The goal of a website is to help humans use your site to take an action. The website may inform people where your business is and how to contact you, it may have a goal to create leads via registration, it may actually sell a product on the internet, or have another goal completely. The website should be built around creating a desired result for whatever the goal is. Rankings are not a result and should never be your goal. Because rankings are personalized, it is impossible to know what your baseline is, and even if you could know whether you had #1 rankings for all your favorite keywords, high rankings don’t translate into visits. Rankings are meaningless in 2013 and should not be considered a metric, much less a KPI.
Ranking is not a KPI
If you are working on marketing or optimizing a website and you become obsessed with the results of your tactics and start believing that your tactics are your KPIs, then you are doing it wrong. Consider this a gentle intervention for rank checkers (I know how it is, I used to be a rank checker myself). SEO/SEM applies digital tactics to the website, that website should be part of a much larger content marketing strategy, which is in itself a smaller part of the overall marketing effort of a company. The goal of marketing yourself or your business with a website is not #1 rankings, so the goal of SEO should not be to get #1 rankings, or even to get massive traffic from Google — the goal of SEO is to support the wider marketing goals of your personal brand or business.
Google gives you the #1 results you asked for
Keep in mind when you are tempted to report #1 rankings as a success metric (and it is so tempting because it looks so good in a powerpoint) that Google is probably serving you your favorite web page as #1 because you keep searching for it and keep clicking on it. But if you present this to your exec and he or she has not been obsessively searching and clicking on that same keyword and URL, you may have some explaining to do when the executive does not get that great looking #1 result.
Ranking does not exist
Manual Rank checking does not exist anymore as anything more than a way to spot check what Google is serving you in your personalized results. Your results have been personalized for years, as I noted in this 2011 post Manual Rank Checking in the era of Google Personalization. This has not changed.
Jill Whalen explains very clearly and much more in depth Why Running Ranking Reports Is a Fool’s Errand. Even if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, scan through the bolded text. All this is true.
Auto rank checking violates Google’s TOS
And automated rank checking is also useless and is a violation of Google’s TOS and can get your IP blocked. This has been the case for many years — I know this because I dabbled in automated rank checking tools in my early wild years of SEO and Google blocked my IP. But I made a recovery and vowed never to rank-check again. And as Jill Whalen reveals in her post, Google may even be looking into penalizing the web sites of companies who do automated testing. So not just your IP, but your actual web site could get dinged if you are autorank checking.
But even if you could get a true ranking report for your site and know to the minute what your rank in the SERPs are for all keywords for your URLs, what does it get you? Nothing. Rankings do not equal visits and even visits do not always equal success. Before you rank check again, stop and think about the goals of the business and then step away from the Google.
Updated October 17, 2013 to reflect yet more changes to this tool
The biggest change as far as daily use is that you are now required to sign-in to Google and associate an AdWords account with your gmail ID in order to use the tool. You also must go through a couple of extra steps to get to the tool, but generally it still works the same — although you cannot get mobile keyword totals separated out anymore (and there are initial reports of unexplained changes in keyword totals).
I’ve been using this new version for over a month because I have an AdWords account and I’m always signed in. I’ve written up a quick overview to help people get back to keyword researching as quickly as possible.
Here is the new process:
1. You must be signed in to a Google AdWords account to use the tool. You do not need to be running Google AdWords (but Google would certainly appreciate it if you would), you just need to enable a gmail account to run AdWords. It’s free. But this change does mean you will not be able to look-up terms without signing in.
2. You will be redirected to something call the “Keyword Planner” if you try to go to the Keywords tool URL — or you can just access it directly.
3. You will have to choose from 3 options. Choose the twistie to Search for new keyword and ad group ideas:
4. This should give you options that are familiar to you if you used the old Google Keywords tool. You now have the option to exact match your keywords in this view, to ensure you are shown keywords that are truly associated with your initial keyword choice. Enable the sliding button to Only show ideas closely related to my search term. Input your terms or analyze a web page and make other changes to further target your results if needed:
5. When you get to the results you can view all the other possible recommended terms and their estimated search volume by choosing the Keyword ideas tab. And if you forgot to chose exact match in the previous views, you can choose it in the left nav under Keyword options.
