Basic Keyword Research Tools – Gathering Search Demand Volume Data…

I just got an email from an old associate.  He is a PPC guy and is doing an SEO project.  He asked for basic insight to “double check” on the keywords that his client provided to him, wanting to make sure that he wasn’t going to spend his time optimizing for keywords that were seldom searched.

Good call.  In fact, when Ephricon takes on a new client we ask for lots of input from the client, but we reserve the right to have final say on the keyword priority list.  I feel as though that’s part of what clients pay us for.  We hold ourselves responsible not for rankings, but for traffic and leads.  As such, we need to have significant say as to which keywords we target.  This goes for both SEO and PPC.

My reply to him is below.  I intentionally tried to keep it fairly high-level.  The guy wants recommendations, not thorough discussion of every tool ever made.

Hi <<Name>>,

Good hearing from you.  There are a number of options, of course, but the fastest/easiest one is the good ole Google Keyword Tool.

Search volume is pretty much the same for PPC as with SEO – b/c at the end of the day its still just counting the number of people who are searching.  Your approach to target them (PPC ads vs. organic listings) is different, but there is still the same “supply” of people searching.

We also use KeywordSpy, SpyFu, Trellian’s Keyword Discovery and other programs too, but I feel like Google’s free tool gets you 80% of what you need quickly and easily.

That’s all volume.  For relevance, I apply a more subjective measure.  If you have conversion data than you can use that, but if you are starting from scratch you have to go with your gut, and when in doubt lean more towards longer tail keywords and keywords with “buying” intent.

For competition, we again use the Google Keyword Tool and also SEOmoz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool.  Neither is perfect, so we also do a lot of “custom” analysis to determine difficulty levels.  The SEOChat tool is actually pretty good too… it doesn’t look as cool as the others but I tend to agree with its scoring a bit more.

Your thoughts?

Sweet New SEOmoz Tools

I hate writing “groupie” type posts, but this short one was earned.  SEOmoz just launched a new Keyword Difficulty tool, which, at first glance and after just a couple of tests seems to have a bit of merit.  I tested on some keywords I’m pretty familiar with and its ratings matched my general concept.

My only critique would be that its maybe its scale should be adjusted a bit… I put in “directory of handsome guys” and that was a 22%.  IMO that should be like 5% or less, there is no competition on that keyword.  I accidentally ranked a site of mine #1 for that, and after a few days I wouldn’t be surprised if this blog post ranks #2 for “directory of handsome guys”.

I guess it was a couple of months ago that the launched the Open Site Explorer tool, which I now use daily and love it.  My only critique with that is the size of the data set.  I have one client where we’ve tracked the total number of links its reporting by month with that tool and its showing drastically changing numbers – both up and down.  I believe its more reflecting of swinging changes in their data set than it is “real” changes in numbers of links to their site.

I’d say in general their data seems to be tracking the good-old-fashioned Yahoo Site Explorer and Majestic SEO, but their front-end interface and the tools’ overall usability more than makes up for that.  I’m a fan.  Good work, Rand and team.

Update: See my comment below and comment from Richard Baxter’s write up for another critique.  I’d like to see it weigh “domain authority” more and “page authority” less.

Good write up Richard.  Overall I like the tool, but I feel like its maybe favoring “page authority” a bit too much, and “domain authority” not enough.  Anyone else agree with me on that?

Take the “pivot tables” (49) vs. “pallet delivery” (64) example.  I’d argue that “pivot tables” is more competitive b/c all of the sites in the top 20 have domain authority over 80.  You need an 80+ domain just to to get a ticket to that dance.  But for “pallet delivery” only 2 of the top 20 have domain authorities over 80, and several have very low domain authority.  You can get into that dance with most any site, so long as the page itself has a little juice.  That’s much easier to do.

Best. Website. Ever. (Norcal Internet Services)

“You can think of us as your website’s cosmetic surgery team.” - Baran Golocy, Norcal Internet Services

Norcal Internet Services

At first I thought this guy’s site design was just terrible, end of story.  Then I saw a few people tweeting his link, and blogging about how its the worst website ever, etc.  So then I thought… social media genius!  Just think of all the link bait he’s getting!  But then I checked out his other websites (below), and now I’m back to thinking that his stuff really is just that ugly and perhaps the fantastic buzz he’s getting is indeed unintentional.

http://www.flashpastyoureyes.com/

http://www.microactionads.com/

http://www.walk-outs.com/

So let’s think on this a bit more.  I’m not designer myself.  I have zippy art / design skills.  I can’t even match my clothes for goodness sake.  But pretty sites don’t necessarily sell products and services online.  Think of the most successful online retailers.  Hardly a list of nicest site designs.  For most businesses, the focus should be on the product or service itself, and not the site’s layout and design which is simply the structure used to communicate the message.  Amazon’s site design won’t impress anyone.  Nor does 1800petmeds.com.  But those guys make good money.  As an SEO/SEM guy, I fully understand that while we’d prefer to have a visually-appealing site, the “is it attractive?” component takes a back seat to “does it generate traffic?” and “does it convert?” questions.

