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Thursday, January 4th, 2007

StepForth’s Predictions for 2007

Another New Years has come and gone and over the past few weeks search industry professionals have been releasing their search market predictions for 2007. I have steered clear of reading them because it is time for me to write down StepForth’s predictions and the last thing I want to worry about is duplication. Without further adieu, here are the predictions my staff and I put together for 2007. Read more…

In my daily blog reading I came across an accolade to a new service called ClickTale that can actually show how each visitor navigates each page during their session. According to the ClickTale site “ClickTale shows you the full story: every mouse movement, every click and every scrolling action. By using ClickTale you will gain insights that will improve your website’s usability, enhance navigation, and increase effectiveness.”

ClickTale is currently in Beta but as soon as I get a chance to I will provide a full review of this fascinating and ground breaking tool.

As an added note, the ClickTale team published intriguing report results based on the profile of 170,000 visitors tracked using the ClickTale system. According to the results many users are actually spending more time than previously thought navigating below the fold. Here is the full article for you to read – it is well worth it!

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Search Engine Placement Inc.
Permalink to this article: ClickTale’s New Insights

Sorry for the belated posting all but I realized that, although I had intended to, I never did post that Google Analytics has now opened its doors to all. You can sign up your site and enjoy free website analytics from friendly ol’Google here: sign up for Google Analytics.

Please note that I strongly recommend using ClickTracks versus Google Analytics. My experience with ClickTracks has been far more favorable and I believe that the statistics provided are more accurate. Indeed, keep in mind that if you go with Google there is a certain lack of transparency regarding what they do with the statistical data collected from your website. Anyway, that is my two bits but I wanted you all to know about this news if you hadn’t heard about it already.

Cheers, Ross

We have all been there, “how the heck do they always get #1?” It is a constant frustration for many a client and, well, even myself occasionally. The fact is that much of the time there are a few solid reasons behind the search engine success of any website and it is important to learn what these reasons are before trying to compete. How is this done? Therein lies the subject of this article; how do you determine what your competitor has done to win the search engine war?

Demystifying your competitor’s success requires you to put on your detective garb because you are going to have to investigate all aspects of their website; even the deepest darkest corners. In the following instructional I will lead you through a hypothetical investigation of a competitor who is ranking for the phrase “voip services”. In each step I will choose the more popular result that I find when I do similar competitor analyses professionally. So please take note, the sample is only the most popular result; occasionally there are truly baffling cases of competitor success which have required heftier investigation leading to differing conclusions of what they did to succeed. Read more…

StepForth’s methods of providing search engine optimization services for Google rankings have evolved significantly over the past year. Since the release of Google’s March 30, 2005 patent application, “Information retrieval based on historical data“, our SEO and research departments have made site usability and understanding user behaviours a priority.

After reading, analysing and writing about information found in the patent application, we correctly predicted user behaviours were becoming critical factors in Google’s estimation of the relevancy or importance of documents in its index. Read more…

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Friday, February 3rd, 2006

Google Tags onto Web2.0 Theory

Google appears to be experimenting with social tagging and expanded bookmarking; leading some to conclude that if successful, Google might integrate user-input data into future organic algorithms.

Last Sunday (January 30), Google released the fourth version of its toolbar for Internet Explorer (a Firefox version is scheduled to be released soon). Two of the features embedded in the toolbar suggest Google is moving towards incorporating views expressed by its users into its methodology for factoring search results. Read more…

Usability is already a critical component of successful online ventures but with the advent of Google Analytics and the implementation of the Jagger algo update, user-activities and behaviours are going to play an influencing role in search engine rankings. How people act when they visit a website or document is being measured and accounted for, even for sites without Google Analytics tracking codes in the [head] section of the document source-code.

Google is concerned with how people find information and what they do when they access a document found in the Google index. Which document in a site they tend to land on, how long users spend on that document and how much, if any, time does a user spend exploring information in a domain, are all pertinent to how Google perceives the relevance of documents listed in the index. As long-term online marketers know, this is where usability comes into the picture.

Usability, as defined by Kim Kraus Berg is, “… the ability to successfully, comfortably and confidently learn or complete a task. For the web site designer or application developer, it’s the mechanics of designing and building a web site or Internet-based application so that it can be understood and easy to accomplish any task.”

According to local (Victoria-based) website marketing expert, Michael Linehan, a focus on site usability is simply common sense marketing. Leading visitors towards goal-orientated outcomes makes as much sense for a functioning website as it does for a functional building and, to follow through on the analogy, it all starts with a smart architect.

