Probably not. Not that much anyway.
Since Google became the best place to get reliable search results on the web (what, 10 years ago?), they (and I) have been preaching that a well structured page with well written content containing a good balance of keyword information and useful information to the potential viewer, is the best way to get your page naturally noticed by google. But I’m not sure it is any more.
Increasingly, the Google search results page is being taken over purely by Google products, with natural search results being pushed further and further down the page. The screenshot below shows the results of a search for ‘Solar panels Northern Ireland’ (was wondering how to make the most from this great weather!)
It’s a screenshot that was taken from my 13″ MacBook Pro and shows the full screen as I saw it. And there isn’t a single organic search result on there. You’ve got the top left of the page taken up with adverts from googles AdWord product – as well as more ads on the right hand side. You’ve got a map generated by google map which lists some local businesses – which conincides with the businesses listed beneath the ads in the main column, in that they’ve all set up Google+ pages in order to get their presence boosted.
So, if you’re looking to promote a business and are thinking that search is a good way to do so, you probably have other factors to consider first. Like it or not, your website will become part of Google’s environment and to succeed you’ll need to be in that environment. Screen real estate is at a premium – particularly on mobile devices, and Google is eating up more and more of it. Organic search is still important – particularly if your business isn’t looking locally for the bulk of it’s customers – but it’s competing with more and more google products, and there’s only going to be one winner there.
At the beginning of last month I wrote a post about custom dashboards in google analytics and I promised at the time I’d come back and write a companion post about setting up goals and funnels in google analytics.
There is going to be a cross over in some of the subject matter on these two blogs – but for now, the rule of thumb will be: things I find interesting in the day to day of running my business (cool tips & techniques I find online, great gadgets I need to save up for, etc.) or current interests (like productivity, or the mobile web) will be featured here.
For Website Owners will deal more specifically with the challenges facing business owners who are now also website owners – how they should go about promoting their business online, getting more customers through their website, or just getting a handle on their social media efforts. And you can check it out here.
I use Google Analytics for the majority of websites that I work on. It can though be a hugely daunting prospect – the amount of information available is huge, and getting to grips with what of it is useful, and what can safely be ignored, can be challenging.
So, I tend to do 3 things straight away: create a couple of custom dashboards, set up weekly emails for the one or two main reports I want to look at, and create some basic goals for the website – enabling me to benchmark progress and identify website problems with achieving those goals.
I’m going to walk through the 3 custom dashboards that I set up straight away – and deal with the reports in another post next week.
Custom Dashboards in Google Analytics
What is a custom dashboard? Well, by default, when you log on to Google Analytics, it shows you some core, basic information about the traffic on your website over the past month. That’s fine – and, depending on how yours is set up, it might include things like a graph of visits / unique visits, a map of visits, visitor browsers, etc. Basic stuff.
On the left hand side of the page, there’s a link to create a ‘New Dashboard’ – if I click that, I can then use a simple interface to add new items to the dashboard. Helpfully, there is also the ability to import dashboards created by others into your own set up. That’s brilliant – and that’s all I do to add these 3 dashboards straight away:
Site Performance Dashboard
The ‘Site Performance‘ dashboard contains great information like the average page load time, the average server response time, page load time by browser … geeky stuff like that, but in high volume situations, this can be really insightful. (If your call to action is at the bottom of a page that takes too long to load, it might not be any wonder that it doesn’t perform very well for you!)
You can add the Site Performance dashboard to your analytics account by clicking the link.
Then, I like to gather all the pertinent SEO information into one place by using the SEO dashboard. This was put together by Koozai.com and is a great way to review the headline information regarding SEO performance.
I particularly like being able to see the top landing pages and the number of pages per visit by keyword. So, if someone ends up on my site by searching for Northern Ireland Web Design, I can see how many pages they’re likely to visit, as opposed to those who find me by searching for ‘ticktockdesign‘
Not one I use all the time – my site is reasonably low volume, but for some clients it proves invaluable (particularly if they are prolific bloggers or content marketers). A ‘real time’ dashboard is exactly that – a dashboard of activity happening on your website right now.
