Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Higher Ranking to Higher ROI

Let’s start from scratch. Once a new website is in place, you strive to get a high rank on Google and other search engines. Involves a lot of work…but does it end at that? Or goes some steps further…

From Higher ranking to a Higher ROI…

Below is the logical sequence to be followed to get that ROI you had mentioned in your plan to the bosses!!

First - Get a higher rank - more visits
Next - Ensure the visits are ‘relevant’
Next - Get those people to like/stay on the website
And finally – Give them a slight push into the final step! (sign up, buy, register etc etc)

Most of the websites forget to go below the first step. What’s the whole point of having more visits to the website if they do not translate into a higher ROI?

So how do you ensure that the visits are relevant: ‘Britney Spears’ as a keyword on an ERP website would definitely not give you any relevant audience even though it might give you a momentary higher rank!
Hence, this step basically translates into having the right keywords for your website.

Use google analytics to find out the keywords being used to reach your website. Are these keywords relevant to my website or are these visitors coming to something they did not expect or ask for? If that’s the case, it won’t be long before the visits would start seeing a steep fall!! Keep doing this analysis on a constant basis to ensure you have all the right keywords as I also mentioned in my previous article SEO and Analytics-An infinite loop

Now you have the right people who have come to the right website. What if they land on a cluttered page which they are not able to make head or tail of or something that completely puts them off?

You lost the audience…

Have an appealing page-something that the visitor would want to explore.

Achieved step 3!! Very close to capturing the prey..

Finally, make the registering, purchasing, placing an order, signing up etc..extremely user friendly. Remember, people have very low patience and why not..there are 7645362 websites offering exactly what you do!!
Google analytics can help you figure out where exactly and at what point in the entire process you lose the visitor. Use it. Chew on it. Suck it completely before putting it back onto action for the next month’s analysis :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Analytics and SEO – A must infinite loop!

For sometime I have been stressing on how SEO and Web Analytics complement each other. It’s like a never ending loop! The loop could differ for a fairly new website v/s an old/known one.

Google analytics can help you figure out your SEO exercise and also evaluate the existing SEO with the way forward.

  • The visitors report can help you figure out where exactly are you getting traffic from. Is it search engines, direct traffic or referring sites. The referring sites data can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the ‘linkages’ you made as a part of the SEO plan.
  • Apart from this, it also tells you what keywords were used for the visitors to reach your website. An analysis of the same would tell you what keywords are working and which ones need to be worked upon.
  • Content tells you which pages are viewed the most and which are not viewed at all. A need to work on the keywords or content??
  • An in depth analysis would also give you the keywords for a particular page viewed. In case the bounce rate is high, it’s an indication that the keywords for that page need a relook!

    These and many such analysis would tell you clearly whether your SEO is working or not.
    However, its not a one time exercise. Keep evaluating. Again and Again!

    Are the changes I made last time working? If not, what do I need to work upon and what other things I can take note of.

Would love to hear what you think of this post and suggestions.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Is Search Engine Optimization dying?

I have been hearing a lot about SEO going to die soon and have been involved in a few conversations myself.

“With google countering the black hat techniques, it would anyday come out with an algorithm that would lay much more importance on indicators like avg. time on site, number of page views and bounce rate than keywords, placement, formatting etc.”

Which means, if you are up there, you just go higher and if you are somewhere low, lower you go. Rich become richer and poor become poorer.


I have my doubts. Would Google actually come up with something like this? Won't this be against their endeavor to provide 'relevant' information to the audience? A new but extremely 'relevant' website would not get featured as it would not have as many page views or as much time on site. But that does'nt make it irrelevant.

Search engines are an important contributor to a new website's traffic but since it would not feature on google, it would not get that traffic which means it would always remain traffic poor and not feature on google.

Like a chicken and egg situation!

However, I do agree that the rules of the game would definitely change but the playfield remains the same.

While, page views, time on site etc. could gain importance, it would be basis the recency of the website i.e. Specifically for websites who have been around for sometime. In case the website is fairly recent, the emphasis on other factors would increase. These could include:

  • Presence of keyword synonyms in the content

  • Presence of related terms and concepts

  • Proper selection of the words to be used

  • How well are the keywords, synonyms and related terms placed and tied up in the content

As I see it, Content Writing would gain a lot of importance. Google has already come up with concepts like Latent Semantic Indexing – helps pick up more relevant websites. The overall content and how well its written would become extremely important.

A more relevant content and shrewd placement of keywords and their synonyms along with content that ties up well would be able to get a high ranking. So, making a site popular on search would still be in our hands. But not by stuffing it with keywords or hidden pages but by a sharper content writing.

