Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Perspective On How The Correlation and Causation Concepts Are Correlated to SEO

Author : Bharati Ahuja

Recently as per my observation and experience, I think more and more people are understanding the true meaning of optimizing a site for search engines and are preparing themselves to accept the fact that SEO is a long term proposition and an ongoing process .

The search engines will constantly upgrade and improve their algorithms and keep shifting the priorities of the ranking factors for maintaining the quality of search results. Hence keeping an eye on the shifting priorities and the algo updates is a constant R & D effort which has to be put in unconditionally by every SEO.

The correlation and the causation aspect is being discussed and talked about a lot in the SEO blogosphere and conferences but, before we start correlating these two terms with the SEO world let us understand a few definitions:

What is Correlation:

Correlation is a statistical measurement of the relationship between two variables. Possible correlations range from +1 to –1. A zero correlation indicates that there is no relationship between the variables. A correlation of –1 indicates a perfect negative correlation, meaning that as one variable goes up, the other goes down. A correlation of +1 indicates a perfect positive correlation, meaning that both variables move in the same direction together.

What is Coeffecient of Corelation and A Rank Corelation:

A coefficient is a multiplicative factor in some term of an expression (or of a series) it is a measure of the strength of the linear relationship between two variables that is defined in terms of the (sample) covariance of the variables divided by their (sample) standard deviations. An increasing rank correlation coefficient implies increasing agreement between rankings. The coefficient is inside the interval [−1, 1] and assumes the value:

  • −1 if the disagreement between the two rankings is perfect; one ranking is the reverse of the other. 
  • 0 if the rankings are completely independent. 
  • 1 if the agreement between the two rankings is perfect; the two rankings are the same. 

In statistics, a rank correlation is the relationship between different rankings of the same set of items. A rank correlation coefficient measures the degree of similarity between two rankings, and can be used to assess its significance. A ranking is a relationship between a set of items such that, for any two items, the first is either 'ranked higher than', 'ranked lower than' or 'ranked equal to' the second

What is Causation:

It is the act or fact of causing; the production of an effect by a cause . Basically the relationship of cause and effect, the act or process of causing, the act or agency which produces an effect.

Let us come back to the SEO world and try to correlate the importance of the above mentioned definitions for SEO.

The actual task of SEO is very difficult to define.

It is a whole package of :

  •  on-page optimization 
  •  off-page optimization 
  •  working on good quality inbound links 
  •  creating a potential for the site so that it starts getting natural links over a period of time 
  •  brand building 
  •  helping the site to become more social media friendly and Social Media ready so that the site gets the links and the social acceptance with a quality buzz around it and 
  •  last but not the least the regular monitoring and measuring of the analytics to ensure that everything is being geared in the right direction and there is constant improvement in the SEO metrics. 

This regular monitoring is the stage where actually an SEO gets the idea about what is working for the site and what is going against it as every site is different and has different objectives to achieve. This monitoring also helps you analyze and study data from the R&D perspective as this regular monitoring of the relevant data gives you an idea about the correlations between what changes you made on the site and what results or effects were visible in the data set. Google analytics can give you a good idea about these correlations with the help of the custom reports feature.

Google says there is a combination of more than 200 ranking factors which determine the rankings of the search results and the priorities keep on changing hence if you make some changes on-page and off-page and you see a direct effect on the results you can know what factors are being given preference to by Google. In other words you can correlate the SEO changes and modifications made by you to the changes you see in the results as per the SEO metrics.

For example:

1) If you make the changes in the title tags of some of the pages and you see that page being ranked higher than before and the Google Analytics shows that page as the landing page for the keywords it was targeted and shows an increase in the no. of new visits and shows the source as search engines then you can be sure that there is a causation and this improvement can be correlated to the title tag changes made and one can conclude that this correlation is positive .

2) If you add a canonical tag and the those pages get deindexed and you lose the rankings then you know that this causation is due to the negative correlation between the two variables i.e the canonical tag and the loss of rankings .

The above two are very simple examples but if there are atleast 200 ranking factors then there are atleast 200 variables which can be assessed over a period of time for the various causations in the SEO metrics you want to measure.

