out pages in your top navigation, your blog and location based pages, if you have them.

To break out different sections of your website, you can use the in-report segmentation, which segments data for a given report. This is different from the sitewide segmentation because it isn’t applied across reports.

When you have your landing pages report open, simply enter the folder name of the given section of your site and click the looking glass icon. Once you click the icon, you will only see landing page data for your selected section of your website. The graph at the top also becomes useful in that you are now able to view a chart for performance for only a given section of a website.

Although it takes a little bit of time to view this data for all sections of a given website, it is useful for viewing relative performance of site sections across a number of metrics.

One trend that is useful for specifically SEO purposes is finding sections of a website that have very low traffic and that also don’t convert well. For these “lower quality” sections of your website, do a site: command and record the number of pages indexed. Now you can evaluate the pages more closely and decide if either content that should be to be better optimizing or if the low performing ought to be reduced or otherwise removed.

Viewing landing pages report by site sections has also been widely used for identifying sections of a site that are more or less greatly hit by a Panda Update.

Keyword Level

Keyword level research has become more difficult, due to Google’s decision to remove some organic referrer data. Generally speaking, viewing just a keyword report isn’t the most useful for analyzing keyword level data.

A better way to go: view keyword data from the landing pages report. The benefit of viewing the data using the landing pages report is that keywords are grouped by landing page and instances of (Not Provided) are also grouped by landing page.

Exporting this data can be used for further research into what ranking position is for a given keyword. This data can also be combined with Google Webmaster Tools data as well as well as other third party tools.

For content research purposes specifically, keyword level data can identify longer tail keywords for which you are bringing in good quality traffic. You can make this information actionable by using it to identify which of these keywords need better on-page optimization.

As you view keyword data along with landing pages data, make sure to have the landing page open, so you can easily see where the deficiencies are. Also, try think about changes to be make on your site in terms of sections, so ask yourself during your research: How can we improve our category page?

Avoid thinking in terms of single pages or single keywords, unless you see something really earth shattering. This will help you avoid missing the forest for the trees.

Additional Things To Consider

Internal Site Search

Internal site search tracking is useful for content analysis. If you don’t have this set up in your Google Analytics, do it today.

In cases where internal site search is a secondary action on your website, it can be used to find new content or keyword opportunities that you may be missing. Here is an article exploring the benefits and uses of internal site search further detail.

User Engagement

Although the focus of my article is mainly content performance for an SEO standpoint, not even mentioning engagement would be an oversight. Here is a good article by Avinash Kaushik for getting on the right track in terms of thinking about user engagement.

Additional Resources

Tools

  • Chartelligence: Although this plugin is a little beyond the scope of cut and dry content analysis, it’s very cool because it allows you to overlay Panda updates over your Google Analytics. This is useful for when you’re doing content analytics for Panda purposes to see if traffic changes in analytics coincide with Google’s updates.

Forget Rankings: Here Are 6 SEO Metrics That Matter

It would be an understatement to say that the SEO landscape has changed a lot through the years. In just the last two years the changes have been dramatic.

Panda and Penguin top the list as the most visible game-changers, but there is another one that occurred somewhat under the radar – but has been equally dramatic in its impact on SEO.

That change is Search Plus Your World. In a nutshell, Search+ personalizes your search results. Google evaluates your location, brand mentions, your friend’s search history, who is in your social media sphere and even your search history.

Think custom-tailored results.

What that means is you and I could both search for “swine flu” or “tablet” and come up with different results. Each of our respective result pages will be tailored toward those factors I mentioned above.

When the number of searches for those terms multiply into the thousands – now you, as an SEO practitioner, have a problem. A typical client is looking for consistent rankings in the top three spots on a number of key terms. That’s what he’s been trained to expect. He or she is thinking old-school search, and will be sorely disappointed in your results.

What you need to get him to think about are the new-school SEO reports, because Search+ killed normal rankings. What exactly are those new reports? Here are the six you need to pull from Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools.

1. Average Rankings

Obviously Google knew what they were thinking when they developed Search+ from both sides of the equation. They are trying to give the end users the best possible results out there, while giving SEO practitioners, who are on the other side of the equation, the tools they need to stay on top of the game.

