Dear Google, Links from YouMoz Don’t Violate Your Quality Guidelines

Posted by randfish

Recently, Moz contributor Scott Wyden, a photographer in New Jersey, received a warning in his Google Webmaster Tools about some links that violated Google’s Quality Guidelines. Many, many site owners have received warnings like this, and while some are helpful hints, many (like Scott’s) include sites and links that clearly do not violate the guidelines Google’s published.

Here’s a screenshot of Scott’s reconsideration request:

(note that the red text was added by Scott as a reminder to himself)

As founder, board member, and majority shareholder of Moz, which owns Moz.com (of which YouMoz is a part), I’m here to tell Google that Scott’s link from the YouMoz post was absolutely editorial. Our content team reviews every YouMoz submission. We reject the vast majority of them. We publish only those that are of value and interest to our community. And we check every frickin’ link.

Scott’s link, ironically, came from this post about Building Relationships, Not Links. It’s a good post with helpful information, good examples, and a message which I strongly support. I also, absolutely, support Scott’s earning of a link back to his Photography SEO community and to his page listing business books for photographers (this link was recently removed from the post at Scott’s request). Note that “Photography SEO community” isn’t just a descriptive name, it’s also the official brand name of the site Scott built. Scott linked the way I believe content creators should on the web: with descriptive anchor text that helps inform a reader what they’re going to find on that page. In this case, it may overlap with keywords Scott’s targeting for SEO, but I find it ridiculous to hurt usability in the name of tiptoeing around Google’s potential overenforcement. That’s a one-way ticket to a truly inorganic, Google-shaped web.

If Google doesn’t want to count those links, that’s their business (though I’d argue they’re losing out on a helpful link that improves the link graph and the web overall). What’s not OK is Google’s misrepresentation of Moz’s link as “inorganic” and “in violation of our quality guidelines” in their Webmaster Tools.

I really wish YouMoz was an outlier. Sadly, I’ve been seeing more and more of these frustratingly misleading warnings from Google Webmaster Tools.

(via this tweet)

Several months ago, Jen Lopez, Moz’s director of community, had an email conversation with Google’s Head of Webspam, Matt Cutts. Matt granted us permission to publish portions of that discussion, which you can see below:

Jen Lopez: Hey Matt,

I made the mistake of emailing you while you weren’t answering outside emails for 30 days. :D I wanted to bring this up again though because we have a question going on in Q&A right now about the topic. People are worried that they can’t guest post on Moz: http://moz.com/community/q/could-posting-on-youmoz-get-your-penalized-for-guest-blogging because they’ll get penalized. I was curious if you’d like to jump in and respond? Or give your thoughts on the topic?

Thanks!

Matt Cutts: Hey, the short answer is that if a site A links to spammy sites, that can affect site A’s reputation. That shouldn’t be a shock–I think we’ve talked about the hazards of linking to bad neighborhoods for a decade or so.

That said, with the specific instance of Moz.com, for the most part it’s an example of a site that does good due diligence, so on average Moz.com is linking to non-problematic sites. If Moz were to lower its quality standards then that could eventually affect Moz’s reputation.

The factors that make things safer are the commonsense things you’d expect, e.g. adding a nofollow will eliminate the linking issue completely. Short of that, keyword rich anchortext is higher risk than navigational anchortext like a person or site’s name, and so on.”

Jen, in particular, has been a champion of high standards and non-spammy guest publishing, and I’m very appreciative to Matt for the thoughtful reply (which matches our beliefs). Her talk at SMX Sydney—Guest Blogging Isn’t Dead, But Blogging Just for Links Is—and her post—Time for Guest Blogging With a Purpose—helps explain Moz’s position on the subject (one I believe Google shares). 

I can promise that our quality standards are only going up (you can read Keri’s post on YouMoz policies to get a sense of how seriously we take our publishing), that Scott’s link in particular was entirely editorial, organic, and intentional, and that we take great steps to insure that all of our authors and links are carefully vetted.

We’d love if Google’s webmaster review team used the same care when reviewing and calling out links in Webmaster Tools. It would help make the web (and Google’s search engine) a better place.

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The Broken Art of Company Blogging (and the Ignored Metric that Could Save Us All)

Posted by evolvingSEOThe perception of success
The following screenshot is from an actual blog post. Based upon what you see here, would you call it successful?

I think it depends on perception.
The optimist might see this…

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Calculating Estimated ROI for a Specific Site & Body of Keywords

Posted by shannonskinner

One of the biggest challenges for SEO is proving its worth. We all know it’s valuable, but it’s important to convey its value in terms that key stakeholders (up to and including CEOs) understand. To do that, I put together a process to calculate an estimate of ROI for implementing changes to keyword targeting.

In this post, I will walk through that process, so hopefully you can do the same for your clients (or as an in-house SEO to get buy-in), too!

Overview

  1. Gather your data
    1. Keyword Data
    2. Strength of your Preferred URLs
    3. Competition URLs by Keyword
    4. Strength of Competition URLs
  2. Analyze the Data by Keyword
  3. Calculate your potential opportunity

What you need

There are quite a few parts to this recipe, and while the calculation part is pretty easy, gathering the data to throw in the mix is the challenging part. I’ll list each section here, including the components of each, and then we can go through how to retrieve each of them. 

  • Keyword data

    • list of keywords
    • search volumes for each keyword
    • preferred URLs on the site you’re estimating ROI
    • current rank
    • current ranking URL
  • Strength of your preferred URLs

    • De-duplicated list of preferred URLs
    • Page Authorities for each preferred URL
    • BONUS: External & Internal Links for each URL. You can include any measure you like here, as long as it’s something that can be compared (i.e. a number).
  • Where the competition sits

    • For each keyword, the sites that are ranking 1-10 in search currently
  • Strength of the competition

    • De-duplicated list of competing URLs
    • Page Authorities, Domain Authorities, 
    • BONUS: External & Internal Links, for each competing URL. Include any measure you’ve included on the Strength of Your Preferred URLs list.


How to get what you need


There has been quite a lot written about keyword research, so I won’t go into too much detail here. For the Keyword data list, the important thing is to get whatever keywords you’d like to assess into a spreadsheet, and include all the information listed above. You’ll have to select the preferred URLs based on what you think the strongest-competing and most appropriate URL would be for each keyword. 


For the
Preferred URLs list, you’ll want to use the data that’s in your keyword data under the preferred URL.

  1. Copy the preferred URL data from your Keyword Data into a new tab. 
  2. Use the Remove Duplicates tool (Data>Data Tools in Excel) to remove any duplicated URLs

Once you have the list of de-duplicated preferred URLs, you’ll need to pull the data from Open Site Explorer for these URLs. I prefer using the Moz API with SEOTools. You’ll have to install it to use it for Excel, or if you’d like to take a stab at using it in Google Docs, there are some resources available for that. Unfortunately, with the most recent update to Google Spreadsheets, I’ve had some difficulty with this method, so I’ve gone with Excel for now. 

Once you’ve got SEOTools installed, you can make the call “=MOZ_URLMetrics_toFit([enter your cells])”. This should give you a list of URL titles, canonical URLs, External & Internal links, as well as a few other metrics and DA/PA. 


For the
Where the competition sits list, you’ll first need to perform a search for each of your keywords. Obviously, you could do this manually, or if you have exportable data from a keyword ranking tool and you’ve been ranking the keywords you’d like to look at, you could use either of these methods. If you don’t have those, you can use the hacky method that I did–basically, use the ImportXML command in Google Spreadsheets to grab the top ranking URLs for each query. 

I’ve put a sample version of this together, which you can access here. A few caveats: you should be able to run MANY searches in a row–I had about 850 for my data, and they ran fine. Google will block your IP address, though, if you run too many, and what I found is that I needed to copy out my results as values into a different spreadsheet once I’d gotten them, because they timed out relatively quickly, but you can just put them into the Excel spreadsheet you’re building to make the ROI calculations (you’ll need them there anyway!).


From this list, you can pull each URL into a single list, and de-duplicate as explained for the preferred URLs list to generate the
Strength of the Competition list, and then run the analysis you did with the preferred URLs to generate the same data for these URLs as you did for the preferred URLs with SEOTools for Excel. 


Making your data work for you

Once you’ve got these lists, you can use some VLOOKUP magic to pull in the information you need. I used the
Where the competition sits list as the foundation of my work. 

From there, I pulled in the corresponding preferred URL and its Page Authority, as well as the PAs and DAs for each URL currently ranking 1-10. I then was able to calculate an average PA & DA for each query, and could compare the page I want to rank to this. I estimated the chances that the page I wanted to rank (given that I’d already determined these were relevant pages) could rank with better keyword targeting.

Here’s where things get interesting. You can be rather conservative, and only sum search volumes of keywords you’re fairly confident your site can rank, which is my preferred method. That’s because I use this method primarily to determine if I’m on the right track–whether making these recommendations are really worth the time to get implemented. So I’m going to move forward assuming I’m counting only the search volumes of terms I think I’m quite competitive for, AND that I’m not yet ranking for on page 1. 


