2011 #MozCon Videos are Here!

Posted by randfish

This year’s MozCon was, undoubtedly, the best event we’ve ever put on. The 500 attendees had some incredibly kind things to say about the event, perhaps the most remarkable of which is captured below in some of the charts I’ve extracted from a survey we ran to attendees.

As many who attend professional events in the SEO/online marketing world know, finding expert-level content is a huge challenge. We work tremendously hard to make sure MozCon provides a uniquely high level of material from every speaker and you can see that reflected below:

Was MozCon Advanced Enough For You?

Given the high level of folks who come to MozCon, the feedback above was incredibly flattering. Of course, we’ll be working even harder next year to make sure that little blue slice shrivels away entirely :-)

The next chart from SurveyMonkey shows whether those who attended would be likely to recommend the show to others:

How Likely Would You Be to Recommend MozCon

And again, I’m pretty excited by the results. 62% of those who responded said they’d give it a 10/10 when talking to others. Not too shabby!

Thus, I’m very excited to announce the 2011 MozCon Video Bundle. This year, rather than old-school, 1990’s technology, we’re trying something new and giving you the ability to stream the videos online and download them to your mobile devices. Pretty sweet, right?

The Powerpoint slide decks are also included with the video bundle, so you can follow along and grab the URLs that speakers reference in their presentations. We’re also doing something a little nuts: if you buy the bundle before November 30th you’ll get all of the videos from MozCon 2010* and Distilled’s SearchLove 2010* (that’s an extra 42 videos) for free!

What’s in the 2011 MozCon Video Bundle?

Included in the price ($299 for PRO members or $399 for non-PRO members) you’ll get:

  • 26 videos (over 14 hours) from MozCon in high definition
  • Stream or download the videos to your computer, iPhone, or Android device
  • Downloadable PowerPoint slide-decks for the presentations
  • Plus the limited time offer: Until November 30th you’ll get an additional 42 videos (over 26 hours of content) free of charge from our Seattle 2010 and Distilled’s London 2010 seminars.

26 videos of our best presentations yet

MozCon 2011 was our 6th annual event, and I can honestly say, it was our best event yet. We had three days chock full of astounding presentations plus an awesome lineup of speakers. When you purchase the bundle, you’ll get videos and the PowerPoint slide-decks for all 26 of the presentations. Essentially, it will be as if you were there… except without the ice cream breaks.

Watch the videos online in high definition

This year, we’ve tossed out the DVDs (well, OK, not actually tossed them; more like, just didn’t make them) and put the videos online. Once you purchase the bundle, you’ll have immediate access to watch all of the videos in high definition.

And download the videos for offline viewing…

You can also download any of the videos and watch them on an iPhone, iPad, or Android device giving you the ability to watch your videos wherever you want. This is perfect for a long plane ride or when you’re commuting to work (or relaxing in the living room furniture of your choice).

For a limited time… get an extra 42 videos from our 2010 events for free

We’re so excited about this year’s video bundle that we’re doing something special. For anyone who purchases the bundle before November 30th, we’ll include online videos from MozCon* 2010 in Seattle and Distilled’s SearchLove* 2010 London. In all, that’s an extra 42 videos (26 hours of content) included absolutely free!

What people said about MozCon 2011

MozCon is the best online marketing conference I have ever attended. The content is well-rounded and advanced.
Bekka Palmer
Senior SEO Strategist
Thunder SEO
Great presentations by expert speakers delivering up-to-date, actionable content in not just SEO, but also conversion rate optimization, Facebook and paid marketing, viral content design, and a host of other topics. I came away inspired to ‘make the web better’ by delivering even more SEO awesomeness to my clients.
Steve Ovens
Director of SEO
Digital Media Strategy Pty Ltd
I’ve been passionately involved in SEO/SEM for nearly a decade, and I can honestly say that MozCon was the most educational 3 days that I’ve ever experienced in that amount of time. There was a wealth of tangible information and insight that I’m going to be able to utilize in all aspects of SEO. MozCon was simply inspiring.
Greg Bebezas
SEM Specialist
OpenText Corporation
MozCon was all that I could have hoped for. I learned what we really needed to know to be successful at SEO, including the nitty-gritty techniques that you just don’t get at other conferences. MozCon is where it’s at.
Nils Rasmusson
Web/Graphic Designer
Beijer Electronics, Inc.

* p.s. Prior to 2011, we called these events "PRO SEO Training" but have since learned a little about branding :-) SEOmoz’s annual conference is now "MozCon" and Distilled’s is "SearchLove," which BTW, you can still buy tickets for next week in NYC if you’d like to join us in person.

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BT ordered to block Newzbin in 2 weeks

The music and film industry have moved a step on in their battle with file-sharing hub Newzbin (which is now Newzbin2, its second incarnation, having been previously shut down over copyright matters).

Today the powers-that-be successfully secured an order from the High Court which forces BT to put a block on the site in two weeks time.

What’s more, BT will have to fund the block out of its own pocket, which will run to some five grand – pocket change to the telecoms giant, of course, but an interesting twist to the ruling.

However, there’s a bit more to this story than Newzbin simply being blocked, of course.

BT will enforce the block on the website using its Cleanfeed technology. However, when the judgement was first announced last month, Newzbin immediately began formulating methods and achieving workarounds to defeat Cleanfeed censorship.

Indeed, the order took into account the possibility of workarounds by provisioning for additional URLs to be blocked in the future, namely those that could be used to swerve the censorship.

In essence, a censorship battle is beginning, where BT will move to block Newzbin where it can, and the site will strive to keep ahead with counter-measures of its own.

However, there are a number of different paths that can be taken by Newzbin, and indeed users, to make keeping it locked down difficult. On the other hand, traffic is certainly going to take a hit, and probably a major one.

The Open Rights Group are rightly unimpressed about this move to curb liberty on the internet.

Peter Bradwell, a campaigner for the group, said: “Website blocking simply will not work. It’s a dangerous technological intervention when the legal markets are still a mess.”

“Consumers have moved online a lot quicker than the creative industries. The focus should be on making sure they catch up with consumer demand instead of these deranged plans to censor what people are allowed to look at.”

Nail, head, and hit, we think.

Of course, in the grand scheme of file-sharing, Newzbin is but a drop in the ocean. That still doesn’t mean this ruling doesn’t have potentially ominous undertones for the future of a free internet.

16 Insights into Google’s Rating Guidelines

Posted by Dr. Pete

ChecklistLast week, when the SEO world was distracted by revelations that Google was blocking keyword referral data and nostalgic mania over MC Hammer’s search engine, Search Engine Land released a leaked Google document outlining Google’s official guidelines for quality raters. I read the 125-page document out of curiosity, and I decided to share some valuable insights it contains into the mind of Google.

Sorry, No Secrets Here

If you’re looking for SEO “secrets,” you’ll be disappointed by this post. Although this is an internal document, and Google may not be happy about it being leaked, you won’t find a smoking gun here. What you will find is a training manual on Google’s philosophy of quality. The key to proactive SEO is to understand how Google thinks. If you only chase the algorithm, you’ll always be reacting to changes after they happen. Since the document in question is proprietary, I’m not going to link directly to copies of the document or quote large chunks of it. I’m writing this post because I sincerely believe that understanding Google’s philosophy of quality is a fundamentally “white hat” proposition.

What Is A Quality Rater?

Quality raters are Google’s fact checkers – the people who work to make sure the algorithm is doing what it’s supposed to do. Data from quality raters not only serves as quality control on existing SERPs, but it helps validate potential algorithm changes. When you consider that Google tested over 13,000 algorithm changes last year, it’s a pretty important job.

This particular document focuses on rating SERP quality based on specific queries. Essentially, a rater reviews the sites returned by a given query and evaluates each result based on relevance. Raters also flag sites that they consider to be spam. One last note: Google’s philosophy is not always reflected in the algorithm. The algorithm is an attempt to code quality into rules, and that attempt will always be imperfect. The document, for example, says almost nothing about back-link count, unique linking domains, linking C-blocks, etc. Those are all metrics that attempt to quantify relevance.

Here are 16 insights into the human side of Google’s quality equation, in no particular order…

(1) Relevance Is A Continuum

I think the biggest revelation of the document, in a broad sense, is that Google’s view of relevance is fairly sophisticated and nuanced. Raters are instructed to rate relevance along a continuum with 5 options: “Vital”, “Useful”, “Relevant”, “Slightly Relevant”, and “Off-topic”. Of course, there is always a certain amount of subjectivity to ratings, but Google provides many examples and detailed guidelines.

(2) Relevance & Spam Are Independent

Relevance is a rating, but spam is a flag. So, in Google’s view, a site can be useful but spammy, or it can be irrelevant but still spam-free. I think we see some of that philosophy in the algorithm. Content is relevant or irrelevant, but spam is about tactics and intent.