So back to our guys at Norcal Internet Services…

Success: He’s getting a ton of buzz, and a nicely done professional design would not.  It would be boring, expected, or whatever and people would not be tweeting about it.  And I think he does intend, at least a little bit, to be “just a little bit different” as he puts it.

Failure: Are you going to hire him to design your website?  Your flash banner?  Your walk-out video?  Perhaps you might if you wanted the cheesey feel for your own social media campaign, but otherwise most of us would probably move on to the next guy.  The quality of the video itself on some of the sites is pretty weak.  If it was nice and clear and high-resolution – but just cheesey in nature – then sure I’d hire him.  But only for a viral comedy piece.

So what’s the net here?  I have to think that even though he’s probably not getting a high conversion rate, he’s getting more total conversions than he was before getting this buzz…  But would he be better served to use a more professional, higher-quality design and presumably convert more (and/or better) prospects, albeit on a lesser traffic level?

Your thoughts?

Note: There are apparently at least two companies named NorCal Internet Services.  They do not appear to be related.  The one discussed above does walk-out video, email advertising, web design, etc.  The other is an ISP.  This post is only referring to the former, not the ISP.

Update 03/11/2010: I removed the link to the above site b/c apparently since I posted this someone apparently swiped this poor guy’s domain and put a not-so-family-friendly website there.

Agency SEO: What’s The Most Important Thing You Do?

As the owner of a growing internet marketing company, I’m terribly curious about how other agency leaders spend their time. On this note, I tweeted out a question yesterday on Twitter and was looking for a few responses.  There’s nothing like an open-ended opinion question sent to a targeted market to get a good reply rate.  Specifically, I asked:

SEO Agency Question

I got back some great responses:

CoreyCreed: Regularly drop your worst clients and keep getting better ones.

pepperjamceo: position our clients ahead of the competition.

portentint: Restrain myself when people say “I don’t think that’s how SEO works”

ericfransen: Manage people & expectations

wilreynolds: SEO, I still do SEO about 40%-50% of my work week.

I asked the question b/c for the last several months I’ve been really focusing on running our agency – looking at things like processes, systems, efficiency, scalability (while still staying high-touch and high-end in approach), etc.  Anyhow, I’m not sure I can even answer my own question.  I guess I’d say putting resources in place to be successful.  That’s pretty darn generic though.  Maybe more specifically I’d pick two things.  For the “agency” part its communicating with our clients.  For the “SEO” part its monitoring keywords that convert and using that data in combination with current rankings, traffic potential, etc. to continually revise which keywords we are most directly targeting.

Additional thoughts?

Search Exchange – SEO Conference in Charlotte, NC (May 17-19, 2010)

A couple of months back I was asked to speak at Search Exchange, an SEO conference taking place in Charlotte, NC from May 17 through May 19, 2010.  Since I’m local (live + work just south of Charlotte), and since the guys running the event are top-notch SEO folk, I was honored by their offer and accepted.

Since then, they’ve added a number of SEO Rockstars to the speaker list.  Names such as Jim Boykin, Wil Reynolds, Rae Hoffman, Lee Odden and Chris Brogan – all of whom have about a zillion times the “name brand draw” of yours truly.  That’s okay.  I’m totally taller than them.  Well, some of them.  Maybe I’ll give out free blogroll links to attendees or something so that people like me too.  :)

Anyhow, the organizers have put together a pretty solid list of keynote speakers and panelists, and have secured a fantastic venue as well (the Belk Theatre in uptown).  It should be a blast.  I know the local search community here in Charlotte is pretty strong, and I expect to see good support both locally and nationally. Its also going to be just the right-sized conference too… small enough where people actually share ideas and its not watered down by too many corporate-types who are looking for SEO 101, and still large enough to where it covers a number of topics and there will be plenty of fresh perspectives.