This should be enough to get started using the tool.
Here is a much more complete Step-by-step for using the Google AdWords Keyword Planner How to Use The Keyword Planner — The New Keyword Tool From Google AdWords.
The short answer is yes, but it has always been hard to match all referrals back to specific URLs. And for once, the problem is not just Google.
Encryption is already a problem
As most everyone who looks at data knows, analytics programs are definitely are not capturing all keyword data, since Google began encrypting keywords in 2011 . That encrypted keyword data is what is being reported as “(not provided)” in Google Analytics reporting. But Google has not encrypted data to the point where you cannot see the URL, only the keyword is being stripped out.
You may be familiar with a URL referrer called “None” or “Direct” or “No referrer” in your data. This referrer could come from apps, offline, and non-browser referrals to your site from anywhere (including, but not limited to Google properties). It is not the keyword encryption from Google and it is not a flaw in any other metrics software that is causing “None” referrers. The “None” referrer just isn’t recordable as a URL, because most Web metrics tools only track browser referrals.
However, there is another issue with encryption that may cause you to lose URL referral data. And as encryption becomes more broadly used you may start seeing more “None” referrals in your metrics. The way it works is when you are on a secure site (https) and then click on a link that is not secure (http) and the URL data is lost in the transfer from https to http.
Google has a solution for SSL search, but mobile and Safari searches may still be stripping out URL info
When Google decided to encrypt all signed in searches they fixed that particular problem with the https to http transition with Google SSL search because they really didn’t want us thinking that Google stopped sending any traffic to us, they just didn’t want to share the keywords with us.
But the problem still exists and complete loss of referrer info is a problem in some mobile searches using Google and Safari browsers. More info on this can be found at SEL: Safari Shifts To Google Secure Search in iOS 6, Causing Search Referrer Data To Disappear
So that is real problem — a loss of referrer URL data because of encryption — it is not a Google search problem though, except possibly for mobile and Safari. The unfortunate thing is I have always seen “None” referrer data in all the metrics I have monitored over the years and it is impossible to know how big a problem it could be when the source of None referrers is not trackable. But if you start seeing an unexplainable increase in “None” referrers you may want to investigate whether your site or your audience behavior is changing in such a way that encryption could be a factor.
Whether it’s called structured data, rich snippets, microdata, semantic markup, using the rel= tag, or hacking schema.org, structured data has been a hot topic this week in my SEO feeds and daily search discussions. And adoption of this markup is good news, because rich snippets have a lot of potential for high ROI in organic search marketing.
Structured data is not a new thing. It was not new when I wrote this post last march using rel=author tags on blogs to optimize content ownership — but as was so succinctly stated in a post just last week, If You Don’t Care About Structured Data, You Suck at SEO. That may be a little harsh, but ignoring rich snippets means leaving money on the table. Because you can manipulate your search listings right now with the power of schema.org without paying Google another cent — at least for now…
So why now all this structured data buzz? My guess is, it’s something SEO pros can actually control that Google supports. The past few years have been rough for the search world. We’re adjusting to over 50% [not provided] keyword data, new linking penalties, and constant Penguin and Panda updates rolling out it seems like every day (why yes, there is one in progress right now, see the Webmaster world Google Update thread for more info). So a way to have control over your SERPs and help Google understand what your page is about is welcomed.
Getting started with structured data
Another nice thing about rich snippets is that, unlike pretty much everything else related to Google, Google is giving out very good instructions on implementing structured data on your page. Google prefers you use schema.org and has conveniently created a FAQ and instructions.
And you can test your snippets with Google’s Structured Data testing tool.
Where should you use structured data?
Everywhere! Well, maybe not everywhere, but anywhere it might be helpful for a visitor to know more about your page and encourage him or her to click on that link in the SERP.
