Social Content Sharing and Search Rankings

Here’s the reality: social media now plays an important role in SEO. Now that social signals now impact search rankings, marketers have to find ways to coordinate and integrate their social media and SEO strategies.

A benefit of this is that there’s an opportunity here in terms of economies of scope: the more the two work together, the more efficiencies you should experience both in rankings and “sociability” — e.g. what is shared ranks, and what ranks is shared.

Social Signals & SEO

Okay, so there are a number of so-called “social signals” that can affect your search rankings. Let’s take a quick look at some of them:

  • Most recently, Google fully rolled out their Google +1 button, allowing users to effectively vote pages up in the search results.
  • Both Google and Bing seem to be factoring in Shares, Likes, and Tweets into their search rankings
  • and social news sites such as Reddit, Digg and StumbleUpon can all boost rankings

This, of course, begs the questions: so how do you get your content Shared, Liked, and Tweeted on these social networks?

6 Types of Sharable Content

If you’re going to get your content Shared, Liked, and Tweeted, you’re going to need to do more than throw sharing buttons up all over the place, throw some traffic at it, and hope for the best. You’ll also need to understand what motivates users to share content. Users usually share content because it’s either:

  • Useful/Informative,
  • Interesting,
  • Unique/Original,
  • Inspirational,
  • Funny/Entertaining,
  • and/or Surprising/Shocking

Now, depending on the kind of content you’re trying to rank, you can probably appeal to at least one of these motivations. If you can’t, you’re probably doing something very wrong and should probably go back to the drawing board and reconsider your entire marketing strategy. After all, if your target marketing doesn’t find your products at least useful or unique, you’re going to have a helluva time trying to convert them.

5 Elements Worth Sharing

Digital content is inherently multi-media, and to that extent, every page offers more than one opportunity to share content. Just think of all the different elements on a page that can fill any one of the above criteria. For instance, you have:

  • Product/Services
  • Product Descriptions
  • Product Reviews (by users)
  • Images/Video
  • and even Pricing

So there should be something somewhere on the pages you’re trying to rank that should appeal to the kind of users you’re targeting.

For instance, when it comes to everyday products or services, you might explore ways to write creative product descriptions or include engaging photos that users will be more likely to share through their profiles. Similarly, you might consider opening things up to user generated reviews: not only will this mean more frequently updated content on your pages (which is a staple of SEO), but you can integrate social media APIs that allow users to auto-share the review they submit.

Alternatively, you might have some novelty items in your inventory that you can induce users to Tweet, Share, Like or Digg. Even if these aren’t your bigger sellers or highest priority items, the more social signals they generate around your site, the more authority that your overall site will enjoy with search engines.

A Socially Sharable Content Strategy

Of course, generating enough social signal to actually impact your rankings is a bit more complex than making your existing content more engaging (in one of the 6 above mentioned ways) and waiting for users to share it. Rather, you actually have to drive targeted, social users who are likely to share content to your site, and this requires a bit of a content strategy.

Specifically, you need to give those users something before you expect them do something for you you, and this involves producing content that they find useful, interesting, unique, entertaining, etc., but doesn’t try to sell them anything. This means developing content for the sake of the users, seeding it across social networks, and building a rapport with users. As you do this, they’ll be more likely to discover and share the sales/product-related content that you are trying to rank for.

This is particularly pertinent for seeding content on social news sites such as Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon. Such site have so much potential because every share/vote you get from one of these sites counts as an actual traditional link, which has even more SEO value than a Tweet or a Like. As our own CEO, Guillaume Bouchard once put it:

When you submit a piece of content to one of these sites, users can vote it up or down. Every time a user votes for your content, you get a link on their profile. Score. If enough people vote for your content, it appears on the homepage of Digg or Reddit – both PageRank 8 pages. Super Score.

So by developing content that isn’t geared toward your products or brand but, rather, is designed to give something back to online communities, you can build considerable SEO equity. Not only will users be likely to Tweet and Like your content, but every share you get through social content sites will results in a traditional backlink that will help build the overall authority of your domain and its ability to rank other pages in general.

How to Manage Your SEO Agency

Entrusting any part of your marketing to a third-party poses some serious challenges, and hiring a search engine marketing firm is no exception. While an SEO agency can offer you a level of skill and expertise that you don’t have in-house, any miscommunication or wrong move can end up costing you rankings, revenues and profits.

Most bad experiences with search marketing firms can be avoided by being a good SEO client. Here are 5 tips to managing your SEO relationships so that you not only protect your investment and rankings, but also maximize them.

1. Educate Your SEO Agency

The first step you should take when involving any third-party in any one of your marketing initiatives is making sure that they understand (1) your business model and (2) your business goals.

Your business model might seem like a “given” or a “no brainer” to you, but that’s because you live, eat, and breath it. SEO agencies live, eat, and breathe SEO. So make sure you take the time to educate them on your revenue model and whyyou’ve chosen the strategy that you did. This will help them help you tap into the most targeted sources of organic traffic.