(3) The Most Likely Intent Rules

Some queries are ambiguous – “apple”, for example, can mean a lot of things without any context. Google instructs raters to, in most cases, use the dominant interpretation. What’s interesting is that their dominant interpretations often seem to favor big brands. In specific examples, the dominant interpretation of “apple” is Apple Computers and the dominant interpretation of “kayak” is the travel site Kayak.com.

Other interpretations (like “apple” the fruit or “kayak” the mode of transportation) automatically get lower relevance ratings if there’s a dominant interpretation. I think the notion of a dominant interpretation makes some sense, and it may be necessary for a rater to do their job, but it’s also highly subjective. In some cases, I just didn’t agree with Google’s examples, and I felt that the dominant interpretation unfairly penalized legitimate sites. Most people may want to buy an iPad when they type “apple”, but a site that specializes in online organic apple sales is still highly relevant to the ambiguous query, in my opinion.

(4) Some Results Are “Vital”

The “Vital” relevance rating is a special case. Any official entity – a company, an actor/actress, a politician, etc., can have a vital result. In most cases, this is their official home-page. Only a dominant interpretation can be vital – Apple Vacations will never be the vital result for “apple” (sorry, Apple Vacations; I don’t make the rules). I suspect this is a safety valve for checking the algorithm – if “vital” results don’t appear for entity searches, many people would question Google’s results, even if the SEO efforts of those entities don’t measure up.

Social profiles can also be vital, if those profiles are for individuals or small groups. So, a politician, actress or rock band could have multiple “vital” pages (their home-page, their Facebook page, and their Twitter profile, for example). Interestingly, Google specifically instructs that social media profiles for companies cannot be considered vital.

(5) Generic Queries Are Never Vital

Obviously, Walmart.com is a vital result for the query “walmart”, but Couches.com is not a vital result for the query “couches”. An exact-match domain doesn’t automatically make something vital, and some queries are inherently generic.

(6) Queries Come in 3 Flavors

Query intent can be classified, according to Google, as Action (“Do”), Information (“Know”) or Navigation (“Go”). Like ice cream, queries can come in more than one flavor (although Neapolitan ice cream should never substitute banana for vanilla). This Do/Know/Go model comes up a lot in the document and is a pretty useful structure for understanding search in general. Relevance is determined by intent – if a query is clearly action-oriented (e.g. “buy computer”), then only an Action (”Do”) result can be highly relevant.

(7) Useful Goes Beyond Relevance

This is wildly open to interpretation, but Google says that “useful” pages (the top rating below “vital”) should be more than just relevant – they should also be highly satisfying, authoritative, entertaining, and/or recent. This is left to the rater’s discretion, and no site has to meet all of these criteria, but it’s worth nothing that relevance alone isn’t always enough to get the top ratings.

(8) Relevance Implies Language Match

If a search result clearly doesn’t match the target language of the query, then in most cases that result is low-relevance. Likewise, if a query includes or implies a specific country, and the result doesn’t match that country, the result isn’t relevant.

(9) Local Intent Can Be Automatic

Even if a query is generic, it can imply local intent. Google gives the example of “ice rink” – a query for “ice rink” should return local results, and clearly non-local results should be rated as off-topic or useless. This applies whether or not the location is in the query. Again, expect Google to infer intent more and more, and local intent is becoming increasingly important to them.

(10) Landing Page Specificity Matters

A good landing page will fit the specificity of the query. A detailed product page, for example, is a better match to a long-tail query for a specific item. On the other hand, if the query is broad, then a broader resource may be more relevant. For example, if the query is “chicken recipes”, then a page with only one recipe isn’t as relevant as a list of recipes.

(11) Misspellings Are Rated By Intent

If a query is clearly misspelled, the relevance of the results should be based on the user’s most likely intent. In the old days, targeting misspellings was a common SEO practice, but I think we’re seeing more and more that Google will automatically push searchers toward the proper spelling. It’s likely Google is only going to get more aggressive about trying to determine intent and even pushing users toward the dominant intent.

(12) Copied Content Can Be Relevant

This may come as a surprise in a Post-Panda world, but Google officially recognizes that copied content isn’t automatically low quality, as long as it’s well-organized, useful, and isn’t just designed to drive ad views. Again, this is a bit subjective, and it’s clear that you have to add value somehow. A site with nothing but copied content (whether legitimately syndicated or scraped) isn’t going to gain high marks, and a site that’s only using copied content to wrap ads around it is going to be flagged as spam.

(13) Some Queries Don’t Need Defining

Dictionary or encyclopedia pages are only useful if a query generally merits definition or more information. If most users understand the meaning of the query word(s) – Google gives the example of “bank” – then a dictionary or encyclopedia page is not considered useful. Of course, tell that to Wikipedia.

(14) Ads Without Value Are Spam

One quote stood out in the document – “If a page exists only to make money, the page is spam.” Now, some business owners will object, saying that most sites exist to make money, in some form. When Google says “only to make money”, they seem to be saying money-making without content value. It’s ok to make money and have ads on your page, as long as you have content value to back it up. If you’ve just built a portal to collect cash, then you’re a spammer.

(15) Google.com Is Low Relevance

By Google’s standards, an empty search box with no results displayed is off-topic or useless. Ironic, isn’t it? Joking aside, the document does suggest that internal search results pages can be relevant and useful in some cases.

(16) Google Raters Use Firefox

I said no secrets, but I guess this is a little bit of inside information. Google raters are instructed to use Firefox, along with the web developer add-on. Do with that as you will.

Knowing Is 53.9% of The Battle*

So, there you go – 16 insights into the mind of Google. Advanced SEO, in my opinion, really comes down to understanding how Google thinks, and how they translate their values and objectives into code. You can lose a lot of time and money only making changes when you’ve lost ranking – really understanding the mind of Google is the best way to future-proof your SEO efforts.

*I always wondered what the other half was – blowing stuff up, apparently.

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Gadaffi’s death photos cyber-scam

With every major worldwide event – be it a disaster like the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, or the death of a celebrity or dictator – cyber-criminals are now looking to immediately cash in on curious surfers.

When the Japanese quake hit, that was a prime chance for low-lives around the world to strike with fake donation pages.

When Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse died, promises of revelations of exactly how they passed away lured people to click through to malware bearing pages.

As security firm BitDefender points out on its malware blog, there have even been scams which have announced fake celebrity deaths to lure folks into clicking on links. Material such as “Lady Gaga found dead in hotel room” may prove irresistible to large droves of unwise surfers.

So it isn’t surprising, then, that following another major world event – the death of Colonel Gadaffi – there are scams on the loose which are aiming to profit from the affair.

Unlike many scams – Osama’s non-existent death video, for example – it is known that graphic footage does exist online regarding Gadaffi’s death. Bits of it have been shown on the national news, of course, with his limp and bloodied body being paraded around streets.

So the fake malware bearing video links are quite likely to get even more attention and click mileage, given more credence by this knowledge.

Just be warned that there are plenty of cyber-ne’er-do-wells who are aware of this fact, so there will be plenty of scam material out there by now.

Our advice: we wouldn’t bother with any online video claiming to show Gadaffi’s demise or graphic footage of his body in some form. Is it really worth the risk of getting hit with malware?

Be especially aware that there’s a known email scam going round at the moment, with mails claiming to have “AFP Photo News” pictures of Gadaffi’s bloodied corpse. A file is attached which carries a malware payload.

As always, be very careful what you click on, particularly after major news events these days, with cyber-crooks increasingly looking to exploit public curiosity online.

UK ranked 25th in European broadband

Akamai has released its latest quarterly “State of the Internet” report, which examines broadband connections worldwide and rates countries and cities against each other.

The data collected is based on some 600 million unique IPs connected to the Akamai Intelligent Platform, which serves “as much as 30 percent of the world’s Web traffic at any one time”, the company claims. A pretty broad sample by all accounts.

As far as the fastest cities in the world went, unsurprisingly enough, Asia dominated the rankings, with the top 10 entirely consisting of Japanese and South Korean cities, save for one (San Jose in the US, the capital of Silicon Valley).

Of the top 100 fastest cities, 59 were in Japan and 10 were in South Korea. The fastest European city was Brno in the Czech Republic, which ranked number 55 with an average connection speed of 8.3Mbps. No cities in the UK made the list.

Akamai found that 30% of broadband connections in the UK were above 5Mbps on average, which is a 70% increase on last year (and 18% up from last quarter). This meant the UK placed 25th amongst the high broadband connectivity table for the fastest countries in Europe.

Not a hugely impressive performance, and lagging well behind European leaders the Netherlands, who managed to secure 68% of connections above the 5Mbps mark.

