11 Jan / 2012
My Problems with Google Search Plus Your World As A User
You probably learned yesterday or this morning that Google launched its new Google Search Plus Your World initiative which integrates Google+ much more tightly with search results and makes content from it’s social network a big part of your results if you are logged in.
Here’s the announcement if you missed it.
I think it’s too early to tell how this will effect SEO, but there are a few thing about it that bother me as a user.
1. This Isn’t Your World or Mine.
Google Search Plus Your World doesn’t include Facebook or Twitter or Flickr right now. That means that you are getting only a tiny slice of your online social life in the results. Even if Google+ continues to grow at its current rate, it’s still not going to give you the breadth of connections needed to really enrich your search experience.
Of course, if Google+ explodes in popularity then this point becomes moot. But RWW had an article about Google+ early adopters back in August–male, tech-enthusiasts & students–and I’d say this is still the profile of the majority of users.
2. Why Assume That My Shared Content is What I Want to Find?
If I want to see my friends photos from Belize, then I’ll checkout her profile (on Facebook) or ask her.
If we are friends, then I probably already know about her vacation and can ask for more info. Alternately, l can just post a message saying “Anyone been to Belize? What’s a good hotel?”. So if I’m “searching” for info on Belize, then it probably means that I don’t think my friend’s have the info I want. If that’s that case, then why re-hash stuff that I’ve already seen and don’t care for? Can you imagine how often a Ryan Gosling image is going to show up in results?
By having any publicly shared media showup in the results, Google is paving the way for companies to push large amounts of content into Google+ because they [companies] know that if it gets shared, then it will persist in people’s search results forever. This is great for brands but might be annoying for users.
3. Search Results Are Becoming Too Complicated
The SERPs are getting bloated. This is bad for SEO & for users. Based on the screenshots, I’d say that we are in for more scrolling and fewer links per SERP. People will need to go to page 2 just to see 10 real links and that’s not even factoring in shopping results, rich snippets and maps.
Suddenly the SERPs are looking like a poorly designed infographic instead of a simple and powerful tool for finding stuff. Then there is the need to toggle in order to get a non-personalized result. Whatever happened to the days when you clicked “Google Search” and (algorithmic) magic happened? If I have to sort and navigate all the stuff on the page then I might as well go back to using dmoz.
Sorry This Got a Little Negative
I didn’t realize how much I disliked Google Search Plus Your World until I started writing. I can’t say that it will be detrimental for SEO, but I know that as a user it’s a turnoff. I doubt if I will be logging into Google Plus anytime soon. Though I will be getting Actonia’s page up and running sooner than I originally planned (yep, I’m bad like that.)
If you think I’m way off base or want to join me in complaining, then let me know in the comments
Image courtesy of International Relations Ryan Gosling
10 Jan / 2012
Optimize Your Email Like It’s Website Content
We spend a lot of time making sure that site content is logically-grouped, relevant and searchable. If you apply the same thinking to your email, then you will get similarly positive results.
Leveraging subject lines, labels/folders and file names will make your email more easily readable and searchable and that will make task tracking, doc management, communicating and delegating easier. At Actonia, we use Google Apps for Business, but you can apply the same techniques in any email program.
Keep Email Threads Tightly-Focused (Like Site Copy)
Websites are complex systems, so changing one thing can lead to other things needing to be changed. When that happens, you need to make sure that those other things get discussed in unique email threads not just added to the original conversation.
For example, don’t let URL syntax, URL rewriting, 301s and indexing of new URLs stay under one subject line titled “New URLs”. Sure it will seem fine at the time, but 3 weeks later when you need to find the 301 rules that were implemented you will have to skim through 50 emails to find the one where the developer pasted in the rules. Instead, start a new thread for each change in focus. This will help you find things faster, give a better view of what is happnening and also let you delegate better because you can forward one small thread instead of having to cull and summarize 50+ emails.
If you then group these different threads with sub-folders/sub-labels, then you have a concise and easily read record of activities.
Subject Lines (Like Page Titles) Should Tell You What to Expect
The simplest way to find an email is by searching for relevant keywords. This might be a problem if the only keyword that comes to mind is “SEO” or “reports”, but usually you will have a decent idea of what you are looking for. The problem arises when the email body has the keyword, but the subject line doesn’t.