This is where the Average Rankings report comes in. Here’s how Google explained it:

google-average-ranking-example

Average Ranking gives you the ability to gauge how many links in Google are being seen across the board. In other words, it’s a weighted measure of all impressions.

Start with this metric because the client, no matter what you tell them, will still want to see ranking reports. You probably won’t be able to break him of that. So, generate an average ranking report and show them how their pages and website is performing overall.

2. Impressions

An impression report used to be the redheaded stepchild of SEO. Who cared about how many times your search query listing appeared? Who cared about eyeballs? What you want is action – people clicking through to the site.

So in the old days of Internet marketing you’d use impression against click-through rate to develop a conversion ratio. That was something you could visibly improve upon.

Well, now that we’re in the world of Search+ it’s again important to know how many eyeballs there are on a comparative search term. You can’t work the white hat tactics anymore and nab number one, so now you need to know who is seeing what, where and how often.

What you really want to know is if your page is even showing up for your keywords. And where.

But impressions probably don’t mean what you think it means. And this is critical if you want precise tracking. See, Google looks at two things when it comes to impressions.

For example, if you do a non-personalized search on Google with “Search Engine Watch,” this is what you will get:

search-engine-watch-google-sitelinks-non-personalized

Google displays seven possible URLs you could click on. But don’t count that as seven separate impressions. What you see above is one impression.

Here’s where it gets tricky: a hit on one of the sitelinks equals a hit to the top level domain. When people are clicking through to a page from a search query listing you might see an inflation of your top-level domain hits. So, if you want to deliver accurate reports, make the necessary adjustments.

However, if on the same page you have two different listings (your root and an interior page), then these listings will count as two separate impressions.

3. Visitor Growth

visitor-growth-graph-google-analytics

The next report you need to train your client to love is the visitor growth report in Google Analytics. It’s a baseline growth metric. What I like about this report is its simplicity: the trend shoud be going up. If it’s doing that, then you’re succeeding. If it is flat-lined or going down, you’re failing.

The other thing about this report your client might like is that you can calculate expected qualified leads from traffic – or your reach.

It’s necessary to report accurately by separating the new visitors and the repeat because that will impact your reports. For example, pulling in repeat visitors is a good sign that your content is compelling. If the ratio is skewed to new visitors, however, you might be delivering good headlines, but not substantial content.

4. Conversions

campaign-conversions-google-analytics

A conversion is what happens when somebody successfully completes a goal you’ve created in Google Analytics. These goals include things like buying or subscribing on a landing page.

This report will help your client see how those impressions that lead to visitors are actually turning into profit. This is also how to evaluate ads, copy and keywords. Are they working together? Can you isolate the weak link? Where are people leaving your site in your sales cycle? Conversion goals will help you decide.

This report is all about conversion, and that is decided on two measurements:

  • One-per-click: A one-click conversion means you’re measuring a single action like signing up for a newsletter or downloading a report. A conversion equals someone successfully performing your goal. Your ratio is simple: impressions versus conversions.
  • Many-per-click: Sometimes you have goals that don’t end with a single action – like when you’re trying to measure the path an agent takes through your purchase path. This will demand you use a many-per-click measurement.

5. Exact Match

adwords-keywords-google-analytics-exact-match

If you take a peek at the Google Analytics exact match you’ll notice that it looks a lot like the PPC exact match: you’re targeting a specific URL, and will only get reports delivered on that particular URL.

Who should care about this? Established businesses that are going through a rebrand (you’ll want to avoid domains with keywords and focus on your brand name, which is what people will search for). Or even new businesses where local search (establishing the city name in the URL) is a key part of your SEO strategy.

This is important because you can narrow your efforts to one very precise URL – and eliminating any confusion that might come up from similar URLs. Say you’re targeting /purchase-chickens. Google Analytics will ignore all variables that might fall under that variable (/purchase-chickens.html for example. If you want to measure that URL, then create a separate goal).