In the standard broadband connectivity table we managed a better 11th placing, due to 91% of connections being over 2Mbps, up 10% year-on-year and perhaps indicative that the government could meet its 2Mbps-for-all target before 2015 (originally that was supposed to be next year, but that clearly was never going to happen).

When it came to the average peak connection speed in Europe, we placed 28th with a speed of 18.9Mbps. In terms of global internet penetration we managed a more impressive 6th place, an increase of 15% year-on-year.

With Virgin and BT’s super-fast broadband roll-outs now well underway, partly subsidised by big wedges of government cash, we can expect our average Mbps figure – particularly in the high broadband connectivity stakes – to go upwards with a bit more conviction.

And not before time.

How To Recruit An SEO – The SEO Industry Leaders Reveal Their Secrets

Posted by Matthew Ogston

There comes a point in your career as an SEO when you need to recruit someone else. Whether that’s to expand your own consulting firm, or as part of your management role within another company – either way you need to get another human being on-board with what you are doing.

Hiring is important, people can make or break a team, they create a culture and they determine whether your client projects are going to succeed or fail. You get my point, making good decisions when it comes to who you hire is critical.

So how do you get good at hiring? Don’t believe anyone who tells you that getting good at hiring is an overnight thing; that being said, there is a lot we can learn from people out there doing the hiring right now and I’ve been lucky enough to talk with some of the brightest minds in the SEO business to get to know their thought processes, insights, secrets, mistakes and tips.

I imagine the following individuals need no introduction so I want to jump straight in to the good stuff but before I do I want to say a massive thank you to (in alphabetical order..) Patrick Altoft, Richard Baxter, Will Critchlow, Rand Fishkin, Russ Jones, Rob Kerry, Ian Lurie, Dave Naylor and Ben Norman. All of these guys either run or form part of the leadership team at some of the world’s most widely respected SEO companies (mainly agencies, but Rand of course runs SEOmoz) so they definitely know their stuff when it comes to building a team that makes a business successful.

Quick Question Links

  1. How did you learn to hire?
  2. Do you hire with your heart or head?
  3. In one sentence, and in your view, what makes an SEO candidate very hireable?
  4. How important is it for a candidate to have their own website or portfolio?
  5. How do you currently advertise job vacancies?
  6. How do you test a candidate on their knowledge of SEO?
  7. What is one question you ask every interviewee?
  8. Do you prefer a formal/informal interview process?
  9. Do you have a secret method for assessing candidates?
  10. Do you hire based on number of years’ experience or quality of that experience?
  11. What do you do to retain talent in your business?
  12. What kind of culture are you looking to create within your business?
  13. What skills would you like to see more SEOs have?
  14. Do you have any funny hiring stories you could share with us?

#1 – How did you ‘learn to hire’?

Always a fun question to ask people since many will tell you that you can’t learn to hire but still some very interesting responses.

"You can’t really learn how to hire a good SEO from a book or a seminar, some of the worst interviews that I’ve witnessed have been conducted by highly trained HR personnel. My hiring experience comes from the few interviews that I’ve had on the other side of the table, and 7+ years of practice in hiring SEOs." – Rob Kerry

"There is no special formula or book that can teach that as far as I have seen." – Patrick Altoft

"I taught myself through trial and error. I had to learn what a ‘bad hire’ looked like, first. It’s expensive, but a mistake I think we all make from time to time." – Richard Baxter

"Primarily from trial and error actually :-) I made a lot of hiring mistakes early in my career and over time, learned from that." – Rand Fishkin

"I learnt how to interview from previous roles in other companies along with coaching from fellow coworkers at those companies." – Ben Norman

"I don’t think I have learnt how to hire an SEO as each experience and case is different. We don’t follow typical recruitment patterns really as we hate the recruitment process that seems to be the norm these days with first and second interviews, having to do reports or develop a SEO strategy as people can prep for these things and often it doesn’t show their real skills or personality." – Dave Naylor

"Oh, I’m still learning. My role models tend to be historical: Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with smart people he knew wouldn’t always agree, but would be willing to say ‘You’re wrong, Mr. President.’ I try very hard to do the same." – Ian Lurie

"Like pretty much everything we do these days, I would say we have picked it up from some combination of first principles, trial and error and research. We have read a lot and taken a lot of advice, but you only really learn by doing." – Will Critchlow

"I have always been a decent judge of personality and character, which tend to be the most important assets in a small business…the CEO of our company, who has far more experience hiring and firing, has been most useful in shaping who and how I hire." – Russ Jones

The key takeaways from this seem to be that ‘learning how to hire’ comes with experience, a little theory from books and blogs, surrounding yourself with mentors you can learn from and making a few mistakes along the way.

#2 – Do you hire with your heart or your head?

"Most definitely my heart. It’s probably not ideal but genuinely, I look out for people I think will blend in well with the team (a cultural fit) – this can’t be measured with facts and figures, at least not in my experience. Obviously there’s a requirement to demonstrate previous achievements, but I also look for raw intelligence and problem solving over experience. SEO I can teach, attitude and aptitude I cannot." – Richard Baxter

Richard’s thoughts on this really resonated with me and his logic rings true across any sector – industry-specific skills can be taught but you can’t change how a person is.

"Both. Because SEOmoz is such a strong, culture-driven environment, I think it’s essential to have great culture-fit and the ability to enjoy one another’s company, personally and professionally." – Rand Fishkin

"I believe that I hire more with my heart than my head, but rarely do I find that they conflict." – Russ Jones

"We use a bit of both really you need to use your head to ensure they are qualified to do the role and to answer the logistical questions such as skills and experience but you need to use your heart to ensure they are a good fit for your team and to understand how much they want the role and how much they are prepared to commit. We find that the people with less experience and more determination and want to succeed often end up doing better in the role as they are more committed." – Ben Norman

"I reckon it’s neither heart or head…normally it’s a gut instinct." – Dave Naylor

"I wish I could say my head, but I tend to hire more with my heart. In the end, my gut is always almost right, and my ‘business sense’ hiring decisions tend to end horribly. I think it makes sense in the end – if you respect and like someone you work with, then you work together through rough spots. If you don’t like/respect them, then it’s very hard to feel like it’s worth working through the rough spots." – Ian Lurie

"I would say we as a company are led by our hearts. We don’t put a huge stock in CVs or degrees (not even requiring them in many cases). We want to see the real evidence of the right kinds of skills, abilities and attitudes but it doesn’t have to be particularly formal. On a personal note, I am perhaps slightly more ‘head’ driven than the others – I do at least tend to turn to that part of the CV and ask about degrees, previous jobs etc in detail." – Will Critchlow

"I always hire with my heart, not my head. If your team is important to you, you want to protect it. This is when you start getting good/bad hunches about candidates. This is another reason why the person heading up an SEO team should conduct the hiring, what’s written on a CV is of very little value in an SEO role." – Rob Kerry

#3 – In one sentence, and in your view, what makes an SEO candidate very hireable?

"A good understanding of the technical aspects of a website, and most importantly a real passion for the SEO industry." – Dave Naylor

"A good SEO candidate is passionate about their craft, either running their own test/affiliate sites outside of work or being heavily active in helping the SEO community." – Rob Kerry

"The ability to demonstrate their understanding of how SEO works within the interview without sounding exactly the same as what’s written on our website." – Patrick Altoft

"The most important asset an SEO can have is an unquenchable desire to learn, we turn down nearly every applicant who claims to already ‘know’ SEO." – Russ Jones

"[An SEO] that’s smart and gets stuff done" – Will Critchlow

"Intellectual curiosity, written communications skills and a good, problem-solving mind are my top three requirements." – Ian Lurie

"Having applicable skills and some kind of experience along with the love and passion to put in all that is needed to succeed in the role." – Ben Norman

"Very smart, likeable and hardworking." – Richard Baxter

"The three qualities that have produced the most successful SEOs are, in my view – #1: phenomenal ability to learn & adapt; #2: the ability and drive to find and execute solutions, aka hustle; #3 – the ability to influence people and organizations with data + inspiration." – Rand Fishkin

Passion is important to these guys so the key takeaway from this question is that when it comes to hiring the right kind of SEO, looking for ways to attract passionate individuals into your team is a must.

As a side note for anyone reading this who wants a job (rather than to fill a job); it is clear from these responses that anyone looking to get on in the world of SEO is going to need some serious passion, both for working hard and producing top notch work as well as a passion for learning and developing yourself. Really convey your passion for the industry.

#4 – How important is it for a candidate to have their own website or portfolio?

