What Does an SEO Do In Their Day-to-Day Work – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

There’s a common misconception that SEO is a “one and done” task — that you clean up and optimize a site, and once that’s done, you can focus your efforts elsewhere. There’s so much more to the day-to-day work of an SEO, though, and in today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand walks us through those ongoing parts of the job.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

What Does and SEO do in Their Day-to-Day Work board

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to tackle a question I get sometimes about the day-to-day activities of an SEO and what should you do after you’ve completed that first site audit, sort of fixed the problems, what does the day-to-day work look like?

A lot of SEOs, especially those coming from consulting backgrounds or who’ve joined companies as in-house SEOs who’ve had kind of this big project based SEO work to do, find themselves struggling after that’s done. Typically, that process is pretty straightforward. You kind of do an audit. You look at all the things on the site. You figure out what’s wrong, what’s missing, where are opportunities that we could execute on. Maybe you do some competitive analysis, some market analysis. You identify those fixes. You work with teams to make those changes, validate the results have been completed, and then you’re sort of in this, “Well, do I go back and audit again and try to iterate and improve again?”

That doesn’t feel quite right, but it also doesn’t necessarily feel quite right to go to the very, very old-school SEO model of like, “All right, we’ve got these keywords we’re trying to rank for. Let’s optimize our content, get some links, check our rankings for them, and then try to rinse and repeat and keep improving.” This model’s pretty broken I’d say and just not reflective of the reality of opportunities that are in SEO or the reality of the tactics that work today.

So the way that I like to think about this is the SEO audit, an SEO focused audit — which is trying to say, “What traffic could we get? What’s missing? What’s broken and wrong?” — only works at the low level and the very tactical trenches of a marketing process or a business process. What you really need to do is you want to be more incrementally based, but you need to be informed by and you need to be evolving your tactics and your work based on what is the business need right now.

So this process is about saying, “What are the top level company and marketing goals overall? For everyone in the company, what are we trying to accomplish this year, this quarter, the next three year plan? What are we trying to achieve?” Then figure out areas where SEO can best contribute to that work, and then from there you’re creating tactical lists of projects that maybe you’re going to positively move the right needles, the ones that you’ve identified, and then you’re going to evaluate and prioritize which ones you want to implement first, second, and third in what order, and test implement those.

So, hey we’ve figured out that we think that a new blog section for this particular piece of content, or we think that getting some user generated content, building up some community around this section would be terrific, or we think outreach to these kinds of publications or building up our social stats in these worlds will expose us to the right people who can earn us the amplification we’ll need to rank better, etc., etc. Okay, this is a fine process, and you’re going to want to do this, I would say, at least annually and maybe even think about it quarterly.

All this work is essentially centered on a customer profile universe, a universe of people. I’ve got my person X, Y, and Z here, but your customer universe may involve many different personas. It may involve just one type of person you’re targeting that you’re always trying to reach over and over again, but it probably involves also the people who influence that direct subsection of your market.

From there, you can take the, “Hey, you know what, person Z is really interested in and consumes and searches for these types of content topics and these kinds of keywords, so we’re going to start by taking keyword set A or content set A and figure out our keyword list and our content list. We’re going to create, launch, and promote work that supports that.” It could be content pieces, could be video, could be some combination of those things in social media, all forms of content. It could be tools, whatever you want, an application.

We’re going to launch that, promote it, and then work on some amplification, and then we’re going to measure and learn, which is a critical part of that process. I want to not only see what are my results, but what can I learn from what we just did and hopefully I’ll get better and better at iterating on this process. This process will work iteratively, kind of similar to our broken process over here or to our site audit process there. It will work iteratively, and then every now and then you should pop back up and go, “Hey, you know what, I feel like we’ve exhausted the easiest 80% of value that we’re going to get from 20% of the work on keyword set A. Let’s move on and go visit keyword set B now, and then let’s go visit content set C.”

Occasionally, you’re even going to want to move one step up and say, “Hey, you know what, maybe our personas or our market is changing a little bit. We want to try targeting some new customers. We’re going to look at these folks over here or this guy over here and see if we can reach them and their influencers with new kinds of content and topics and keywords, and that sort of thing.”

If your site is rocking and rolling, if you’ve completed your audit, things are just smooth sailing, then this kind of a process is going to work much better, so long as it’s tied to real business objectives. Then when you achieve results here, you can point back to, “Hey, remember I told you these are the areas SEO can contribute to our overall goals, and now I can connect these up directly. The metrics that I get from all this SEO stuff can tie directly to those areas, can tie directly to the business goals.” Everyone from the CEO on down is going to love what you’re doing for the company.

All right everyone, I hope you’ll join me again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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March 27, 2015  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

A Sneak Preview of #MozCon 2015

Posted by EricaMcGillivray

Considering coming to MozCon, July 13-15 in Seattle this year? Maybe you’re on the fence because you’re not sure what’s going on, and most importantly, what our amazing speakers are talking about? I hear you, MozCon fans! While the agenda is still being finalized, we wanted to give you a sneak preview.

If you’re like “oh, shit, I forgot to buy my MozCon ticket!,” do so now:

Buy your ticket!

We’re still finalizing a couple more speakers and topics, and of course, community speakers submissions are fast approaching. Keep your eye out here on April 2nd for more info!


Adam Singer
Analytics Advocate at
Google
@AdamSinger

Adam Singer is Analytics Advocate at Google, startup adviser, investor, and blogger. He previously was director for a global consulting team and has provided digital strategy for brands in a variety of industries including marketing, technology, healthcare, and more.


Topic: Digital Analytics: People, Process, Platform

In a data-driven world, Adam will pull you back to think again about your analytics, best practices, and how you report.

Adam Singer


Cindy Krum
Founder and CEO at
MobileMoxie LLC.
Twitter:
@Suzzicks

Cindy Krum is the CEO and Founder of MobileMoxie, LLC, and author of Mobile Marketing: Finding Your Customers No Matter Where They Are. She brings fresh and creative ideas to her clients, and regularly speaks at US and international digital marketing events.


Topic: Become a Mobile SEO Superhero

With Google’s algorithm mobile change, Cindy will walk you through the changes, what they mean for your site and its rankings, and what you should be focusing on going forward.

Cindy Krum


Courtney Seiter
Head of Content Marketing at
Buffer
Twitter:
@courtneyseiter

Courtney Seiter examines social media and workplace culture at Buffer, and her writing has been published at TIME, Fast Company, Lifehacker, Inc., and more. She lives in Nashville, where she is a founder of
Girls to the Moon, a leadership camp for girls.


Topic: The Psychology of Social Media

Courtney dives into the science of why people post, share, and build relationships on social media and how to create an even more irresistible social media experience for your audience.

Courtney Seiter


Dana DiTomaso
Partner at
Kick Point Inc
Twitter:
@danaditomaso

Whether at a conference, on the radio, or in a meeting, Dana DiTomaso likes to impart wisdom to help you turn a lot of marketing bullshit into real strategies to grow your business. Dana is also a fan of the random fact. Kick Point often celebrates “Watershed Wednesday” because of her diverse work and education background. In her spare time, Dana drinks tea and yells at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.


Topic: How to Make Your Marketing Match Your Reality

Too often, the tone and promises of marketing don’t match those of the business itself. Dana will help you bring your brand identity together, both in-store and online.

Dana DiTomaso


David Mihm
Director of Local Search Strategy at Moz

Twitter:
@davidmihm

David Mihm has created and promoted search-friendly websites for clients of all sizes since the early 2000’s. David co-founded GetListed.org, which he sold to Moz in November 2012. He now serves as Moz’s Director of Local Search Strategy.


