Tag Archives: google

Google My Business Posts – What are they? How to? Why? Etc.

10 Jan

Is it too much of a pain in the ass/expense to keep adding timely content to your website or blog? Or do you already do that and you’re looking for a way to up your SEO game without trying too much? I know it was just half a year ago, while showing you how to automate Google My Business posts that I said I wouldn’t go into more detail about GMB posts, but when I find myself typing an email to a client, and I think I’ll type the same thing again later, I’ve been trying to turn those into blog posts.

Google My Business posts are a good, easy way to give Google a signal that you’re alive and well. While there’s little empirical evidence suggesting GMB posts do or do not directly affect SEO, (difficult to measure,) Google encourages them, and we want to keep Google happy, so…

What are Google My Business posts?

example of a Google My Business post

An example of a Google My Business post

GMB posts are short missives (no minimum length, maximum 1,500 characters, or approximately 250 words) published directly to Google Search and Maps. By creating GMB posts, you can place your timely text, video, or photo content in front of potential clients when they find your business listing on Google.

Posts can be about events, offers or specials, product updates, news or announcements. Many service related businesses (like law firms with no events/specials/products) will have to get a little creative while sticking to the latter. #FakeNews?

What makes a great GMB post?

Google has plenty to say on that. So just read their take, instead of what some guy on the internet says. That guy has this to add: Don’t get too caught up in great posts. I think giving a regular, crappy signal is better than giving a sporadic showing of greatness with long lulls of nothingness.

How to do a GMB post

To create a Google My Business post, follow these steps. (Click that link!) …Or, read the post I wrote a while ago about how to automate your GMB posts. (Click link in first blog post paragraph, above.)

That’s it.

…Says the guy who’s never done a GMB post of his own. But then again, I’m not looking for new, random clients. That said, I do take a couple of clients every year. Let’s hookup? Thanks for reading.

 


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. He makes noise in synthband.com and Gurtrudestein. He volunteers for a few causes, including: campaign finance reform, urban arts, and the right to die.

Answered: How do I get an image next to my site’s Google SERP listing?

27 Nov

Astute searchers have increasingly noted Google SERPs adding images next to regular organic listings, especially in mobile search. Here are a couple examples:

 

 

I want an image next to my Google results, too!

Business image thumbnails like these are one example of what Google calls SERP enhancements. It’s important to remember that Google will do what they want to do. Nothing will guarantee an image with your listing, but you can do a few things to nudge Google toward that goal.

1. Check your Google My Business listing

Add several good images to your GMB listing, and don’t forget to add a profile photo and logo. Google sometimes uses data and assets from biz listings to enhance other, related listings. Give them something good to work with.

2. Use link tags and Open Graph meta tags to suggest a thumbnail image

Meta tags let you share information about your page with other sites. Link tags allow you to define interrelationships between assets. Various social networks use this markup to auto-set images when you share a URL, and maybe Google will use it as a signal for what image to slot next to your organic SERP listing. You can do it with either or both of these snippets:

<link rel=”image_src” href=”https://www.foo.bar/imgs/foobar.png" />

And/or

<meta property=”og:image” content=”https://www.foo.bar/imgs/foobar.png ” />

3. Google Custom Search markup

Google Custom Search allows you to adapt and configure Google for searching your own site, and the image thumbnail syntax for it is concise. Does Google use it or ignore it for regular SERPs? We don’t know. But it’s easy, so it’s another option. There are two different markup options:

<meta name=”thumbnail” content=”http://example/foo.jpg ” />

Or put a PageMap DataObject in the area. …Don’t know what the latter is? Just do the meta tag!

4. Use structured data to get an image next to your listing

This section should have been the lead, but it’s more dense, and I didn’t want to scare you off. Structured data, specifically, using bits of microdata or tags defined by schema.org, is arguably the best way to help Google understand your intentions. So why not tell them about image-enhanced SERP options with it? I’m not going to go into excruciating detail about syntax and best practices here. There are plenty of resources about microdata best practices and schema implementation if you use a little Google-fu.

I will highlight these points:

  • Google likes it in JSON-LD, but Microdata or RDFa will work for big-G, in a pinch.
  • Definitely use markup for relevant data types available to an “organization” and a “local business”, including but not limited to “image”.
  • If you have products, specify product images and other product meta data in the code for those pages.
  • Remember to add markup for your logo in addition to your other images.
  • And when in doubt, always defer to Google’s structured data guidelines.

5. General image best practices on your site

Use good alt attributes.

Name images sensibly. (img1.jpg = nonsense. [something-descriptive].jpg = sensible)

Size images appropriately. Don’t upload huge images (dimensions or file size) unless you have a good reason. Definitely take dimensions into consideration when you’re specifying a potential SERP thumbnail enhancement. E.g. don’t make them smaller than 160p x 90p or larger than 1920×1080. Oh, and don’t use images with weird (long or tall) aspect ratios. Stick close to square, or typical TV/film aspect ratios of the past and present, at least when you’re thinking about SERP thumbnails.