Now, you want to move to your analytics data in order to calculate a few things: 

  • Conversion Rate
  • Average order value
  • Previous year’s revenue (for the section you’re looking at)

I’ve set up my sample data in this spreadsheet that you can refer to or use to make your own calculations. 

Each of the assumptions can be adjusted depending on the actual site data, or using estimates. I’m using very very generic overall CTR estimates, but you can select which you’d like and get as granular as you want! The main point for me is really getting to two numbers that I can stand by as pretty good estimates: 

  • Annual Impact (Revenue $$)
  • Increase in Revenue ($$) from last year

This is because, for higher-up folks, money talks. Obviously, this won’t be something you can promise, but it gives them a metric that they understand to really wrap their head around the value that you’re potentially brining to the table if the changes you’re recommending can be made. 

There are some great tools for estimating this kind of stuff on a smaller scale, but for a massive body of keyword data, hopefully you will find this process useful as well. Let me know what you think, and I’d love to see what parts anyone else can streamline or make even more efficient. 

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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How to Prove ROI Potential of Content Campaigns – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by iPullRank
We all know that creating and promoting content can be a ton of work (not to mention expensive). So how do we know whether it’ll be worth it? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, MozCon 2014 speaker Mike King shows you several w…

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Building Better Content By Improving Upon Your Competitors

Posted by Bill.Sebald

In rock n’ roll music, stealing is expected. Led Zepplin allegedly lifted from lots of earlier blues and folk artists. The famous I-IV-V chord progression of The Wild One’s song “Wild Thing” was used only a couple years later on “Mony, Mony.” My favorite example of musical larceny - “Let It Be” by The Beatles, “Farmhouse” by Phish, and “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley are built around the exact same chord progression. Yet in all these cases, the songs were tweaked enough to stand on their own in meaning, served as distinct entities, and inspired unique feelings from the listener. Granted record company execs often disapproved, but some artists were often flattered to see interpretations of their riffs and progressions. At the end of the day, this is what spawned (and advanced) the rock music genre. Sometimes stealing is the engine of innovation.

Your idea isn’t new. Pick an idea; at least 50 other people have thought of it. Get over your stunning brilliance and realize that execution matters more.” —Mark Fletcher of Bloglines.com.

In marketing, we don’t just “steal” the minds of consumers, we sometimes steal – and interpret – from our competitors. Sometimes we’re lazy about it, and sometimes we’re perceived as originals. Remember one of the immutable laws of marketing – always appear to be first. Well then why not be first to make someone’s content strategy more effective (for your own gain)?

Wait - so do I condone being a pickpocket, cat burglar, or politician? No. What I’m suggesting is reviewing what inspires you, analyzing why it was successful, and inspiring yourself to make something better. Better for us, better for our clients, and better for their customers.

Oh no; is this another “Content Is King” post?

I’m not a huge fan of that phrase anymore. SEO has gone through some serious developmental stages in its lifetime. Once the hype was all about “keyword density,” then “anchor text,” then “duplicate content;” now I feel like our latest bandwagon concept is the semi-vague “content is king.”

These are certainly all valid concepts in SEO, but without proper context, they often fall short of sound advice. They become blind directives. So here we are in 2014, with many business executives nodding along, “yes – content is king. I’ve read that a trillion times. We need to crank out 100 posts a month. Go, go go…” But I think this is a problem. Now that SEO is mainstream, there’s so much “good content” that the noise ceiling has simply been raised. I’ve said it before, “Fair-quality copy is becoming the new Google spam.” I go into pitches now where businesses can’t understand why their legacy content isn’t getting searches. In other words, they ask why “content is king” isn’t producing results. It’s usually because content was treated as a homogeneous tactic where a marketing or SEO strategy wasn’t put in place to link the pieces together.

I think it’s time SEOs put that phrase to rest, and start thinking in terms of how a traditional content marketer would think about it. “Content that is unique in value, strong in expertise, provides a necessary point-of-view, and leads the pack in terms of usefulness is more than king - it’s fundamental to success.” A bit of a mouthful (and less sexy), not to mention harder to develop, but it really needs to be adopted.

So if you would, please keep that in mind during this post. Continue on!

What are your competitors doing?

Content ideas come from lots of sources. Some are vapid (like content topic generators) and some are interpreted (like reviewing customer poll results). Often a simple interview with your sales or service team can teach you plenty about the mindset of your consumer. Studying on-page product reviews can also be inspiring. Focus groups, experiments; all this and more can help produce pieces of content that can be strung together and tracked in order to build a truly converting funnel.

We all know the most effective content is inspired by data, versus “crazy ideas” with no concrete evidence quickly thrown against the wall. While this occasionally has some SEO benefit (arguably less and less with Panda updates), it rarely does much for your conversion funnel. It takes that extra digging that some aren’t quick to execute (at least in my experience). But what happens when your competitor is willing to do the work?

That’s where you can learn some interesting things. Marketing espionage!

Granted, most competitors don’t want to share their data with you, no matter how much beer you try to bribe them with (believe me, I’ve tried). We have tools like
SEMrush to estimate search metrics, and services like Hitwise and Compete to get more online visitor data. While that is certainly helpful, it’s still directional. But we’re marketers – so what do we do? We get creative.

How to get a birdseye view of a content play (with common SEO tools)

It’s time to lift the hood. I like to start with 
Screaming Frog. Most SEOs know this tool. If you don’t, it’s a spider that emulates what a search engine spider might find. In my experience there’s no better way to find the topics a website is targeting than with a “screaming” crawl.

Filter down to HTML, and you’ll find the URL, Title Tag, Meta Description, H1, and sometimes the Meta Keyword data. If you already have your own keywords and entities in mind, and want to see what a competitor is doing with them, it’s as simple as searching for them in Screaming Frog (or an excel export) and scanning for it.

Click for a larger image:

Consider this totally random “shammy” example in the screenshot above. If I worked in the shammy business, through a quick scan I might be interested to know that at least one of my competitors found value enough in creating a section around an iPad cloth. Is that a segment I never considered?

Don’t have Screaming Frog? The site:operator is a less powerful option. You can’t export into a spreadsheet without a scrape. 

Ubersuggest or keywordtool.io can be used in clever “quick and dirty” way – put in a keyword you think there’s opportunity for, and add “who,” “what,” “where,” “why,” or “how” to the query. Your fragmented query will often show some questions people have asked Google. After all, plenty of great content is used to answer a query. Search some of these queries in Google and see what competitor content shows up! At the very least, this is a nice way to find more competitors who are active with creating content for their users.

At this point you should be taking notes, jotting down ideas, observations, potential content titles, and questions you want to research. Whether in a spreadsheet or the back of a napkin, you’re now brainstorming with light research. Let your brain-juice flow. You should also be looking for connections between the posts you are finding. Why were they written? How do they link together? What funnels are the calls-to-action suggesting? Take notes on everything, Sherlock!


Collect the right data

Next, step it up with more quantifying data.Time to trim the fat.

Search data

By entering and measuring your extracted in Google’s Keyword Planner, you’ll see not only is there interest in an iPad cleaner (where an “iPad Shammy” might make sense with its own strategy), but some searcher interest in the best ways to clean an iPad. That could be fun, playful content to write – even for a shammy retailer. It could tie directly to products you already sell, or possibly lead you into carrying new products.

Click for a larger image:

Estimated searches don’t tell the whole story. We know plenty of keywords and metrics from this tool are either interpolated or missing. I’ve found that small estimated searches can sometimes still lead to more highly-converting volume than expected. Keep that in mind. 

Social data

What searches enter into Google’s search box isn’t the only indicator of value. Ultimately if nobody likes a certain topic or item your content, they aren’t going to share or link to it. Wouldn’t it be great to have another piece of evidence before you get to structuring a strategy and writing copy? That evidence may lie with your competitors’ social audience.

At this point you have keyword ideas, content titles, sample competitor URLs, and possible strategies sketched out. There are some great tools for checking out what is shared in the social space. TopsySocial Crawlytics, and Buzzsumo are solid selections. You can look up the social popularity of a given URL or domain, and in some cases drill down to influencers. If it’s heavily shared, that may suggest perceived value. 

Click for a larger image:

Look at the image above. If my agency is a competitor of yours, you might be interested that one of my posts got 413 social shares. It was a post called “Old School SEO Tests In Action (A 2014 SEO Experiment)”. You can dig in to see the debates boiling through the comments or the reactions through social media. You can go so far as see who shared the post, how influential these people are, and what kind of topics they usually share. This helps qualify the shares.

With these social metrics I believe It’s reasonably safe to infer people in the SEO space care about experiments, learning about things that move rankings, and that most believe older tactics aren’t worth pursuing. With very little time at all, you might be able to come up with ways to improve upon this post or ideas for your own follow up. Maybe even a counter argument? Looking at who the post resonated with, you could presume my target audience was SEOs with a goal of providing industry insights. With a prominent lead generation form on this post, you might even suspect a secondary interest was as a source of new client leads.

