Measure What Matters in SEO

Excerpts from my latest article at NBC 5 Chicago’s Inc. Well: “How to Measure What Matters Most for SEO.”

What matters in SEO most when measuring the performance of an SEO program is the bottom line: conversions. All other data – including rankings, quality and quantity of backlinks, bounce rates – merely serves as tools to diagnose issues and opportunities in driving organic search conversions.

A lot of people become obsessed with rankings as a key performance indicator. I understand. It’s easy information to acquire after all, you just Google your favorite keyword and see where you rank. Unfortunately, using rankings as a key indicator has two primary issues.

First, all searches are personalized these days. That means that I may see my favorite keyword rank number one ranking on Google, but you may see it rank number seven. Depending on the location, log in status, cookies, search history and a number of other factors, the search engines customize the search results to each individual searcher. The days of saying with confidence that any one page ranks number one for all searchers is long gone. As such, rankings are an unreliable performance metric.

Second, even in the best circumstances ….

Read the article in full at NBC 5 Chicago’s Inc. Well >>

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Does PPC Cannibalize Your SEO or Vice Versa?

Excerpts from my latest article at Practical eCommerce: “SEO and PPC: Synergistic or Cannibalistic?

Many ecommerce managers wonder whether the paid search ads they place enhance or cannibalize the organic search results. They wonder, in other words, if they end up paying for clicks they could have had for free organically. A recent study by Google suggests that the relationship between paid and organic search is more synergistic than cannibalistic.

Top organic rankings in the major search engines can be construed by consumers as endorsements of those top-ranked sites. If Google ranks a site number one it must be the best site, right? Ecommerce sites in the trenches know that’s not always the case. We’ve written about ways to increase search result visibility with rich snippets in “Capture More Search Traffic with Rich Snippets,” but there are other ways as well. Google’s latest findings on paid and organic search results suggest that paid and organic listings are mutually beneficial.

Read the article in full at Practical eCommerce »

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

What’s the Deal with Semantic Search

Sometimes search engines just don’t understand. But who can blame them when all the searcher gives them to go on is a single word, like “deal.” David Harry’s post in Search Engine Journal on semantic search & SEO really got me thinking about the semantics of single-word searches, and how words and phrases that are crystal clear to a business can have multiple meanings when viewed through the engines’ eyes.


His example of “jaguar” illustrates my challenge at Groupon extremely well. When a user searches for “deal,” they could be talking about the card-game-related verb or the savings-oriented noun. A quick glance at search results confirms that “deal” and “savings” are closely linked in the engines’ understanding. But even more interesting is that the TYPE of deal that the engines deem most relevant is very clearly linked as well.

Groupon’s bread and butter are the city + deal keyword phrases like [new york deals]. That’s what we sell, deals to local businesses in cities across the US and Canada, and now the world. Interestingly, though, travel and city guide sites dominate the rankings for these city + deal keyword phrases. The engines have linked “deal” with travel and tourism. So despite the fact that Groupon’s business competitors include copycats LivingSocial and BuyWithMe, our biggest SEO competitors are TripAdvisor, Expedia, & CitySearch.

Groupon’s challenge, my challenge, is to speak the algorithmic language of the engines through a website that must remain focused on user conversion, to improve our semantic relevance to deal and city + deal concepts to such an extent that the strong semantic link between deals and travel/tourism is expanded enough to allow the inclusion of our flavor of deals. Good thing I like a challenge, because we’ve got a long way to go.

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Site Speed’s Role in Google Rankings

Reproduced from my April 19 article on Practical Ecommerce:

In its continuing quest to provide searchers with the best possible search experience, Google announced last week that site speed is now a signal in its search ranking algorithms. Along with the hundreds of other signals, like link popularity and keyword relevance, Google is now factoring site speed (i.e., how quickly a website responds to web requests) into its rankings on search results pages.

Why Does Google Care About Speed?

Searchers presumably associate the quality of the page they land on with Google’s brand. If a page that Google ranks isn’t topically relevant, the searcher’s Google brand experience is negative. Google is taking that a step farther with this algorithm update, implying that a site that is slow to respond or load will also result in a negative search experience that reflects poorly on Google.

It is true that bounce rates are higher on slow sites, indicating that searchers find the experience less acceptable. And Google is thought to factor bounce rates (quick returns from a search landing page back to Google) into their algorithms. Site speed, then, would just be an extension of that logic.

What About the Ugly Factor?

As a search user, I’m all for anything that encourages increased site speed. But, as a marketer and SEO professional, this feels like a slippery slope. Ugly sites also experience higher bounce rates – perhaps there should be an “ugly” factor in the algorithm. Obviously, I jest. “Ugly” is impossible to define empirically and quantify outside of the bounce rate data that “ugly” would theoretically increase.

Regardless of how marketers feel about the site speed addition to the algorithm, it’s live now. Google has introduced the site speed factor to only approximately 1 percent of the search queries performed today, so the likelihood that any one site will notice a dramatic shift today is extremely small.

Google rolls these changes out slowly to avoid the sudden massive shifts in rankings that we used to see several years ago. While this is a welcome change, it does make it harder to pinpoint source of the bounce issue, if there is one. As a result, a site with major site speed issues may have trouble discerning that speed actually is the issue. Impacted sites will more likely notice a gradual decline in rankings and organic search-referred traffic and sales as the site speed factor gradually impacts higher percentages of search queries.

Test Your Site Speed

Google Webmaster Tools recommends an assortment of tools to test site speed to determine if there is an issue, including Google’s Page Speed, Yahoo! YSlow, and WebPageTest. If site speed is indeed an issue according to these tools, a host of business or technical challenges could be contributing. Ecommerce sites tend to include a multitude of analytics and usability feature scripts that can contribute to slow response times, as well as hosting configurations that limit bandwidth available for a site.

These business and technical challenges tend to be the most difficult to resolve, especially for sites without dedicated IT resources. But, don’t panic – test first. If site speed is not an issue today, then file this away for discussion in the future as new features and technologies are added to the site. If site speed is an issue, then it’s probably something the business has been discussing already, since it impacts overall user experience. SEO revenue is yet another reason to prioritize the discussions around site speed and to make technical upgrades that could improve SEO as well as user experience.

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.