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Blog Archive

Archive for the ‘Google’ Category

Google’s Site Search Operator Is Your Friend

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Google provides various search operators which allow a Google user to apply advance search options directly into the Google search box. The available search operators include; allinanchor:, allintext:, allintitle:, allinurl:, cache:, define:, filetype:, id:, inanchor:, info:, intext:, intitle:, inurl:, phonebook:, related:, and site:.

For SEO’s, these search operators are a very simple but powerful tool for analyzing a websites indexed content. The primary operator we use is the site search operator. Some people call it site colon search, but we prefer to categorize them as operators.

The site search operator instructs Google to restrict your search results to the site or domain specified in the query. Below is an example of a query that returns results for all indexed content for the specified domain.

Example: “site:www.amazon.com”

Google Site Search Operator

The one key element we look for at this point is that Google has actually indexed some content. As you can see, Google also provides the approximate count of indexed content. If no results are returned, which we have seen before, hurry and talk to a webmaster… the site is not being indexed!?!

Additionally, by using the search filters from the left navigation, selecting “Images” or “Videos” will return just those indexed items. With images and video being increasingly important to SEO, this is a simple way to review what images and videos are actually indexed. 

Google Site Search Operator Image Results

 

 Google Site Search Operator Video Results

While this basic query only provides a view of the indexed content, additional analysis has to be done to identify any content that we would typically not recommend being indexed. Below are a few examples of how we identify such content:

1. For ecommerce or any other websites that include a site search option, we typically do not recommend search results be indexed. In such cases, one way to identify indexed search results is to use the inurl search operator with the site search operator. For this example, we appended the term included in the URL when a search is performed to the inurl search operator in the query. 

Example: “site:www.amazon.com inurl:url=search-alias”

Google Site Search Operator and Inurl Search Operator

2. One way to identify content with duplicate title tags is to use the intitle search operator with the site search operator. For this example, we appended a title tag that might be duplicated to the intitle search operator in the query. 

Example: “site:www.amazon.com intitle:”Plastic Gift Cards / mp3 / Gift Cards Store””

Google Site Search Operator and Intitle Search Operator

3. One way to identify files like PDFs or robots.txt that you may not want indexed is to use the filetype search operator with the site search operator. For this example, we appended “pdf” to the filetype search operator in the query. 

Example: “site:www.amazon.com filetype:pdf”

Google Site Search Operator and Filetype Search Operator

As mentioned earlier, there are many additional uses for the site search operator. If you haven’t used it prior, we highly recommend trying it out and creating your own query using any of Google’s search operators. 

Need Google Analytics Data Fast?

Friday, September 7th, 2012

The Google Analytics interface can be pretty slow, especially when coughing up 500 records in a query with a filter and a couple of advanced segments applied. Luckily, there is a very simple tool to basically use the Analytics API to dump any batch of data into a flat file very quickly without having to bribe an overworked web developer or learn Python yourself. It’s called the “Google Analytics Query Explorer 2” and it’s simply fantastic.

Google Analytics Query Explorer

The trick to using the tool is knowing a often ignored identifier called your “Profile ID” which is different from the Account ID you typically find in your Analytics tracking code. The Account ID starts with UA- that’s not what you want. The Profile ID is found in the Profile Settings tab of your account administration. Example below: 3657130
 Google Analytics Profile ID

It is also in the page URL string on most any Analytics report, but you have to ferret it out of the other gibberish by looking for a letter “p” between two strings of URL characters. Again: 3657130

Once you have the Profile ID, the tool is a snap. You are limited to 7 dimensions and 10 metrics, which is plenty for almost any report. This tool is perfect for larger batches of data as well. There is an “Excel TSV” or “tab separated values” button that allows the direct download of up to 10000 rows of data– so no more paging through Analytics reports and exporting 500 rows at a time!

 Also, the developers added a G+ button which makes it really easy to share the data with the one or two lonely colleagues you might know on Google+.

