Rap Genius Searches for New Traffic Tactic After Google Slap

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It’s a good thing Rap Genius has an app coming out next week, because it just lost more than half its typical mobile Web traffic thanks to Google

Rapper Nas in a Fila headband

Rap Genius has been in battle mode for the past couple days. Google penalized the site —where people go for musical lyrics and other media—over apparent violations of its search engine code of conduct, involving link kickbacks.

Rap Genius revealed its own search scandal by publicly soliciting bloggers to post links to the site in exchange for tweets. It’s not arms for drugs, but Google takes any system gaming seriously.

Today, if a person Google searched for “Rap genius,” its website was nowhere to be found—the equivalent of online annihilation. Rap Genius, which has raised $15 million from venture capital heavyweights like Andreessen Horowitz and counts about 40 million unique visitors a month—saw its traffic drop about 64 percent today following Google’s downgrade, according to Quantcast data.

Most of that traffic comes from the mobile Web, which makes the company’s app next week an even more important launch. It was unclear how long Google would suppress the company’s results, but JCPenney was once penalized in search rankings for 90 days.

“The app will make us less dependent on Google,” co-founder Mohbod Moghadam said. “Everyone is screaming for an app.”

One of the major features of the app, built for the iPhone, is a song detector that calls up lyrics to whatever is being played through speakers—using Shazam-like technology.

With more than half of Rap Genius users visiting on mobile, the founders hope that the app will be the gateway to the site instead of Google. It’s part of a broader strategy that only has been made more urgent by the Google punishment.

Moghadam said that Rap Genius has more than 1 million registered users, but that’s only a small fraction of total visits. The company hopes to convert those lurkers—just passing through—into sign-ups.

Rap Genius is known for more than posting hip-hop lyrics, and the site has expanded into categories like rock music, art, news, fashion and poetry. It allows users to add publicly edited and ranked annotations within the content. For instance, famous singers could explain their lyrics by posting notes within each line.

Moghadam revealed some of the more advanced visions he has for the app, including allowing famous people to upload video clip annotations—about 10-seconds long—directly from mobile devices.

He said he also is petitioning brands to create verified accounts. The platform is moving beyond text into images that might be suitable for fashion content.

Rap Genius already is exploring the concept of sponsored or promoted annotations. The clothing maker Fila, for instance, posted a photo within a post about Nas lyrics in which the rapper mentions the brand. Moghadam said he is going after other brands like Karl Lagerfeld and Hublot.

They are also working on annotation platforms that are powered by Rap Genius but exported to other publishing sites.

Moghadam said he wouldn’t comment any further on the search engine troubles. However, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, a site dedicated to the industry, said he was unsure Rap Genius even broke the rules.

Google would likely restore the rank shortly, he said.

“Google can’t do more than wrist-slap them for that,” Sullivan said in an email. “People searching for ‘Rap Genius’ expect—and should get—the actual site coming up first.”


Digital Marketing And Analytics: Two Ladders For Magnificent Success

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step by step The most common mistakes digital practitioners and leaders make is to either do things in the wrong order, or to try and do too much at one time.

Progress in digital marketing and analytics in either scenario becomes painful (the organization / systems / thinking is simply not in the optimal position). People become frustrated (you hire smart people, they run off to build you the Taj Mahal, meanwhile you don't have a functioning toilet). Business results suffer.

There is something in humans that makes us want to do the hard things, to shoot for the most complex right away, to want to be challenged to infinity. In many cases, it is a tendency we have to learn to restrain.

More often than not, magnificent success results from executing a business plan that is rooted in a strong understanding of the landscape of possibilities, and a deep self-awareness of business capabilities. These business plans will contain a structured approach, do this, then do this2, then make sure we are really good at this3, then this 4 and so on and so forth.

In other words: Evolution. It works.

Said another way, digital revolutions more often than not fail. One day your leadership realizes you stink at digital (all of it or just Facebook or search and display or mobile or whatever). They find the closest industry leader (L'Oreal, Booking, Zyrtec, Innocent Drinks, CSC Consulting). They say: "Do whatever we need to in order to get there in 90 days. Go!!"

If you hear that, run. Else you'll be standing in a place where a flaming crater will appear in the near future.

I'll be the first to admit that selling evolution is hard. Revolutions just sound so darn sexy! Still, reality is reality.

In this post I want to arm you with the evolution you should undertake in your companies when it comes to marketing and analytics. Additionally, I'll make the hard tough difficult painful choices on your behalf and order things to deliver the highest possible impact, so you'll know exactly what to do and what you will get from it all.

In other words: Two inspiring ladders of awesomeness for you! One for digital marketing and one for digital analytics.

Your ladder might look a little different, but I hope the process I follow will help you make the hard choices most relevant for your company and the evolutionary position it finds itself in.


Digital Marketing: Ladder of Awesomeness/Sustainable Success.

My current title is Digital Marketing Evangelist so you can just imagine how absolutely excited I am about all the digital possibilities. Owning audiences, instead of just renting them. Earning time, instead of just buying it on TV. Creating persistent relationships, instead of just transient ones. Not letting budgets limit our creativity. And so much more. I'm like a kid in a candy store. I want to do everything right away. I want to go from single cell life to fully formed homo sepians in seven days.

I've also discovered that that is the easiest path to failure. : )

So, based on my spectacular successes and painful failures around the world, I've developed a ladder of sustainable success. Here is what it looks like:

digital marketing ladder of magnificient success 1

Let's look at each step on the ladder in some detail.

The very first thing you want to do is create an acceptable website. One that reflects the customer expectations of 2013. A good example, for e-commerce and non-ecommerce sites, is http://www.csc.com/. Look at the colors. Look at the icons. Look at the way the text is laid out, how video is incorporated, the structure of the site and everything else. Your first job is to beat them at everything. During this stage you should also invest a lot in Search Engine Optimization. You will have great content, in a good experience, and focus on getting free traffic.

[To learn more about the Do in stage one please review my See-Think-Do-Coddle framework for content, marketing and measurement.]

Second, create the world's greatest mobile experience. Yes. Don't do paid search. Don't run to buy display ads. Definitely do not start Tweeting or embarrassing your brand on Facebook (we'll do that in a bit). Focus on the mobile experience. Because of this lovely graph from Business Insider and it's representation platforms people use to visit top destinations….

business insider mobile visits behavior

Scary, right? Exciting, right? Focus on mobile like crazy, tablets in particular. Beat CSC's experience. Beat Motrin. Beat Beneful. Don't be like IBM's tablet experience (old, substantially brand negative). Or Ford (it is amazing that in 2013, for such an expensive product, it looks so…. 2005).

Now that you have build a decent foundation and are getting a decent amount of free traffic you know what is working and what is not, you are ready to move to step three. Start investing in your email marketing strategy for extending relationships, and your paid search strategy for brand terms. Email allows you to start building a owned audience that you can (if you don't stink) start relying on (rather than constantly having to rent them from TV or Google). People typing a million variations phrases with your brand terms are looking for you, make sure you show up and capture the traffic you deserve.

Step four is focusing on expanding your reach to new relevant audiences. The cool part about display advertising is that we can build our brands cost effectively, introduce our products to a new audience, and create demand based on a number of intent signals (this last part is often missing from offline media). Based on what people read, what sites they've visited, their demographic and psychographic signals and so much more. Don't go all crazy with display ads, just focus on your brand, products and services. Learn, get better, try some more.

The site is now working well across platforms, we are starting to get a lot of free and some paid traffic, we are optimizing for conversions and task completion rate, time to move to step five in the ladder and focus on creating micro-outcomes on our website. Here is what it looks like for the Venetian hotel and casino in Macao:

macro micro outcomes venetian macao

In orange is the macro-outcome (number of casino room reservations), in purple are the micro-outcomes. All clustered into See-Think-Do. Less than two percent of people on your website will complete the macro-outcome (conversion). Having a robust cluster of micro-outcomes allows you to deliver something of value to the other 98% and establish a relationship with them (and get some economic value in exchange!). The smartest companies in the world are very good at this, step five. It does require working with your CMO, VPs, Directors, IT, Offline Sales, UX, IT, and more people than you could ever imagine. It is worth it.

Time to start kicking things up a notch in step six. Start investing in creating the world's most beautiful, functional, brand-enhancing, customer joy inducing website! You have content, you have traffic, you have micro-outcomes, you are making loads of money. Invest in the site experience now to differentiate yourself from the competition, and create irrational loyalty. Beat Bonobos (I. Love. Them!). Beat L'Oreal (except for their irritating 40 question survey in a single long window, they are nearly flawless). Beat Palms casino (try booking, try the menu, try anything, pretty awesome all around).

