Nashville SEO Company

Nashville SEO Company

If your a business based in Nashville Tennessee as well as need to place your websites on the first web page of Google.. Kindly watch this video clip.

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structured data

Data that resides in a fixed field within a record or file is called structured data. This includes data contained in relational databases and spreadsheets. As you might expect, it is the opposite of unstructured data.

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics

Posted by kristihines

If you don’t know what Google Analytics is, haven’t installed it on your website, or have installed it but never look at your data, then this post is for you. While it’s hard for many to believe, there are still websites that are not using Google Analytics (or any analytics, for that matter) to measure their traffic. In this post, we’re going to look at Google Analytics from the absolute beginner’s point of view. Why you need it, how to get it, how to use it, and workarounds to common problems.

Why every website owner needs Google Analytics

Do you have a blog? Do you have a static website? If the answer is yes, whether they are for personal or business use, then you need Google Analytics. Here are just a few of the many questions about your website that you can answer using Google Analytics.

  • How many people visit my website?
  • Where do my visitors live?
  • Do I need a mobile-friendly website?
  • What websites send traffic to my website?
  • What marketing tactics drive the most traffic to my website?
  • Which pages on my website are the most popular?
  • How many visitors have I converted into leads or customers?
  • Where did my converting visitors come from and go on my website?
  • How can I improve my website’s speed?
  • What blog content do my visitors like the most?

There are many, many additional questions that Google Analytics can answer, but these are the ones that are most important for most website owners. Now let’s look at how you can get Google Analytics on your website.

How to install Google Analytics

First, you need a Google Analytics account. If you have a primary Google account that you use for other services like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google+, or YouTube, then you should set up your Google Analytics using that Google account. Or you will need to create a new one.

This should be a Google account you plan to keep forever and that only you have access to. You can always grant access to your Google Analytics to other people down the road, but you don’t want someone else to have full control over it.

Big tip: don’t let your anyone (your web designer, web developer, web host, SEO person, etc.) create your website’s Google Analytics account under their own Google account so they can “manage” it for you. If you and this person part ways, they will take your Google Analytics data with them, and you will have to start all over.

Set up your account and property

Once you have a Google account, you can go to Google Analytics and click the Sign into Google Analytics button. You will then be greeted with the three steps you must take to set up Google Analytics.

google analytics setup

After you click the Sign Up button, you will fill out information for your website.

setting up a new account in google analytics

Google Analytics offers hierarchies to organize your account. You can have up to 100 Google Analytics accounts under one Google account. You can have up to 50 website properties under one Google Analytics account. You can have up to 25 views under one website property.

Here are a few scenarios.

  • SCENARIO 1: If you have one website, you only need one Google Analytics account with one website property.
  • SCENARIO 2: If you have two websites, such as one for your business and one for your personal use, you might want to create two accounts, naming one “123Business” and one “Personal”. Then you will set up your business website under the 123Business account and your personal website under your Personal account.
  • SCENARIO 3: If you have several businesses, but less than 50, and each of them has one website, you might want to put them all under a Business account. Then have a Personal account for your personal websites.
  • SCENARIO 4: If you have several businesses and each of them has dozens of websites, for a total of more than 50 websites, you might want to put each business under its own account, such as 123Business account, 124Business account, and so on.

There are no right or wrong ways to set up your Google Analytics account—it’s just a matter of how you want to organize your sites. You can always rename your accounts or properties down the road. Note that you can’t move a property (website) from one Google Analytics account to another—you would have to set up a new property under the new account and lose the historical data you collected from the original property.

For the absolute beginner’s guide, we’re going to assume you have one website and only need one view (the default, all data view. The setup would look something like this.

new account information google analytics

Beneath this, you will have the option to configure where your Google Analytics data can be shared.

configuring shared info for google analytics

Install your tracking code

Once you are finished, you will click the Get Tracking ID button. You will get a popup of the Google Analytics terms and conditions, which you have to agree to. Then you will get your Google Analytics code.

find google analytics tracking code

This must be installed on every page on your website. The installation will depend on what type of website you have. For example, I have a WordPress website on my own domain using the Genesis Framework. This framework has a specific area to add header and footer scripts to my website.

installing google analytics tracking code wordpress genesis

Alternatively, if you have a WordPress on your own domain, you can use the Google Analytics by Yoast plugin to install your code easily no matter what theme or framework you are using.

If you have a website built with HTML files, you will add the tracking code before the </head> tag on each of your pages. You can do this by using a text editor program (such as TextEdit for Mac or Notepad for Windows) and then uploading the file to your web host using an FTP program (such as FileZilla).

adding google analytics tracking code to head tag

If you have a Shopify e-commerce store, you will go to your Online Store settings and paste in your tracking code where specified.

adding google analytics tracking code to shopify account

If you have a blog on Tumblr, you will go to your blog, click the Edit Theme button at the top right of your blog, and then enter just the Google Analytics ID in your settings.

adding google analytics tracking code to tumblr

As you can see, the installation of Google Analytics varies based on the platform you use (content management system, website builder, e-commerce software, etc.), the theme you use, and the plugins you use. You should be able to find easy instructions to install Google Analytics on any website by doing a web search for your platform + how to install Google Analytics.

Set up goals

After you install your tracking code on your website, you will want to configure a small (but very useful) setting in your website’s profile on Google Analytics. This is your Goals setting. You can find it by clicking on the Admin link at the top of your Google Analytics and then clicking on Goals under your website’s View column.

setting up goals in google analytics

Goals will tell Google Analytics when something important has happened on your website. For example, if you have a website where you generate leads through a contact form, you will want to find (or create) a thank you page that visitors end upon once they have submitted their contact information. Or, if you have a website where you sell products, you will want to find (or create) a final thank you or confirmation page for visitors to land upon once they have completed a purchase.

That URL will likely look something like this.

In Google Analytics, you will click on the New Goal button.

adding a new goal to google analytics

You will choose the Custom option (unless one of the other options are more applicable to your website) and click the Next Step button.

setting custom goals in google analytics

You will name your goal something you will remember, select Destination, and then click the Next Step button.

naming a goal in google analytics

You will enter your thank you or confirmation page’s URL after the .com of your website in the Destination field and change the drop-down to “Begins with”.

setting goal details google analytics

You will then toggle the value and enter a specific dollar value for that conversion (if applicable) and click Create Goal to complete the setup.

If you have other similar goals / conversions you would like to track on your website, you can follow these steps again. You can create up to 20 goals on your website. Be sure that the ones you create are highly important to your business. These goals (for most businesses) include lead form submissions, email list sign ups, and purchase completions. Depending on your website and its purpose, your goals may vary.

Note that this is the simplest of all conversion tracking in Google Analytics. You can review the documentation in Google Analytics support to learn more about setting up goal tracking.

Set up site search

Another thing you can set up really quickly that will give you valuable data down the road is Site Search. This is for any website with a search box on it, like the search box at the top of the Moz Blog.

site search moz

First, run a search on your website. Then keep the tab open. You will need the URL momentarily.

site search query parameter

Go to your Google Analytics Admin menu again, and in the View column, click on View Settings.

setting up search query parameter in google analytics

Scroll down until you see Site Settings and toggle it to On.

site search settings in google analytics

Look back at your URL for your search results. Enter the query parameter (usually s or q) and click Save. On Moz, for example, the query parameter is q.

entering the query parameter in google analytics site search

This will allow Google Analytics to track any searches made on your website so you can learn more about what your visitors are looking for on specific pages.

Add additional accounts and properties

If you want to add a new Google Analytics account, you can do so by going to your Admin menu, clicking on the drop-down under the Account column, and clicking the Create New Account link.

add account google analytics

Likewise, if you want to add a new website under your Google Analytics account, you can do so by going to your Admin menu, clicking on the drop-down under the Property column, and clicking the Create New Property link.

create new property google analytics

Then you will continue through all of the above-mentioned steps.

Once you’ve installed Google Analytics on your website(s), set up your goals, and set up site search(es), you should wait about 24 hours for it to start getting data. Then you will be able to start viewing your data.