Google Now: Personal Assistant or Digital Stalker?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

I recently purchased the hotly anticipated Google Nexus 7 tablet, with Google NowIn case you don’t know what Google Now is yet, it is either your best friend and personal assistant or worst enemy creepy digital stalker.  Google Now is integrated with all services that are connected to your Google Account – calendar, search, Gmail, Google+, Google Finance, etc. This service literally tracks your every move and serves you relevant reminders and updates when you need them. Here are several examples:

  • I had an appointment to bring my car into the dealership the other day. I was sitting on my couch playing with my tablet when all of a sudden a Google Now screen popped up telling me that I had to leave my house in 5 minutes to beat traffic to my appointment. 
  • I have a recurring staff meeting on my work calendar for every Tuesday morning, and every morning, my tablet reminds me that to make the meeting in time I need to catch the 7:56 bus that leaves the bus stop right across the street from my house.
  • The other day, I got a news update through Google Now about one of the stocks that I had put on my Google Finance watch list.
  • One last one – the other day I was searching for a product online, on my phone, I navigated over to Home Depot site.  When I got home, I turned on my tablet, and a Google Now notification popped up, telling me where the closest Home Depot store was that had my product in stock.

These are all very convenient scenarios, and on the one hand, I was very happy to get the reminders of when to leave, and tips on where to go. However, It also made me think about how creepy it is that Google knows more about me than some of my closest friends and family – maybe even more than I do.  Don’t get me wrong, as a search marketer, I am well aware of the information that is collected about me by Google and virtually every other online entity, but now Google is just throwing it all right in your face with Google Now. It’s been over a month since I have had my Google tablet, and I am still using Google Now – I am willingly giving Google all my information for the sake of convenience, and I am sure I am not the only one.

Also, as a search marketer, I have to wonder if Google Now will at some point in the not-so-distant future become the most targeted advertising channel out there.  Think about it, Google knows exactly what you are doing, when you are doing it, and where. It also knows who your social connections are, and what you searched for, etc. One top of all that, Google is training us to accept this relatively intrusive service.  Imagine the first scenario that I described, what if along with my oil change appointment reminder I received a discount coupon for a break inspection, or some other complimentary service. Or take my last scenario – I was looking for a hand cart by the way – what if along with directions to the nearest Home Depot store with that product, I received a discount coupon for all moving supplies (boxes, tape, etc.).  Or, from the point of the advertiser, if I was Lowes, would I be able to target people right as they were ready to go to Home Depot for a purchase?

I can provide many more hypothetical scenarios, but this really brings the Minority Report type future, with relevant and targeted ads bombarding you with every step that much closer to reality.

Google Improves Handling of URLS with Parameters

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

One of the largest SEO problems that we see with sites that use dynamic query strings in their URLs is duplicate content. It is common for Google to automatically index all of the different variations of URLs and with several different query parameter combinations working together those pages can really add up with very little variance between them. Therefore Google can potentially chalk these pages up as a lot of duplicate content which reflects poorly on the site. Google Webmaster tools offers a way to communicate the functions of these URL parameters so that they can better learn how to index your site without wasting precious bot time going through the entire site.

Google Webmaster tools has offered this feature for some time but they have recently improved it by giving site owners more options. According to Google, “in addition to assigning a crawl action to an individual parameter, you can now also describe the behavior of the parameter.” The process starts with telling Google whether or not the parameter affects the page’s content or not. If it doesn’t change anything on the page then your work is done – the Googlebot will simply choose a representative page utilizing that parameter value and assign equal value to the group. However, if the parameter does change the content of the page then you need to let Google know how they should handle URLs with these parameters. Here are the four choices: 

  • Let Googlebot decide
  • Every URL
  • Only crawl URLs with value=x
  • No URLs
Google URL Parameters Tool
 

One of the greatest new features is the ability to specify your own value for the “Only crawl URLs with value=x” option which previously only allowed you to select from a list of values provided by Google. In addition, you can even tell Google what the parameter does to the page which allows them to better understand why you’re calling the specific parameters out. With some of these new features Google is really making it easier to explain how your site works, allowing them to better understand and index the right pages.