If you surmised any of these things from the social data, you’re 100% right! This was certainly a thought out post with those goals in mind.   

Backlink data

Let’s examine link popularity and return to the shammy industry. Specifically let’s look at a pretty unique item - a shammy for Apple products - 
https://www.klearscreen.com/detail.aspx?ID=11.

  • Open Site Explorer found 1 link from a retailer.
  • Ahrefs found 8 links from 8 domains, one being a forum conversation on Stackexchange.com, and the others from a retailer.
  • Majestic found 13 links from 6 domains. Similiar to what Ahrefs found.
  • WebMeUp found 30 backlinks from 9 domains.

From this data it looks like the iPad shammy market isn’t exactly on fire. Now it doesn’t appear iKlear (or Klear Screen) is doing much marketing for this particular product – at least not according to Google. Their other Apple product cleaners seem to get more attention, but perhaps iKlear simply knows this isn’t a high demand product. It could be true - after all it hasn’t gone viral. It hasn’t generated much in the way of online discussions. But it also hasn’t been marketed much.

This is why all the data needs to be collected, correlated, and analyzed.  You want the best hypothesis you can get before you start committing your time to a content strategy. Did this just kill a possible content strategy for an iPad Shammy, or is this a huge untapped opportunity? It entirely depends on how you interpret all the data you collect. 

You’ve got some ideas; now what’s the execution?

You just did a lot of work. You can’t go off half-cocked throwing up willy-nilly content. Jeepers, no! The next step is the most crucial!

At this point you should have uncovered some great ideas based on your competitor’s clues. Now comes the part where you thoughtfully determine how to implement these ideas and craft a strategic roadmap. The options are endless, which could provide a decision-making struggle. From new microsites to overhauling existing content, there’s so much you can do with the gems you’ve dug up.

Remember to examine what your competitors did. How did they plug everything together? 

But sometimes your competitors don’t have a discernible content strategy. Instead just fragmented content floating like an island. This is even better for you. Now you have opportunity to not only outshine in the actual content, but put together an actual experience that your users will value, thus providing a likely positive SEO result. Here are three options I tend to build a strategy around most often: 

  • Create a new funnel
  • Create content for off-page SEO
  • Create emphasis content

With fresh metrics, the
new funnel is often necessary. Chances are you discovered uncharted territory (at least from your website’s perspective). All future or existing content should have pre-conceived goals – there’s a top and bottom to every funnel, and maybe some strategic off-ramps leading to forms, contact pages, or products. Remember, you’re goal is to be driving the reader through an experience, eliciting emotions and appealing to their needs of which you’ve already built a hypothesis upon. This new funnel can dip into your current website or run parallel (ie, a microsite, sub-domian, or otherwise disconnected grouping). The greatest thing about digital marketing is that nothing is in stone. It’s so easy to test these funnels and redesign with collected data when necessary.


Off-page
is also very common (right link builders?). Find something that is popular, and go share it with sites more popular than yours. Maybe you can even start generating new popularity and create a segment of its own. Build a strategy to take this burgeoning topic and let the widest audience know about it. Get branding, mind share, links, and ideally profit like a beast.

The
“emphasis content” (as I call it) has been a solid go-to plan for me when I discover small pockets of opportunity; notably the stuff that may have a smaller impact and isn’t worth a month long content strategy. If I were to create my own iPad shammy play, based on what I’m seeing so far, I’d probably think about a page or two as emphasis content. 

This content is like an independent port of entry or landing page, either to an existing funnel or a direct money maker. In a previous post I talked about 
creating niche collection pages for eCommerce. That could serve as emphasis content to a parent collection, but I’m usually thinking of heavier use of text in this case. Where you really take your goal, slice it up, and provide nice, beefy communication about it.

This play can be nuclear. By creating these one-off pages based on all the metrics discussed above, it’s usually much easier to do targeted outreach and social marketing. A well placed page, providing well placed internal links (ideally off popular pages), can pass PageRank and context like a dream, A tool like 
Alchemy API can help you see the relevance of pages and help you determine the best place to publish this page

Summary

A content strategy doesn’t go far if it’s phoned in. Take all the help you can get, even if it’s from a competitor. Learn from businesses who took steps before you. They may have very well discovered the holy grail. Competitive research has always been a part of any marketing campaign, but scratching the surface only gets you superficial results. Look deeper to uncover more than just a competitor’s marketing plan, but the very reason why the competitor may be beating you in search. Then, hopefully you’ll become the rock star others are trying to copy from. That’s a good problem to have.

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Demystifying Data Visualization for Marketers

Posted by Annie Cushing

I presented on wrangling and demystifying the data visualization process for marketers at MozCon this year, and it turns out there was far more to talk about than could fit into that half-hour. For the sake of those who couldn’t make it and those who could but want to learn more, I pulled together this overview of my presentation, offering more detail than I could in the slides.

To see all of the links shared in this post, check out my
MozCon Bitly bundle.

You may want to open the SlideShare file in another tab or browser window, so you can easily toggle between the post and the SlideShare.

I’m going to go through the presentation slide by slide to bring the narrative to print.

Slide 3

I have a confession: Although it’s probably safe to say I’m a fairly advanced Excel user — at least among marketers — until recently I had no real charting strategy. In fact, I signed up to do this presentation partly to force me to carve out a strategy, particularly with Google Analytics data.

Slide 4

In this presentation I have focused on Google Analytics data for a couple reasons:

  1. If you can wrangle Google Analytics, other marketing data is a walk in the park.
  2. It has naming conventions that map beautifully to Excel, making it an ideal tutor.

Slide 5

My approach may seem a bit Karate Kid-esque, but if you can grasp the interplay between Google Analytics and Excel, you’ll never be left wondering how to visualize your data.

Although there are many aspects to data visualization, I focus primarily on charting.

Slide 6

In Excel there are two components to charts that are critical to understand: data series and categories. They are always used together.

Think of categories as buckets for your data and data series as the data itself.

Slide 7

If you dumped a pile of Legos in front of a group of kids and told them to organize them by color into their corresponding, labeled containers and then count them, the containers would be categories. And the data series would be the count of Lego bricks.

Slide 8

First let’s peek under the hood on a PC by cracking open the Select Data Source dialog. You get to it by right-clicking on your chart and choosing Select Data.

Slide 9

Excel for Mac also has data series on the left and categories on the right. And that’s about all they have in common.

Slide 10

But, as with most features in Excel for Mac, the functionality of the Mac’s Data Source dialog is far inferior to that of the PC.

Slide 11

This sort option is helpful if you have a stacked chart and want to sort the individual data series. I like to put the larger series on the bottom and smaller ones on the top. But if you have a stacked chart on the Mac and you want to reorder the data series, you actually have to delete the series you want demoted and manually add it back in.

It’s kind of like that game, Hand on Hand, you might have played as a kid where kids go around in a circle putting their right hands in the middle, followed by the left hands. Then they go around the circle moving the bottom hands to the top of the pile as fast as possible.

Although in this case, you’re moving the data series to the
bottom of the pile.

Slide 12

To move the Sessions data series to the bottom of the pile, first select it from the Series list.

Slide 13

Then click the Remove button to delete it from the list.

Slide 14

Then click the Add button to add it back to the list of data series.

Slide 15

Click the data selector button to the right of the Name field and select the series name, as directed in the screenshot.

Slide 16

Click the data selector button to the right of the Y values field and click-and-drag over the values. If the column is long, just click the first cell and press Ctrl-Shift-Down Arrow (Mac: Command-Shift-Down Arrow) to select the entire column without scrolling. (We are nothing if not efficient.)

Slide 17

And finally you need to click-and-drag over the category axis labels. Which brings us to the Mac’s other issue ….

Slide 18

In the PC version, there’s one place for the category axis labels. On the Mac you have to choose the axis labels for each series. It’s counter-intuitive.

Slide 19

Categories end up along the horizontal axis — or the vertical axis for horizontal bar charts.

Slide 20

The data series ends up in the legend and is usually a metric (from GA). But there are a couple exceptions, which we’ll get to in a minute. The categories populate to the horizontal axis label or vertical axis label with the bar chart.

Slide 21

Transition to Google Analytics.

Slide 22

The two major players in Google Analytics – that we’ll be mapping to Excel – are dimensions and metrics. They’re (practically) inseparable.

Slide 23

Dimensions are the buckets your data is broken up into. These come into Excel as text – even if they’re values – like you get with the Days to Transaction dimension (which you can get from Conversions > Ecommerce > Time to Purchase). They are always the far-left column of the table.

  • Add a secondary dimension in any report (standard or custom).

  • Create a custom flat table with two dimensions. Learn how in this post.
  • Use the API. This is the only option that will allow you to use more than two dimensions. You can pull up to seven dimensions in one API call.