Topic: Astoundingly Useful Applications of Facebook Search for Marketers

Facebook has long neglected its potential as a local search giant, and as a result, its Graph Search product is an afterthought for too many marketers. David showcases Graph-powered insights for small-business marketers—with utility well beyond Facebook.

David Mihm


Joanna Wiebe
Creator at
Copy Hackers
Twitter:
@copyhackers

The original conversion copywriter, Joanna Wiebe is the cofounder of Snap and Copy Hackers, where startups learn to convert like mofos. She is a natural-born thief who steals messages from the mouths of customers and turns their words into higher-converting copy.


Topic: Sinners Are Winners: How Messaging Your Prospect’s Darkest Desires Can Boost Engagement

Playing it too safe? Joanna will show you how to tap into your prospects’ secret wishes in your copy—and use bold messages your competitors wouldn’t dare use.

Joanna Wiebe


Kristina Halvorson
Founder at
Brain Traffic
Twitter:
@halvorson

Kristina Halvorson is widely recognized as one of the most important voices in content strategy. She is the founder of Brain Traffic, the coauthor of Content Strategy for the Web, and the founder of the Confab content strategy conferences.


Topic: How To Do Content Strategy (Probably)

Put 10 people in a room and ask them to define “content strategy,” and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Kristina will share her own tried-and-true approach!

Kristina Halvorson


Lexi Mills
Head of Digital at
Dynamo PR
Twitter:
@leximills

Lexi Mills is a PR SEO specialist, with over eight years experience working with both small firms and big brands. She has designed and implemented integrated PR, SEO, content, and social campaigns in the UK, Europe, and USA for B2B and B2C clients.


Topic: Marketing Innovations: Creative PR, Content, and SEO Strategies

Lexi shows you how to apply strategies used in emerging markets to grow the success of your PR, SEO, and content work from bathrooms to rock bands.

Lexi Mills


Marshall Simmonds
Founder and CEO at
Define Media Group, Inc.
Twitter:
@mdsimmonds

Marshall Simmonds is the Founder of Define Media Group, the enterprise audience development company specializing in strategic search and social marketing. Define works with many of the most influential brands and networks in the world.


Topic: Dark Search and Social—Run Rabbit Run!

With data from 112 publishers with 164+ billion page views, Marshall will dive into the challenges of tracking social and search campaigns. He’ll focus on history’s lessons and what’s happening with direct and mobile traffic in an app-heavy world.

Marshall Simmonds


Marta Turek
Senior Digital Marketing Programs Manager at
ROI·DNA
Twitter:
@MTurek

Marta holds seven years of experience in digital advertising, specializing in lead generation, and paid search marketing. Developing digital strategies and telling stories through data is what rocks her boat.


Topic: Too Busy to Do Good Work


Don’t let your work suffer from being busy. Instead, let Marta show you the tactics to clean up your PPC processes to finally get more strategic.

Marta Turek


Matthew Brown
Head of Special Projects at Moz

Twitter:
@MatthewJBrown

Matthew runs Special Projects at Moz. This has been going on for two years, and we’re still not totally sure what that means.


Topic: An SEO’s Guide to the Insane World of Content

Find yourself arguing whether or not SEO is just great content? Matthew will talk through a strategic and tactical journey of content strategy from an SEO’s viewpoint and leave you with new tools and tactics.

Matthew Brown


Mig Reyes
Designer at
Basecamp
Twitter:
@migreyes

Mig Reyes is a traditionally trained graphic designer who escaped advertising agency life, cut his teeth at the T-shirt powerhouse known as Threadless, and now helps lead branding, marketing and even a bit of product work at Basecamp.

Topic title TBD, but Mig will be focusing on putting your creative energies into your marketing.

Mig Reyes


Pete Meyers
Marketing Scientist at Moz

Twitter:
@dr_pete

Dr. Pete Meyers is Marketing Scientist for Moz, where he works on product research and data-driven content. He has spent the past three years building research tools to monitor Google, including the MozCast project, and he curates the Google Algorithm History.


Topic: Surviving Google: SEO in 2020

Organic results are disappearing, replaced by Knowledge Graph, direct answers, new ad hybrids, and more. How can SEOs be ready for Google in five years?

Pete Meyers


Purna Virji
Founder and CEO of 
Purview Marketing
Twitter: 
@purnavirji

Purna is the founder and CEO of Purview Marketing, a boutique consulting firm helping companies of all sizes grow via search and content marketing. Purna is an avid traveler and speaks six languages (and can swear in 17!).


Topic: How to Better Sell SEO to the C-Suite

Whether you need more resources, trust, or buy-in, Purna will share practical tips for focusing on Profit & Loss and better communicating SEO planning, forecasting, and strategizing.

Purna Virji


Rand Fishkin
Founder at Moz

Twitter:
@randfish

Husband of Geraldine. Founder of Moz. Presenter of Whiteboard Friday. Writer of blog posts. Sender of tweets.


Topic: Onsite SEO in 2015: An Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Marketer

SEO has come full circle as on-page SEO has returned to the forefront. Rand will share how and why on-site SEO is so important and show off uncommon tactics with powerful potential.

Rand Fishkin


Richard Millington
Founder at
FeverBee
Twitter:
@RichMillington

Richard is the Founder of FeverBee, a community consultancy, and the author of Buzzing Communities.


Topic: Reaching Critical Mass: 150 Active Members

Imagine you could create and rejuvenate a successful community whenever you like? Richard Millington will take you through a step by step action plan to reach critical mass.

Richard Millington


Wil Reynolds
Director of Strategy at
Seer Interactive
Twitter:
@wilreynolds

Wil Reynolds founded Seer with a focus on doing great things for its clients, team, and the community. His passion for driving and analyzing the impact that a site’s traffic has on the company’s bottom line has shaped SEO and digital marketing industries. Wil also actively supports the Covenant House.


Topic: The Time to Do the Web Right Is Incredibly Short

In “web time,” competitive advantage can be lost in an instant, speed matters. Wil shares how keep on the pulse of competitor agility and how to get things done to stay ahead of them.

Wil Reynolds


In addition to fabulous days full of great content from extraordinary minds, we’re also cooking up three nights of great fun, networking, and MozCon love. Monday night, our partners will be hosting a pub crawl in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood with special prizes for those who hit every spot. Tuesday night, we’re doing a networking event, featuring you, the community, and your passions besides marketing. Details to come as they’re finalized! And finally, Wednesday night, we’ll say ‘see you next year’ with our traditional party at the Garage: karaoke, bowling, pool, and chilling with friends.

Questions about MozCon? I’m happy to answer them in the comments.

See you at MozCon, friends!

Buy your ticket!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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March 26, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Advanced Content Analysis in Google Analytics

Posted by Jeffalytics

We analyze the performance of our content every day. Sometimes it’s subconscious, like when we check the number of tweets we get from a new blog post. Other times, we make more conscious efforts, like reviewing performance metrics in Google Analytics. 

This feedback—both formal and anecdotal—informs what we do next. It influences future blog posts and validates our strategies. Reviewing content performance on a regular basis has been key to the growth of many online publishers. We should all be taking note of these successes as we build our own content marketing efforts. 

Paying attention to which of your content efforts are working well is the cornerstone to data-driven marketing. The companies that make these investments can produce tremendous results. For an in-depth analysis on the importance of being data driven, here are two recent articles that inspired me:

These articles show how taking data-driven approach to producing content can produce great results. Exponential traffic and revenue in these cases. 

I don’t know about you, but exponential traffic sounds pretty great to me! 

But we will never get there without taking a methodical and data-driven approach to our efforts. We will never get there if we are only counting page views. 