You are a big company and you can do two big things at one time. Now is also the right time to start investing in Facebook and YouTube. These two social platforms (eschew others at this point) allow you to learn how to earn attention in two different form factors. In both cases you'll learn quickly that pimping is the best way to fail. Expressed by me on behalf of all humans on earth: The world's greatest social media strategy: 1. Entertain Me 2. Inform Me. 3. Provide Utility. Nothing else works. Learn that in step six.

[Bonus: Facebook Marketing: Best Metrics, ROI, Business Value ]

Now that your earned, owned and paid media strategies are in full swing, and you are the proud owner of the world's greatest desktop and mobile website, let's focus on enhancing your ability to get a massive audience. (Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod)

long tail orgasm1

Step seven is to to build out an incredible category/industry/ecosystem targeting Search and Display strategy. This will result in you getting magnificent at brand marketing, at the See and Think stages. The result will be an even larger owned audience, less getting into dog-eat-dog Do stage fights. You'll have complete spectrum of coverage, being there from understanding customer intent at the earliest stages and converting that into demand for what you have to offer.

From step five on you were likely already delivering some multi-channel value for your company. Some of your micro-outcomes were likely already connected to your offline existence (maps, phone calls, offer redemptions, etc.). Now in step eight, we really kick things up multiple notches when it comes to creating a truly fantastic multi-channel (or the flavor of the month, omni-channel) execution engine.

multichannel marketing value analysis framework

The picture above is from my first book, Web Analytics: An Hour A Day, from page 235. It is a part of multi-channel analytics chapter.

There is a lot of difficult work to be done (systems, processes, integrations, optimizations) in order to ensure that your digital existence is driving nonline value. Now is the time to undertake that work. Not in step three. Definitely not in step one. Now. Step eight (after you've gotten the first seven things done).

The last step before nirvana, step nine, is to focus on getting better at loyalty marketing. (Cartoon by Tom Fishburne)

brand loyalty

My definition of loyalty marketing, from the Coddle-stage, is to create unique content and to execute targeted marketing for those people/business entities, who have purchased from you two times or more. I have a higher standard for who our customer is. Not the person/business entity who's purchased from us once (they might not have had a choice), but the entity that's purchased from us twice at least (because the second time they made a choice to do business with us). Have a completely separate and focused set of people and work to deliver joy and delight to these entities. It is the only recipe for long term sustainable success.

Now you know the nine steps to nirvana. And you know exactly the order in which you should consider prioritizing your efforts. If you do step five before two, you can. But your success will be much more limited.

Understand the choices that resulted in what you are supposed to do in each step, then customize this, using the choices above, to create your own step ladder to deliver amazing digital marketing success to your company.

The cool thing about the web is that you don't have to do all of the above based on faith, you have a BFF in data! Let's go there.

Digital Analytics: Ladder of Awesomeness/Sustainable Success.

If you open your copy of Google/Adobe Analytics or CoreMetrics or Webtrekk you'll notice that every single report has a gigantic number of metrics in it. And…. they have many reports!

So on day one, as soon as we get access to the digital analytics tool, we go all crazy. Not only do we puke out a lot of data to every breathing human up and down the chain of command, we treat every bit of data with equal importance. The first part is frustrating, the second part is deadly.

Regardless of if you are a B2B or B2C or A2Z company, regardless of if you are big or small, regardless of how great you think you are, I believe you can benefit from taking one step at a time when it comes to ensuring that data analysis drives business value. It might seem sacrilegious to suggest that you should worry about Visits first and not Profitability, but that is exactly what I'm going suggest because when we overshoot our capabilities, we fail to hit even our local maxima (forget about ever hitting the global maxima !).

My assumption is that everyone on this blog is smart enough to balance for focus and ensuring the company stays a viable entity as it climbs each step in the ladder of success. Hence none of you will mis-understand that recommending a focus on CPA in stage four means you run the company to the ground because you ignore business fundamentals!

[A tiny hidden agenda I have in this post is to share how to make hard choices. You can imagine how difficult it is to say focus on page depth, don't focus on conversion rate, or don't worry about any content metric, focus on clicks. It seems crazy. But a big part of being successful is being able to understand business reality and have the skill to make these hard choices. I hope you'll pick up a couple of tips about making those choices.]

Ready to read something outrageously controversial? ; )

digital analytics ladder of magnificient success

Focus on Visits and Click-thru Rates first. Don't do anything else. Nothing. Just Visits and CTRs. Focus your analysis on looking at dimensions that help you understand where your precious visitors are coming from, if you are doing any kind of inbound marketing (in the digital marketing ladder I recommend SEO in stage one) then what is getting more clicks and what is not. Optimize for Visits and CTRs will help you focus your precious energy on certain geographies, certain referring sources, certain keywords, certain digital activities and optimize to get higher clicks. A very good thing in stage one.

Now that people are showing up, we are ready to see what content they are consuming and how well/badly our welcome pages are doing. Focus on Bounce Rates ("I came, I puked, I left!") to help you optimize your landing pages and the sources driving traffic to those pages. Calls to action, text, graphics, offers, bids, ad text, targeting and more. Your job is to get in front of the right person, get them to the right page, and entice them to stay.

page depth analysis1

In stage two also focus on Pages per Visit, or Page Depth, (don't use time on site, it is problematic) as in the sample table above. This will help you optimize both for mobile and desktop experiences.

It is time to make some money in stage three. (See what I mean by making tough choices? Obsessing about making money first will cause your company to make the wrong choices initially. Just make sure you are not losing money, then obsess about it only in stage three.) For B2B companies Macro Outcome Rate is related to lead generation, for B2C it is often the e-commerce Conversion Rate. Additionally in stage three focus on Page Value, with it you are not only optimizing for content consumption (stage two) you are also optimizing for which content most creates revenue. Then zero in on that content and people/teams inside the company that create that content.

Your business is now humming on all three of the initial key things you need to do for acquisition, behavior and outcome. In stage four become an insane fanatic about extracting the highest possible value you can from every dollar you are spending on marketing and advertising. Focus on optimizing your Cost per Acquisition (CPA).

cost per acquisition 31

This will not only reduce cost, if you do it right, it will force your company to invest more in activities that improve shareholder value and kill the shiny objects that our management teams chase due to advice from "marketing gurus." This effort is so important that I want you to focus on it singularly (unlike all other stages).

Stage five, as in the case of our digital marketing ladder of success, calls for stepping up our level of sophistication. Focus on cart and checkout abandonment rate (don't combine the two). Go buy a simple A/B testing tool (Visual Website Optimizer, Optimizely), go crazy optimizing every little thing to take money from the people who want to give it to you! It is also time to become more sophisticated about identifying the value of your marketing spend, focus on the Assisted Conversions metric (you'll find it in the Multi-Channel Funnels report). Make decisions based on last click conversions delivered AND the assisted conversions. Don't worry about attribution modeling yet. Just focus on the last column in that report, then optimize your campaign targeting, content and success measures.

We've nailed down what we are doing on our owned platforms, time to focus on our rented platforms. You are working very hard by this stage on Facebook, YouTube etc, stay away from awful metrics like Views, Likes, etc. So, in stage six, obsess about Conversation Rate and Amplification, two of my four best social media metrics ever.

dashboard best social media metrics1

The above metrics will force your company to use social for what social is really good at. Force them to execute my recommendation for greatest social media strategy: 1. Entertain Me 2. Inform Me. 3. Provide Utility.

Stage seven where you start to focus on the metric that differentiates losers from winners: Economic Value. We focus on all 100% of our visitors (not just the one or two percent that will convert), we will focus on all of the See-Think-Do-Coddle audience consideration stages. The surest way to do that is if we identify the micro-outcomes and the economic value each outcome adds to our business. This is so amazing because it will force your company to focus on what makes money now, what will make money 90 days from now and 9 months from now!

None of the above was really hard. Stage eight is hard! We are going to obsess about Profitability. Not just the fake "ROI" number in many digital analytics tool, but true profitability. At the very minimum, for a dimension you care about like campaign… Profitability = Revenue generated – campaign cost – cost of goods sold. You can add other costs if you have access to them.