Make Google’s indexing job easier, and they’ll (likely) make your SEO life easier, eventually.

Two end notes:

–Anybody telling you to use rel=author to accomplish this sort of image-enhanced SERP listing hasn’t figured out that it’s deprecated. Just ask Google.

–None of the above methods are guaranteed to work, but they’re about as good as it gets. If Google doesn’t love your site for some reason, you might not get an image next to your listings. Oh, and if you do get your image next to some SERP listings but not others, don’t be surprised; that’s exactly what will happen, if you’re lucky. Good luck!


Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and loves running multivariate UX tests for his clients. He also helps businesses optimize certain aspects of HR (hiring/firing/training/software UX/etc.) Check out some of his improv noise at synthband.com.

Automated Scheduling Google My Business Posts

16 Jul
googlemybusinesspostexample

This is Google’s default “Google My Business Post” image. Will they make me take it down? We’ll see.

I won’t tell you much about Google My Business posts and how they’re potentially great for your business, your business’s SEO and your company’s findability. Because other people have already written about that.

Instead, I’ll help you figure out how to pre-schedule several posts at once.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Google My Business allowed us to schedule future posts? Yeah. That would be nice, Dan. Until that happens, you have a few options.

In no particular order:

Yext allows users to schedule GMB posts. I have never used Yext. I don’t know exactly how much it costs, but I’ve heard rumors of $500/yr and up. I don’t know which of their plans include GMB automation, and they don’t list pricing for any of them, so, you’ll have to contact them for more info.

Sendible lets you schedule GMB posts. I haven’t used Sendible either. Sendible starts at ~$300/yr, and that includes automating your future GMB posts.

Do you use WordPress?

At least a couple WordPress plugins empower you to easily create and auto-publish Google My Business posts. I’ll highlight two of them, with the same caveat emptor: I haven’t used either of them.

WP Google My Business Auto Publish is 100% free. $0. I recommend you change the default plugin settings so that it does not publish all posts to GMB automatically. …Unless that’s something you want. (Lazy?)

Post to Google My Business is by an outfit called Tycoon Media, but that old-school-ritz name isn’t the only reason I think this one is not free. Something on their website mentioned needing their $80/yr plan to support “Post scheduling”.

I might use the gregariously named ‘WP Google My Business Auto Publish’ in the near future but I’d take a couple hours to customize and finagle things so that any GMB-WordPress post would NOT be visible on the WordPress website/blog. I just can’t wrap my head around a good, dual-purpose blog post/Google My Biz post. …They seem like two entirely different things to me, and I would squeeze that delineation out of the plugin.

Schedule Google My Business Posts Now

Anyhow, there you have it. Several decent-ish options to automate and schedule Google My Business posts. And if you’re not going to take the time to login to GMB once a week to publish a post, you should pick one.

In case you’re wondering, Hootsuite doesn’t help here. They’ve known for more than a year that Hootsuite users want GMB post automation. Hootsuite doesn’t seem to care.

 

 


Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and UX. He just joined veteran San Diego experimental-punky-prog-horror-garage-noise band Gurtrudestein, and he’s jazzed about that. …Except for the fact that if you accidentally spell it with an “e” instead of a “u” the band is invisible on Google. (Regardless of how many helper words you use). Thanks, Gertrude Stein.

Comparing Rank Tracking Software

3 Feb

I’ve been using Advanced Web Ranking (not to be confused with Advanced Web Ranking Cloud) for eight years. Read riveting tales from 2010 wherein I try to find a replacement for WebPosition, eventually deciding on AWR. Things were simpler then; there weren’t many players in the ranking software space, and almost everything was desktop-based.

Fast forward to 2018. When AWR started shitting the bed a month ago, I was faced with more than three dozen contenders for my search engine querying and reporting needs, almost all of them cloud-based or SaaS. I could have ferreted out even more vendor options, I’m sure, but when I added the 40th vendor/software suite to my spreadsheet of rank tracker candidates, I stopped.  (Full list at end of this post.) Daunting. “If you can’t find what you want from 40 vendors, there’s something wrong with you.” I said that out loud.

This post is long. If you want to skip the criteria I used and go right to the two winners and six runners up, go ahead. But you might be looking for something substantially different than what I found.

comparing-rank-trackers

Partially obfuscated spreadsheet of rank trackers, criteria, and notes. Pure madness.

SEO Reporting Software Criteria

So, what exactly did I want? That’s an important question. My criteria are similar to those of many, but might very well be different from yours. Keep that in mind as you read on. Oh, and if you don’t have any interest in SEO software, you should probably stop reading and have fun with some of the non-SEO posts on this site, or go contemplate a tree, or something.