Similarly, make sure that they understand your business goals.There’s a huge difference between “dominating your niche” and “cornering your market”, and these are nuances that your SEO agency needs to be aware of so that they can build and pursue an SEO strategy that makes sense for your business.

For example, McDonald’s and the diner on the corner both sell cheap, greasy hamburgers, but their respective business models and goals are very different. So the kind of marketing (online and off) that they pursue will be very different.

You may also want to take the time to understand the SEO strategy that your agency pursues. There is often a “method to their madness,” and understanding that method will help you better challenge and support them.

2. Define Your SEO KPIs

Once your SEO firm understands your business model, you’ll need to work with them to define SEO KPIs that makes sense for your business goals. There are a lot of ways to evaluate SEO campaigns (rankings, traffic, conversions, etc.), and you’ll want to make sure that both you and your agency agree in advance on what blend of KPIs to work toward.

First, this will help your SEO firm devise a strategy geared toward your expectations. But it will also put you in a position to evaluate the quality of their work and measure the return on your investment with them.

3. Appoint an SEO Gatekeeper

With firm KPIs in place, it’s time to appoint an SEO gatekeeper. This person will serve two key roles.

First, they will avoid bottlenecks. By having one person responsible for all SEO initiatives, it will be easier to establish the status of any project. Basically, you’ll have one person monitoring all progress and pushing projects through on a consistent basis.

Secondly, by serving as a main point of contact for your SEO agency, they will lend campaigns cohesion. Essentially, if all SEO inquiries are directed through a single gatekeeper, both you and your SEO firm can ensure that the proverbial left hand always knows what the right hand is doing. This way, you’ll be able to establish some SEO symbiosis between projects, and get the most out of them because they’ll be support each other.

4. Identify SEO Stakeholders

Once you have an SEO gatekeeper in place, one of their first tasks should be to identify all the relevant SEO stakeholders in your business. After all, they’re the ones responsible for making sure that all business strategy and decisions are clearly communicated to your agency. So they need to be aware of any internal events that might impact any projects that your SEO agency is working on.

Execs & Upper Management: It’s at this level of your business that you find key decision-makers. These are the people guiding overall business strategy are responsible for the outcome of any marketing initiative –including SEO. So co-opting these stakeholders will be essential for holding other stakeholders account for keeping SEO projects on track and keeping things moving forward.

Sales, Marketing, & PR:The sales and marketing team(s) need the leads generated by SEO, and organic search should be their number one online acquisition channel. Similarly, the initiatives undertaken by your PR team (such as press releases) should support SEO efforts by begin keyword sensitive and linking back to key pages.

Design/Usability: This part of your company will be integral to creating users experiences and information architectures that are optimized for search. Consequently, your SEO gatekeeper should be in close contact with them at all times.

IT/Dev: Depending on how technology driven your business is, this layer of your organization will be essentially in ensuring that every release of every site respects SEO best practices. So your SEO gatekeeper should be in close contact with IT/Dev and aware of how any new releases might affect SEO.

Editorial/Content: One of the many reasons “content is king” is because of its impact on SEO. Just like PR communications need to be SEO sensitive, so does your other content production. Your content strategy should be adapted, for instance, to search trends/volumes, and ensure that you’re producing keyword sensitive content at a consistent rate across all your properties.

Legal: This is one place where many SEO (and other) initiative can be lost in limbo, so your SEO gatekeeper must ensure that the legal department does not become an roadblock. Your legal department is important for developing a global policy on SEO (i.e., whether you pursue certain practices). For instance, if every piece of onsite or offsite content gets caught up in legal vetting, it’s going to kill your SEO momentum. So your gatekeeper needs to work out clear processes with them in advance.

5. Maintain SEO Momentum

Like many marketing initiatives, SEO is something that requires building and maintaining momentum. You can’t just put things on hold for a couple months and expect to pick up where you left off. Rankings change, and while your SEO is idle, your competitors will gain rankings and displace you in the SERPs.

This is where you SEO gatekeeper becomes an integral part of your marketing team. Not only are they monitoring KPIs and avoiding internal bottlenecks (from legal, IT, etc.), but they must also devise procedures to deal with unforeseen variables. For example, if a key decision maker or IT resource leaves your company, your SEO gatekeeper should have a policy/procedure in place to address the potential bottleneck.

Similarly, if you choose to change SEO agencies, it should be a measured transition where (1) the decision to change is made, (2) the new SEO firm is selected, and then (3) your SEO gatekeeper begins the transition from one agency to the next. At no point should your agency choose to terminate an SEO relationship without there being an alternative in place. Doing so can cost you months (or even years) in SEO progress.

Managing Your Rankings and Bottom Line

All relationships are a two way street, and it’s important that you take complete responsibility for the factors in a relationship that you can control. It’s tempting to think “for what I’m paying them, they better have a magic wand that they can wave and fix everything with,” but it’s irresponsible and reckless to put that thinking into practice.

You have certain business goals, and priorities always change. Many of those goals and change are directly relevant to your SEO firm (and any other agency you work with), so it’s important that they are kept in the loop. Doing so will help you get the most out your relationship and investment with them.