Profitability is one of the main reasons I'm so excited about cost data upload into Google Analytics. Now you can measure what the actual amount of money each campaign/activity delivers to your business. You can do it for Bing, email, AOL ads, social, even SEO! You can finally see that the Conversion rate for Yahoo! ads is 10%, the Average Order Value is $200, compare it to Google ads conversion rate of 4% and Average Order Value of $100, and notice that the Profit per Order from Yahoo! is -$15 and for Google it is $163. #omg

Stage eight also includes improving the sophistication of analyzing the offline impact of our online activities. Multi-channel measurement and optimization. It is a long hard slog, but by the time you get to stage eight, you are ready, your company is ready, you are going to get so rich!

The last stage, stage nine, is also the most strategic and deadly awesome: Optimizing for customer lifetime value.

life time value lifetime net profit 11

Asking you to wait until stage nine for LTV is like saying don't believe in Jesus until time x. It seems silly. It seems insane. The sad reality is that it takes a lot (from a data, people, process perspective) to be ready to optimize for LTV. But by this stage you've put all your ducks in the proper order, you've done your multi-channel optimization (and more critically data integrations required between your online and offline sources), you have moved away from considering cookies to be customers to changing your entire Google Analytics existence to focus on people (across devices, channels, online and offline). Now you are ready for LTV. And you are going to do it without frustration and with a huge fast impact on your business. [For more guidance see the LTV post and download the lifetime value model.]

Bish. Bam. Boom! You are there. You've achieved nirvana! : )

Closing Thoughts.

It is hard to have the discipline to systematically get good at one thing at a time. But evolution works spectacularly well. That is what we need.

It seems crazy that you are a large company with tons of people and money. Gosh, you have 25 people just in your digital analytics team and a two million dollar a year adobe analytics contract. Still, for all those people prioritize one stage at a time (while other things can happen, they just won't be a corporate priority), and move your company forward one stage at a time.

It is hard to get nine women to make a baby in one month.

I wish you all the best in climbing the digital ladder of amazing success.

As always, it is your turn now.

Do you agree with the step-by-step approach? Would you change any stage in the digital marketing ladder? Perhaps do Email before SEO, or Social as stage one? How about the analytics ladder? Would you make different choices in the order of the metrics? Is there a metric I'm over-valuing or completely missing from the ladder? If you've been successful getting your company to be good at many things all at one time, what's your secret?

Please share your perspectives, critique, life lessons, and insights via comments below.

Thank you.

Digital Marketing And Analytics: Two Ladders For Magnificent Success is a post from: Occam's Razor by Avinash Kaushik

The Weekly Compete Pulse

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Weekly Pulse

Here’s a round up of our favorite digital marketing stories from the web this week:

10 Google Analytics Advanced Segments That Reveal Search & Social ROI Anyone who has used Google Analytics knows that getting actionable insights from your data isn’t always the easiest task. That is why the more savvy of Google Analytics users know that the real key in getting what you want from your data is in the use of advanced segments. Unfortunately, those new to advanced segments may not know where to start. That is why the people over at Search Engine Watch put together this excellent list of advanced segments to help you get insights into your social data.

How & When You Can Turn SEM From A Checkbox To A Core Business Component As search engine marketing (SEM) becomes an invaluable component of many digital marketing budgets, companies who are engaging in it just to “check it off” on their to do digital marketing portfolio aren’t getting the full value out of it competing companies that are treating it as a core component are. In this post from Search Engine Land, the author describes the difference between the two types of companies and how you can become the latter.

How To Get Interactive Branding Right As experiences like New Coke have shown, branding exercises can easily spiral into unmitigated disasters. Hard enough to take if you’re a globe-striding corporation; but if you’re a small unit just starting out it can be a disaster. However, there is one type of ‘business’ that nearly always seems to excel at branding: non-profits. See how non-profits are succeeding at interactive branding and how you can apply their successful strategies to your business.

The Most Effective Tactics for Acquiring Facebook Fans and Twitter Followers Digital marketers do not believe that the most commonly used tactics for acquiring Facebook fans and Twitter followers are very effective in delivering quality community and audience members, according to a recent report from ExactTarget. See what marketers think are the most common strategies and what they think are the most effective.

What was your favorite digital marketing story this week? We’d love for you to share links in the comments!

Adding Digital Marketing Magic to a Creative Paper Cup Company

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In 2012 we introduced you to the Digital Marketing Makeover . A bid by us and a team of experienced Bing Ads Accredited Professionals to help small businesses thrive in economical challenging times by offering digital marketing advice. So far we’ve helped very creative chef from Cheshire , a Scottish entrepreneur and a catering business . Today we’re casting an analytical and creative eye on a manufacturing business – The Paper Cup Company .
As you expect from a business that…(read more)

Providing “Not Provided” – How You Can Still See Search Referral Data

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Not Provided

You’ve seen the headlines. Google is rolling out secure search for everyone. Marketers shouldn’t fear this change though; this is just another step towards progress in the ever-changing world of search. Instead of burying ourselves in organic keyword lists, we must start taking a more holistic approach to search marketing and begin taking steps towards seamlessly combining paid and organic search data. With developing products and concepts like Google Now and One Microsoft, the future of search is thrilling. Content strategies and social marketing must complement and integrate with every aspect of search; this is only the beginning of the next chapter of search in which keywords are only a small part of the puzzle.

Two years ago Google started encrypting their data by defaulting any search by a user signed into Google to Secure Sockets Layer, more commonly known as SSL. Expecting to lose around 10% of search referral data, some digital marketers were upset but accepting and understanding. After all, they could still get a general idea of how users were getting to their site and if a user is signed into Google then encrypting via SSL makes sense for privacy reasons. Releasing a statement on their blog, it was hard to argue with the logic:

“As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users.”

After Google made the change, a precedent was set and less than a year after Google made the first change, Firefox released a version of their browser that defaulted to Google’s secure search. A few months after that, Safari in iOS 6 began using Google’s secure search. And a few months after that, the latest release of Chrome began encrypting all searches submitted via its omnibox. All of these changes contributed to the steadily increasing percentage of search referral data that was being shown as “not provided.”

Not Provided

With privacy becoming increasingly important, it should be no surprise that this move was made. Not only is a niche being carved out for privacy-focused products, Google has always placed a high emphasis on improving the security of their searches. Their awareness of this rising consumer value is evidenced by the statement they released in the wake of the change:

“We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.”

Fortunately, there are still ways for you to understand search referral data. By using carefully orchestrated Google AdWords campaigns in concert with Compete PRO, you will have access to both organic and paid search referrals. In a search environment that will soon be dominated by encrypted search, not only will this put you ahead of the competition, but it will continually offer you insights into how customers are getting to your site and what you should focus your efforts on optimizing.

How can you still see your organic search referral data with 100% “Not Provided”

With Compete PRO, not only can you see the search volume that a certain search term brings to your site, you can see other search-related data as well:

  • Keyword & Referral Share: Obviously the most important and the most valuable, the actual search queries (and the share of the total search referral visits that each query makes up) that are bringing visitors to your site.
  • Paid & Natural Share: For each search term, you can see how much of the traffic is natural and how much is paid. If you are bidding on the terms then you probably already have a good idea of these numbers already. However, this data can prove to be invaluable when looking at your competitors.
  • Time Index: Along with search referral share and paid/natural share, we also offer two different time indexes for each search term. The first, Average Time Index, is an engagement metric found in Site and Category Search Referral Reports. This metric is indexed to 100, with 100 representing the keyword term that resulted in the most average time per visit being spent on the site. The other metric, Total Time Index, is also indexed to 100, with 100 representing the keyword term that resulted in the most total time spent on the site.
  • Search Insights: Compete PRO also offers seven different search insights which are preset filter configurations based on common data use cases for Search marketing. They call out valuable insights in the data by automatically setting the filters to predefined ranges, reducing the noise in large data sets. You can see the following search insights within Compete PRO: Highly engaging keywords, high traffic keywords, paid keywords, natural keywords, engaging long tail keywords, enthusiast keywords, and long tail keywords.

Not only are all of these data sets crucial to have for your own site, using Compete PRO also allows you to gather data from your competitors’ sites as well. This information was valuable before, but now that the day “Not Provided” makes up 100% of your competitors’ search referral data is right around the corner, and the only way to see it is through Compete PRO, it is invaluable. Not convinced? Try out a free trial of Compete PRO today or contact us if you have any questions.

If you want more advanced keyword analysis features, check out Ascend, which provides marketers with visibility into crucial data on the search engine results page (SERP) to help reduce overall spend, pinpoint and mitigate competitive exposure, optimize share of voice, and align search with the shoppers path-to-purchase.