If you host a blog or market a blog you absolutely should use author markup. It’s a little more complicated to claim your blog in Google than it is to just toss some code on your page, but if you get a Google referral and someone returns to Google after visiting your blog,the searcher get extra links when they return to Google. More details on the hidden benefit of authorship on SearchEngineland and my original post on rich snippets for authors using rel=author tags on blogs to optimize content ownership has more details as well.
Think about your own user experience, wouldn’t you rather click on a blog post with a picture of a real person:
And I know when I’m looking for a product or restaurant, a review with stars in the results like Yelp provides is very enticing:
schema.org makes all of this possible!
Other places you might want to enable rich snippets are events, videos, and anything with ratings.
And Google has even created a hack for site owners who have an event site in English. Google has a wysiwyg editor called the DATA Highlighter that will do most of the work for you.
If you’re serious about your Google referrals and want to take positive action in a time of much sadness for SEO professionals, and you have a minimum of technical skills, structured data is the way to go. A small investment could create a long-term payoff.
I’m pretty sure I stole this from another SEO, but because I’ve been using it as the first step of basic SEO testing for so long, I’ve completely forgotten where I got this. But today I was reminded of what a great little hack it is when a colleague asked me how I always know what Google sees when it indexes a page. Use this hack when when people ask “Is Google indexing this page?” or “Why does Google not index my content?” and they will think you have Google x-ray vision.
(Pro-tip: Usually when you have a page in a site with no other major indexing problems that is not surfacing in Google, it is a JS or AJAX issue and Google cache is the first step in diagnosing this problem)
Google cache is nothing new, but if you add it to your browser bookmarks you can immediately view what is happening in Google the moment someone IMs you a URL and asks “Why does Google hate this URL?”.
How to Add Google cache to your browser bookmarks to instantly view Google’s view of your page
- Right-click in your browser shell (under your URL field, usually) and, depending on what browser you are using, you will either have the option to “Add a bookmark” or “Add a page” or something similar. I’m using Firefox and Chrome on a windows machine in the examples below:
- In the location field (Firefox) or URL field (Chrome) enter:
- Add the bookmark to whatever browser you do most of your SEOing in and anytime you wonder what Google is seeing on a page just enter the page in your browser and then click your “Google Cache” bookmark window and you will see when Google last indexed the page, what URL Google indexed, and what that index looked like.
Viewing the URL in Google cache is a great way to determine if you have any weird redirect problems (self-inflicted or otherwise). Also, I usually click on the “Text-only version” of the page so that I can actually see if Google can see the words I think this page should be indexed under. This is another great way to diagnose rendering issues and/or text that looks like text but is actually images (basic SEO).
I’ve used a lot of SEO tools over the years, but this Google cache hack remains the standard first step in diagnosing Google indexing problems. And remember: spidering, indexing, and ranking are different things. If you do not see a cache for a page it does not mean Google has not spidered it, and if you see a cache for a page and you are still not ranking for what you think you should be ranking for, remember all this proves is that Google has a cache for your page — no promises were made. Also, the ranking you see is not necessarily the ranking everyone else sees for your page.
One the best things you can do for your blog and your online presence is create a Google + profile and link it to your blog and then link your blog to your Google+ profile.
But what happens if you want to claim authorship for a blog in Google and you realize that you already have another Google account under your name that you want to keep private?
Or if you want nothing to do with Google+ but Google has created a profile for an email or other Google account that you do not want to make visible?
Here is how to remove profile visibility in Google Search for Google accounts you want to keep private.