"It’s all about evidence of capability for me, at least past a certain time in the industry. Someone who owns and runs a successful site of their own is highly likely to have developed SEO skills beyond that of an SEO with no sites at all." – Richard Baxter

"Pretty important as it shows that they have the enthusiasm to learn and have dedicated their own time to learn more about SEO." – Dave Naylor

"Having your own portfolio of websites is not essential for an SEO joining Ayima, but carrying a passion for SEO outside of work certainly is. If you don’t own your own sites, you should still be involved in SEO networking events or online communities. Having websites to conduct tests on is very handy, as is experience in making money online through SEO. It’s always interesting to see what SEOs come up with when they have very little budget and only a few hours of time each weekend." – Rob Kerry

"It’s an excellent signal, but I have met great SEOs who don’t have them (particularly if they’ve been in-house or on agency/consulting teams)." – Rand Fishkin

"It is not essential but it is a great example of how good they are and their love of the industry if they have some sort of presence and profile online. It also makes it easier for them to demonstrate their own skills if they have examples of their own work." – Ben Norman

"It really depends. If I’m hiring someone where I’m asking for experience, then a portfolio is crucial. Usually though I’m looking for the mental raw materials, in which case it’s less important." – Ian Lurie

"Any experienced SEO should be able to show sites they have set up even if they are low quality affiliate sites." – Patrick Altoft

"They don’t need to necessarily have their own personal website, but they do need to have a portfolio of work. I want to see what the candidate does online from 5 to 9, not from 9 to 5. The more interesting, experimental, and impressive that part of their resume is, the more likely they will join our team." – Russ Jones

#5 – How do you currently advertise job vacancies?

Social recruiting is certainly widely used in the SEO industry and one thing is clear, recruitment agencies aren’t all that popular!

"Mainly on our website. We also tend to list in a few other places, but increasingly we get our applicants via our extended network and blog / twitter followers." – Will Critchlow

"We have a couple folks who do in-house recruiting and use a combination of tactics including LinkedIn connections, team solicitation, job boards and then have a funnel process for reviewing applications, having phone calls, in-person interviews, etc." – Rand Fishkin

"One thing for sure is that we never use recruitment agencies, and never will. When we have tried to advertise a SEO position through the normal job sites we tend to end up with lots of ‘tyre kickers’. We have filled nearly every SEO position in Bronco by being approached out of the blue by people who want to work for us." – Dave Naylor

"We advertise on our own site, Twitter and LinkedIn. We’ll also reach out through local universities where it makes sense. We do use Craigslist at times, but with only mixed results. My existing network is my best source of recruits." – Ian Lurie

"We use several jobs boards along with Facebook and our website advertising, along with word of mouth to find the right people, although the bigger we are getting and more well know we have more and more people seeking us out eliminating the need to advertise ourselves." – Ben Norman

"We tend to advertise on our blog and website and have relationships with local universities to fill graduate roles." – Patrick Altoft

"Craigslist, Linked In and SEOMoz" – Russ Jones

"Ayima is lucky enough to have independent channels into the SEO community via our LondonSEO networking events and the LinkedSEO group on LinkedIn. We also advertise roles via Twitter, LinkedIn Status Updates and Facebook. Ayima’s London-based SEO team was built from existing friends in the industry (networking works!) and people that follow me on Twitter. Our latest hire, is the only exception to this rule – he found us via the old SEOgadget job board." – Rob Kerry

"We rank number 1 in the UK for ‘SEO jobs’. I used to have a jobs board but it wasn’t a particularly valuable bit of the business. I binned it a few months ago. We don’t use recruitment agencies – everyone who works at SEOgadget found us via Twitter or through friends." – Richard Baxter

#6 – How do you test a candidate on their knowledge of SEO?

"An awful lot of our hires come in as juniors and so we are often testing aptitude rather than existing knowledge. That said, when we want to dig into details, we get straight to the nitty gritty – we ask our applicants to whiteboard answers to real problems, to dig around on sites in front of us, that kind of thing. Nothing beats seeing someone’s thought processes – it means you can’t hide being slow to get to the answer or the wrong turns you take along the way." – Will Critchlow

"I have a list of questions that I’ve developed over the years. I always point out though, that if a candidate doesn’t know the answer, then I’m assessing them on their ability to ‘figure it out’ on the fly. Really smart people don’t need much actual experience to be impressive in an SEO interview!" – Richard Baxter

"We don’t test their knowledge as such but if you are chatting for a short time about SEO you can generally gauge their understanding and level of ability." – Dave Naylor

"We have developed an interview scenario where we give interviewees details about a client and 20 minutes to perform keyword research & opportunity analysis as well as devise a link strategy. It’s tough but the best candidates can do it and it sorts out the candidates who struggle under pressure." – Patrick Altoft

"Giving SEOs a test on the first interview is essential for me, there are SEOs in very high-up positions at other agencies who would not pass one of our basic tests. As I mentioned before, never trust CVs, you can easily cruise for years in an in-house or agency SEO role without even knowing the basics. I’m evil (you didn’t know?), so I try to make candidates as stressed as possible during the test! Give the Windows users a Mac to use, don’t tell them about the test, put them on the spot. This not only proves their experience but also their ability to cope under pressure. You don’t expect them to be perfect (even the coolest cats crumble), but it reveals more than any other interview question. Giving advanced notice of the test or the site you’re planning to ask them to review voids the test’s validity, my mum could pass an SEO test if she had time to revise." – Rob Kerry

"Yes. We give candidates a real life example of what they would do for our company. For example, in a recent application process we asked the applicants to pretend they were given three hours by a client to recommend strategies to improve their rankings. We give them all the same website (but not an actual client) and let them prove their abilities that way." – Russ Jones

"We have a set interview process along with a few practical tests that we do to ensure that they can do what they say they can." – Ben Norman

"If they claim to have experience, then yes, I test the heck out of them. I show them code and ask them if anything’s wrong with it; I ask them to optimize copy; I present scenarios where clients resist change and ask how they’d work to make their case; and I ask questions about current industry knowledge. I’ll also often ask questions about information retrieval, but that’s just mean :)" – Ian Lurie

I think it can be said that it is about how the candidate responds as opposed to the answer they give i.e. how do they cope under pressure, how creative are they and how quick on their feet can they be.

#7 – What is one question you ask every interviewee?

"What do you think about paid links? There is so much wrapped up in this debate – Return on Investment, Ethics, Risk, etc. that we can learn a lot from a candidate. There is no right answer to this question, but there are tons of wrong ones." – Russ Jones

"Are you a good team player?" – Dave Naylor

"My interview questions tend to be consistent in order to make candidates easier to compare. I do like the cliché question of ‘Where would you like to be in 5-10 years?’. Someone destined for mainstream agencies will answer ‘I’d like to be promoted, possibly doing your job’. A candidate destined for in-house will answer ‘I’m happy just to stay a consultant and get deep into a big SEO campaign’. An Ayima candidate will often say ‘I don’t want to be an SEO consultant all my life. Ideally I’d be on a beach earning affiliate money whilst sipping down a Daiquiri. Maybe not in five years, but hopefully in 10.’" – Rob Kerry

"Why do you want to do SEO?" – Patrick Altoft

"Why do you want to work at Distilled? We are in a very lucky position these days to get quite a few applicants who really want to work with us and this helps us gauge how much they know about the way we operate. We’re pretty transparent in what we do and how we work so if someone has done their research, they will really know that they want to join the team." – Will Critchlow

"In a perfect world, what do you want to be doing in three years?" – Ian Lurie

"Why do you want to work at startup vs. something more stable and more specifically, why SEOmoz?" – Rand Fishkin

"Why should we give you the role? It works well at ensuring they believe in themselves and actually understand why they want the role." – Ben Norman

"Why do you want to work at SEOgadget?" – Richard Baxter

#8 – Do you prefer a formal/informal interview process?

"I like to do both for the exec level candidates I personally hire, but for most roles, two rounds of formal interviews are our process." – Rand Fishkin

"Very informal process. The last guy we employed, Steve, we did just following what was meant to be a half hour telephone interview which turned into a two hour chat about SEO." – Dave Naylor

"At the start of Ayima, I used to have a very informal interview style – largely because I already knew the people I was hiring. I interviewed Chewie and Jane down the pub. As we’ve grown, I’ve adapted to a more formal interview style, partly because I do not know the candidates already and partly because I need to comply with HR and employment laws." – Rob Kerry

"Our interviews tend to be 30-60 minutes and are quite informal." – Patrick Altoft

"Informal. We don’t work in a formal atmosphere daily, so why should we pretend one exists for an interview? Plus, it is always fun to see applicants walk in with three-piece suits while we are in jeans and the latest Woot T-Shirt." – Russ Jones

#9 – Do you have a secret method for assessing candidates?