November 5th 2013 Google, Search, Search Engine Marketing, sem, SEO

Search: Not Provided: What Remains, Keyword Data Options, the Future

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patterns 25In late 2011, Google announced an effort to make search behavior more secure. Logged-in users were switched to using httpS from http. This encrypted their search queries from any prying eyes, and kept from being passed on to websites the users visits after seeing search results.

This led to the problem we, Marketers, SEOs, Analysts, fondly refer to as not provided .

Following revelations of NSA activities via Mr. Snowden, Google has now switched almost all users to secure search, resulting in even more user search queries showing up as not provided in all web analytics tools.

Yahoo! has recently announced switching to httpS as standard for all mail users, indicating secure search might follow next. That of course will mean more referring keyword data will disappear.

At the moment it is not clear whether Bing, Baidu, Yandex and others will move to similarly protect users’ search privacy; if and when they do, the result will be loss of even more keyword-level user behavior data.

Initially, I was a little conflicted about the whole not provided affair.

As an analyst, I was upset that this change would hurt my ability to analyze the effectiveness of my beloved search engine optimization (SEO) efforts – which are really all about finding the right users using optimal content strategies.

But it is difficult to not look at the wider picture. Repressive (and some not-overtly repressive) regimes around the world aggressively monitor user search behavior (and more). This can place many of our peer citizens in grave danger. As a citizen of the world, I was happy that Google and Yahoo! want to protect user privacy.

I'm a lot less conflicted now. I've gone through the five stages in the Kubler-Ross model. Besides, I've also come to realize that there is a lot I can still do!

In this post I want to share four angles on secure search:

1. Implications of Secure Search Decision.

2. What Is Not Going Away. #silverlinings

3. Alternatives For Keyword Data Analysis.

4. Possible Future Solutions.

While not provided is not an optimal scenario, you'll see that things are not as bad as initial impressions might indicate, yes there are new challenges, but we also have some alternative solutions, and realize that the SEO industry is not done innovating. Ready?

1. Implications of Secure Search Decision.

No keyword data in analytics tools.

We are headed towards having zero referring keywords from Google and, perhaps, other search engines.

not provided trend analytics5

This impacts all digital analytics tools, regardless of what company and whether they use javascript or log files or magic beans to collect data.

Depending on the mobile device and browser you are using (for example, Safari since iOS 6), you have already been using secure search for a while regardless of the search engine you use. So that data has been missing for some time.

There are a number of "hacks" out there with promises of getting close enough keyword data, or for marrying not provided with some of the remaining data and landing pages. These are well meaning, but almost always yield zero value or worse drive you in a sub-optimal direction. Please been careful if you choose to use them.

No keyword data in competitive intelligence/SEO tools.

Perhaps you (like me) use competitive intelligence or SEO tools to monitor keyword performance. For example, for L'Oreal:

competitive intel kw report23

Secure Search will also impact data in these tools. It will be increasingly distorted because it will reflect only traffic from the small audience of visitors who are not yet using secure search or are using other non-secure search engines or only the type of people who allow their behavior to be 100% monitored – including SSL/httpS. Sample and sampling bias.

You can read this post to learn how these tools collect data: The Definitive Guide To (8) Competitive Intelligence Data Sources.

I really loved having this data. It was such a great way to see what competitors were doing or where I was beating them on paid or organic or brand or category terms. Sadly, it does not matter which tool you use. These tools will only show you a more distorted view of reality. Please be very careful about what you do with keyword data from these tools (though they provide a lot of other data, all of which was of the same quality as in the past).

These changes impact my AdWords spend sub-optimally. A lot of the keywords I used to add to my campaigns came from the long, long tail I saw in my organic search data (I would take the best performers there and use PPC to get more traffic) and from competitive intelligence research. With both of these sources gone, my AdWords spend may take a dive because I can't find these surprising keywords — even using the tools you'll see me mention below! How is this in Google's interest?

No keyword-level conversion analysis.

We have a lot of wonderful detailed data at a keyword level when we log into SiteCatalyst or WebTrends or Google Analytics. Bounce Rates, % New Visits, Visit Duration, Goal Conversions, Average Order Value.

All this data will no longer be available for organic search keywords.

As hinted above, our ability to understand the long tail — often as much as 80% of search traffic — will be curtailed. We can guess our brand terms and product keywords, but the wonderful harvest of category-type, and beyond, keywords is gone.

Current keyword data is only temporarily helpful.

Remember: On a daily basis 15% of the queries on Google have never been seen before by the search engine. Daily! For all 15 years of Google's existence!

That is one reason the data we have for the last year or so, even as not provided ramped up, might only be temporarily helpful in our analysis.

Another important reason historical data becomes stale pretty quickly is that any nominally functioning business will have new products, new content, new business priorities, and all that impacts your search strategy.

Finally, with every change in the search engine interface the way people use search changes. This in turn mandates new SEO (and PPC) strategies, if we don't want to fail.

So, use the data you have today for a little while to guesstimate your SEO performance or optimize your website. But know that the view you have will become stale and provide a distorted view of reality pretty soon.

2. What Is Not Going Away. #silverlinings

While we are losing our ability to do detailed keyword analysis, we are retaining our ability to do strategic analysis. Search engine optimization continues to be important, and can still get a macro understanding of performance and identify potentially valuable keywords.

Aggregated search engine level analysis.

The Multi-Channel Funnels folder in Google Analytics contains the Top Conversion Paths report. At the highest level, across visits by focusing on unique people, the report shows the role search plays in driving conversions.

You can see how frequently it is the starting point for a later conversion, you can see how frequently it is in the middle, and you can see how frequently it is the last click.

multi channel funnels top paths report1

I like starting with this report because it allows us to have a smarter beyond-the-last-click discussion and answer these questions: What is the complete role of Search in the conversion process? How does paid search interplay with organic search?

From there, jump to my personal favorite report in MCF, Assisted Conversions.

We can now look at organic and paid search differently, and we are able to see the complete value of both. We can see how often search is the last click prior to conversions, and how often it assists with other conversions.

multi channel funnels channel grouping1

The reason I love the above view is that for each channel, I'm able to present our management team a simple, yet powerful, understanding of the contribution of our marketing channels – including search.

Selfishly, now we can show the complete value, in dollars and cents, we deliver via SEO.

[Bonus: For more on next steps and attribution modeling please see: Multi-Channel Attribution Modeling: The Good, Bad and Ugly Models.]

If you are interested in only the last-click view of activities (please don't be interested in this!), you can of course look at your normal Channels or All Traffic reports in Google Analytics.

This is a simple custom report I use to look at the aggregated view:

organic paid search split1

As the report above demonstrates, you can still report on your other metrics, like Unique Visitors, Bounce Rates, Per Visit Value and many others, at an aggregated level. You can see how Google is doing, and you can see how Google Paid and Organic are doing.

So from the perspective of reporting organic search performance to senior management, you are all set. Where we are out of luck is taking things down from here to the keyword level. Yes, there will still be some data in the keyword report, but since not provided is an unknown unknown, you have no idea what that segment represents.

Organic landing pages report.

Search engine optimization is all about pages and the content in those pages.

You can use a custom landing pages report (click that link to download) and apply your organic search segment to that report to get a view that looks like this:

organic search landing pages1

The top landing pages getting traffic from organic search. And of course our Acquisition, Behavior, Outcome metrics.

See Page Value there? Now you also know how much value is delivered when each of these pages is viewed by someone who came from organic search.

So let's say you spent the last few weeks optimizing pages #2, #3 and #5; well, now you can be sad that they are delivering the lowest page value from organic search. Feel sad.

Or, just tell your boss/client: "No, no, no, you misunderstood. I was optimizing page #4!" : )

The custom landing pages report also includes the ability drill down to keyword level, just click on the page you are interested in and you'll see this:

organic search landing pages keywords1

With every passing day this drilldown will become more and more useless. But for now, it is there if you want to see it.

Let me repeat a point. I've noticed some of our peer SEOs making strong recommendations to take action based on the keywords you are able to see beyond not provided. I'm afraid that is a career-limiting move. You have no idea what these words represent – head, mid, tail, something else – or what is in the blank not provided bucket. Be very careful.

Paid search keyword analysis report.

We all of course still have access to keyword level analysis for our paid search spend.

paid search analysis google analytics1

There is one really interesting bit in the paid search reports that you can use for SEO purposes.

When you submit your keywords and bids, the search engine will match them against user search queries. In Google Analytics you have Keyword, in your AdWords report, as above, but if you create a custom report you can drill down from Keyword to Matched Search Query. The latter is what people actually type. So for "chrome notebook," above, if I look at the Matched Search Query I can see all 25 variations the users typed. This is very useful for SEO.