Sure you will eventually spot the message, but wouldn’t it be great if the subject said: “YoY Q4 Sales Comparison” instead of “Report you asked for” or “Sales report”? Yeah, it would be great.
Use Descriptive File Names (Like You do with Image & Video Files)
When you send a file or request one, make sure that it has a name that tells you what is in the file, who it is for (client) and when it was created. If you have multiple people working on the same task, like a big copywriting project, then have each person include their name on their file. For example, “johns_project.xlsx” would be better named “john_clientname-product-descriptions_01102012″.
Naming the file this way gives you 4 searchable values: 1. creator 2. client 3. deliverable 4. date. If you can’t find it with all those options, then you need to get an assistant or new glasses.
Folders/Labels Should Make Finding Relevant Content Easy (Like Site Architecture)
How you organize the folders will vary by your type of work, team size, etc but you want to cut down on the skimming and searching. The ideal is that you can look at a folder and have a very good idea what is in there. I usually have a client folder with individual projects in sub-folders below it. But I also have folders for each of my in-house teammates. Vendor emails get grouped with the client and project they pertain to, but don’t get their own folder.
Setting up the client folders means that you have an obvious place to look for documents for a particular client. Same thing with the project’s folders but you also get the benefit of seeing which projects are “fresh” and which seem to be lagging based on the count of unread messages. I have folders for my in-house teammates, but that might not be practical if you have a large number of teammates or employees working under you.
Once you have the folders, you can setup rules/filters to make sure everything gets to the right place.
Make Contact Info Easy to Find in Every Email (Like Having the Live Chat Link on Every Page)
This is a little off-topic, but still important. Having your contact info in every email sends the message that you are available and that you WANT your client’s to reach you. If you are working with non-local clients, then being accessible can be the difference between a long-term relationship and them looking for someone closer to home.
04 Jan / 2012
4 Quick Moves to Reduce Adwords Spend
With the new year, you might find your campaign spend running high. This happens because your inventory is much more productive during Q4. But now that the new year is here, the share of keywords driving conversions is going to start declining. Here are four quick ways to reduce spend on non-productive keywords and free up spend. I prefer this method to larger-scale lowering of bids or budgets because it lets you keep keywords with Q4 conversions running at a strong position. You can then use normal bid management to sort the winners from the losers as the new year progresses.
For all these moves, I suggest using at least Q4 2011 as your date range.
1. Quarantine low quality score keywords with high impressions, poor CTR and no conversions
Low quality score keywords are contagious. Their poor performance and higher minimum cpc lowers the quality score of the ad groups they are in and skews metrics. We only move the non-converting ones right now but you should schedule a review of the converters for later to see if you can boost their QS.
I’d suggest doing this in Adwords Editor. You’ll be able to use custom filters and move these keywords as a group. There is a shot of the filters to your right. Notice that I make sure that CTR is greater than zero. We want to focus on the ones that are costing us money.
Moving these keywords into a separate dump campaign can help you in two key ways:
- You will reduce average cpc for the effected ad groups.
- You will have more campaign budget for higher quality-score keywords.
[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]In all of my accounts, I have a campaign called PausedforFix. This is my dump campaign for ad groups or keywords that I think have potential but need some TLC.[/box]
2. Reduce bids during poor converting hours
Day-parting is one of the most effective strategies I know for reducing campaign spend. Every account has spots in the day where clicks continue to come in but conversion rates are extremely low. You will have to discover your own day-parts but reducing spend during those periods to 80%, 75% or 60% (depending on ROI) will help you save money that you can then spend during more productive times of the day.
You can do this campaign by campaign using segments in Adwords or get an overall look by checking in your Analytics account.
Day-parting is an extremely customizable strategy that scales well. Once you know the “bad spots”, you can stop throwing money away during poor performing time periods. At the same time, you will have more to spend during more productive periods.
3. Set bids on good average position (1-3), high CTR, high cost & no conversion BROAD match keywords below their 3 month average CPC
This one is a little trickier, but I’ve found that it will reduce your spend substantially while sometimes improving conversion rates.
