Want more traffic? Teach the experts something new

I won’t lie… I’m a search engine geek. Since discovering SEO 2-3 years ago, I have gradually yet increasingly become more passionate on the subject. And as anyone who’s passionate on a subject will attest to, every subject and/or industry has its experts and its heroes. I have a few, one of them being Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.

So I was delighted when after liaising with him on Twitter, I eventually discovered something and taught him something that he didn’t already know, leading him to then share the discovery with his 30,000+ Twitter followers. Here’s what happened…

Teaching an expert

A few weeks ago, Rand tweeted saying that he’d seen a weird search result, linking to a screenshot of it and saying that he couldn’t figure out why some of the results were ranking. Looking into it, I responded saying that I thought the anchor text of the in-bound links was helping at least one of the results (a result that didn’t even have the words on the page whatsoever p after all, how else would Google know to show that page for that keyword?)

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsAlthough Rand agreed with my theory, he still wasn’t convinced that “it would be enough for such a tough-to-rank SERP.” I replied asking if he thought that perhaps negative/removed keywords could affect the anchor text of in-bound links as well as the on-page text.

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsAt this point, I was tempted to leave it be, but after thinking about it for a while, I decide to look into it some more. Before Rand had the chance to respond, I took a deeper look into it and drew a few conclusions. To my delight, Rand responded positively and enthusiastically.

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsThe next day, I detailed my findings in a post for the Liberty Marketing blog. Although arguably a bit cheeky on any other occasion, I notified Rand of the post’s existence, seeing as we’d discussed it the day before and I thought that he’d be interested.

@steviephil tweetThe result? Rand didn’t retweet my notification, but tweeted about it in its own right, mentioning me in the process, which was probably better than retweeting my tweet (it was certainly more presentable than what I’d written to him).

@randfish tweetCompared to other tweets, this one didn’t start with “@steviephil,” meaning that it wasn’t sent solely to me… Instead, it was addressed to his followers. All 30,000+ of them.

For someone who loves SEO, loves learning new things (especially something that no one’s ever documented or picked up on before) and who also looks up to Rand and what he’s achieved in the industry, this was a huge honour. I was ecstatic.

But the purpose of this blog post isn’t to brag about what happened. It’s to talk about the benefits of going to the effort of doing what I did and suggesting that others try and do the same if and when they can. When Rand tweeted the first time, it was Sunday evening (UK time) – I could have ignored it. Hell, I could have missed it altogether, so I was lucky to have caught it and that I wasn’t busy doing something else at the time. I persevered and the end result was certainly worth the effort…

An influx of traffic

Rand’s tweet saw the Liberty blog and the website as a whole get a ton more traffic than usual. Unfortunately I don’t have access to Liberty’s Google Analytics account as I type this, although you can picture the graph: a huge peak on the date of the post, with a drop in the days afterwards.

I may not have Analytics access, but I do have bit.ly account access, and I can tell you that this particular blog post had 30 times the clickthroughs compared to the blog’s other recent posts. We couldn’t believe it!

Other benefits

Okay, so admittedly, although the volume of traffic was great, one can argue that the traffic was probably primarily made up of other SEOs, and although that’s still cool from a relevancy point of view (e.g. they may then go on to browse other news and advice posts we’ve written), they’re hardly our target market. We want business owners to check out the Liberty site – they’re the ones who enquire and hire us for our services, not our industry peers.

However there are still some great benefits attributed to the tweet and the rise in traffic that can benefit Liberty in other ways:

Links: The blog post has acquired more in-bound links than some of Liberty’s other blog posts, probably because more people saw it, offering more of an opportunity that someone would link to it. Also, being mainly industry peers, SEOs – many already owning blogs and knowledgeable about linking – are probably more inclined to link to it than other people. Not only that, but we might also have a legitimate and genuine Wikipedia link opportunity, what with is being an industry discovery and research.

Retweets: Old and new-style tweets combined, Rand’s tweet was retweeted about 20 times. Although the sharers themselves might have mostly been made up of industry peers, their followers may not be. It’s not impossible that one or more of the retweeters was an SEO agency or freelancer in the UK, who has followers that might benefit from Liberty’s services, the retweet along with the link to the blog post now putting Liberty on their radar.

New Followers: Both me and Liberty earned a few more followers as a result of Rand’s sharing, some of whom have hopefully continued to follow us for future tweets and updates, both business and SEO-related.