You can download my custom report, it is #2 in this post: Paid Search/AdWords Custom Reports

Beyond this, be judicious about what inferences you draw from your paid search performance. Some distinguished SEO experts have advocated that you should use the distribution of visits/conversions/profits of your AdWords keywords and use that to make decisions about effectiveness of your SEO efforts. Others are advising you to bid on AdWords and guesstimate various things about SEO performance. Sadly these are also career-limiting moves.


When you look at your AdWords data, you have no idea which of these four scenarios is true for your business:

four paid organic search scenarios1

And if you don't know which is true — and you really won't with not provided in your way — is it prudent to use your AdWords performance to judge SEO? I would humbly suggest not.

If you want to stress test this,…. go back to your 2011 (pre-not provided) data for paid and organic and see what you can find. And remember since then Google has made sixteen trillion changes to how both paid and organic search work, and your business has at least made 25.

Don't assume that your SEO strategy should reflect the prioritizations implied by your AdWords keyword data. The reason SEO worked so well is that you would get traffic you might not have known/guessed/realized you wanted/deserved.

3. Alternatives For Keyword Data Analysis.

With not provided eliminating almost all of our keyword data, initially for some search engines/browsers and likely soon from all, we face challenges in understanding performance. Luckily we can avail ourselves of a couple of alternative, if imperfect/incomplete, options.

Webmaster Tools.

Here are the challenges Google's Webmaster Tools solves: Which search queries does my website show up for, and what does my click-through rate look like?

I know this might sound depressing, but this is the only place you'll see any SEO performance data at a keyword level. Look at the CTR column. If you do lots of good SEO — you work on the page title, url, page excerpt, author image and all that wonderful stuff — this is where you can see whether that work is getting you more clicks. You work harder on SEO, you raise your rankings (remember don't focus on overall page rank, it is quite value-deficient), you'll see higher CTRs.

google webmaster tools 1

You will see approximately 2,000 search queries. These are not all the search queries for which your site shows up. (More on this in the bonus section below.)

There are a couple of important things to remember when you use this data.

If you go back in history and do comparative analysis for last year's data when not provided was low, you'll notice that your top 100 keywords in Google Analytics or Site Catalyst are not quite the same as those in WebMaster Tools. They use two completely different sources of data and data processing.

Be aware that even if you sort by Clicks (and always sort by clicks), the order in which these queries appear is not a true indication of their importance (in GA when I could see it, I would see a different top 25 as an example). The numbers are also soft or directional. For example, even with 90% not provided Google Analytics told me I had 500 visits from "avinash kaushik" and not 150 clicks as shown above.

Despite these two caveats, Webmaster Tools should be a key part of your SEO performance analysis.

It is my hope that if this is how search engines are comfortable sharing keyword level data, that over time they will invest resources in this tool to increase the number of keywords and improve the data processing algorithms

Our good friends at Microsoft also provide Bing Webmaster Tools, and don't forget the excellent Yandex Webmaster Tools. Take keyword performance data from anyone who'll give it to you reliably.

1. Google's Webmaster Tools only stores your data for 90 days. If you would like to have this data for a longer time period, you can download it as a csv. Another alternative is to download it automatically using Python. Please see this post for instructions: Automatically download webmaster tools search queries data

2. GWT only shows you data for approximately 2,000 queries which returned your site in search results. Hence it only displays a sub-set of your query behavior data. The impact of this is in the top part of the table above, Impressions and Clicks. During this time period my site received 1,800k Impressions in search results, but GWT is only showing data for 140k of those impressions because it is only displaying 2,574 user queries. Ditto for Clicks. If I download all the data for the 2k queries shown in GWT, that will show behavior for just 8,000 of the 50,000 clicks my site received from Google in this time period. Data for 42,000 clicks is not shown because those queries are beyond the 2k limit in GWT.

Update: 3. In his comment below Jeff Smith shares a tip on how to structure your GWT account to possibly expanding the dataset to get more information. Please check it out.

Update: 4. Another great tip. Kartik's comment highlights that you can link your GWT account with your AdWords account and get paid and organic click data for the same keyword right inside AdWords. Click to read a how-to guide and available metrics.

Google Keyword Planner.

The challenge Google Keyword Planner solves: What keywords (user search queries) should my search engine optimization program focus on?

In the Keyword Planner you have several options to identify the most recent keywords — the most relevant keywords — to your website. The simplest way to start is to look for keyword recommendations for a specific keyword.

I choose the "search for new keyword and ad group ideas" section and in the landing page part type in the URL I'm interested in. Just as an example, I’m using the Macy's women's activewear page:

adwords keyword planner1

A quick click of the Get Ideas button gives us … the ideas!

I can choose to look at the Ad Group ideas or the Keyword Ideas.

keyword planner activewear

There are several specific applications for this delightful data.

First, it tells me the keywords for which I should be optimizing this specific page. I can go and look at the words I'm focused on, see if I have all the ones recommended by the Keyword Planner, and if not, I can include them for the next round of search engine optimization efforts.

Second, I have some rough sense for how important each word is, as judged by Avg. Monthly Searches. The volume can help me prioritize which keywords to focus on first.

Third, if this is my website (and Macy's is not!), I can also see my Ad Impression Share. Knowing how often my ad shows up for each keyword helps me prioritize my search engine optimization efforts.

It would be difficult to do this analysis for all your website pages. I recommend the top 100 landing pages (check that the 100 include your top product pages and your top brand landing pages — if not, add them to the list).

With the advent of not provided we lost our ability to know which keywords we should focus on for which page; the Google Keyword Planner helps solve that problem to an extent.

You don't have to do your analysis just by landing pages. If you would like, you can have the tool give you data for specific keywords you are interested in. Beyond landing pages, my other favorite option is to use the Product Category to get data for a whole area of my business.

For example, suppose I'm assisting a non-profit hospital with its analytics and optimization efforts. I'll just drill down to the Health category, then the Health Care Service sub-category and finally the Hospitals & Health Clinics sub-sub-category:

product category keyword searches1

Press Get Ideas button and — boom! — I have my keywords. In this case, I've further refined the list to only focus on a particular part of the US:


product category keyword searches details1

I have the keyword list I need to focus my search engine optimization efforts. Not based on what the Hospital CEO wants or what a random page analysis or your mom suggested, but rather based on what users in our geographic area are actually typing into a search engine!

A quick note of caution: As you play with the Keyword Planner, you'll bump into a graph like this one for your selected keyword or ad group ideas. It shows Google's estimate of how many possible clicks you could get at a particular cost per click.

keyword tool clicks1

Other than giving you some sense for traffic, this is not a relevant graph. I include it here just to show you that it is out there and I don't want you to read too much into it.

Google Trends.

The challenge Google Trends tool solves: What related and fastest-rising keywords should I focus on for my SEO program?

Webmaster tools focuses us on clicks and the Keyword Planner helps us with keywords to target by landing pages. Google Trends is valuable because it helps expand our keyword portfolio (top searches) and the keywords under which we should be lighting a fire (rising searches).

Here's an example. I'm running the SEO program for Liberty Mutual, Geico, AAA or State Farm. My most important query is car insurance (surprise!). I can create a report in Google Trends for the query "car insurance" and look at the past 12 months of data for the United States.

The results are really valuable:

google trends car insurance1

I can see which brand shows up at the top (sadly it’s not me, it’s Progressive), I can see the queries people are typing, and I can see the fastest-rising queries and realize I should worry about Safeco and Arbella. I can also see that Liberty Mutual's massive TV blitz is having an impact in increasing brand awareness and Geico seems to be having support problems with so many people looking for its phone number.

I can click on the gear icon at the top right and download a bunch more data, beyond the top ten. I can also focus on different countries, or just certain US states, or filter for the last 90 days.

I can also focus on different countries, or just some of the states in the US or only for the last 90 days. The options are endless.

There are two specific uses for this data.

First, I get the top and rising queries to consider for my SEO program. Not just queries either, but deeper insights like brand awareness, etc.

Second, I can use this to figure out the priorities for the content I need to create on my website to take advantage of evolving consumer interests and preferences.

If you have an ability to react quickly (not real-time, just quickly) the Google Trends tool can be a boon to your SEO efforts.

Competitive Intelligence / SEO Tools.

Competitive intelligence tools solve the challenge of knowing: What are my competitors up to? What is happening in my product/industry category when it comes to search?

SEO tools solve the challenge of knowing: What can I do to improve my page ranks, inbound links, content focus, social x, link text y, etc.?