If you’re still here, let’s dig in for rank checking software comparison.

What I did NOT want

I already have great sources for keyword research, backlinks, competitor analysis, website violations/improvements, and some other important SEO metrics. Sometimes I subscribe to a service for a month and do what I need to do. Sometimes I lean on one of my colleagues who already has a subscription to one or more vendors. Several of the SEO software vendors I considered are full-service suites of sorts, and therefore often priced themselves out of the SEO ranking software market.

At most, I do keyword research and backlink audits quarterly for existing clients so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay for it every month. If you’re looking for a 360-degree SEO suite, this rank tracker comparison might not be for you.

Historical Ranking Data Import

Although I’m not importing data for all projects when I migrate, I’m importing historical ranking data for most of them. (A couple clients wanted to archive old data and start fresh.) Some vendors like RankTrackr (not to be confused with SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker) and Tiny Ranker don’t have a way to migrate SEO ranking data from your old projects to their platform. With them, you’ve no choice but to start with a fresh slate in reports. Other companies say they’ll import data for a fee, including SERPBook and SEMRush.

Caveat: Your data might not be in the format they want. Look before you leap.

Ability to Pause/Stop SEO Projects

Sometimes clients leave for a few months. (See my post from a week ago about why SEO clients leave.) Sometimes you’ll have cause to pause a project for years. It doesn’t happen often, but about half of rank trackers surveyed don’t allow you to pause. Or they offer janky workarounds: “Just delete the keywords and save them on your computer. When you’re ready to start again, add the keywords again!”

Who won’t let you pause an SEO project? SE Ranking, RankTrackr, Tiny Ranker, Rank Ranger, and others. SERPFox is one of a few non-pausers to offer what I consider sub-optimal workarounds, but SERPFox at least preserves your data, somehow.

Reporting Format

I’m accustomed to being able to upload several HTML reports for each client. While there are several candidates who offer access to an API so you can cobble together your own reports, I don’t want to do that. I’m also not interested in reporting software that only generates static PDF reports and/or ugly CSV spreadsheets. These are comparatively horrible ways to display report data. Rank Ranger, SE Ranking, RankTrackr, and others all fall short here.

Vendor Support Hours

Chances are, after you’re all setup with your new rank tracker, you’ll seldom need support. But take it from somebody who’s needed a lot of support from Advanced Web Ranking over the past month: you’ll care about support when you need it. AWR is in Romania, I’m in California. AWR is at the support desk when I’m asleep, and vice versa. I open a ticket on Monday. I receive a response on Tuesday, to which I reply. Wednesday I get their reply, and so on. The weekend comes, and the snail’s pace of support slows to a stop. …And that’s when they bother to respond in a timely manner.

Support availability matters sometimes. Do yourself a favor and weigh candidates support hours in your process. Spoiler: I ended up picking two vendors. One of them offers perfect support hours for me, the other one, not so much. The latter is half a world away, which is unfortunately not uncommon with the ranking software bros.

Update Frequency

Don’t let companies fool you; updating your keywords’ rankings every day, or every hour isn’t adding value for you. Well, if you’re playing at the most vaulted, vaunted levels of SEO, I suppose you could argue that point, a little, but if your clients need detailed reporting more than once a month, you should find different clients. Spend more of your time DOing SEO, and less time measuring it. Anyhow, several vendors offer different plans/options for different scanning/querying frequencies. I don’t want hourly or daily scans because I’d be paying for unused fluff. Some services, like SEO Rank Monitor, SEMrush, and others only offer daily tracking.

Obviously, you sometimes won’t want to wait a week or longer for keyword rank data. SerpBook and Rankinity get around that thusly. SerpBook gives you a bunch of monthly credits for on-the-fly, ad hoc rank checking, e.g. for research, in addition to your regularly-scheduled data, and the latter is a granularly-priced pay-as-you-go service, so…

Well, this is as good a time as any to talk about pricing and cost.

It’s so hard to compare different products’ pricing models. …No two vendors define their pricing the same way. It’s almost totally incongruous.

Comparing SEO Reporting Software Pricing – Not easy.

On January 31st, as I was deep in this ranking software comparison, I guest lectured part of a class on Digital Media and Analytics within Columbia University’s Strategic Communications Program. My spiel (“Serendipity: Two UX ROI Stories”) was last on the docket, so I got to enjoy the first hour of Ethan McCarty‘s class.

While much of the class discourse (analytics/meaningful data/correlation vs causality/etc.) resonated with my experiences, I was particularly moved by Ethan’s reflection on his experience choosing and comparing web metrics software suites.