In any campaign, there are going to be keywords that look good (high QS, good landing page, good CTR) but never seem to give you a return on investment beyond traffic. These keywords are generally high-cost generators.
The problem may be that they are broad matching to too many queries and so not generating targeted traffic. This move will let you test that while also reducing spend. I’m not saying that you should ignore building negatives, but that takes time and we are looking for a quick spend reduction.
You will have to figure out your threshold for lowering these because they may represent a sizable amount of traffic. But you will see an immediate decline in spend on these keywords because you will:
- Be spending less per click
- Showing at a lower position so you get less clicks
Also remember that we are only lowering ones with a good average position (usually top of page or top of right-side), so you will see some traffic decline but nothing that you can’t compensate for by driving more traffic to converting keywords or bidding up lower position keywords to see how they do.
4. Pause keywords with high bounce rate landing pages
Some pages just don’t work for visitors. At least not for the keywords that you are using. Sending money to pages that visitors immediately leave is just a waste of money. You should try to figure out why they are leaving, but right now we want to stop this cost from accruing.
As an alternative you can do this by keyword , but because the emphasis here is on “quick”, I say use a Destination URL report from Analytics.
Before you start analyzing, you should do some filtering. It’s safe to to exclude the homepage and you will want to set some threshold for visits in order to be fair to low traffic pages. The traffic threshold will vary by your vertical and goals but the median visits for landing pages (excluding home brand traffic) might be a good starting point.
Here is an example set of filters for the Destination URL report in Google Analytics:
Because we are doing 100% bounce rate, you don’t have to filter for no transactions, but you can if you want to be extra careful.
Once you have this report, you can search for any keywords with the URL in Adwords Editor and pause them. If you see a pattern in the destination URLs, then you could also try swapping the URLs but that’s beyond the scope of this post.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Every Analytics or PPC Management Program will let you do a similar report to the Destination URLs one in GA. In Coremetrics Search and Omniture Search Center, you go to the landing page reports area and drop in the metrics that you need.[/box]
We Can All Use a Few Extra Bucks
I got started with these tactics because I found that I had several new ideas that I wanted to test, but hadn’t received new budgets and didn’t want to overspend. I went looking for some quick ways to grab a few dollars without changing the overall performance of the account. I’ve used every tactic in here and it works. You can also adapt all these tactics for periodic account reviews.
I hope this helps you get off to a good start and gives you some more ways to keep spend under control going forward. If you have any other quick tips about reducing spend then share them in the comments.
03 Jan / 2012
Walk a Mile In Your Visitor’s Shoes
When you put yourself in your visitor’s shoes, you end up finding out just how focused on your goals your site really is.
Start by identifying a goal that matters to your site and where your traffic or engagement metrics are weak. If you have a content site, then the goal might be getting people to the Subscription page or getting them to download an ebook. If its an ecommerce site, then you might want to look at Add to Cart or increasing site search usage.
[box type=”info” border=”full”]Remember: This is not meant as a full review of usability. You are looking for places where small changes can lead to quick wins (e.g. increasing the number of visitors that sign-up for your newsletter).[/box]
Take a Walk
Now that you have your goal, you want to focus on your first impressions. How does it feel to arrive on the goal page? How hard is it to “step” into the goal funnel.
Think of your visitors as reaching their desired page/goal in 1 of 2 ways:
- Landing Directly
1. Landing Directly
This traffic could be direct load, search or referreral. These people may have done some earlier research, typed a query in Google or followed a link from a site they trust. They may be return visitors that you want to become active members of your community. The point is that they didn’t get to your goal area by accident and they have expectations/experiences about how your site works. You need to make sure that they know what comes next.
Here are some things to check:
- Is the topic of the page easily identifiable?
- Is there a prominent call to action? (Buy Now, Subscribe, etc).
- Do they have to close a pop-up before seeing what they came for?
- Is there a breadcrumb to remind them where they are?
- Are there any unnecessary distractions (e.g. banners that draw the eye from content, adsense links that don’t fit the page content) that lead away from the page?