So I’m going to make the case for you to attend Search Exchange…

Why Attend Search Exchange Over SES, SMX and Other SEO Conferences:

  1. Charlotte in May is about 1,000 times nicer weather and more enjoyable than New York in March (SES).
  2. It will be smaller in size and less corporate than the bigger conferences, enabling better conversations and a higher percentage of “real SEO people” not just entry-level programmers from Fortune 500 companies.
  3. The speaker and panelist lineup is amazing.
  4. Its much more affordable. You can get a 3-day ticket for the cost of a 1-day pass to most of the other conferences.
  5. I’m offering a $100 discount if you sign up through this link.

Its currently $595 if you buy your ticket by January 31st, but with the $100 discount I’m offering its only $495.  If you read this or buy after January 31st, the $100 discount is still valid – it will just come off of whatever the “post early bird” price is. So go sign up. Now.

Use this link to get the $100 discount.

Update: Okay, you have to click the “Enter Discount Code” link and enter in “speak100″ and you’ll get the $100 discount.  Sorry about this not being clarified the first go-round… needless to say there was a little confusion.

See you there!

Q&A: Blogspot Blog Domain to WordPress Custom Domain

I was just asked by a colleague about an acquaintence of his who wants to move her blog from a something.blogspot.com URL (Blogger/Blogspot subdomain) to her own domain, and in the process move over to WordPress… without losing traffic.  Currently she gets a good deal of traffic, all to her pages which are indexed under the Blogspot subdomain URL.

If you have experience with this please weigh in!!!

My reply:

I don’t really know for sure here as I’ve never done this, but I would probably go about it like this:

1) First, switch from the blogspot subdomain to the “custom domain” feature.  Its in the settings > publishing tab.  There may be a small fee for this, my guess is its like $10 or something very small.

2) Confirm that this is working, and that its sending 301 redirects for the old blogspot pages to the same URLs (minus the change in domains) on the new domain.

3) Wait for Google to reindex everything… probably a few weeks.

4) Export everything and import into a new WordPress install (on a testing domain or temp URL).  When doing this, ensure the test domain is blocking search engines.  There is probably a handy plugin or too to import from Blogger to WordPress.

5) Configure the URLs in WordPress to match the same formatting as the old Blogger blog, and make sure it works right.

6) Launch the new WordPress blog by repointing the domain from Blogger to the new server hosting the WordPress blog.

7) Go back into Blogger and add a little post saying the blog moved… everyone for each individual post should be redirected anyways but I’d still do this anyhow.  Link to the new full domain URL.  Make sure to keep paying Blogger to keep that custom domain feature intact b/c that is what is keeping the 301 redirects from the old pages with the Blogspot URLs to the new URLs on the new WordPress blog hosted on a new domain and server.

When complete, I don’t think you’ll keep 100% of the “juice” or traffic here, but I think you’ll keep 90% of it, plus you’ll gain by having your own domain name and more features and capabilities with WordPress.  If you don’t mind a little effort to make the switch, I think its worthwhile.

Bing, Google and Twitter Feeding Search Results – My Two Cents

Just got an email from a client about this, and in fact have gotten several lately.  Since Google is a huge deal, anything and everything they do is a huge deal.  The fact that Twitter is a huge deal too makes this story quite a big one.  That said, I think there is more hype and excitement about the deal, change, etc. than there will be in terms of actual, tangible, meaningful change to search.  Granted though, I do think this will an impact.  It just won’t be the earth-shattering deal people expect it to be.  My thoughts to my client (copied from my email reply):

Yup. I still think this is not going to be implemented in the way people think it will though.  Years ago everyone was all optimistic on Froogle (Google’s shopping search) and Google Video search.  While they are very nice, they are like 1% or less of search volume.

I stand by the notion that Twitter is very easy to spam, and if Google gives prominent billing to Twitter feed text weighted on recency than that is the easiest thing to spam.  The spammers will have a field day.  They’ll just write scripts to post new tweets every 5 minutes.  In fact, they are already doing that.

Instead, I think what you will see is the “buzz” impact here… Google will see what links people are sharing with each other that hour, that day, etc. and those sites will get a boost in the SERPs.  In fact, this is basically how Bing is already starting to incorporate the results.  This is much harder to spam and fits in line with Google’s philosophy on search, validation from varied masses, etc.