How to view Google Analytics data

Once you start getting in Google Analytics data, you can start learning about your website traffic. Each time you log in to Google Analytics, you will be taken to your Audience Overview report. Alternatively, if you have more than one website, you will be taken to your list of websites to choose from, and then taken to the Audience Overview report for that website. This is the first of over 50 reports that are available to you in Google Analytics. You can also access these reports by clicking on the Reporting link at the top.

viewing google analytics

Standard report features

Most of the standard reports within Google Analytics will look similar to this. At the top right, you can click on the drop-down arrow next to your website to switch to different websites within all of your Google Analytics accounts. Or you can click the Home link at the top.

google analytics audience overview

In the report at the top right, you can click on the dates to change the date range of the data you are viewing. You can also check the Compare box to compare your data from one date range (such as this month) to a previous date range (such as last month) to view your data.

google analytics date range select

You can hover over a variety of areas on your Google Analytics reports to get more information. For example, in the Audience Overview, hovering over the line on the graph will give you the number of sessions for a particular day. Hovering over the metrics beneath the graph will tell you what each one means.

google analytics hover

Beneath the main metrics, you will see reports that you can switch through to see the top ten languages, countries, cities, browsers, operating systems, services providers, and screen resolutions of your visitors.

screen resolution report google analytics

You can click the full report link on each to see the full reports. Or you can click on any of the top ten links to see more details. For example, clicking on the United States in Countries will take you to the full Location report, focused in on visitors from states within the US.

location report google analytics

In this view, you can hover over each state to see the number of visitors from that state. You can scroll down to the table and hover over each column name to learn more about each metric.

visitors by state google analytics

You can also click on the name of each state to see visitors from cities within the state. Effectively, any time you see a clickable link or a ? next to something, you can click on it or hover over it to learn more. The deeper you dive into your analytics, the more interesting information you will find.

Types of Google Analytics reports

Speaking of reports, here is quick summary of what you will find in each of the standard Google Analytics reporting sections, accessible in the left sidebar.

types of google analytics reports

Everything in (parenthesis) is a specific report or set of reports within the following sections that you can refer to.

Audience reports

These reports tell you everything you want to know about your visitors. In them, you will find detailed reports for your visitors’ age and gender (Demographics), what their general interests are (Interests), where they come from (Geo > Location) and what language they speak (Geo > Language), how often they visit your website (Behavior), and the technology they use to view your website (Technology and Mobile).

Acquisition reports

These reports will tell you everything you want to know about what drove visitors to your website (All Traffic). You will see your traffic broken down by main categories (All Traffic > Channels) and specific sources (All Traffic > Source/Medium).

You can learn everything about traffic from social networks (Social). You can also connect Google Analytics to AdWords to learn more about PPC campaigns and to Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console to learn more about search traffic (Search Engine Optimization)

Behavior reports

These reports will tell you everything you want to know about your content. Particularly, the top pages on your website (Site Content > All Pages), the top entry pages on your website (Site Content > Landing Pages), and the top exit pages on your website (Site Content > Exit Pages).

If you set up Site Search, you will be able to see what terms are searched for (Site Search > Search Terms) and the pages they are searched upon (Site Search > Pages).

You can also learn how fast your website loads (Site Speed) as well as find specific suggestions from Google on how to make your website faster (Site Speed > Speed Suggestions).

Conversions

If you set up Goals within your Google Analytics, you can see how many conversions your website has received (Goals > Overview) and what URLs they happened upon (Goals > Goal URLs). You can also see the path that visitors took to complete the conversion (Goals > Reverse Goal Path).

Speaking of goals and conversions, most of the tables within Google Analytics standard reports will tie specific data to your conversions. For example, you can see the number of conversions made by visitors from California in the Audience > Geo > Location report. You can see the number of conversions made by visitors from Facebook in the Acquisitions > All Traffic > Source/Medium report. You can see the number of conversions made by visitors who landed on specific pages in the Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report.

google analytics conversions

If you have multiple goals, you can use the dropdown at the top of that section of data to switch to the goal you want to view or all of your goals if you prefer.

Shortcuts and emails

While you won’t need every report within Google Analytics, you should explore them all to see what they have to offer. When you find some that you want to visit again and again, use the Shortcut link at the top of the report to add them to the Shortcuts in your left sidebar for faster access.

google analytics shortcuts

Or, use the email button to have them emailed to you (or others on your team) on a regular basis.

google analytics emailed reports

If you choose to send emails to someone outside of your organization, be sure to regularly check your emails by going to your Admin menu and clicking on the Scheduled Emails box under the View column to ensure only people working with your company are getting your data.

google analytics admin window

Answers to common questions about Google Analytics

Got a few questions? Here are some of the common ones that come up with Google Analytics.

How do I share my Google Analytics data with someone?

You don’t have to give your Google account information over to someone who needs access to your Google Analytics data. You just need to go to your Admin menu and under the Account, Property (website) or View you want someone to see, click the User Management menu.

adding user to google analytics

From there, you can add the email address of anyone you would like to view your Google Analytics data and choose the permissions you would like them to have.

user permissions google analytics

I don’t like viewing the reports in Google Analytics. Can someone just summarize the data for me?

Yes! Quill Engage is a service that will take your Google Analytics data and summarize it in an easy-to-read report for you. Best of all, it’s free for up to ten profiles (websites).

quill engage summary report google analytics

I have a dozen websites, and I don’t want to check each of their Google Analytics on a daily basis. What do I do?

You have two options in this scenario. You start by going to the Home screen of Google Analytics. There, you will find a listing of all your websites and an overview of the top metrics—sessions, average session duration, bounce rate, and conversion rate.

google analytics home screen

You can also try business dashboard solutions like Cyfe. For $19 a month, you can create unlimited dashboards with unlimited widgets, including a large selection of data from Google Analytics, alongside data from your social media networks, keyword rankings, Moz stats, and more.

cyfe dashboard google analytics

This solution significantly cuts down on the time spent looking at analytics across the board for your entire business.

Google Analytics says that 90%+ of my organic keywords are (not provided). Where can I find that information?

(not provided) is Google’s way of protecting search engine user’s privacy by hiding the keywords they use to discover your website in search results. Tools like Google Webmaster Tools (now Search Console, free), Authority Lab’s Now Provided Reports (paid), and Hittail (paid) can all help you uncover some of those keywords.

search analytics keyword data

They won’t be linked to your conversions or other Google Analytics data, but at least you will have some clue what keywords searchers are using to find your website.

How do I use Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments?

If you’re ready to move to the next level in Google Analytics, Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments are the way to go.

Custom Reports (under the Customization menu at the top) allow you to create reports that look similar to the standard Google Analytics reports with the metrics you want to view.

custom report google analytics

Dashboards allow you to view your Google Analytics data in a dashboard format. You can access them at the top of the left sidebar.

google analytics dashboard

Segments allow you to view all of your Google Analytics data based on a specific dimension, such as all of your Google Analytics data based on visitors from the United States. You can also use them to compare up to four segments of data, such as United States versus United Kingdom traffic, search versus social traffic, mobile versus desktop traffic, and more. You can access Segments in each of your reports.

audience comparison google analytics

The nice part about these is that you don’t have to create them from scratch. You can start by using pre-defined Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments from the Google Solutions Gallery.

google solutions gallery

There, you will find lots of Custom Reports, Dashboards, Segments, and other solutions that you can import into your Google Analytics and edit to fit your needs. Edit Custom Reports with the Edit button at the top.

edit custom reports google analytics

Edit Dashboards using the Add Widget or Customize Dashboard buttons at the top.

Edit Segments by clicking the Action button inside the Segments selector box and choosing Edit.

edit segments google analytics

Or, when you have applied Segments to your reports, use the drop-down arrow at the top right to find the Edit option.

As you get used to editing Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments, you will get more familiar with the way each works so you can create new ones on your own.

In conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed this beginner’s introduction to Google Analytics for beginners. If you’re a beginner and have a burning questions, please ask in the comments. I’ll be happy to help!

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How to Rid Your Website of Six Common Google Analytics Headaches

Posted by amandaecking

I’ve been in and out of Google Analytics (GA) for the past five or so years agency-side. I’ve seen three different code libraries, dozens of new different features and reports roll out, IP addresses stop being reported, and keywords not-so-subtly phased out of the free platform.

Analytics has been a focus of mine for the past year or so—mainly, making sure clients get their data right. Right now, our new focus is closed loop tracking, but that’s a topic for another day. If you’re using Google Analytics, and only Google Analytics for the majority of your website stats, or it’s your primary vehicle for analysis, you need to make sure it’s accurate.

Not having data pulling in or reporting properly is like building a house on a shaky foundation: It doesn’t end well. Usually there are tears.

For some reason, a lot of people, including many of my clients, assume everything is tracking properly in Google Analytics… because Google. But it’s not Google who sets up your analytics. People do that. And people are prone to make mistakes.

I’m going to go through six scenarios where issues are commonly encountered with Google Analytics.

I’ll outline the remedy for each issue, and in the process, show you how to move forward with a diagnosis or resolution.

