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Track Your Search Engine Rankings

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 8:55 pm

It’s pretty intuitive that higher rankings should result in greater website traffic. But in the world of SEO, lots of things are bandied about as facts, when actually they are often just one person’s opinion that kept getting repeated until enough people parroted it to make it sound authoritative. That’s why it’s always important to look for evidence that an assertion is true.

So do higher rankings result in more visitors? A picture is worth a thousand words, so check out these graphs tracking performance of one of the websites I manage, over a six month period:

The colored lines in the first graph illustrate the site’s ranking on Google for its most important keyword phrases. The second graph shows visits and page views. Looking at the dates, you can see that a change in rankings precedes a change in the number of visits – so you can assume causation, not just corrolation. So there – not that I was going out on a limb, but here’s evidence to back my claim that rankings do make a difference.

Additional clarification and answers to questions that ought to be asked:

Q: How did you create these graphs?

I use WebPosition Gold to track rankings. I output the data into an Excel file and then create a PivotTable. From the Pivot table I create a graph of the position my site held for a particular keyword phrase, using date as the x-axis and ranking as the y-axis. This will give you an easy-to-read look at upward or downward trends in positions.

If the analytics program you’re using on your site can’t generate something like my second graph for you automatically, just take the traffic data it does give you and plop it into an Excel file. Make another PivotTable to chart visits/page views over time and then superimpose the two for a clear view of how rankings affect your site.

VoilĆ?, you’ve made your case that additional resources should be devoted to SEO.

Q. Isn’t it true that search engines penalize marketers who use WebPosition Gold?

WPG has a bad reputation among SEOs – with Google going so far as mentioning this product specifically as something that shouldn’t be used for optimization – but my use of WebPosition Gold is very conservative. I only use it to track positions, never to submit anything to a search engine.

I also don’t believe Google will “penalize” a site for any practices that can be faked by someone who isn’t in control of the site; otherwise everyone would be using this or similar software to get their competitors’ sites banned. By using a Google API key, I also avoid tripping Google’s CAPTCHA, which you’d otherwise do if you send too many automated queries in too a short a time. I’ve never run into any problems using WPG this way.

Q. Why did you only track Google positions?

The particular site’s rankings in Yahoo are fixed. They haven’t changed at all in 6 months, so I can factor them out when looking at at causal relationships. For simplicity’s sake, I didn’t include MSN Search because it doesn’t refer very much traffic to my site. You will want to monitor all three before you can determine whether to include them in your analysis.

If you are running PPC campaigns, you have to be able to filter ad-referred traffic out for this rankings-versus-traffic comparison to be at all meaningful.

Q. The keyword legend is illegible. What keywords are you tracking?

Can’t give away all my secrets now, can I? Anyway, does it really matter?

Q. Okay, but how did you decide what keywords to track?

I use a very unscientific calculus of two variables: which phrases are referring the most visitors to my site and which phrases, overall, Internet users are searching for the most. The former set of data you can get from your log files or analytics software. The second can be found using tools like WordTracker or Oveture’s keyword suggestion tool.

Q. What happened in late September that caused such a dramatic drop in your rankings?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure, but it happened before the Jagger Update came out. In fact, the site’s return to the top of the SERPs coincided with Jagger, so it doesn’t appear to have been any type of penalty caused by the update. (shrug)

I could speculate that it had something to do with Jagger raising the importance of links from “authority sites” – so those authority sites needed to be scrubbed before Jagger started. That’s why my site jumped around before the real search results reshuffle – Google needed to run the site through some special filters to confirm the site belonged among those sites whose links would be worth more. I could speculate. But I have absolutely no evidence for this – in fact, it’s not even an educated guess, I just made it up – so this entire paragraph is just a bunch of nonsense. Goes to show that you can’t believe much of what is written online about SEO.

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What the SEs Are Saying About Each Other

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 2:45 pm

MSN on Google – First Gates dismisses Google as copycat. Now MSN Search rep says results are “at least as good” as Google’s. Audience laughs.

Google retorts to Yahoo – Not that we’re saying it matters, but we’re bigger, nyah, nyah.

Yahoo on Google – Yahoo Search employee Jeremy Zawodny says Google is merely building Yahoo 2.0

Google’s Matt Cutts talks to Google Blogoscoped about various things, including giving props to Yahoo’s Web 2.0 successes.

Microsoft blogger and evangalist Robert Scoble warns that Google Maps is leaving competing Microsoft and Yahoo products in the dust.