“Buying any kind of SaaS (such as SEO software) is kind of like buying a mattress,” said McCarty. “They all might have a similar feature sets, but each vendor names things differently, accentuates their own strong points and usually does a pretty good job of obfuscating their weaknesses. They are also all sold on different pricing schemes which makes comparison shopping grueling even if you’re a diligent spreadsheet-keeper. You may as well buckle and get the one you find most comfortable to use,” he said, speaking of both SaaS solutions and mattresses, natch.

Mattresses, am I right? It was comforting to find a sense of simpatico. We are not alone. This sucks for almost every discerning consumer, it would seem. I had to ask most vendors several followup questions to try to figure out how they actually priced their services.

How do we define rank-tracking pricing units?

“Keywords” are the near-universal pricing unit in the ranking space. But different vendors define that word conflictingly enough to make apples-to-apples pricing comparisons almost impossible. That’s why it’s in quotes there!  I kid you not, the number of “keywords” I have varies by MORE than a factor of ten, depending on the vendor. It’s nuts! What’s worse, getting straight answers regarding a vendor’s definition of “keyword” is akin to pulling your own teeth. Not fun.

We’re dealing with several variables, depending on the vendor:

  • Keywords (kw) – number of different keywords in the project
  • Search Engines (SE) – # of different search engines to be queried
  • Depth (d) – number of SERPs of data you want to gather (ranged from 1 to 30)
  • Projects (p) – number of, in my case, clients
  • Frequency (f) – how often do you want to query for data?
  • Sites (ws) – number of  websites you want data for (e.g. your site/s + ‘competitors’)
  • etc.

Vendor SE Ranking defines a keyword as one keyword in a project regardless of the number of SE. Well, you can add up to five SE, and that kw still counts as one “keyword” in their pricing model. I didn’t catch how deep (d) their data delves into the SERPs, but they offer different pricing for three frequencies, ranking from one day to one week.

Some vendors, like AWR Cloud, SerpBook, and others count Google-US, Bing-US, and Yahoo-US as a single SE unit. But they count other SE and location-based SE as individual units. But AWR Cloud only goes a few pages deep for a “keyword” while SERPbook digs to 10 SERPs and still calls it a “keyword”.

Some rank checkers count a keyword as a single SERP. So if you want to check ranks 1-40 (four SERPs) for a keyword in a single search engine, that’s four “keywords”.

Rankinity, as hinted earlier, charges per kw-se combo, with pricing for each pair delivering 10 SERPs.

Some charge only once for a keyword-se combo, regardless of the number of projects in which it appears while others will count each project-keyword-se instance as a separate “keyword”.

Some rank trackers, like SerpBook essentially charge extra for competitor rankings. (“keywords”=kw*SE*s) while other rank trackers will gather ranking data for several sites/urls, for the same keyword, without counting it as extra “keywords”.

Those are just a few examples. The myriad definitions of the “keyword” pricing unit are beyond my tired brains’ abilities to concisely summarize. Sorry!  The takeaway is: Make sure you know what their “keyword” is, and how it differs from other vendors you’re considering.

Plan Pricing Break Points – Important Future Thought

Some companies, like SEMRush and Web CEO limit how many projects you can have. Add your 6th project and you have to jump from the former’s $99 “pro” plan to the $199 “guru” plan, (or the latter’s identically modeled “Startup” and “Corporate” plans,) even if you weren’t close to the other price-resource-unit limits of your subscribed service level.

Other rankers charge more to add additional “users”.  …I’m telling you, it’s complicated.

Which Search Ranker / Reporting Solution did I choose?

As I hinted before, I originally picked two. Rankinity and SerpBook. But then I learned SerpBook counts each competitor as an individual set of keywords, and that priced them out of the top spot, and maybe even out of honorable mention. BUT they’re still a great option if you don’t want to track much (or any) competitor data. Alas, they’re not a good match for me, because I like to keep an eye on the competition. …I often find it actionable.

Using Rankinity to check once a month is a great value, and I’m still waiting for them to finish importing my data. They said it’ll be a few more days.

But I’m optimistic. …And I’m willing to pay a little extra for the elbow grease that might be required to massage my data into place.

The Proof is in the Pudding

That’s an old proverb dating back to the 1300s meaning: You can only say something is worthwhile after you’ve tested it. As of this writing, I tested what I thought was a top finisher enough to know they’re not a great match for me. I’m still in bed with Rankinity, and after digging into the honorable mentions, below, I’m left with RankWatch in second place.

Honorable Mentions

Because I want to go with two vendors simultaneously, and one of my first picks didn’t pan out, I spent more time digging into RankWatch, WebCEO, SE Ranking,  and SEO Rank Monitor to find a replacement. As of this editing (a month after publication) I still haven’t signed with RankWatch, but I will, soon. If they don’t pan out, I’ll update yet again.

Thanks for reading. While I can’t answer specific questions about specific rank-checking candidates, I’m happy to opine on more general bits. Please use the comments section, or if you’re feeling shy, send me an email or something. The rest of this blog post is me kvetching about AWR, and the aforementioned list of competitors. Good luck!

