Friday, February 1, 2013

Good Bye Anchor Text, Welcome Co-Citations: Revolution in Link Building for 2013 Revealed

goodbye anchor text
The Google Penguin update has changed the link building process forever. Gone are the days when it was easy to rank for desired keywords by building tons of links using exact keywords as the anchor text.
In the wake of Penguin, uncertain exactly where the thresholds and ratios are. Just how well distributed should our anchor text be in order to get the best results?
We have been busy with research on the subject and, not too long ago, discovered what Rand Fishkin at the SEOMoz blog had to say for their Whiteboard Friday series. Much of what we’ve observed has fallen in line with his predictions.

So why might Google think about diminishing Anchor text?

It’s too easily manipulated.
No matter how the link was obtained, you clearly have more control over the anchor text if have direct control over the link. Google isn’t, for the most part, interested in links that you have built yourself. There are exceptions. For example, if your reach is big enough to get links from prominent sites on the web, links that you directly build as a result are a genuine indication of your influence on the web.
But, in general, Google wants to see sites linking to you simply because they like the content, feel it’s relevant, and want to share it with their audience. A link with highly optimized anchor text simply doesn’t look natural. It means there’s a much higher chance you had direct control over the creation of that link. If most of your links have optimized anchor text, it means you probably built most of them yourself.

What are co-citations?

I found a page on that gives a nice definition of co citation.
“Bibliographic Co-Citation is a popular similarity measure used to establish a subject similarity between two items. If A and B are both cited by C, they may be said to be related to one another, even though they don’t directly reference each other. If A and B are both cited by many other items, they have a stronger relationship. The more items they are cited by, the stronger their relationship is.”
We believe that Google is placing less emphasis on anchor text (and perhaps links in general), and is leveraging it’s massive data set to look for statistical correlations that it can use to determine relevance and influence on the web. Links are a good proxy for this, but as the search engines get smarter they will get better at measuring “buzz” unrelated to links and especially anchor text.

How to earn co-citations?

  • Stay up to date on trends in your niche
  • Produce original content on the subject that hasn’t been covered extensively by others
  • If your content makes waves in the industry, it will influence the direction of posts made by others later on. Even if they don’t link to you directly, your impact on the industry will in some cases be measured by Google. The search engines will only get better at this in the years going forward.
Here’s an example. After the recent Google algorithm updates, “Post Panda/Penguin strategies” became a topic that people were looking for very frequently. As a result, that’s what we wrote about our earlier post. Here it is.
Afterward, we got a lot of natural citations from third party websites where people were talking about link building strategies that apply after the Google Panda and Penguin updates.
Here is an example from Quora:
Image1 (1)

Here is the citation we got:
As you can see, this link doesn’t use anchor text at all. However, the entire page is about post-penguin/panda strategies, and Google is increasingly using this kind of information to determine what the linked page is about.

Why would Google give more importance to co-citations than anchor text?

Simple. Logically, it’s harder to manipulate co-citations. You cannot have great co-citations unless you have actionable content which people love to read and share. Also, you cannot manipulate the industry influencers who make your co-citations possible. They only promote the content that they feel is best to share with their readers.
If you have an actionable post then you don’t need to manipulate things. You’ll get citations much like the one above.
It is too early to say for sure, but we believe Google is not only pushing away from anchor text, but toward co-citation as one of the strongest relevancy signals. Co-citation, if measured properly, gives the search engine much more data to work with and will allow it to take the temperature of the internet community at large. Anchor text, on the other hand, is a small html quirk that few people even know how to use properly.
So do you think Co-citations will be replaced by Anchor text in near future? Let’s talk about it in comments. I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / woaiss

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Intersection of SEO and User Experience

SEO Usability
One of the biggest criticisms that exists regarding the process of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is that it’s entirely self-promotional—that is, that it manipulates websites based on what the search engines prefer to see, not based on what’s most beneficial to website users.
As such, it would appear that a conflict exists between SEO and the creation of a good user experience. After all, if you’re constantly tweaking and tailoring your website for natural search success, doesn’t it also stand to reason that this diminished focus on your website’s users creates an environment that isn’t enjoyable or interesting for real people?
In fact, I disagree. As you’ll see in the following examples, there are plenty of instances in which these dual focuses actually work together—with best practices from both disciplines combining to create an environment that’s both easily accessible to the search engines and highly engaging to the actual visitors that wind up on your site.