It also fixes a big weakness they have in that is takes them weeks and months to update their link index.  Take the example of Michael Jackson’s death.  The day he died if you did a Google search on his name you didn’t see anything related to his death.  You saw sites about him, his bio, etc. that had built up their “reputation” scores over many years.  The new articles could not compete.  Leveraging data from social media in real time, in combination with Google Caffeine, can help them bridge that gap and make search now something that can be helpful for current events whereas to this point it has failed in that area.

Summation: I think this story is a 10 out of 10 in terms of hype, interest, etc.  I think 2 years from now we’ll say its a 7 out of 10 in terms of how it impacted search, SEO, etc.  7 is still pretty special, but with a 7 you should still be able to go to sleep tonight instead of staying up and analyzing this.

Full-Service SEO vs. “SEO Consulting”

Last night at SEMCLT, I spent a few minutes chatting with Corey Creed.  He asked if I was still doing full-service SEO or if I had moved to a consulting model.

I had never described what we do as “full-service”, but I probably should.  Its pretty accurate.  You’d think in 7 years I would have spent a few minutes thinking about how to describe what we do.  When talking with prospects, I would generally say things like “we don’t just give you a list of recommendations, we actually DO the work” and so forth.  I often used other verbiage around the same point, such as “we handle everything needed to produce results” and so forth, but the phrase full-service describes this more accurately and more concisely.

But now there is a new problem.  What exactly is full service SEO?

I guess let’s think about what its not.  Oftentimes when companies hire a consultant what they are looking for is strategic guidance, advisement, etc.  They want to know what to do, and maybe how to do it.  As such, many SEO consultants do exactly that.  They provide a written report and/or verbal communications in meetings, training sessions and so forth and basically tell the client what to do in order to increase their site’s rankings, organic traffic and (hopefully) conversions.  The deliverable may be called a “Site Audit” or “SEO Recommendations Report” or something like that.  The pro here is that the client can get high-level direction and recommendations without too high a price tag (as the time to create a plan is inherently less than the time required to create AND implement a plan).

But to me, that’s no fun.

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We’re Hiring: Marketing Assistant (P/T)

Ephricon is looking to hire a marketing assistant.  Ideally this would be a work-from-home position but with someone living in the Charlotte, NC metro area so as to be available for occasional in-person meetings.  Perfect for a SAHM or WAHM or any marketing professional who is currently looking for a flexible position.  Need AT LEAST 20 hours per week.

Work duties would involve:

  • data entry
  • online research
  • basic copywriting
  • data analysis
  • managing budgets, tasks, small projects

Should be a “marketing person” who has above-average internet skills.  Preferably someone with some experience in web design, online marketing, etc.  Will post more detailed description when I create it :)  If you are interested either comment here or grab my contact info from the Ephricon site.

How Should SEO’s Approach Twitter’s New Homepage, Real-Time Search Engine

Twitter’s new homepage seems to be trying to position them as a search engine solution for “real time information”.

It looks like you can rank so long as your post is very recent.  A search on “keyword xyz” (removed for privacy) which is our #1 keyword for Clientwebsite.com shows roughly 5 to 10 tweets per day.  If we were to post a Tweet 2-3 times per day with “keyword xyz” somewhere in it, we would pretty much always be in the top few results all the time.  I know there are Tweet Scheduling applications that could automate this, but that feels reasonably spammy to me and not something I’d want to do with a client’s main profile.  Not really something I think we should do at all.  Now for higher-volume keywords the frequency would need to be very high, for lesser-volume and lesser-competition keywords you could maybe post once a day or even just a few times per week and stay in the top few results.  This will probably change quite a bit as Twitter grows, etc.

The algo doesn’t look very sophisticated – it doesn’t seem to give any weight to how trusted (popular) as user is.  In fact it doesn’t even seem to give weight to keyword proximity.  I searched on “network support” and the top 3 posts have both words “network” and “support” but not the phrase.  They are poor results – not talking about “network support”.  The fourth result has that phrase and is a good result.  The only determining factor in ranking here seems to be how recently the Tweet was posted.  So long as you have the words included you are in the game.

Additional verification – I just posted a question about an HDTV and I’m now ranked #3 for that search on Twitter’s homepage.  The two above me were posted more recently (I posted 7 minutes ago, they posted 3 and 4 minutes ago).

I can’t help but feel that all this is going to do is encourage a high volume of spammy Tweets from people who want to stay at the top of Twitter search results and know that frequency is really the only requirement?  Hopefully they add in some things to account for spam versus trusted users, etc.

Its clear the spammers are already hitting this hard.  How should higher-end SEO people and new media consultants approach this?