1. Self-referrals

This is probably one of the areas we’re all familiar with. If you’re seeing a lot of traffic from your own domain, there’s likely a problem somewhere—or you need to extend the default session length in Google Analytics. (For example, if you have a lot of long videos or music clips and don’t use event tracking; a website like TEDx or SoundCloud would be a good equivalent.)

Typically one of the first things I’ll do to help diagnose the problem is include an advanced filter to show the full referrer string. You do this by creating a filter, as shown below:

Filter Type: Custom filter > Advanced
Field A: Hostname
Extract A: (.*)
Field B: Request URI
Extract B: (.*)
Output To: Request URI
Constructor: $A1$B1

You’ll then start seeing the subdomains pulling in. Experience has shown me that if you have a separate subdomain hosted in another location (say, if you work with a separate company and they host and run your mobile site or your shopping cart), it gets treated by Google Analytics as a separate domain. Thus, you ‘ll need to implement cross domain tracking. This way, you can narrow down whether or not it’s one particular subdomain that’s creating the self-referrals.

In this example below, we can see all the revenue is being reported to the booking engine (which ended up being cross domain issues) and their own site is the fourth largest traffic source:

self-referrals-2.png

I’ll also a good idea to check the browser and device reports to start narrowing down whether the issue is specific to a particular element. If it’s not, keep digging. Look at pages pulling the self-referrals and go through the code with a fine-tooth comb, drilling down as much as you can.

2. Unusually low bounce rate

If you have a crazy-low bounce rate, it could be too good to be true. Unfortunately. An unusually low bounce rate could (and probably does) mean that at least on some pages of your website have the same Google Analytics tracking code installed twice.

Take a look at your source code, or use Google Tag Assistant (though it does have known bugs) to see if you’ve got GA tracking code installed twice.

While I tell clients having Google Analytics installed on the same page can lead to double the pageviews, I’ve not actually encountered that—I usually just say it to scare them into removing the duplicate implementation more quickly. Don’t tell on me.

3. Iframes anywhere

I’ve heard directly from Google engineers and Google Analytics evangelists that Google Analytics does not play well with iframes, and that it will never will play nice with this dinosaur technology.

If you track the iframe, you inflate your pageviews, plus you still aren’t tracking everything with 100% clarity.

If you don’t track across iframes, you lose the source/medium attribution and everything becomes a self-referral.

Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

My advice: Stop using iframes. They’re Netscape-era technology anyway, with rainbow marquees and Comic Sans on top. Interestingly, and unfortunately, a number of booking engines (for hotels) and third-party carts (for ecommerce) still use iframes.

If you have any clients in those verticals, or if you’re in the vertical yourself, check with your provider to see if they use iframes. Or you can check for yourself, by right-clicking as close as you can to the actual booking element:

iframe-booking.png

There is no neat and tidy way to address iframes with Google Analytics, and usually iframes are not the only complicated element of setup you’ll encounter. I spent eight months dealing with a website on a subfolder, which used iframes and had a cross domain booking system, and the best visibility I was able to get was about 80% on a good day.

Typically, I’d approach diagnosing iframes (if, for some reason, I had absolutely no access to viewing a website or talking to the techs) similarly to diagnosing self-referrals, as self-referrals are one of the biggest symptoms of iframe use.

4. Massive traffic jumps

Massive jumps in traffic don’t typically just happen. (Unless, maybe, you’re Geraldine.) There’s always an explanation—a new campaign launched, you just turned on paid ads for the first time, you’re using content amplification platforms, you’re getting a ton of referrals from that recent press in The New York Times. And if you think it just happened, it’s probably a technical glitch.

I’ve seen everything from inflated pageviews result from including tracking on iframes and unnecessary implementation of virtual pageviews, to not realizing the tracking code was installed on other microsites for the same property. Oops.

Usually I’ve seen this happen when the tracking code was somewhere it shouldn’t be, so if you’re investigating a situation of this nature, first confirm the Google Analytics code is only in the places it needs to be.Tools like Google Tag Assistant and Screaming Frog can be your BFFs in helping you figure this out.

Also, I suggest bribing the IT department with sugar (or booze) to see if they’ve changed anything lately.

5. Cross-domain tracking

I wish cross-domain tracking with Google Analytics out of the box didn’t require any additional setup. But it does.

If you don’t have it set up properly, things break down quickly, and can be quite difficult to untangle.

The older the GA library you’re using, the harder it is. The easiest setup, by far, is Google Tag Manager with Universal Analytics. Hard-coded universal analytics is a bit more difficult because you have to implement autoLink manually and decorate forms, if you’re using them (and you probably are). Beyond that, rather than try and deal with it, I say update your Google Analytics code. Then we can talk.

Where I’ve seen the most murkiness with tracking is when parts of cross domain tracking are implemented, but not all. For some reason, if allowLinker isn’t included, or you forget to decorate all the forms, the cookies aren’t passed between domains.

The absolute first place I would start with this would be confirming the cookies are all passing properly at all the right points, forms, links, and smoke signals. I’ll usually use a combination of the Real Time report in Google Analytics, Google Tag Assistant, and GA debug to start testing this. Any debug tool you use will mean you’re playing in the console, so get friendly with it.

6. Internal use of UTM strings

I’ve saved the best for last. Internal use of campaign tagging. We may think, oh, I use Google to tag my campaigns externally, and we’ve got this new promotion on site which we’re using a banner ad for. That’s a campaign. Why don’t I tag it with a UTM string?

Step away from the keyboard now. Please.

When you tag internal links with UTM strings, you override the original source/medium. So that visitor who came in through your paid ad and then who clicks on the campaign banner has now been manually tagged. You lose the ability to track that they came through on the ad the moment they click on the tagged internal link. Their source and medium is now your internal campaign, not that paid ad you’re spending gobs of money on and have to justify to your manager. See the problem?

I’ve seen at least three pretty spectacular instances of this in the past year, and a number of smaller instances of it. Annie Cushing also talks about the evils of internal UTM tags and the odd prevalence of it. (Oh, and if you haven’t explored her blog, and the amazing spreadsheets she shares, please do.)

One clothing company I worked with tagged all of their homepage offers with UTM strings, which resulted in the loss of visibility for one-third of their audience: One million visits over the course of a year, and $2.1 million in lost revenue.

Let me say that again. One million visits, and $2.1 million. That couldn’t be attributed to an external source/campaign/spend.

Another client I audited included campaign tagging on nearly every navigational element on their website. It still gives me nightmares.

If you want to see if you have any internal UTM strings, head straight to the Campaigns report in Acquisition in Google Analytics, and look for anything like “home” or “navigation” or any language you may use internally to refer to your website structure.

And if you want to see how users are moving through your website, go to the Flow reports. Or if you really, really, really want to know how many people click on that sidebar link, use event tracking. But please, for the love of all things holy (and to keep us analytics lovers from throwing our computers across the room), stop using UTM tagging on your internal links.

Now breathe and smile

Odds are, your Google Analytics setup is fine. If you are seeing any of these issues, though, you have somewhere to start in diagnosing and addressing the data.

We’ve looked at six of the most common points of friction I’ve encountered with Google Analytics and how to start investigating them: self-referrals, bounce rate, iframes, traffic jumps, cross domain tracking and internal campaign tagging.

What common data integrity issues have you encountered with Google Analytics? What are your favorite tools to investigate?

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The Alleged $7.5 Billion Fraud in Online Advertising

Posted by SamuelScott

“This is the biggest advertising story of the decade, and it’s being buried.”

So wrote Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, the retired CEO and chairman of Hoffman/Lewis Advertising, in June 2013 on a $7.5 billion scandal that has been developing under the digital radar in the advertising world for the past few years. The three main allegations, according to those who are making them:

  1. Half or more of the paid online display advertisements that ad networks, media buyers, and ad agencies have knowingly been selling to clients over the years have never appeared in front of live human beings.
  2. Agencies have been receiving kickbacks and indirect payments from ad networks under the guise of “volume discounts” for serving as the middlemen between the networks and the clients who were knowingly sold the fraudulent ad impressions.
  3. Ad networks knowingly sell bot traffic to publishers and publishers knowingly buy the bot traffic because the resulting ad impressions earn both of them money—at the expense of the clients who are paying for the impressions.

These charges have not seen much discussion within the online marketing community. But the allegations have the potential to affect everyone involved in online advertising—ad agencies, in-house departments, agency and in-house digital marketers, online publishers, media buyers, and ad networks. An entire industry—billions of dollars and thousands of jobs—is at stake.

And it all starts with a single impression.