When we say that the constant monitoring of the site is one of the major SEO deliverables, we mean that this correlation analysis of various factors on the causation of results is the main focus.

Data in itself does not have any value unless it is analyzed and understood so that corrective actions can be taken, otherwise it is like a car without a driver. You can use the car efficiently only if you have a good driver. Similarly you can make use of the Google Analytics data if you have a good analyst who can correlate between the metrics and understand the effect on the result oriented metrics.

Some points to ponder on this concept of correlation and causation are:

  • Almost all SEO is correlative rather than causative. 
  • Moreover , a correlation need not be causative. 
  • You need a sizable chunk of data over a period of time (atleast 4-6 months) in order to establish any connect between the correlation and causation to come to any conclusion. 
  • This correlation analysis requires a lot of time, effort and an eye for detail by an expert 
  • Jumping to quick conclusions will just cause more confusion 
Always keep a list of SEO changes made on the site date-wise and preferably also write down the anticipated changes on the concerned metrics as expected by you and then study the effects on the concerned metrics over a period of time (atleast for 4 months) before you come to a conclusion.

When we say SEO is an ongoing process this is one of the major SEO tasks which need to be undertaken regularly by every SEO for every site as every site is different and needs to be analyzed and studied as per what metrics matter the most for that site.

SEO is becoming more and more specialized and the whole SEO task needs to be conducted by various experts to get the most out of every SEO campaign. Ideally if a SEO company needs to take more no. of SEO projects and do justice to the SEO campaign then the SEO team should comprise of experts in the following fields:

  • Keyword Research 
  • On-Page SEO 
  • Off-Page SEO 
  • Natural Link Building Engineers 
  • Social Media Strategists 
  • Analytics 
  • Research and Development Analysts whose job is to keep an eye on what changes are being reported by Google on their various blogs and other authority sites 
  • Coordinators who can convey the SEO process and progress to the clients keeping the training aspect in mind so that every meeting with the client enriches the client with the SEO relevant knowledge in a very simple way so that he is convinced to renew the contract year after year. 
An SEO campaign conducted by such a team will surely ensure a quality SEO campaign but will surely cost more too. SEO is very simple and can be done using the DIY method but to ensure a long term success and for future proofing your site from the unexpected algoquakes by Google hiring experts is the best option as every job in itself is a specialized job which demands the relevant knowledge in that niche field.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SMX East 2011 – Part 2

Day 1 at SMX East ended with an evening forum with Danny Sullivan which had an overall focus on search and social.

Some of the statements made by Danny Sullivan and which were shared on Twitter were:
  •  It’s a Google’s world. We just rank in it. Or not. 
  •  The 4 Cs Of SEO Success: Code, Content, Connections (links) & Conversation (social). 
  •  Link Earning instead of Link Building 
  •  Is link building dead? Great question asked by audience member. Audience & @dannysullivan say no! 
  •  Social media is the new link building 
  •  Reminder to all: .Co is fine, .Com is always good, & .Co.CC was the pure evil that got obliterated. 
  •  You rock as a brand if the CPC for your brand is pennies on the dollar and you have 8 sitelinks. 
  •  Is there a way to know when you have arrived as brand? - Yes, when you have a Google ad rep 
  •  If people leave the site because their info need was fulfilled it's not a bounce 
  •  "If you have no Panda problems, don't fix things" 

On Day 2 - 14th Sept. 2011 My Focus was on the Technical SEO Track Sessions.