So, this way or that, SEO stays and is here to stay! Its just that the focus would shift from one aspect to another.

What other things you feel would gain importance in the future? Please do share...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Selection of Keywords – The second step

Once you know the purpose of the website well, selection of keywords becomes much easier and accurate.

By accuracy I do not mean just the most obvious/generic words, but also, the words accurate enough to get traffic to your website.

Let me first familiarize you with the concept of ‘Long Tail Keywords’:

If you plot the keywords that visitors have used to land on your website (which the analytics tool from google can provide) against the number of searches, you will get something like the graph below:

As you would notice, the ‘traffic per keyword’ in the head is around 7-8 times (or maybe more) of the tail e.g. 10 Head keywords would give as much traffic as probably 100 Tail keywords.

Across all websites, there would be a long tail which would primarily consist of much focused or specific searches.

Depending upon the popularity of the website, the length of the head and tail would vary.

If your company is well known and brands are popular, there are chances that the head would consist of the brand name or company name with most visitors having a popular/generic search.

But if you are a fairly new kid on the block, there are chances the searches would not be directed to your website in particular in which case, there would be a very long tail of specifics!!

Selection of keywords would depend a lot on the popularity of the website and the type of business you are in.

New Kid

If you are a new company, it would require a lot of brainstorming to prepare a list of keywords that a visitor could search for. Once a list is prepared, a re-look and re-re-look would help to finalize it.

Mostly, the popular words would have a lot of competition and hence, it would make more sense to pick up slightly lesser used keywords or should I say ‘more specific keywords’ (the tail!!).

  • The brown colored box gives the choice of columns you would want displayed:

    o Advertiser Competition: Tells you how competitive is the ad placement for that keyword.
    o Approx. search volume (for the most recent month): The number of search queries for that particular keyword for the most recent month
    o Approx. avg search volume: Average monthly number of search queries matching the keyword specified.
    o Search Vol trends: Graphic representation of search trends over 12 month pd.
    o Highest vol occurred in: Gives the month in which the searches for that particular keyword were the max.
    o Estimated avg. CPC: Gives the avg. cost each time a user clicks on the particular keyword
The pink box above gives the keywords that have been selected by the software and the numbers next to each keyword are the number of keyword ‘ideas’ that have been provided for that keyword group (shown below):

  • Once a list is prepared, brainstorm with colleagues and friends as to the different keywords that have a chance of being used by visitors. The list grows bigger.
  • Next is an important task of narrowing these down to the relevant ones:

    A look at the data would tell you that ‘search engine optimization’ as a keyword has 5,50,000 searches for the period of march alone. While this keyword seems like the most popular one, it is also very generic and would end up generating lots of results. It would not be possible for a relatively newer company to counter this kind of competition.

    Another look would give you keywords/phrases like search engine optimization service, search engine optimization software, search engine optimization for dummies, affordable search engine optimization…

    These words/phrases are more specific and towards the ‘tail’ of the search!

    So, it makes more sense for the younger/newer companies and those with a niche category to go for the ‘tail’ keywords/phrases.

    Now lets look at the oldies!!

The Oldies

Well…as they say. OLD IS GOLD!! These companies would be more popular ones with their brand names and company name in the ‘Head’ keywords.

Once you subscribe your website to, you would be able to view the source of visitors to your website. There are other tools available as well like omniture and webtrends.

In the example here, 75% of the traffic to the website comes through the search engines while 13% is direct and 12% through other referring sites.

A deep dig into this data would give us the following:

The brown box shows the keywords that were searched before being directed to the website.

Mostly, these would have their company name or brand names in the ‘head’ i.e. giving them the most traffic per keyword. While these keywords are important, a strong brand should be able to capture the unbranded search traffic as well too.

Ideally, the traffic drawn by the head vs the tail should be 40:60. However, as per researches conducted, most of the companies have this ratio close to 90:10!!

For each visitor that is a part of the head, there are 40 visitors in the tail. That’s the amount of traffic you are missing by not giving importance to the tail.
Also, having a long tail can result in a higher number of pages of website viewed by the visitors.

Let’s get slightly deeper into this…

The keywords that feature in the ‘Head’ are primarily the brand names or product names which goes to show that the visitors who use these keywords to locate you, know you…know that you exit and know what you do!

However, the ones who lie it the tail, know what they want but do not know that you exit and you can provide them what they need and hence, this part of the world called prospects are difficult to obtain and need more of your sweat and money to become your customers!! After all they are the ones who would grow your business.

So how do you tap into these?