"Present them with a tough problem and see how they respond. Don’t demand a right answer. It’s more important, initially, to see what they do. If they stare into space, or attempt to BS and answer, they’re a poor candidate. If they’re willing to say they don’t know, or that they’ll research it, they’re a good candidate." – Ian Lurie

"Pick on them. I always make some sarcastic, disparaging comment – normally something about how they are dressed up and everyone else is in shorts, or they went to a rival university, etc. While it is all in jest, seeing how a person responds to a jab (no matter how insignificant) is essential to rolling with the punches in SEO. Every day there is a Google update to contend with that will potentially push one of our many clients back. If you can’t handle a joke with grace, how will you handle a slap in the face from Google?" – Russ Jones

"If we told you it wouldn’t be very secret now would it :)" – Ben Norman

"Don’t think so apart from the normal social media stalking and checking a few sites that they have worked on." – Dave Naylor

"No, but I did consider taking our group interviewees to the go karting track and only putting the top three through to the second round" – Richard Baxter

"There’s no secret to assessing a candidate, you literally feel good about them or you don’t. My team is like my extended family, I only let people in if I trust them enough to be part of that family. That’s not saying that there is anything wrong with the people that I turn down, I’ve even turned down existing friends before, it’s more about whether they’d fit into our culture and ways of working." – Rob Kerry

"Nope! We’re committed to transparency, so we try to be very upfront about expectations. We believe an interview is a great opportunity for a candidate to learn more about the company, too, so we want to put our best foot forward." – Rand Fishkin

#10 – Do you hire based on number of years’ experience or quality of that experience?

"Experience comes with baggage, so we focus on quality. I know plenty of SEOs with fewer than two or three years of experience who exceed the talents of known industry professionals." – Russ Jones

"I don’t think you can measure the quality of experience – it’s more about the results and the candidate’s ability to walk you through what they did. If the quality of the approach was sound, you know you’ve got a good SEO." – Richard Baxter

"SEO experience is relative to effort rather than years. Some of our SEOs have only 4/5 years of experience, but they’ve done an awful lot during that time. Attitude is probably as important as experience, the willingness to learn a completely different approach to SEO and to accept that most SEO blog posts and courses are BS. Saying that, almost half our team has been doing SEO for over a decade." – Rob Kerry

"We hire based on intelligence and aptitude. Since Branded3 does SEO differently to every other agency in the area we don’t usually employ candidates from other agencies although we do interview quite a few." – Patrick Altoft

"Almost always quality and what they’ve accomplished rather than raw years." – Rand Fishkin

"Totally on the quality of experience. They could have been in the SEO industry for as long as me but may not be the right fit for Bronco, or not be good enough." – Dave Naylor

#11 – What do you do to retain talent in your business?

"Quite a lot! Every staff member gets to attend a few conferences (we’re all going to searchlove, conversion conference), the famous Nando’s Friday, SEO Forum Fridays, Go-Karting and staff days out, your birthday off for free, season ticket / laptop loans and a few special things we’re working on for early next year." – Richard Baxter

"We make Bronco the kind of company that if Becky and I had to work somewhere we would want to work for Bronco. We try to create a great atmosphere in the office where we work and play hard. We give out free broadband, private health care, fuel payments for people who drive to work, a well-stocked kitchen with fresh fruit and biscuits, and the BroncoPlex which gives staff a breakout area to play pool, arcade games, darts and the xbox. We also pay excellent salaries, high bonuses and have great parties." – Dave Naylor

"We work hard to make Moz one of the city’s best places to work. I’m proud to say that we’ve got a very good retention rate with team members so far." – Rand Fishkin

"We offer a fun, thriving and growing place to work with good remuneration and benefits." – Ben Norman

"I have high expectations and make them known. I respect my employees as equals, in both good and bad situations. And I reward them in every way possible for taking the initiative, learning and helping Portent grow." – Ian Lurie

"We have an internal focus on being ‘the best place for the best people to work’. Another one of those sentences with so much buried in it. It doesn’t mean we’ll be the best place for everyone to work – and it doesn’t mean we just get to sit around on beanbags all day (that wouldn’t be ‘work’). Manifestations of this range from the work we do to push people to take more responsibility, to do bigger and better things through to the mundane bits round the edges like beer o’clock, the hack days, the move to laptops so everyone has flexibility in work environment. To be honest, it’s an area we are constantly trying to do more in. One recent addition was the creation of a personal ‘learning budget’ for everyone to spend as they wish on any kind of learning. We value curiosity and we think learning new stuff brings value in all kinds of ways – even if it isn’t pure SEO training." – Will Critchlow

"When you leave Virante at the end of the day, you normally don’t feel like you have been at work. We spend a lot of energy vetting people for their personalities in the hiring process that it is genuinely fun to be at Virante. We call this our No Asshole policy." – Russ Jones

"I retain staff by doing the opposite of what you’re meant to do – I treat staff like friends/family. Our team banter probably breaks many HR guidelines, but I’ve never lost a team member and know that they have my back – no matter what." – Rob Kerry

#12 – What kind of culture are you looking to create within your business?

"The culture of a modern, hard-working, and successful SEO company. As Directors we’re working harder than we have ever done pushing the company forward. Even though the company is doing extremely well, we’re not driving to work in Ferraris as we have built the company so that as the company grows the staff will reap the rewards too." – Dave Naylor

"Ayima has a dot com feel to it, but we also make a nice profit! The SEO team goes for beers at least a few times a week and Ayima holds at least two company parties a year at swanky bars and restaurants. We work late or on weekends now and again, but counter that with a lot of fun (sometimes in other countries). Our company also has a relatively flat structure, with all of the SEOs at the same level on our org chart. This removes the inner-battles for promotion that the traditional agency model often brings with it. The team is happy in the knowledge that they get rewarded in more meaningful ways and that the fun/big clients get spread evenly among the group." – Rob Kerry

"I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that we are trying to ‘create’ a culture. Virante’s culture exists because we have chosen to hire good people with great senses of humor who genuinely want to do a good job – whatever that job may be. Subsequently, our culture is best described as ‘awesome’." – Russ Jones

"A relaxed but professional environment which supports professional growth and rewards hard work." – Ben Norman

"We’re very explicit about our culture; you can read more about that here." – Rand Fishkin

#13 – What skills would you like to see more SEOs have?

"The default answer seems to be ‘coding skills’ right now but I think it’s more about deep creativity – the ability to craft truly amazing content and understand what makes for successful content on the web is one of my top hiring priorities!" – Richard Baxter

"Programming and software engineering are the specific skills that I think a lot of SEOs would benefit from developing." – Rand Fishkin

"I’d like to see more SEOs with tech backgrounds, which would be possible if Eric Schmidt’s wish or the UK education system comes true. Marketing degrees are pretty much useless for SEOs, whereas knowing why different servers/platforms do different things and how to implement SEO tech fixes is very valuable. I have no problem hiring people that simply have a desire to learn these skills though. I’m also a big fan of specialists in certain areas, such as our Dave’s experience in Local Search, or people with some social media planning/rigging background." – Rob Kerry

"I probably value technical / mathematical skills quite highly because that’s my background, but as an industry, I wish we all had a more solid grounding in regular marketing theory and practice – we can be too cut off from all the learning that has gone before. I’m sure we are constantly reinventing traditional marketing’s wheel." – Will Critchlow

"Programming. An SEO who can’t code is like a conductor who can’t play an instrument." – Russ Jones

"Writing. WRITING. If someone can write and communicate well, they can do anything. If they can’t, everything else becomes a chore. After that, problem solving and research skills, which are sorely lacking in all industries these days." – Ian Lurie

"Project management and organisational skills as these are essential for effective client management." – Ben Norman

"I’d like them to have more of a grasp of the bigger picture, but that’s what I’m there for!" – Dave Naylor

#14 – Do you have any funny hiring stories you could share with us?

"When we first brought her in for an interview (to be our office manager, by the way) my current Director of Search – a brilliant search marketer – thought we did ‘paperclip marketing’ and really wondered what the hell she was getting herself into. In the course of the interview it became clear she had a good brain for search marketing, and we hired her for that instead. She figured out the paperclip thing herself :)" – Ian Lurie

"We had a candidate send us a pizza box recently with colored post-it notes explaining why we should hire her. That was pretty cool :-) I think some of the team is talking to her soon." – Rand Fishkin

"In one interview with a graduate they stated ’so what would I need to do? I know I have to phone Google and stuff to get the stuff done but what else??"’this was quite amusing as they had no clue whatsoever." – Ben Norman

"Our office is quite hard to find so most of the stories involve people being either late or not able to find the office at all. Once candidate had to be picked up from a village five miles away and another didn’t arrive until 9pm at night after he was lost. He said the office was all locked up which wasn’t the case so not only was he three hours late but he went to the wrong place!" – Patrick Altoft

"Our longest-standing employee was six hours late (yes, you read that right) to her interview. She had transport issues on the way and did call ahead. Duncan and I waited in the office, interviewed her after hours and hired her. Her first interview question was ‘would you like a beer?’ (we both had one) [answer: ‘Yes please!’]." – Will Critchlow

The hiring and recruiting challenges experienced by those interviewed reflect the attitude seen in many successful tech companies and startups. Good people are critical to the success of a growing company, and good people are hard to come by.