It’s time to take things to the next level!

Using Google Analytics Content Groupings and Dimensions to inform our content strategy

For many of us, Google Analytics is
the tool of choice for analyzing website performance. It’s free, easy to use, and extremely powerful. But because of the free and easy nature, most users do not explore the more advanced features of the product. 

One of the more advanced features that you have at your disposal is content grouping. Content grouping allows you to gather your content into common themes to create a more meaningful analysis of your data. 

For example, you can group your blog posts by the type of content that they represent. This grouping is helpful if you cover many topics on your website or sell many products. 

This is something that I have been doing for years on my own site. It helps me understand which topics resonate the most with readers. It also helps understand which topics drive organic search visitors. 

In the past, I would have to do this in a manual fashion. It involved exporting data into Excel and grouping content by the presence of certain words in the page URL. This was an ugly manual process that I would not wish on anyone. 

With content grouping in Google Analytics, we can get a view of this data with little effort involved. Here is a screenshot of traffic performance by content groups, based on common topics that I cover on my blog.

Content Groupings for Jeffalytics This simple screenshot is quite revealing. It shows which topics resonate the most, as well as content deficiencies. And these reports get even more valuable once you start to segment your data. More on this shortly.

Configuring content groupings in Google Analytics

Content Grouping Options Before we can get into deep analysis of our content, it makes sense for us to talk about how we can configure this report in Google Analytics. 

There are three ways to set up this feature. The easiest way to do it is by creating rules to define your groups. Rules work like advanced segments in Google Analytics. Set the criteria for your groupings and Google Analytics will do the rest of the work. 

Note that these rules work only on the page URL, page title or screen name (for apps). 

Here is an example of how to configure groupings matching words found in your page URLs. 

Content Groupings by Rules

The definitions work as a waterfall. If a page url/title fits in your first definition, we exclude it from each future definition. For this reason, we want to be specific with our first rules and then leave the more general and “catch all” rules for the end. 

Notice how I used a regular expression to define what makes up a PPC Page. The pipe (|) symbol serving as an “or” statement in the expression. You can also use the “or” statement on the right, but this can get unwieldy fast. 

For long regular expressions, use the extraction method for content grouping. This works wonders for complex regular expressions with several criteria to classify posts.

Using code to define your content groupings

The above options use the data that you already send to Google Analytics with each page view (page URL and page title). While this works well if we have search friendly URLs and titles, it is also limiting in our ability to perform analysis. 

If you would like to analyze beyond words in your content, then you will need to use code to push this data into Google Analytics. 

While this sounds daunting, it is not too bad. I was able to get this code working in less than 30 minutes to provide a proof of concept. 

What are some groupings that you might want to use for measuring content performance? 

How about the length of your content? Many of us have seen studies on the importance of the length of our content. Is it worthwhile to write longer articles, or is that just a “best practice” that does not apply to your site? 

Let’s measure it! 

How about the date that you published your content? If you put the date of your post in the URL, you can use rules to build these content groupings. I don’t include the publishing year in my URL, so I would need code to get this done. 

Here is how I configured Google Analytics to track word counts and publishing year of articles. 

First, you set a new definition for your content grouping in the admin section. I selected indexes 4 & 5 to avoid any potential conflicts.

Tracking Code for Content Groupings As soon as you have defined your grouping, Google will give you code snippets to use for tracking in Google Analytics. There is code for Classic and Universal Analytics. 

I use Google Tag Manager on my website, so I pushed data into the system using the data layer functionality.

My code looked like this for tracking word count, word count range and year published:

Data Layer Variables for Custom Content Groupings 

We trigger this code on every page of my website using native functions from WordPress. If you are using Google Tag Manager and WordPress, I would be more than happy to provide you with the code that I used to build this data layer. 

Next, I created a macro in Tag Manager to recognize these variables.
Data Layer Variable Google Analytics I gave a default value of 0-200—in the event that a word count is unavailable from WordPress, it will list 0-200 words. Then in my Universal Analytics tag, I set content groups in the tag configuration options. My indexes correspond to the groups we set in the Google Analytics interface. The words in the {{}} brackets represent the macros we defined above. Universal Analytics TagSetting Content Groupings in Universal Analytics After publishing, every page load will send content grouping data into Google Analytics. Pretty awesome! 

Once your definitions are in place, you will see your groups listed in the admin section of Google Analytics. You can define up to 5 unique content groups per view.
Naming the Content GroupingsFor even more on the topic of setting up content groupings, here is an awesome article by Michael King on content groupings for the user journey.

Viewing this data in Google Analytics

Once your definitions are in place, Google Analytics will start to push this data into your account. Note that these definitions do not work retroactively—only on data moving forward. Unfortunately that means that you will need to wait a few days for meaningful analysis of this data. 

But when the data starts to come in, it’s beautiful! 

Let’s start with the content grouping definitions for post topic type. I have had these in place for a while, so this data is already providing meaningful insights. Here is what we start to see when looking at website visits by topic type. 

content grouping to analyze content ideas While WordPress pages drive the most traffic, they have relatively low value per page view. This does not count any affiliate revenue, but it is indicative of the traffic brought in by this topic. High traffic volume/low value. 

This high traffic volume, low page value metric helps me draw two conclusions:

  1. I need a better call to action and offer for WordPress content. I can’t write about this topic without having an action for visitors to take. I may need to invest in some sort of premium content for this topic.
  2. As I plan my content strategy, it may not make a lot of sense to focus on WordPress if I cannot find a way to get more value out of the visits. It is clear that Google Analytics content is more valuable for me.

By grouping my content into themes, I now have a fresh perspective on the effectiveness of my content. Instead of choosing the topic on my mind on any given day, I may benefit by only writing about Google Analytics. 

This level of insight is not possible without content grouping. Content grouping is incredible when you have this data tied into the goals you have already set up with Google Analytics.

Checking in on our code-driven content groupings

As you can see, content grouping provides excellent insights into your content strategy performance. If you have thousands of articles on your website, content groupings will help you sift through the noise and go right to the signal. 

You can gain insight into other aspects of your content strategy through this same method. Let’s check in on the groupings that we set up through code earlier in this article. Please note that this is a proof of concept with only a small amount of data to support the groupings. Over time, your picture will start to become more valuable as you see conversions rolling into your account. 

How many page views are we getting for the content we produced over the past 4 years? This is easy to view with our content groupings.
Blog post visits by year This is a traffic pattern that I had assumed in my mind (I wrote much more in 2013 than 2014). Now, I have the numbers to prove it. 

What about by word count? 

Not surprising, lower word count pages (like the homepage) are getting the most traffic.

Word Count This data will get even more interesting over time.

Applying segmentation to our content groupings

We have grouped our content by length of the article and when it was published. Now we can measure how these factors impact our organic search traffic. We can do this a few ways. My preferred method is to look at the medium of organic search and then use a secondary dimension of content group. 

Organic Search by Word Range Again, we see that our shorter articles are driving the most search traffic. This is for two reasons. 1) The default content range is 0-200, so this includes articles with no word count defined by WordPress. 2) It includes our home page, which often ranks for branded search results. 

If granular keyword data were still available in Google Analytics, we would be able to segment brand/non brand traffic. But alas. 

We can do this same analysis by year as well.

Organic Search by Year Notice that the current year is receiving the most organic traffic. I can only assume that this is again due to branded traffic. 

Content grouping makes everything better!

Where else does content grouping make Google Analytics data shine?

Many of your favorite Google Analytics reports get better with content groupings. The behavior flow report comes to life with your content groupings.