Slide 24

Metrics are anything that can be measured with a number.

Slide 25

If you’re in a custom report (or have clicked the Edit link at the top of most standard reports), metrics always show up to a party in blue.

Slide 26

And dimensions show up as green.

You can learn more about custom reports from the
video tutorial I created to help marketers.

Now it’s time to marry Google Analytics and Excel.

Slide 27

In most cases dimensions in Google Analytics map to categories in Excel.

Slide 28

And metrics map to data series in Excel.

Slide 29

I’m going to break this down systematically, based on the number of dimensions and metrics you’re wanting to visualize.

Slide 30

Dimensions: 0

Metrics: Multiple

You want this if you want to know aggregate numbers, e.g, sessions for the month, or revenue, or goal completions.

Slide 31

I hate to start on a downer, but you need the API to do this. The GA interface requires at least one dimension.

Slide 32

As with most things, if you prod enough, you’ll discover hacks and workarounds. But the name of the game here is to come up with a dimension that will only have one bucket. Going back to the Legos analogy, it would be kind of like saying, “Put all the plastic Legos in this bucket and count them.”

Slide 33

Workaround: Set dimension to something that will encompass all of your data, meaning you’ll only have one row in the report. One example of that would be the User Defined dimension (under Audience > Custom > User Defined).

As you’ll see in the screenshot, all of the values are consolidated as (not set) since this profile (now called view) doesn’t use the User Defined dimension.

Slide 34

If you’re still using the User Defined dimension (and, therefore, have multiple rows reporting), you really need to update.

If you’re using classic GA, you should be using custom variables and custom dimensions if you’re using Universal.

Slide 35

Another option is to use the Year dimension with a custom report. This is ideal if you are gathering data for a single month. You can aggregate data beyond one month, as long as the date range you choose doesn’t straddle more than one year.

Slide 36

Here’s what the custom report looks like under the hood. Learn how to 
create custom reports in Google Analytics in a video tutorial I did.

Slide 37

You can access this report 
here while logged in to Google Analytics.

Slide 38

This data isn’t conducive to charting, but you can sexy up a table with
sparklines and conditional formatting.

Slide 40

Dimensions: 1

Metrics: 1

An example of this might be revenue segmented by country or bounce rate segmented by device category.

Slide 41

Pie Chart Basics

Here are some highlights about the pie chart:

  • They use angles to show the relative size of each value.
  • You should put data in descending order to put the most significant data point at 12:00 and radiate clockwise.
  • Avoid 3D pie charts. They distort data.
  • Data points must add up to 100%. So you can’t take traffic from 5 of your 8 campaigns and chart them.
  • Microsoft says no more than seven categories; I say no more than five.
  • None of the values in your data series can be negative.
  • Learn more

Pie Chart Tricks

Ways to trick out your chart:

  • You can grab a piece of the pie to isolate it and drag it out slightly to draw attention to it. This is called exploding pie pieces.
  • You can also change the values to percentages in the data labels or even add the categories, thereby negating the need for a legend.

Slide 42

Donut Chart Basics

Here are some highlights about the donut chart:

  • Donut charts show data in rings, where each ring represents a data series
  • It uses the length of the arc to indicate the size of the value.
  • You should put data in descending order to put the most significant data point at 12:00 and radiate clockwise.
  • Data points must add up to 100%. So you can’t take traffic from 5 of your 8 campaigns and chart them.
  • Microsoft says no more than seven categories; I say no more than five.
  • None of the values in your data series can be negative.
  • Learn more

Donut Chart Tricks

Ways to trick out your chart:

  • You can put the title or the value you want to highlight in the center. 

  • I don’t recommend using the donut chart for multiple series or dimensions. They’re more difficult to interpret. 

  • Like the pie chart, you can pull one out to draw attention to it.
  • You can use a donut chart to create a speedometer chart.
  • You can fill it with an image that resembles the surface of a donut to make it look like a … Okay, yeah, never mind …

Slide 43

Column Chart Basics

  • Should sort in descending order.
  • The axis should start at 0.
  • Categories don’t have to add up to 100%
  • Learn more

Column Chart Tricks

  • You can add a trendline to make trends stand out.
  • Consider going totally minimalist with the techniques I demonstrate in this video tutorial. (You can skip to the 15:53 mark.)
  • Don’t be afraid to move the legend around.
  • Excel’s default axis tends to be dense. I typically double the Major Unit, so if the major unit is set to 100, I typically up it to 200. Learn more about the major unit from the Microsoft site. (But I also show how in the above-mentioned video tutorial.
  • You can use a column chart to create a bullet graph to show current data vis-à-vis goals or projections.
  • You can use a column chart to create a waterfall chart.
  • You can add a target line to your chart.
  • If you have many categories to chart, you can use a scrollbar.
  • You can use a column chart to create a thermometer chart.
  • Just remember safety first when working with column charts.

Slide 44

Bar Chart Basics

  • You need to sort your data in ascending order to put the longest bars at the top.
  • Bar charts are good for categories with longer labels.
  • You shouldn’t use bar charts if your dimension is time based (date, month, etc.).
  • Learn more

Bar Chart Tricks

  • You can use all of the tricks (except the last two) listed in the Column Chart Tricks list.

Slide 45

Radar Chart Basics

  • Category labels are at the tip of each spine.
  • You can use a fill with your radar charts.

Radar Chart Tricks

  • Radar charts can be compelling when you compare multiple entities at once. For example, I saw a set of 50 radar charts that compared metrics like crime rates for different types of crime for each state.
  • If you don’t want the axis labels to show, you can set the number formatting to ;;; to hide them altogether. You can then include an annotation on your chart that lets viewers know the intervals. 

Slide 46

Notes about the Heat Map

Learn how to create a heat map in
this video tutorial I did.

Slide 47

And now let’s look under the hood at a typical chart that uses 1 dimension and 1 metric. Let’s say we have this table of analytics data ….

Slide 48

If we create a column chart from this table, this is what it’s going to look like (with some cleanup).

Slide 49

Now if we look at the data source this is what we’ll see ….

Slide 50

The mediums show up over here in the categories …

Slide 51

And the sessions values show up here in the data series …

Slide 52

Which populates to the legend. But you can delete the legend when you only have one metric (or data series). You’ll then want to include the metric in the chart title.

Slide 53

And the mediums populate the horizontal axis labels.

A little piece of Excel trivia: The Select Data Source dialog still says Horizontal Axis Labels, even for bar charts where the labels are on the vertical axis. #pedantic

Slide 54

Example of 1 dimension and multiple metrics: Sessions, goal completions, and revenue broken down by Device Category (mobile, tablet, desktop)

BTW, the Device Category dimension is one of the most important in Google Analytics. By itself it’s pretty useless, but in the context of other data, it’s very useful. You should be segmenting all of your data by it.

Slide 55

Notes about the Clustered Column Chart

  • Clustered column charts are good for showing comparisons (e.g, sessions vs revenue for each month or ROI vs Margin by campaign (or keyword).
  • You could transform the clustered column chart into a combination chart by adding a line chart on the secondary axis that adds a percent value.

Slide 56

Notes about the Stacked Column Chart

  • The stacked column chart is good for showing how each data series contributes to the whole.
  • An example might be revenue broken down by medium.
  • If you want to order the columns by overall height, you can create a total column for the series. You just won’t chart that column.

Slide 57

Notes about the Clustered Bar Chart

  • All of the notes in the above-mentioned stacked column chart.
  • Like the [single] bar chart, the clustered bar chart is better for categories with long labels.
  • You can hack the clustered bar chart to create a double-sided bar chart. You can view a video tutorial I did on how to do this.

Slide 58

Notes about the Stacked Bar Chart

  • If you want to sort the bars so that the longer bars are on top, create a totals column and sort it in ascending order.
  • You shouldn’t use the stacked bar chart if your dimension is time oriented (date, month, etc.).

Slide 59

Notes about the 100% Stacked Column Chart

  • Use the 100% stacked column chart when you are working with percentages.
  • The data series must add up to 100%.
  • For example, if you wanted to see what percentage of social referrals came from desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.

Slide 60

Notes about the 100% Stacked Bar Chart

All of the notes under the 100% stacked column chart apply here.

Slide 61

Notes about the Radar Chart

  • Category labels are at the tip of each spine.
  • You can use a fill with your radar charts.
  • Radar charts can be compelling when you compare multiple entities at once. For example, I saw a set of 50 radar charts that compared metrics like crime rates for different types of crime for each state.
  • If you don’t want the axis labels to show, you can set the number formatting to ;;; to hide them altogether. You can then include an annotation on your chart that lets viewers know the intervals. See the screenshot under the Slide 45 note above.

Slide 62

Notes about the Combination Chart

Learn all about combination charts in
this post I wrote on the Search Engine Land site.

Slide 63 – 69

Self-explanatory as they follow the same dialog as slides 46 – 52.

