• The Search Blog

    A great example of how Quora enabled a valuable and open discussion

    • 0 Comments

    A recent post on Quora provides a good open discussion about the best SEO tools available on the web. 


    Whilst the content of the post itself is extremely useful for SEO, that was not actually what got me excited.  What I loved about this post was the way that someone was able to ask a random question about products from three different companies, and within just 1 day have it answered by the founders of each of those companies!

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    I also very much respected Rand’s first answer which provided incredibly open customer feedback information (good and bad) about his own products. 

    Rand and SEOMOZ create a great set of products, show open respect for their ‘competitors’ and are seemingly completely open and constructively critical about their own work on a regular basis.  In a word of Quora, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogs with open comment boxes, etc… this type of relationship with the online community makes a lot of sense to me. 

    Whilst I have a lot of respect for the skills sales people have, I can’t say that I respect the tendency many have for avoiding discussions about negative customer feedback, or worst the habit of criticizing competitor products just purely because they are competition.  I think that Rand and many other successful people in the evolving world of online communities would agree with me. 

    • Rand knows his company makes great products
    • Rand knows that his respectful and honest reply in the Quora post would result in equally respectful and honest replies
    • Rand knows that deliberately avoiding a mention of negative product feedback would simply result in someone else mentioning it in the replies
    • Rand knows that criticizing a competitor (even in a politically correct way) will simple result in retaliation from the competitor, their affiliates or just someone who didn’t like the tone of Rand’s message

    Gone are the days when the only ‘customer testimonials’ are those which a company has chosen to publish on it’s site.  Gone are the days when the only way of getting your complaint heard was to threaten with some kind of publicity stunt. 

    Oh and by the way, the only was I discovered this post was because Quora knows I am interested in SEO, so it made me aware of the discussion in my news feed.  So GONE are the days where someone who wants to start a discussion has to proactively go out and find people who are interested in participating!

    Quora is just on example of how online communication and reputation has changed/is changing.  If you haven’t already, get on top of it now.  I will be paying a lot more attention to the site after this experience.

    Just in case you are still wondering whether the SEO post is worth your attention, here are the tools it mentions and compares…

    • SEOMOZ
    • Raven SEO
    • Hubspot
    • In less detail…
      • SEO Book
      • Buzzstream
      • Ontolo

    Check it out Smile

  • The Search Blog

    3 FREE ways to analyse your website backlinks

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    image This week I was pleased to run a side session at the MVP Summit on Search Engine Optimisation.  One of the topics I covered was SEO tools, as part of which I various tools which are available for analysing websites and extracting data to understand how the crawlers see individual pages or sections of the sites. 

    Whilst there are a many different SEO analysis tools available which provide a variety of features and datasets, I personally favour those which enable me to extract raw data and then manage it in Excel, Access, SQL Server or another tool.

    Within the Microsoft support SEO project we have found backlink data extremely useful to analyse.  When I saw ‘Backlink data’, I am referring to information to show which sites are linking to your site, and which pages on your site they are linking to.  This data can be extremely valuable for identifying additional link building opportunities, finding problems with invalid URLs pointing to your site and discovering the most powerful pages/sections of your site in terms of PageRank.  Since the only way to know which websites are linking to yours is to crawl the web (and it’s pretty big), backlink data can only be generated by search engines or companies who have their own web crawlers.  The good news is that you can get a complete list of backlinks pointing to your website, for free.  In fact depending on where you get the data from, you can even more data than just the links them self…

    Method 1: Bing webmaster tools

    Once you are validated for your Bing webmaster tools account, you will be able to view and export a list of backlinks which Bing knows about pointing to your website…

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    Unlike the two other solutions below, Bing will not currently provide you with a list of individual pages on your site where the backlinks are pointing TO.  However, Bing does provide a nice filtering feature which enables you to see only links coming from a particular domain, subdomain or directory.  E.g. here is a the list of backlinks filtered for support.microsoft.com coming from www.microsoft.com/uk

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    Bing will allow you to export the results in to Excel or another tool, however it will currently only allow you to export 1000 results.

    Method 2: Google Webmaster tools

    Google webmaster tools also provide backlink data for your website.  Google allows you to see exactly which of the pages on your site have the most links…

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    Google will also allow you to export the data, but does not limit you to 1000 backlinks, so you can download EVERY single link which is pointing to your site, and the URL which it is pointing to.  If you have a big site, the file will be pretty large, so you may not be able to load it straight to Excel.  We recently extracted this file for support.microsoft.com (as a comma delimited file) and then imported it in to Microsoft Access using the External data import option….

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    The Google data also contains links from within the same domain as the website.  We recently used this information to analyse the links pointing to http://support.microsoft.com from local (non-English) www.microsoft.com pages, so that we could optimise the links to point to local content, and increase the search relevancy for our international customers.

    You get a lot of data when exporting from Google, but it can be very interesting and useful to analyse.  It’s also worth considering comparisons between the Bing and Google data, to use as an indicator to differences in the information the two search engines may have about your site.

