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Google Webmaster Central Blog logoSusan Moskwa and Trever Voucher from Google’s Webmaster Tools Team published a synopsis of the questions they received at Chicago’s recent Search Engine Strategies Conference. If you have ever had a question about Google Sitemaps and the effect they may or may not have on your site, this is a helpful read.

Get the answers to the following questions:

  • I submitted a Sitemap, but my URLs haven’t been [crawled/indexed] yet. Isn’t that what a Sitemap is for?
  • If it doesn’t get me automatically crawled and indexed, what does a Sitemap do?
  • Will a Sitemap help me rank better?
  • If I set all of my pages to have priority 1.0, will that make them rank higher (or get crawled faster) than someone else’s pages that have priority 0.8?
  • Is there any point in submitting a Sitemap if all the metadata (, , etc.) is the same for each URL, or if I’m not sure it’s accurate?
  • I’ve heard about people who submitted a Sitemap and got penalized shortly afterward. Can a Sitemap hurt you?
  • Where can I put my Sitemap? Does it have to be at the root of my site?
  • Can I just submit the site map that my webmaster made of my site? I don’t get this whole XML thing.
  • Which Sitemap format is the best?
  • If I have multiple URLs that point to the same content, can I use my Sitemap to indicate my preferred URL for that content?
  • Does the placement of a URL within a Sitemap file matter? Will the URLs at the beginning of the file get better treatment than the URLs near the end?
  • If my site has multiple sections (e.g. a blog, a forum, and a photo gallery), should I submit one Sitemap for the site, or multiple Sitemaps (one for each section)?

Again here is the link to the Google sitemaps Q&A.

Are you baffled about a recent drop in your search engine rankings? Do you know where to start and get a handle on what the problem might be and how to remedy it? One option to consider is using search engine forums as a resource. They are full of questions from people who have experienced similar situations and are great resources for an answer or two. But let’s say you really want to get to the bottom of the problem and you want to do it yourself. The following are some of the beginning steps StepForth takes when evaluating dropped rankings. Read more…

Mike McDonald of WebProNews conducted a great, very informative interview with Live Webmaster Tool’s Product Manager, Jeremiah Andrick.

Jeremiah discusses paid links, cloaking, the backlink function at Live Search and my special favorite – the incident where Adwords ads got indexed. Check it out, I think you will appreciate the frankness of Jeremiah’s answers. You can certainly tell that Microsoft has finally figured out that Webmasters need to feel the love. Read more…

The following interview was conducted at PubCon Las Vegas and it focused on StepForth competitor analysis/competitor intelligence services. In hindsight I didn’t give much away in the terms of competitive analysis and frankly the interview could have gone better (what with the sun glare and a lil’memory loss). So feel free to view this and then follow it up with my notes below where I will provide a couple examples of the strategies/resources used in our basic and advanced competitor intelligence reports. Read more…

In this article I am going to explain logfiles and their importance in website analytics from my perspective as a ClickTracks user. Before I begin, however, I want you to know that although I offer essential analytic consulting, I am a certified ClickTracks Analytics Professional and have dabbled in books on analytics, I don’t consider myself to be an analytics expert. In fact, I constantly find myself humbled by how much more there is to know. That said, I do know more than the average site owner and I hope that this article can shine a little light on this often confusing subject and save you some future headaches.

As many of you may know I am a huge fan of the logfile version of ClickTracks Professional, a website analytics package that I find indispensable for myself and my clientele. ClickTracks can do a lot to determine what is or is not working on a website; much more than expected in most cases. The one thing, however, that ClickTracks or any other logfile-based analytics tool cannot do is interpret information in your logfiles if it is not recorded. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence and many site owners have no idea that their hosting company is not saving information that could help them now or later when they find they need it.

The reality is that over ninety percent of the hosting companies I have dealt with have not been saving the vital data that a higher level analytics program needs; to work at peak performance if at all. In this posting I will provide an overview on this issue so you have enough information to approach your hosting company about making the required updates to their systems. If you are unsure you can even refer them to this article and/or the set of questions and details I provided below.