Q&A Sites and Their Impact on SEO

Q&A sites have exploded in popularity over the last few months and it seems everywhere you turn, people are tweeting their answers to questions posted on Quora, Ardvark, FormSpring and many others. What was the leading factor in making Q&A sites so popular despite the failure of Yahoo! Answers and niche forums with respect to trust. Q&A removes the anonymous posters by requiring people to sign in with Facebook, Twitter or get their accounts verified. Whatever the answer may be (maybe I should ask), SEOs have started to pay attention. This post will focus on the impacts Q&A sites will have on your website.

What is a Q&A Site?

On Q&A sites, users can ask questions about various topics to other users in a Q&A format. Some examples of successful Q&A sites include Quora, Formspring and Facebook Answers.

Do not get confused with article directories such as ezinearticles and wisegeek when looking for information from a Q&A site. Article directories are not nearly as interactive and social as Quora. These web sites are dropping in search results according to Google while the social Q&A sites are rising. The following list of websites shows which ones were affected by Google’s Farmer update.

Keywords have become questions.

According to this chart from SEOmoz.org, the percentage of people that use questions as keywords is increasing. This is an interesting point because if enough relevant and pertinent questions are asked on Q&A sites, and those question pages begin to rank above other websites, users might be swayed to click on the link. Where this can provide SEO value is if you, or your users, provide a link to your website for questions like “Where can I buy an iPhone online?” or “How much does an iPhone cost?”. It remains to be seen if the answer pages will rank above other websites and sway users to click the link.

Explosive growth of Q&A sites.

The reason why this is becoming an important element of SEO is because of the rapid growth in popularity of Q&A sites. For example, Quora has seen just under 15, 000% (145, 749 unique visitors) growth year-over-year while Formspring grew 67% to over half a million unique visitors. If this growth continues, and proper questions are continually being asked and answered, it would not surprise me to see Q&A sites begin pivoting into the search field to solve the ever going problem of spam in the search results. It is my assumption that Q&A sites will provide better rankings and will generate more links, better rankings and more traffic for the people who ask and answer questions.

Natural inbound links.

Having “social links” (Links that come from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Quora, etc) pointing to your domain or subpages makes search engines perceive your website look more natural. For example, it is a little suspicious if a website only has links coming from blogs. Even though most major social media websites NoFollow external links, it still acts as a mention and helps strengthen your websites brand by having a Twitter account, Facebook Fan Page, asking and answering questions on Quora and so on.

As you can see from the image above, the CEO of ccLoop answered a question that was asked on Quora. His name, position and website are mentioned on the answer. This provides Google with another mention of his brand and will ultimately help in the ranking of his website. Another great result of answer questions on Q&A sites is the potential to get mentions, on blogs, if you are a prominent voice in a specific industry.

Unlike Facebook: How Google Dropped the Ball With the +1 Button

Google recently launched their +1 button, rightly considered by most to be a close mirror of Facebook’s ‘Like’ Button. This gives the atypical impression of Google following in another company’s footsteps, but we can see a social interaction with web pages as being an inevitable step forward, and as such, following suit with something ‘like’ish can be forgiven.

When Google innovates in a pre-existing area, as they did with Gmail and with their search engine itself, we expect a significant and clever improvement such that it feels almost like a new service. +1 is not identical to the Like, and while it leverages and integrates Google’s search side, it misses out on the grand opportunity to fix what I consider to be the biggest and most obvious failing of the Facebook Like: the fact that you cannot dislike.

First, here’s Google’s promo video:

“Have you ever come home to a note that made life just a little bit easier?”

Yeah. “I think the milk might have gone off.” “Don’t see Gigli.” “Cancel your date with Chuck – he’s a rapist.”

While it’s nice to be able to say “this is something you should check out,” it’s also quite obviously nice to say “this is a waste of time – avoid.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe there would be more use in a like than a dislike. In a web of trillions of pages, there is clearly a sense in which telling what to avoid is silly, since in a human lifetime you will naturally avoid the overwhelming majority of the web. But for likely searched keywords and their limited ranking spots, I would just as much like to give a vote of hate and potentially save a friend some misery.

Google has not been without its complaints for poor and worsening search results. And they respond by allowing users only to socially vote for sites and their pages? Really?

Hiding From the Solution

Less than a month ago, Google supposedly launched a feature allowing users to hide sites from their search results. After visiting a page found through search results, you can hit ‘back’ and an option to block the site from future results pages will appear.

First of all, I can’t seem to get this option to appear anymore. Can anyone else? I am hoping there’s no connection here…

Second of all, how could this not be exactly the kind of thing that would integrate well socially? If I am sure I never want to see a particular site again, in the spirit of the +1 button, would I not, in most cases, want to at least suggest to my friends that the site I’m blocking is not worth visiting?

If you don’t want to incorporate this feature into the ranking algorithm, fine, but if you’re going to get social, you already have a precedent here for what is essentially a dislike – just no means to share it with anyone.