Behavior Flow 

We no longer need to look at this report with several branches of data hidden from view. Now you can see how people visit your site based on your pre-defined content groupings.

Behavior Flow Report

Custom Reports 

You can also use custom reports to combine several fields together. For example, try to view organic visits by the year you wrote the content and the topics into a single report. 

Google Organic by Year by TopicYou can also start to add your conversion data in place and understand the value of the content that you have produced over the years. 

Several years ago I wrote a post about
investing in SEO for YouMoz. The basic premise is that SEO investment does not fit into normal budget constraints. For example, you may budget for all your SEO efforts in 2015, but there is a revenue impact of these efforts for years to come. 

A custom report by post year can help you better understand the continued return on your SEO investment over the years.

What other content groupings make sense to explore?

Once we start grouping our content for analysis, many possibilities become available. Here are a few more ideas for what we can measure for content groupings:

  • Grouping by social share counts. How do share counts affect traffic and conversions? I have done a proof of concept with social shares in the past and the data is revealing.
  • Grouping by external links using the Mozscape API. Push this into your data layer and you can start to analyze how links may be impacting your content performance.
  • Grouping by any on page metadata for your post. We included word count here, but we can also include title length, keyword usage, etc.
  • Grouping by targeted keyword. Use a custom field from WordPress (or your CMS) to push this into your data layer for content grouping.
  • More specific date based grouping. Instead of grouping by year, group by month or week to see how strategies take hold more quickly.
  • Grouping by author of content. Which authors drive the most traffic and revenue?
  • Grouping by department of company. Are certain departments producing better content? 

You can measure pretty much anything with content grouping. The only real limitation being your imagination AND Google’s current limit of 5 content groups in each view. You can even get around that by using multiple views if you want.

What type of questions can we answer with content groupings?

With content groupings in place, we can answer more business questions than standard content reports. Here are a few business questions I can start to answer with the content groupings we have already discussed.

  • Is our content marketing hitting the mark?
  • Are we making progress toward our goals with our recent content marketing?
  • Did our SEO investment mature like we thought it would?
  • Has our new focus on converting visitors affected overall revenue significantly?

Through content grouping, we can find answers within our pre-defined points of analysis. We no longer have to look at individual posts and pages to find answers. 

We provide the taxonomy that works for our business. Then we use this taxonomy to show how visitors reached our website through acquisition reports. We see how they performed on the site through conversion reports. 

Now Google Analytics starts to think a lot more like our business. It uses our own words to describe content within a structure we define. Plus, we have the tremendous processing power of Google Analytics to handle our queries.

Bonus: Use custom dimensions to make these reports even more useful

If you were paying close attention to the data layer variables I showed earlier in the post, you will see a third variable. This third variable is the exact word count for each page. This variable was added to the data layer as I was starting to do analysis on the content groupings. I found that some analysis may become easier if I have the exact word count available in Google Analytics. 

In Google Tag Manager, I set a custom dimension of Word Count using my third data layer variable. Now, I can view post topic by word count of the article in Google Analytics. 

Word Count Secondary Dimension Useful? Definitely! There are many times when you need an exact number available to conduct analysis. 

You can add up to 20 custom dimensions per web property in Google Analytics. It only works with the Universal Analytics version.

What type of content analysis are you going to do now?

Groupings are like a cheat-code for content marketers to take their analysis to the next level. You get to push your own data into Google Analytics. You get to use your own definitions within the tool. 

There are really no limits to what you can measure. What is it going to be? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section.

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March 25, 2015  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

11 Ways for Local Businesses to Get Links

Posted by Casey_Meraz

Let’s face it: Local link building is hard. Even if you have the budget and resources needed to earn or build links it will take time. Having a strong link profile is essential to your website’s success in search engines. 

If you’re new to link building and want to develop a more in-depth understanding, check out this great resource from MOZ on link building
here

In this guide we will look at
11 practical ways you can start earning links for your local business, which will make an impact on your bottom line today. 

Who should care about local link building?

When I talk about local link building I don’t mean that these links are for local businesses exclusively. If you’re trying to boost the authority of your website, one good way is to get links from locally relevant sources.
This guide is for all types of businesses who want to increase their site’s link authority. 

Since local business types vary from fast food restaurants, to ski rental shops, to law firms, and everything in-between, the tactics below are applicable across the spectrum.  

About these links

Some of these links are harder to get than others. While it’s easy to start with the low hanging fruit, you should put a plan together to go after the harder ones. These are the links your competitors won’t get because they’re just too darn lazy. This is how real businesses set themselves apart in the customer’s eyes and the search engine’s eyes and build a brand that’s worth remembering. Aim for quality over quantity and don’t settle for crummy links.

How do you define a good link?

I recently read an article by Eric Enge from 
Stonetemple that summed up what type of links you should be looking for pretty nicely. In this article he mentioned three key points to help define the type of links you’re looking for. They were:


  1. Links that will drive direct referral traffic
  2. Links that build visibility with your target audience for your brand
  3. Links that build your reputation

The link building methods I’ll be covering today will achieve at least one of the goals each. I always think it’s important to “think outside of the link” and the above three points make that practical. In addition to getting the link for an SEO benefit, will it actually drive relevant traffic? If so, that’s a great link to chase. The same goes for links built that place you in front of your target audience and links that build your reputation. 

Keeping this in mind, lets build some links!


#1 Create controversy and get in the news

Creating a controversial story may seem hard at first glance, but it reminds me of this quote from Peter Marshall
“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” If your clients don’t have any controversy or a cause to believe in, then they aren’t real people.

You can’t agree with 100% of the people 100% of the time and you just have to find out what that is. Some companies like Spirit Airlines seem to do this quite often, but the little guys can do this too with minimal investment.

Using this method you can get links from places like:

The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post and other local newspapers, Lexis Nexis

Actual case study

We were recently working with an attorney who was looking to earn links at a decent scale. We proposed a scholarship contest. While scholarship links from .edus are cool, we like
The Wall Street Journal and high authority news site links even more. After speaking with this client, who is a DUI attorney, we discussed how everybody talks about how destructive driving drunk is, but rarely do people admit to the habit.

From this idea, we came up with the concept of
Scholarship for Colorado students who admit to drinking and driving.

After the scholarship information was published on the site, we reached out to our local newspaper,
The Denver Post, and informed them of the scholarship. From here, they went on to interview our client and write an article on the topic titled “Scholarship for Colorado students who admit to drinking and driving” that links to the scholarship page. 

Once the
Denver Post article was published, it was easy to get other major publications to cover the story, including The Wall Street Journal:

 

How you can do this


Step 1:
Develop an idea that strikes a chord with people. Think about issues that are universally familiar and tend to be polarizing in some way.


Step 2:
Develop the on-page asset needed to support it. In this case we opted for the scholarship.


Step 3:
Once the asset is created, pitch it to a local newspaper.


Step 4:
If the story is picked up by a newspaper you can then pitch it to other major publications like The Wall Street Journal. Many websites have contact forms and areas to submit a tip. Something simple like “Hey I thought you guys might find this funny” with a link to the news publication article will do the trick since it adds credibility. 


Step 5:
Share it on social media with groups that might be interested in the topic.


Step 6:
Consider paying for some exposure on Outbrain to widen the audience. 

PRO tip: Don’t skimp on the content, graphics, or any step in this process. This will be fruitful if done right but will fall flat on your face if you try to take shortcuts. 


#2 Easily get contest nomination links

Almost every city whether big or small has some type of local business awards. The awards might be run by a small local newspaper with a website, the chamber of commerce, or even another organization. In addition to these
“Best Of” type awards, there are also awards based on age like Top 40 Under 40 or by type of business including Best Restaurant or Best Law Firm.

