Many Eyes as a graphing shortcut

Like many Digital marketers, I like data and I like charts. Getting access to the raw data and being able to play around with it is one of the best parts of working in Search (although I will also admit, a marketer with access to raw data can be a very dangerous thing).

Because I like data, I spend a lot of time with spreadsheets. I remember the first chart I ever made — I was so proud. It was a record of Google ranking improvements for pages due to changes made to title tags. It was also pretty ugly. In the years since, I’ve learned a little more about making charts legible and useful and many new ways of visualizing data have been introduced. I’ve spent a little too much time recently playing around with alphaWorks’ free Many Eyes tool. I spent about 2 minutes uploading some data from a comScore press release on September Search Engine rankings and then way too much time messing around with the data and creating all sorts of beautiful graphs. Like this one here:

You don’t have to upload your own data, you can also play around with existing data (and any data uploaded is fair game for other people to visualize with). You might say that Many Eyes is the perfect tool for those too lazy to put together their own graphs, but it has much more functionality than just graphing — you can make word clouds, map graphs and all sorts of cool stuff. And it’s also a good place to get started with graphs — especially if you have data, but not a lot of experience putting together visual representations of the data.

Quick Review: Audience, Relevance, and Search

Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content

Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content

I’ve worked with many people on Search Optimization over the years I’ve been Search Solutionating and James, Frank, and Cynthia belong to a small subset of people I’ve met at IBM who truly “get” what the purpose of Search Optimization is.

I’ve never had to waste any time with them describing the “why” behind Search Optimization and Findability.  That alone is a treat — but also, I’ve learned a fair amount from working with them and a whole lot more from reading their book “Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content”.

This book is of a far higher quality than many of the  search marketing books I have read (or attempted to slog through) during the search engine book boom of the past 10 years.  James, Frank, and Cynthia provide a thoughtful  approach to creating content that improves the user experience of search AND of your Web site. Because it’s all about the content — a little detail that Digital Marketers often forget in their quest for  #1 rankings in Google.

As a Technical Search Marketer I said “amen” to many of the ideas presented in this book – not because I had already thought them myself (I wish!), but because James, Frank, and Cynthia put into words a way of talking about search that built on what I already knew and put it in a broader context of user behavior and relevance. I  did want tips and guidelines — and I got that. But I also came away with something I would not expect: A greater understanding of why the user experience of search works or doesn’t work the way it does.

This book also goes even further, providing suggestions as to how to use that new understanding to not just write content for a #1 ranking, but instructions on how to create better content for the user.

I think this book would be of use, if not a revelation in some cases, for anyone in Digital Marketing (from novices to experienced SEOs), bloggers, journalists, Web content creators, and anyone who does anything on the Web.

Flash: still not good for findibility

I’ve been getting reports from various sources that Google is now indexing flash “for real” this time and we don’t have to worry about using text to make sure search spiders and people with pagereaders can access our content. I did read the Google Webmaster blog post on Improved Flash indexing but I tend to take these types of announcements with a grain of salt. And I will admit, I like text. It works for me. I think 1000 words is worth 1000 words. And also, I am not a flash developer and could not determine if this new method was reasonable. I remained skeptical. But I also did a little more digging and came up with three blog posts that reinforce what my gut was telling me: If you want to be certain your content is findable and will rank well, continue to put valuable keywords in text and not in flash.

For a more indepth understanding, I recommend these posts:

I remain a Flash SEO naysayer.

Reflections on SMX Advanced Seattle 2008

This is not a summary of what I learned, just some random thoughts on the conference itself. I am not an SEO insider. I do inhouse SEO and do not mingle with the big players.

First off, this was far better than Search Engine Strategies conferences. I’ve attended 2 SES in the past (last one in December of 2005 — wow, times flies) and those confs are just too broad, too long, and the food is just terrible. At least it was last time I attended.

SMX Advanced was far more focused. Even if there was some serious black hattery, At least now I know what SEOs are really up to.