This realtime overview dashboard was put together by Dan Barker and it’s great. In the blink of an eye you can see exactly how many people are on the site, what pages they’re visiting, and whether they’re new or returning visitors. All good stuff.
Hopefully that was useful … will follow it up shortly with setting up regular email reports!
If you’ve ever wondered why and how some search results have the author picture next to them, you’re not alone.
Google introduced the concept of Authorship a little while ago as a means of establishing the reliability – or authority – of a content source. If an author writes multiple articles for multiple sources, then they gain authority. If their articles appear consistently in search results – and are clicked – that in turn builds their authority.
It’s a good thing – giving more prominence to authors who are more trustworthy, and just better at generating content – but you need to do a little fiddling with code in order to set it up for your blog.
What you need
To set this up, you’re going to need the following:
- a Google Plus+ account
- access to make changes to the header of your website
err, that’s it, actually.
What you need to do
So, go to your Google Plus+ account and make a note of your Google+ link … mine looks like this:
You’re then going to need to add a line of code to the <head> section of your website. You’re going to want to add this:
<link href="https://plus.google.com/105224137510967490959" rel="author" />
This effectively links the content on your site to your Google+ account. You need to then verify that with google – so head back to your Google+ account and go to your profile page. In the ‘about’ section, on the right hand side, there’s a ‘Links’ box and in that a section marked ‘Contributor to ‘. At the bottom of this box, click ‘edit’ and you can add in the websites which hold your authorship link.
Verifying it with Google
The changes may take a few days to show up in search results – so whilst you wait, it’d be good to know you’ve done everything right. Fortunately, google produce a tool just for that purpose … the enticingly named Structured Data Testing Tool. You can use this to enter the address of a URL you’ve just added the author link to, and check the results. If everything has gone to plan, the results will look something like this:
And that’s it … you’re done! Soon enough, search results will start showing up with your photo in them. Like I say, it’s a good thing for authors and searchers alike. So get to it!
In which there’s a couple of good free resources: guide to google analytics, and a beginners guide to sales, I switch email client (again), and apologise for anything I’ve ever said when I was hungry.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a round up of useful or interesting things I’ve found online; still, there’s no time like the present:
Free (as in £0.00) guide to using Google Analytics on your eCommerce website. Covers basic set up, the most important reports to run and how to get the most out of your dashboard. It’s entry level, for sure – but it’s comprehensive and contains some really useful tips, including setting up conversions, goals and ‘funnel visualisation’.
In a similar ‘here’s a simple guide to something we all need’ vein. The people who make Stride App (a CRM aimed at micro / small businesses) and Ecquire (which does something similar-ish, I think, but I couldn’t easily discern what from their website and so gave up in frustration) have put together this beginners guide to sales. Again, nothing revolutionary, but a really good grounding in what sales is, how to go about it, and how it’s really the core of everything we do (especially as a micro-business like myself). Good stuff – and had me looking out an article I wrote last year: I am not a web designer.
I’ll totally be needing some of these:
I’m getting to grips with my to-do’s a bit better these days, and this approach has helped. Acknowledging that I can do 1 big thing, 3 medium things, and 5 small things each day. Simple but effective.
On which subject … I’ve taken a new approach to managing my email. Previously, I switched to Sparrow App, (writing about how pleased with myself I was) but development ceased when they sold up to Google a while back. (Good for them, I say … but it left thousands of fee paying devotees somewhat in the lurch). Recently, after a brief flirtation with Postbox, I switched back to good ol’ Mac Mail – thanks in no small part to this article.
I still abhor the idea of using my mail as a storage facility or insurance policy – and so I need to process email efficiently as it comes in. Using a few keyboard shortcuts, mail quickly gets flagged as either needing a reply, needing follow up, and ‘today’ – for task based emails that need to be done, y’know, today. It’s simple but effective, and keeps me out of email as much as possible.
(for gmail users, this great little script from Merlin Mann allows you to compose an email without actually opening your inbox. Distraction free writing). I’m rambling now, but I first came across Merlin in this article from 2005 – Kick Procrastination’s Ass.
Okay, I think that’s it for now.