The impression that you make


(Wikimedia)

Online advertising is based on an “impression”—without the impression, then an advertisement cannot be viewed or clicked or provoke any other engagement. The Internet Advertising Bureau, which was founded in 1996 and “recommends standards and practices and fields critical research on interactive advertising,” defines “impression” in this manner:

a measurement of responses from an ad delivery system to an ad request from the user’s browser

In another words, an “impression” occurs whenever one machine (an ad network) answers a request from another machine (a browser). (For reference, you can see my definition and example of a “request” in a prior Moz essay on log analytics and technical SEO.) Just in case it’s not obvious: Human beings and human eyeballs have nothing to do with it. If your advertising data states than a display ad campaign had 500,000 impressions, then that means that the ad network served a browser 500,000 times—and nothing more. Digital marketers may tell their bosses and clients that “impression” is jargon for one person seeing an advertisement one time, but that statement is not accurate.

The impression that you don’t make


(Wikipedia)

Just because a server answers a browser request for an advertisement does not mean that the person using the browser will see it. According to Reid Tatoris at MediaPost, there are three things that get in the way:

  • Broken Ads—This is a server not loading an ad or loading the wrong one by mistake. Tatoris writes that these mistakes occur roughly 15% of the time.
  • Bot Traffic—Whenever hackers write these automated computer programs to visit websites and post spam or create fake accounts, each visit is a pageview that results an an ad impression. According to a December 2013 report in The Atlantic, 60% of Internet traffic consists of bots.
  • Alleged Fraud—In Tatoris’ words, “People will hide ads behind other ads, spoof their domain to trick ad networks into serving higher-paying ads on their site, and purposefully send bots to a site to drive up impressions.” Noam Schwartz described in TechCrunch two additional methods of alleged fraud: compressing ads into a tiny one-by-one pixels that are impossible to see and using malware to send people to websites they never planned to visit and thereby generate ad impressions. AdWeek found in October 2013 that 25% of online ad impressions are allegedly fraudulent.

Tatoris crunches all the numbers:

We start with the notion that only 15% of impressions ever have the possibility to be seen by a real person. Then, factor in that 54% of ads are not viewable (and we already discussed how flawed that metric is), and you’re left with only 8% of impressions that have the opportunity to be seen by a real person. Let me clarify: That does not mean that 8% of impressions are seen. That means only 8% have the chance to be seen. That’s an unbelievable amount of waste in an industry where metrics are a major selling point.

Essentially: If you have an online display ad budget of $100,000, then only $8,000 of that ad spend has the chance to put advertisements in front of human eyeballs. (And that’s not even taking into account the poor clickthrough rates of display ads when people do see them.)

If you are paying $0.10 per impression, then the $10,000 that you will pay for 100,000 impressions will result in only 8,000 human views—meaning that the effective CPI will actually be $1.25.

How bot traffic affects online ads


(Wikipedia)

Jack Marshall, an alleged reformed fake web traffic buyer, explains in a Digiday interview how the scheme allegedly operates. Here are just three excerpts:

How and why were you buying non-human traffic?

We were spending anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000 a day on traffic. My conversations with [these ad networks] were similar: They would let me decide how much I was willing to pay for traffic, and when I told them $0.002 or below, they made it clear they had little control over the quality of traffic they would send at that price. Quality didn’t really matter to us, though. As a website running an arbitrage model, all that mattered was profit, and for every $0.002 visit we were buying, we were making between $0.0025 and $0.004 selling display ads through networks and exchanges. The biggest determinate of which traffic partner we were spending the most money with was pageviews per visit. Since we were paying a fixed cost per visit, more pageviews equaled more ad impressions. Almost none of these companies were based in the U.S. While our contacts were in the US and had American names and accents, most of the time we found ourselves sending payment to a non-US bank.

In other words, the publisher would allegedly pay an ad network $0.0020 for a visit from a bot, and the resulting ad impression would garner $0.0025 to $0.0040 in revenue—that’s a gross margin of 25% to 100% for the publisher for doing nothing! It’s no wonder that so many websites around the world may be allegedly involved in this practice.

Do you think publishers know when they’re buying fake traffic?

Publishers know. They might say “we had no idea” and blame it on their traffic acquisition vendor, but that’s bullshit, and they know it. If you’re buying visits for less than a penny, there’s no way you don’t understand what’s going on. Any publisher that’s smart enough understand an arbitrage opportunity is smart enough to understand that if it was a legitimate strategy that the opportunity would eventually disappear as more buyers crowded in. What we were doing was 100 percent intentional. Some articles revolving around bot traffic paint publishers as rubes who were duped into buying bad traffic by shady bot owners. Rather, I believe publishers are willing to do anything to make their economics work.

Do networks, exchanges and other ad tech companies do anything to stop this from happening?

We worked with a major supply-side platform partner that was just wink wink, nudge nudge about it. They asked us to explain why almost all of our traffic came from one operating system and the majority had all the same user-agent string. There was nothing I could really say to answer that question. It was their way of letting us know that they understood what was going on. It wasn’t just our account rep, either. It was people at the highest levels in the company. Part of me wished they’d said “You are in violation of our TOS and you have to stop running our tags.” I would have been happy with that. But they didn’t; they were willing to take the money.

If these stories are true, then ad networks do not care that the impressions are from bot traffic and publishers do not care that are getting bot traffic because they are both making money. Who gets hurt? The companies advertising their products and services.

The worst part of it all


(Flickr user Don Hankins)

It’s not only that online display ads are alleged to be amazingly useless and that many publishers and ad networks are allegedly involved in sleazy deals. A March 2015 investigative report in Ad Age found the following:

Kickback payments tied to U.S. media-agency deals are real and on the rise, according to Ad Age interviews with more than a dozen current and former media-agency executives, marketers’ auditors, media sellers and ad-tech vendors who said they’d either participated in such arrangements or had seen evidence of them. The murky practice—sometimes disguised as (undisclosed) “rebates” or bills for bogus services—is being motivated by shrinking agency fees and fueled by an increasingly convoluted and global digital marketplace. “It’s really ugly and crooked,” said one ad-tech executive who described receiving such requests.

Some arrangements go like this: A large media shop, poised to spend $1 million with that ad-tech executive’s firm to buy digital ads last year, asked for $200,000 to be routed back to the agency’s corporate sibling in Europe. The $200,000 would pay for a presentation or presentations by the sibling’s consultants. But these types of presentations aren’t worth a fraction of the price tag, according to numerous executives dealing with the same issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing business.

Essentially, here is what is allegedly happening:

  • Clients give money to agencies to purchase online display advertising
  • The agencies give the money to the ad networks
  • The ad networks give a portion of the money back to the agencies
  • The clients’ display ads are only 8% viewable
  • The 92% non-viewable impressions still earn money for publishers and ad networks

I think we can see who the loser is—everyone is making money except for the clients.

During the same month as the Ad Age report, former Mediacom CEO Jon Mandel reportedly told the Association of National Advertisers Media Leadership Conference that widespread “media agency rebates and kickbacks” were the reason that he left the agency business.

Heads in the digital sand


(Flickr user Peter)

I have yet to hear about this issue being addressed in any talk, panel, or session at a digital marketing, martech, or adtech conference. Prior to today, I have seen only one article each in two major publications in the online marketing industry. (Mozzers, please correct me if I am mistaken and have missed something major on this topic.)

Why is no one talking about this?

No marketing agency wants clients to know that 92% of its display advertising spend is wasted. No advertising manager wants the CMO to know that only 8% of the company’s ads are reaching people at 100% cost. No CMO wants the CEO to know that 92% of the entire ad budget is being flushed down the digital toilet.

I myself would probably have not been permitted to write this article when I held various agency positions in the past because I managed clients’ online advertising and some PR and digital marketing clients of the agencies were advertising networks themselves.

(Today, I am the director of marcom for Logz.io, a log analytics startup, and I have the luxury of being accountable only for the results of my in-house work—and I do not plan to use online advertising anytime soon. Still, I was a journalist in my first career years ago, and I wanted to write this report because I think everyone in my beloved industry should know about this explosive issue.)

Hoffman, the retired ad agency CEO who I quoted at the beginning, puts it better than I can:

How does an agency answer a client who asks, “You mean more than half the money you were supposed to be custodian of was embezzled from me and you knew nothing about it?” How does an ad network answer, “You mean all those clicks and eyeballs you promised me never existed, and you knew nothing about it?” How does a CMO answer his management when they ask, “You mean these people screwed us out of hundreds of thousands (millions?) of dollars in banner ads and you had no idea what you were buying?”

Everyone is in jeopardy and everyone is in “protect” mode. Everyone wants to maintain deniability. Nobody wants to know too much. If display advertising were to suffer the disgrace it deserves, imagine the fallout. Imagine the damage to Facebook, which at last report gets over 80% of its revenue from display. Imagine the damage to online publishers whose bogus, inflated numbers probably constitute their margin of profit.