They were as follows:

Duplication, Aggregation, Syndication, Affiliates, Scraping, and Information Architecture

Presented By:

· Brian Cosgrove, TPG
· Vanessa Fox, Search Engine Land
· Matt Heist, High Gear Media 

  • Too much syndicated content dilutes the value of the original content. 
  • THE CHALLENGES - Feeds from suppliers, Too many categories, Items are too similar 
  • Writing unique content is the cost-of-entry for SEO 
  • TOOLSET FOR SUCCESS - SEO Strategy, Keyword Mapping, Content Strategy,Work flow,Style Guide,Content Calendar, Creative Brief 
  • If you have too many sites and the content is distributed and thin then it is not good 
  • Have fewer but content rich sites with clear audience segments 
  • Content resonates in search AND social. 
  • With the evolution of Social (joining Search from a distribution perspective), premium content that is authoritative AND fresh will flourish, Rel=Author & Meta Tagging For 2012

Presented By:

· Janet Driscoll Miller, Search Mojo
· Topher Kohan, CNN
· Jack Menzel, Google 

  • Semantic (Structured Code) The semantic web is a “man made woven web of data” that facilitates machines to understand the semantics . 
  • TYPES OF STRUCTURED DATA FOR SEO - Rich Snippets, Rel=Author, 
  • TYPES OF RICH SNIPPETS Reviews , People, Products, Businesses & Organizations, Recipes, Events, Music 
  • REL=AUTHOR RESTRICTIONS - Doesn’t support multiple author blogs , Only works on same site (i.e. won’t work yet for syndicated content), Only works on self-hosted sites 
  • SCHEMA.ORG - Created by Google, Bing and Yahoo! - Launched June 2, 2011 - Way for engines to easily identify types of content 
  • Some Problems - Schema is a “New” mark-up, Standards not in place, Not a big ROI right now 
  • But, it is the right time to implement as these are in all probability to be given importance by the search engine. Hence, when they will become a priority the site which already has these snippets and microformats in place will have a probability to be ahead . 
  • Best Time to Implement is when - Moving to a new CMS, Launching new templates, Launching a new site, Site redesign, Down dev cycles 
  • Some of our related blog posts on this topic are:

Real Answers For Technical SEO Problems 

Presented By:

· Vanessa Fox, Search Engine Land
· Todd Nemet, Nine By Blue

The main discussion was on - How To Evaluate Site Architecture For Technical SEO Without Launching A Browser?
  • Look at things like… Network, Web access logs, HTTP response codes, HTTP response headers and talk to the network admins/developers 
  • Checking load balancing 
  • Checking server latency 
  • Checking network latency 
  • Checking for duplicate sites 
  • Web access log analysis 
  • Monitor and check crawling inefficiency 
  • Identify Duplicate Content Problems 
  • Have a proper error handling page 
  • Make the site Cache friendly 

Making Data From Google Webmaster Central & Bing Webmaster Tools Actionable 

Presented By:

· Duane Forrester, Bing
· Vanessa Fox, Search Engine Land
· Tiffany Oberoi, Google
· Myron Rosmarin, Rosmarin Search Marketing, Inc. 

  • Stop Running Reports. Start Providing Analysis. 
  • Reporting is Pulling data and plugging it into a spreadsheet - Analysis is: Making sense of data, providing  insights for improvement and providing explanations 
  • The Webmaster Tools are valuable sources of “Diagnostic Data”that enable you to provide a more thorough analysis of problems your site may have so you can take action toward improvement 
  • Numbers without something to compare to don’t mean much. 
  • Everything is Relative 
  • Pull data at appropriate time intervals 
Eventually everyone has to accept the fact as Danny Sullivan said that it’s a Google’s world and we rank in it or not… The presentation’s last slide said:  :)

God, grant me the serenity to accept 

the things I cannot change, 

Courage to change the things I can, 

And wisdom to know the difference. 

Day 3 Sept. 15th 2011

The conference on the third day was only for half a day till 3:00 p.m

Link Building: Why You're Doing It Wrong 

Presented By
· Jenny Halasz, Nine by Blue
· Byrne Hobart, Digital Due Diligence
· Rae Hoffman-Dolan, Sugarrae SEO Firm

Link building is important. But,

  •  Try to build natural links. Go for quality over quantity 
  •  Guest Post = Your Inbound Link Value 
  •  When you write guest posts see that you put few links and make the post as informative as possible 
  •  When you write a guest post or any blog post on any general topic try to correlate it with your niche industry so that it has a probability of going viral in both the fields 