Slide 71

Notes about the Line Chart

  • In a line chart, category data is usually distributed evenly along the horizontal axis and value data is distributed evenly along the vertical axis.
  • Line charts can show continuous data over time, so they’re ideal for showing trends in data at equal intervals, like months, quarters, or fiscal years.
  • You can add markers and set the lines to none to use them in ranking charts.
  • Avoid using stacked line charts. It’s not always apparent that the data series are stacked. If you want to stack, use an area chart instead.
  • You can add interesting line markers like the ones I created in this video tutorial to replicate the charts in Moz’s tool set

Slide 72

Notes about the Stacked Area Chart

  • Ideal for showing stacked data series over time, especially if you want to demonstrate a fluid trend. Stacked column charts should be used if you want to keep each of the categories more disparate.
  • You should order the data series so that the larger series are at the bottom of the stack with the smaller series being clustered together at the top because people’s eyes naturally travel from the horizontal axis upward with stacked area charts.
  • If you keep the gridlines, make them significantly lighter. A light gray works well.
  • Make sure you have adequate contrast between contiguous data series. Sometimes Excel puts two colors next to each other that blend.
  • If you have smaller data series that are difficult to see, use stronger colors to make them easier to view.
  • If you have all larger data series and you want to add some finesse, give your data series a line (what would be called a stroke in graphic design programs) that’s slightly darker than the fill.
  • You can create a combination chart with a stacked area chart. Just don’t use a line chart for the other style. I like to use a chart style that stands out from the area chart, such as a column chart. You may want to increase the transparency of its fill so that you can easily see through to the stacked area chart.

Slide 73

Notes about the Clustered Column Chart

  • You use the clustered column chart to show comparisons between data series (as opposed to how they contribute to the whole).
  • The clustered column chart is especially effective for showing year-over-year data. The categories would just have the name of the month (I abbreviate to three letters, which you can learn how to do in this tutorial), and one column would be used to show data from one year and the other colored column would indicate the previous year. To show the month from each year as a disparate data series, you would have to make each year a separate column in your data.
  • You can add a line chart on the secondary axis that highlights the percent change between values.
  • You can play with the gap width and overlap settings to adjust the series. You get to those by selecting a column, pressing Ctrl-1 (Mac: Command-1), and navigating to the Series Options (Mac: Options) area of the Format Data Series dialog.
  • Excel doesn’t provide the option to add a data label that indicates the total of all the data series for each column. You can hack one by adding a total column that you include in the clustered column but then change to a line chart. From there, remove the line and add data labels above the line.

Slide 74

Same as Slide 60.

Slide 75

Same as Slide 58

Slide 76 – 77

Self-explanatory.

Slide 78

Things get more complicated when you want to chart two dimensions. There are three ways to get 2 dimensions:

Slide 79

So here we have two dimensions (Device Category and User Type). I picked these dimensions to demonstrate because they have a finite number of options. I LOVE the device category dimension and use it frequently to segment my data in Google Analytics.

Note: When you chart two dimensions, you can only use one metric (or data series in Excel).

Slide 80

Here’s an example of what a clustered column chart might look like.

Slide 81

We now have a dimension in the legend — or category in Excel.

Slide 82

Using the Switch Row/Column button ….

Slide 83

This is what the chart would now look like. Notice we now have three data series and two categories.

Slide 84

Now let’s take a peek under the hood.

Slide 85

Again, here you see we have dimensions, not metrics, in the data series. The metrics should be included in the chart title.

Slide 86

And now the Device Category dimension is in the category area.

Slide 87

Your chart options are the same as when you had one dimension and multiple metrics. These options are not exhaustive.

Slide 88

Slide 89

The data in this table is in report format. If only marketing export data came in this format. (It doesn’t.)

Slide 90

This is how marketing data actually comes out of different marketing tools. It’s called tabular format.

Slide 91

Just as in a database, rows in tabular data are called records.

Slide 92

Columns are called fields.

Slide 93

And the column headings are called field names. But if I were to select two dimension columns and one metric and select a chart, here’s how Excel digests the data …

Slide 94

Gross, I know. I’m a child.

Slide 95

Here’s what it actually looks like. A royal mess.

Slide 96

Excel requires that data be in a report format in order to chart two dimensions. And the one metric (sessions, revenue, impressions, whatever) goes into the green area. There’s only one way to corral an export with two dimensions and one metric into report format …

Slide 97

Pivot tables sound scary and intimidating but not if you think about what pivot means.

Slide 98

When a soldier pivots, s/he very simply goes from standing facing one direction to turning at a 90 degree angle. That’s what a pivot table does. By moving one of your dimensions into the Columns field (Mac: Column Labels field), Excel puts that dimension’s values across the top of your data. 

Once you have your data in report format, and you can chart it. You typically want to put the dimension with fewer values into the columns area.

Learn how to create pivot tables in this comprehensive video tutorial I did.

Slide 99

Although pivot tables come with a lot of junk in the trunk, you can see the pivot table puts the data into report layout, which Excel can then use to chart the data. If you’re on a PC, you can create a pivot chart. If you’re on a Mac, you can create a static chart from the pivot table because Excel for
Mac still doesn’t support pivot charts. Still. Ridic.

Slide 100

Now you’re ready to look at GA data — nay, all marketing data — with a more strategic eye… And spend less time tooling around in Excel trying to figure out how to visualize your data!

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The New Link Building Survey 2014 – Results

Posted by JamesAgate

Many of you may have seen our
Link Building Survey results published here on Moz around this same time last year. The reception was fantastic, so we decided to push ahead with turning this into an annual series to see how this strand of the industry is developing and evolving over time.

Firstly, “link building”…

Yep, we’ve not changed the name to a “content marketing survey” or “inbound link acquisition survey;” we still feel link building is a vital part of an SEOs arsenal of tactics, and therefore it deserves its own survey.

As a company we’re investing just as much in link building for our clients (granted, we’ve adapted what we are doing), but the fact remains that if you want to score big with decent organic search visibility then you need links.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the details:

Who took the survey?

A massive thank you to the 315 or so people who took the survey. That number is slightly down from last yeah, which I feel is partly due to fewer people considering link building to be a part of their day-to-day roles. I’d argue that’s a missed opportunity, and this year we had a few duplicate entries and submissions that needed a bit of tidying up, so we trimmed it back to these 315 submissions.

The makeup of the respondents was broadly similar to last year, as expected, although based on user feedback from our inaugural survey, we added a few more categories for respondents to self-classify—so it is hard to make specific comparisons.

How much does your company spend on link building per month?

In the 2013 survey, 10% of respondents said their company spent $50k+ per month on link building, so it appears that the upper limit to link building spend may have decreased slightly across the industry.

That being said, there now appears to be a much larger number of companies in the $10-$50k per month bracket when you compare this year’s 37% with last year’s 11%.

I would attribute the changes year-on-year to two factors;

  • Reclassification of the term “link building:” Many companies have shifted budget that they would previously classified as link building budget into content projects that more than likely still have an impact on link building efforts.
  • Recognition of opportunity: Based on our own experiences we see a number of website owners and businesses pushing harder with their content promotion and link building as they recognise an opportunity to invest when their competitors are running scared.

Warren Buffett once said “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” Based on conversations alone that I’ve had with a wide range of businesses, many are now fearful when it comes to building links. In fact, we gathered some data later in the survey that revealed that one of the biggest challenges people face is not knowing which links will help and which will harm them. Google’s widespread action against websites (and dare I say it webmaster propaganda) has had a dramatic impact on some people to the point of paralysis.

There are clear opportunities that, with a sound strategy, can be seized in today’s market.

You can
build links like it’s 1999 for a microsite or second level property, keep it super-clean and identify link opportunities that would be valuable irrespective of Google, or somewhere in between those extremes. The fact is the links still form the backbone of the internet and of Google’s algorithm and that isn’t going to change for a very long time.

What percentage of your overall SEO budget is allocated toward building links?

Thanks to
John-Henry Scherck for this one as he made the suggestion following the 2013 survey that having data on the percentage would be really interesting. Looking back we don’t have a point of comparison but not of course moving forward we will have so we should get a clearer picture of whether online marketing budgets are just increasing in general (and therefore link building gets allocated the same percentage but of a bigger pie) or whether folks are seeing the value from building links and therefore allocating a larger percentage of the same sized pie to link building activities.

Would you say you’ve increased or decreased your spend on link building over the past 12 months?

This aligns with our data on more people entering the $10-$50k per month investment bracket this year:

Why the increase/decrease in spending?

We asked people why they decided to increase or decrease their spending on link building over the past 12 months.

Responses could be categorized into the following areas:

Common reason for increases:

  • Increased costs related to moving away from older style and often “cheaper” link building
  • Increased costs related to production/creativity
  • Good links are just as important as ever; links still move the needle in terms of search engine visibility and performance therefore it makes sense to increase investment in this area.