Michael knows his stuff, so much so StepForth considers him to be one of our marketing and site usability gurus. If our assumptions about user-behaviours and the post-Jagger Google SERPs are correct, Michael’s talents will play an important role in our overall SEO techniques.

“It’s all about marketing,” Michael explains (exclaims is probably a better word, ML is pretty passionate about this stuff), “and marketing is all about envisioning an effective strategy.” While most people involved in business understand the concept, surprisingly few actually take the time to implement and follow a marketing strategy in relation to their websites.

“Website owners have to prioritize their messages and make their websites easier to use. It’s a matter of measuring the importance of different parts of their marketing strategy and their websites.”

Michael suggests that over 95% of companies he has worked with use opportunistic marketing tactics with separate strategies being employed out of sync with each other. A simple example would be the Yellow Pages ad that does not mention the website URL or a printed brochure that does not include an email address in the contact information. A more complex example can be found by looking at most business websites.

“When a business owner gets a website for their business, they often expect the designer to know how to market their new website.” said Michael. “That’s just ludicrous. Website designers already have a difficult and mentally demanding job. Expecting them to be proficient marketers is like expecting your architect to act as your real estate agent.”

Michael deconstructs websites, pulling them apart to find or add the little things specific to a business website designers often can’t customize for. His work could be described as user-outcome optimization.

He has a good point. Search engine marketing is becoming much more complicated. The web is rapidly adopting a more professional attitude as it grows into the global mainstream marketplace. As this maturing takes place, two factors should drive website owners and webmasters towards a more professional view of their online marketing strategies.

The first factor is the increased analytic abilities of the major search engines. As previously mentioned, Google is taking stock of a number of user-sensitive factors surrounding documents in its index. In March 2005, Google filed a patent titled, “Information retrieval based on historical data“. The patent application outlines the historic record Google keeps on every document and file in its index. One of the items mentioned covers user behaviours touching on the following points:

  • how much time an average user spends examining a document,
  • the entry and exit paths of users,
  • if users store reference to the document in bookmarks,
  • how users access the document (via search engine, typing URL, link from other document, or bookmarks),
  • an evaluation of search traffic driven by Google and related keywords the document was found under

Each of those points should lead webmasters to think about how visitors use their site. Website marketing is not necessarily about search engine placements. It is about using your website as a marketing tool. In the context of website marketing, usability is about moving visitors from the entry point to the goal line and off again to another compellingly relevant website experience.

The second factor is the evolving needs of website users and their increased analytic abilities. The Web is almost second nature to most of its users. People are experienced in the environment and, at least in the case of work-related web use, know what they want. As it stands today, there are a lot of websites that no longer live up to user expectations because those expectations have moved beyond the design of those websites.

Usability is a component in smart and informed website marketing simply because it implies making the website experience simpler and clearer for visitors. Strategically moving a site visitor from the entry point to the information or sales point (goal lines) is common sense. It is also providing the visitors exactly what they want.

Google placing more weight on user behaviours makes sense. User behaviour is a logical extension of the democratic concept of PageRank in that the users’ collective judgment is incorporated into that of the webmasters who coded incoming links. Webmasters of sites supporting AdWords advertising are already super-charged, stoked about Google providing detailed data that can help drive traffic.

All good marketing strategies are goal orientated and center around a clear vision. As time goes on, it can get pretty complicated, especially when clarity and ease of use are the ultimate design goal. Objective planning might involve rethinking the design of your website but moving into the near future, rethinking the design of your website might just become essential.

Google has scored a major coup with the release of Google Analytics. In the spirit of helping webmasters and search marketers move site visitors into converted site users, Google is offering its enormously useful site analytics tool, Urchin, free of charge under the re-branded name Google Analytics. The software is designed to help webmasters and marketers understand site visitors and their behaviours. Last year, it cost almost $500/mth to subscribe to.

For Google, search is about business and business is about results. Results are measured in many different ways, depending on the goals of those gauging the yardstick. For Google, the yardstick continues to appear infinite, defying common sense, which logically tells us otherwise. The introduction of Google Analytics solidifies Google’s place as the pinnacle of search advertising providers and is likely to convert a lot of webmasters into Google account holders.

“Conversions” is a term used by marketers and webmasters as a way to measure results. The word itself is rather ambiguous and can have slightly different meanings for different people but ultimately means the same thing. Conversion means getting site visitors to do an intended task while visiting your site. For an ecommerce site, site-visits that lead to sales are considered conversions. Sites that primarily provide information might see an increase in repeat visitors as an indication of successful conversions. Similarly, sites running ads powered by Google AdWords might consider ad-clicks as successful conversions as Google certainly does.