6. Regular Expressions Match

I like to view regular expressions match as an extension of exact match because it allows you to bring under one umbrella similar goals. Using our example from above, inside Google Analytics identify your regular expression match by typing in “^/purchase-chickens”. In essence, you’re telling Google Analytics to hunt down metrics on any page within that family of URLs: /purchase-chickens.html, /purchase-chickens/blog and so on.

What you won’t see are URLs with those keywords, but flopped: blog/purchase-chicken or subscribe/purchase-chicken (you can find that data, however, by using the $ symbol instead of the ^ symbol).

Conclusion

Being a metrics rock star is definitely a requirement in this new world of SEO rules where the landscape is changing daily and c-level executives are demanding more and more accountability when it comes to your SEO endeavors.

In other words, you have to validate your work.

But that’s always been the case, really. Yet, now, validating your work is getting easier when you know the right metrics to share – and how to explain them to your client or boss.

Armed with these new tools you can explain how high rankings alone are not enough (or even the most important factor) when it comes to search. You can tell them that conversion is what counts. And you know how to increase their conversion.

10 SEO Considerations for a Content Management System

Solving content management system (CMS) issues is one of the 10 most important lessonsSEO professionals need to learn. Let’s explore from an SEO perspective the 10 issues that are the most important watch items when considering a CMS, as well as address some of the functionality that you should look for when evaluating the SEO-friendliness of a CMS. 

1. Must be Able to Customize Page Titles, Meta Data

Any good CMS should allow for customization of:

  • Page title
  • Meta description tag
  • Meta keyword tag
  • H tags

All of these fields should be able to be independent of one another (H1 not based on Page Title, etc) if desired even if the default behavior does make them dependant. The option should be available to customize any of these fields without a character limitation. However, there should also be a capability to auto populate these fields based on custom rules in order to automate the population of these fields if necessary.

2. Drop-Down Navigation Menus Built in CSS

Drop-down navigation menus are very important internal link structures that contribute to SEO performance. They serve as votes of relevancy from every page of your site back to your most important pages. It’s critical that search engines can index them.

Ensure that your drop-down menus aren’t built using JavaScript, Flash, or JQuery but rather that they are built using CSS. While it is possible for Google to index some JavaScript menus, it’s recommended that you avoid JavaScript based navigation menus as most engines can’t process these and even Google can have issues with them, depending on how they are coded.

Also make sure that you can customize the link text in your drop down menus and that the link text is not dependant on the title of the page that it points to.

As a side note, this also applies to old school JavaScript selector menus that are indexed as text and not links.

3. URL Structure

Ensuring that your CMS system is capable of producing SEO-friendly URLs is a must. It is preferable but not required that you are able to create static, keyword focused URLs (for example http://www.domain.com/keyword1/keyword2/index.html).

However the biggest issue with CMS systems that must be considered is that they only produce one unique URL for any given page of content. For example, if you have a product page where the URL is dependent on the navigation path, you may have issues if the product appears in more than one category.

Here is an example: I once had a client that sold dresses. A particular dress could be a wedding dress or it could be a prom dress depending on how the user found it on the site. The same dress lived in two locations: http://www.domain.com/wedding/item1.html as well as http://www.domain.com/prom/item1.html. Therefore the same content was displayed on two unique URLs. This system created a lot of duplicate content. The solution was to reconfigure the URL path to the dress to one absolute URL: http://www.domain.com/item1.html.

If your CMS produces multiple URLs for the same page of content, you may have a duplicate content problem. Also, avoid CMS systems that use session IDs or dynamic URLs that change every time they get a new visitor.

4. Support for the rel=canonical Tag

The rel=canonical tag is a great way to prevent many duplicate content issues. It essentially specifies a URL path for any specific page of content.

It is especially useful for anyone using tracking codes on links to track campaigns. If you don’t know what this tag does, please visit this page.

Make sure that your CMS is able to add this tag and customize it on a per page level.

5. XML Sitemap Creation Function

There are actually a number of ways to produce XML sitemaps so this isn’t a deal breaker if a CMS can’t produce an XML sitemap. However, it sure does make life easier if your system can automate the production of your site map.