Common reasons for decreases:

  • Moving link building budget into content marketing projects (to be fair, this budget will probably indirectly fund link acquisition of some kind even if it is seen as a secondary goal for the content campaign.)
  • We wanted to scale back and assess the impact that Google’s manual actions etc have on our website.

In the next 12 months, will you look to increase or decrease your spend on link building?

Why the planned increase/decrease in spending?

  • Link building continues to get more expensive
  • To raise the bar on existing efforts, and to beat competitors with increasingly sophisticated content assets
  • Unsure where to invest/which links are working so concentrating budget into other activities.

Which link building tactics do you utilise most often?

(Numbers listed are votes rather than percentages)

When we compare with responses from the 2013 survey, there is a clear shift towards content-led initiatives and a reduction in some tactics for example close to 50% said in 2013 that guest blogging was their staple tactic, in 2014 fewer than 15% listed it as one of their staple activities.

Another interesting bit of data is the fact that paid links have seen somewhat of a resurgence in popularity, presumably as companies look for tactics where they can maintain greater control. In 2013, just 5% listed paid links as their staple linking tactic whereas in 2014 over 13% reported paid linking and blog networks as one of their main link building tactics.

What is currently your biggest link building challenge?

  • Getting links to pages that aren’t particularly linkworthy (money pages)
  • Lack of scalability (time, process, training, spreading time between clients)
  • Avoiding Google penalties

These are similar challenges to those reported in 2013 in the sense that there is still concern over which links are helping and harming organic search performance as well as difficulties relating to processes and the lack of scalability.

The interesting thing is that SEO is full of challenges so as soon as one is overcome, the next appears. In 2013, 28% of respondents said that “finding link prospects” was a key challenge but this year not a mention of link prospects being an issue. This arguably suggests that we as an industry were adjusting to the “new world” back in 2013 and that now we have advanced our capabilities enough for this to now longer be the primary challenge in our day to day work. Now the main problem doesn’t seem to be getting links as such but more about getting links into the pages that we all need to rank to stay in business … the money pages.

Which link building tactics do you believe to be most effective?

(numbers below are “votes” rather than percentages)

Which link building tactics do you believe to be least effective?

(numbers below are “votes” rather than percentages)

Which link building tactics do you consider to be harmful to a site?

(numbers below are “votes” rather than percentages)

See the complete visual below:

Thank you for everyone who took part in the survey! See you all again next year.

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Get Ahead of Google with Insight into Semiotics

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Write it and they will come. That’s the drum we’ve been beating for a long time now. We optimize our pages and our content to please search engines and cross our fingers and hope that customers will convert.

We can do better.

But to do it, we have to think beyond Google. Yes, you still need to check all your standard SEO boxes to make your site crawl friendly. Then it’s time to stop catering to the bots and start catering to the users instead.

That means we have to—no, we get to—think bigger when we think of SEO. As Rand said in his Whiteboard Friday last week, “SEO is really any input that engines use to rank pages.” That’s why we have to reexamine the way we design, the way we create, and the way we optimize. Most importantly, we’re going to have to reconsider the underlying logic we use to approach all three of those activities as we learn to think of the user first and the bots second.

This idea of blending search and user optimization isn’t new. But when Gianluca Fiorelli called for a shift from semantic to semiotic thinking on State of Digital, he got me thinking about whether semiotics are the next step in earning the audience you want.

What the heck is semiotics?

semiotic tree

Semiotics is the study of the creation of meaning. Semioticians look at everything—words, images, traffic lights, kinship structures—and study what those signifiers (signs or anything that signifies anything) mean and how people create meaning from those signs.

Semiotics is composed of three parts: syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. When we’re approaching user optimization from a semiotic point of view, we’re shifting from a focus on semantics to an incorporation of all three elements.

Let’s get to know them.

Syntactics (form)

semiotic tree - syntacticsSyntactics (more commonly called “syntax”) is the study of the formal relationship between signs. Think of syntax as dealing with grammatical rules, form, and spatial order. Syntax is why you place “inurl:” before the url in a query instead of after. Syntax can be as arbitrary as the order of lights in a traffic light, but it is unchanging.

In grammar, syntax is why you say “oranges are good” but Yoda says “good are oranges.”

Syntax is so embedded in search these days that we don’t even talk about it, and as long as your code is in the right order and the content on your pages is written for users who aren’t Yoda, you’ve mastered syntax. Hooray!

Semantics (meaning)

semiotic tree - semantics

Semantics is the study of conventional meaning. Let’s take the word “orange.” It can mean either the fruit or the color.

orange fruit or color

Whether or not you use semantic markup, search engines are usually capable of reading the context on a page and returning a result for either the fruit or the color, depending on the parameters you entered. Crawlers have been using things like context, synonyms, taxonomy, and information architecture to determine the relevance of search results for a very long time. When Hummingbird came along, the semantic nature of search became more obvious because we could see that Google is looking at queries and not just keywords.

If you’re keeping score, we’re already thinking about and optimizing for two elements of semiotic thinking. And we’ve caught up with the latest algorithm updates. But syntax and semantics aren’t the whole story when it comes to how humans create and understand information.

Enter pragmatics.

Pragmatics (use)

semiotic tree - pragmatics

You (and your customers) bring a whole life’s experiences into any interaction whether it’s reading a website or chatting someone up at a cocktail party. Those experiences shape the way you interpret images and words.

For example, if you’re a soccer fan, the way you fell about the word “orange” could be affected by how much you like or hate the Dutch national team whose nickname is “Oranje.”

And if you’re color blind, “orange” could mean any of these colors depending on the exact type of color blindness you have:

orange for the color blind

“Orange” also has political connotations:

orange in politics

Photo of Orange Revolution courtesy of Wikipedia user Irpen

The point is that search engines know the dictionary definition of a word. They can even learn about the associations you have by the search terms you enter. But they do not inherently understand (yet) the richness of your personal relationship with a word and the myriad other factors that go into creating meaning for you.

Pragmatics is your opportunity to create a site that engages with all of those connotations in order to create a stronger bond with your customers.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Banana.

Banana who?

Banana.

Banana who?

Orange.

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say “banana?”

Pragmatics in action

Pragmatics is also a way of describing how complicated our relationship with information inputs is.

Say you see something crazy in your Facebook feed like an article claiming, “Solar Panels Drain the Sun’s Energy, Experts Say.” Your job is to decide whether to share, comment on, or ignore that link. First you have to understand what it means, which in this case is figuring out if it’s good science, bad science, or satire.

Here is the process a human might go through as you use pragmatic interpretations to figure out how not to sound like a dope when replying to this post.

1. Consider the source

The article is from the National Report, which is not a household name. If it was from The New York Times,  it might be time to panic, but in this case, you’ll want to dig a little deeper.

2. Evaluate the content

are solar panels real - article evaluated

Human thought is remarkably complex and here are just a few of the signs you might consider while trying to make sense of this article:

Signifier Conservative? Parody?
Name of publication Seems staunch enough. Never heard of it, but it sounds a lot like the National Review.
Tagline Lots of people think they’re independent. But calling it out?
Overall look Clean without spammy ads. Wait, how do they make money?
Endorsers Conservative darlings. But if you were going to parody someone…
Article title Fuzzy science? Too crazy to be real.
Source of study Privately-owned think tanks produce all kinds of results. Their site has even more crazy “science.”
Tone Straightforward reportage. Too straightforward.

3. Check the internet

It seems like this article is probably satirical, but to be safe, you can do what a lot of us do—Google “National Report” (and no, the irony of using to a search engine to prove that human users can make better connections than search engines is not lost on me). And then ask Wikipedia.

vetting solar panels article on google and wikipedia

You could have made a decision about this article on a syntactic level (the sentences made sense even though the content seemed farfetched). You could even have interpreted it on a semantic level (both Googling the article and the Wikipedia search).

But what many readers need to fully understand this article is the pragmatics of assessing the signs.

So that’s a pretty deep dive just to decide to ignore a Facebook post. But the point is that your customers do this all the time, and the huge number of factors that go into showing us whether we should engage with your site and its content are more than search engines can currently look at. 

That’s semiotics. The whole bundle of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. And we’re doing pretty well with two parts of it, but there’s still a lot of opportunity in pragmatics.

Incorporating semiotic thinking into your web design and content

To recap: search engines aren’t sophisticated enough to know what pragmatic associations your customers bring into a search, but your customers are naturally bringing in layers of context, preferences, and life experience. Which means there are many layers on which you can engage with a customer that search engines can’t yet understand.

Here are some examples of ways to use pragmatics to connect with your audience.

1. Use satire or other humor

As with the solar panels article, some stuff on the internet seems too crazy and stilted to believe until you put it in context. The Onion has mastered this (and they have the engagement to show it). Robots don’t get humor, but humans do, and being funny (when appropriate) makes your site memorable.

the onion - engagement

2. Build a lexicon for your content

Use a lexicon (a list of commonly used words, slang and/or jargon specific to your audience) to understand the (rapidly evolving) way that your customers speak and communicate with them in their own language. Think about your users and what the words you’re using signify for them. Are they hearing the same things you are saying? If not, fix it.