Recruiting and hiring great people is a skill. To some, it comes naturally, to others it must be learnt through trial and error. One thing is for sure – hiring is definitely not a science. Some candidates can look great on paper, but when they quizzed faced to face the cracks start to show. For permanent roles, many would always favour cultural team fit and a positive ‘can-do’ attitude over someone who is technically brilliant. What’s the point of hiring someone who produces good work, but creates a negative atmosphere in the office?

Retention is also very important. All of the companies interviewed recognise that a happy and mentally content team will lead to a better things for the company. Treating staff like real people, not just cogs in a machine is the first step. People have needs beyond their pay-check and this needs to be reflected in the culture of your company. If it’s taken you months to find the right person, spent money recruiting and training then it’s good business sense that you’d want to keep them for as long as possible.

By Matthew Ogston – CEO at JobPage.com, applicant tracking & social recruiting for the new economy. Save time and money by hiring technical and marketing staff directly

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Getting Rankings into GA Using Custom Variables

Posted by dohertyjf

Gathering rankings is one of the most annoying and time consuming tasks of an SEO consultant’s work. Because of search personalization, it can be near impossible to find accurate rankings for keywords to report to clients or to use to gauge our work’s effectiveness.

Michael King and I have found a way to get rankings for the keywords driving traffic to your site directly into your Analytics using Custom Variables. Not only that, but we can also get international rankings based off of the keywords and the location from where the person came. And finally, this may also be a step towards identifying the identity of the (not provided) keywords we are now seeing thanks to "privacy concerns".

How Do I Get These Rankings Into My GA?

Different people have come up with different ways to get rankings directly into GA. One tactic is to create a custom profile using directions from this post by Chris Abernethy. This strategy works fairly well, but requires a lot of setup and requires you to be able to create another profile on your account. It also requires many steps and custom filters to clean the data.

Mike and I decided that a custom variable would be a better way to go. In order to make this strategy work, you need to be able to do the following (or know someone who can):

1) Insert the Javascript custom variable that I will provide you below into your section of your website below your normal GA code;

2) Insert a parameter into your <body> tag;

3) Be able to slice/dice your data in Analytics; and

4) Use some Excel wizardry to present the data.

The Code

Here’s the code that you need to use to send the data from your site into GA. Put this code in the section of your site, directly under your normal GA code:

Get the code here

Now you need to put this code into the <body> tag of your site. Yes, directly within the body tag. This code:


Your <body> tag will end up looking something like this:

<body onLoad="rankingsPush();">

Now sit back and let the data collect!

Where Do I Find This Data?

You find the data that is collecting under your Custom Variables tab in GA. I’ll show you some screenshots. Click on Visitors > Demographics > Custom Variables, like so:

Custom Variables Location in GA

Then you’ll see this screen:

Click Through 

Click through that and make your Secondary Dimension "Keywords". Boom! You get rankings and keywords!

What Can We Do With This Data?

Now we’ve got the rankings of the keywords driving traffic (which is what we really care about, right?). Data is worthless without applications, so let’s come up with a few. Endless possibilities exist for slicing and dicing the data.

International Rankings

One cool thing that I did was match up the keywords and their positions with the country from which the visit came. You get the average ranking of the keyword driving traffic (which you also get in Webmaster Tools), but now you can break this down by country! Like so:

We could guess at what the (not provided) keywords are

We may also be able to guess at what the keywords coming up as (not provided) are now. As you can see in the screenshot below, I know that my visits from (not provided) are ranking #1 and #2. Based off of this, I can narrow it down to only my keywords ranking #1 and #2. If I do this for the data set I am working off of, I get these keywords:

Now that I’ve narrowed this down, I can take the landing pages for these rankings (set secondary dimension to "Landing Page"):

And I can see the landing page for my (not provided) keywords (Traffic > Sources > Search > Organic):

So, we can guess that most of the (not provided) keywords probably have something to with my name, since the majority went to my homepage where my name ranks #1 or #2.

*note* I am sure that someone with some mad Excel skills could automate this. If someone wants to take a crack at it, feel free and I’ll link to it.

What other applications can you think of? How could we make this data sing even more?

I welcome your comments below!

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Google Hides Search Referral Data with New SSL Implementation – Emergency Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Aaron Wheeler

 On Tuesday, Google announced that signed-in users will, by default, be routed to the SSL version of Google (https://www.google.com). Before Tuesday, most users used non-SSL Google for their searches. Now, according to Google, "…a web site accessed through organic search results on http://www.google.com (non-SSL) can see both that the user came from google.com and their search query… However, for organic search results on SSL search, a web site will only know that the user came from google.com." The effects were obvious immediately. Here’s a screenshot of our GA account showing the quantity of "(not provided)" keywords going up from Sunday to today:

Google Analytics (not provided) visitors

Clearly, the inbound marketing community isn’t thrilled. Take Ian Lurie of Portent, for example: he declared war with Google outright. Having a bunch of "(not provided)" referral keywords in Google Analytics is definitely not pretty. Fortunately, as Avinash Kaushik explains in this Google+ post, there’s something you can do to at least gauge the effects on your analytics, and as Rand will explain, the effects aren’t as devestating for most users as they could be. Yet.

In this emergency Whiteboard Friday, Rand will go over the changes Google has made, why it happened (and why it really might have happened), and what you can do to stay calm and fight back. Let us know how this change has affected your sites in the comments below!


Video Transcription

Howdy SEOmoz fans. Welcome to a special emergency edition of Whiteboard Day Agnostic We’ll Interrupt Any Day to Do This. Unfortunately, Google has made a big change to the way that they are serving keyword referral data from their search results, and this is going to have an unfortunate impact on all of us who do white hat SEO, who do web analytics, and who try to learn from this practice.

I want to try in this Whiteboard video to explain why this has happened, what Google is doing, why they claim they’re doing it, and then also explore some of the reasons that they might actually be doing it, and try to provide some actual information about what folks in the web analytics and SEO spheres can do since this data may become less available.

So let’s start by explaining what happens when you do a Google search today. For example, I have done a Google search here for "learn SEO." I click the Search button and some results pop up, and here’s this nice learn SEO, SEOmoz, www.seomoz.org, learn SEO, and then there’s an ad over here, "Learn SEO from PayMeBucks.com." Click on my ad. Dude, I need your visits bad. That probably would not get approved by the AdWords people, but you can get the idea.

Now previously, if I were to click this result or this result, the web analytics tool, whatever it is – your Webtrends, your Omniture, your Google Analytics – at the other end would get some referral data, so with your log file, get some referral data about what sent that visit, which keyword sent that visit. So in this case, it would be "learn SEO" sent a visit from Google.com search over to my website. It would track whether it’s a paid or an organic ad.

This is changing. It is changing only for folks who are logged in. If you are searching from Google and you are logged in, this will be changing so that the logged in behavior, the keyword that referred the visit will be shown as (Not provided). This will show in your web analytics. That’s what Google will say. They will use these parenthesis. That’s how you can see it in the Google Analytics dashboard currently. However, if you click this paid search ad, they will still be providing the keyword "learn SEO." So logged out behavior in purple here. Logged out behavior always gets keyword "learn SEO" as the referrer. Logged in behavior gets keyword (Not Provided) if you click on organic results. But if you’re paying Google, you will still be able to see the referral information.

Now Google claims they’re doing this to protect user privacy so that users who are logged in will by default not be showing their searches to the websites that they visit. Unfortunately, I think that there are a lot of people in the search world and folks who observe this who have rightfully stated, well, if Google were trying to protect privacy, they’ve already to some extent done that by providing a secure search – https search, which is what’s doing this as well, the SSL search – for those people who would not like to provide that information. Some very small portion of people do use that form of Google search, the sort of protected search.

So it’s already available. The reason they’re doing this by default I think that many people suspect . . . I’ll link to a great article by Ian Lurie of Portent Interactive, who I think prognosticates or posits the actual reason for this is that ad networks today are being very successful using search referral data from visitors, and they’re able to leverage that data across multiple websites. So Google is hoping to remove that ability and be the only ad network that can be aware of your search behavior, thus sort of blocking out other providers using their near monopoly in search to exclude other people from being able to use this data,

That’s frustrating. It’s sad. It’s upsetting. It certainly doesn’t fit with what we know about Google. But I think the unfortunate thing here is that those of us in the web analytics/SEO sphere are going to have a tough battle to fight from a PR angle because Google can play the "no this is to protect your privacy" card and use that as their excuse. Of course, if that were the case, it seems very odd that you can pay them and still get the data. But I’m going to reserve judgment on that, and I’ll let folks make their own decisions. I do think it’s very important that we not just get upset about this, but we also think about what we can do actionably. Anytime a major player in the search world or social world or inbound world makes a big change, we need to figure out what is it, how is that we can best respond, how can we use data, how can we continue to be great marketers.