There are many good competitive intelligence tools out there. They will continue to be useful for other analysis (referring domains, top pages, display ads, overall traffic etc.), but as I mentioned at the top of this post, the search keyword level data will attain a even lower quality. Here's a report I ran for L'Oreal:

competitive intel kw report1

If you see any keyword level data in these tools, you should assume that you are getting a distorted view of reality. Remember, all other data in these tools is fine. Just not any of the keyword level data.

There are many good SEO tools out there that provide a wide set of reports and data. As in the case of the CI tools, many other reports in these SEO tools will remain valuable but not the keyword level reports. As not provided moves toward 100% due to search switching to https, they will also lose their ability to monitor referring keywords (along with aforementioned repressive and sometimes not-so-overtly repressive regimes).

When the keywords are missing, the SEO tools will have to figure out if the recommendations they are making about "how to rank better with Bing/Google/Yahoo!" or "do a, b, c and you will get more keyword traffic" are still valid. At a search engine level they will remain valid, but at a keyword level they might become invalid very soon (if they’re not already)

Even at a search engine level, causality (in other words, “do x and y money will come to you”) will become tenuous and the tools might switch to correlations. That is hard and poses a whole new set of challenges.

Some of the analysis these tools start to provide might take on the spirit of: "We don't know whether factors m, n, and q that we are analyzing/recommending, or all this link analysis and link text and brand mentions and keyword density, specifically impact your search engine optimization/ranking at a keyword level, or if our recommendations move revenue, but we believe they do and so you should do them."

There is nothing earth-shatteringly wrong about it. It introduces a fudge factor, a risky variable. I just want you to be aware of it. And if you want to feel better about this, just think of how you make decisions about offline media – that is entirely based on faith!

Just be aware of the implications outlined above, and use the tools/recommendations wisely.

big bets

4. Possible Future Solutions.

Let's try to end on a hopeful note. Keyword data is almost all gone, what else could take its place in helping us understand the impact of our search engine optimization efforts? Just because the search engines are taking keywords away does not mean SEO is dead! If anything, it is even more important.

Here are a couple of ideas that come to my mind as future solutions/approaches. (Please add yours via comments below.)

Page "personality" analysis.

At the end of the day, what are we trying to do with SEO? We are simply trying to ensure that the content we have is crawled properly by search engines and that during that process the engines understand what our content stands for. We want the engines to understand our products, services, ideas, etc. and know that we are the perfect answer for a particular query.

I wonder if someone can create a tool that will crawl our site and tell us what the personality of each page represents. Some of this is manifested today as keyword density analysis (which is value-deficient, especially because search engines got over "density" nine hundred years ago). By personality, I mean what does the page stand for, what is the adjacent cluster of meaning that is around the page's purpose? Based on the words used, what attitude does the page reflect, and based on how others are talking about this page, what other meaning is being implied on a page?

If the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) can analyze my email and tell me the 32 dimensions of my personality, why can't someone do that for my site’s pages beyond a dumb keyword density analysis?

If I knew the personality of the page, I could optimize for that and then the rest is up to the search engine.

Crazy idea? Or crazy like a fox idea? : )

Non-individualized (not tied to visits/cookies/people) keyword performance data.

A lot of the concern related to privacy is valid, and even urgent when these search queries are tied to a person. The implications can be grim in many parts of the world.

But, I wonder if Yahoo!/Bing/Google/Yandex would be open to creating a solution that delivers non-individualized keyword level performance data.

I would not know that you, let's say Kim, came to my website on the keyword "avinash rocks so much it is pretty darn awesome" and you, Kim, converted delivering an order of $45. But the engines could tell us that the keyword "avinash rocks so much it is pretty darn awesome" delivered 100 visits of which 2% converted and delivered $xx,xxx revenue.

Think of it as turbo-charged webmaster tools – take what it has today and connect it to a conversion tracking tag. This protects user privacy, but gives me (and you) a better glimpse of performance and hence better focus for our organic search optimization efforts.

Maybe the search engines can just give us all keywords searched more than 100 times (to protect privacy even more). Still non-individualized.

I don't know the chances of this happening, but I wanted to propose a solution.

Controlled experimentation.

Why not give up on the tools/data and learn from our brothers and sisters in TV/Print/Billboards land and use sophisticated controlled experiments to prove the value of our SEO efforts?

(Remember: Using the alternative data sources covered above, you already know which keywords to focus your efforts on.)

In the world of TV/Radio/Print we barely have any data – and what we do have is questionable – hence the smartest in the industry are using media mix modeling to determine the value delivered by an ad.

We can do the same now for our search optimization efforts.

First, we follow all the basic SEO best practices. Make sure our sites are crawlable (no javascript wrapped links, pop-ups with crazy code, Flash heavy gates, page tabs using magic to show up, etc.), the content is understandable (titles in images, unclear product names, crazy stuff), and you are super fantastically sure about what you are doing when you make every page dynamic and "personalized customized super-relevant" to each visitor. Now it does not matter what ranking algorithm the search engine is using, it understands you.

Now its time for the SEO Consultant's awesomely awesome SEO strategy implementation.

Try not to go whole hog. Pick a part of the site to unleash the awesomely awesome SEO strategy. One product line. One entire directory or content. A section of solutions. A cleanly isolatable cluster of pages/products/services/solutions/things.

Implement. Measure the impact (remember you can measure at a Search Engine and Organic/Paid level). If it’s a winner, roll the strategy out to other pages. If not, the SEO God you hired might only be a seo god.

At some level, exactly as in the case of TV/Radio/Print, this is deeply dissatisfying because it takes time, it requires your team to step up their analytical skills and often you only understand what is happening and not why. But, it is is something.

I genuinely believe the smartest SEOs out there will go back to school and massively upgrade their experimentation and media mix modeling skills. A path to more money via enriching skills and reducing reliance on having perfect data.

There is no doubt that secure search, and the delightful result not provided, creates a tough challenge for all Marketers and Analysts. But it is here, and I believe here to stay.

My effort in this post has been to show that things are not as dire as you might have imagined (see the not going away and alternatives sections). We can fill some gaps, we can still bring focus to our strategy. I'm also cautiously optimistic that there will be future solutions that we have not yet imagined that will address the void of keyword level performance analysis. And I know for a fact that many of us will embrace controlled experimentation and thereby rock more and charge more for our services or get promoted.

Carpe diem!

As always, it is your turn now.

I'm sure you have thoughts/questions on why not provided happened. You might not have made it through all the five stages Kubler-Ross model yet. That is OK, I respect your questions and your place in the model. Sadly I'm not in a position to answer your questions about that specifically. So, to the meat of the post …

Is there an implication of not having keyword level data that I missed covering? From the data we do have access to, search engine level, is there a particular type of analysis that is proving to be insightful? Are there other alternative data sources you have found to be of value? If you were the queen of the world and could create a future solution, what would it do?

Please share your feedback, incredible ideas, practical solutions and OMG you totally forgot that thing thoughts via comments.

Thank you.

PS: Here's my post on how to analyze keyword performance in a world where only a part of the data was in not provided bucket: Smarter Data Analysis of Google's https (not provided) change: 5 Steps. For all the reasons outlined in the above post this smarter data analysis option might not work any more. But if only a small part of your data, for any reason, is not provided, please check out the link.

Search: Not Provided: What Remains, Keyword Data Options, the Future is a post from: Occam's Razor by Avinash Kaushik

Paid Search And Marketing Grow Further & Further Apart

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A few months back, I wrote an article for Marketing Land called “Is The Art Of Paid Search Marketing Dead?” in which I foolishly suggested there was still a small bit of art left in search marketing. Art? Are you kidding me? Ugh. I haven’t been so wrong or felt so foolish in a long […]

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

October 7th 2013 Search Engine Marketing

Six Visual Solutions To Complex Digital Marketing/Analytics Challenges

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circlesTwo things I love a lot:

1. Frameworks, because if I can teach someone a new mental model, a different way of thinking, they can be incredibly successful.

2. Visuals, because if I can paint a simple picture about something complex it means I understand it and in turn I can explain it to others.

This post is at the intersection of those two lovely things.

Each of the six visuals re-frames a unique facet of the digital opportunity/challenge, and shares how to optimally take advantage of the opportunity/challenge.

We'll start with digital at the highest strategic level, which leads us into content marketing, from there it is a quick hop over to the challenge of metrics and silos, followed by a recommendation to optimize for the global maxima, and we end with the last two visuals that cover social investment and social content strategy.

A vast expanse of our current existence.

All of the visuals are in the form of a venn diagram, though, as you'll see, I do take enormous liberties with the format.