If the comScore findings are correct and projectable, it means that of the 14 billion dollars spent on display advertising last year in America, 7.5 billion was worthless and constituted some degree of fraud or misrepresentation.

But clients, CMOs, and CEOs are going to read one of these articles one day and start asking uncomfortable questions. I would suggest that Mozzers—as well as all digital marketers and advertisers—start thinking about responses now.

Responses to the scandal

(Flickr user Chris Potter)

Google, to its credit, has disclosed that 56% of its digital ad impressions are never actually seen—of course, the report was also released with the announcement of a new ad-viewability product.

Ginny Marvin summarizes at Marketing Land:

Google’s viewability measurement tool, Active View, is integrated into both the Google Display Network and DoubleClick. Advertisers can monitor viewability rates and buy ads on a viewable impression basis rather than by served impressions.

Google also announced an update to DoubleClick Verification last week, which includes viewability monitoring, ad blocking, a content ratings system and spam filtering capabilities.

The goals of the Media Rating Council (MRC), an industry organization founded in the United States in the 1960s following congressional hearings into the media industry, are:

  • To secure for the media industry and related users audience measurement services that are valid, reliable and effective
  • To evolve and determine minimum disclosure and ethical criteria for media audience measurement services
  • To provide and administer an audit system designed to inform users as to whether such audience measurements are conducted in conformance with the criteria and procedures developed

The MRC has certified “viewable impressions” as a legitimate metric (as opposed to “served impressions”). The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), mentioned earlier, issued guidelines in December that online advertising networks should aim for at least 70% viewability.

Facebook, for its part, announced in February 2015:

We are working with the MRC and a consortium of advertisers and agencies to develop more robust standards for viewable impressions. Our goal is to work with the MRC, our partners, and industry leaders around the world to help apply further standards for feed-based websites like Facebook, mobile media and new ad formats.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers, and IAB announced last year that they would create a new organization, the Trustworthy Accountability Group, to fight problems in the online advertising market and do the following:

  • Eliminate fraudulent traffic
  • Combat malware
  • Fight Internet piracy
  • Promote greater transparency

TAG now consists of representatives from Mondelez International, JCPenney, Omnicom, Motorola, Google, Facebook, AOL, and Brightroll.

Canada’s latest anti-spam legislation aims to fight Internet malware and bots—but a big stumbling block is that most of the problem comes from outside the country.

Will these corporate and organizational responses be enough? For the following reasons and more, it’s impossible to know:

  • Industry guidelines depend on voluntary compliance. Industry recommendations do not have the force of law—any business that thinks it can still make a lot of money by ignoring the guidelines will likely continue to do so.
  • Possible penalties for past behavior. Regardless of what reforms may occur in the future, should those who knowingly engaged in such alleged fraud and deception in the past be held criminally or civilly liable? (I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot comment on that.)
  • IAB’s 70% viewability goal. Should advertisers accept this metric as simply the nature of the medium? One estimate of the total display ad market amounted to $14 billion. If the 70% viewability goal can even be reached, should and will advertisers accept that $4.2 billion of their collective ad spend will still be lost before their advertisements are even viewed by human beings?

I have no answer—only time, I suppose, will tell.

But others are coming up with their own answers—those large corporations that are spending billions of dollars a year on online display advertising. As Lara O’Reilly wrote in May 2015 at Business Insider, $25 billion in ad spend is now under review in what Adweek is calling “Mediapalooza 2015.” O’Reilly gives one possible reason:

Media reviews let brands reassess their ad spending, often by offering those contracts out in a competitive bidding process. The companies include General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Volkswagen, Visa, Sony, Coca-Cola, Citi, 21st Century Fox … the list goes on. Some of these — P&G, Sony, and 21st Century Fox — spend more than $1 billion on advertising each year…

It could be that marketers are finally getting fed up with the apparent lack of transparency about where their budgets are actually being spent and why.

What marketers can do


(Image of an Indian online-marketing team I used with rights in a prior Moz essay

on the future of marketing departments)

Regardless of what the future will hold, here are my recommendations on how digital advertisers can respond:

  • Stop doing cost-per-impression (CPI or CPM) campaigns. Traditional digital advertising strategy recommends that people use CPM campaigns for brand awareness, cost-per-click (CPC) campaigns for traffic, and cost-per-action (CPA) campaigns for sales and conversions. In light of this scandal, I see no good reason to do CPM at all anymore.
  • Revise advertising KPIs and metrics in human terms. Earlier in this article, I calculated the following change to a hypothetical CPI value: “If you are paying $0.10 per impression, then the $10,000 that you will pay for 100,000 impressions will result in only 8,000 human views—meaning that the effective CPI rate will actually be $1.25.” In addition, half of all clicks in CPC campaigns might also be bots. As a result, a $2 CPC result may actually be $4 when reaching human beings is taken into account. Ad campaign analysts may want to take alleged bot and fraudulent activity into account when calculating ROI and whether display advertising is worthwhile.
  • Demand full disclosure. Clients should ask agencies and media buyers if they are getting paid directly or indirectly by ad networks. Agencies and media buyers should ad networks how they are combating bot activity and any fraudulent behavior. Ad networks should not turn a digital blind-eye to publishers who intentionally use bots to make profits off of advertisers. If anyone gives vague answers or otherwise disparages such questions, then that is a red flag. Advertisers should demand and receive full, verifiable information in light of what has allegedly been occurring.
  • Block certain countries from campaigns. According to a report in Ad Week, China, Venezuela, Ukraine, and Singapore have “suspicious traffic” rates of between 86% and 92%. (The rate in the United States is 43%.)
  • Use ad-fraud detection platforms. Companies such as Forensiq, SimilarWeb, Spider.io (which was bought by Google), Telemetry, and White Ops compare visit patterns with industry benchmark behavior as well as check for malicious software proxy unmasking, verify devices, and detect any manipulation.
  • Run manual campaigns as much as possible. The only way to reduce wasted impressions significantly is to research and implement digital ad campaigns manually rather than use programmatic ad buying. Digital advertisers should research potential websites on which they want to run advertisements to see if they are legitimate—potentially even running ads on only the largest, well-known sites but doing so continuously. This way, it might be best to focus your ad campaigns on quality viewers rather than trying to maximize the quantity of viewers by also including lesser-known sites.

Beyond the current responses of the ad industry and my present recommendations for marketers, I do not know what will happen. My goal here is simply to explain to digital marketers what has allegedly been occurring. What the future will hold—well, that’s up to we marketers and advertisers.

Additional resources

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How to Estimate the Total Volume and Value of Keywords in a Given Market or Niche – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

To get a sense for the potential value of keywords in a certain niche, we need to do more than just look at the number of searches those keywords get each month. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains what else we should be looking at, and how we can use other data to prioritize some groups over others.

How to Estimate the Total Volume and Value of Keywords in a Given Market or Niche Whiteboard

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to chat about how you can estimate the total volume and value of a large set of keywords in a market or a niche.

Look, we’re going to try and simplify this and reduce it to something that is actually manageable, because you can go way, way deep down a well. You could spend a year trying to figure out whether Market A or Market B is better to enter or better to chase keywords in, better to create content in. But I want to try and make it a little simple without reducing it to something that is of no value whatsoever, which unfortunately can be how some marketers have looked at this in the past.

Asian noodle keywords

So let’s try this thought exercise. Let’s say I’m a recipe site or a food site and I’m thinking I want to get into the Asian noodles scene. There’s a lot of awesome Asian noodles out there. I, in fact, had Chow fun for lunch from Trove on Capitol Hill. When you come to MozCon, you have to try them. It’s awesome.

So maybe I’m looking at Chow fun and sort of all the keyword sets around those, that Chinese noodle world. Maybe I’m looking at pad Thai, a very popular Thai noodle, particularly in the U.S., and maybe Vietnamese rice noodles or bun. I’m trying to figure out which of these is the one that I should target. Should I start creating a lot of pad Thai recipes, a lot of Chow fun recipes? Should I go research one or the other of these? Am I going to chase the mid and long tail keywords?

I’m about to invest a large amount of effort and really build up a brand around this. Which one of these should I do?

Side note, this is getting more and more important as Google is moving to these topic modeling and sight specific, topic authority models. So if Google starts to identify my site as being an authority on Chow fun, I can expect to rank for all sorts of awesome stuff around it, versus if I just kind of dive in and out and have one-offs of Chow fun and 50 different other kinds of noodles. So this gets really important.