What is a Logfile?
First, let me explain the very basic idea of what a logfile is and how one is created.

Whenever you visit a website your browser requests information from the server hosting the website. This request is passed onto the server and in turn the server delivers the information requested by your browser. Whenever this exchange takes place your server saves the request along with a host of information about the requesting browser such as:

  • the internet address (loosely connected to location) known as the IP
  • browser type (Internet Explorer or Firefox or..)
  • the screen resolution of the browser used
  • time and date of the request
  • the page requested for viewing
  • the website the visitor came from (known as a Referrer)
  • if applicable, the keyword(s) that were used to find your website on a search engine
  • etc.

Once this data is collected it is saved on the server in a logfile for later use and over time it is often overwritten with new data so the files do not get too large; they bulk up very quickly especially on high-traffic websites.

How Can Logfiles Help Improve Your Website?
Now that you know what data is collected it is time to explain, in general terms, how this data can be used to help your website. There is a wide variety of information that can be gleaned from a complete logfile such as:

  • How long visitors stay at your website or on a particular page.
  • What pages they visited.
  • Where visitors are viewing your website from geographically.
  • What keywords were used to visit your website and which search engines were driving the highest volume and/or quality traffic.
  • Which pages had the highest or least traffic.
  • The average time a visitor stays at your website: often a great indication of the ‘stickiness’ of your website.
  • You can determine the effectiveness of your pay-per-click campaign by tracking visitors specifically delivered from the campaign.
  • Identify potential pay-per-click fraud using tools like ClickTracks Professional that has a click fraud reporting tool.
  • and much more…

So What’s the Issue?
Many hosting company’s are smart enough to include a basic web analytics program with every account. These programs are decent for anyone who wants to simply find out the traffic to their website and a myriad of other basic stats. However, there is often a pitfall to these basic programs. You see in order to save on computer performance the hosting company usually sets their servers to collect only the minimal data these basic systems require. As a result, more complex logfile-based analytics programs may find themselves starved of the data they need to operate fully. This is where my clients have found themselves before; they have sub-par logfiles and are forced to try and convince their hosting company to change their data collection methods to meet more advanced standards.

If you have no interest in website analytics you may find this whole scenario to be a non-issue. I completely understand, however, put yourself a year or even a month down the road when your website is taking off and you need to know more about the visitors to your website. You just might find yourself in this same frustrating scenario and it will seem absolutely insane how hard you have to push to get this data properly collected. Unfortunately, unless you are leasing your own private (dedicated) server from the hosting company they tend to set up their shared servers with only the basic needs of the majority in mind. As a result, the only way to force change is if more customers consider it a basic need – thus the reason for this article. Help me affect change so that you save yourself a headache in the future!

How to Be Sure Your Server is Collecting the Right Information
Most of you cannot check your logfiles for completeness with an analytics program so you will have to trust your server administrators to do their due diligence based on the following question.

Note: If you like you can just copy and paste the following question (noted in red) and send it to your hosting company support staff:

Hello,

I would like to make sure my website’s logfiles have the necessary information to run a higher end web analytics program. Is your server set up to collect the data on my website? I need this data to properly analyze the traffic on my website.

  • Date and Time
  • Client IP Address
  • HTTP Method
  • Requested file and Query string
  • User Agent
  • Referrer
  • Status code
  • Cookie (preferable, but not required)

If you are unsure of the answer or you need to set this up then please review the settings that need to be enabled on Apache servers or Microsoft Internet Information Servers; these pages include instructions if you need them.

Sincerely,
<>


My Hosting Company Disregarded This as Nonsense

I fully expect some will and that is because many website owners still care little or nothing about web site statistics so they have not even used the basic data to its fullest yet – and hosting company’s are aware of this. In fact, a good friend who owns a hosting company himself guessed around 95% of his website clients never even look at their stats. This is all true, however, does that mean that important data should not be collected for those who do want to delve deeper into analytics? I don’t believe so and the changes you are requesting will only increase the size of the logfiles for your website a small amount. Unless of course you don’t even have logfiles which is enough for me to recommend you take your services elsewhere.