I can’t find anyone talking much about MSN Search, except Microsoft, which just goes to show, IMO, that like the rest of us, neither Google nor Yahoo see the #3 engine as a major threat.

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Index Size and Results Returned

Posted by Melanie Phung on Friday, November 25, 2005 at 3:57 pm

Since the consensus is, more or less, that the size of an engine’s index doesn’t matter, it’s the results you get, sometimes it’s just fun to experiment to see both the number of results returned and what the highest ranking sites are for a keyword that likely isn’t the subject of anyone’s SEO efforts.

This weekend, a search on “.com” yields:

  • In Google – 6,450,000,000 results.
    Top 3: Yahoo, CNN, Amazon
  • In Yahoo Search – 10,700,000,000 results.
    Top 3: DotComArchive.org, Wikipedia entry on “dot-com”, FuckedCompany.com
  • In MSN Search – 2,751,291,895 results.
    Top 3: Microsoft Component Object Model, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Maps

Scroll down to see a comparison of PageRank (according to the Google Toolbar) and inbound links to each page (using the advanced link: operator in Google and in Yahoo’s Site Explorer). Couple of things to keep in mind: the PageRank score displayed by the toolbar isn’t the actual PageRank used in the Google algorithm. Real PageRank is recalculated continuously, whereas the Toolbar is only updated once every couple of months. Also, Google only displays a “sampling” of backlinks, not all the links it’s aware of.

ToolBar PageRank # Google Backlinks # Yahoo Backlinks # MSN Backlinks
Yahoo.com 9/10 1,150,000 30,495,373 5,013,640
CNN.com 9/10 159,000 4,489,621 1,768,335
Amazon.com 9/10 797,000 1,465,973 936,637
DotComArchive.org 7/10 5 104 1,059
Wikipedia entry 6/10 85 946 1,532
FuckedCompany.com 7/10 2,340 80,759 29,750
Microsoft COM 7/10 338 3,757 4,658
Microsoft IE 10/10 36,300 1,183,240 1,155,307
Google Maps 9/10 79 1,050 2,719
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Search Driving Traffic to Shopping Sites

Posted by Melanie Phung on Friday, November 25, 2005 at 1:15 am

Google and Yahoo Search sent 25% more visits to the 10 leading shopping comparison sites for the week ending Nov. 19 than for the same period in 2004, according to Hitwise, an online competitive intelligence firm. Furthermore, comparison shopping sites are taking a bigger share of shopping-related searches on the major search engines leading up to the 2005 holiday shopping season.

While Hitwise does cite increased user familiarity and comfort with the major shopping sites, it is not clear whether the 25% increase in traffic is also due to the increased PPC spending or organic SEO strategies, or both.

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Searching for Holiday Gift Deals

Posted by Melanie Phung on Friday, November 25, 2005 at 1:04 am

Wondering where to shop? eBay is the place to go find anything new and used, popular and obscure. The site boasts 168 million users with 60 million listings (including five million new listings per day). Nearly $1,400 worth of good are bought and sold every second. With numbers like these, eBay is often considered a barometer of consumer shopping trends (source). Shopping.com (an eBay company) also features a Consumer Demand Index to help you identify currently popular items.

But this holiday season, you might also want to try some other aggregator sites and/or marketplaces that will help you in your search for the perfect gift at the right price:

  • For CDs and DVDs try Shopping.com (an eBay company) – With a pool of 60-plus online vendors for music and movies, this site ranks well on both availability and pricing.
  • For electronics products, as well as jewelry, visit BizRate.com – Good search functionality and a clean layout make it easy to sort through brands and styles, as well as compare merchant ratings.
  • Toy shoppers should try PriceGrabber.com – A site with one of the largest range of toy products. Create a “shopping agent” to notify you of price drops.
  • For books, Amazon.com is an obvious choice but don’t stop there. If you want to do your part to support independent stores, don’t overlook Powells.com, which has a great selection and a money-back guarantee. Campusi.com, on the other hand, is an aggregator site that will help you find rare and out-of-print books from 50,000 different sources.
  • Cell phones? Glad you asked. Visit Point.com for frequently updated “scoops” on new price drops of popular model wireless devices from online retail stores like Wirefly.com, Buy.com, Radio Shack and others. Wirefly.net also lists current best sellers, in case you need help picking a phone.

The first four recommendations come courtesy of Real Simple magazine.

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