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October 7 2013

Interpreting Organic Traffic in the Age of “Not Provided”

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If you regularly use Google Analytics to interpret your organic search traffic, you may have noticed a surprising change to the platform as of late – the words “not provided.”

If you haven’t seen it, “not provided” looks like this:

not-provided

This is happening because Google has switched 100% of its search traffic to its secure (HTTPS) server. As a result, all of the keyword data for Google’s organic search traffic is cloaked beneath the “not provided” moniker.

This means that, while you are able to see search volume, you cannot know which keywords users searched to access which pages.

In other words, marketers now have a lot less data when it comes to analyzing how their target audience is finding them. This includes understanding which pages are “working,” organically, and which still need improvement.

What You Can Do

Luckily, there are a few workarounds that, although they may seem tedious at first, will help you and your overall SEO goals in the long run.

  1. Ensure that you have a strong site architecture. This way, you can easily identify and segment similar sections of your website to target specific persons / businesses / markets. These sections can then be much more easily analyzed as a group to see improvements within analytics platforms.
  2. Match keyphrases to specific pages on your site, and optimize them well. You will then be able to draw conclusions based on increases to your organic traffic.
  3. Once you have targeted the pages on your website to specific keyphrases, you can use a combination of rank tracking tools, including Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to correlate specific pages with the keywords that you have optimized for. This will help you to identify what words may be driving the best traffic and the most conversions.
  4. Utilize data in Google Webmaster Tools to identify words and phrases that users are searching on to find your site. You must have access to a Google Webmaster Tools account for your website in order to access this data. If you do not, the account is free to set up and you can find more information about it here www.google.com/webmasters/tools/‎.

What “not provided” means, as you’ve probably guessed, is that marketers will be feeling around in the dark for a while as they adapt to this change. This will take some getting used to. But there will likely come a day when the steps recommend above will be so second-nature, old SEOs will sit around and say, “hey, remember when Google used to tell us what keywords were being used to access our sites?” Ah, the good old days…

July 10 2013

Avoid Inbound Links from Site-wide Elements to Help Avoid Penguin

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Although many people have heard about Google’s Penguin Algorithm updates and know that they can have a large impact on their website’s presence within Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), many of those same people aren’t aware of issues that may cause a website to be affected by them. While there are many things that can cause your website’s presence to be affected by these updates, we have seen one common pain point within the SEO industry.   This is when websites have inbound links from site-wide elements that do not fall within Google’s Quality Guidelines.

Site-wide links include any link that can be found on every page of a website. These are often contained within a website’s site-wide footer or sidebar. For example, if site A has a link to a page on site B within its site-wide footer, this would create a link on every page of site A pointing to the page on site B.   When this occurs, a new link to the page on site B is created any time site A creates a new page on its site. This can result in thousands to hundreds of thousands of links being created that originate from one website and point to a single page.

In some cases, this is normal. If a corporation has multiple websites and each contains a site-wide footer link pointing back to a main privacy policy page, this is not likely to negatively affect any of the sites. However, there are many reasons that site-wide links can negatively affect a website’s presence within Google’s SERPs. The first is that site-wide inbound links are against Google’s Quality Guidelines if used improperly. Google states that websites should avoid “widely distributed links in the footers of various websites.” Although it is unlikely that linking to a privacy policy page would be problematic, there are situations in which it can be.

One common case is when a website has site-wide inbound links from partner websites. To be clear, this is not always problematic, but if the linking is done improperly it can become problematic. One of the reasons that this type of site-wide inbound link can be problematic is that there can be large fluctuations in the amount of inbound links originating from one domain. For example if site A is an ecommerce website with hundreds of thousands of pages and contains a site-wide link to site B, there could be thousands of links lost or gained each week based upon how often site A updates it’s product pages. When there are such large fluctuations in a site’s inbound link portfolio, Google’s algorithm will likely take notice.

If you are utilizing a website for your business, and especially if you are utilizing multiple websites, it is extremely important to consistently check your inbound link portfolio. You can find out more information about who is linking to your website in our blog post about Google Webmaster Tools. If you notice a large amount of inbound links originating from a single domain, it is important to take a closer look. Ensure that any site-wide inbound links fall within Google’s quality guidelines and consider having an SEO professional analyze all of the inbound links pointing to your website.

February 27 2013

MoreVisibility Update: Do 301 Redirects Pass PageRank?

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Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer from Google posted a video update on Tuesday (2/25/13) on the topic of “What Percentage of PageRank is Lost Through a 301 Redirect?”

What Matt Cutts clarified yesterday is that no extra PageRank is lost when using a single 301 redirect.

In the video he says “the amount of PageRank that dissipates through a 301 is currently identical to the amount of PageRank that dissipates through a link.” It has been common knowledge for a long time that when web page A links to web page B, although minimal, some amount of PageRank is lost. However, it was believed that more PageRank would be lost if a 301 redirect is used.

With a 301 redirect, web page A is linking to web page B that 301 redirects to web page C. Due to past comments by Google; it was believed that a slight amount more of PageRank was lost when a 301 redirect was used to connect web page A to web page C when compared to a direct link. This is certainly not the case. According to Google, a single 301 redirect does not pass any less PageRank to the destination page when compared to a direct link.

However; it is also important to note that he says:

  • “use whatever is best for your purposes”
  • “we don’t promise that it will be that way for all time and eternity”

As always, it is important to be cautious and look at all of the factors before implementing any 301 redirects, such as:

  • While the amount of inbound link value may be equal; that may not be the most important factor when considering the use of a 301 redirect.
  • 301 redirects are intended to be used as a permanent signal that the old page will not be returning.
  • 301 redirects are intended to be used to deliver the user to a new and equally relevant page: 301 redirecting a lot of pages to non-relevant pages is not a best practice.
  • Using a 301 redirect can, and often does have an impact on how the new and old pages are indexed; such as the amount of time it takes for search engines to reflect the change in their search engine results pages.
  • If not done properly, using 301 redirects can have a negative affect.
  • If you chain multiple 301 redirects together, the PageRank and overall link value may dissipate more rapidly, and search engines may eventually stop following the redirects.

It is important to ensure that you take an in-depth look at the reasons to and possible outcomes of implementing redirects. You can find the video from Matt Cutts here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Filv4pP-1nw

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