Work Around

There are actually numerous Facebook groups clamoring for a Dislike button, resorting to unofficial and potentially risky Firefox Add-Ons. Across all the breaches of Facebook etiquette, from nauseating self-quotes (”‘When the world is shadow, friendship is light’ – me”) to updates no one could begin to care about (”Eating breakfast. Should be a good day.”) to self-indulgent attention seeking (”SOOoOoOooo mad 2day!!!1″), the ability for the Dislike is just about self-evident.

When someone’s cool on Facebook, the Like offers an easy way for responders to offer their approval without fumbling through a poorly-written comment. When someone’s an asshole on Facebook, you have to wait until someone else articulates that the original poster is an asshole, and then Like their response. Or, if you’re not a coward, you can call them out yourself. But why the two-step?

Interestingly, YouTube, another Google property, allows dislikes/thumbs down. And y’know what? It’s part of the fun. People talk about the like/dislike breakdown in comments, which in YouTube’s case can be a welcome diversion from the usual slog.

Communities become truly social when they can reflect and comment on their own behaviour, and without dislikes, you can’t really get a sense of the behaviour. Disapproval is as fundamental to social interaction as approval. Are not stories of bad customer service more shared than of good service?

It’s Already Here!

Social news and content aggregators like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon have historically offered both up and down voting for a reason. Without an ability to filter crap, crap is what you get.

When Digg re-launched in their infamously horrific V4, they removed their downvote tool: the Bury button, the natural antithesis to a “digging”. The community flipped out in response, sure that doom was now impending, ironically unable to formally express their discontent, limited to in-comment rants.

With Digg now in version 4.whogivesacrapanymore, their once flourishing and active community has dwindled to sparse comments often at YouTube levels of inanity. And the Bury button has returned. Way too little, way too late.

Fortunately, in a way, Google never had a Bury equivalent to moronically remove. Instead, they are starting crippled, matching their equally cripply Zuckerbergian rival. Surely, the Digg lesson applies in search results. It’s only not obvious yet because Google users never really were a community, or rather, never acted as one. Google’s attempts at getting into social are smelling pretty strongly of Microsoft Failure Pie, trying to fit in with what’s current but awkwardly missing the point. On the bright side, they can’t do worse than they did with Google Wave or with Google Buzz, not to be confused with the equally irrelevant Yahoo! Buzz (which, incidentally, is a failed social news site where you can’t vote down…).

So is this some attempt at behaviour shaping through a lame “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything” gloss? I don’t like the vibe of this forced-to-be-happy-or-be-quiet space. We’re building an online nation of smiling yes people navigating search results crying out desperately for angry nos. As much as I want to entertain my friends and send them to good places, I want to protect them, too. All in all, I give this new Google service a score of -1.

Which is exactly what they need.

The Death of Exact Keyword Anchor Text

Anchor text is the lovable clickable blue that links one web page to another. The words in the anchor text indicate what the destination page is about, and through these cues Google builds its index of the world’s web. Naturally, this is of interest to the search engine optimizer, and the control of anchor text has consistently been a large part of the SEO science.

But to what extent will it evolve? And are keywords in the anchor text going to continue to be relevant in the long-term?

There are many opportunities for SEOs to take some measure of control over the anchor text of the links that point to their pages. Most allowable by Google’s standards is internal link anchor, where we get to decide where and which flavours of our own link juice we want to pour and flow.

In a world where explicitly soliciting links is against the guidelines, choosing anchor text for links from external sources pushes the boundaries even further. But as anyone who’s ever heard of a Google Bomb knows, keywords in anchor have made and continue to have an impact on rankings, and incoming anchor has been an established, resilient ranking factor.

In general, common thinking about keywords in or near links runs as follows:

 

The table shows minimum cases of relevance for a link from one site to another, as far as that relevance contributes to the ranking potential of the destination page. There is some degree to which a keyword is present (the ‘Text’ column), and there is a location for this keyword relative to the link itself (the ‘Keyword location’ column). We can consider a link as getting less pure as we go down the columns, with more purity generally entailing more efficacy in transferring value.

To the extent to which we are trying to communicate the subject matter of a link’s destination page, the exact keyword as the entire anchor text is the most pure, direct and concentrated. But it is also the spammiest, because while it meets its technical link requirements in full, the fact is that naturally acquired links tend to not be so purely optimized. There is a natural reasonable proportion of links that naturally fit this “optimal” type, and to build a backlink profile well beyond this proprtion invites penalty disaster.

Commerciality

A relatively recently approved Google patent (that they applied for in 2004) mentions “commerciality of the anchor text” in a list of types of “feature data” Google would gather and analyze concerning links. What does commerciality mean? That the link instructs the surfer to buy something on the destination page? That the link was bought, and is itself commercial? If it is this second option, then surely conspicuous keyword-rich anchor is your commerciality indicator.

 

Scan around backlink anchor profiles for top ranking sites, and you’ll see that by a wide margin the most common anchor texts for backlinks are branded terms which may or may not contain non-branded keyword targets. In addition to the name of the company/site, links often contain a URL in the anchor itself, a root .com URL, which can also be thought of as a branded term. That’s the strange part in all this: how do we reconcile with the fact that the purest link setup is by nowhere near the most common? Doesn’t having some exact anchor still work? What is an SEO to do?