Log in to your Google Webmaster tools today and look at the “Configuration > URL Parameters” section to see if there’s an opportunity for you to better communicate your site’s functionality to Google. Use these with caution though because they really do work and if you tell Google the wrong thing accidentally you might see those pages go bye-bye.

Google Search Algorithm Incorporates Copyright Removals

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Back in May, I blogged about Google adding copyright to the transparency report. At that time, I wasn’t sure how rankings of the targeted domains would be affected. 

Then, last Friday, August 10, 2012, Amit Singha, head of Google’s core ranking team, posted on the official Google search blog about “an update to our search algorithms“, that answers some of those questions.

Starting this week Google search algorithm will be updated, lowering SERPs for any site that has a high number of valid copyright removal notices.

Copyright owners and reporting organization can report content that they believe violates applicable laws, including copyright infringement. Based on what Google has stated, it seems if it is decided a copyright has been infringed upon, Google will remove the reported page from search results and count it as a valid copyright removal notice. These valid copyright removal notices are what is taken into account when ranking web pages on the same domain.

Simply stated, this change will help legitimate websites, while pushing down illegitimate websites. Per Amit Singha:

“This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily—whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.”

Has Google’s effort made a difference? Based on the numbers, comparing (April 2012 – July 2012), one could assume that within the last four months there has been an asserted effort by copyright owners/reporting organizations to request copyright URL removals. Additionally, but probably not surprising, the number of domains targeted did not increase tremendously. From April 2012 – July 2012, URLs requested to be removed were up 239%, while the targeted domains only increased 18%.

Google Transparency Report Copyright Overview July 2012

Is this a win-win for Google and copyright owners? Maybe. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) are “optimistic” – quoting their press release on Google’s announcement:

“We are optimistic that Google’s actions will help steer consumers to the myriad legitimate ways for them to access movies and TV shows online, and away from the rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites, and other outlaw enterprises that steal the hard work of creators across the globe. We will be watching this development closely – the devil is always in the details – and look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves.”

Lastly, for webmasters who receive a copyright removal notice and believe the content has been wrongly removed, Google does provide “counter-notice” tools.

Website Testing and Its Impact on Search Results

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Yesterday, Google Webmaster Central provided some helpful guidelines around website testing and how to minimize the possible impact of A/B or multivariate website testing on a site’s performance in search results.

Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Susan Moskwa, offered a “primer” on the different types of website testing and specified Google’s “guidelines for running an effective test with minimal impact on your site’s search performance.”   

Here are Moskwa’s recommendations, taken directly from her post:

No cloakingCloaking is an unnecessary and unlawful practice in Google's eyes.
Cloaking, showing one set of content to humans, and a different set to Googlebot is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, whether you’re running a test or not. Make sure that you’re not deciding whether to serve the test, or which content variant to serve, based on user-agent. An example of this would be always serving the original content when you see the user-agent “Googlebot.” Remember that infringing our Guidelines can get your site demoted or removed from Google search results—probably not the desired outcome of your test.

Use rel=canonical during website testing to tell guidance which is your original content.Use rel=“canonical”
If you’re running an A/B test with multiple URLs, you can use the rel=“canonical” link attribute on all of your alternate URLs to indicate that the original URL is the preferred version. We recommend using rel=“canonical” rather than a noindex meta tag because it more closely matches your intent in this situation. Let’s say you were testing variations of your homepage; you don’t want search engines to not index your homepage, you just want them to understand that all the test URLs are close duplicates or variations on the original URL and should be grouped as such, with the original URL as the canonical. Using noindex rather than rel=“canonical” in such a situation can sometimes have unexpected effects (e.g., if for some reason we choose one of the variant URLs as the canonical, the “original” URL might also get dropped from the index since it would get treated as a duplicate).

Use 302s rather than 301s for website testingUse 302s, not 301s   If you’re running an A/B test that redirects users from the original URL to a variation URL, use a 302 (temporary) redirect, not a 301 (permanent) redirect. This tells search engines that this redirect is temporary—it will only be in place as long as you’re running the experiment—and that they should keep the original URL in their index rather than replacing it with the target of the redirect (the test page). JavaScript-based redirects are also fine.