According to Rae Hoffman-Dolan  Points to consider…

  • Check for existing writer guidelines before contacting 
  • Send personal and individual emails 
  • Use names whenever possible 
  • Prove you’re not a bot 
  • Ask a genuine question 
  • Never assume they know who you are 
  • Include a potential topic idea and example post 
  • DO NOT MENTION LINKS (but do mention edits) 

Beyond Rankings: Actionable SEO Reports Your Boss Will Love 

Presented By:

· Vanessa Fox, Search Engine Land
· Max Thomas, Thunder SEO
· Marty Weintraub, aimClear

  • Rankings as a metric is easy to understand hence the popularity but, Only looking at rankings does not give an idea about indexing and crawling 
  • Measure the impact of changes made on the site 
  • Monitor Errors Over time alongwith Google Page Not found errors 

According to Vanessa Fox :

Do not look at keyWords look at people use searcher personas to connect SEO to conversion  Personas > related pages for those personas > Keywords for those pages > Rankings for those pages
  • Cluster by category impressions, clicks, CTR, Avg. Position 
  • Organic impressions = Technical SEO + Sematic SEO 
  • The Title tags the main tag responsible for high CTR 
  • If you have high rankings and If your CTR is bad then your title tags are probably bad. 
  • People don’t pay for what they don’t understand. 
  • Empower Your Primary Client 
  • Make it easy for them to convey easily what’s happening Don’t wait for them to tell you. Figure it out. Ask questions. 
Reports Should Demonstrate:
  •  What’s working 
  •  What’s not 
  •  Where to focus resources 
  •  Connection of SEO/SMM to sales (or conversions) 
  •  How to explain to key decision makers so they understand 

Don’t highlight their LACK of digital knowledge. Instead chalk out the difference between goals and metrics very clearly in a layman’s language. Do not use digital jargon while conveying the importance of goals or explaining the metrics to the client. One size Report does not fit all. Reporting should be done as per the client’s understanding.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

SMX East 2011 – Part 1

SMX East 2011 conducted from the 13th of Sept. to 15th of Sept. in New York had the agenda focusing on the following categorized topics Day-wise:

Day 1– 13th Sept. 2011
Day 2 – 14th Sept. 2011
Day 3– 15th Sept. 2011
SMX Boot Camp Social And Vertical Search SEO
The Big Picture The Big Picture Analytics & Conversions
Enterprise & In-House Technical SEO SoLoMo
Best Of SMX Advanced Paid Search Paid Search
Sponsors And Partners Sponsors & Partners and Site Clinics  Site Clinics

The complete agenda can be viewed on

My main area of interest was organic search  hence I attended  the sessions focused on SEO.

An SEO conference is a platform for multiple sessions and it is very difficult to make a choice of what to attend but the main highlights and takeaways of what sessions I attended are as follows: 

Day 1 – 13th Sept. 2011 

The Big Picture Track - The Great Correlation vs. Causation Debate
Presented by:
· Eric Enge, Stone Temple Consulting
· Micah Fisher-Kirshner, Become, Inc
· Mitul Gandhi, seoClarity
· Kristine Schachinger,
· Tony Wright, WrightIMC

  • Correlation is: A mutual relation between two or more things where one has a measurable effect on the other. 
  • Causation is: A relationship in which one action or event is the direct consequence of another. 
  • In every Causal relationship there is a Correlative One, but there is not a causal effect in every correlative one 
  • We sometimes perceive something to have an effect but it may not have an effect as that can be a misperception. 
  • The only way to eliminate false positives are is to measure test everything over a period of time with a wide array of data. 
  • Almost everything in SEO is correlative not causative. 
  • In causal relationships, you can directly measure that A does CAUSE B 
  • In correlative relationships, you can only measure the STRENGTH of the effect of A on B 
  • Correlations are a place to start not an end. Have a sanity check and and question its sensibility before coming to conclusions. 
  • Before testing be sure of what is the return on your investment to collect and test this data? 
  • Make sure that you are considering all important variables in time and do not rely only on snapshots in a short time span. 
  • Be sure you have enough data and factors to run a linear regression 
  • SEO is on a time line on a linear position. A single trend is not a pattern or a causal relationship. 