Use Sitemaps and Simple Navigation

It’s no secret that sitemaps and effective navigation strategies are important from an SEO perspective. Search engines operate on limited crawl budgets, meaning that they may only index a certain number of pages on your site on any given visit. If they have any difficulty navigating to different areas of your website (whether because of a lack of internal links or because of Flash-based navigation systems), you risk squandering this crawl budget unnecessarily.
As a result, sitemaps and efficient navigation options are great for the search engines, but their also great for your users. Keep in mind that users like things simplified as well. Really, nobody has time these days to click through page after page, looking for a single piece of information that could have been made easily accessible with a better navigation system.
So, do both your users and the search engines a favor by following sitemap creation best practices and implementing an HTML-based navigation system that ensures that every page on your site can be found within three clicks or less!

Combine SEO and User Experience Elements

From an SEO standpoint, huge chunks of text are good. Not only do they give the search engines’ spider programs a better understanding of your site’s focus area (increasing the odds that you’ll rank for the right search queries in the natural results), they also improve keyword discovery for webmasters (increasing the number of search queries for which you’ll rank).
But from a user standpoint, long stretches of uninterrupted text-based content aren’t all that great. Nobody wants to click on to a new website—only to be assaulted by the sheer volume of required reading offered by some pages.
That said, you don’t need to choose between the text content that’s favored by the search engines and the graphic experience preferred by website visitors. Just keep “the fold” of your website’s pages in mind. Because the first few moments of interaction on your website are so critical to interesting and retaining new visitors, consider including graphic elements on the top of your pages (where they’ll be seen right away by users) and text blogs on the bottom (where they’ll still be accessible by the search engines).  Everybody wins!

Write Content for Users and the Search Engines

As any webmaster with at least a basic understanding of SEO knows, content is king. Content does your website a number of SEO favors—from increasing the odds that your site will be indexed for a particular target keyword to aiding your chances of ranking highly by improving your overall “freshness” score. And for the most part, it should be obvious that adding high-quality content to your site on a regular basis goes a long way towards improving the user experience on your site as well.
That said, confusion occurs when it comes to how this content should be written in order to maximize its SEO effectiveness. The days of keyword density playing a role in SEO rankings has long since passed, and yet, many webmasters still believe that they need to create paragraphs like the ones below in order to secure the top spots in the natural search results pages:
“Melissa’s Gift Shop has the best low cost gifts on the Web.  Her store sells women’s gifts, men’s gifts, children’s gifts, pet gifts and more.  Her low cost gifts are great for any occasion, so be sure to check back the next time you need a low cost gift.”
No …  Just no!
When it comes to keyword inclusion, it’s a good idea to include your target keyword in your page title, headline tag and body content, but don’t include more than one instance in any of these areas. More than this simply isn’t necessary when it comes to SEO (in fact, doing so could put your site at risk of an over-optimization penalty) and risks annoying your readers to the extent that they leave your site and never return.
Repeat after me: High-quality, natural-sounding website content benefits both my readers and the search engine spiders!

Avoid Flash

Can we all make an agreement to simply stop using this outdated technology? Here’s the thing…
Although search engines have come a long way in their ability to recognize and parse the content found within Flash objects on websites, the still aren’t able to process this information correctly 100 percent of the time. So at best, you’ve filled up your site with content that the search engines can’t understand. At worst, though, you’ve diminished the overall SEO effectiveness of your site by including important information in a format that the search engines can’t process correctly.
And don’t even try to tell me that Flash is necessary for your user experience! We’re long since passed the days when website visitors were impressed by every moving object and animated experience you could cram into your site. These days, people want information ASAP, which means that they don’t want to waste time sitting through the minute-long Flash splash page or presentation your Web team is so proud of.
So yes, while I know it’s possible to work around the SEO weaknesses that Flash presents, my point is that there’s no reason to. Users don’t want to deal with these animations, so do everybody a favor and eliminate them from your website entirely.