Google offers a tool called Search Based Keyword Tool (SbKT). A snapshot of the same is given below:

Once you do that, what you get is:

(This is just some random website in picked up)

This page gives you the recommended keywords (blue box) and the number of searches that happened for the keyword in the last month we have data for (red box).
Next, it also gives the competition for that word (green Box) which can be categorized as high, medium and low and the suggested bid (the plum box).

Again, if you are an adwords member, ad/search share would provide you how many times your website appeared in the first page.

The last column (yellow) gives the webpage of the website that is most relevant to that keyword i.e. which page should be your landing page for that keyword.

Finally, you have a long list of keywords (especially if you have an adwords account). Select the long tail keywords and bid on them basis the budget you have.

There are many additional features on SbKT that would help you refine your search basis the amount you have to place a bid, the required level of competition for a keyword, ad share, search share etc…(Explore the tool!!!)

Hence, a well designed SEO would take care of the Head keywords and any visitor aware of you or searching for your brand name would land on your page automatically!! You don’t need to pay for that!! After all you have spent enough building a good brand name…

The Tail keywords can be bid upon … don’t miss them. They are important and would get you new traffic and prospects that would help you expand your business.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The purpose of the website...Integral to an SEO plan

Purpose of the Website…The first step to any well laid out SEO exercise…
I have read quite a few books on Search Engine Optimization but I have yet to come across one that mentions this as the first and foremost step.
How can you fiddle with something as important as the FACE of the company without knowing what it’s there for and what it is required to do!!
As mentioned in my previous post, knowing the purpose of the website in the beginning ensures a long term search engine friendliness because doing what the VISITORS LOVE would eventually give you SEARCH ENGINE’S LOVE and for knowing who the visitors are and what they want, you have to know the purpose of the website.
Imagine the different ‘tricks’ to search engine optimization as spices that would enhance the taste of a dish (in this case the website) for your visitor. Knowing ‘WHO’ is going to visit you, would tell you what kind of a dish would he like and hence, the combination of the different spices would vary accordingly. Therefore, while in some websites, you would like to optimize through the bulky content, in others it would be navigational ease and linkages or maybe just the right placement of keywords.

Just like you would not add sugar in the dish for a Diabetic, similarly, a lot of navigation, information and “6,54,321” step process is not good for someone who has just a minute to make an online payment. In this case, you would like to play with other spices like, placement of keywords, inbound links etc and not make it content heavy.

Fiddling with the wrong set of ‘tricks’ would give a momentary increase in page value but not sustainable as the unhappy visitors would not revisit and hence, a decline in popularity leading to a decline in page value eventually.
There could be multiple purposes why a website is there:
  1. Making sales: Measured by the number and amount of sales, time taken, bounce rate etc.
  2. Providing information or data: Measured by checking if a particular task got completed or information got viewed.
  3. Lead generation: Measured by number of leads generated, percentage of total visitors etc.
  4. Social networking: KPIs like number of people accessing these sites, revisiting them and frequency of visits.

A good SEO plan should help meet the purposes cited above and not compromise them in order to achieve a short term higher rank on the search.

So, how do you get to the purpose of a Website?

MEETING THE RELEVANT PEOPLE and unfortunately these are the ones missing the most.In a lot of cases, the relevant people are the marketing people. These are the ones who have answers to all the questions below and get affected by the KPIs above.

Having answers to the questions below would give a good enough idea of why exactly is the website there? (Please feel free to append this list!)

  1. What is the product or service the company is providing?
  2. Who is the target audience?
  3. What is the website/ webpage supposed to do?
  4. Who is the primary audience for the website/webpage?
  5. Who is the secondary audience for the website/webpage?
  6. Profile of the primary and secondary audience?

Since any SEO plan would encompass changing content of the website in terms of changing information, replacing some words with keywords, their placement, internal as well as external links, doing this without knowing what the page is for could be disastrous.

Apart from the marketing team, another team which could prove to be quite helpful is the web analytics team.They could help you with the recent data on what the website was primarily visited for? This in turn can be mapped with the ‘Actual’ requirements from the website.

Let me explain with the help of an example: This is a website of a company that manufactures a variety of RTE products. In order to gain popularity, they have made certain recipes using their products. While this is not the purpose of the website, some traffic is desired for it as well. However, the web analytics shows that the website is primarily visited for location search or job search or ‘about the company’ information.
SEO can use this information to popularize the website for recipes as an additional task!!
Way to go!!
Please do provide me your feedback on what you think of this post and if something can be added to it :)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

How to plan a powerful Search Engine Optimization exercise?

This post is not to get into the tricks of featuring in the top searches. Most people know them. The same hammered again and again with few changes here and there.
Rather, these are hammered so loudly, that the main purpose of a website’s existence is almost forgotten leave alone what the visitor wants from that website.