On the Presenters

  • MS Guy — not the right guy for the panel. All I will say is you should not be on the Bot Herding panel if you don’t know whether MS Live search honors the NoFollow tag. Everything he said after that I ignored because he had no credibility.
  • Yahoo peeps — very nice, but really did not tell me any thing I did not know or offer anything up that was truly exciting.
  • netconcept guys — really enjoyed their presentations and learned some stuff. And I will be mining their for data.
  • Matt Cutts — OK, even though he makes me mad sometimes and I don’t think he always gives the full story, I was pretty excited to see him talk. Interesting how everyone was talking smack about him, but still his session was packed.
  • Danny Sullivan — I brushed past him in one of the sessions. it was like walking past a pop star. Not that I think he acts that way and I have seen him at other conf, but I feel like I should ask for an autograph or have my picture taken with him. I am not so gauche as to ask, though,
  • I won’t call out the individual non-search engine rep presenters here, but I have two main comments on the sessions overall
  1. What about a good user experience?
    How about using blogs for something other than spam? Because as the blog manager for dW, I spend a fair amount of my time cleaning up the spam people are using as some sort of sick black hat SEO campaign. How does that improve the user experience?
  2. Some of the black hats were a little too irreverant for my tastes
    At one session, someone used an extremely offensive and homophobic example. Not cool. I think that if it had been racist, even in the mostly white audience, someone would have said something and the presenter would not have gotten the laughs and implied approval he did. That example left a bad taste in my mouth about the conf. But then, what do you expect from black hat spammers?

Thoughts on Seattle
This is only my second trip to Seattle. Compared to Portland, Seattle is more hilly, bigger, and with more water. Otherwise exactly the same. 🙂

To save money, you don’t need to stay right at the conf center. I stayed a mile away and took the free bus (free during all the hours I was riding around and within the area around the conf center).

I also did a fair amount of walking. Pike Place is super sketchy after 5pm and so is the area around the conf center. I still had to walk a few blocks from the bus to the conf center, so I would not recommend public transportation in these areas after dark.

blog buzz, SEO, and desired user action

This post on SEO Moz: R0n Paul is the Snakes on a Plane of 2008 got me thinking about the goals of blog buzz and also the goals of SEO. I think there is an assumption out there that all links are good links and all blog buzz will help your product or strategy. And when I say “out there” I am talking about marketing and PR people who think that if you get enough buzz going with blog mentions or with links on traditional Web sites — what I like to call the “static” web as compared to the “dynamic” web 2.0 web — then you have succeeded in your marketing campaign.

I did not follow the snakes on a plane market outcome too close. I enjoyed the parodies and saying “snakes on a plane” is still pretty funny. I assumed that the buzz did lead to movie ticket sales. It did not. Or at least, considering the hype, it did not do as well as expected for that level of exposure. I didn’t see it in the theater, but I did Netflix it.

I agree with the analysis in the post, and want to add that the audience that actually experienced this viral marketing was probably very small. The target audience for all the snakes on a plane spoofs and discussions was most likely people like me — people who are online all work day and online after work just for fun. And for a movie to make the required huge box office numbers, you have to get more than just the geeks going to see the movie. It is an interesting exercise in viral marketing, but essentially, it did not lead to the desired user action. This action being, 100s of millions of people going to the theater to see the movie.

But I also have another takeaway from an SEO perspective — all links are not good links if they do not lead the user to take the desired action. Listings for your site in the Google SERPS are not always worth it for the link juice alone. Being #1 for a one word keyword is not more important than being number #2 for a long-tail multiple keyword query.

But none of this can be quantified as easily as the snakes on a plane viral marketing example. And part of this is because SEO is mostly about Web sites and bringing in visitors. High rankings bring in more pageviews — that is true. But is the goal of a Web site pageviews? Not for all of them. In many cases, the goal is to get the user to buy a product. And in many cases, getting a #1 listing in Google brings in pageviews, but does not lead the user to the desired action.

The goal of SEO is not to get a #1 listing, it is to lead the user to your site, so that you can offer the searcher what he or she is looking for. If the searcher is looking for something more basic than what you are offering, then a #1 listing on a basic keyword query is not going to help you reach your goal or the user reach his or her goal. So you will be wasting SEO time and bandwidth and the searcher not only is dissatisfied with the link, but perhaps even leaves the site and returns to Google with a bad opinion of your site. It’s like reverse branding.

I do still believe a viral campaign is a very powerful thing and I love links (from Google and other web sites). But I think both should be invested in prudently and efficiently to serve both you (the SEO, Web site owner, and/or marketer) and the searcher.

news flash (or flash news)

Looks like I am going to have to change my story here. For years I have given this SEO advice: Don’t put text in flash if you want Google to read it.

But Matt Cutts has recently affirmed what has been rumored for quite a while. Google is reading some flash text and currently is using Macromedia Flash Search Engine SDK to read it. So you can can check what Google sees by using this same tool.

However, it is a little more complicated than it sounds based on this CNET article on the mechanics behind Optimizing your Flash for Google.

Definitely good news. However, based on the application of this flash optimization , I stand by my statement with just one edit: Don’t put your most important keyword text in flash, but do make sure you are optimizing the text you do create in flash.