3. Consider culture in your design

Connect with your audience by designing a site that speaks to their ideas of beauty and the way they process information. See how the US version of Shu Uemura’s site is clean and spare like many American sites (or, for that matter, Wyoming)? 

shu uemura us home page

Meanwhile the Japanese version showcases more information in a compact space (kind of like downtown Tokyo).

shu uemura japanese homepage

What I love about this example is that the brand aesthetic carries across cultures—only the way that brand is interpreted that changes.
Cultural considerations can include anything from views on gender to perceptions of color. For example, in parts of Asia, purple is associated with luxury, while in the US it’s associated with low prices. Check out this
excellent slide deck by Smith Prasadh to learn more about how differently humans can see the world (and how you can use that to connect with your audience).

4. Capture tangential relationships

Engagement doesn’t have to be about your product. Just take a look at what Emirates, a major sponsor of the World Cup, did in customizing their hero image for each target market. The global English version is pretty straightforward.

emirates global

Things get more personal for Chilean visitors as Emirates tailors not just the flag, but also the copy (using the English version for consistency).

emirates chile

But the best, most customized version of this campaign is the one created for Brazilians. It’s so tailored, in fact, that I had to look up a couple of things. The stripes on the flight attendant’s cheeks are not the Brazilian flag, but instead represent the colors of the Brazilian team. And “Little Canary” is a nickname for the team.

emirates brazil

I’ll bet that Google doesn’t care one single bit about these customizations. Even if they can read the text on the images. But my guess is that Emirates has scored a major goal in terms of customer “team” feeling with this campaign which should increase their direct traffic.

5. Incorporate metaphor into your design

Tired of the same old templates and stock photos? Your customers are too. Use images to evoke metaphor like Austin-based Write Bloody Publishing does here to capitalize on the do-it-yourself feeling of the Wild West.

write bloody publishing

Think about what makes your company unique and own that story with your design. It will make you stand out from the crowd.

Another way to do this is to reconsider your site nav with an eye toward metaphor. Maybe you’re a game company like 2K Games and you want your customers to feel like they are already immersed in your game, say BioShock, as they interact with your site. The first step would be to build a navigation that encourages that kind of feeling. Have your user enter the site as they would enter Rapture—through the bathysphere. Showcase game add-ons as plasmids. And use cutscenes to hint toward exciting features on the site just as you would in the game.

As long as you don’t throw your SEO training out the window, it’s okay to try something new and see if it speaks to your customers. If it doesn’t, try something else. As Lindsay Wassell said yesterday at MozCon, “The internet rewards innovation. Search engines reward innovation.” Be that innovator.

Those are just a few examples. The opportunity in thinking semiotically as you design, create, and optimize is to engage with your customers on a human level. This naturally builds your brand affinity, which should increase your traffic.

I’d love to hear about how you’re using pragmatics to build nuanced relationships with your customers.

Your mission

Let loose your creative team. No one wants to be an SEO copywriter or an SEO designer. When you’re optimizing a site in any way, think first about the user—the one with the most sophisticated relationship—then make sure that your standard SEO boxes are checked. Anything less is like dumbing down a parallax experience to a simple sketch to make sure Google fully understands it fully.

Now go off and use pragmatics to relate to your customers in such a way that so many customers come to your site and engage in such great numbers that the search engines chase you trying to figure out how you did it. You’ll be prepared if Google’s algorithm ever learns how to account for pragmatics, and it beats you chasing rankings any day.

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SEOs Know Things about UX: Here’s How to Prove it

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

As a human being currently using the internet, you have opinions about online user experience. The problem is, everyone’s experience is going to be different based on their expectations. So although you, as a Moz blog reader and probably an internet connoisseur, may have some very good ideas about making your company’s or client’s site easier to use for the majority of visitors, there’s a good chance that your boss or client will disagree with you. 

If you’re like me and aren’t a user experience expert, it’s going to be hard to argue with them on gut instinct alone. Rather than debate in circles, spend the time to validate your argument:

  1. Prove there is a problem. This is a good idea even if you and your boss (or client) wholeheartedly agree that the site is less than optimal. Get feedback from visitors who aren’t working on the site and see if their feedback lines up with your assumptions. 
  2. Propose a solution. Based on the feedback, propose a solution. It’s best to do this visually with a page mockup. 
  3. Test that solution. See how visitors respond better to your new design than they did to the old design.

By going through these steps, you can build a strong case for implementing your recommendations.

How to prove there is a problem

The first step is to prove that there really is a user experience issue. If you’re lucky and have time and money, the best way to get user experience feedback is to reach out to your customers and/or people in your target market and work with them in person. But most of us aren’t so lucky. If you’re confined to an SEO’s budget like I usually am, you can use an online tool:

My favorite:

Qualaroo


qualaroo


Qualaroo is a simple yet effective way to collect feedback. You just put a small piece of JavaScript code on your site, allowing Qualaroo to load a question in the lower right hand corner of a page. You can: 

  • Place the question on any page or group of pages
  • Write your own questions or use their helpful library of examples
  • Set a time for when the box shows up (e.g., on page load, after 15 seconds, or when the visitor moves their cursor up to the URL bar on their browser, indicating they might leave)


Example use: One of my clients runs seminars. They can host them in a number of places, but if the seminar is hosted in their primary building, they don’t explicitly say where the seminar is held. I theorized that this is causing confusion for visitors and that adding the address to the seminar page would make visitors’ decisions easier.


I didn’t want to ask a leading question, though, so I just added a question to every seminar page, “Is there any other information you need to make a decision today?” Once I had collected a few hundred responses, I exported the feedback to an Excel file and started sorting ideas. I was right: a good proportion of people were interested in the location. The exercise also taught me that a lot of visitors wanted a sample schedule of the program. 

Pros: Easy to use, fast way to get feedback, very flexible program

Cons: You only hear from people who are on your site

Price: $79/month (less if you pay for 1 – 2 years at a time)

Cheap feedback without access to the code of your site:

Feedback Army/Mechanical Turk

Feedback Army

While I recommend Qualaroo, I realize that many of you may not be able to convince your boss or client to install JavaScript and potentially distract visitors with your UX questions. If that’s the case, you can use 
Mechanical Turk, or Feedback Army, which is a guy using Mechanical Turk for you, because mTurk’s interface is pretty clunky.

Mechanical Turk allows you to submit questions to millions of online workers from across the world (about 30% are American), so you can use the same questions as you would with Qualaroo. You have to lead them to the right page to review as well, but that should be easy enough.

Pros: An inexpensive way to find and learn from testers

Cons: Mechanical Turk doesn’t pay their testers a whole lot, so you’ll get very quick, off the cuff responses. Plus, they won’t be from your target audience or customer base.

Price: $40 per 10 responses

More expensive feedback without access to the code of your site:

UserTesting.com

usertesting.com

If you’d like a more robust user experience test, try out
UserTesting.com. Testers are paid $35/test, so they’re going to give you a much more in-depth, thoughtful review than Mechanical Turk. With a higher price tag comes a lot more information, though: you give testers a task and ask them for feedback along the way. This may be excessive if your idea was about tweaking one piece of one page, but it’s great for information architecture/site navigation issues.

Pros: A still fairly inexpensive way to find and learn from testers. You can select your target market by age, gender, income, location, and experience online.

Cons: Reviewers are being paid well to test your site, here, so they want to do a thorough job, and I’ve heard they can be nitpicky.

Price: $49/tester (you’ll need a few, at least)

Bonus: Running tests like these without access to the code of the site means that you can run tests on your competitors, too! Use either Feedback Army or UserTesting.com to learn what people like about your competitors’ sites and what frustrates them. It’ll tell you what you’re up against, and pieces that testers praise may be worth imitating on your own site.

Quantitative feedback:

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

Google Analytics won’t give you the opinions of visitors, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. If your theory is that:

  • Calls to action aren’t really…calling people to action
  • Visitors don’t know how to navigate to the page they’re looking for
  • Readers don’t scroll all the way to the bottom of the page

Then you can look at:

  • What proportion of visitors clicked on that call to action (if there are multiple CTAs to the same location on a page, you may have to set up Event Tracking to be sure which CTA was clicked)
  • How visitors move through your site with the Visitor Flow report, and how many visitors clicked around before using site search with the Site Search report
  • How far visitors scrolled down a page, by setting up Events at certain break points
Pros: Free! And, probably already installed on your system. 

Cons: You get a lot of data, but what it means can be somewhat up to interpretation. This might be a good springboard to convince a client that you need to do further testing, but it can’t prove much on its own.

Price: Free!

How to propose a solution

Proving that there is a problem gets your boss or client to the table. The next step is proposing a solution and proposing it well.