According to the basic information provided on the features page, Google Analytics can help you, “Learn how visitors interact with your website and identify the navigational bottlenecks that keep them from completing your conversion goals. Find out how profitable your keywords are across search engines and campaigns. Pinpoint where your best customers come from and which markets are most profitable to you. Google Analytics gives you this and more through easy-to-understand visually enhanced reports.”

Once a user gets into the system, they are rewarded with access to a remarkable tool. If they are an AdWords advertiser or AdSense partner, a wide array of tools and assistants are provided to help convert visitors into billable (or payable) clicks. Google obviously believes that it can make more money by helping AdWords advertisers and the owners of the website that display AdWords. For Google however, the rewards go deeper than a basic bottom line.

Yesterday, the system ground to a near halt as millions of webmasters rushed to sign up. Google will be receiving a wealth of consumer and marketing information from sites using the software, information that will be incorporated into Google’s understanding of how users travel through sites found in its index. That kind of information is worth its weight in Google shares.

Google Analytics is a members-only service. Unless they already have one, webmasters and advertisers will need to establish an account through Gmail or AdWords before being granted free access. Once an account is established, the information provided is pretty intense.

Separated into three general user types, Executive, Webmaster, and Marketer, Google Analytics shows up to the minute information on over seventy essential elements, giving decision makers a lot of data to work with. The internal system is set up around a left-hand side dashboard of expanding drop-down menus for each of the general user overlays, each of which displays a series of reports. Users can also select a drop down display that expands to show the full range of elements to analyze.

Having said all that, it isn’t really possible to give a full review of the data generated by Google Analytics as we have just inserted the tracking-script into documents on our site this morning. It will take about twelve hours for information to accumulate.

On the surface, it appears as if Google has taken some of the best elements of other analytic programs and integrated AdWords/AdSense conversion support features. The layout is easy to use and there is a good mix of information and supporting graphical elements to ease the headaches commonly associated with statistical analysis. The first overlay provides an at-a-glance dashboard with gauges indicating site visitors, unique visitors, top documents, top keywords, and other user-specific information sets.

Account access can be shared with other Google Account holders, a feature that will allow SEOs and SEMs to share information directly with their clients. While it is a violation of the Terms of Service agreement to charge clients for access to data generated by Google Analytics, a service helping them interpret and understand the stats and information seems a natural evolution for search marketing professionals.

As reported by David Utter in WebProNews, Google Analytics doesn’t seem to worry newly minted rivals WebTrends and ClickTracks though its introduction did send shivers down the spines of shareholders in analytics firm Web Side Story.

Michael Stebbins, VP Marketing for analytics firm ClickTracks, said: “Google is the rising tide that raises all the web analytics ships. The announcement to offer free analytics is a great validation of our market. We’re thrilled they are opening the market’s eyes to what web analytics can do today. At the same time, we need to put it in perspective: when Google offered Blogger it did not put other blogger platforms out of business. When the tide levels out, the web analytics tools that provide the most value for marketers will be the ones that thrive.” (Source, WebProNews)

Google has made a masterful move in the introduction of Google Analytics. They have produced a superior analytic package, branded it under their name, and tied it into the most popular paid-advertising program on the web. Under other circumstances it wouldn’t take long for one of its competitors to catch up with their own analytics package however, Google’s purchase of Urchin last year put them far ahead of any rivals.

Click Fraud is the greatest threat to the rapid growth of the paid-search marketing sector. Speaking about click fraud to an investor conference in December, Google CFO George Reyes stated, “I think something has to be done about this really, really quickly, because I think, potentially, it threatens our business model.” Accounting for an estimated 5 – 15 percent of all PPC clicks (estimates differ by sector), click fraud is assumed to cost advertisers tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The problem has become so pervasive the April 7 edition of Wall Street Journal ran a front-page center column story titled, “In Click Fraud, Web Outfits Have A Costly Problem“. (subscription req.) Read more…

Google has purchased San Diego based web analytics firm Urchin for an undisclosed amount of cash and/or stock. Urchin is a web site analysis tool that allows users to study the habits of site visitors in order to get a better view of what they are doing when they visit a particular site. Understanding the experiences of site visitors allows webmasters to track the performance of their websites and better optimize content to meet the wants and needs of those visitors. Currently, Urchin tools are available as hosted services (run from Urchin.com), software packages (run from user’s computer), or as the default site-stat service offered by many larger ISPs. Read more…