Regarding Advanced Web Ranking

I’ve been unable to run reports without zany errors for over a month now. AWR wasted countless hours of my time denying the problem was theirs. They blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to a different batch of proxies. Nope. AWR still blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to another proxy vendor and dedicated proxies. No dice. AWR said those proxies too were to blame for my continued problems. So I switched to a different batch of IPs. Same problem. (Shoutout to Trusted Proxies. They helped me troubleshoot and were always quick to respond.)

I gathered and presented evidence to the contrary over and over again but Advanced Web Ranking denied any responsibility. At one point, they went nine days without responding to an email or trouble ticket, of which I sent MANY.

So, needless to say, I’d already decided to move on by the time they picked up conversation again. Then a few short days later,  on January 31st, AWR apologized and they sent a mea culpa. They’re unable to fix the problem. (Even though competing desktop rank tracker “Rank Tracker” doesn’t suffer from the same problem. …I tested.)

I pre-paid for a couple years of AWR and they gave me a full refund. While the last bit of road to the end was unnecessarily bumpy, at least they ended the relationship with class.

List of SEO Rank Trackers Compared Herein

Note re: crappy data: When I started this task, I didn’t know I’d write this blog post, so I didn’t preserve my data at first. If I determined a candidate was far from the mark, I just deleted their row from the spreadsheet. When I’d whittled down to a couple dozen, I realized I should stop doing that! (#destructive) However, I’m not made of time, so later, as I determined a vendor wasn’t a good match for me, I stopped gathering data for that vendor. The more I whittled the list down, I kept adding more criteria. So, when I mention a list of vendors lacking a particular trait in the criteria sections above, it definitely doesn’t imply all other vendors DO support it.

Here are the twenty-four I compared:

Ahrefs
Authority Labs
Advanced Web Ranking Cloud
Conductor
CuteRank
LongTailPro
Majestic
Microsite Masters
Moz.com
nozzle
Rank Ranger
Rank Tracker
Rankinity
RankTrackr
RankWatch
SE Ranking
Searchmetrics
SEMrush
SEO Rank Monitor
SerpBook
Serpfox
SERPs
SERPWoo
Tiny Ranker
Web CEO

 


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. He’s trying to find more people with whom to make music in San Diego. Dan also likes food and film. He just ate some ice cream and he’s seen five of the nine 2018 Best Picture nominees, so far. His vote goes to Aronofsky’s un-nominated “mother!” – Best allegorical thriller, EVAR!

Social SEO is Here

7 Oct
Google Plus might not be popular with people, but it's important to SEO.

Google Plus might not be popular with people, but it’s important for SEO.

Social 101 for the SEO-minded Company

SEO practitioners have seen the writing on the wall for years. If you really care about ranking well in Google, now it’s past time to pay attention to social. Almost two months ago we learned empirically that more +1 on Google+ means better ranking in Google.

I’ve spent a couple of years hinting to my clients that they should pay more attention to social; now I’m *strongly* suggesting it by outlining a few simple steps they can take (or I can take for them) in the social realm.

Step 1: More Social Outlets

Google Plus is a must. People don’t use it, but Google relies on it for organic rankings, so your organization should use it. If you want to pick your battles and only use three outlets, pick Facebook and Twitter too. But why stop there? It’s so easy to work once and have it propagate to multiple outlets.

Step 2: Maximize Social Efforts

Use Hootsuite or similar services to make social management easy. Type once and your words post on all of your social sites at once. With tools like this there’s no excuse for not also posting on sites like LinkedIn, YouTube and the like.

You can even schedule your content to post at specific times allowing you to compress a portion of your social time investment while taking advantage of peak social interaction times to get your message seen more. Hootsuite is free, and if you’re lucky enough to outgrow the gratis version, it’s only nine bucks a month to upgrade.

Step 3: Encourage Website Visitors to Share

While many sites already sport social icons linking to their Facebook page, that’s not enough. We want a more usable page that enables our web audience to use their social networks to vote and share. Employ action icons like Google’s “+1” to let visitors make note of your specific content. Some might use a +1 as a social bookmark, others as an endorsement. Either way, we like it because Google uses it to rate webpages.

Step 4: Search for Social Engagement #

Hashtags (#) are your friend. Naturally, you should use them in your social posts to tag and categorize your content, but there’s more! Type “#hashtag” (without the quotes) into Facebook’s search bar and you’ll get a list of all posts tagged with #hashtag. But how is that useful?

An acting school might search for #audition and then comment on a post or two every week. A luggage shipping company might search for #lostluggage. A local business might search for people discussing an upcoming local event totally unrelated to their business and then share excitement about it. Etc.