The trick is to find the opportunities that are a good fit for your business and get listed. Sometimes you have to win to get mentioned and other times you just need to get nominated.  

Get links from places like:

Chamber of commerce, news publications, and major publications if you’re good enough :)

Getting a link from the Chamber of Commerce like the example above is very relevant as it only serves businesses within that city. It’s also a plus for informed local shoppers. 

How you can do it

The best way to find these potentially lucrative links is to do a Google Search. You need to start by coming up with a list of potential sources. Since these are generally city or state specific, it’s a good idea to use one of these search strings:

Here are some ideas to get the wheels turning in your brain:

  • “Nominate a business”+”STATE NAME” (Example: “Nominate a business”+”Colorado”)
  • “City Name”+”Nominate a business” (Example: “Los Angeles”+”Nominate a business”)
  • “best of STATE or CITY”+”nominate” (Example: ”best of Colorado”+”nominate”)
  • “best BUSINESS TYPE”+”nominate”+”city” (Example: ”best restaurant”+”nominate”+”denver”)
  • “AGE under AGE”+”GEO MODIFIER” (Example: “30 under 30″+”Denver”)
  • “nominate”+”young entrepreneur” (Example: “nominate”+”young entrepreneur)

Once you have curated a list of awards you want to try to apply for you can then send your pitch to each of these websites directly. Typically they have nomination forms that you would fill out or a certain procedure. If you can’t find out how, don’t be afraid to ask!


#3 Get eco-friendly links

Is your business green? Does it operate according to low energy standards or are you at least on track to be green? Why not help out the environment and get a link out of it as well? Now while you probably won’t show up on
Newsweek‘s America’s Greenest Companies 2014 for doing this, there are a lot of offline benefits to being green as well. I already mentioned saving the environment, but did you realize there are eco-friendly shoppers? Some shoppers do the majority of their business with companies that are eco-friendly and I suspect this will just continue to soar.

Get links from places like:

Mostly business directories and local news organizations who promote green businesses. 
 

How you can do it

With this industry there are some low hanging fruits, but just like all link building, you should be smart about your approach. While it might be tempting to go out and get a link on a directory, I would personally spend time scrutinizing it to make sure it’s a strong website that’s human-edited and controlled. If you don’t find it reputable, nobody else will (including Google). That’s why it’s best to focus on local opportunities such as your local newspaper or community directory.

Make sure to familiarize yourself with the Green Terminology 
here. Once you have a good idea of what you’re looking for, you can conduct some easy searches such as the ones below to find directories. Again, please be sure to scrutinize them.


Search for directories by using search phrases like:

  • Eco-friendly business directory
  • Green business directories


#4 Sponsor a meetup group

An example of a meetup group sponsorship link

While of course we’re talking about links here, I always like to see the other side of a link and the actual benefit it will give you. Did you know you can sponsor meetup groups and get a link as well as get in front of your potential customers?

Meetup.com is a powerhouse website that connects like minded groups of people together through events they call meetups. If you have a good grasp of your target audience and you know where they hang out, you can get in front of them more easily.

For example, let’s say that you’re a bike store. Would it make sense to sponsor a local meetup biking club? Yes! 

How you can do it

Sponsoring a meetup group does require the group owner to accept your sponsorship and terms. Your goal however is to get your business name, logo, discount, and link in the ad as shown in the example. If you’re ambitious and a local store you could ask to have your NAP displayed as well for Local SEO purposes. 

 

Step 1: Start by determining what type of groups might appeal to your audience. I have included some tricky examples below:

  • Attorneys - Maybe sponsoring a cycling- or driving-based meetup with the safety approach
  • Doctors – Sponsor a healthy living meetup
  • Airsoft or Paintball Store – Sponsor a singles group by offering an event
  • Construction – Sponsor a charity group or a new homeowners’ group

That’s enough to get the wheels turning. Write these ideas down and proceed to the next step. 

Step 2: Turn to Google to make your search easier! Use the search strings below to only search the meetup.com website with the keywords you’re looking for:

site:meetup.com state+keyword  or  site:meetup.com city+keyword

Step 3: Click through the results and find a meetup group that seems to fit the bill. 

Step 4: Show up to the next scheduled local meetup group. Network. Meet the group owner and see if they’re seeking sponsorship’s. 

Step 5: Negotiate and get your site up! 


#5 Host a community event

If you want to do event link building check out my
local event link building post here or Kane Jamison’s event link post here. While those posts go more into how you can really promote an event and build some awesome local links, I want to talk specifically about how you can get listed on your city’s website by hosting a community event. The thing I like most about events is that you get to give back to your community and help people. Not even a link feels as good as that. 

The only real requirements for this one is that you host an event where the entire community is invited and get a blessing from the town. In the example below you can see how a church in my town of Parker, Colorado was able to get a link by hosting an Easter Egg Hunt.

So not only are they getting exposure from people in their town (their target audience), they’re getting the link and mentions here too. If the event was hosted at your office or business location, then you can get the added superior benefit of your NAP listed on their website!

If it’s a county-wide event, you can get listed on the county website and if the event is public safety you might be able to get the Fire Department and Police Departments on board as well. Plus this can come with the added benefit of news coverage. 

Get links from places like:

Your city’s website and major community news sources

How you can do it

The first thing you need to do is figure out what type of event you want to host. Depending on the size of your town and the size of the event, it can be a big deal. I’m a bit of a event fanatic so for me it comes easy. Don’t be afraid to start small though as long as you’re creating and providing a productive resource for your community. 

Some potential ideas include: 

  • Trash Pickup Day – Host a trash pickup day where the meeting place is your business or you sponsor the bags.
  • Toy Drop off for Needy Kids - Host a toy drive or drop off for kids in need.
  • Seminar – Host a seminar in your area of expertise that will be the most beneficial to residents. If you like this idea then also try starting a meetup group (see #4 above). 

Step 1: Figure out the event type.

Step 2: Get the town on board with the idea and schedule a date at least 60 days out. 

Step 3: Create the details page on your website with all pertinent event details. 

Step 4: Make sure it goes up on the town’s website with your company event page linked.

Step 5: Promote the heck out of it using the event promotion guide here

Pro tip 1: Invite local press to your event to cover it. Be sure to meet and greet them and get to know them. More on this later.

Pro tip 2: Invite the local Boy Scouts or other community organizations as well. If their name is attached to the event, you might get more exposure and more link opportunities. 


#6 Sponsor or donate to a local club or organization

Sponsorship links can be a slippery slope, but there’s also a place for them. Over the years I have given back to a number of causes I support and have been an active member in charities and nonprofit organizations. Chances are you or someone you know is a part of one right now. 

There are a lot of clubs in almost any community. Have you ever heard of the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Lions Club, etc. These are commonly found in many communities and they typically have state, district, or chapter websites. 

Below is a quick example I pulled from the Los Angeles Rotary Club sponsors webpage:

But don’t stop there. While the major clubs are popular, there are also a lot of other potential sponsorship causes and organizations. This is commonly touched on so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but here are some easy search stings you can use to find some opportunities. 

  • “city inurl:sponsors” (Example: Los Angeles inurl:sponsors)
  • “city inurl:sponsor” (Example: Los Angeles inurl:sponsor)
  • “city intitle:sponsors” (Example: Los Angeles intitle:sponsors)
  • keyword donations
    (Example: Safety donations)

After you have explored these opportunities simply reach out to the organizers and see what type of commitment they’re looking for. 

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to promote your sponsorship. If you’re giving to a good cause, let the community know! 


