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Google AnalyticsThere are so many different ways to view metrics in Google Analytics, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Some data descriptions seem so similar you may think at first glance, “what’s the difference?” Here is one that recently perplexed me.

One data point I am obsessed with is Average Visit Duration. I want to make sure my sites are providing useful content and keep the visitor engaged. Recently, however, I noticed a big difference in data points and didn’t understand why. I was comparing Average Visit Duration to Time of Page. My Average Visit Duration was what I would consider acceptable, but could be better. My Time on Page however was far less than I would like to see.

Average Visit Duration

The Average Visit Duration in Google Analytics is calculated based on the timestamp between the first and last pageviews during one visit. The duration of the final pageview cannot be accurately calculated, the duration is always shorter than reality. This made me quite happy, since means my data point is actually a little longer!

Average Time on Page

The Average Time on Page in Google Analytics is calculated as the average difference between the request timestamp for that page for that page and the request timestamp for the next page. If only one page is viewed by a site visitor during that visit, that pageview does not count in this statistic since there is no second timestamp. It would fall into the Bounce Rate – something else I constantly check.

The Average Time on Page was “OK,” but not what I would like. I could, however, see how  much time on average was spent on each page. This is helpful in that I can review those pages and see what could be lacking. Is it too long? Does it not answer the initial headline? Is the headline a misrepresentation of what the page actually presents?

By reviewing these two data points, I can definitely have a better understanding of what is working for site visitors and what isn’t so I can make it as user-friendly and content-rich as possible.

Google HummingbirdOn September 27, Google celebrated its 15th birthday. It celebrated by announcing its latest major update to its algorithm, Hummingbird. Google began releasing Hummingbird in August of this year, but it didn’t make a formal announcement until now.

So as usual, marketers, SEOs, writers, and others in Internet nerdom immediately began to delve into this new algorithm to see what this will mean for Google rankings. According to Google, Hummingbird represents a major leap in the understanding of the conversational human language as a whole, as opposed to looking for few keywords here and there. This is due in large part to the use of voice commands on smartphones. While it is just my opinion, I can’t help but think this is an effort to compete with Apple’s Siri. It also tells me that websites better have quality content an avoid black-hat techniques like keyword stuffing.

According to Amit Singhal, Google senior vice president, Hummingbird is more about indexing and less about page ranking and indexing. This is a major paradigm shift from previous versions of the algorithm.

Now I have always looked at page rank and pages indexed, so I am curious to see how SERPs adjust moving forward.

One thing is for sure – as usual, Google is going to keep us guessing.

Putting a Value on the Top Spot in Google

I heard an SEO nerd-type joke not too long ago:

Where do you hide a dead body? Page three of Google search results.

While it is funny to those of us who do SEO and online marketing for a living, it does make an important point. The further back you are on search result pages, the less likely anyone is going to find you.

It can be hard, however, to explain this to business owners and potential clients. These are intangibles that can take a long time to build up. A recent study released by Chitika works to quantify the value of number one position in Google.

According to the study, a website with the first position in the search results contributed to 33 percent of the traffic, compared to 18 percent for the second position. The third position drops to 11 percent and the fourth is a dismal 5.4 percent.

So what does this mean?

There is a a direct correlation between the rank in search results and the amount of traffic a site will receive. And as we all know, the more traffic a site receives, the better the chances of a closed sale or potential customer.

Now this doesn’t mean that getting to that top spot, regardless of the keyword or phrase, will be easy. This is where having a solid SEO strategy and quality website content comes into play. But this study just provide proof that it is worth the effort.

Spam Comments and SEO

Image credit: Siddartha Thota

I will openly admit it – one of the hardest parts of SEO for me has always been link building. Mainly because I always want to make sure the links I create are high quality and not considered “spammy.” In light of Google’s rollout of Penguin, it confirmed in my mind that I was doing the right thing. So I am stunned when I see comments with links like this:

“What a wonderful piece of information Admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you offer! I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often. Thumbs up!”

For those of you who aren’t aware, I have a blog that talks about fiber arts, crochet, yarn spinning, and the like called The Fiber Forum. This is a comment I received on a post about a book review. Obviously this has NOTHING to do with my blog and is a failed attempt at getting a link. I wouldn’t do that to someone else’s blog and I am always annoyed when someone tries to treat my blogs as link building opportunities.

Now I will say I understand how frustrating it can be when you are working hard to build a solid website following white hat techniques and you don’t get any traction in search engine results. It can be even more stressful when you have a client that expects to see results quickly and those of us who do this for a living knows there is no such thing as an “overnight success.” Can it be tempting to go black hat? I guess. Is it worth it? In my opinion, absolutely not.

As frustrating as it can be, I will definitely continue to follow the moral of the story of “the tortoise and the hare.” Slow and steady wins the race.

So I will admit it – I broke the number one rule of online marketing. That rule, is consistency. I have let my blog fall to the wayside. Just like any online marketing plan, it isn’t a “set it and forget it” situation. It requires consistent care and feeding.

So stay tuned as I promise to be more consistent with my marketing news and suggestions.