     

     

    Method 3: Majesticseo.com

    Majesticseo.com are a company who have their own web crawler (as Bing and Google do), their own web index built from all of the pages they regularly crawl (as Bing and Google do), but the difference is that Majesticseo.com provide the ability to analyse and extract the data within their web index for SEO analysis.

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    Whilst they do provide paid for services if you are interested in analysing data for other (i.e. competitor) sites, they provide FREE access to data about your own site if you validate yourself as an owner.

    They do provide some web based analysis tools, although in my opinion, the real power behind the Majestic SEO data comes when you export the file and pull it in to your favourite database application.  We now regularly extract this information, and load it in to an SQL server for analysis.

    Like Google, Majestic SEO allows to export ALL data for your site, however they go a step further by providing an ‘ACRank’ value, which is their version of PageRank and provides an indicator to the ‘strength’ of every page on your site in terms of the number, diversity and quality of inbound links pointing to it.  Majestic SEO ranking value is based on a scale of 0 to 15, rather than 0-10 like Google’s PageRank.

    We are currently using the Majestic SEO data to identify top ranked pages on support.microsoft.com, and we have had a couple of surprises!  For example, this page is one of highest ranked pages…

    http://support.microsoft.com/gp/howtoscript

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    …which is simply a page we use to notify customers how to enable scripting if they have it disabled.  The reason this is ranking so highly is because we link to it by default on most of our pages if customers have scripting disabled, but also customers have discovered the page and decided to link to it from their own sites to instruct their users how to enable scripting. 

    This data has lead to many more useful insights for us.  If you are interested in knowing which sections/pages of your site are getting the most link juice flowing in to them, I really recommend downloading your Majestic SEO data.

    So there you have it, three ways of understanding what the search engines crawlers know about your site.  Enjoy :-) Let me know if you come up with any clever ways of using this data – I would love to do a follow up blog post in future!

    Author: Chris Moore is a Program Manager working on Search Engine Optimisation at Microsoft.  http://www.twitter.com/chrismdotcom

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  • The Search Blog

    SEOMOZ Pro SEO Training London (#proseo)

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    photo4 I am on the train on the way back from the fantastic SEOMOZ/Distilled Pro Training seminar in London.  It has been an absolutely fantastic 2 days, with great speakers, insightful SEO tips, a free bar and lots of interesting people to talk to.

    The Pro training seminar was as it’s name suggests, aimed at SEO professionals, with lots of technical and thought provoking content for all of the attendees.  The presenters did not sugar coat any of the topics, they simply delivered presentations on a variety of complex subjects and let the tech savvy audience soak it up :-)

    Whilst nothing makes up for actually being at the conference, I would like to share my thoughts, key takeaways and links to other’s comments to give you some idea of the great information which was delivered.

    There were LOTS of topics covered, so I am not going to discuss them all in this post, however I will update the post with links to other blog posts as I find them.

    Lots of love for Excel (#ExcelRocks)

    image If there was one consistent theme (other than SEO), it was Microsoft Excel.  Being within Microsoft, I probably take Excel use and knowledge for granted, however many of the audience were very excited to hear about imaginative use of pivot tables, vlookup formulas and other Excel functions to help analyse site referral data and keyword lists.  I will share some of the specific recommendations when I receive the Powerpoint slides from the training (since I cannot remember them all right now).

    I was apparently (based on a show of hands) one of the few in the room who had used Excel ‘tables’ before.  Richard Baxter explained to the attendees how they make referencing data much easier compared to using standard cell references, since a table reference never changes, even when data or columns are added/removed.  This is a great tip and I recommend you check this page for more info on using tables.

    Pivot tables were also highly recommended by all of the presenters.  Pivot tables allow you to mash up data, order it, filter it, group it and perform some really advanced manipulation to make sense of seemingly complicated data sets.  If you are not familiar with pivot tables and you work in SEO, I recommend reading this page for information on how to use them.  There is also plenty more FREE tutorials on http://office.microsoft.com to explain how to use lots of other Excel features.

    image A common problem with working in Excel is the fact that copying and pasting data from Google Adwords is often problematic and time consuming.  The Firefox plugin available at http://bit.ly/daffizilla eases this process – a great time saver for anyone regularly working with AdWords data.

     

    Organisational SEO

    image I was very pleased to hear so much advice aimed at Enterprise level (‘in house’) SEOs.  Richard Baxter presented a great session on ‘Getting SEO done against the organisational odds’ where he discussed how an SEO manager in a large company had to tackle a different set of challenges to an SEO professional in a smaller or agency based company.

    As well as discussing the challenges an in house SEO has such as internally communicating the value of SEO, managing lists of SEO activities and influencing peers/management he also provided some great advice on building an SEO team.  He described the key roles which an SEO team must have…

    • Technical people (Developers)
    • Content/Social Media people
    • Link building people
    • Analytics people

    And also discussed how it is important for an SEO manager to provide an umbrella SEO strategy, which his/her team/v-team must understand and buy in to.  It is important for every member of the SEO team to track every action, so that the SEO manager can review the teams workload and keep it on track with the strategy.