The wrong way to look at AdWords data

A massively oversimplified version, that a lot of people have done in the past, is to look broadly at kind of AdWords groups, the ones that AdWords selects for you, or individual keywords and say, “Oh, okay. Well, Chow fun gets 22,000 searches a month, Pad Thai gets 165,000, and rice noodles, which is the most popular version of that query — it could also be called Vietnamese noodles or bun noodles or something like that — gets 27,000. So there you go, one, two, three.

This is dead wrong. It’s totally oversimplified. It’s not taking into account all the things we have to do to really understand the market.

First off, this isn’t going to include all the variations, the mid and long tail keywords. So potentially there might be a ton of variations of rice noodles that actually add up to as much or more than pad Thai. Same thing with Chow fun. In fact, when I looked, it looked like there’s a ton of Chow fun modifications and different kinds of things that go in there. The Pad Thai list is a little short. It’s like chicken, vegetable, shrimp, and beef. Pretty simplistic.

There’s also no analysis of the competition going on here. Pad Thai, yeah it’s popular, but it also has 50 recipe sites all bidding for it, tons of online grocers bidding for it, tons of recipes books that are bidding on that. I don’t know. Then it could be that Chow fun has almost no competition whatsoever. So you’re really not considering that when you look in here.

Finally, and this can be important too, these numbers can be off by up to 200% plus or minus this number. So if you were to actually bid on Chow fun, you might see that you get somewhere in the 22,000 impressions per month, assuming your ad consistently shows up on page one, but you could see as little as 11,000. I’ve seen as much as 44,000, like huge variations and swings in either direction and not always totally consistent between these. You want them to be, but they’re not always.

A better process

So because of that, we have to go deeper. These problems mean that we have to expend a little more energy. Not a ton. It doesn’t have to be massive, but probably a week or two of work at least to try and figure this out. But it’s so important I think it’s worth it every time.

1) Keyword research dive

First off, we’re going to conduct a broad keyword research dive into each one of these. Not as much as we would do if we knew, hey, Chow fun is the one we’re going to target. We’re going to go deep. We’re going to find every possible keyword. We’re going to do kind of what I call a broad dive, not a deep dive into each market. So I might want to go, hey, I’m going to look at the AdWords suggestions and tally those up. I’m going to look at search suggest and related searches for some of the queries that I get from AdWords, some of the top ones anyway, and I’m going to do a brief competitive analysis. Maybe I’ll put the domains that I’m seeing most frequently around these specific topics into SEMrush or another tool like that — SpyFu, Key Compete or whatever your preference might be — and see what other terms and phrases they might be ranking on.

So now I’ve got a reasonable set. It probably didn’t take me more than a few hours to put that together, if that. If I’ve got an efficient process for this already, maybe even less.

2) Bid on sample keyword sets

Now comes the tricky part. I want you to take a small sample set, and we’ve done this a few times. Random might be not the right word. It’s a small considered set of keywords and bid on them through AdWords. When I say “considered,” what I mean is a few from the long tail, a few from the chunky middle, and a few from the head of the demand curve that are getting lots and lots of searches. Now I want to point each of those to some new, high-quality pages on your site as a test.

So I might make maybe one, two, or three different landing pages for each of these different sets. One of them might be around noodles. One might be around recipes. One might be around history or uses in cuisine or whatever it is.

Then I am going to know from that exercise three critically important things. I’m going to know accuracy of AdWords volume estimates, which is awesome. Now I know whether these numbers mean anything or not, how far off they were or not. I could probably run for between 10 and 15 days and get a really good sense for the accuracy of AdWords. If you’re feeling like being very comprehensive, run for a full month, especially if you have the budget, because you can learn even more over time, and you’ll rule out any inconsistencies due to a particular spike, like maybe The New York Times recipe section features Chow fun that week and suddenly there’s a huge spike or whatever it is.

You can also learn relative price competition in click-through rate. This is awesome. This means that I know it costs a lot more per visitor that I’m trying to get on pad Thai. There are two really good things to know there. When a click costs more money, that also usually means there are more advertisers willing to pay for that traffic.

If you’re primarily on the organic side and you believe you can compete with the folks in the organic ranking, a very high bid price and payment price that you have to pay to AdWords is a good thing.

If you’re on the other side of that, where you think, “Hey, look, we’re not going to compete organically right now. We just don’t have the domain authority to do it. It’s going to take us a while,” then a high price is a bad thing. You want that cheaper traffic so you can start to build up that brand through paid as you’re growing the organic side. So it really depends on who you are and what situation you’re in.

Then finally you can figure out some things around click-through rate as well, which is great to know. So you can build some true model estimates and then go into your board meeting or your client pitch or whatever it is and say, “Hey, here are the numbers.”

Lastly, you’re going to learn the difficulty of content creation, like how hard was it for you to create these kinds of things. Like, “Wow, when we write about Chow fun, it’s just easy. It just rolls off. Pad Thai we have a really hard time creating unique value because everything has been done in that world. We’re just not as passionate about those noodles as we are about Chow fun.” Cool. Great, you know that.

Also, assuming your test includes this, which it doesn’t always have to, you can guess from sort of engagement rate, browse rate, time on site, all those kinds of things, but you can look at search conversion as well. So let’s say you have some action to complete on the page — subscribe to our email newsletter, sign up to get updates when we send them out about this recipe, or create an account so you can sign in and save this recipe. All that kind of stuff or a direct ecommerce conversion, you can learn that through your bidding test.

3) Analyze groups based on relevant factors

Awesome. That’s great. Now we really, really know something. Based on that, we can do a true analysis, an accurate analysis of the different groups based on:

  • Relative value
  • Difficulty
  • Opportunity
  • Growth rate
  • ROI

Growth rate might be an interpreted thing, but you can look at the Google trends to kind of figure out over time whether a broad group of terms is getting more or less popular. You could use something like Mention.net or Fresh Web Explorer from Moz to look at mentions as well.

Now, you can be happy here. I might have chosen chow fun because I looked and I said, “Hey, you know what, it did not have the most volume overall, but it did have the lightest competition, the highest return on investment. We were great at creating the content. We were able to engage our visitors there, had lots of mid and long tail terms. We think it’s poised for big growth with the growth of Chinese noodles overall and the fact that the American food scene hasn’t really discovered Chow fun the way they have Vietnamese noodles and pad Thai. So that is where we’re placing our bet.”

Great. Now you have a real analysis. You have numbers behind it. You have estimates you can make. This process, although a little heavy, is going to get you so much further than this kind of simplistic thinking.

All right, everyone, I look forward to hearing from you about how you’ve done analyses like these in the past, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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How to Choose a PPC Agency

Posted by anthonycoraggio

Paid search management is a great component of your marketing to outsource or delegate to a specialist. The field moves fast, so even without other responsibilities, keeping up with campaigns on a daily basis and all the developments in the technology and market environment is very demanding. When your time is already at a premium, finding a qualified agency can make a world of difference. Here are some questions to help you choose how to resource your online advertising needs.

Where is your business going?

Is this the right way to get there?

The reason you’re looking to run PPC campaigns in the first place is because you need to achieve certain business results—but is it actually the best way to get where you need to go right now? Particularly if you’re driving a new initiative or running ads for the first time, it’s important to take a step back and make sure you’re not trying to buy a horse to win an air race, because someone will likely try to sell it to you anyway!

Some red flags to watch out for:

  • Your target search niche is very small, or so new that no one’s searching for your product.
  • You haven’t evaluated the competitive landscape
  • Your website isn’t prepared to make effective use of the traffic you’ll be sending

It’s important to set expectations realistically. For example, if you’re trying to make a big break into the auto insurance market with a couple grand per month, you’re going to need some combination of very deep pockets and an outstanding value differentiator. On the other side of the coin, you can’t usually lean a major growth initiative on a target segment drawing only a handful of searches every month.

This can actually be a great task for an agency or experienced freelance consultant to address, but if you’re still at this stage make sure you’re being honest with yourself and them. Be ready to pivot to another channel, and make sure there’s a well reasoned backing for any promises of results you receive.

What kind of working relationship do you want?

In my experience, finding the right cultural fit is one of the most important things to consider when hiring out. Even if a deal looks good on paper, if you’re not on the same page and excited to work together, a cheaper fee or glossy list of credentials is going to lose its shine very quickly.

How do you actually plan to work?

Both sides of the table tend to start rolling out the idealism and HBR buzzwords during a request for proposals, but it ultimately works out a lot better for everyone if you keep it strictly realistic. Is your company large and methodical, or a scrappy team testing new ideas and patching holes every other hour? These situations demand very different skills and approaches from an agency to be successful, and if expectations are skewed to start, someone will wind up unhappy.

What do they need to be ready for?