#7 Student, teacher, and alumni discounts 

If you’ve done link building research you may have heard of the university discount link building where you can offer a discount to the students and faculty of a university. That has a place and it might be a good place for local links if you have a university nearby. But did you realize there are other student discount opportunities as well?

Typically when I look for opportunities locally I open my eyes a little wider and look for other opportunities like:

  1. K-12 Schools. These can be goldmines and aren’t really talked about much.
  2. Organization discounts. Organizations have students too. Take the Colorado Symphony for example. 
  3. Alumni discounts. Sometimes these organizations also offer alumni listings for free. 

Get links from places like:

Organizations, schools, K-12 schools, educational websites

How you can do it

This is another scenario where we will turn to Google and seek opportunities:

  • site:.org “student discounts” -  Looks for organizations that offer student discounts
  • site:.org “high school”+”student Discount” – Checks for offers available to high school students
  • site:.edu “staff discounts” – Searches .edu domains for staff discounts (colleges and universities) 
  • site:.edu “student discounts” - Searches .edu domains for student discounts (colleges and universities)

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to add geo modifiers. Remember that anything in “” will search exactly so plurals should be searched separately. 


#8 Create and promote a local resource

So you want to send good local link signals and showcase you’re the expert of a local area? What better way than to create a community resource page on your website? Not only will it attract potential links with the proper marketing, it’s also going to show that you’re the expert in your area. 

The good thing about creating a local resource is that you or the local operator running that location probably already has a good idea about the city in general. Even if they’re not the most familiar with the area, some research can solve that.

Get links from places like:

Hotels, travel websites, news organizations

How you can do it

Start by coming up with a list of ideas. Locally-based ideas can vary greatly. Here are a few to helps the mice turn the wheel:

  • Best of Local Guides – Best restaurants in the city or county, top bars, top microbreweries (I like beer, OK), top city attractions, top things for singles, top things for families, a perfect day trip for families, etc. 
  • Local Calendar Creation – Create a local calendar of popular events by topic. High school football calendars, movie premiere dates, HOA meetings, and more. 

Once you have the idea, you can move onto the creation of the asset. Notice my use of the word asset. If I’m going to spend the time to create this piece, I want to make sure it’s a linkable asset. That means that it should be substantial and also look great. If the content is weak, you’re going to get a weak appeal. 

Once you have built your guide, the real key is promoting it and getting the exposure you need. Make sure to share it with relevant audiences such as Facebook and Google Plus groups. If there are town groups such as “You know you grew up in CITY, when…” those might be a good place to promote your resource. 

Figure out where your community members hang out and post it there. Sometimes even city or town run pages will be willing to post or promote your piece. This is just another reason why you need to create a quality piece of content and not just do the bare minimum. 


#9 Get manufacturer and wholesaler links

This is an easy one that is often overlooked by small businesses. If you operate a retail business or sell a product that somebody else manufactures, then you have a link opportunity. Many product manufacturers want to show their customers where to buy their products. This might be a store locator or it could just be an authorized reseller list. Either way you need to take advantage of it. This is an opportunity that even local businesses can take advantage of quickly. 

One of the reasons we have extensive client intake forms is to address this issue. A lot of times clients will say that they’re listed without actually knowing. It’s best to find out for yourself by getting a complete list of all manufacturers they represent. If they have a website you can get a link. 

Get links from places like:

Larger manufacturing companies

How you can do it

Even small stores might represent products from 100+ different manufacturers. Even if they don’t buy manufacturer direct they can still get a link from the manufacturer just by asking. 

Step 1: Create a list of all of the brands the client carries and whether they buy direct or from a wholesaler.

Step 2: Visit each manufacturer and distributor website. Find out if they have a store locator or somewhere where they list where you can buy their products.

Step 3: Reach out to those that do from a company email address including all pertinent information (include NAP!) and the link to your website or store location.

Step 4: For those who don’t list this information, outreach to them and ask them if they are willing to set it up. After all it will only help you both sell more products. 

Pro tip: Some websites will only display your Name, Address, Phone Number. But if they don’t link to you don’t be afraid to ask. A lot of times they can make the change and add your link. 


#10 Build relationships with local influencers

If you want to earn links that will really set you apart from the rest of the herd, you need to start thinking about 
building actual relationships with influencers. Finding influencers and getting connected can be hard; you have to be real while doing it. These people can range from your local competition, to politicians, to journalists. Finding and connecting with them requires some work, but it’s worth the payoff. 

Get links from places like:

Niche publications, your competition’s website, local news media, government websites

How you can do it

The reality is, while some of this research and networking can be done online, at some point, you’re going to have to get out of your office and interact with real humans!

For our example, let’s look at how we might go about forming a relationship with a member of the local media. First off you will want to find a list of press associations in your area. This might be city based or state based. The easiest way to look for these is just to search for them in Google by typing in your state name + press association or press organization.

Once you have the list of the organization(s) you want to work with, check out their membership fees but more importantly their events and conferences. These are the real goldmines. Many of these organizations have an annual conference or event that you can attend. This is where you can usually expect to meet the people with the most connections. It’s important to speak with them in person, exchange contact information, and express your willingness to contribute. If you have an intriguing idea for a specific writer, for example, someone who always writes about tech news, you may be able to pitch a problem you see in your industry that exposes consumers. Your job is to figure out what interests them and offer to help in any way. 


#11 Leverage business relationships

In many cases small businesses may already have complementary businesses that might be willing to give a link to your website. In fact, it might make sense from a referral standpoint too. If you use or refer your business to another type of business this is a great opportunity. 

Get links from places like:

Other business websites 

How you can do this

Getting these opportunities are as easy as curating the list and doing the outreach. Here are some examples for different business types:

  • Attorneys can get links from: Process servers, investigators, and other services they refer business to
  • Mortgage Brokers can link to recommended realtors and vice-versa
  • Doctors can get links from schools (emergency clinic references), insurance companies, and other doctors.

Another way to go about this is to approach like-minded companies that offer services you don’t and you don’t plan on offering. For example if you’re a greeting card store you might be able to get links from gift stores.


Conclusion

Although good link building takes time, thought, and a good amount of effort, it’s easy enough that anyone can do it. With so many different options and ways you can earn links, this is just a small sample that you can use to start gaining new ones today.

Please feel free to share your favorite link building tips. The more the better!

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March 24, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Moving 5 Domains to 1: An SEO Case Study

Posted by Dr-Pete

People often ask me if they should change domain names, and I always shudder just a little. Changing domains is a huge, risky undertaking, and too many people rush into it seeing only the imaginary upside. The success of the change also depends wildly on the details, and it’s not the kind of question anyone should be asking casually on social media.

Recently, I decided that it was time to find a new permanent home for my personal and professional blogs, which had gradually spread out over 5 domains. I also felt my main domain was no longer relevant to my current situation, and it was time for a change. So, ultimately I ended up with a scenario that looked like this:

The top three sites were active, with UserEffect.com being my former consulting site and blog (and relatively well-trafficked). The bottom two sites were both inactive and were both essentially gag sites. My one-pager, AreYouARealDoctor.com, did previously rank well for “are you a real doctor”, so I wanted to try to recapture that.

I started migrating the 5 sites in mid-January, and I’ve been tracking the results. I thought it would be useful to see how this kind of change plays out, in all of the gory details. As it turns out, nothing is ever quite “textbook” when it comes to technical SEO.

Why Change Domains at All?

The rationale for picking a new domain could fill a month’s worth of posts, but I want to make one critical point – changing domains should be about your business goals first, and SEO second. I did not change domains to try to rank better for “Dr. Pete” – that’s a crap shoot at best. I changed domains because my old consulting brand (“User Effect”) no longer represented the kind of work I do and I’m much more known by my personal brand.