- Does your action button work? (make sure you submit the form, download the content, Add to Cart)
The importance of each question will vary based on your site, but remember that delivery and clarity are your best friends here. Nothing will throw a user off more than feeling stranded or mislead. If they are on the page where your goal happens then make sure they know what you want them to do and why it’s worth it to them.
You want to see how difficult it is for a visitor to start from scratch and get to something that matters to them (and you). They could be new visitors, they may have searched using a very generic query or they may have followed a link in a friends’ feed to your site. The key thing to think about is how do you get them to stay/subscribe/download/buy with as little thinking as possible.
Note: You should try this starting from your homepage and from a couple of your top categories.
Here are some things to check:
- Whats the first piece of clickable content you see?
- What’s the first link in your top and/or left-navigation? Is that a popular destination? Will they find something to keep them engaged (e.g. a good selection of products, some recently written posts)?
- Is site search easy to find?
- Did site search make finding things easier?
- Is live chat easy to see/use?
- Are you drawing a lot of attention to low-ROI areas of the site? For example, is the top half of the page filled with banners for clearance or discount items.
- Can you reduce the number of options, so that visitors are funneled toward your best content or your goal?
- Does it take you more than 5 seconds to see the navigation option that leads to your goal?
- Is your brand name and USP highly-visible?
- Can you see some trust marks without scrolling
- Did your first click in the navigation take you to the right place?
- Do your navigation options seem redundant? Are you looking at a list of synonyms instead of a list of unique options?
Redundant Navigation Example 1: Jewelry| Fine Jewelry | Unique Jewelry
Redundant Navigation Example 2: Furniture | Home Furnishings | Home Decor
The thing to focus on here is that your visitors are in the park, but haven’t made it to the picnic yet. You need to make sure that they have markers so they don’t get lost and that getting lost doesn’t lead to an exit. Make sure that your major goals are accessible from several different navigation paths and that “helper” tools like site search and live chat actually help.
You Need Real Experience To Understand Real Users
This post is about getting some hands-on experience with your site. You need surveys, user-testing, visualizations and other tools to understand your site as a whole and make decisions based on data. But adding a layer of manual review will keep you from overlooking little things that often piss visitors off. Things like pop-ups that don’t close; menu options that don’t tell you anything and color schemes that make a page impossible to read are all things that you can’t see in the numbers. Yes, you can see the bounce rate or the low number of pageviews but you will only understand why when you load the page(s) and really take a look.
If you have some other low-tech tactics that you think make a big difference, then share them in the comments. I’ll round up any that we get and do a followup post later in the month.
Image courtesy of Crossroads Dispatches
01 Jan / 2012
New Look and Broader Outlook for 2012
Starting the New Year With a Bang!
Actonia started as a one-man shop with an emphasis on large-scale SEO for a small set of clients. With that as our starting point, we’ve understandably kept our emphasis on client interaction and delivering the best work possible. That has been a successful strategy for us to date —our growth to date has been almost entirely driven by referral — but now we feel that to grow as marketers and as a business we need to put ourselves out there more.
This year, we as a company are going to start reaching out to the online marketing community. This blog is the first part of that strategy.
I’m Chris Boulanger, a Sr. Consultant with Actonia, and I’ll be writing about online marketing on this blog. As we ramp up, you will also hear from our Founder, Mitul Gandhi, as well as other team members.
Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what we are going to write about. I’ve got posts and drafts setup for the next 3 months and by then I expect us to have some idea of what people want to read about. If you have some suggestions along the way, then feel free to drop us a line — either in the comments or on our contact form.
Beyond this blog, you should expect 3 other initiatives around outreach this year:
- A new, more user-friendly website: expect this site to evolve quickly over the next few months.
- Being present at more events in our home cities (Chicago & Boston)
- Being a more active participant in social media (more on that later).
We pride ourselves on being good people and very good at what we do. I can be an acquired taste, but Mitul is probably the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Expect to see his writing on this blog along with some thoughts from John, Kalpesh and others. And please come by and say “Hi” when you see us or an Actonia booth at an event.
We are excited about 2012 and this new phase in our development as a firm. I hope you are too.
Here’s to Happy New Years and an amazing 2012!
Image courtesy or CLTampa.com