There are a couple of things that I would recommend. First off, you should be measuring the quantity and percent of the lost keyword data. That is a very important metric that you’re going to want to track over time. To do this, you simply go to your web analytics tool, you grab the number of (Not Provided) keywords or referrals, visits that came to, divide that by your total visits from Google organic, and you will get the percent of search referrals affected by this. You want to track this over time because you want to know if that’s going up, if more people who are logged into Google are searching and finding your site, what percent of data you’re losing, whether this is going to be a big problem as Google rolls it out more broadly, and you can see some data from SEOmoz.

So let’s take a look at our own data. This is from Sunday to Thursday of this week, so ending yesterday. We’re filming this on Friday for release tomorrow, Saturday. You can see (Not Provided) was 1,062 or 1.2% of the visits over these 5 days. However, the number is going up. So as of Sunday, we had zero visits that did not contain any keyword data. Monday had 90. Tuesday had 111. Wednesday had 381. Thursday had 421. That is 2.2%. So you can see that we’ve lost keyword information on a little over 2% of our visits and climbing. So this is frustrating. Google has said that they expect this will be less than 10% for most websites. So we hope to continue to get 90% of the data.

That leads me to number two. You can continue to leverage data from sources like the existing Google data, which should be hopefully around 90% of what you have today, Bing and Yahoo data, of course, which are responsible for around anywhere between 10% and 20% of your search referrals depending on your industry and niche, and of course, your internal search query data. This data is invaluable not only for doing keyword research and targeting, but also figuring out conversion rates, trying to optimize for those visitors, make their user experience better. It’s really only for white hat types of activities. So it’s frustrating that Google pulled this, rather than maybe tackling something more black hat focused. But we have what we have.

Number three, if you do feel strongly about this issue, there are lots of opportunities – I don’t want to say complain – but lots of opportunities to let Google know how you feel. This is a change that they are making, and they are currently planning on making and rolling on and have been rolling out. But that doesn’t mean that they might not backtrack if user feedback is overwhelmingly negative, and certainly that would be nice for those of us in the analytics sphere who like to use this data.

So you can obviously blog about it, write about it. You could even write to your congressional rep. There are several forums. The Google blog post announcing this accepts comments. The Google Webmaster Tools forum certainly accepts comments. You can also contact your AdWords representatives and let them know that you’re not totally thrilled by this move either. Remember AdWords data is still passing the refer. It’s organic search that is affected.

So hopefully this won’t affect too big a percentage of search queries and thus will still continue to have some good data, but given Google’s efforts to try and make more people be logged into Google Plus, to Gmail, to Google hosted apps, I don’t know. There is a lot of, I think, fear and uncertainty right now in the analytics world.

But with that said, you have some actionable things you can do. You should definitely start tracking this data, and hopefully we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday, rather than an emergency, interrupting version. We hope we don’t have too many of these. Take care everyone.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Whiteboard Takeover – Branded SEO for Page 1 Domination

Posted by Koozai

The Koozai team are taking over the SEOmoz Whiteboard today with Mike Essex and Samantha Stratton presenting on effective techniques for controlling branded term searches. So if you want to stop negative press, counterfeit goods and bad reviews appearing for your product or brand name searches we will show you how. So for more sales with Page One Domination, watch on:

Video Transcription

Howdy SEOmoz fans. Today’s video is brought to you by the Koozai team, and we’re taking over the SEOmoz whiteboard to show you how to make more money for brand term searches. Now, we’re calling this presentation Page One Domination because that’s effectively what it is.

You want to dominate your brand when people search for it online in order to make more sales. You don’t want people to see negative reviews, bad comments like, "I hate this product." You don’t want to see affiliates on there taking money or a cut off your sales, and you don’t want to see counterfeit goods on there taking money away and misleading your customers.

Bad PR, as well, if that’s on there for your brand term search, you’re going to damage customers’ perception of your brand.

Now typical SEO, we will optimise for short tail and long tail keywords to get people to our website initially, which works really well. But the problem is that if they’ve never heard of your website before, they’re going to go back and research you by putting your brand in the search engine.

What they see at that stage is a little bit out of your hands, or at least it’s thought to be. But what we’ve seen is that by having strong profiles registered on other properties that are optimised for your brand terms, you can inject extra content into here to push these negative entries down.

In this video, we’re going to show you how to do that and how the top brands in the world do it as well. What we’ve done is research the top hundred companies to see how they have positive page ones. We’ve drawn up a list of ten different strategies that you can use that I’m going to go through now in order.

At the bottom we’ve got videos. Now these are really at the bottom of the list because they’re used less frequently, not necessarily because they aren’t as good as what is to come next. There is definitely a time investment here, but videos are fantastic for when the search engines want to show multimedia content and results.

When people search for your brand, Google doesn’t just want to show them text links. In fact, for any search now Google wants to show a nice mixture of content. So if you can have a video entry in here, it will make your brand look more interesting for the people searching for you, and it’s better content for the search engines to show. Videos are absolutely worth doing, and it doesn’t just have to be a boring corporate advert. You can also show people using your product to help demonstrate the effectiveness of it, or you can have fun videos as well, educational videos about what you do or that help your industry niche.

Videos are the first step. Then we’ve got industry profiles. Industry directories would be a great example of this or local directories as well for people searching in your local area. Registering them as well allows you to have a nice bit of corporate information about your brand that you control as well. So they’re nice, safe profiles that brand well.

Then we’ve got voucher websites. Now people always want a bargain. It doesn’t matter what the product is or how cheap it is or how expensive it is, if I can find a website that will save me money, I’m always going to search for brand name plus vouchers in the search results. What you want to do is make sure that it’s your website that appears for that type of search. If you register your brand name plus the word vouchers, that’s a good way to be there every time. Also, you can give vouchers away to other voucher websites that are out there in the industry. So see where your competitors have got them or just see extra voucher websites that rank well for the term "vouchers."

If you don’t feel that you want to give people any money off your product, the voucher could literally just be free postage and packaging or a 30-day trial. Something that you probably offer already could just be repackaged as a voucher.

Then we’ve got niche websites. These are things like bloggers talking about your product. Your typical blogger engagement here is to go out and find the bloggers who are talking about people and things in your niche, then give them your product to review. Give them your information about your product as well so they can post it on their sites. Keep them informed in what you’re doing, and the more times they reference your brand, the more chance they’ve got of appearing in this set of results for your products.

Next up we’ve got social profiles. We’ve got Twitter, we’ve got Facebook and there’s LinkedIn. I’ve grouped them all together here because it seems to be a little bit random what Google will show. The nice thing about social profiles is you control the content. Also, if people search for your brand and they see a social profile with a company that’s engaging with their customers and it’s got a lot of fans, that helps build trust in the research stage and will help them come back to your website to make that all important sale.

Then we’ve got our customers. We mentioned earlier that customers can actually be a bad thing. Customers can write bad things about you and they can damage your brand. They can also write good things about you as well. They’re the type of entries that we want to seek out. We want to search for our brand name, find people who are saying nice things about us, and then optimise those profiles so they rank higher, and that’s what Sam is going to show you in the next step of this video.

Number four, we’ve got financial information. This is something I rarely see companies doing, but which is really, really effective, which is why it’s so high. If you’re a limited company or you’ve been trading for a while you’ve already got publicly available financial information, so just provide it to the likes of The Financial Times and other financial websites to track things like share prices and company profits. It’ll rank well, and also if your company is performing well, that will help add extra customer confidence when they search for you.

News is another one which can be bad for you, but which can be good as well. One thing I always recommend is to always have a press release in reserve that is positive. Write up a press release that isn’t time- specific, that could go out any time of year or maybe even in a years’ time. Then if someone publishes a bad piece of news about you, you just submit your good piece of news through PR services. It gets picked up over the Internet, and then because it’s fresher than the other news stories, a lot of the time it will outrank them straightaway and you can push that bad news down before it’s even been read.

Number two, we’ve got Wikipedia. If you search for most one-word, two-word generic phrases, a Wikipedia page is what will appear. This is the same concept. It’s a very generic term even though it’s a brand name. So Wikipedia entries appear almost all the time when you search for big brands. They are hard to get, but it’s really worth trying to get one, asking people to create one for you, adding citations, maybe even doing things for charity so your company seems a bit more worthwhile to appear on Wikipedia will help. Fundamentally, it’s the second most important step on here. So try, try, try to get a Wikipedia page whenever you can.