Likewise, make sure to get a proper answer to this question from the agencies you’re considering. Just like in any hiring process, behavioral interviewing is going to be your friend. Need rapid responses and creative energy? Have a blunt or demanding teammate they’ll need to work with? Ask for examples of how they’ve succeeded in these kinds of situations in the past.

Are you looking for a bold experimenter or an obedient Igor?

Look for the full scope of success

Success in paid search is about much more than tweaking spreadsheets—you’ll need to create a cohesive and functional user experience from end to end, and that means some serious work on landing pages, ads, conversion rate optimization, data analysis, and selling the ideas to make it all happen. Before starting a new project, ask these questions:

  • What will it take to turn around new ad copy?
  • What kind of input will you be getting from your agency on new or improved landing pages? Whose job will it be to get them created?
  • What relationships might need to be cultivated between in-house stakeholders and external partners for the most effective communication and results when marketing messages or site changes are involved?

Don’t forget to factor in your plans for SEO, either—paid search is playing on the same field, and you’ll want to make sure the two are working together smoothly. If you’re also looking for an SEO partner, consolidating the two to a single agency often leads to more and better collaboration.

Think long term

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to ask where you see yourself in a year or two, and make that a part of the conversation. Are you aiming to bring the work in-house eventually, or will this stay outsourced for the foreseeable future? A good agency will be ready with a plan to help on-board or even help train a future replacement, and definitely won’t hold your account or data hostage.

Scale is an important part of the long term picture too. If you’re growing quickly into a rich market and could reasonably expect to double, triple, or 10x the scale of your campaigns in the near future, make sure you share your intent and find a partner who will be prepared when the time comes.

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Dissecting and Surviving Google’s Local Snack Pack Results

Posted by MiriamEllis

Google’s Snack Packs (a.k.a Local Stacks) haven’t gotten the best reception in the local business community. Many people feel these results serve Google itself more so than the local businesses they feature. For this reason, it may be more important than ever to make sure your local search marketing is both accurate and thorough. In this post, we’ll dive into why.

Let’s take one of these results apart and discover how best to respond to their limitations.

I was never a fan of Google’s Carousel. The vivid, image-oriented, horizontal display moved me out of my comfort zone after a decade or so of easy familiarity with the minimalist blue/grey/green palette of more traditional packs. A few orange stars here, a red teardrop marker there—like most Google users, I had been conditioned to see and understand these elements of pack results at a glance. The carousel felt like a shocking departure from the simplicity I consider to be a chief hallmark of Google’s historic style. I wasn’t sorry to bid them farewell … until I got my first look at the Snack Packs that have now become the standard results for hospitality and entertainment searches.

Bearing in mind that “Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant results and a great user experience,” please join me in dissecting the parts of a single Snack Pack entry to see if you think it’s living up to Google’s stated purpose.

elements of google's snack pack

Key to the Snack Pack

Here we’re going to see what each of the elements of this Snack Pack result for a search for “Tex Mex Restaurants” in Dallas signifies and directs us to. But before we do so, let’s quickly note what isn’t immediately accessible in this type of result:

  1. The phone number of the business
  2. The full address of the business
  3. A link to the website of the business

In other words, if we want to call the business right now, or understand exactly where it’s located, or visit the website to see a menu or get the feel of the place, we’re out of luck on our first try. Instead of instant gratification, we’re going to have to start clicking around on the elements of the typical snack pack to see if Google will give us what we want. Here’s what happens when we interact with these 10 elements:

Element 1

The business name is clear enough. We click on it, perhaps assuming that we’ll be going to the website of the business, as we would in an organic result, or at least to a Google+ Local page which years of Google use will have acquainted us with. Instead we end up on a secondary interface that isn’t a website and isn’t a Google+ Local page. It’s more like a large knowledge graph hanging in space above some organic results:

element 1 google snack pack

Personally, I find the hanging-in-space presentation of this secondary interface a bit odd, but at least we can now see the full address, phone number and a globe icon linking to the website. Likely, we’ve now found what we need, but I’m left asking why we had to click to get to this information. Traditional packs gave us instant, direct access to NAP+W—the core name, address phone number and website elements of any citation. By contrast, Snack Packs may make us feel that Google is holding out on us, making us click further into their own product before they’ll deliver.

Elements 2 and 3

Clicking on the stars and reviews also takes us to the in-space interface. Fair enough. We probably didn’t expect to see all of the Google reviews on our first try, but I do have to wonder why we don’t reach them in one click on these elements. Instead, we have to go from the second interface to a third, by clicking on the “View All Google Reviews” link. It looks like this, and is again disconnected, sitting on a greyed-out background:

elements 2 and 3 google snack pack

I have to ask, why doesn’t the reviews link in the Snack Pack take us directly to all of the reviews right away? Presumably, I want to see all of the reviews if I’m clicking that link—not just three of them.

Elements 4 and 5

The price gauge and the word Mexican” take us to the in-space interface. Fine enough. I confess, I’m not sure where that word “Mexican” comes from, and as a student of regional American cuisines, I’ll state for the record that Tex-Mex food is not Mexican food. I was curious enough about this to go hunt up the Google+ Local page for Mia’s Tex-Mex Restaurant.

You can’t get to it from the Snack Pack, as we’ve seen, and Google has been making direct links to Google+ Local pages harder and harder to find, so here’s a shameless plug for the Moz Check Listing tool. Look up the name and zip in Check Listing to get right to the Google+ Local page. No fussing with Google Maps, branded searches, etc.

Then, once you’re there, take a tip from Darren Shaw and click on the category on the Google+ Local page to see what appears to be a full list of the categories a business has selected:

elements 4 and 5 google snack pack

Okay, so now we’ve seen that the business did select “Mexican Restaurant” as a category, and perhaps if we visited, we’d find that they’re serving traditional Chiles en Nogada alongside the Tex-Mex standard queso dip. If the word “Mexican” in the Snack Pack display is coming from the categories, it has been abbreviated and given precedence over the primary, exact match “Tex-Mex Restaurant” category. I know the word isn’t coming from Zagat, where this restaurant is categorized as “Tex-Mex”. I’m not 100% sure about the origin of this word being given such prominence in the Snack Pack, but I guess we can let it go at that.

Elements 6 and 7

I really do have a bone to pick with element 6—the partial street address. What good does this do anyone? Not only are we lacking a street number to tell us exactly where the restaurant is, but the fact that there is no city shown erodes our confidence that we are, indeed, being shown a result in Dallas. We’ll have to click through to the in-space interface if we want Google to deliver the goods for us on this one.

Element 7, the sentiment snippet “longtime spot with famous brisket tacos” also takes us to the second interface. It’s not a direct quote of the business description which reads, “Bustling, casual, longtime eatery (since 1981) popular for its brisket tacos & other Tex-Mex fare.” It also doesn’t seem to originate directly from a user review, and I don’t see it described this way on Zagat. So, it appears to be a custom hybrid of sentiments Google and Zagat have created. I’m fine with this, but should it be more important to see random sentiment than a phone number in the Snack Pack? Which element do you feel is more deserving of pack real estate?

Elements 8 and 9

This is where I feel the average Google user may become somewhat confused, if they don’t understand that Google acquired Zagat in 2011. Clicking on the prominent Zagat logo or the wording “Zagat—Dallas’ best Tex-Mex restaurants”, one might expect to go to Zagat. But, you guessed, it—we’re going ridin’ on a freeway right back to the in-space interface, and we’re not even taken to the portion of it that shows the Zagat data. We have to scroll down to get to this:

elements 8 and 9 google snack pack

So, now we’re kind of intrigued. What does it mean that Zagat is voting this restaurant to be one of the best? We click that link, again likely assuming that we’re going to Zagat. Instead, we get yet another interface. It looks like this, and Mia’s Tex-Mex isn’t even the first thing we see on it. It’s down at numero cuatro in some sort of Google list that appears to be branded with Zagat’s name:

google snack pack

Just for fun, let’s click on Mia’s and see where we go. Que cosa? We’re back on the in-space interface yet again, and maybe feeling a bit like we’re going in circles.

There are actually pages on Zagat for these things. Here’s their page for the best Tex-Mex restaurants in Dallas, which I’ve noticed appears to have a completely different ordering of the results. It’s interesting that, instead of Google’s Snack Pack or the secondary interface taking us directly to this page, we remain firmly locked with Google’s own interfaces.

Element 10

As with most of the other elements, clicking the image takes us to the secondary interface (which appears to be different than the Google+ Local image gallery interface) and that then clicks to a page like this one which also feels a bit disconnected to me.

Unfortunately for this business, their primary image isn’t doing their listing any favors, but I don’t really have a problem with having to click a couple of times to get to an image gallery.