Incorporate Microdata Markup into Your Pages

One final intersection between SEO and the user experience that you’ll want to be aware of is the impact that microdata usage can have on your website’s performance.
When it comes to SEO, microdata—particularly those that follow protocols—can be incredibly useful when it comes to providing the search engines with extra data about your site’s purpose and intent. As an example, adding the system’s “itemtype” tag to your page’s HTML could allow you to clarify that your page on “Pride & Prejudice” refers to the original book, not the recent movie.
As a result, the search engines that are able to interpret this structured data could serve your site up for more relevant search result placements than sites without this additional information.
As you might expect by this point in the article, users benefit from the addition of microdata as well. In many cases, especially that of the “rel=author” tag, structured data provides additional information that can be displayed alongside a site’s listing in the natural search results.
Not only does this extra data help users to make more informed search decisions, these enhanced displays have a notable impact on SERPs click-through rates, increasing the likelihood that a search user will wind up on your page over a competitor’s.
As you can see, there are plenty ways in which SEO and user experience objectives can work together to create a website that’s both engaging to read and easy to rank in the natural search results. However, if you ever identify a potential conflict between the two, keep in mind that your first priority is to the user. While SEO best practices may come and go over time, making a commitment to serve your user first will never go out of style!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Is Agile Marketing the Future of Search in 2013?