Pride: In my excitement, rather than retweeting Rand’s tweet, I tweeted about the whole thing separately, giving me a chance to word it how I wanted (a bit like Rand not retweeting my notification but putting it in his own words instead). It gave me the opportunity to call it a “massive honour,” while linking to the Twitter profiles of Liberty, Rand and SEOmoz, all in one tweet. Liberty shared it, as well as Liberty’s PR agency, making it more widely accessible to our more local contacts.

@steviephil tweetAuthority: Linked to the above point (especially in terms of Liberty sharing the tweet), it helped to strengthen Liberty’s authority and standing in the SEO industry. By discovering something like this, we are showing that we know what we’re on about and know what we’re doing. This should give comfort to clients – present and future, current and prospective – to give them confidence in our abilities, skills and knowhow.

Recognition: Now that Rand has seen what I/we can do, it might be easier to do something like this again, with him sharing another discovery. It’s like a foot in the door, with it being not impossible that he might remember and recognise me in the future, especially as I have started to comment on a number of SEOmoz blog posts in my own right (and with the fact that I currently use the same avatar on my SEOmoz profile as I do on Twitter).

Networking: I’m a member (and a big fan) of BNI. It’s given me another thing to talk about and to tell people – in my opinion, saying “we taught an expert in our industry something new” is as impressive as saying “we helped to get a website higher in Google.” Although very few people in my chapter will know who Rand is (and that’s fair enough), they can always look into it afterwards, plus some people in related industries may already know who he is (e.g. web developers and social media specialists – I may not be a dedicated expert in either area but I’ve still heard of some industry experts in both areas).

Things to be careful about

I can’t see this type of thing working for everyone. I do think I was extremely lucky, in noticing and responding to the tweet and in taking the time and initiative to investigate and then write about the issue.

A big risk is the person taking the credit for the discovery themselves. Given Rand’s standing in the industry and his morals and views on sharing with others, I knew Rand wouldn’t do such a thing (“that’s definitely a discovery worth sharing” was almost his way of saying “you should tell people about it”), but that’s not to say that everyone would necessarily follow his example.

Alternatively, they might simply not share it. Rand might have not bothered to pass on the tweet, even with my nudge/notification to him. Or they might not share it properly – I was lucky that Rand @mentioned me in the tweet as well as linking to the blog post, but others might only do the latter.

Which brings me onto a big point – not everyone is familiar with Twitter and not everyone uses it. It may differ from industry to industry, with Rand in SEO being a regular Twitter user, while an expert in another industry simply doesn’t touch it.

However, for those who do, there is no harm keeping an eye on what they say and jumping on an opportunity to help them if they want feedback, advice or someone’s input – it sure worked well for me.

“We rank therefore we rock,” said the agency – Beware the misleading ranking claim

Technology WinDisclaimer: This post is not intended as an attack against anyone, so be advised that any keywords/rankings that I go on to mention are purely examples – any correlations between the agencies ranking for them and the way they market themselves is purely coincidental and unintended.

A good measure of any agency can be seen in how they do what they do on themselves. If a PR agency has a bad reputation in the press, a web design agency has a poorly-built website or an SEO agency doesn’t rank for anything then it’s not a very reassuring sign.

So it’s understandable when an web design or online marketing agency that does SEO wants to let people know when they rank for a keyword. “Hooray, we rank! We rock!” Right? Not necessarily. It may sound great on the surface, but dig a little deeper and it may not be that impressive at all.

We rank ≠ we rock (necessarily)

Sometimes on Twitter I come across a web design agency which provides SEO services saying that they rank #1 on page 1 organically in Google for a keyword like, say, “web designers in cardiff”. At first, that sounds really impressive, but think about it for a moment… That’s just one variation of a number of things someone might type into Google. There’s a lot of different things someone might search on in order to find effectively the same thing:

  • “web designer” could be singular or plural: “designer” or “designers” (2 variations)
  • It could be “website designer(s)” instead… (4 variations)
  • …Or you could just call it “design” (6 variations)
  • Although arguably a different requirement, some people are inclined to call it “development,” or might be looking for a “developer” or “developers” (12 variations)
  • They might be looking for one in “cardiff” or maybe “south wales” or “wales” as a whole (36 variations)
  • When typing in keywords containing locations, searchers tend to put the location afterwards, either with or without the “in,” or before, e.g. “web design cardiff,” “web design in cardiff” or “cardiff web design” (108 variations)

We’re now up to 100+ different ways that someone might be looking for a web designer/developer in Cardiff or the wider Wales.