The most effective way I’ve found to pitch a design change is to actually mock up your solution. If you have access to design tools, definitely use those. I don’t, though, so I either modify the HTML with Chrome’s Inspect Element feature or use a combination of the Windows Snipping Tool and Paint.

Snipping Tool & MS Paint

I know, no one gets design cred from using MS Paint. But I’m a child of the ’90s, and Paint was my first introduction to design software, so it’s easy for me to use. The point here isn’t to use Paint necessarily, but to use whichever program you have access to and is easy to use. Don’t stop yourself from creating designs just because you don’t own a copy of Dreamweaver or Photoshop.

When I want to mock up a dramatically different version of a page, I use the Snipping Tool to take a picture of the webpage as it currently is, then modify the parts that I want to. The selector makes it easy to move elements around. If Paint doesn’t have an option I need, I just use other Office products:

  • For text overlays and adding a variety of shapes, I’ll often use Word, since it has a lot of text box options
  • For color changes and setting a transparent color, I use PowerPoint, because as far as I know it’s the only Office product that has that option
  • For text changes, I’ll modify the HTML in Chrome (see section below), then copy that over to my Paint design

Is this hack-y? Yes. Is it impressive? No. But it gets the job done. All you need at the end is a design good enough to communicate your idea. Once you get sign-off, actual designers will make sure that the details turn out right.

Rewriting the HTML

As I mentioned above, this works best if what you’re doing is modifying the existing text or images. You can either download the HTML of a page, modify it, and share that, or you can use Chrome’s Inspect Element to quickly modify text and take a picture of the result. It took me 15 seconds to change the text on Moz’ homepage:

rewriting html in chrome

Just right click wherever you want to edit on your page while in Chrome and click “Inspect Element.” If you want to make color changes or image changes, it’ll be a little more complicated, but still doable. 

You can do this in Firefox as well with Firefox’s add-on,
Firebug.

Once you’ve got a mock up, save it and send it on to your boss/client with your description of the changes you’ve made, the stats from your tests, and why your solution is solving those problems. (Just don’t mention how you made that mock up.)

How to test your solution

Even if your proposed solution is a big hit and everyone wants to implement it right away, it’s better to test to make sure that it’s actually going to work before making a permanent change to your site. I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that it’s too hard to test changes, but it’s actually fairly easy with the right tools.

If you or a dev can build you variation pages:

Google Experiments

google experiments

Image from Marketing Engine Land, which includes more details on Google Experiments.

If you’ve got a developer who can build out your suggested change, 
Google Experiments is a free, reliable, and easy to use tool to track results. It’s integrated into Google Analytics, so it uses the conversion metrics you already have set up (this may mean you’ll have to set up a new goal to cover your test’s desired outcome). 

Pros: Free and completely integrated with Google Analytics

Cons: You have to create your own variation pages.

Price: Free!

If dev resources are limited:

Optimizely

optimizely

Optimizely does need a bit of dev work to install a JavaScript code onto your site, but once it’s there, you can edit the HTML for tests with their web interface, without talking to a developer. You can edit with their editor or use actual HTML, meaning the tool doesn’t require HTML skills, but still allows those able to write HTML the extra precision they can get from making changes to the code directly. 

As a consultant, I
love working with clients who have Optimizely installed, because I can take a test from start to finish. I prove the problem, propose a solution, set up the test, and present results, all without my point of contact having to take time out of his or her busy schedule to make any changes. And, once you have numeric results, it’s easy to prove the value of your suggested change and get it into the dev queue. 

Pros: Easy to use, and gives you a lot of flexibility 

Cons: You have to start with the core page and then modify elements with JavaScript, so you can’t make dramatic changes 

Price: Based on your monthly traffic, prices start at $19/month

Make a solid argument for change

Assuming that each step supported your initial ideas, you now have more than enough data to strongly support making the change you suggested. When you make your recommendation, take the time to tell the story of what you went through—getting user feedback, coming up with a solution, and proving the solution works. Clients and bosses feel a lot more comfortable with your conclusions if they see how thoroughly you researched the issue.

Has anyone else gone through a similar process? Any tools you prefer, or tips you’d like to add? Share in the comments below!

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Does SEO Boil Down to Site Crawlability and Content Quality? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

We all know that keywords and links alone no longer cut it as a holistic SEO strategy. But there’s still plenty outside our field who try to “boil SEO down” to a naively simplistic practice – one that isn’t representative of what SEOs need to do to succeed. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand champions the art and science of SEO and offers insight into how very broad the field really is.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video Transcription

Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m going to try and tackle a question that, if you’re in the SEO world, you probably have heard many, many times from those outside of the SEO world.

I thought a recent question on Quora
phrased it perfectly. This question actually had quite a few people who’d seen it. Does SEO boil down to making a site easily crawlable and consistently creating good, relevant content?

Oh, well, yeah, that’s basically all there is to it. I mean why do we even film hundreds of Whiteboard Fridays?

In all seriousness, this is a fair question, and I can empathize with the people asking it, because when I look at a new practice, I think when all of us do, we try and boil it down to its basic parts. We say, “Well, I suppose that the field of advertising is just about finding the right audience and then finding the ads that you can afford that are going to reach that target audience, and then making ads that people actually pay attention to.”

Well, yes and no. The advertising field is, in fact, incredibly complex. There are dramatic numbers of inputs that go into it.

You could do this with field after field after field. Oh, well, building a car must just mean X. Or being a photographer must just mean Y.

These things are never true. There’s always complexity underneath there. But I understand why this happens.

We have these two things. In fact, more often, I at least hear the addition of keyword research in there, that being a crawl-friendly website, having good, relevant content, and doing your keyword research and targeting, that’s all SEO is. Right? The answer is no.

This is table stakes. This is what you have to do in order to even attempt to do SEO, in order to attempt to be in the rankings to potentially get search traffic that will drive valuable visits to your website. Table stakes is very different from the art and science of the practice. That comes because good, relevant content is rarely, if ever, good enough to rank competitively, because crawl friendly is necessary, but it’s not going to help you improve any rankings. It’s not going to help you in the competitive sense. You could be extremely crawl friendly and rank on page ten for many, many search terms. That would do nothing for your SEO and drive no traffic whatsoever.

Keyword research and targeting are also required certainly, but so too is ongoing maintenance of these things. This is not a fire and forget strategy in any sense of the word. You need to be tracking those rankings and knowing which search terms and which pages, now that “not provided” exists, are actually driving valuable visits to your site. You’ve got to be identifying new terms as those come out, seeing where your competition is beating you out and what they’ve done. This is an ongoing practice.

It’s the case that you might say, “Okay, all right. So I really need to create remarkable content.” Well, okay, yes, content that’s remarkable helps. It does help you in SEO, but only if that remarkability also yields a high likelihood of engagement and sharing.

If your remarkability is that you’ve produced something wonderful that is incredibly fascinating, but no one particularly cares about, they don’t find it especially more useful, or they do find it more useful, but they’re not interested in sharing it, no one is going to help amplify that content in any way—privately, one to one, through email, or directing people to your website, or linking to you, or sharing socially. There’s no amplification. The media won’t pick it up. Now you’ve kind of lost. You may have remarkable content, but it is not the kind of remarkable that performs well for SEO.

The reason is that links are still a massive, massive input into rankings. So anything—this word is going to be important, I’m going to revisit it—anything that promotes or inhibits link growth helps or hurts SEO. This makes good sense when you think about it.

But SEO, of course, is a competitive practice. You can’t fire and forget as we talked about. Your competition is always going to be seeking to catch up to you or to one up you. If you’re not racing ahead at the right trajectory, someone will catch you. This is the law of SEO, and it’s been seen over and over and over again by thousands and thousands of companies who’ve entered the field.

Okay, I realize this is hard to read. We talked about SEO being anything that impacts potential links. But SEO is really any input that engines use to rank pages. Any input that engines use to rank pages goes into the SEO bucket, and anything that people or technology does to influence those ranking elements is what the practice of SEO is about.

That’s why this field is so huge. That’s why SEO is neuropsychology. SEO is conversion rate optimization. SEO is social media. SEO is user experience and design. SEO is branding. SEO is analytics. SEO is product. SEO is advertising. SEO is public relations. The fill-in-the-blank is SEO if that blank is anything that affects any input directly or indirectly.

This is why this is a huge field. This is why SEO is so complex and so challenging. This is also why, unfortunately, when people try to boil SEO down and put us into a little bucket, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work, and it defeats the practice. It defeats the investments, and it works against all the things that we are working toward in order to help SEO.

When someone says to you on your team or from your client, they say, “Hey, you’re doing SEO. Why are you telling us how to manage our Facebook page?

Why are you telling us who to talk to in the media? Why are you telling us what changes to make to our branding campaigns or our advertising?” This is why. I hope maybe you’ll send them this video, maybe you’ll draw them this diagram, maybe you’ll be able to explain it a little more clearly and quickly.

With that, I hope we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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