Over the last few weeks, the one thing I'm hearing a lot more people starting to talk about is the need to be agile in marketing campaigns.
At BlueGlassX, Greg Boser went as far to predict that agile marketing is going to be the new buzzword of 2013:
As I said in my last post, it doesn't matter what you call your online strategy - and buzzword or not, that's not what's important - but there's a lot about agile marketing as a concept that makes perfect sense.
2012 Is the Year That Search Grew up!
Looking back over 2012, we've seen a huge volume of changes.
The problem we've had with SEO in the past is that there was a huge gap between what Googlesaid the algorithm did and what it actually did. Everyone knew all along we should be creating great content to build a brand online. But this year, more than any other, we've seen that gap close to the point that the only way to achieve sustainable results is to finally do what Google has been telling us all along!
This means we have to be nimble and able to think on our feet a lot more to naturally acquire relevant links as a by-product of high-quality content generation, not by traditional link building.
Andy Betts has written some excellent posts on the shifts we're seeing recently, and I spoke atSES London back in February about the measurement of ROI in search. During this time I definitely feel that we've seen a significant shift toward the industry evolving in this way, with not just search marketers realizing the value, but also social, PR, content, and branding teams being integrated into the bigger digital picture, too.
Having a Great Strategy Doesn't Mean You Forget About the Tactics
2012 has been a crazy year for seeing SEO evolve - how many years is an Internet year now? In 2012 I think we're looking at closer to seven years for every month!
And 12 months on, we now seem to be in a world where we realize having a solid, long-term strategy is a far more effective and sustainable way to get results.
But that doesn't mean we should completely forget about tactic-driven strategies. Tactics are still a key part of your strategy that gets you to the top - so as long as you apply tactics that complement your long-term strategy, as opposed to quick wins, you should still be trying out new tactics all of the time.
Everyone knows that the only constant in this game is change - even if you're staying on top of what's working now, you're still likely to be behind the curve.
To quote Greg Boser again, "Chaos is good, complacency is the kiss of death" - and there's no way you can stand still in this game; everything changes so quickly. You need to be looking ahead to where things are going; read the patents (for example, this one on Agent Rank gives some very clear signs) and make sure you're testing all of the time. That way when your competitors are chasing you, they're always one step behind.
Learn From Agile Project Management
There's a huge amount you can learn about marketing by reading about agile project management techniques and processes.
Image source: Tutorials Point
This might be a very new way of thinking for search marketers, but it's not a new concept or model. In fact, it follows a very simple process:
  1. Build
  2. Measure
  3. Learn
Image source: HubSpot
If you're trying to prove a point to your boss or client, this is clearly the easiest route to getting that message across. This is exactly the same way you would create a prototype for showcasing a new product, or a pilot episode for a TV series.
For anyone who is experienced in SEO, I would suggest that rather than trying to develop new skills in search, perhaps you should buy a book on agile project management instead.
But with agile marketing there's no need to change your whole strategy, just make sure you're adaptable enough to learn what does and doesn't work - and be well prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that may come along.
I think the one thing I've learned, especially this year, is that it's not always a case of right or wrong. There's a good chance you're doing something that's working, but it doesn't mean it's your best option.
The great thing about this industry is that we're constantly surrounded by great opportunities - so the first step is often figuring out what you shouldn't be doing or how you can free up some time.
For example, where are you wasting your time? What don't you enjoy doing? What aren't you good at? Once you figure this out, everything else is much easier to fall into place. Whether it's reviewing a client fit, your career, or your online marketing strategy, it's exactly the same.
Agile Isn't Flexible, It's Intuitive
In order to make your marketing campaigns agile, you need to fully understand what this means - and just as importantly, what it doesn't.
While it may seem like a campaign that's flexible, that's not what it's about. Yes, it's sensible that rather than having a rigid 12-month editorial calendar, you add flexibility in order to adapt and change. For example, perhaps you'll set 25 percent of your plan aside for topical issues, which may come up and allow time to be adaptable (depending on your industry, it may be much higher).
But flexibility suggests making a compromise, which isn't the most effective way of getting results. An agile marketing campaign needs to be able to adapt and intuitively grow based on your key findings and strategy.
Run Controlled Experiments and Prove a Point
As Greg says, it shouldn't be a "throw stuff against the wall and hope that something sticks" model. Instead, you should be testing out new ideas and concepts by creating controlled experiments.
If you can closely measure the impact of a tactic on a small scale, and prove a point that if you do X, this Y happens, then you can make data-driven, strategic decisions on whether you'd like to roll this out more heavily across your campaign.
This makes you more agile in being able to move quickly . Plus, it means that by running small experiments in this way, you'll be able to prioritize decisions based on their likely success. And that's what it's all about - the building and prioritization of a clear marketing plan.
Marketers Need to Lose the Fear of Failure
By being agile, you also lose that fear of failure. It's not about making every single thing you do a success - that leads to taking safe bets and consistently getting average to good results.
You might be happy with that, but if instead you accept that you're going to make mistakes along the way, you're incrementally improving your processes and likely to achieve much better results in the long term. Matt Roberts from Linkdex made an excellent analogy recently, which was a comparison with the VC funding model.
"VC's will often back 10 companies, accepting that some will be complete failures, others will do ok - but if one is a big success that outweighs everything else they've backed. And this applies to search and content - it's much better to have one outstanding piece of content which outperforms everything else you've done, than it is to have 10 pieces [of] content which have had good results." by Derek Halpern is another good example of this. Derek would much rather have one great piece of content and then focus the rest of his time on promoting that content. His theory being "why create new content when there are still people who haven't seen your last post yet?"
It's a different way of looking at things, but again it makes a lot of sense - he's learned what resonates with his audience, to the point that every post he writes has over 100 comments. So now he gives his audience what they want to see - and follows up by promoting it as much as possible.
Your Team Must Be Integrated, Not Siloed
If you're going to have an agile strategy, the first thing you need to do is ditch the silos.
In order to get the best results, you need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. The days of doing SEO, social media, PR/branding, and even content marketing effectively in silos have gone - each of these benefit and help each other in different ways, so to get the best value you have to look at the bigger picture.
By using an integrated model, you can figure out your internal restraints and challenges - and then fix them. It's not always easy when everyone is fighting against each other for their own individual goals and budgets.
When's the Best Time to Publish a Story? When It's Most Relevant!
I was asked this question after my BlueGlassX presentation. My answer was to find out more about your audience and to learn what works best with them, in a similar way to how you would test an email marketing campaign.
However, for topical stories, timing is everything. If there's big news that's happening within your industry, you need to be prepared to drop everything and adapt, so that you can instantly switch your focus to what's most relevant.
For example, following Michael Jackson's death in the early hours of the morning, Amazon very quickly updated its Amazon Store to make a tribute to him and cater toward the huge demand of people looking to purchase his music. You don't wait for the optimal sharing time for topical stories like this.
For agile campaigns, you need to be on top of your game, and know what's going on around you. If you're prepared to adapt quickly when that topical story comes along, you're much more likely to reap the rewards.
Likewise, if you can ensure your campaigns are ready to adapt and you learn from both your successes and failures, then that makes you more likely to achieve that steady progress month-on-month, which is far more sustainable to long-term growth.
What do you think? Are your campaigns agile enough? And how important do you think this is going to be toward marketing success in 2013?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

8 Changes to Google AdWords in 2012 You Shouldn’t Miss

Every year, Google introduces new ad formats, changes AdWords settings and introduces a few high profile tests into the wild.
This year saw a lot more aggressive monetization by Google, with several high profile changes that increased the real estate for ads at the expense of unpaid listings.
This roundup covers eight key changes introduced to AdWords in 2012:
  1. Google Shopping and Product Listing Ads
  2. Overhauled Location Targeting
  3. Dynamic Search Ads
  4. Enhanced Sitelinks
  5. Offer Extensions
  6. Dynamic Display Ads
  7. Mobile App Extensions
  8. AdWords for Video