Nature Boy

There are SEOs that unflinchingly champion the naturalistic approach. Regarding content, they say forget keyword density, don’t waste time splitting hairs over guessed percentages, and just write good, natural text and the rest will take care of itself.

While I am generally in favour of this kind of approach to SEO, especially with something like keyword density, as an SEO I still insist that regardless of what was written without SEO in mind, you better have the phrase you hope to rank for appear at least once in the text. Multiple mentions are good within reason if the text permits, but generally the idea is to be natural but within SEO reason.

I believe that keywords in the backlink anchor function similarly. For the most part, let your anchor come out as it does, and trust that its natural way of coming to be will be right for you long term. But, if you do have some measure of control, get at least a small percentage of the links to have your anchor.

 

Speaking of Natural…

Is it in Google’s best SERP interest to give any advantage to an exact keyword anchor, versus that keyword being somewhere else in the sentence?

For example:

Check out PartyOptions.co.uk for great party supplies.

Is that anchor really going to help that page rank better for ‘party supplies’ compared with:

Check out PartyOptions.co.uk for great party supplies.

This second case has to seem more natural, and is the reason why brands dominate natural backlink anchor. On the purity table, it represents the ‘exact kw + is in the same sentence’ combination.

The Sentence

Anchor text is meant to specify a location. This is why anchor text so often tends to be ‘here’. The link takes a user from one location to another, and so the anchor specifies this other location. Brand names are a great means of identifying the location. As such, there’s no reason why a search engine should desire that the placement of a keyword relative to a link needs be more precise than ‘in the same sentence’, otherwise they are just asking for spam.

Using just the anchor text for keyword indication is the simplest and lightest route for a search engine to take. But the relatively specific window invites spam and is subject to the problems outlined above, as far as where anchor text is most likely to occur naturally. As semantic analysis develops and search engine spiders are able to better “understand” what they’re reading, word placement granularity as fine as exact keywords in anchor will become irrelevant as the words themselves without the surrounding context.

Assuming Control

Moving forward, if an occasional opportunity for a natural-seeming anchor text modification to an exact term presents itself, take it, but otherwise leave your profile untouched. If soliciting links, often choose the brand name, or let the person putting the link up decide. As behavioural data plays a growing role among ranking factors, the human clickability of the link could over-match any advantage conferred to exact keywords as anchor. There is a risk of exact keyword anchors being ugly enough to discourage a click. The weight given to being in the anchor will drop, and the click-driven user behaviour factor weight will grow.

Do you think keywords specifically in the anchor text itself will have an impact long term compared with the same keywords just appearing nearby?

How to Be a Good SEO Client

Search engine optimization works best as a team effort. Even if the client is new to SEO, they are a key part of the process. Below are some behaviours and attitudes for the SEO client to consider to improve an existing arrangement, or start a new one off right.

Learn About SEO

Learning about SEO can not only help you be aware if your (to-be) hired optimizer knows what they’re taking about, but can help you get the most out of a great SEO company, too. The more you understand about what’s going on, the more you will be able to understand problems, and avoid creating new problems as old ones are solved. The basics of SEO aren’t extremely difficult to understand, and learning them can provide great context for understanding our suggestions for dealing with more complex situations. SEOmoz’s legendary Search Engine Ranking Factors is a great place to start.

Offer Up the Data

SEOs are data experts. The more data you give us, the better. This goes beyond analytics access. Don’t be afraid to shareyour pay-per-click data, since the keywords that perform there will perform organically too. Also, marketing and sales-related company and industry knowledge can be extremely useful in identifying searcher personas, and can take SEO out of isolation and make it a connected part of your large-scale marketing strategies. The more we understand your clients and customers and their behaviour, the better we can reach them. We might not know what data you have, so don’t wait for us to ask. Offer!

Implement the Suggestions

One of the classic frustrations for any optimizer is dealing with the pressure of delivering results while watching their key recommendations never get implemented. Don’t make us chase you. It wastes money by wasting our time – time we’d rather spend helping your site in new ways. If you work for a very large company, be mindful of roadblocks between departments and make implementation a priority. You must accept that your expectations for success must be roughly proportional with the degree to which advice is followed.

Get the IT Staff On Board

One of the SEO’s most valuable direct allies is the IT employee who will potentially be implementing the bulk of his or her recommendations. Ensure mutual respect, and let the IT folk get to know the SEO folk. If they’re willing, SEO is a great way to get your IT staff more marketing-oriented. Make sure they know how important SEO can be, and ensure that SEO recommendation implementations carry strong priority weight amongst other site fixes.

Make sure they IT employees understand the core search engine ranking factors, especially regarding the kinds of technical issues that can hurt rankings. If there’s a knowledge gap, let the SEO explain. Sometimes, with their intimate knowledge of server limitations and site history, the IT employee can be in the best position to offer a solution to a complex SEO problem. Allow them to be accessible.