Step 5: Follow for Social Engagement

Have you ever heard of the reward theory of attraction? You can follow that link, or trust me when I say that if you follow others, they might follow you too. This ties in well with hashtag searching. You can’t comment on EVERY related post you find, because that looks spammy, creepy and annoying. Instead, follow people and businesses who are posting about stuff relevant to you. …They’ll be more likely to follow you. Wikipedia says so.

Don’t lay it on too thick

Finally, the overlying/underlying philosophy here is that while social is going to help your other marketing efforts, most of the time, you should not wear your traditional marketing cap while you’re engaging with social networks. When you meet somebody on the street and they try to sell you something, how do you feel? Who wants to follow somebody who’s always talking about themselves? Well, some people do, but you’ll find the people with the most engagement aren’t exclusively self-promoting. Sometimes replying, “ugh!” or “I know, right?!” to share frustration, or asking a question, “How do you find out about _____?” or “Why?” will be more valuable than posting about something more related to your business. Remember: your business name is next to everything you post, so you can just lean on that!

This article only scratches the surface of social best practices, but follow these instructions and your social efforts will be well on their way to helping your search engine optimization.

Dan Dreifort consults on usability, SEO, and now social. If you ask nicely, he might let you subscribe to his private and otherwise unadvertised SEO/usability/social tips email list. …But maybe not.

Keyword Research Alternatives to SEOmoz and Wordtracker?

7 Mar SEOmoz results

Research is the smart first step when starting a new SEO campaign or growing an existing SEO effort. I talk with clients to brainstorm a few keyword ideas and then feed those seed keywords into tools to find related keywords. Then, ideally, I look at  traffic and competition metrics to identify low hanging fruit of the long tail and other gems in the rough. (Per previous whiny posts,) Wordtracker (wordtracker.com) lost my business a while ago, but SEOmoz (seomoz.org) is just as frustrating.

Every single bit of keyword research I’ve done on SEOmoz returns “unavailable” for these metrics:

  • Local Search Volume (Exact Match)
  • Global Monthly Search Volume (Exact Match)
  • Local Search Volume (Broad Match)
  • Global Monthly Search Volume (Broad Match)

…Leaving only one SEOmoz metric, “Keyword Difficulty” which also often returns the dreaded “unavailable” result.

Obfuscating Valuable SEO Metrics is a Poor (But Popular) Business Model

SEOmoz results

SEOmoz – Close to Useless.

What’s worse, this “Keyword Difficulty” metric is dumbed down so as to hide any real value. While I’m sure the two-digit SEOmoz Keyword Difficulty score (or the nearly identical two-digit “Competition” score from Wordtracker) in some fashion represents IAAT and other competition metrics, I am more than hesitant to base important keyword decisions on these vague scores. While I’m sure their scoring algorithms consider many factors, I’m accustomed to crafting my own meta-metrics. But pretend for a second that we do trust their “scores” – exactly how are we supposed to make intelligent decisions without good traffic data?

More frustrating still is the fact that SEOmoz limits us to five keywords at a time and always takes several minutes to return results. There’s nothing less satisfying that twiddling your thumbs waiting for a screen full of “unavailable”. Oh wait, there is – try paying $99 per month for the privilege. Yeah, it burns.

What Does SEOmoz Have to Say?

I posed these conundrums to SEOmoz and received a few responses.

Load times in the Keyword Difficulty tool can vary depending on the keyword(s) and time of day but generally, this shouldn’t be more that a minute or so. Cutting down on load times is also why we limit individual searches to 5 terms.

Sounds like a crappy Band-Aid to me. I ran into slow load times regardless of time of day and keywords.

Search volumes were pulled from the tool several months ago due to problems we were having with accuracy. So instead of taking the entire tool offline, we removed search volumes while we work on new metrics that we hope provide more valuable data. In the interim, I’d recommend checking out Google’s Keyword tool if you’re looking for search volumes.

What are the chances that somebody using SEOmoz doesn’t already know about the Google Keyword tool? And why did it take a trouble ticket for me to find out that this is a known issue? Ugh.

Although we don’t have a solid ETA at the moment for a release on the new metrics, we’ll definitely let everyone know via the community and blog.

I’ll ask them if they can just send me a note when they get it in gear. I don’t want to have to follow them on Twitter for five months to figure out that their ducks are all finally in a row. I asked if I could have a second free trial whenever they fix their tools, you know, so I don’t have to pay a hundred bucks to play with broken toys:

Unfortunately I can’t promise that since we don’t have an actual ETA on when the new metrics will be updated but I’d be happy to add a credit to the account for half off your next month if you’d like.

Paying $50 to test their patches wouldn’t be as bad, but it’s hardly ideal customer service.

What’s the best SEO Keyword Research Tool?