Only run the experiment as long as necessary
The amount of time required for a reliable test will vary depending on factors like your conversion rates, and how much traffic your website gets; a good testing tool should tell you when you have gathered enough data to draw a reliable conclusion. Once you’ve concluded the test, you should update your site with the desired content variation(s) and remove all elements of the test as soon as possible, such as alternate URLs or testing scripts and markup. If we discover a site running an experiment for an unnecessarily long time, we may interpret this as an attempt to deceive search engines and take action accordingly. This is especially true if you’re serving one content variant to a large percentage of your users.

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Moskwa indicates that if you follow the guidelines and recommendations, your tests should have “little or no impact on your site in search results.” She also stated that if Google” crawl(s) your site often enough to detect and index your experiment, we’ll probably index the eventual updates you make to your site fairly quickly after you’ve concluded the experiment.”

The Webmaster Central Blog is a great way to stay on top of Google’s most recent changes and guidance. You can read Moskwa’s entire post and sign up to receive email notifications of new posts here.

Google Acquires Wildfire and Why You Should Care

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

These days, it seems it’s not a typical week if Google’s not making some big announcement, update or news. And though now they’re competing with such things as “Olympic spoilers on Twitter,” they’ve done it again.

This time, Google has acquired Wildfire, the main marketing channel of  … Facebook. DUN DUN DUN!

Analysts say the deal (worth between $250 and $400 million) could give the Goog access to Facebook’s “intelligence” and customer list that could benefit Google+. Not that it takes an analyst to come up with that hypothesis. Sure, that could have been one motivation, though there’s no telling when or if Facebook could play the “Twitter API card” and revoke Wildfire’s access, a process that, if even possible, is sure to involve a lot of red (blue, green and yellow) tape.

The amount of possible intelligence Google could achieve through Wildfire is probably not their main concern. Given the yawn-inducing rollout of Google+ and recent reports that point to more brands joining, but few being active (a testament to Google’s ability to make their products seem to be something modern, digital-minded people simply can’t live without), it’s not access Google wants; it’s control. Control of all things digital marketing, from analytics to search and display ads, promoted tweets to Facebook contests, etc… .

As Wildfire said in their own announcement blog post:

“We believe that over time the combination of Wildfire and Google can lead to a better platform for managing all digital media marketing. For now, we remain focused on helping brands run and measure their social engagement and ad campaigns across the entire web and across all social services — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and more …”

Of course, this seems like a smart move for Google. Why let people advertise or run promotions on channels they don’t control or profit from when there’s a chance to get their hands in every pot? For advertisers, this could either end up streamlining efforts or limiting exposure (though plenty of people have been running successful social marketing campaigns without the help of Wildfire and could certainly continue to do so).

But, if integrated with the rest of Google’s advertising options, social marketing through Google could be a no-brainer, with shared data and measurement, as well as the ability to seamlessly overlap tactics. Google wants to be everything to everyone – but it will never be the most decorated Olympian.

 

Turn On or Tune Out – Receive Google’s Webmaster Tools Crawl Error Alerts

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Earlier this month, in association with the new Google Webmaster Tools Crawl Errors feature, Google Webmaster Tools rolled out Crawl Error Alerts.

Google regularly indexes a website, so they know at times when a site is experiencing connectivity issues, spikes in HTTP error response codes, time outs, or systemic errors. The new Webmaster Tools Crawl Errors feature is tracking these issues. The alert feature notifies the Webmaster Message Center and any email address associated with the Google Account of the alert (when turned on).

The crawl errors are divided into two categories: Site Errors and URL Errors.

Site Errors are site-wide global problems (e.g. robots.txt inaccessibility, the web server is down, refusing connection, or the firewall is off). If your website is well operated, in theory Site Error Alerts should rarely occur.

URL Errors are potentially less critical issues (e.g. Server error, Soft 404, Access denied, Not found or Not followed). Google will only send alerts when they detect a large spike of these issues.

