Google is the Scrooge of SEM

Back in October, Google changed the way search queries were passed to web analytics, and not in a good way. I wrote about this at length at the time, so if you’ve been away from the web for a while and aren’t aware of this, go give it a read.

When the announcement was made, Google claimed that the percentage of searches performed by logged-in users was small, in the low single digits. But the data is showing otherwise. SEMs across the web are claiming that the percentage is much higher: as much as 20% in some cases. Think about that for a minute: You’re now losing organic search query data for 1 out of every 5 visitors to your website. Ouch.

However, as I said in my earlier article, the percent will naturally vary across websites, depending on the vertical, customer base, etc. So how does that make Google a Scrooge?

Well, shortly after they launched this hugely unpopular change, they rolled out Google Plus pages for businesses. Previously, the lack of business pages in Google Plus was a big hole in the service – businesses were clamoring for the ability to have a page for their business in Google Plus. And now they have that ability.

And how do users connect with businesses on Google Plus? Well, they have to have their own Google Plus account – and they have to be signed in to Google to connect. And most users, once logged in to Google, don’t bother to log back out before they start performing searches.

Uh oh. Do you see where this is headed?

And that, my friends, is a great big BAH HUMBUG to everyone who cares about search query data.

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Google Instant – The Apocalypse of SEO?

Unless you’re still on summer vacation, you’ve probably read plenty about Google Instant – the fun new feature that serves up search engine results pages and PPC ads as you type, and changes them as you go along. The Twittersphere is abuzz with predictions about Instant marking the death of SEO.

Hold on. Not so fast. In my latest post on the Fluency Media Blog, I discuss why we need to just keep doing what we’ve been doing all along: choosing relevant keywords, link building, publishing relevant content….. Give it a read and let me know what you think, either here or on the Fluency blog.

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More On The Ranking Report Debate

The debate continues on SEM forums and blogs over whether ranking reports serve a useful purpose in SEO or not. Ian McAnerin has a great post in his McAnerin Muse blog in defense (or defence, if you’re Canadian like Ian) of ranking reports. He rightly points out that “rankings don’t matter – it’s visitors and sales. How very convenient. It sounds great. Very forward-thinking and modern. Except it’s wrong. Why? Because there is no context.”

My sentiments exactly. I absolutely agree, as I’ve said before, that rankings in and of themselves are unimportant. What good is a top ranking if you’re not getting any visitors or conversions from it? And what good is ranking well for a super-long-tail term that no one is searching for?

However, if you’re doing SEO for a client, the hope is that you’ve done your research and identified key high-volume terms for which your client is not currently ranking well and is not getting conversions on that term. Logically, you’ll focus SEO efforts on increasing rankings for those terms, with the goal of getting converting traffic.

With skill, and a bit of luck, you succeed – and your client will start getting traffic and conversions. Now, you need to demonstrate that hey, I did my job – you went from ranking #51 to ranking #3 – and look at all the sales you’ve gotten as a result! But how do you prove that the rankings increased?

You either check every phrase manually (the thought of which gives me a stomachache), or you use a rank checker. And, as Ian points out, “The next step is to blend your rankings and other external data with your analytics.” This is exactly what we’re doing at our agency – using ranking reports in combination with visitor and conversion data to demonstrate the full effect of a successful SEO effort. Without this context, you can’t prove that the improvement is due to SEO. And if a client is paying you to do SEO, you’d better be proving to them that they’re getting their money’s worth.

So what are the options in the absence of Web Position et al? Are you manually checking rankings? Have you found another tool that works? Comment and let me know!

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Are Search Rankings Important?

Ever hear the saying “A day late and a dollar short?” (Silly me, of course you have.) I’m a day late and a post short. I had a post partially drafted on the hot topic of the blocking of rank checking software by Google, but ran out of time to finish it. Well, Stoney deGeyter at Search Engine Guide just saved me the trouble by taking the words (and links to other relevant posts) right out of my virtual mouth with his post, An End To Ranking Reports Is An End to Analysis.

Seriously, it’s a great post, and really does sum up what I was going to say on the topic, especially his final sentence: “But to not know where you’re ranking for your keywords leaves you without an important tool for assessing how, when, where, and why your sales figures may have suddenly changed.” This is why I’m concerned, as our clients have come to depend on us for this information.

An aside: In reading the comments in the article, I see I’m not the only one Stoney beat to the punch! Oh well – good for you, Stoney!

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Website Grader

I found out about Website Grader via a post on Sphinn yesterday. It’s a cool free tool that looks at elements of any web site, making suggestions for improvement. You’ll get a report on Google Page Rank, page structure, domain info, headings and tags, indexed pages, RSS feeds, inbound links, and search rankings. Based on these factors, you’ll get an overall score on a 100-point scale. Stats are also available for competitors’ sites, which is great for benchmarking and sleuthing.

I ran this blog through the tool, and was glad to see there are a lot of things I’m doing right! I’m not a programmer or a web designer, so it’s nice to know that even a hack like me can figure out this blogging thing. There is lots of room for improvement, though, and the tool gave me a good list of things to work on.

I also ran our MagazineLine site through the tool. We scored 90 out of 100 – pretty darn good, but like most sites, there are a couple of quick-hit items that will make things even better.

How does your site or blog stack up?

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