And just to be clear, I’m asking you. Sure, I can get all the data I need directly from Google, but it’s a time-consuming boondoggle. That’s why SEO professionals like me used to pay thousands of dollars every year to the likes of Wordtracker and SEOmoz. Alas, no more.

If I’m going to spend a couple grand a year for competition and traffic metrics, I expect better. What SEO tools do you recommend? If you know a coder looking to make a buck on a new creation, I’ll help him/her design a killer app for keyword research. All I ask in return? Please let me use it.

When not whining on this blog Dan Dreifort consults on Search Engine Optimization and Usability from his home. An avid musician, Dreifort is currently performing with four different bands and trying to form a fifth. Dan Dreifort is for scuba.

SEO Usability Vacuum

5 Nov

That SEO and usability don’t flourish in a vacuum has been on my mind lately. Sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum. If there’s nobody to hear your pearls of SEO wisdom do they make a sound? The sound of silence sends no sales. Four cases of constructive complaining follow.

Case #1 – Hire Experts + Stop Listening = Profit? No!

I helped grow a startup e-retailer from nothing to three million in annual sales. The company sold to new owners who kept me on for SEO services but took away my keys to the site because they wanted to do all web work in-house. No problem- I work this way (via intermediary) sometimes. Though I’d informed them of redesign best practices, they chose to ignore it all;  the hasty series of redesigns and half-rebrands erased years of SEO and usability progress. I spent a few months frantically trying to implement remedial measures but they heeded nothing I said or sent. We parted ways less than a year after the company switched hands. In a few short months they went from hero to zero in Google. Why would you spend good money on a company and then tank it? Conversely, the people who sold the company hired me to do SEO and usability work for a new endeavor. Its sales are growing. SEO and usability are processes, not events; they don’t exist in a vacuum.

Case #2 – Second Verse, Similar to the First, But Better Outcome!

seo results graph

SERP trends: often cyclical over longer periods

The chart to the right shows long-term cycles of a  different SEO effort, underfunded and unfortunately not paired with a good usability effort.  The company rakes in millions every year and would hugely benefit from doubling, tripling or quadrupling their SEO spend. I tell them this every year and sometimes spend time cobbling together metrics to back it up. …Which led to a smart realignment of the campaign scope a few years ago. The effort went from about 10% funding to 25% funding, but we’re still overreaching the budget. Part of the problem is the size of the company; they’re huge. Big boats don’t turn on a dime. A properly funded campaign would smooth out those valleys, and the peaks would be, literally, off the charts.

Because of a third-party payment solution, this client is also unable to give me ideal, actionable analytics data tying actual sales to each keyword. I’m left measuring the ranking of SERP listings, a comparatively bush-league measure of success. I’m also sometimes unable to appropriately geo-target longer tail search phrases (usually a good tactic in underfunded efforts) because most of the campaign consists of more competitive generic keywords. (They have their reasons, but it’s still frustrating. Good thing I like a challenge, and complaining!) I have neither budget nor latitude to increase the usability of landing pages so some of the most trafficked pages on the site lack a cohesive design with calls to action and good user direction. Though I know it’s not true, sometimes this client’s actions tell me they’re happier with countless second and third SERP rankings instead of focusing on the first SERP. My voice is necessarily muddled by the relative vacuum, but it’s getting better all the time and I’m still able to do some good work. I am optimistic.

Google SEO vs Bing and Yahoo SEO

SERP ranks different in Google Bing Yahoo

Eating crow in Bing and Yahoo is fine if you’re doing well in Google

This other graph for the same client, though only tenuously related, needed a place to live in the blogosphere. Many of the campaign’s most broad metrics have been sluggish, flat or even slowly tanking over the past year because they cover all three major search engines as a whole. The chart at right (click it for a larger version) shows that SERP listings have been tanking in Bing and Yahoo, while Google’s doing alright. My SEO work will often please Google more than Bing and Yahoo, and this account exhibits the extreme of that trend. Because Google is responsible for the vast majority of searches performed in the US, I’ve never wasted much effort focusing on the other search engines. So while I likely won’t get more budget to play with, I have a Q1 2013 plan to address some of the issues. Ping me in six months if you want an update.

Case #3 – SEO & Usability Are Processes, Not Events.

There’s a reason SEO practitioners display results in charts with various metrics in one axis and time in the other; SEO is a process, not an event. This next tale bit of complaining deals with the one-night stand of SEO gigs. It’s my first one and I feel dirty – too ashamed to post a picture because a filthy picture is worth a thousand guilty words.  Because of stipulations tied to the funding of this project I was informed that I had to complete all SEO work and training in one month. I interjected, “But….” Nope. One month. I could not get keys to the server so I sent over a long list of Drupal modules essential for SEO like nodewords, xml sitemap, seo-friendly urls, etc. After a month I was still left with a CMS that wouldn’t even allow me to insert title tags or descriptions. It’s been over three months and I’m just now getting close to the finish line. It would have been a huge payday for one month’s work, but I knew better. It’s still a decent payout for a third of a year, so I’m happy. I’ve educated and empowered the client enough to ensure continued SEO success in the future.