Variations and their search volumes

Not only that but some variations are undoubtedly going to be more popular than others, whether it’s due to searcher’s habits, one term being more renowned or used than another, or perhaps Google Suggest highlighting a particular search term as a searcher starts typing. Just looking at some of the variations using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool can show the difference (which can be used for free and by anyone, by the way):

web design cardiff and variations in the Keyword Tool

According to its results, “web design cardiff” receives c. 2,400 searches per month, while the bottom three keywords – including the aforementioned “web designers in cardiff” – show no data whatsoever, suggesting that search volume is minimal or non-existent. It’s likely that “web design cardiff” has a lot of agencies fighting over it, trying to optimise themselves and their sites for that keyword, simply because of how popular and in demand it is. Likewise, this should suggest that the likes of “web designers in cardiff” will have very few people going for them – after all, why optimise your site for something that no one’s searching for? Therefore, in comparison it should be an easy one to rank for… I bet that keyword sounds even less impressive now, doesn’t it?

How about the website that ranks highly for “web design cardiff” though? Surely that’s a good sign of an agency that knows how to do SEO! Perhaps… While it certainly carries weight to rank for the whale, it may not be a good sign if they don’t also rank for littler fish, either. Maybe they’re focussing all of their energies on just that one keyword? Or maybe they just got lucky?

What’s a business to do?

Someone in the market for an SEO agency may not know all of this stuff, along with how to check for search volumes, and that’s fair enough. If gauging an SEO’s performance on their own rankings, it is wise to check a few rankings in their industry and location(s).

I did a presentation for Liberty Marketing recently and in the Q&A session afterwards I was asked how we rank. Fortunately I was able to say that we do quite well – as I type this, we’re the #1-3 result for searches such as “seo cardiff,” “online marketing cardiff” an even just “marketing cardiff” (even though we don’t provides any offline marketing services whatsoever). We’re also on page 1 for “online marketing agency,” which – with no location keyword involved – means we’re competing UK-wide. Not too bad for a three-year-old agency.

Of course, my advice would be not to go down this route at all. I’ve heard stories of people who have somewhat naïvely recruited SEO agencies by simply typing “seo” into Google and asking the top few results for proposals. Compared to other industries, it’s possible for a site to have gamed the system and used dodgy, black-hat technique to have gotten there in the first place. You could end up hiring someone who engages in dodgy practices which can have long-term damaging effects on your site, or – in the worst case scenario – is simply a con artist.

If it were up to me, I’d work on the basis of recommendations and testimonials. I’d also think about the competition of an industry – a high result in a UK-wide insurance search (likely to be in the 1,000s of searches each month) is certainly going to be a lot more impressive than someone looking for a particular niche product or trade in a small town or city. After all, regardless of the industry, a happy client is what makes a good agency.

[iPhone/thumbs up image credit: Stéphane Delbecque]

My intentions for the SEOno blog

I started the SEOno blog a month ago now and an SEO worth their salt should be able to quickly and easily identify that the blog itself hasn’t been very well optimised as of yet. The usual on-page suspects (page titles, META data, etc.) are basic and – in some cases – not unique, while the template I’ve chosen has a ton of errors in the code because of the chosen font.

I’m fairly new to WordPress and I guess I’ve been a little naïve when it’s come to setting it up. I went ahead with WP’s own hosting (.com, not .org) and didn’t realise that I wouldn’t be allowed to use plug-ins. The plan is to change the hosting, from WP’s own to another alternative, opening up the use of plug-ins and allowing me to have greater control over the feel and aesthetics of the blog.

I’m waiting for a colleague at Liberty to show me how best to go about this, as he’s more experienced at using WP and doing this type of thing, at which point I’ll apply it to the SEOno blog. Hopefully this will happen sometime in the next few weeks.

Until then, I may limit or restrict the amount of blog posts that I write. I’ll want to go back and make changes to the previous posts (only 3 at this point, 4 including this one), so I’d rather do it while the number’s low than continue to add to it and create more work for myself in the future.

Don’t worry… I have some great ideas for future blog posts, covering many topics, thoughts and ideas that have not been covered anywhere else. Stay tuned…

A surefire PPC brand exposure tactic for AdWords advertisers

Yuri Gagarin logo

What’s a search term that – for one day only – will have a massive surge of search volume in Google?

Whatever the Google Doodle’s linking to.

“Google Doodles?”

Readers who aren’t familiar with the term are bound to be familiar with one of Google’s quirky and clever branding traits. Google Doodles are Google’s reworks of its famous logo. Yesterday’s was a tribute to Yuri Gagarin, the first human being to journey into outer space, 50 years ago.