Be Open Minded

In many ways, search is a different kind of marketing channel altogether. It is not business as usual. We respect your longtime strategies, and want to learn from them to adapt them to new models. But sometimes, traditions need to die, or at least evolve considerably. Don’t be surprised if we propose a major gear shift, or change in direction. We’re not out to reinvent your brand, but sometimes (and this is especially the case with social media) you’ll have to loosen up to keep up.

Trust Your SEO’s Decisions

You’ve hired the optimizer because of established expertise. If you are not comfortable trusting your SEO, then you might need to hire someone else. You don’t tell the auto mechanic how to fix your car, nor do you redo your accountant’s calculations.

Sometimes, asking questions can boost mutual knowledge and keep you rightfully informed. But repeatedly questioning an SEOs decisions will frustrate them and potentially drive them away. They don’t consult for free, and the more they have to justify every idea and action, the more time gets eaten in the discussion, and the less time they spend actually bringing results (instead of explaining them), which can lead to greater skepticism about their abilities and more questioning. Don’t let the cycle begin.

Let Go

This is related to trusting your SEO’s decisions. We like when you care about SEO and are keen to follow results, but SEO works on a time scale that makes client daily rank checks largely a waste of time. We’re monitoring your rankings for you, and we’ll keep you informed of major changes. Sometimes an on site change might not bring immediate results.

If you enjoy following rankings and traffic, sure, check them out as often as you like. But it is important to cultivate patience and recognize that SEO is a long term, complex process, with ups and downs that could just be Google engineers playing with the ranking algorithm. Expect to be kept in the loop, but be prepared to widen your timescale for updates, and try to avoid getting obsessed.

Share Your Ideas

If you’ve learned SEO basics and have some proactive ideas, by all means, share them. Do you have contacts with whom you can work to develop a great link-attracting section on your site? Did you see a competitor implement some strategy and notice their rankings climb considerably? We want to know about it. We’re the SEO experts, learning about your company. You’re the company experts, learning about SEO. The communication must go both ways.

Search Engine Drinking Games?

The following are a set of drinking games for anyone to play, with some extra games specifically for SEOs. Since many rely on search suggestion, and since search suggestions are customized to users’ past searches, make sure you’re not signed in under any Google account when you begin the game.

For each round, winning can mean anything, drinking-wise, depending on how heavy a game you want to play. The winner could be able to make another player take a shot/drink, or the rule can be that everyone except the winner has to take a shot/drink, or any combination or exaggerations that you want to work out on a round-by-round or game-by-game basis. You decide the consequences.

The games below are simply designed to bring about a winner, or a loser. In the loser case, the situation is easier; whoever loses takes a drink.

Be safe, have fun, and please drink responsibly!


Games For Anyone

Search Suggestions

The core of this game is to offer predictions as to what suggestions Google will offer to complete a search query as it is typed.

One player declares a letter they will type first. Each player writes down 5 searches they think Google will recommend for that letter. Once the letter is typed, and the suggestions are revealed, the person who has the most guesses included in the suggestions wins. You might want to let the winner distribute an amount of drinks equal to the amount of correct guesses. A variation is to not bother writing anything down, and have everyone shout out their one guess. Whoever’s guess is highest in the list, wins.

The winner of the first round decides the next character for the next round, adding characters and extending the search with each step of play.

A variation follows this same process, but instead of character by character, the search extends by word increments. A fun way to play this one is with first names, under single round games to guess at which person is suggested highest for that name – usually a celebrity.

No More Results

A player searches for a word, in quotation marks. This yields a certain number of search results. The player to the left then adds another word within the quotation marks, bringing about a reduced number of search results. This continues until a player adds a new word that brings about zero search results. That player loses. It is best if people cannot see actual search results as they play this game, or they will pick a phrase from the snippets that is likely to only have one result.

Note: In most character-driven game variations, a space will contribute nothing, and in this particular case, it’s an easy way to add a character without actually changing the query. As such, you may want to declare that a space must be followed by an alphanumeric character.


Games For SEOs

Volume Guesser/CPC Guesser

Fire up the Google Keyword Tool. A player declares which word or phrase they will search, and each player guesses the exact anticipated monthly volume for that phrase. Additionally, or instead, players can guess the Avg CPC.

Winning and losing can be determined as:

a) Whoever guesses closest wins
b) Whoever guesses closest without going over wins
c) Whoever guesses most incorrectly loses

Guess the TBPR

A player chooses a site to visit (either via random search query, a guessed domain, anything). By looking at only the home page, each player has to guess the toolbar PR of that home page. Players take an amount of drinks equal to how far off they are from the correct total.

Note: For this game, n/a counts as 0.

A variation can be played with mozRank, rounding up to the nearing whole number.


Other Geeky Games

Taken or Not
A player chooses a random phrase. Another player then has to guess whether that phrase followed by .com is a registered domain or not. If they guess wrong, they take a drink. Variations can include .net and .org guesses as well.
Thanks Dawn Wentzell for the suggestion!


More Games

Have any suggestions for more Google Drinking Games? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll add them in!