1. Google Shopping and Product Listing Ads

Google Product Search, formerly Froogle, was once a free tool to allow anyone with a Merchant Center account to include their products in the visual product listings that sometimes appeared in search results.
This year, Google shifted those results to be entirely commercial and rebranded it Google Shopping. These ads are now powered entirely by Product Listing Ads and take two forms.
First, they appear as a band of sponsored image ads, with product pictures, price and vendor, underneath the top search results listing:
Second, certain specific product searches will replace the right column of search results with a product description and links to retailers:
This is a dramatic change to the search results, how Google monetizes and paid search in general. It furthers the 2-year-old march towards paid search without keywords. Every retailer must incorporate these ads as a part of their AdWords strategy.
For more education, check out these resources.
How to create Product Listing Ads:
How to optimize your Product Listing Ads:
Watch Rimm-Kauffman Group’s webinar with Google about Product Listing Ads and read Google’sbest practices for Google Shopping (pdf). Google blog post, Google Shopping: momentum and merchant success, details some of the other changes and highlights merchants who have had success.

2. Overhauled Location Targeting

Location Targeting in AdWords got an overhaul with a new location targeting tool and some more sophisticated options for local targeting. This change is particularly relevant for brick-and-mortar retailers with a limited service area and companies that need or want to target specific areas.
The most prominent change is the introduction of ZIP code targeting.
This targeting works well with location insertions for ads with location extensions, which automatically creates custom ads based on the users location.
Other features, like airport targeting, can be a huge boon for car rental companies or local hotels:
Politicians got a break with Congressional district targeting:
Watch this video to learn the basics:

3. Dynamic Search Ads

If you really want to catch a glimpse of the future of paid search, pay close attention to Dynamic Search Ads. This new technology will automatically crawl your site, according to logic you define, and created dynamic ads that combine information from their crawl with your ad template:
The ads only trigger for search queries that aren’t eligible to match existing keywords in your account. Theoretically, this allows you to address gaps in your account and more quickly adapt to changing inventory.
There are many technical nuances to setting up and tracking these new ads.

4. Enhanced Sitelinks

In many ways, paid search has become a competitor to organic listings. This has become especially true in the top listing, which appears above organic results and pushes them lower on the page.
Most recently, Google expanded their sitelinks with enhanced sitelinks:
This creates a block of essentially five ads in the premier results location. Google automatically looks for text ads elsewhere in your account that match the sitelinks for your campaign and pulls in lines 1 and 2.

5. Offer Extensions

Google Offer Extensions add an offer below your text, similar to sitelinks. Offers can be redeemed online (trackable) or offline(not measurable in AdWords).
Offers only appear when you’re ad is in the top position. They’re primarily meant for brick-and-mortar retailers, but offers can be used online as well.
SEER Interactive has a nice write-up on the ins-and-outs of Offers extensions.

6. Dynamic Display Ads

Three years ago (!) Google acquired a company called Teracent whose technology:
…creates display ads entirely customized to the specific consumer and site. The startup’s proprietary algorithms automatically pick the creative parts of a display ad (images, colors, text) in real-time determined by like geographic location, language, the content of the website, the time of day or the past performance of different ads.
This year, that acquisition finally came to fruition with the introduction of Dynamic Display Ads. The ad is one template whose featured product varies based on where the ad is shown.
Like Dynamic Search Ads, this is a step towards full automating the advertising process. In this case, it makes scaling ecommerce display much more efficient.
Watch Google’s brief overview:

7. Mobile App Extensions

Apple's App Store isn’t very marketer friendly. Google answered the call of advertisers looking to promote their apps for download with new Mobile App Extensions.
This adds a sitelinks-like option underneath your main text ad:
These are an optional extension to your existing ads:
You can even track downloads in iOS if you integrate a snippet of code into your app.
Watch Google’s video for a high level overview:

8. AdWords for Video

YouTube is the second most popular search engine after Google and in the top 5 sites on the entire Internet. Google simplified the buying of video ads on YouTube and the Google Display Network with AdWords for video.
Targeting, measurement, and reporting for video ads on YouTube and the Google Display Network are integrated into AdWords.
To get a general overview read about Google video ads or watch Google’s overview video:
For detailed tactical advice, start with their step-by-step guide to YouTube (pdf).