6. No Frames / Iframes

Search engines have a very difficult time understanding frames and can’t properly index iframe content (the engine will credit the iframe URL and not the URL where the content is actually displayed). CMS systems shouldn’t use frames or rely on frames or iframes for displaying content.

7. 301 Redirects, Not 302

Make sure that any redirects produced by your CMS return a 301 header status code and not a 302 to ensure proper indexing. CMS systems should by default support 301 redirects and avoid 302 redirects or meta refreshes. 301 redirects are the only mechanism that transfers link connectivity metrics from the old URL to the new URL.

302 redirects do not transfer link connectivity metrics and may cause duplicate content problems. To check your redirects, enter a URL that has a direct into the tool on this page.

8. Pagination

In order to consolidate link metrics across multiple product pages that feature the same type of products, it’s useful that your CMS system support the rel=next / rel=prev tags. For more information about the proper use and implementation of these tags, please see this page.

9. Custom Alt Tags

The ability to customize the text of all attributes is a mandatory requirement for your CMS. Search engines see non-linked image alt tags as page content which contributes to the keyword relevancy of the page that the image is hosted on.

Search engines see image alt tags that are links as a replacement for link text. They affect the pages that they are hosted on but have even more impact on the pages that their links point to. Matt Cutts has recommended that alt tags be 4 to 7 words in length.

Note that link title attributes on text links are useful for user experience but don’t impact search.

10. Breadcrumb Navigation

CMS systems should support the customization of breadcrumb navigation. Breadcrumb navigation is very important for user experience as well as link connectivity for pages not found in the Global navigation template.

Breadcrumb navigation can be driven by page titles as a default behavior but should allow for unique, keyword focused customization where appropriate. Additionally, breadcrumb navigation functionality shouldn’t create unique URL paths.

Bonus Recommendation: Supports Microformat Data

A number of data types have specific microformats that increase their visibility in search. Your CMS should support the implementation of these microdata formats.

Microformat data types include:

  • Reviews
  • People
  • Products
  • Businesses and Organizations
  • Recipes
  • Events
  • Videos

Each of these data types has a unique micro data format.

Google provides more detailed information about micro-formats here.

Extra Bonus Recommendation: Avoid Flash

Small Flash elements can be useful in augmenting the appearance of a website, but avoid using Flash to display important content, especially navigation menus, as search engines still don’t index Flash that well.

I have had numerous experiences where someone’s entire site was built in Flash and they have asked me why they don’t show up in search. When I show them Google’s text cache for their homepage and they see a blank page, that’s when the light bulb usually turns on.

Conclusion

Hopefully these watch items give you a better perspective in what to look for when evaluating the SEO-friendliness of a CMS system.

A good CMS can have a dramatic impact on your SEO performance and conversely, a bad CMS can kill your SEO program and any hope you have of success. Take the time to evaluate how yours may be affecting your program.

 

Google’s Cutts Say Penguin Is About Links?

The majority of SEOs believe Google’s Penguin update is about links and it is a link based algorithm.

Google has never fully confirmed it is a primarily link based algorithm but maybe that has changed? 

Google’s Matt Cutts responded to a question on Twitter saying:

The hard part here is that Matt was not being specific in his response. Yes, he was responding to the question that read:

Matt, can you please tell us exactly what to fix now then so we are not caught off guard? Don’t give us the secret sauce, just be transparent and say “watch your linking text” or “check your HTML for inadvertent alt attributes with keywords in them” or “delete all your old links on “put-it-there-yourself” pages (or nofollow them)” or whatever this new penguin eats 🙂 That would be awesome transparency that does not give anything new away, just focuses our efforts. Thanks!

But is that response a general response or a Penguin specific response?

Only Matt knows for sure, but I thought I point it out.

I did ask Matt what he was referring to specifically but I did not yet receive a response.

Forum discussion at Twitter.

 

 

 

7 Habits of Highly Effective SEO

When I started my professional career (selling advertising), one of the most influential books that I read at the time was “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“, by Stephen Covey.

It’s not much of an over-statement to say that this book changed my life.