1. Sign into google with the profile you want to keep private
2. Go here: https://profiles.google.com/
3. If your profile is visible you should see a page that looks like this:
4. Choose to Edit profile
5. Scroll down
6. Click on line that reads Profile visible in search and unclick the box:
Your profile should now read Profile not visible in Search like below:
7. Save and exit and that should remove your personal profile from search.
One of my blogging best practices recommendations is using your metrics to guide future topics. Topics that get a lot of traffic and keyword referrals deserve revisiting. Topics with no traffic are duds. While I’ve always intended to blog about search and social and other technology topics, I see that [evil kittens] is one of my top referrals. What this tells me is:
- I’m not getting the majority of my traffic for the keywords I’ve optimized this blog for
- The market for [evil kitten] posts is not saturated in the same way that blogs about SEO and Social best practices is (hence my ability to capture traffic related to [evil kittens])
- I may need to address the evilness of kittens because the public needs to know
- However,this blog is not about [evil kittens]
I came across this article, AuthorRank could be more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined, this morning and decided it was time to practice what I preach. I’ve been advising our bloggers to link their blogs to Google+ as well as work on their Google+ visibility, and this post persuaded me it was time to update my blog.
There is a great Rel=Author Step By Step Tutorial For WordPress here for people who may not be on Google+ yet and it may work for most people.
But the instructions vary depending on your blog host and your theme. I host my own wordpress blog and it just so happened that I’m using a theme that does not support menus or allow for automatically adding a bio to each post. And despite the fact that it probably is time to update my blog theme, I was not feeling it this afternoon.
So I looked for another solution. Because this post, rel=”author” and rel=”me” in WP and other platforms, went a little deeper I was able to figure out why I was getting this error over and over again:
linked author profile = http://www.ljbanks.com/author/admin/
Error: Author profile page does not have a rel="me" link to a Google Profile. Learn more.
The good thing is, you can test how your snippets will theoretically show in the SERPs here as many times as you like: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets
Here is what worked for me (YMMV so refer to the links above for more complete instructions):
- I finally updated my wordpress profile to reflect my actual name and not “admin” (I know, I know…)
- I linked my “Contributor to” to field in the right nav of my Google + profile page to my “About” page on my blog.
- Then I linked my blog to my Google Profile. To do this I added a badge with a link to my Google profile in my sidebar. However, if you use this tool to create a badge it will give you a “rel=”author” and in my case I needed a “rel=me.” Easy enough to change, but something to keep in mind. The Google instructions for tying your blog to your Google + profile did not make that part clear.
- Tested it in the Rich Snippet Tester
Now I can make recommendations to our bloggers with a clean conscience. And it was a good exercise for me to set my Profile up to claim my own blog posts and start tying the topics I post about to my name and increasing my ownership and hopefully future visibility in Google.
I’ll be participating in a panel at SMX West 2012
on February 29, 2012. Details below:
Integrating SEO and Social Media – Get More Lift
Today’s search engines are leveraging social signals. For the past year, the search engines have been aggressively integrating social features into their SERPs. Why should companies care? One reason is reputation management. It is now more critical for companies to think about their brand and reputations not only with social media initiatives, but with SEO as well. So how can companies actively leveraging social media programs drive SEO benefits? How can brands generate popularity and loyalty by optimizing social media content for SEO success? This session will provide many of the answers. Attendees will take away new ideas for identifying tactics and strategies for effectively integrating SEO and earned social media efforts.
L. Jennette Banks, Web Search Marketing Manager and Digital Strategist – IBM SWG Web Search Strategy and Solutions
Tim Grenda, Content Specialist, Matrix Direct Insurance
Jeff MacGurn, VP of SEO, Covario
I keep coming back to this article 2011: The Year Google & Bing Took Away From SEOs & Publishers in response to questions about why some metrics seem a little wonky, why we are having trouble monitoring our links, and why we can’t use Google result totals as measurements of keyword interest when Google Adwords does not have enough data. Luckily, there are some other options to look into as well as suggestions for possible workarounds.
I’ve started using Blekko for some of the same functions Google once provided and although Blekko is not perfect, it is certainly much more transparent with its data.
Here are a few links for guidance in getting started with. One hint, creating an account is free and gives you access to all sorts of data and tools.
- A Slasher’s Guide to Blekko – The Most Advanced Search Engine Ever Created
- Blekko for Dummies
- Blekko’s SEO Tools: What Information Do They Provide?