The Big Picture Track 
Panda-Proofing Your Content
Presented By:

· Justin Briggs, Distilled
· Horst Joepen, Searchmetrics
· Heather Lloyd-Martin, SuccessWorks Search Marketing
· Chris Silver Smith, KeyRelevance

  • Only 12% of websites in Google index were affected by Panda update – Matt Cutts 
  • We are content marketers if we have a blog or a site. 
  • “Panda isn’t simply an algorithm update. It’s a platform for new ways to understand the web and understand user experience.” (Vanessa Fox) 
  • “It’s not a new algorithm – it’s a new factor.” (Danny Sullivan) 
  • “It is easier to reliably detect social spam than link spam.” (Stefan Weitz and Maile Ohye) 
  • Combination of automated metrics and human factors; 
  • It’s a method for modelling webpages and websites which have certain usage profile combinations, scoring those combos, then using the scores to rank pages. (Chris Silver Smith) 
  • When you produce cheap content then it is not meeting any goal 
  • Create Quality content – Search Engines do not pay your bills your customers do. 
  • Stop asking what Google wants. Find out what your users want. 
  • Evaluate your content assets 
  • Plan the Repurpose of content 
  • Develop an  editorial calendar 
  • Watchdog the quality 
  • Leverage it when properly planned and evaluate 
  • Get everyone on the same page about SEO content. This could be a quick discussion - or an in-house training. Consider what works best for your team 

Enterprise & In House Track 
In-House SEO Operations: How Things Get Done 
Presented By:

· Laura Callow, intuit
· Simon Heseltine, AOL Inc.
· Erika Mamber, Demand Media
· Ulli Muenker , Bloomberg

  • Use SEO as one of the fundamental building blocks in everything you do on your website. 
  • Ensure SEO is a part of the DNA of your organization. 
  • Build buzz and cultivate mindshare. 
  • Tailor the buzz for the relevant audience and add your spin 
  • Make it actionable 
  • Be seen, be heard, be involved 
  • Educate, Elaborate, Excite, Empower, Evangelize 
  • Share the SEO why behind the what, because understanding builds a sense of ownership 
  • If opportunity cost > available resources + cost of vendors Then hire vendors Else don’t hire vendors 
  • Ensure your team works according to an accountable system for delivery. Boil up to meet company / business objectives and vision 

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Social Media Engagement Is Much More Than The Count Of Followers, Klout Score, likes, Shares & Google+1s

Author : Bharati Ahuja

Since Google started focusing on social and real time search results, the search marketers are on a spree to shout out the importance of social media presence to their clients especially for SEO campaigns.

But, the main questions here are:

  • What is the purpose of the presence ? 
  • What kind of presence will boost the social persona which will have a direct positive correlation and will leverage the search presence and visibility? 

Google says, that their main objective is to give relevant search results to the users . For that they keep on working on the search algorithms and keep working on the prioritization of the ranking factors. They introduced the PageRank concept to improve the quality of search results which gave origin to the link spam on the web. To improve upon this when the social media sites got inhabited by users and people started sharing online Google started taking these signals to improve the quality of search results. The main reason being that if people recommend a certain product or appreciate a certain link then it will act like a vote just like an inbound link does. Moreover this kind of recommendation would not only be a vote but a personal preference and a choice too.

Hence if at all a social media presence wants to boost the search visibility then the social media engagement and interaction has to be a quality interaction rather than a voluminous number. Just as in case of inbound links it is the quality links and natural links which Google wants to reward . Similarly if your social media signals convey the message that you share about a certain topic in your niche your identity gets associated with it.

Social persona is all about trust, authority, great content on links which you share and which get shared further via shares and retweets . If the time and effort that you are spending on social media is not creating this kind of persona then you are probably wasting time. Your grandparents are also probably having a facebook presence but their objective is not to pass the social signal juice to Google but maybe its just to keep in touch with you.