What’s interesting to me is how many of the tenets that Mr. Covey conveyed in this book hold true in many facets of my life, and specifically with digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).

I speak to many prospects for SEO services, every day. Some of these believe that SEO is a one-and-done affair.

While I find instances where companies could see some solid gains by simply implementing propertitle tags and correcting a few things, more often than not, proper SEO efforts need to be worked on a regular basis to realize the types of gains that can deliver really solid, long-lasting and “optimized” (optimal) results.

Every SEO company will have its own processes for performing SEO, and I’m not suggesting that what follows covers everything that goes into an ongoing SEO effort, but the key ingredients are here.

*Note: items in italics come directly from Stephen Covey’s website.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have little or no control, proactive people focus their time and energy on things they can control. The problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas–Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.

Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about: health, children, problems at work. Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern–things over which they have little or no control: the national debt, terrorism, the weather. Gaining an awareness of the areas in which we expend our energies in is a giant step in becoming proactive.

In our world, being proactive means you can’t chase an algorithm.

What we can focus on are those things that we can control, which is develop a sound web presence that the search engines “should want to” rank – one that:

There are many things that are within our circle of influence, such as:

  • Selecting the right keywords to target.
  • Building quality websites.
  • Making sure that content is crawlable/indexable.
  • Developing sitemaps.
  • Maintaining clean code.
  • Promoting content.
  • Distributing press releases.

While we must be aware, and understand, things like Google Panda/Penguin and other major changes in the algorithms, if we focus on doing “good marketing”, all other things should fall in line, and major algorithm changes shouldn’t be a concern.

You want to try to build a company’s web presence that the search engines should want to rank. Perhaps, that way, you aren’t reacting to algorithms but actually working “ahead” of any algorithm changes.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

So, what do you want to be when you grow up? That question may appear a little trite, but think about it for a moment. Are you–right now–who you want to be, what you dreamed you’d be, doing what you always wanted to do? Be honest. Sometimes people find themselves achieving victories that are empty–successes that have come at the expense of things that were far more valuable to them. If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.

Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.

I have often asked prospects this very question (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”). Without knowing where you’d like to be, how do you get there? What are the goals?

When I hear “I want to rank for this one specific keyword”, I am very inclined to elect not to work with that company. I’m not about “empty” success.

When I hear “we’d like to grow sales by X” or “we’d like to grow traffic by Y,” then I know that there is potential in an ongoing relationship.

Once we’ve determined that there may be a fit, it is the responsibility of any good SEO to lay out a plan based upon the end goals, and begin the process of developing the necessary steps to achieve the end goal.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. There’s no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it’s all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.

Habit 1 says, “You’re in charge. You’re the creator.” Being proactive is about choice. Habit 2 is the first, or mental, creation. Beginning with the End in Mind is about vision. Habit 3 is the second creation, the physical creation. This habit is where Habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment-by-moment. It deals with many of the questions addressed in the field of time management. But that’s not all it’s about. Habit 3 is about life management as well–your purpose, values, roles, and priorities. What are “first things?” First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth. If you put first things first, you are organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities you established in Habit 2.

Often, when performing a competitive analysis, we find websites that are quite successful (getting a lot of quality organic search traffic for keywords that we’d like to target). When we can identify those top competitors and uncover the reasons why they are successful, we can reverse engineer their success and build a program based upon “best practices”.

When you compare the reasons why a competitor may have more success than you, you can begin to develop a program based upon address those “holes” (deficiencies) and scope out a project plan, accordingly.

If you’re like most, you may not have an unlimited budget and you’ll need to prioritize your efforts. For some, link building may be the most glaring need. For others, a lack of content to support ranking for keywords in the issue.

However you go about getting to the end goal, you must understand the end goal – first – in order to understand the prioritization of steps necessary to be successful.

For SEO programs, most agree upon a common “hierarchy of needs”. As a general rule, this is a good illustration of those (SEO) needs:

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!

A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:

  • Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  • Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others
  • Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone

From an industry standpoint, someone who has done a tremendous job in understanding this “habit” very well is Rand Fishkin. From my recollection, Fishkin was the first person to take his “corporate website” and turn it (largely) into a blog.