Last night I gave a short, one hour look at the crazy world of Search Engine Optimisation to the Belfast Entrepreneurs Network. It was a nice, informal little event that I enjoyed very much. In the talk there were a bunch of links / resources that I brought up that I wanted to collect here – both for attendees and anyone else who might find them useful.
Top of the list – I find these guys to be the most authoritative, insightful and straightforward of all search engine people. They talk sense in plain language and offer great, actionable tips. They’re a software provider – and their SEO software is extremely valuable – but you don’t need to purchase anything to benefit from their vast knowledge. A must read.
This is a google doc that you can use to find recent content online that is related to your chosen keywords. Type into a cell on the spreadsheet your keyword, and the spreadsheet searches google news, reddit, twitter, etc. and returns a list of recent stories. Find out what is being talked about in your industry – and use it to fuel ideas for your own content generation. This is a seriously useful tool for anyone regularly generating content (which should be all of us).
Still stuck for content? Try this list of 88 content creation ideas … there’s bound to be something to tickle your fancy.
Obvious, but useful. The google keyword tool can help you ascertain competition for your keywords – helping you identify additional keywords you’ve maybe not thought of, as well as helping you determine gaps in your existing keyword strategy. If you can find phrases that are high volume, low competition – you may have identified a gap you can exploit.
Google Trends shows you the search volume for a key term over a period of time. Use it to compare a few different terms to see what’s on the rise, what’s declining – and use that to better determine where to spend your time in content creation.
Two good tools for analysing back links – seeing anchor text, linking domains, number of back links, etc – both for you and your competitors: ahrefs.com and opensiteexplorer.org. The second is a tool from SEOMoz.org. They both give you a certain amount of info for free – but to get the full weight of knowledge, you need to pay. Have a look though – if you’re thinking of spending good time and money on SEO, I’d recommend these tools.
From the horses mouth
Matt Cutts is the friendly face of google search help for web masters … the video I mentioned in my presentation – where Matt talks about social signals being used in Google search – is this one. For 3 minutes, it’s worth a look. He has a YouTube channel here which is useful if you’ve ever wondered how google does something, or why they do something … he answers good questions each week on what signals google is using, how it reacts to certain situations, and so on. Useful stuff.
And actually, I’ve just spent 10 minutes watching this: SEO for startups which would be useful for everyone in the room last night!
So, that’s it – hope that the presentation was useful. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Following recent updates to Google’s search algorithm (both Penguin and Panda* updates have been rolling out changes over the past few months), greater emphasis has been placed on ‘dwell time’, ‘click through rates’, and even content that is placed ‘above the fold’.
What do these mean to you? Well, ‘dwell time’ is the length of time somebody spends on the page that has been clicked through to. If you’re providing engaging content, people will dwell longer – so that is now being rewarded. Dwell techniques could cover things like an engaging slideshow or video (and if you’ve not seen the video for Dollar Shave Club – now’s a good time), or simply giving your user something to do now they’ve arrived at your site.
Additionally, google is interested in how many pages are visited after that initial click. If a visitor finds your site so engaging that they then click through to additional content, then you benefit. In practical terms this could mean ‘chunking’ your content on your landing pages – to encourage users to click through and read more – but try and do so with something other than the good old ‘read more’ link.
the content above is broken into chunkable sections that are enticing to click
Thirdly, paying greater attention to content that is placed ‘above the fold’. This is not a time to get involved in the debate about whether or not there is a fold on a web page (you can read more about that particular debate here, here, oh – and here), because what google is trying to do is to weight content higher depending on where it appears on the page.
So, if your web page has a good slideshow at the top – which takes up most of the pre-scrolling screen – you should consider additional complementary text (which would, naturally, include an <h> tag to indicate headings), to give Google something to work with … the flip side of this is that if all of your links are at the bottom of your page (those fat footers you see everywhere) then you should consider moving some of them higher up – they’re not going to be given the same importance as they perhaps once were.
That’s it … something just real quick to consider: what are you doing to increase dwell time on your site? What can you do to encourage people to click through to additional pages? And, if your site has dominant header images, are you able to add in some complementary text to give google something to get it’s teeth in to?