Hence to develop the right base to create a right social persona and aura which will generate the right signals to the search engines :

  • Develop trust by having a regular presence and a genuine complete bio description with links to your site and blog. 
  • Share knowledge by asking and answering questions and thereby prove your authority in your field. 
  • Share links from your site share valuable content and links from other sites to appreciate efforts made by others in the same field or niche that you want to focus on . 
  • As a high conversion rate is more important than more traffic in numbers, a good WOM developed by the social media presence is more important than more no. of followers. 
  • Do not narrow down your circle to only those with whom you are comfortable interacting with widen your circle , follow more and more people to know more about your industry and reach out to more. 
  • Trust cannot be built in a day, work patiently , honestly and genuinely keeping your ego in check so that people feel comfortable to interact and share the industry trends with you but in case things do not go as per your principle you always have the unfollow and block option. 
  • Do not fake a personality. Don’t just try to be a natural but simply be one. In the social world it is not necessary to agree to everyone and please everyone and neither it is true vice versa hence voice your opinions and raise objections when necessary. Have a right avatar pic which reflects your true personality. 

Your Klout score, no. of followers, no. of likes, shares, +1s, etc. will all be meaningless if you do not meet the above quality criteria as Google will leverage your search presence and visibility when people trust you, consider you as an authority in your field or atleast as an active participant in the discussions related to your niche who has personal opinions to share and has a genuine identity.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Importance Of Attending SEO Conferences , Expos And Events

Author : Bharati Ahuja

Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes. Peter F. Drucker

Since 2000,  I have been upgrading my knowledge about SEO from the various blogs, forums, discussions and of course the plethora of information available on the Google webmaster blog and videos. The knowledge has been implemented on numerous websites to gain the necessary search engine presence and improve valuation of the digital assets of the companies concerned since then.

The field of search marketing is constantly changing as the search engines keep on upgrading their algorithms and the search behavior of the people also undergoes evolution over a period of time.

To keep up to that pace of upgradation is a challenge in itself. Though there is a lot of fresh information on the web about the latest developments in the field there comes a time atleast once a year when you want to interact with other professionals in your field to exchange news and views to get the confirmation and the confidence about all the self learning a person does.

In mid 2000 I used to search for such conferences , workshops, seminars and meetups so that I could get a chance to listen to other like-minded people , discuss and share knowledge and information mainly about organic search. But, usually such conferences were either held in Europe , America or Australia. In India I managed to attend some workshops organized by Google but they were focused on Adwords as a Google Product rather than SEO.

Such conferences are real time social media interactions which make you speak and listen as you discuss, share and thereby enhance your knowledge. Even if you are the shy kind you get to learn a lot merely by observation which have a lasting impression opening up new vistas of thought and imagination. As someone has aptly said,”The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”

With this purpose of reaching out to people and sharing knowledge about SEO in 2007 I had approached Ahmedabad Management Association and offered the SEO programme designed by me which they readily accepted and as I had expected all the participants were people related to the web development and web marketing industry who were all on the lookout for such programmes to get confirmation and confidence about what they knew about SEO. This year in October we will be reaching out to other cities via our “Online SEO Training Programmes”.

Of course the opportunities vary from country to country and the decision of attending such conferences and workshops depend on the budgets, the distance to be travelled and the no. of days that you can spare for such an activity. But, Especially for the search industry I think as we make provisions from our business funds for Research and Development, Branding, etc. we should also create budgets, reserves , provisions and save for attending conferences and workshops which in the long run prove to be an investment rather than an expense.

Such conferences do not only give knowledge gaining and marketing opportunities to the professionals of that niche industry but if well coordinated , conducted and organized are giving rise to the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions/events) tourism market which give an overall boost to the economy.

For the first time in Jan 2011 ClickAsiaSummit was held in India at Mumbai which was totally focused on Search and Social on a large scale inviting speaker from other parts of the world.

I find myself lucky to be able to attend a second conference this year that is SMX East to be held in New York from 13th Sept. 2011 to 15th Sept. 2011 and I look forward to attend all the sessions focused on SEO.

Danny Sullivan on has mentioned about the SMX East conference to be - "........on track to be our biggest search marketing conference ever, SMX East, with record attendance."

Related Links About Conferences and Events:

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