PCTO2011 Session: Drinking Kool-Aid, Peeing Snake-Oil

This afternoon, I delivered a session at Podcamp Toronto 2011 called Drinking Kool-Aid, Peeing Snake-Oil. This presentation was the product of bookmarking some of the most interesting stats I’ve come across over the last 6 months.

Essentially, this presentation is slide after slide of stats on how search, social media, and online advertising has evolved and is expected to evolves. Here’s the official description from the Podcamp Website.

In this session, we will explore some of the latest data & trends in both search and social media. Users (i.e. attendees) will be confronted with both the exciting and cold, hard realities of the digital space.

From Google to Facebook Connect, we’ll look at how users are actually using the web, and what they’re doing with it. Takeaway will include (1) insight into some of the biggest opportunities online, and (2) a whole bunch of numbers that users can steal for their own client pitches.

My conclusions is, simply, that social media is having an incredible impact on how search marketing is evolving. Specifically, social media is changing SERPs if only because they’ve created yet another layer of rich data through which we can determine both the (1)popularity and (2) personal relevance of any content. Here’s the slideshow:

Drinking Kool-Aid, Peeing Snake-Oil

View more presentations from CT Moore

The Effects of Inflation in the Pagerank Economy

In a capitalist economy, individual prosperity is measured by individual wealth accumulation. Communal prosperity (the health of the system) is measured by communal wealth accumulation and currency changing hands — i.e. cash flowing frequently and in legitimate, natural ways.

In the pagerank economy, individual prosperity is measured by individual pagerank accumulation. Communal prosperity (the health of the system) is measured by communal pagerank accumulation and pagerank changing hands — i.e. link juice flowing frequently and in legitimate, natural ways.

If we can think of Google’s index as the economy, pagerank is the currency. Black hat is the… black market? Okay, maybe I’m pushing it there.

Anyway, new sites are being added to the web all the time. A bit like new people being born. After a brief childhood, they’re vying for the same currency as everyone else. Except web sites don’t really die in the same way that people die. People, for the most part, are buried and survive only in memory and the odd legacy. A dead web site can be a functional and SERP-leading mauseoleum. In fact, age is respected and is a marker of rankworthy trust.

One of the classic SEO questions is how much is a good amount to link out? There are those that stick to a rigid policy of “not at all”, but the unnaturalness of that kind of setup seems wrong, especially since it goes against a healthy pagerank economy. Just as cash must flow, so must pagerank, for there to really be a proper system at all — at least one where links are still such a core currency (i.e. ranking factor).

In a healthy pagerank economy, juice changes hands. On a very general level, Google has an interest in the webbiness of the web. Otherwise, relevance becomes the only ranking factor, and that just can’t work (at least not for Google’s link-driven algorithm).

Every transaction, however, inflates the total pagerank supply. On a web with new content and new links every day, the value of a link must decrease, with a constant state of pagerank inflation. This is especially the case with a SERP list being only ten entries long, and the fact that so many searcher clicks falling on the first page of results (and many above the fold).

But just as the amount of links out on the web grows, so do their destination pages. If there are always more sites to link out from, and also more sites to link out to, might there just be a balance?

Black Holes

Just as money tends to generate money, pagerank tends to generates pagerank. This is because the main asset generated by pagerank is traffic, and traffic generates pagerank by an increased viewership resulting in more backlinks.

Think of traffic really as an asset – a resource, a product – that tends to attract more of itself. Over time, this leads to individual entities growing and growing in value.

When coupled with pagerank inflation, the gap between the pagerank-rich and the pagerank-poor widens. The traffic pool gets deeper with more and more people on the web, but doesn’t get much wider with more sites because there are limited ranking spots (in the SERPs) of any real value. The consequence is the emergence of pagerank monoliths, or black hole sites — Wikipedia being the prime example.

Fortunately, though, this system would never necessitate a massive pagerank bailout (as we saw during the credit crisis).

 

But for discussion’s sake, what if Wikipedia disappeared tomorrow, and its links removed as if they never were? Because the total pagerank supply would drop, every site’s pagerank would buy a little more, and the results would adapt in the rest of the web’s favour.

Like disappearing a rich family and burning their money. They have to have quite a lot of the relative money supply to have a noticeable effect, but by allowing between 10-20% of many SERPs to free up, the effect would be significant.

I suppose another question would be what if Wikipedia took it upon themselves to change their role in this economic system? With the amount of pagerank that could be pushed back out, if Wikipedia strategically re-followed their links, the result could tremendous, depending on how they did it. The sites they link to in a nofollow manner make natural sense, so if they were re-followed, the effects wouldn’t be terrible, but they could be very noticeable.

Fortunately (unfortunately?), Google can turn off whichever taps it chooses. But it’s still scary to think of a Wikipedia as a kind of economic monster. I’m sure that with Wikipedia being one of the highest few ranking domains on the planet, Googleian and Wikipedian folk have surely shared words.

At least sites in a pagerank economy can’t be too big to fail! There is, of course, a system to maintain, but no real precarious balance to potentially upset.