That business case was strong enough that I was willing to accept some losses. We went through a similar transition here
from SEOmoz.org to Moz.com. That was a difficult transition that cost us some SEO ground, especially short-term, but our core rationale was grounded in the business and where it’s headed. Don’t let an SEO pipe dream lead you into a risky decision.

Why did I pick a .co domain? I did it for the usual reason – the .com was taken. For a project of this type, where revenue wasn’t on the line, I didn’t have any particular concerns about .co. The evidence on how top-level domains (TLDs) impact ranking is tough to tease apart (so many other factors correlate with .com’s), and Google’s attitude tends to change over time, especially if new TLDs are abused. Anecdotally, though, I’ve seen plenty of .co’s rank, and I wasn’t concerned.

Step 1 – The Boring Stuff

It is absolutely shocking how many people build a new site, slap up some 301s, pull the switch, and hope for the best. It’s less shocking how many of those people end up in Q&A a week later, desperate and bleeding money.


Planning is hard work, and it’s boring – get over it.

You need to be intimately familiar with every page on your existing site(s), and, ideally, you should make a list. Not only do you have to plan for what will happen to each of these pages, but you’ll need that list to make sure everything works smoothly later.

In my case, I decided it might be time to do some housekeeping – the User Effect blog had hundreds of posts, many outdated and quite a few just not very good. So, I started with the easy data – recent traffic. I’m sure you’ve seen this Google Analytics report (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages):

Since I wanted to focus on recent activity, and none of the sites had much new content, I restricted myself to a 3-month window (Q4 of 2014). Of course, I looked much deeper than the top 10, but the principle was simple – I wanted to make sure the data matched my intuition and that I wasn’t cutting off anything important. This helped me prioritize the list.

Of course, from an SEO standpoint, I also didn’t want to lose content that had limited traffic but solid inbound links. So, I checked my “Top Pages” report in
Open Site Explorer:

Since the bulk of my main site was a blog, the top trafficked and top linked-to pages fortunately correlated pretty well. Again, this is only a way to prioritize. If you’re dealing with sites with thousands of pages, you need to work methodically through the site architecture.

I’m going to say something that makes some SEOs itchy – it’s ok not to move some pages to the new site. It’s even ok to let some pages 404. In Q4, UserEffect.com had traffic to 237 URLs. The top 10 pages accounted for 91.9% of that traffic. I strongly believe that moving domains is a good time to refocus a site and concentrate your visitors and link equity on your best content. More is not better in 2015.

Letting go of some pages also means that you’re not 301-redirecting a massive number of old URLs to a new home-page. This can look like a low-quality attempt to consolidate link-equity, and at large scale it can raise red flags with Google. Content worth keeping should exist on the new site, and your 301s should have well-matched targets.

In one case, I had a blog post that had a decent trickle of traffic due to ranking for “50,000 push-ups,” but the post itself was weak and the bounce rate was very high:

The post was basically just a placeholder announcing that I’d be attempting this challenge, but I never recapped anything after finishing it. So, in this case,
I rewrote the post.

Of course, this process was repeated across the 3 active sites. The 2 inactive sites only constituted a handful of total pages. In the case of AreYouARealDoctor.com, I decided to turn the previous one-pager
into a new page on the new site. That way, I had a very well-matched target for the 301-redirect, instead of simply mapping the old site to my new home-page.

I’m trying to prove a point – this is the amount of work I did for a handful of sites that were mostly inactive and producing no current business value. I don’t need consulting gigs and these sites produce no direct revenue, and yet I still considered this process worth the effort.

Step 2 – The Big Day

Eventually, you’re going to have to make the move, and in most cases, I prefer ripping off the bandage. Of course, doing something all at once doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.

The biggest problem I see with domain switches (even if they’re 1-to-1) is that people rely on data that can take weeks to evaluate, like rankings and traffic, or directly checking Google’s index. By then, a lot of damage is already done. Here are some ways to find out quickly if you’ve got problems…

(1) Manually Check Pages

Remember that list you were supposed to make? It’s time to check it, or at least spot-check it. Someone needs to physically go to a browser and make sure that each major section of the site and each important individual page is resolving properly. It doesn’t matter how confident your IT department/guy/gal is – things go wrong.

(2) Manually Check Headers

Just because a page resolves, it doesn’t mean that your 301-redirects are working properly, or that you’re not firing some kind of 17-step redirect chain. Check your headers. There are tons of free tools, but lately I’m fond of
URI Valet. Guess what – I screwed up my primary 301-redirects. One of my registrar transfers wasn’t working, so I had to have a setting changed by customer service, and I inadvertently ended up with 302s (Pro tip: Don’t change registrars and domains in one step):

Don’t think that because you’re an “expert”, your plan is foolproof. Mistakes happen, and because I caught this one I was able to correct it fairly quickly.

(3) Submit Your New Site

You don’t need to submit your site to Google in 2015, but now that Google Webmaster Tools allows it, why not do it? The primary argument I hear is “well, it’s not necessary.” True, but direct submission has one advantage – it’s fast.

To be precise, Google Webmaster Tools separates the process into “Fetch” and “Submit to index” (you’ll find this under “Crawl” > “Fetch as Google”). Fetching will quickly tell you if Google can resolve a URL and retrieve the page contents, which alone is pretty useful. Once a page is fetched, you can submit it, and you should see something like this:

This isn’t really about getting indexed – it’s about getting nearly instantaneous feedback. If Google has any major problems with crawling your site, you’ll know quickly, at least at the macro level.

(4) Submit New XML Sitemaps

Finally, submit a new set of XML sitemaps in Google Webmaster Tools, and preferably tiered sitemaps. While it’s a few years old now, Rob Ousbey has a great post on the subject of
XML sitemap structure. The basic idea is that, if you divide your sitemap into logical sections, it’s going to be much easier to diagnosis what kinds of pages Google is indexing and where you’re running into trouble.

A couple of pro tips on sitemaps – first, keep your old sitemaps active temporarily. This is counterintuitive to some people, but unless Google can crawl your old URLs, they won’t see and process the 301-redirects and other signals. Let the old accounts stay open for a couple of months, and don’t cut off access to the domains you’re moving.

Second (I learned this one the hard way), make sure that your Google Webmaster Tools site verification still works. If you use file uploads or meta tags and don’t move those files/tags to the new site, GWT verification will fail and you won’t have access to your old accounts. I’d recommend using a more domain-independent solution, like verifying with Google Analytics. If you lose verification, don’t panic – your data won’t be instantly lost.

Step 3 – The Waiting Game

Once you’ve made the switch, the waiting begins, and this is where many people start to panic. Even executed perfectly, it can take Google weeks or even months to process all of your 301-redirects and reevaluate a new domain’s capacity to rank. You have to expect short term fluctuations in ranking and traffic.

During this period, you’ll want to watch a few things – your traffic, your rankings, your indexed pages (via GWT and the site: operator), and your errors (such as unexpected 404s). Traffic will recover the fastest, since direct traffic is immediately carried through redirects, but ranking and indexation will lag, and errors may take time to appear.

(1) Monitor Traffic

I’m hoping you know how to check your traffic, but actually trying to determine what your new levels should be and comparing any two days can be easier said than done. If you launch on a Friday, and then Saturday your traffic goes down on the new site, that’s hardly cause for panic – your traffic probably
always goes down on Saturday.