Ready to learn, smile and cry (just a little)?

Let's do this!

#1: How to Win, Really Win, at Digital: One-Time PLUS Many-Time Relationships.

The most intense amount of effort companies put into their site happens at site launch or the yearly new product launch. Everyone gets excited, agencies are hired, content is scraped from product box-shots, prettiness is sprinkled everywhere and much happiness, represented by a gigantic sigh of relief, occurs.

All of that is good.

The challenge is that this annual, or semi-annual, update of the content or the website design, is a terrible way to win at digital.

how to stink at digital

All the stuff you've launched is great for showcasing your company and its products. It delivers conversions when I visit your site once and buy something. But beyond that engagement, that one-time relationship if you will, there is no reason for me to ever come back. Because you don't have anything updated on your website. If I remember everything you sell, I might come back the next time I need something from that everything. Or due to some incredible co-incidence if I bump into your brand when I'm thinking of buying something from your everything.

A secondary, under-appreciated, challenge is that search engines value freshness of content. Once you launch your site, it becomes stale in due course (from a organic search signal perspective). It impacts your organic rankings (even if there are tons and tons of factors that influence SEO results).

A final tertiary challenge is that in a world dominated by conversations and social, your static content rarely entices any new conversations. It is great that you've added a silly string of buttons to all your product pages, but there is hardly a reason for anyone to click on them. (Most of the time all they are is an ad for addthis or some other "free" provider of those buttons.)

If you want to truly rock digital, this is what your digital strategy should look like…

how to win at digital

So do your periodic product launches/site refreshes. But almost all your content energy should be poured into fueling the creation of dynamic content! You should have an incredibly amazing blog for your company (more on this below). You should have a robust strategy to earn compelling product reviews. You should have a well defined strategy to create videos and how-to content (constantly updated with solutions to new pain points of customers). You should talk about how innovation works in your company. Your employees should tell their stories. And so on and so forth.

This constantly updated content provides me more reasons to visit your website and stay in touch with your brand. It is also immensely beneficial for search engine optimization (great content, delivered fresh, every day!). Finally it generates a constant stream of social amplification and social conversations!

So do you have a static AND dynamic strategy for your digital existence?

Patagonia is amazing at this. They have a fantastic website where I can buy fantastic stuff that I fantastically love. In addition to that they have amazing content like what you'll see at Patagonia Surfing, and they have a regularly updated awesome blog The Cleanest Line and so much more. As a result I have a one-time and a many-time relationship with the Patagonia brand.

Ditto for one of my favorite hotels in New York, The Standard. Great website for booking rooms and all that. But they also have a great blog/culture guide/all things cool and amazing sub-site called The Standard Culture. I have a time-to-time relationship with their brand (whenever I have to visit New York). I also have a many-time relationship with them because of all this amazing dynamic content – which ensures that I love the brand and that in turn always makes my hands type their url when I have to visit NYC! That is what you want.

I'll be remiss if I did not provide you with two examples of what magnificent product reviews look like.

I love the ones on Williams Sonoma, they are detailed and include a title, a rating, specification on cooking ability and length of ownership sections are my fave and an overall recommendation. They also have, for each review, social amplification buttons! I also love the reviews on Rent The Runway. Can't you just imagine how much value those 102 photos and huge number of reviews add? Not to mention how helpful they are to current or prospective customers!!

So what is your balance of static vs. dynamic? Is it as outsized as the second picture above? It should be.

It is the only way to win big.

#2: The Secret to Content Marketing Success.

Content marketing is all the rage these days. Everyone is contenting a lot of content about content marketing. There is even an institute about it.

On the surface it is hard to argue about the value of content. On paper, what could possibly go wrong with creating or curating content with an eye to driving sales or influencing current or future customers?


Except that most content deployed in the service of content marketing sucks. For two simple reasons: 1. It is actually really hard to create good content, you have to know a lot about the subject matter. 2. We simply can't help pimping ourselves/our products/our services.

When our current/potential customers encounter the fluff pieces which are glorified vehicles for our not so subtle pimping, they quickly see through both things leading to sub-optimal results. And depending on when you want to open your eyes and see reality, you end up realizing content marketing does not work.

Let me share with you my simple rule for creating content that markets itself.

When people ask me how I decide what I write about on this blog, my answer is that prior to launching this blog I'd decided a simple rule for myself. Only post content that is 1. incredible 2. of value to the audience and 3. sans pimping.

how to suceed at content marketing

I've worked very hard to follow this rule every single time I post something. The content here – and you are the ultimate judge of this – represents what I consider to be something incredible that you will find to be of value. I have a lot of other incredible things to write, but if I believe you won't find them to be of value, it gets killed. (I wish you knew how many posts I've discarded because they did not meet that simple criteria!)

The rule impacts my work in other, big, ways. For example, if I did not have time to write something incredible of value, I've not written anything. The deadline comes and goes, if I have nothing, you get nothing. It is also the reason my posting schedule over the last five years has gone from twice a week to once a week to once every two weeks to once every three weeks. (Amazingly, the blog traffic has gone from 2k a month to 150k a month!)

Finally, I've never accepted ads on this blog. In the right nav you'll see two discreet sections with my books and my start up Market Motive. That could possibly be considered advertising. There are three posts out of 283 about my book, and just five that mention Market Motive. Very little pimping, because I respect your capability to see what I'm selling and buy it if you feel it is a fit for you. (And you have!)

I'm not unique in following the above visual. There are many, many others. People and companies. Waaaaay more successful than I can ever dream of becoming. If content marketing is their strategy, the common thread is always the same. Something incredible, of value, with the barest minimum pimping.

It is the only way to win big.

#3: Data, Data Everywhere and Yet We are an Abject Failure.

I work with many medium to large companies around the world. Every single one has an impressive array of tools, many of them even have an equally impressive array of analysts.

Yet a heartbreakingly huge number of them stink at a company level. By that I mean they might have some pockets of excellence, but overall their site stinks, their customer experience (end-to-end) is awful, and their digital strategy is, on the greatest possible day when every single star is aligned perfectly, adding 1/10th the value it should.


It is the simple combination of how each division/group of people inside, and sometimes outside (agencies, et. al.), the company are organized and incentivized (as in what metrics determine their bonus).

acquisition behaviour outcome metrics

Acquisition is everything we do to attract traffic. Behavior covers everything that happens after the person lands on our mobile or desktop site. Outcomes are what happen just before the visitor leaves our site (money to us, satisfaction to them).

Companies have an Email team and an SEO team and a PPC team and a Social Media team and a Display team and…. many teams for acquisition. They are often measured on impressions (or worse, "connections") and clicks. Then that is all they optimize for. They take zero responsibility for crappy landing pages, or even 404s on landing pages.

Then there is the "site team." Euphemism for we will do anything to keep the site up but really all we do is launch pages that someone will ask us for and we really don't know who is coming to the site or what is driving them there and we rarely speak to marketing or agency but the site is pretty cool, we think.

Finally, there is someone in IT responsible for running the cart and checkout process. It is unclear that what their bonus is based on, but it is rarely abandonment rates or task completion rates.

Depending on other variables, there might be someone who looks at conversion rates (usually sans a lot of other context).

Each might work on their own little circle, there is no incentive to look end-to-end, or even at the overlaps/hand-offs.

So fix that.

Make sure your executive dashboards obsess about acquisition, behavior and outcome metrics. Make sure that every single report you create has acquisition, behavior and outcome metrics (download this example: Page Efficiency Analysis Report).

Force each team to think end-to-end and you will incentivize the right behavior across your company.

It is the only way to win big.

[Bonus: Download nine additional custom reports, and a VP-level dashboard, I've created with ABO as a foundation, directly into your Google Analytics account: Occam's Razor Awesomeness ]

#4: Optimize for your Global Maxima: Obsess About Macro AND Micro Outcomes!

The average conversion rate for a typical top ecommerce site is around 2%. And sadly, we are not at the top, so we tend to do worse.

When we obsess only about conversion rates on our website, the problem is that that is an obsession with just 2% of the site outcomes. We end up looking at the world through a straw, and the best we can do is a lot less than the best we can actually accomplish.

macro conversion local maxima

This is not to say that you should not worry about conversion. You should. But when your strategy looks like the one above, powered by looking through a straw, you'll optimize for the local maxima.

That is not terrible. It is just not awesome. Your parents will always pat you on your head and say "Oh sweetie, you could have been something. Something so much more."

And who wants that? You want to live up to your fullest potential!