Fishkin then proceeded to “give away” his IP (Intellectual Property). Anything that he knew, or thought, or whatever was posted for the community at large to read, disseminate, comment and – yes – share (links).

I don’t know when that was, but it seemed very early (Rand, if you read this, I’d love for you to comment). Fishkin understood something that took me a while to wrap my head around: the more you give, the more you get. This has been the foundation of my advice for folks getting into social media, and it’s something that I can now demonstrate results from, myself.

My company’s website has earned most of its links through our blog. We try to write helpful, interesting posts and we promote those posts. Sometimes, we earn some pretty significant/“good” links.

I’ve also been writing for Search Engine Watch and/or Clickz for a little over 5 years now, and have been a speaker at industry conferences for a little over 6 years. “Giving away” content is a good thing (I’ve earned speaking engagements, new business and – yes – some links, because of these efforts). You get rewarded, if not immediately.

Convincing companies (clients, in my case) that they, too, need to consider this can be a challenge. But, if you step forward with proving helpful/resourceful content (even if your competitors are reading it), you position yourself as a thought-leader and can win “on the back end.”

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?

If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.

Without understanding this principle, you may try to target keywords that you think everyone should be searching for, rather than doing the research to see how people actually search for your products and/or services.

How many SEOs out there have worked with companies that are clearly determined to push forward on their way of describing their products/services, even though research shows that no one is searching in that manner? I refer to this as CEO-itis. That is, the CEO has his vernacular and is very determined to have a website full of fluff content rather than crafting content to be more in line with reality.

When you listen first, and then understand, you have a much better chance at success. The same can be said about success social media marketing efforts.

Habit 6: Synergize

To put it simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one.” Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. But it doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experience and expertise to the table. Together, they can produce far better results that they could individually. Synergy lets us discover jointly things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves. It is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one equals three, or six, or sixty–you name it.

A proper SEO effort is one in which PPC works with SEO, PR works with SEO, social marketing works with SEO, copywriting works with SEO, video/image teams work with SEO, web design/development teams work with SEO, and IT teams work with SEO.

Getting this synergy in place can lead to beautiful results. However, if synergy isn’t in place, you can’t expect to realize optimal results.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish.

SEO, when done well, isn’t a one-and-done affair. Optimization of results, via analytics review/analysis, usability reviews, on-going tweaking/refining of on-page/off-page SEO and conversion optimization lead to better and better results, over time.

You must sharpen the saw and always consider how things can be better. Certainly, new and interesting opportunities present themselves all the time.

If you had “completed” an SEO effort several years ago, you might not have been taking advantage of “new” opportunities such as local, news SEO, video SEO, shopping feed optimization or even blogging/social promotion.

Things change, and we must always look for ways to be better at our craft and seek out new/interesting opportunities for advancement of the SEO efforts.

Footnote

I need to provide a shout-out to Neil Patel for this particular column. While the idea for this column was 100 percent mine, I did a search and found that he had written a similar post (that I encourage you to read) titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective SEOs”.

3 Questions To Ask Your B2B SEO Expert

Whether you’ve hired a search marketing agency or are using in-house resources, how do you know if your B2B SEO expert is doing a great job? Three simple questions that all business marketers should ask about their B2B SEO program are:

  1. How does our SEO plan differ from a consumer-oriented (B2C) SEO program?
  2. Specifically what B2B SEO methodologies are you implementing?
  3. How does the SEO program directly contribute to my business goals and marketing objectives?

1.  Unique Aspects Of Your B2B SEO Plan

Evaluate your expert’s understanding of your specific B2B market. Ensure that you are not getting a one-size-fits-all solution. While many fundamental elements of SEO implementation remain the same for B2B and B2C websites, make sure your SEO partner understands the ways in which you want to engage your business audience.

Specifically, do they understand your customers’ research and buying process? Ask your expert about how your SEO Plan and Keyword Map addresses searcher behavior at each phase of the buying cycle.