Net Neutrality and Economic Policy

The black hole effect has the potential to be exaggerated even further by the impending collapse of net neutrality. If sites are able to invest in primo exposure within a tiered system, that traffic will eventually result in more backlinks, and more rankings.

Sites that can’t afford to compete won’t have the visits that bring the natural links. As with the real economy, the rich get richer and the gap between rich and poor widens, which tends to not quite bring about tears in those that are already doing well.

Thriving Within An Inflated Pagerank Supply

What does the pagerank supply mean for aspiring SEOs? As is always the case with web stuff, you should have gotten in ten years earlier, but that being said, hurry up and get started. There are still plenty of niches within which hard work can lead to ranking spots. But it isn’t getting any easier. It will never really get any easier, so get moving.

The total number of links within the system is going up, and while the value of an individual link within the web pagerank economy goes down (given the limited number of spots for rankings), that doesn’t mean its per site relative value has to go down so much. Not all the new links are necessarily going to the same place.

Black hole sites exist, but extra sites could potentially just link to newer sites.

I’d be curious to know the rate of growth of legitimate, unique web content in comparison with the rate of growth of legitimate links on this content (including and excluding black market links). I’d also like to know the rate of natural link growth for old sites versus new sites. Depending on how it all happens, you might naturally grow in proportion with pagerank inflation, like getting raises to keep up with inflation in the normal economy.

As far as rankings on the first page go, backlinks might become less and less of the full story. The recent changes to Google’s Local Listings shows their Places ranking mixed with natural organic results. So, even if you’re having trouble keeping up backlink-wise, you might sill have other means of reaching a high profile spot.

The Future

Where will search results be in 5 years? Universal search has already changed SERPs in significant ways, allowing newcomers to step into what is now a bigger front page, but there’s a limit as to how far this can go.

How much fluctuation will there really be for the core results? Will they be more static as time goes by — considering the link leads the top sites will have? Will freshness be a factor? Should freshness be a factor, even if it doesn’t really seem like a QDF search? Just to give other people a chance? Would that be fair?

Maybe Google’s fine with this, and doesn’t consider it a problem at all. SERPs are already tweaked in relation to user behaviour, so they will re-adjust somewhat on a user level. Besides, if you want a chance at first page visibility, all you really have to do is bid enough per click…

The way to traffic is getting and will continue to get increasingly social — especially with Twitter followers being a potential ranking factor and Bing factoring in Facebook likes. While search engines are going to likely include more and more social content into SERPs, the real meat of the top ten spots will likely go to those that got in the ranking game early. Unless links stop being the main indicator of popularity (not any time soon!), I don’t see how this can change.

In the physical, real world economy, factors like location are key to getting new visitors to newcomer places. While local search engine results have an element of this for the right niches, there is no real equivalent to 40 stores shipping the same products nationwide. I guess I’ll try to get my foot in the door into whatever’s left while I still can, or save my pennies for some sponsored listings…

Words & Sense: A Party Perspective

Let’s say that I offer a service that gets partygoers to the parties they want to attend. I sometimes just recommend parties, but I also let people who are throwing parties pay me to get people to go to theirs. I do this by letting party hosts advertise their party on my site, and take a cut every time someone inquires about a recommended party through the ad. But even for those that pay to advertise, I still only match them up with party-going people who are interested in the kind of party that the advertiser is advertising.

Then, imagine that I also have a spin-off service that’s designed to allow parties to swap guests. Essentially, I pay a host to get a guest to leave his party and go to someone else’s. I pay him out of what the second host pays me.

The best cases are when someone advertises with me, and then sends the guest somewhere else. Why would anyone want someone to leave their party though? Good question. How does a person get someone to leave their party? Also a good question. I don’t really want people telling their guests to leave directly, really, because it’s a flat out strange thing to do. Partygoers don’t want to feel like they’re being shuffled around. I want them to want to leave.

At first, hosts are concerned about the fact that they would have to make their parties pretty bad if they really wanted guests to leave. Some join my system but still throw awesome parties so no one really leaves, and neither of us make a lot of money. I don’t care much for them.

What I do like are those that purposely paint their walls clashing colours so that people find it ugly enough to want to leave, or speak gibberish until their guests get uncomfortable.

I even tolerate, to some degree, a little trickery. Some hosts do things like put signs on doors that say something like “bathroom” but when you walk through it you’re just at the party next door, and everyone takes their cut. For the most part, I don’t care! As long as the hosts push their guests from one party to another and I get my share, I’m happy.

I couldn’t let all parties work like this, of course, or partygoers wouldn’t like my service. I mix just the right amount of excellent parties with those that are so terrible I’m bound to double dip into profits. It’s a good system!

A friend once asked me if I feel guilty about not just sending people only to good parties, or if I feel bad wasting people’s time, giving money to parties that I know aren’t really offering anything of value. My money helps me pay my guilt to go away.

Sometimes it’s frustrating for my employees that are working on making the best party lineup possible to get stuck with the double dip crap shindigs being encouraged, but the double dip crap shindig employees have quotas to hit, so too bad so sad, there’s room for a little ugly to up my bottom line.


…and that’s what bothers me about AdSense and AdWords.