Some Google Doodles aren’t obvious straight away. For those wanting to find out more about its presence, Google provides a link to a relevant search term, which will then give searchers an idea as why that particular topic is being paid tribute to. In yesterday’s case, the search term the Doodle linked to was “yuri gagarin.”

How AdWords advertisers can take advantage

I clicked on the logo, and here’s what I noticed when I clicked through:

Yuri Gagarin in the SERPs

Notice the PPC ad on the right-hand side of the SERPs? It says:

Out Of This World Deals
Whether You’re Building A Rocket Or
A House We Have The Tools You Need
www.screwfix.com

That’s a clever little exercise in brand exposure.

Using PPC advertising and AdWords to advertise on a search term that’s not relevant to a business or website but is very topical is not a new tactic, but it’s certainly not a widely implemented one. I’m reminded of the brilliant Ann Summers PPC campaigns on searches relating to last year’s UK Elections and this year’s Chinese New Year.

To quote the latter article, iCrossing – Ann Summers’ PPC agency – “knew that hanging paid search ads off the back of popular news-based searches would drive a lot of awareness, with relatively few clicks.” I bet this was Screwfix’s intention, too. A few people might click on it while a few people might not even notice it at all, but I bet more people were thinking about Screwfix more than usual yesterday.

Google Insights for Search indicates the impact of the surge:

Yuri Gagarin on Google Insights

Interestingly, it’s showing the rise on the 11th April, not the 12th (the actual day of the Doodle and the anniversary of Gagarin’s achievement). Whether this is due to the freshness of the data or the fact that the logo would’ve shown earlier in the UK than in the US, I can’t say. Either way, if you look at the Insights data for “harry houdini”, you will see that the rise takes place on 24th March, the date of Google’s Harry Houdini Doodle (note: refine the search to the last 30 or 90 days – I’ve linked to data showing the whole of 2011 otherwise the link will become obsolete for future readers).

The downside?

Surely the pros outweigh the cons: huge brand exposure, a low advertising cost (due to high impressions but low clickthrough rate) and a chance to be cheeky and funny and possibly throw in a pun or two – surely that’s a win-win scenario for a lot of advertisers! However I can see AdWords’ keyword Quality Score being negatively affected, unless an advertiser is actually a Gagarin biographer or has any other close connection to him, but what’s the harm if it’s only for a maximum of 24 hours?

Advertising for the quick thinker

I have to say that I am amazed that there aren’t more companies like Screwfix and Ann Summers jumping on opportunities like this, unless I’m just not aware of them. Compared to other topical events, the Google Doodles in particular will be difficult to predict, unless it’s a really obvious anniversary (although there’s nothing to say that Google will Doodle it), or perhaps a yearly occurrence, such as St. Patrick’s Day, which is usually a yearly tradition of the Doodle, this year notwithstanding (outside of Ireland).

I can see quick-thinking advertisers benefitting from this type of strategy, while those who aren’t so much on the ball or with too much red-tape to go through not being able to implement anything within the short 24-hour period. But for those who do, the result should be a nice – albeit fleeting – exercise in brand exposure to a large number of Google users.

The future of music and search?

Love music

Two of my biggest passions in life are music and search engine optimisation. However, one thing that’s always left me a little gutted is the fact that the two really aren’t compatible. People may use Google to look for merchandise, instruments, gig tickets or info on bands they already know and love, but they don’t really tend to put “acoustic music cardiff” into Google to find new local music to check out (at least not many anyway, and certainly no one I’ve ever talked to about it). When I first got into SEO, I experimented with my own music site, the now defunct morgasmic.co.uk (which currently redirects to my MySpace page, until MySpace inevitably goes under, in which case I’ll probably then redirect it here). But of course nothing really came out of that work, except for the realisation that SEO is utterly no good at all for people trying to find new music online.

Well why is that? It’s no mystery how people find new music, and there’s plenty of ways to do so: word of mouth, recommendations from family, friends and colleagues, the radio, TV, magazines, support acts at gigs, all-day gigs/festivals, open mic nights and other showcases, film and video game soundtracks… and that’s just offline. Musicians can certainly optimise their presence online via other alternatives to search: music forums for chatter or Twitter and Facebook (and MySpace, once upon a time…) to broadcast news and attempt to win new fans. But a few things recently have got me thinking. Is there a future for music and online search? Is there a way musicians can optimise themselves in order to be found by searchers? I certainly don’t condone or recommend any of them, but here are a few thoughts I had…

Track/band/album/label name optimisation?