Typical B2B Buying Cycle Process

Is your SEO expert optimizing for the following types of search phrases:

  • General market research terms
  • Product/service evaluation phrases
  • Purchase-ready queries

Here is a sampling of keywords from a SEO Plan that spans all buying cycle steps for an ERP software company:

General Market Research Terms Product Evaluation Terms Purchase-Ready Terms
ERP softwareERP software whitepaper ERP product comparison chart  ERP software pricingERP service agreement

2.  Review Specific Methodologies

While this may seem like a basic question, it is important to remain well informed as to specifically what your B2B SEO expert is doing on your behalf. Is their SEO implementation plan in line with the guidelines set forth by the search engines? Does the plan focus on the tasks which are most impactful to your business? Also known as “white hat”, strategies that do not violate these guidelines can be very effective.

Things like improving the quality of your site’s content, removing any road blocks to search engine access, ensuring appropriate page load speeds, creating compelling Title tags (note I use the word compelling – not “full of keywords”) all fall within the scope of acceptable practices. If your SEO professional is not willing to share their methodologies, that should be a major red flag.

In particular, you should ask about any link-building efforts they have underway. The search engines, especially Google, have taken steps in the last year to weed out sites that have used unfavorable methods for link-building.

I recommend that you ask your SEO expert these 4 specific link-related questions:

  1. Specifically where are the links being placed?  Can they provide a list of URLs?
  2. Why are those websites/blogs/forums placing a link to your website?
  3. Is the content on the website directly related to the link?
  4. Does the link have marketing value or is it only there for a potential impact on rankings?

It is essential to know that you are in complete compliance with the search engine guidelines, specifically where links are concerned. Links should be on credible websites that are topically related to your own website.

Links should not be purchased (this is not the same as advertising on a website, which is fine as long as it is clearly defined as an advertisement). And a link from any website should provide assistance to marketing and branding efforts – not just to help boost rankings.

Search Engines take offense to anyone trying to “game the system” by violating their guidelines. Even Google had to penalize itself when a vendor violated quality guidelines to promote Google Chrome.

In order to protect your brand, reputation and organic traffic, it is imperative to have full disclosure from your SEO expert on their efforts. If they are unwilling to comply with this request, it is probably time to part ways.

3.  Measurable Impact On Business Goals & Marketing Objectives

It can be easy to get side tracked by ranking for your “money phrase” and lose sight of the things that directly impact the success of your SEO efforts. While rankings are the means to an end (increased rankings should lead to increased traffic), the more important factor is whether or not the organic traffic is qualified.

Are they engaging with your website? Is your lead generation improving? It is essential to keep your “eye on the ball” by clearly defining what success looks like to your B2B company.

For example, user engagement on your website is likely a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). The amount of time a user spends learning about your company can directly impact their next steps in your buying cycle.

Here are some important B2B SEO metrics to consider:

  • Amount of time organic visitors spend on the site when searching with branded vs. non-branded keywords/phrases.
  • Volume of returning visitors using branded phrases in their search queries.
  • Critical engagement steps such as viewing a case study or downloading a whitepaper.
  • Organic conversion funnels, events and goals.

Due to the complexity of the sales process generally associated with many B2B websites, calculating ROI on a SEO program is far more difficult than with an ecommerce site with clear revenue tracking.

Businesses generally do not make “impulse buys”; therefore, they spend a lot of time understanding their needs, assessing possible solutions, and comparing options before engaging/purchasing.

By understanding the goals of your SEO program and clearly communicating what you consider to be the KPIs of your website in relation to the buying cycle of your service or product, your SEO partner should be able to demonstrate their success (or failure). If your SEO expert is a true pro, they will also constantly suggest ways to improve upon your KPIs.

Ensure B2B SEO Success

If your SEO professional can answer these questions to your satisfaction, you can be comfortable that you are in good hands. You are holding them accountable, understanding their practices for SEO implementation, and ensuring they are focused on the goals and objectives of your company. I recommend that you ask these questions of your SEO expert on at least a quarterly basis to confirm that your SEO program stays on track and is successfully meeting your business goals.