In sum, the initial interface of the Snack Pack may feel to users a bit like stubbing one’s toe on a blunt object of questionable usefulness. I know that’s the approximate sensation I have when I encounter this display.

Google may have turned off the Carousel for restaurants, but human users are still getting quite a merry-go-round ride trying to use and interpret the Snack Pack that has replaced it. As they bounce from one Google-owned interface to another instead of being given immediate NAP+W or taken directly to owner-managed websites or Google+ Local pages, or even directly to platforms like Zagat, users are given few signals about what connects all of these disparate elements together. To me, the experience is piecemeal and lacking in cohesive glue and feels like a step backward from the clearer UX of the traditional local packs that Google has so long promoted. What do you think? In your opinion, does this search results display live up to Google’s goals of usability and quality?

Snack Pack survival for local business owners and SEOs

However I may feel about Snack Packs, this I know: when I want to play with Google, it’s always got to be by their rules. So how can businesses like hotels, restaurants, bakeries, venues, bars, clubs, amusement parks, caterers and their marketers survive Snack Pack treatment?

The answer is clear:

Given that your customers will be interacting within a series of Google interfaces, it is now more important than ever that your Google-related marketing be as flawless as possible.

Using that secondary in-space interface as our springboard, this means that you have to get all of the following correct:

In your Google My Business dashboard

  1. Business name
  2. Address
  3. Phone number
  4. Website
  5. Description
  6. Hours of operation
  7. Categories
  8. Images

Beyond your Google My Business dashboard

  1. You must be earning positive, Google-based reviews and keeping an eagle eye on any patterns of negative reviews that arise so that you can quickly remedy internal service problems and respond appropriately.
  2. If you’re marketing a food service business, you should upload your menu to sites like UrbanSpoon and GrubHub. These are the sites from which I’ve seen Google pulling menus, but there could be other platforms I haven’t noticed.
  3. Food-oriented businesses must also tackle the Zagat environment. Here are Google’s detailed guidelines covering how to get Zagat rated, what’s allowed and what isn’t, editing listings, uploading menus, and lots more.
  4. Remember that Google draws data not just from places like Zagat but from all over the web. This means that your website, your structured citations, and unstructured mentions of your business must accurately, and hopefully positively, represent your business.
  5. There is no replacement for good service at your place of business, and excellent service may earn you additional perks like being added to “Best Of” lists by Google’s Zagat, which then make it into the interfaces Google controls.
  6. Be prepared for change. If we’ve learned one thing in the local SEO industry, it’s that Google makes both small and large changes on an on-going basis. We all went for a ride on the Carousel in 2013 and, with the exception of a few search categories, hopped off in 2014. Now we’re gnawing on Snack Packs. Tomorrow, who knows? What has historically stood business owners in good stead amidst all of these search evolutions is adherence to guidelines and data accuracy on Google’s products and around the web.

Your key takeaway: Be alert to developments but don’t be dismayed—if you’re getting your marketing right, chances are good that you’ll survive any foreseeable local display change. That’s good news for local business owners and their marketers alike!

Header images by Scott Bauer (United States Department of Agriculture) [Public domain] and Ricraider (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], both via Wikimedia Commons.

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Can You Rank in Google Without Links? New Data Says Slim Chance

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

For years now, we’ve heard the drumbeat from Google that marketers should stop focusing on building links. While it’s accepted wisdom that you should avoid manipulative link building to rank higher in search results, the popular narrative would have us believe that external links aren’t important in Google’s ranking algorithms at all, and that link building can be safely ignored.

Is there any truth to this?

To find out, we mined new information from our upcoming biannual ranking correlation study, conducted by Moz’s scientist, Dr. Matthew Peters.

External Link Definition

https://moz.com/learn/seo/external-link

Moz’s study examined the top 50 Google search results for approximately 15,000 keywords. This allowed us to examine not only what factors correlate with higher search rankings, but also how frequently those characteristics are seen.


At this point I must insert the usual caveat that correlation is not causation. Simply because a feature is strongly related to high rankings, this doesn’t prove or disprove that Google actually uses it in its algorithm. That said, it sure is a hint!


The relationship between external links and rankings

When we look at what the study found about links, we find a strong relationship.

The correlation between higher rankings and the number of linking websites (root domains) sits at .30. This number seems small, but it’s actually one of the highest correlations the study found. (Smaller correlations are also not surprising—with over 200 ranking signals, Google specifically designed their algorithm so that one factor doesn’t dominate the others.)

Even more telling is the number of websites we found in the top results that had external backlinks, or rather, the lack thereof.

Out of the top results, a full 99.2% of all websites had at least one external link. (The remaining .8% is well within the margin of error expected between Mozscape and Google’s own link index.) The study found almost no websites ranking for competitive search phrases that didn’t have at least a single external link pointing at them, and most had significantly more links.

The Relationship Between Google Rankings And Links

In other words, if you’re looking for a site that ranks well with no external links, be prepared to look for a very long time.

That said, the study did find numerous examples where individual pages ranked just fine without specific external links, as long as the website itself had external links pointing at it. For example, consider when The New York Times publishes a new page. Because it’s new, it has no external links yet. But because The New York Times‘ website itself has tons of external links, it’s possible for the new page to rank.

In all, 77.8% of individual pages in the top results had at least one external link from another site, which means 22.2% of individual pages ranked with no external links.

What the data says about links and Google rankings

There are a number of conclusions you can reasonably draw from these numbers.

1. External links are almost always present for competitive searches

If you want to rank for anything that’s even remotely competitive, the chances of finding a website ranking without external links is very rare indeed.

2. It’s possible to rank individual pages without links

As long as your website itself is linked externally, it appears more than possible to rank individual pages on your site, even if those pages themselves don’t have external links. That said, there’s a strong relationship between links to a page, and that pages performance in search—so it’s much better if the page actually does have external links.

To put this in layman’s terms, if a lot of people link to your website homepage, it’s possible for other pages to rank as well, but it’s even better if those pages also have external links pointing at them.

Although not examined in this study, it’s likely most of the pages without external links at least had internal links pointing at them. While not as strong as an external link, internal links remain a decent way to pass authority, relevancy and popularity signals to pages on the same site.

3. More links correlate with higher rankings

It seems obvious, but the study confirmed the long-standing correlation between higher rankings and the number of external links found from unique websites.

Indeed, out of all the data points the ranking correlation study looked at, the number of unique websites linking to a page was one of the highest correlated relationships we found.

4. When can you rank without links?

Despite the fact that we found almost no websites ranking without external links, it is still possible?

Absolutely, but there’s a catch.

The 15,000 keyword phrases used in this study were, for the most part, competitive. This means that lots of other people and websites are trying to rank for the same term. Think of phrases like “Galaxy s6 and New York car insurance.”

Non-competitive phrases, by their nature, are much easier to rank for. So if you want your website to rank without obtaining any backlinks, you might succeed by targeting more obscure phrases like “Oregon beekeeper ballet emporium” or “Batman flux platypus.” These phrases have much lower competition, and by default, much lower traffic (and in many cases, none.)

There are other edge cases where it’s possible to rank without links, such as when the user is searching for your website specifically, or when you offer something very unique that can’t be found anywhere else. Even in these cases, it helps tremendously to actually have links pointing at you.

Proceed with caution

There’s good reason people believe link building is dead, as readers of this blog know well. For readers less familiar with this concept, or those newer to SEO…

A link isn’t always a link.

Google Penalty

In the past 10 years, after people spammed the heck out of link building to gain higher rankings, Google began cracking down in a serious way starting in 2012. First with its Penguin algorithm, then by de-indexing several link networks, and then by cracking down on guest blogging.

Today, even slight deviations from Google’s guidelines on manipulative links can land webmasters in penalty jail.

The web is filled with links. Billions of them. Many are built by robots, some are paid for by advertisers, some are good old fashioned editorial links. The challenge for Google is to separate the good from the bad in its ranking algorithm.

When Google finds a link pointing at your website, it can choose to do one of 3 things:

  1. Count it in its ranking algorithm
  2. Ignore it – or not give it any weight in boosting your rankings
  3. Penalize you – if it thinks the link is manipulative

In fact, most people would be surprised to learn how many links don’t actually help you to rank, or can actually hurt. To play within Google’s good graces, it’s best to understand Google’s guidelines on manipulative link building, and knowing what types of links to avoid.

The safest link building is simply link earning, and to get your content in front of the right people.

But trying to rank in Google without any links at all?

Fuhgeddaboudit.


Photo Credit: Geographically Accurate Paris Metro Map by Nojhan under Creative Common License

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