    He also shared some interesting insights on hiring SEO team members…

    • Hate doing lots of interviews?  Do a group interview instead.  Set them group challenges, see how they interact with the rest of the group, observe and then by the end of the session you will KNOW who you are going to hire.
    • Employ someone who knows how to search properly – they are usually the people who are interested in how the search engines work.
    • Instead of hiring a ‘link builder’, hire a ‘business development manager’ or a ‘community manager’
    • Employ people to fill the gaps you need (e.g. if you do not like doing link building, employ a link builder)
    • Blog post about recruiting an SEO

    Ranking Models

    image Ben Hendrickson delivered one of my favourite presentations.  Ben was obviously a very smart guy, and an incredibly funny (perhaps not deliberately) and entertaining presenter.  Having previously read this blog post on the SEOMOZ blog, I was keen to understand how SEOMOZ produced correlation to do show exactly which SEO factors were most significant in affecting search engine rankings, Ben explained how this worked…

    SEOMOZ have created their own crawler and search index.  They basically crawl the web and create their own mini version of a search engine, with a sole purpose of analysing the data they have collected and using it to provide SEO recommendations.

    SEOMOZ run a bunch of searches against their own search index, compare the results to those of Google’s and then make tweaks to the large number of variables controlling their results.  They repeat this process until their results are as close to Google’s as possible. 

    When they have an algorithm and set of search results close to Google’s, they run large numbers of tests on their own data to determine the effect of various SEO techniques (e.g. headings, titles, inbound links, keywords in domain, etc…).  Whilst there is some error or margin, this technique allows SEOMOZ to get a completely unique (outside of Google) insight in to what really matters for SEO.  Please read the blog post  from a few months ago for information on which key factors emerged from this data.

    Golden Tweets

    image There was a lot of Twitter activity over the 2 days, so there are plenty of top tips available by searching for the #proseo hash tag on Twitter.  Some notably active people on the Twitter feed were @rodnic66, @RichardShove, @distilled, @tomcritchlow, @thetafferboy, @jaamit, @AriNahmani, @RobOusbey, @foliovision, @RobBothan, @SearchPanda and @Lou_geek.

    I tried to tweet as many of the golden nuggets of information as they came up, so here are some of mine and other people’s key tweets…

    Universal search…

    • jaamit: #ProSEO great tip from @patrickaltoft: easy way for visibility on image search for big terms- pay blogger to slap big branded logo on img!
    • ChrisMdotCom: Google will TRUST a lot of info from video sitemaps from trusted domains. Lots of potential to easily get videos in results #proseo

    Google local listings…

    • ChrisMdotCom: Google local can pick up a citation from a website even if they don't link to you (by finding a matching company name/address) #proseo
    • ChrisMdotCom: Number of reviews on Google local listings is more important than the rating #proseo
    • ChrisMdotCom: Key Google local ranking factors verified listing, # of review, citations, distance to centre, categories #proseo
    • ChrisMdotCom: uploading products in Google base with a location, can be a good way to get bulk results in to google local #proseo

    Tools/automation…

    Content/Conversion…

    • ChrisMdotCom: Use old URLs which already have link juice. Put new content on old url and old content on a new url #proseo
    • ChrisMdotCom: To launch a new site, put everything in a folder on your existing site, get it ranked, move it, then 301 redirect #proseo
    • jaamit: #ProSEO now @randfish on content. "if u cant answer the Q 'who's gonna link to this' u'll get beaten in seo. Make links part of brainstorm
    • jaamit: #ProSEO dont be afraid of dupe content. Why not submit a guest post that u already published. < I agree!
    • RobOusbey: CR Experts: "your product page should include at least all the information that you would give to someone when selling in person." #ProSEO
    • ChrisMdotCom: Placing keywords in headings does not significantly affect rankigns #proseo

    SEO for news sites

    SEO Stats…

    Penalties…

    • ChrisMdotCom: The majority of penalties from Google are a result of bad inbound links #proseo Sometimes you need to ask people to remove links!
    • jaamit: #ProSEO Vince has led to more over optimisation filtering (not penalty) - eg if most of ur backlink anchors r keywords not brand name links

    Misc…

    • jaamit: #ProSEO @randfish suggests hot tweets affect google rankings. I agree, they gotta be looking at this for fresh web
    • ChrisMdotCom: @davenaylor says that the ‘search suggestions’ are the latest battleground for SEO (x3 on Bing) #proseo
    • jaamit "removing certain toxic backlinks can actually give u a boost in rankings" @davenaylor #ProSEO"
    • jaamit: #ProSEO interesting: re-using old, well ranking urls 4 new stories can b awesome BUT keep title, meta same or G will reset its power. True?
    • jaamit: #ProSEO @robousbey: ppl like linking 2 print friendly pg&apos;s (uncluttered) but eg guardian robots.txt blocks em! Use canonical 2 keep juice
    • rodnic66: "The harder a link is to get, the better it is" @randfish on link building #proseo
    • ChrisMdotCom: Brainstorming is important. Don’t just do it with one person. Do it down the pub if that works #proseo

    Finally, Conversion Rate Experts deserve a mention for their great presentation and the giant squirrel they brought along with them :-) . . .

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    Update (25/10/09): related links…

    As promised, here is an update with some of the related blogs posts on the seminar…



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