Why Not Use Google Analytics Instead?
Google Analytics is an awesome solution for many small businesses. It does not require logfiles and it takes a marginal amount of work to begin acquiring proper data. In fact, I think it is a great tool for the majority of businesses that want to wade into a mid range analytics solution providing you are comfortable with Google having access to your stats. That said, there is one MAJOR flaw in using Google Analytics… it does not have reliable click fraud reporting. You see many of my clients use ClickTracks to monitor their pay per click campaign for click fraud which is not something I would ever trust Google to police itself on. That does not mean I do not use Google Analytics. In fact, whenever possible I use both ClickTracks and Google Analytics in tandem for redundancy especially when certain capabilities such as cookie tracking are not available from a hosting provider – Google includes cookies by default.

In Summary
Many website owners have no idea what they will or will not need in the future to properly administrate their online marketing campaigns. This article discusses a simple adjustment to the accumulation of website logfiles that I strongly believe all competent hosting companies should implement in order to provide scalability for their clientele. The adjustment will provide the additional information that a competent analytics solution will need to provide accurate statistics.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Celebrating 10 Years of Web Marketing Excellence
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Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Link Building and Publicity with PRWeb

On the 6th of December at Pubcon Las Vegas I was fortunate enough to speak with Karla and Lacy of PRWeb.com; two wonderful ladies who were running PRWeb’s exhibit booth. After a short discussion I decided it was time to put Karla and Lacy in the spotlight. You see I have used PRWeb many times in the past and I have always been impressed by its excellent press release promotion network. PRWeb is the perfect vehicle to get the word out on your new products/services and the circulation of your press release can provide valuable incoming links to your website.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Celebrating 10 Years of Web Marketing Excellence

Last week I took part in a teleconference with Anne Holland (Content Director) and Tim McAtee (Senior Analyst) at MarketingSherpa. The call, “Top 5 Tests to Raise Landing Page Conversions” offered insight on how to get the most from your website and drive visitors towards completing your desired goal. Both a PDF and full MP3 of the call have been made available on the MarketingSherpa website.

The teleconference brought to light a number of great tips for increasing the conversion rate of your landing pages, whether from PPC or organic search. Here are 6 tips I found to be of interest. Read more…

The canvas I have outlined for successful web marketing is taking shape. The first article looked at the necessary stages we need to develop. We started with market research and analysis of our competitors and now armed with this information we can proceed to perhaps the most critical component of all, developing our keyword targets and creating supporting text for them.

What’s In a Word?

It has been often said that content is king. The choice and expression of these words is what makes the connection to the visitors and helps determine user behaviour. If the message is clear the visitor will know if they are at the website they want (or need) to be at and start the exploring process. Visitor attraction is influenced by a myriad of aspects such as site design, choice of colour, and ease of navigation. Visitor confidence is bolstered in large part through your use of words. Similarly much the same can be said for the search engine spiders; the higher their confidence rating of your website the higher your visibility in their index. And this rating of confidence all begins with how you choose your keyword targets. Read more…

I am often reminded how important it is to develop a well thought out business plan. I speak with numerous clients each day, each having a passion to promote their service, information or product and yet although they may be experts in their field, they do not have the expertise or foresight on how to market the site. Often times the website is destined to stay in the closet and never get the online exposure they need and are hoping for. And often times the client lacks an objective perspective, sort of being amongst trees in a forest and not being able to see to whole picture.

The internet audience has matured and become more sophisticated in its expectations and delivery of information. No longer can one just throw up a site and expect to immediately generate business. Website readiness for online marketing can take many forms. In this and the articles that follow in the next few weeks, we will examine the building blocks to successful web marketing. Read more…

Picture of a dictionaryA large part of my time at StepForth as a search engine optimization consultant is spent conducting competitor research on behalf of our clientele. This service is focused on deconstructing the marketing campaigns of each competitor while identifying the tactics that appear to have fundamentally contributed to their search engine success. As you might imagine I come across many intriguing techniques that work and many that don’t. In this article I will account for a couple of techniques that appear to be overlooked by many but have proven time and time again to work; the creation of an on-site glossary and frequently asked questions (FAQ) section.

Read more…

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