Below is an example of an URL Error alert we received:

Google Webmaster Tools Crawl Error Alerts URL Errors Email

As mentioned previously, Google provides the alerts to be forwarded to any email address associated with the Google Account.

To turn on Message Forwarding (off by default), view Webmaster Tools – Preferences. To associate additional email addresses to the Webmaster Tools account, an email address can be added.

Monetizing Goals in Google Analytics

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

As businesses continue to invest more and more into their online presence, whether it is through website development or online marketing channels, the same question often comes up about assessing value. How much are these “conversions” worth to me? If you’re operating an e-commerce site the answer is obvious – revenue!  But what about those lead generation sites that take their sales funnels offline? The answer requires a little more work but it is well worth the effort.

If the purpose of your site is to generate sales leads (of any type) then it is important that you monetize these conversions to truly understand the value. The first step is to have the tracking capabilities for this conversion setup, which requires a simple URL Destination Goal in Google Analytics. If you’re using a form that sends users to a Thank You page once they complete it – this is a piece of cake (see below for setup screen). If your site is a little more dynamic and the URL doesn’t change during the form process for some reason then things are a little more complicated but still very doable (I’ll explain these methods in my next post about Virtual Pageviews and Custom Events).

You’ll see a field during the Goal setup called “Goal Value – optional” (highlighted in the green box above). This is where Google Analytics allows you to assign a monetary value to these conversions. Once you put in a dollar amount Google Analytics will automatically start multiplying it across the number of Goal Completions. It seems simple enough, and it is, but for many lead generation sites this is something that is never implemented due to the lack of a direct value.

Here’s how we would recommend calculating this Goal value. The two variables that you need to figure out are the expected transaction value and the probability of a transaction from that form completion. So for example, let’s say I’m a company that sells commercial printers and I use my website to generate sales leads. I know that on average my company can close 25% of all leads that come in and those customers spend approximately $1,000 each. Therefore, if I multiply that $1,000 times the 25% I can assume that each lead (form completion) is worth $250. Now I just need to put that value in the Goal setup and Google Analytics will start evaluating my online success for me.

Even though this value does depend on averages, it is a data-based figure that helps you to better translate the success of your site and marketing programs to a language that everyone understands – money!

Mobile App Targeting with AdMob

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Last month Google incorporated its mobile app ad network, AdMob, into Google AdWords. This was especially exciting for me since I work on an account that sells mobile device screen protectors.  Not only does Google allow you to target your campaigns by app categories, but you can also target your campaigns by specific devices. Additionally, AdMob provides ad space on both the Google Play Andriod Apps and the iTunes App Store which allows you to target a greater audience.

Since launching the mobile app campaigns on our screen protectors account, we have more than doubled our clicks while significantly cutting down our CPCs. The average CPCs on our mobile app campaigns have been around 28% of the CPCs on the other campaigns within the account. With CPCs so low I recommend trying app targeting on your accounts before the competition gets greater.

I wouldn’t recommend mobile app targeting for everyone – especially not B2B clients. The best opportunities would lie with B2C clients who have mobile sites and can segment their consumers by their interests or by their mobile device (example: screen protectors for specific mobile devices or targeting fitness clubs on health and fitness apps).

Setting up a mobile app targeted campaign is easy. First, create your campaign by clicking the New Campaign button from the Campaigns tab. Then choose the campaign type Display Network only and select Mobile apps (see below).

 Google Display Network Mobile App Targeting In the device targeting settings you can choose whether you want to target mobile devices and/or tablets. You can either choose to target specific operating systems, device models or carriers. In this case I chose to only target iPhone 3G users.

 Google Display Network Mobile Device Targeting

Finally you can choose what type of app categories you want to target. In the case of the of the fitness club, we would target health and fitness apps (see below). Remember, that if you are only targeting on select devices to choose the right app store to target through, like targeting iTunes App Store apps when targeting iPhones.

Mobile App Category Placements

Good luck from your #1 mobile advocate!