Recently, I’ve been trying to get my music onto Spotify. Supposedly it’s in the process of getting added within the next few weeks, so every few days I do a vanity search to see if it’s on there. There’s already another Steve Morgan on there, whose most popular song on there by quite some margin is called “Ballad for Forest Gump,” which I’m assuming most people have come across when searching for “Forest Gump.” Notice the misspelling as well: a search for “Forrest Gump” brings up a much bigger list, including the official soundtrack, but drop an “r” and the searcher is only presented with a total of eight tracks. Incidentally, I have no idea if Steve #2 has intentionally misspelt the name, or whether it was a typo when it was uploaded, but I bet it’s been found more as “Forest” than it would’ve done as “Forrest.”

Forrest vs. Forest Gump

Admittedly, the searcher was looking for something else, but who hasn’t fallen in love with a band or musician they’ve stumbled across by complete accident? Who knows, maybe my namesake has won a fan or two this way, people who have listened to that one track and then the rest of the album.

Alternatively, what about those who don’t optimise enough? I’m guilty of this firsthand. When I released my second EP, I included a live cover of the traditional Irish song “Whiskey In The Jar.” What did I label the song as? “Whiskey (Live).” I’m a big Jane’s Addiction fan, who once covered “Sympathy For The Devil” but just called their version “Sympathy,” so I did something similar. Of course this wasn’t a particularly smart move on my part, because people looking for “Whiskey In The Jar” would never find my version, even though it is that song. The interesting thing as well is the spelling of “Whiskey,” as it can be spelt with or without the “e.” The spellings generally differ depending on where you live, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people have considered one variation over the other depending on its accessibility and popularity more than its geographical preference. They’d certainly think about it in the business world, so why not in the music industry?

It doesn’t just end with track names, either. What’s stopping someone calling their band something that somebody might be looking for? Or their albums? Have any record labels ever tried it?

Lyrics “optimisation”?

Lyrics pages are like weird word goldmines, where a random mixture of usual and unusual words can trigger all sorts of off-topic long tail search terms. Like the “Forest” example above, it can be another way a musician is found completely by accident.

I saw absolute strangers land on my music site via the lyrics page for all sorts of crazy search terms (I didn’t have Google Analytics installed but Alexa has its own Top Search Queries list). My site once had a few people coming in who were asking Google: “can i go on holiday on parole,” because one of my songs had the word “holiday” in it a few times and another song had “parole” in one line. Aside from alerting me to the fact that travel-loving convicts were finding my website and probably leaving confused, disappointed and with their question unanswered, it highlights the fact that lyrics pages – particularly when lots of songs are all listed on one page – are like goldmines for the accidental long tail.

Length optimisation – shorter songs (but longer albums)?

Not strictly search related, but looking beyond the usual means of getting noticed would be appealing to the likes of Last.fm, which documents the tracks people listen to on their computer, and auto-tweet charts such as Tweekly.fm, which tweets a listener’s Top 3 most listened-to artists on a weekly basis. They work on the basis of number of songs listened to, not the length of time listened, so short pop and punk songs are going to be counted in more volume than 10+ minute progressive rock and post-rock songs.

In other words, if a band decides to write 60 minutes of material, the twenty 3-minute tracks are going to fare better in this instance than six 10-minute epics. It’d be a bit ridiculous if a band decided to base their “strategy,” style and way of songwriting on the off-chance that they’ll be on Last.fm, Tweekly.fm et al more often, but it could work to generating more notice.

Optimisation for the listener – the killer of creativity?

Music is about creativity, emotion, feeling. You give a song a name because it means something to you or your listeners, not because it has more chance of being found. At least that’s what I think, and I bet I’m not alone. But then I was hardly a Gaga or a Bieber in my more regular gigging days (then again, maybe that’s a good thing).

However, in a day and age where thousands upon thousands of bands and musicians try so hard to get themselves heard (pun possibly intended), I wouldn’t be surprised if some budding musicians cotton on to a few of the ideas mentioned above, perhaps come up with a few new ones, and try to get fans by tailoring their music and lyrics to maximise exposure more than through the music itself. Anything to stand out and get noticed.

…Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to form a band called The Lolcat Funny Picture Orchestra and release an album called “Whisky Or Whiskey?,” containing thirty 2-minute songs including “Winning Tiger Blood From Mr. Sheen,” “Lady Gaga’s Latest Crazy Dress” and “(Rebecca) Black Friday.” Keep an eye out for us…

[iPod/keyboard image credit: billaday]