That means you'll have to care about your macro-outcome, the ecommerce conversion or your lead submitted conversion or donations made to your non-profit conversion. But you'll also have to care about your micro-outcomes!

Some of these micro-outcomes will directly lead to your macro-outcome. For example, people signing up for your email marketing list will convert in the near future. Or people who create wish lists, sign up for product alerts, watch product videos today etc. They are all signaling intent to convert.

But other micro-outcomes might not be directly related to a near future macro-outcome. For example, people who subscribe to your blog's RSS feed. Or people who follow you on social media or subscribe to your YouTube channel or sign-up to volunteer for your non-profit or download your utility marketing mobile app etc. All these outcomes bring people closer to your brand, an awesome outcome.

micro conversions global maxima

When you measure the success of your AdWords campaigns or your email blasts or your Facebook ads or any other acquisition initiative, make sure you report your macro-conversion rate. But don't stop there. Make sure you report your micro-conversion rate as well. Teach your company to optimize their digital strategy for a portfolio of outcomes, macro plus micro. And if you compute economic value of digital – the value of macro plus micro outcomes – your career will be on the fastest possible track to fame and happiness!

Best of all, this will mean you are optimizing for the global maxima.

It is the only way to win big.

[Bonus: Learn more about macro and micro conversions as they apply to a B2B company, Texas Instruments, and a technical support site .]

#5: Rent or Own? The Optimal Social Media Investment Strategy.

This is a new trend amongst companies. Swept up in the fervor of Google+, Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms, they are massively shifting their resources (people, time, dineros) into their presence on these new platforms.

That in of itself is not a bad thing. Everyone knows there are a quadrillion people on Facebook. It is absolutely a valuable audience.

The bad thing is that all this seems to come at the cost of investing resources on efforts related to the company's website. So many companies have irrelevant posts by expensive employees on Facebook all day long (more on this below), and don't spent the little bit of money to create a mobile website. #arrrrrhhhhh

Remember, when you create a presence on Facebook, Google+, Sina Weibo, Vkontakte, you are renting.

rent own terrible balance with social 3

You don't own the domain, you don't own the customer data, you don't create/own the rules, you can't influence changes, you don't have a say in how many characters you can type or how long your video can be or how much creativity you can express. You play by their rules (after all you are just renting).

This does not make those platforms any less valuable. But it is astounding silly to have your rented presence come at the cost of a platform you own!

Build your own magnificent platform first. Where you create the rules, you control the evolution, you own the customer data, you have a direct relationship with your audience, you get to decide what happens next (or if ever!), and there are no limits to your experimentation with creativity!

rent own site social great balance

Once you nail your own existence, move on to nailing your rent existence.

And going forward, always forever remember the balance between own and rent. Outsized investment in own and an appropriate, demonstrated by the best social media metrics, investment in rent.

It is the only way to win big.

#6: The World's Greatest Social Media Strategy.

Why does L'Oreal Paris USA, a multi-billion dollar corporation with a marketing budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, have fewer followers than I do on Twitter?

Why is the talking about this brand metric for Avis rent-a-car less than half of what it is for my brand page (and I have 50,000 fewer Likes than they do!)? Remember, Avis is a corporation with thousands of employees in tons of countries.

Why does TravelZoo have 224k fewer Followers on Google+ than I do?

All these companies are big and magnificent, and I'm very small and inconsequential. So, why?

The answer is simple: this is their social media strategy…

embarassin social strategies

They wake up everyday and, on the world's greatest channels for conversations, they shout at people. Every single post they write, every single tweet they send, is simply another variation of BUY IT NOW!

The challenge is, as the See Think Do framework emphasizes, a tiny, tiny, minority of the audience is there to buy anything. (If you need more proof, just see how poorly advertising performs on these platforms.)

Just because you are good at shouting on TV/Radio/Print/Display does not imply that that is what you do on social media. Even if you somehow manage to get a bunch of Likes/Followers/+1s, your conversation rate, amplification rate and applause rate will be pathetic.

So stop that.

These channels are awesome (also see visual #5 above). Here's the strategy that works…

incredible social media strategy

Pimp your stuff sometimes – say twice a week. And if you can be clever about it, like getting your customers to pimp for you, even better.

Ninety-five percent of the time create conversations and try to add value to your customers/likers/+1ers.

Write about topics both of you are interested in. If you sell smoothies, talk about food, how to develop a great palette, travel, evolution, agriculture, the future of the planet… the topics are endless.

Provide utility. Share tips on how to make my life better. Share tips on a healthy lifestyles, exercise, wellness of children, latest relevant mobile apps…. the topics are endless.

Your customers have given you permission to interrupt their day. Don't suck at it. Be respectful of their attention. Create a warm space in their heart for your brand. Contribute something incredible, of value.

That is the only way to win big.

That's it. Six simple visualizations, and solutions, for complex marketing, analytics and life challenges.

As always, it is your turn now.

Is there a venn diagram that resonates more with you than others? Which one least reflects reality? What does your company's digital balance between static and dynamic content look like? What percent of your social contributions is BUY IT NOW? Does your company execute for visual number one or two for outcomes? How incredible and of value is your content marketing content?

Please share your wisdom, stories, critique, and praise via comments.

Thank you.

Six Visual Solutions To Complex Digital Marketing/Analytics Challenges is a post from: Occam's Razor by Avinash Kaushik

5 Ways to Know Your Site Has Been Penalized By Google

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seoHave you noticed the amount of traffic for your site dropping unexpectedly over the past week or so? Maybe your sales have suddenly seemed to have frozen and stopped coming in completely?

If so, one possibility could be that your site has been penalized by Google and, as a result, your site has become unranked and pretty much excluded from the search engine search result pages. And it should come as no surprise that if people online can’t find you, you won’t get many visitors or sales.

So how can you be sure that you’ve been penalized by Google? Well, if it was a manual penalty, meaning that your site was marked to be penalized by a person at Google rather than an algorithm, you’ll get a message from them, which makes things pretty obvious. However, if you haven’t received a message, it’s still possible that your site has been automatically penalized. Here’s how you can tell:

5 Giveaways of Penalization

  1. Brand Name Ranking
    Rankings can change frequently and fluctuations are not too uncommon. Significant drops in ranking over a short period of time is unsettling, but not entirely naturally impossible; especially in highly competitive keyword fields, this isn’t necessarily an indicator of being penalized by Google. However, the one keyword that you should be ranking well if not the best for is your brand name. If you search your brand name and still have a difficult time finding your page, there’s a good chance you’ve been penalized by Google.
  2. Cached Search Results
    When Google penalizes a site, they usually will also make all of the cached pages of that site unavailable. If you can’t find any of your cached pages in search results, and they seem to have just disappeared for no reason, there’s a good chance that Google’s found something against you.
  3. Home Page Listing
    At this point, you might be looking for your page, scrolling down the results pages, one after another, just out of curiosity. If and when you do finally find your page on Google, it likely won’t link to your home page if you’ve been penalized.
  4. PageRank
    A sudden and rather drastic drop in your PageRank is also a good indicator of penalty. If your PageRank suddenly appears to be a 0 or 1 when it was a respectable 3 the week before, it’s a good idea to look into reasons you might have been penalized.
  5. Site Search
    Finally, if you do a site search—that is, entering “site:www.mydomain.com” into the Google search box and your site does not come up, there’s clearly something wrong.

What to do

Whether you’ve been manually or automatically penalized by Google, you need to handle the situation in a professional, respectful, and honest way.

Take another look at your SEO strategies—could any of them be considered to be fraudulent or “black hat?” Review Google’s guidelines and see if there are any you might have overlooked. Try to discover why you might have been penalized if you were penalized automatically. Then get into contact with Google. Sometimes, the penalty can be lifted if everything is handled well; however, other times the penalty can be permanent. Whatever happens, be respectful and as honest and forthcoming as you can be if you hope to save both your site and your reputation.
In the future, to prevent being further penalized by Google or any other search engines, stay up to date with their rules and familiarize yourself with blackhat SEO techniques so that you know what practices to avoid. Sometimes ignorance may be your only fault, but alas it does not make you innocent.

Best of Luck!

August 16th 2013 Google, Search Engine Marketing, SEO

AdWords Editor Update Brings Upgraded Sitelink Management And More

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Google released an update to AdWords Editor, version 10.2, that supports upgraded sitelink management and several other smaller feature updates. Apparently now dubbed upgraded sitelinks, these new sitelinks rolled out in June just prior to the enhanced campaign roll-out. They give advertisers the…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

August 14th 2013 PPC, Search Engine Marketing