* What on earth are Penguin and Panda? Well, they’re both updates to the way in which google calculates search positioning. Specifically, Penguin is an important algorithm change targeted at reducing the occurrence of web spam in search results. Basically, an attempt to tidy up the quality of search results. Panda is designed to reduce the significance of low-ranking sites … so, sites that aren’t spam – but that aren’t great quality either. It targets low quality sites where content is really thin, or where the same content has been ‘spun’ across several sites in an attempt to garner more links to another site.
Earlier this month, Google announced a few changes that they hope will bring increased relevancy to google search results in their quest for the perfect search engine:
Larry Page once described the perfect search engine as understanding exactly what you mean and giving you back exactly what you want
One of the upshots of this is the integration of Gmail with search engine results. So, if you’re logged in to google and you carry out a search, google will also search your email for relevant results. What this means is that if you have received promotional email (that is now in your gmail inbox) these emails will be searched for when you use google.
Let’s say I’m searching for ‘surfing holidays in Devon’ (sounds nice, right?) … and I received an email – possibly months ago – from a company offering surfing holidays, then that email might well show up in my search results.
What this means to marketers is that the emails they deliver have just been given a second chance at life. The longer your email survives in a person’s inbox, the more likely it is to be returned by searching from the recipient.
This makes it incredibly important that a) company’s carry out regular email marketing campaigns, and that b) the content of those emails gets as much attention as they give the content on their website.
Overall, I think this is a positive thing – although I reckon some people will be alarmed at what might be perceived as ‘snooping’ through the inbox.
Right then – this post is primarily for those who attended my recent online marketing workshops which took place in Derry through September – but there’s plenty here for anyone interested in understanding more about how websites work – especially in relation to search engines and social media.
So, I’ve broadly categorise the resources as follows:
- My presentation as a PDF
- My presentation as a power point document – which contains my notes for each slide where applicable.
Setting Goals / Objectives for your website
- an extremely good book I read which covers this subject is Paul Boag’s Website Owners Manual I recommend it without reservation
- Paul has also written good articles about the business of owning a website – check out his blog and in particular when he writes about marketing and web strategy
Working with Search Engines
During the course, the area we spent most time on was working with the search engines – and search engine optimisation. Probably the best single resource for this area is Google’s own guide – you can read their web page here and at the top of that document there is a link to their PDF guide which I recommend everyone reading. Download it here.
- I also used this book for some background research into the topic – Search Engine Optimisation, an Hour a Day. It’s a good book and a good methodology – but it’s hardly essential reading for most of you.
- A great resource from a company I mentioned in a couple of the presentations – SEO Moz. They have a free guide – written from a more commercial perspective than Google’s guide, and you can download it here from a link on the right hand side of the page
Getting started with Social Media
A couple of presentations I used to get statistics / information from:
- a good intro ‘What is Social Media‘ which contains some basics and some good stats
- here’s a really good book that I again recommend without hesitation – but really only if you’re determined to get stuck in to facebook: ‘Successful Facebook Marketing‘ – which is also available as an eBook here: NetTuts Marketplace
That’s about it. I should point out that where I’ve linked to books, I’ve used affiliate links – i.e. if anyone finds this blog post and purchases a book from one of the links above, I’ll make literally Some Pence from the sale. That said, all the books mentioned above I own and recommend – and all were used to varying degrees when preparing the seminars I gave in September.
Great. If you’ve got any questions, just holler.
So, I let out a deep sigh when I read this this morning from Wired Magazine:
Google is making plans to turn its +1 button into a crowdsourcing tool that helps it re-order search results and fight web spam.
+1 always faced a fight to elbow it’s way into a social sphere totally dominated by facebook, but if it becomes a factor in search engine ranking well, it kind of forces it’s way onto websites. If you’re generating content, and you don’t display a google plus one button on your site then, potentially, you stand to lose search engine positioning.
Facebook shares it’s data stream with Bing – microsofts search engine. Facebook is never going to share it’s data with google … so, google have to react – and this is their reaction.
Expect to see a lot more plus one buttons cropping up everywhere. This blog will be no exception. But I wearily resent the encroachment of these sharing tools as they become a means by which search engines can rank one source of content over another. Of course – as the article points out – google already have over 200 ways of ranking content, but this feels a bit more intrusive.
Maybe it’s just me.