Case #4 – SEO & Usability Success!

Google Experiments

A/B/X Testing and Google Experiments = More Bang For Your Buck

Most of my clients do listen, especially those I hand pick (vs. clients from agencies.) Case in point, to compliment SEO efforts I’ve really been leaning on A/B/X testing and Google Experiments. I try to convey that people should not be making decisions about design, SEO, brand, etc. when we can actually measure our audience and do what works best for them. After all isn’t that what any organization wants? The results (and data) speak for themselves.

If you have a very usable site with poor SEO, people won’t find your site. If I use SEO to build your audience, but your website sucks, you’re not going to get as much bang for your SEO buck. Usability is the science of making things not suck. SEO makes search robots happy. Usability makes people happy. The marriage of the two equals high ROI. This last image (above) shows how one little four week experiment caused visitors to be twice as likely to convert into customers. It cost very little to run that experiment and it paid for itself in one day. The rest is gravy. That it’s difficult to convince companies to invest in SEO and usability never ceases to amaze me, but I won’t stop trying (or complaining.) Thanks for reading.

Dan Dreifort makes money for companies and reads. If people paid him to read more he might stop helping companies make so much money. He’s currently proofreading (and loving) a book called When the Biomass Hits The Wind Turbine. It’s available in self-published form from Amazon for a few more months before its re-released and becomes all famous and stuff on the Daily Show and whatever awful show Oprah’s doing these days.

xCommenter Bad for SEO – Bad for your site

25 Jul
spinning top

Spun content will inevitably tumble and fall.

Got an email from one of my contract coders today about a supposed SEO plugin for WordPress called xCommenter:

Hey Dan —
Ever heard of xCommenter wp-plugin?
https://vimeo.com/36628711
Just wondering what your opinion is on these sort of tools.

What is xCommenter? Will it help my site’s SEO?

xCommenter parses your post’s tags, title and content and then searches Yahoo Answers to find related questions. In an effort to improve your SEO, these questions are then periodically posted as comments to your blog post. Though it integrates with a popular article spinning service, my guess is this plugin will do more harm than good once Google catches up, if they haven’t already.

Here’s my reply:

Yikes! It’s fed by Yahoo Answers?! Have you SEEN Yahoo Answers? Garbage. Here’s a dramatization of my favorite Yahoo Answers content.

I suppose xCommenter *could* help SEO in the short term, but you should google “duplicate content penalty” to see how Google says this sort of thing can wreck you.

“There are some penalties that are related to the idea of having the same content as another site—for example, if you’re scraping content from other sites and republishing it, or if you republish content without adding any additional value. These tactics are clearly outlined (and discouraged) in our [Google] Webmaster Guidelines:” (source)

I suppose that when you pay the $77/yr fee and check the box next to “Spin comments with your TheBestSpinner.com account” in the xCommenter settings, in effect rewriting some content phrases, it might not be as big a deal, but something tells me Google is on the lookout for this sort of thing and will soon penalize the funk out of sites using xCommenter.

xCommenter is not the future of SEO

I will not be using xCommenter. Not only is it frowned upon by Google, (and will inevitably be penalized when Google figures out how to spot it, if they haven’t already,) xCommenter also cheapens your site. Use it if you’re a tripe peddler. I will scorn thee.

When he’s not making music, riding a bike, or dreaming about great food, Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and usability.

Advanced Web Ranking Here I Come

1 Dec
Scott Goodyear at the Indianapolis Motor Speed...

Image via Wikipedia – Not the Scott Goodyear I’m talking about, but it’s a Scott Goodyear nonetheless.

WebPosition’s old standalone version finally stopped querying Google correctly. I’m now in the process of switching to Advanced Web Ranking (AWR). Per my earlier post about finding a WebPosition replacement and some followup in the comments, AWR is the only solution to meet all of the critical SEO software criteria. I’m still apprehensive; it’s always a pain to switch to unfamiliar software, but my confidence is buoyed by the great email responses I’ve received from Robert at AWR support.

A few years ago, when I still had an SEO boner for WebPosition, that happy feeling was largely because of Scott Goodyear’s great support. Scott disappeared when infospace acquired WebPosition. That’s when the WP FAIL began.

I’ll write a more thorough review of Advanced Web Ranking after I run and customize a few AWR reports. Specifically, I’ll document precisely how I overcome what at first blush appears to be a cluttered interface to accomplish specific SEO reporting customization tasks. If you have any questions you’d like me to discuss in the review, let me know and I’ll try to abide. I know AWR does search engine submission, and also offers tools for keyword research, but those are features I wouldn’t usually comment on unless somebody specifically asked for a review.

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