At the ICANN board meeting in Singapore today, a vote that was held that will change how future domain names will be created. Anyone can now create a new generic top level domain (TLD)…as long as you have $185K. The Board vote was 13 approving, 1 opposed, and 2 abstaining. Applications for new gTLDs will be accepted from 12 January 2012 to 12 April 2012.

What does this mean? General Motors can now create a “.gm” domain. Coke can have a “.coke” domain. The possibilities are endless. There are many arguments both for and against this new plan. Some argue that banks and other financial institutions could use a branded domain to help avoid fraud. Luxury brands could use a branded domain to help ensure customers are purchasing real goods and help reduce counterfeit products. Both are valid arguments.

Personally, I this will not work in the long run. First, only big companies will have the money to purchase a “vanity domain” (which is what it really is), ultimately pushing out competition from smaller companies. Honestly, I am curious as to how the board came up with the $185K price tag.

Second, I am curious how search engines like Google, Bing, and the like will rate these new domains in organic search. I would think they would automatically get a high page rank, since it is what I would consider a “qualified” domain. In my opinion, this is the same as an uber-expensive PPC campaign that is mixed in with organic results. These new domains won’t have to go through all the traditional tried-and-true SEO best practices, which will again, push small businesses further down in organic results. Google just finished attempting to level the playing field after the JC Penny mess that took place this past Christmas season.

ICANN said they will work hard to address all the concerns that have been brought to their attention.  I certainly hope they do.

Many who plan SEO campaigns and online marketing programs are working hard to work social media into their plans. While social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are helpful, there are still many other sites that should be part of an online marketing plan.

There were some interesting little nuggets of information in research released today by the Pew Research Center, including:

  • Twitter “barely registers” as a referring source for traffic
  • 85% of its users visited between one and three times per month
  • Yahoo News (and not Google News) has the largest news audience

The one tidbit I found very interesting is that most of the “news sites” (including Yahoo and Google) are aggregators. Why would I find this interesting? Simple. Aggregators aren’t anywhere near new. What is even more interesting is that a majority of traffic from aggregator, the Drudge Report (yes, that site), accounted for between 5 and 10 percent of the traffic to the New York Times and USA Today during the period studied. It also accounted for 15 percent of the traffic to the Washington Post, 20 percent to the New York Post and an astonishing 30 percent to the Daily Mail. This means the Drudge Report, a 15-year-old aggregator, is more popular than Facebook if you follow the math. Amazing!

So this is just another reminder that it isn’t all about social media.

The Ongoing Meta Tags Debate

Ever since Google announced they no longer consider meta tags as part of their search algorithm, the debate as to whether or not they are important has been ongoing. In my opinion, they are. Just this week, The Bloggers Bulletin even did a post on why it is still important to populate meta tags.

First, while Google may not consider them today, that does  not mean they may not in the future. Algorithms are constantly evolving, so it is always a good idea to follow best practices. This can save time in the long run if they are suddenly important again and need to be populated at a later date.

It is also important to remember that while Google is the big boy on the block right now, that may not always be the case. Since Microsoft has re-branded their search engine (Bing), they are starting to make a dent, while small at the moment, in Google’s market share. Additionally, according to current research, Yahoo and Bing still consider meta tags important.

To quote a former boss, meta tags are one of those things that if you do them right, they may not “help,” but if you do them wrong, it can ultimately count against you. Take the time to understand best practices when writing best practices and take the time to do them the right way. Ultimately, it is definitely worth the time.

No matter what type of business you are in, everyone is looking for an edge. SEO is no different. One tool that should be in your SEO arsenal is Google Trends.

Google Trends provides important insight into what terms are most commonly searched as it relates to total search-volume across different regions of the world, and in what languages. Google claims they update Trends daily. “Hot Trends” represent the top fastest moving search terms hourly within the United States.

This information can provide valuable insight into the search habits of different individuals globally. A search engine professional can then take that information and those search terms and augment a site’s SEO strategy. Additionally, enter up to five of your keywords and see how those terms are searched on Google over a period of time. This can really help a company’s SEO plan on track.

Ultimately, Google Trends is just one tool in an SEO professional’s bag of tricks. Tkae

Regardless of the type of business, we all want to make sure that the marketing plan in use provides the highest possible ROI. Therefore, it is always a good idea to do periodic audits on the different marketing channels in use. This should include a social media audit.

Some may wonder what exactly is a social media audit and how best to determine its ROI.  At first, everyone was on the social media/Tweeting/Facbooking/blogging band wagon. Most figured “it won’t take much time” and “it couldn’t hurt.” Well, while that may had initially been the case, over time, just like with anything, the little tasks are what ultimately take up the most time. Therefore, a social media audit makes sense.

It is important to look at what outlets are currently in use, how much time is spent posting and managing them and what type of feedback and communication a company is receiving. A good way to see which social media channel is giving a company the most “bang for the buck” is to provide social media channel specific offers and see what type of response a company receives. This will help identify what type of customer comes from each channel and what type of order or feedback is received.

While this may sound time consuming at first, ultimately, by taking some time upfront and conducting a social media audit periodically, it will save time and effort in the long run.