The number one tip, register more domains. I really can’t emphasise the importance of this one. We’ve seen exact-matched domains rank really well for generic terms, and they also rank really well for brand. Why do you think your brand website appears and ranks so well? It’s because of the exact match relevance of the term. So buy extra domains with your brand name in there and a little bit of extra information. We talked earlier about brand name vouchers. That would be a fantastic example of something to register and put here. But you could also just take a section off your website, put it on another domain, and just link to it from your main website. That’s got a very high chance, the number one chance in fact, of ranking on here for your brand name searches. Whatever you do don’t copy content off your website. Either pull content and paste it over here or write entirely new content, but don’t have two identical sections, because you could get your main website penalised, which really isn’t what we’re trying to do.

These are the steps that I recommend you take. Register these profiles, and the next step that we need to do is to optimise them so that they start to appear in the SERPs, because this isn’t enough in isolation. What I’m going to do now is hand you over to Samantha Stratton, who has been instrumental in a lot of these projects here at Koozai, and she’ll run you through just that.

Samantha Stratton

Howdy SEOmoz fans. Thanks for the introduction Mike. What I want to talk to you about now is what you can do to gain domination for your branded searches so that if your potential customers or clients or suppliers are doing a bit of research about your brand, they’re going to come across all these nice, positive things for you.

There are six points to gaining domination. I’m going to talk through the first four points here, and then I’m going to move over to this part of the whiteboard where I’m going to show you exactly what you need to be doing to gain that domination.

First up is research. This is probably one of the most important stages of this process. You need to start researching your branded searches as well as your, say two, three, four competitors that you want to look at. By doing this you’re going to be looking at pages one to three of Google, so putting in your brand and then also doing exactly the same thing for your competition, and start making a list of all of those positive mentions that you’ve already got and also do exactly the same thing for your competitors.

What you’ll end up with is a spreadsheet of URLs that you’re seeing already ranked for your branded searches and those that your competitors are also ranking for. From this, your profiles that you’ve uncovered that are positive, you need to go through all of them and update them with unique, compelling content, talking about your brands, talking about what your brand offers as a company. You may even have mentions of all your employees, anything that is going to make that profile credible and more authoritative to highlight that as being something associated to your brand.

You can include things like images, whether it’s your company logo, images of your employees, shopfronts, services, any of the products that you own, any sort of events that you do with your company, any kind of images that you can get to give that page more authority, add those on there. You want to include a URL. So again, that’s going to help you with your main SEO for your main site because you’ve got all these links coming back from various profiles into your main domain. But it’s also going to allow anybody that finds these profiles, whether it’s your potential customers or the search engines, it gives them another opportunity of a quick route back into your main domain.

Finally, you want to go back to your competitor research and register any profiles that you haven’t already got. This is where you’re going to go through all your competitor listings and look at the ones you don’t have, register them, and update them in the same way that you’ve done with your other profiles& before.

Thirdly, Mike talked earlier about the importance of domains and how well they can rank. They’re the top thing in all of the items that we’ve researched. So if you can get your hands on an additional domain, an exact match domain, these can really help you rank. Whether it’s something like ‘brand’jobs.com or ‘brand’careers.com or ‘brand’store.com, any type of permutation of your brand plus an additional domain there can help rank for your brand. The importance here is do not copy what you’ve done on your main site. They need to be standalone sites with unique content throughout them. Otherwise this is not going to work.

Fourth on the list is you need to start creating unique content that you can use later on in the process to start link building through to these various profiles. You want to start writing articles. You want to start writing hubs lenses. If there are any press releases, any news is good news, whether you’ve got a new employee that started, any promotions, a new store opening. Any news that you can write about and you’re happy to get out there in the public domain, get press releases written so that you’ve got stuff there ready to publish out on the Internet and build up these profiles.

Now I want to talk to you about link building. What we now need to do if we move over to this area of the board is look at building up the authority of all of these different profiles that we’ve registered and updated. Back up here, we went out and we registered all of the different profiles and updated our existing ones.

Now what we want to do is build the authority around them. We’re going to use the content that we’ve written at stage four to go and build up these profiles. First take Wikipedia. So you’ve managed to get a Wikipedia page for your site. You might want to link to that from a press release that you’ve written, because obviously Wikipedia is a really good source of information and it’s a very authoritative domain that’s going to be talking about your own website.

You might also have a hub page that’s pointing through to here. The third thing you might want to do is use some of your social profiles. So you might have your Facebook page linking through to your Wikipedia page. So here we’re using content and we’re also using social to boost your Wikipedia profile.

Now down here, your domain, if you’ve been able to secure a domain that’s relevant and appropriate for your brand, you might link that from your press releases. You could have an article coming into that. You may also have directories. There are so many people out there that think oh, directories, boring, not very good, they’re not going to work. But we have done a number of projects where we’ve only used directories to gain page one domination for a brand.

Over here you’ve got your different social platforms. There are over 300 social platforms available. Any of those that you can get out there and register, you’ve got all these profiles then that have got the potential of getting onto page one for your brand. The beauty of social is that it’s not uncommon to use social to link to social.

Say this is your YouTube page that you’ve created for your brand. You can link to that from your Facebook page. You might also link to it from your Twitter account and any other social profiles that you’ve got. Again, you might also use your articles to drive links into here. You might even talk about using deep link directories in this instance.

Here you’ve got your press releases. You might want to link to your press release from your own website. You’ve got some great news out there. So linking to that from your own site, as an authoritative site already, that can then drive additional links into your press release. Again, here you might have an article that you want to drive into it, and you might see it fit to link it from your Twitter account.

Essentially, what we’re doing here is rather than just focusing on SEO-ing to your main site, you’re going to be SEO-ing your various other profiles that you’ve registered and all that nice content that you’ve got, and you’re going to be link building to all of them and using all these different methods that we’ve spoken about here.

Coming back over to point six, this is the final point, and this is by far the most important point if you’re going to take anything away from this presentation here. You want to be talking about tracking. There is no point starting a project like this if you’re not going to have the time or the resource to actually track it.

Creating spreadsheets like we have at the start here at the research stage, you’ve got a list of all your profiles there. Then you can start to register and track what you’re actually driving links into for each of the profiles. That’s point number one. At the start of the project, the first thing that you should be doing is taking screen shots of pages one to three for your branded searches. Doing this on a weekly basis will allow you to benchmark against what you started off with, so seeing which profiles are moving quickly. Looking at this on a month-by-month basis you can then compare starting point to month one. If you do see certain profiles moving up the rankings a lot faster than others, these are the ones that you want to focus your priority on first because you’re seeing the movement there and you know that the search engines are receptive to those profiles.

Then, coming back, once you start seeing movement in those ones, you then start to go back over the profiles that you haven’t seen as much movement in and start link building a bit more to those. Is there any way you can add some more content? Start then focusing on those profiles that you haven’t seen the movement in.

This is an ongoing sort of project here. You can’t get to the end of month four and think, oh, done, I’ve got the whole page in page one domination because moving on from there other people can start to creep into that marketplace as well. Constantly looking at new ways of creating new profiles, creating unique content, and just getting the mentions out there for your brand is going to overall help you gain domination for your branded searches.

If you do need any more information, please visit our website, which is Koozai.com, and thank you very much for your time.

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Google Reader to be socially integrated with Google+

Changes are afoot in the world of Google Reader which might not please every user of the service.

Google Reader is a web content aggregator, if you’re not familiar with its purpose. Basically, it allows you to add favourite websites or blogs, and then monitors them all, highlighting when new stories arrive so you don’t have to surf through them all manually every day.

It also boasts social elements, however, which allow you to make friends with other Reader users, share content and so forth.

This will be changing shortly, however, as Alan Green, an Engineer at Google, announced on the official Reader blog.

In fact two major changes are winging their way to Reader, the first being a refreshed design, and the second being the integration of those social elements with Google+. This was always a likely move in terms of expanding the reach of Google’s new social platform, and attempting to gain as much traction as possible with it.

Basically, next week Google will be ending the ability to friend, follow and share inside of Reader, and shifting users over to achieve these social elements within Google+.

By announcing this a week ahead of time, Google hopes to give users the time to shift over, open a Google+ account and start to set up specific “circles” for their Reader friend networks.

Theoretically, you’ll be able to have the same social experience within this circle, but quite how this will work in practice, users won’t know until the whole shooting match is set up.

And some, of course, will rebel at being pushed to open a Google+ account. Indeed, Google acknowledges this, and Green posted on the blog: “We recognize, however, that some of you may feel like the product is no longer for you.”

“That’s why we will also be extending Reader’s subscription export feature to include the following items: Your subscriptions, shared items, friends, likes and starred items.”

“Your data belongs to you, after all, and we want to make sure you can take it with you.”

Let’s hope that the implementation of the social transfer works out well enough.