In this case, I redirected the individual sites over about a week, but I’m going to focus on UserEffect.com, as that was the major traffic generator. That site was redirected, in full on January 21st, and the Google Analytics data for January for the old site looked like this:

So far, so good – traffic bottomed out almost immediately. Of course, losing traffic is easy – the real question is what’s going on with the new domain. Here’s the graph for January for DrPete.co:

This one’s a bit trickier – the first spike, on January 16th, is when I redirected the first domain. The second spike, on January 22nd, is when I redirected UserEffect.com. Both spikes are meaningless – I announced these re-launches on social media and got a short-term traffic burst. What we really want to know is where traffic is leveling out.

Of course, there isn’t a lot of history here, but a typical day for UserEffect.com in January was about 1,000 pageviews. The traffic to DrPete.co after it leveled out was about half that (500 pageviews). It’s not a complete crisis, but we’re definitely looking at a short-term loss.

Obviously, I’m simplifying the process here – for a large, ecommerce site you’d want to track a wide range of metrics, including conversion metrics. Hopefully, though, this illustrates the core approach. So, what am I missing out on? In this day of [not provided], tracking down a loss can be tricky. Let’s look for clues in our other three areas…

(2) Monitor Indexation

You can get a broad sense of your indexed pages from Google Webmaster Tools, but this data often lags real-time and isn’t very granular. Despite its shortcomings, I still prefer
the site: operator. Generally, I monitor a domain daily – any one measurement has a lot of noise, but what you’re looking for is the trend over time. Here’s the indexed page count for DrPete.co:

The first set of pages was indexed fairly quickly, and then the second set started being indexed soon after UserEffect.com was redirected. All in all, we’re seeing a fairly steady upward trend, and that’s what we’re hoping to see. The number is also in the ballpark of sanity (compared to the actual page count) and roughly matched GWT data once it started being reported.

So, what happened to UserEffect.com’s index after the switch?

The timeframe here is shorter, since UserEffect.com was redirected last, but we see a gradual decline in indexation, as expected. Note that the index size plateaus around 60 pages – about 1/4 of the original size. This isn’t abnormal – low-traffic and unlinked pages (or those with deep links) are going to take a while to clear out. This is a long-term process. Don’t panic over the absolute numbers – what you want here is a downward trend on the old domain accompanied by a roughly equal upward trend on the new domain.

The fact that UserEffect.com didn’t bottom out is definitely worth monitoring, but this timespan is too short for the plateau to be a major concern. The next step would be to dig into these specific pages and look for a pattern.

(3) Monitor Rankings

The old domain is dropping out of the index, and the new domain is taking its place, but we still don’t know why the new site is taking a traffic hit. It’s time to dig into our core keyword rankings.

Historically, UserEffect.com had ranked well for keywords related to “split test calculator” (near #1) and “usability checklist” (in the top 3). While [not provided] makes keyword-level traffic analysis tricky, we also know that the split-test calculator is one of the top trafficked pages on the site, so let’s dig into that one. Here’s the ranking data from Moz Analytics for “split test calculator”:

The new site took over the #1 position from the old site at first, but then quickly dropped down to the #3/#4 ranking. That may not sound like a lot, but given this general keyword category was one of the site’s top traffic drivers, the CTR drop from #1 to #3/#4 could definitely be causing problems.

When you have a specific keyword you can diagnose, it’s worth taking a look at the live SERP, just to get some context. The day after relaunch, I captured this result for “dr. pete”:

Here, the new domain is ranking, but it’s showing the old title tag. This may not be cause for alarm – weird things often happen in the very short term – but in this case we know that I accidentally set up a 302-redirect. There’s some reason to believe that Google didn’t pass full link equity during that period when 301s weren’t implemented.

Let’s look at a domain where the 301s behaved properly. Before the site was inactive, AreYouARealDoctor.com ranked #1 for “are you a real doctor”. Since there was an inactive period, and I dropped the exact-match domain, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a corresponding ranking drop.

In reality, the new site was ranking #1 for “are you a real doctor” within 2 weeks of 301-redirecting the old domain. The graph is just a horizontal line at #1, so I’m not going to bother you with it, but here’s a current screenshot (incognito):

Early on, I also spot-checked this result, and it wasn’t showing the strange title tag crossover that UserEffect.com pages exhibited. So, it’s very likely that the 302-redirects caused some problems.

Of course, these are just a couple of keywords, but I hope it provides a starting point for you to understand how to methodically approach this problem. There’s no use crying over spilled milk, and I’m not going to fire myself, so let’s move on to checking any other errors that I might have missed.

(4) Check Errors (404s, etc.)

A good first stop for unexpected errors is the “Crawl Errors” report in Google Webmaster Tools (Crawl > Crawl Errors). This is going to take some digging, especially if you’ve deliberately 404’ed some content. Over the couple of weeks after re-launch, I spotted the following problems:

The old site had a “/blog” directory, but the new site put the blog right on the home-page and had no corresponding directory. Doh. Hey, do as I say, not as I do, ok? Obviously, this was a big blunder, as the old blog home-page was well-trafficked.

The other two errors here are smaller but easy to correct. MinimalTalent.com had a “/free” directory that housed downloads (mostly PDFs). I missed it, since my other sites used a different format. Luckily, this was easy to remap.

The last error is a weird looking URL, and there are other similar URLs in the 404 list. This is where site knowledge is critical. I custom-designed a URL shortener for UserEffect.com and, in some cases, people linked to those URLs. Since those URLs didn’t exist in the site architecture, I missed them. This is where digging deep into historical traffic reports and your top-linked pages is critical. In this case, the fix isn’t easy, and I have to decide whether the loss is worth the time.

What About the New EMD?

My goal here wasn’t to rank better for “Dr. Pete,” and finally unseat Dr. Pete’s Marinades, Dr. Pete the Sodastream flavor (yes, it’s hilarious – you can stop sending me your grocery store photos), and 172 dentists. Ok, it mostly wasn’t my goal. Of course, you might be wondering how switching to an EMD worked out.

In the short term, I’m afraid the answer is “not very well.” I didn’t track ranking for “Dr. Pete” and related phrases very often before the switch, but it appears that ranking actually fell in the short-term. Current estimates have me sitting around page 4, even though my combined link profile suggests a much stronger position. Here’s a look at the ranking history for “dr pete” since relaunch (from Moz Analytics):

There was an initial drop, after which the site evened out a bit. This less-than-impressive plateau could be due to the bad 302s during transition. It could be Google evaluating a new EMD and multiple redirects to that EMD. It could be that the prevalence of natural anchor text with “Dr. Pete” pointing to my site suddenly looked unnatural when my domain name switched to DrPete.co. It could just be that this is going to take time to shake out.

If there’s a lesson here (and, admittedly, it’s too soon to tell), it’s that you shouldn’t rush to buy an EMD in 2015 in the wild hope of instantly ranking for that target phrase. There are so many factors involved in ranking for even a moderately competitive term, and your domain is just one small part of the mix.

So, What Did We Learn?

I hope you learned that I should’ve taken my own advice and planned a bit more carefully. I admit that this was a side project and it didn’t get the attention it deserved. The problem is that, even when real money is at stake, people rush these things and hope for the best. There’s a real cheerleading mentality when it comes to change – people want to take action and only see the upside.

Ultimately, in a corporate or agency environment, you can’t be the one sour note among the cheering. You’ll be ignored, and possibly even fired. That’s not fair, but it’s reality. What you need to do is make sure the work gets done right and people go into the process with eyes wide open. There’s no room for shortcuts when you’re moving to a new domain.

That said, a domain change isn’t a death sentence, either. Done right, and with sensible goals in mind – balancing not just SEO but broader marketing and business objectives – a domain migration can be successful, even across multiple sites.

To sum up: Plan, plan, plan, monitor, monitor, monitor, and try not to panic.

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March 23, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments



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