While the tricks of trade still apply, it is very important not to lose focus of the visitor’s point of view when chasing the search engine’s.

  • So, the first step is to know WHY THE WEBSITE EXISTS IN THE FIRST PLACE.
    Know the purpose of the website very well

    This could involve meeting different divisions of a company to understand their requirement from the website. Unfortunately in most cases, the website is completely handled by the IT division with little or no idea as to how the website is supposed to benefit the company.

    While it was fine till sometime back, things are changing fast with increasing internet penetration in India. Company website is slowly becoming the face of the company for most people.

    An understanding of the purpose would help in higher visitor satisfaction along with meaningful SEO.

    e.g. It could be an e-commerce website that primarily exists to make a sale which could translate into very easy navigation, extensive product information (a big reason why Amazon is such a big hit while others are not), ease of payment, security etc etc.

    Or an online payment website for some telecom company which would mean the visitor would want to make a fast payment and not get involved in a lot of literature about the company. Hence it has to be extremely easy navigation for him and to- the- point, clear 3 step payment process.

    Creating a verbose website just because search engines love information, is not going to help. Meeting visitor expectation is important.

    Right set of words placed right within right intervals would be far more helpful than a lot of non required data.

  • Next step is to form a laundary list of keywords
    First Cut of Keywords:

    An understanding of the website would help to select the most powerful keywords and content.

    Make a list of all the possible searches there can be for that website.

    Brainstorm with colleagues, the marketing team and all other possible sources.
    Try not to miss out on any possible keywords.

  • A Relook at the keywords:

    Using some freely available or paid keyword suggestion tools would provide the similar keywords searched and the number of times searched. This would help in selection of keywords more relevant to the website and with comparatively less competition (higher chances of featuring in the top few searches).

    e.g. if a boot company selects its keyword as shoe, just because most people use this word to search, there would be two problems to it. First, it would not rank them well as the competition would be high and secondly, even if it does give them some traffic, it would not convert into sales as the visitor was looking for shoes and not boots!!

    So, selecting a meaningless keyword would give you meaningless traffic.

    Repeated iterations would provide a set of very powerful keywords.

  • Content formation:

    Once the keywords have been finalized, the content needs to be formed or relooked at.

    A relook at the filename, directory structure, keyword placement in tags, filenames, linkages, keyword density, tags like title and description tags etc would help.
    Search Engines uses latent semantic indexing (LSI) to analyze relationships between a set of documents and the terms they contain. Hence, if keywords are used at the relevant places within the right context, it helps.

    Usage of synonyms helps to refrain from clogging the website with keywords and also provides a relevant context for LSI.

    Make navigation very easy within the website – it helps the search engines to find the required data easily and index it.
    Links can be used within the website for ease.

  • Formatting:

    Layout: Avoid “flashy” stuff, frames, multimedia and graphics as the search engines do not read them.

    These 5 steps were pertaining to the website. Hence, once the purpose of website existence is known, ensure that all the above like keyword selection, content formation, formatting etc should be in line with that. This is important for long term gain.

    Finally there is a need for some external push as well.

  • PR and other activities

    Finally once your website is ready and is search engine as well as visitor friendly, you need to do some PR like link building, blogs, forums, discussion groups, newsletters etc.

    Link building has a direct effect on the page rank. Getting good websites to recommend you would again be a factor of both persuasion and visitor satisfaction. Contact websites with high page ranks and request them to have a link pointing to your website. If all the above has been followed properly, chances are that the website would recommend you.
    The more your visitors are satisfied with your website, the more they would visit it again and again. And hence, it would be a natural way to get the other websites to point to you.

    Apart from all this, blogs, presence on discussion forums or social networking sites like twitter definitely gives a lot of recognition.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

State of Search Engine Optimization in India

It all started with a belief. A belief that Search Engine Optimization is still in a very nascent stage in India.

What surprised me was that there are five thousand six hundred and seven companies offering their SEO services in India along with two hundred and three active forums and what not. Nascent....hah!!

However, a shock on these surprises was that even though SEO has taken off in India and even though there are n number of people offering x number of services, most people have not heard of this term leave alone the thought of employing it in their companies.

Now why is that? Makes me wonder if this field has just got restricted to forums and blogs shared by likeminded people but not the ones who have to actually make use of it?? am not sure..but maybe.

A little of 2008, there is 4% internet penetration in India which means a good 45 million people. 80% of these use online searches i.e. 36 million people (much more than the population of most countries!!). Imagine so many people looking for you and you are no where...not to mention that 60% people dont even go beyond the first 10 searches.

Where does that leave you??

So opportunity galore...