Category Archives: SEO

Thinking about it

I used to work at a large institution.

My role afforded me the right to meet with the person in charge of the website to find out what they did.

During one such encounter we discussed the upcoming launch of a new website.

Being privileged, I was allowed to see the ‘work-in-progress’ version of the website.

Whilst reviewing the article the person in-charge proudly explained how the first three links in the navigation of the site were; ‘central to the user journey and had taken a matter of 6 months to decide upon’.

That’s a long time to choose what to put in your website navigation.

That’s so long that eventually you have to ask; what is going to be more damaging, rushing out the incorrect new navigation or leaving the crappy old website live for an extra 6 months?

I’d wager that the crappy old website (and believe me, it was crappy) was doing them significantly more damage.

So why do institutions labour so hard over these decisions?

The web isn’t ever in a state of ‘final form’.

If you make a website live and it doesn’t work you can make changes relatively quickly and easily.

In the days of print there was a need to think carefully before you gave the printer instruction to complete the job.

There was no going back.

But the internet isn’t like that.

It is progressive.

You can change things.

The Marketing Director of a large company once told me that the best websites don’t change, they evolve.

It’s true.

When was the last time Amazon completely redesigned its website?


It redesigns features.

Never the entire site.

It evolves.

If Amazon makes a change live and then sales suffer, they just go back and make a new change live in its place.

This could have been the case with the website I was looking at.

Work out the best navigation option your have in a matter of days / weeks.

Make it live.

Watch what happens.

React to the findings.

That is a luxury the web affords you, don’t waste it by thinking too hard.

Explicit and implicit search

Go to Google and search for “restaurant”.

Chances are that a number of the results are local to you.

This is the result that I get:

Restaurant Search

The third organic result is for

How can that be?

I searched for “restaurant” – not “restaurant Witney”.

This is as a result of implicit search.

In the past, search engines have typically worked like this:

The user searches for a keyword – for example “restaurant Witney”.

The search engine then returns a set of results based on what was searched for.

There are now two things that happen in search.

Explicit search and implicit search.

The old way was explicit.

The search engine user would explicitly state what they were looking for.

Implicit is the stuff that the user does not consciously provide.

It can be their location.

The device they are on.

Their search history.

All of the things that Google knows about the searcher that the searcher has not explicitly provided.

The combination of explicit and implicit search is starting to fundamentally change the way we use search engines (and in particular, Google).

Back to the example search above.

I am sitting in an office in Witney, Oxfordshire.

I carried out an explicit search for the keyword “restaurant” on Google.

To have a local restaurant rank number three for such a broad term was previously unheard of.

But when we consider implicit search, the term “restaurant” no longer just means what it explicitly says.

Google has used my implicit search details to show me results that it thinks I want to see.

Despite making no conscious effort to provide this information, Google knows where I am.

That is implicit search and it means that the keyword is no longer at the centre of the search.

It means that a local restaurant can appear in a vastly elevated position for an ultra competitive search term.

It means that measuring rankings is a wild goose chase (more than it was already).

I might be seeing one restaurant, you may be seeing something completely different.

The result of this is that the keyword research model of SEO is going to have to adapt.

Planning and analysis is going to have to rely more heavily on the data gleaned from analytical tools.

Implicit search is also going to bring online results more in-line with offline domination.

If a brand has 100 physical shops across the country and another has only one, the large brand is potentially 100 times more likely to be in the localised search results thanks to implicit search – regardless of who has the better website.

Implicit search means that it is not all about what you say but more about who you are.


This post was inspired by this video from Will Critchlow and Tom Anthony at Distilled:

In Out

Last week (29/05/2012), SEOmoz rebranded to Moz.

The change was announced using one of the things that made the brand so successful in the first place: a blog post.

The headline news of the post is that Moz is pinning its hopes on ‘inbound marketing’ as opposed to ‘interruption marketing’.

Accompanying the piece is this ‘infographic':

Interruption and Inbound Marketing

Here are a few points of interest:

  • Moz has a vested interest in the successful uptake of ‘inbound marketing’ because its new analytics package will allow you to measure it.
  • ‘Inbound’ is “powered by creativity, talent, & effort” – Are advertising and other ‘interruption’ techniques not?
  • TV, radio and print ads are “responsible for <10% of clicks on the web” – hardly a KPI for offline advertising success.
  • The whole thing is suspiciously thin on the ground in terms of success metrics – which types of marketing brings results?
  • Interruption (the word) is inherently negative.

Considering these points, the graphic above begins to resemble a piece of (not very creative) propaganda.

I am all for the progression of the online marketing industry but not at the expense of other types of marketing.

To automatically dismiss advertising and other forms of ‘interruption’ marketing is to miss a trick.

Then there is the issue of ‘inbound’.

Here is some gumpf from a Moz video about what they do:

“It’s connecting and being responsive on social media and knowing how those interactions pay off…

…and it’s knowing when and where customers are talking about your brand so you can engage them in meaningful conversations.

Moz analytics makes it possible to measure and improve all of your inbound marketing efforts on one platform.”

Phew, I bet all brands have been waiting for a way to engage their customers in meaningful conversations.

Who cares about selling them stuff and providing customer care when you can have a meaningful chat with them?

I’ve lost count of the times I have said “why isn’t there a platform that makes it possible to measure and improve my inbound marketing efforts?”

Despite including ‘transparency’ as one of its ‘core values’, I’d argue that Moz’s use of indulgent language is exactly the opposite of transparent.

Moz certainly offers one of the best resources for online marketers but its leaning towards unproven trends is worrying.

Can you imagine selling ‘inbound marketing’ to your clients? For now, I will continue to work in online marketing.

SEO industry is influenced by complicators

Search Engine Land is arguably the most regularly updated source of news for online marketing professionals.

Currently at the top of the bill is news of a new Google Penguin update.

The update is called Penguin 2.0, or Penguin 4.

2.0 or 4?

Which one is it?

Whilst I sit here with my morning coffee, trying to decipher the name of the update is hard, so what chance does anyone have of working out what the update actually means?

This is endemic of the current state of online marketing, where obfuscation is used as a tool to confuse clients to the point of compliance.

Look at this article from Search Engine Land about Penguin 2.0 / 4.

A full three quarters of the way down the page and words are still being used on working out what the update is called.

I (like many I suspect) scan these types of articles in the brief moments of down time I have throughout a day.

I like to think of myself as relatively able at understanding new ideas.

Yet I have no idea what this article is about.

“but if this next one is the “true” Penguin 2, are we going to make a mistake calling it Penguin 4? I’ll argue not as big a mistake as if we called it Penguin 2.”


After all of this name calling there is a video at the end of the article by Google’s alpha geek, Matt Cutts who explains what the ‘future holds’ for the search engine.

His headline message is this:

“Make a great site that users love…we try to make sure that if that is your goal we (Google) are aligned with that goal.”

That sounds pretty simple to me.

Don’t build a crappy website.

Don’t build a website people won’t care about.

Put hard work in and you will succeed.

That last one sounds familiar.

Oh, that’s right, that’s because it applies to absolutely everything else in the world.

Don’t overcomplicate things. Just work hard, moron.

Online Marketing and SEO for News Websites

Today I returned to WINOL to see the students put together their weekly news bulletin as well as speak to them about SEO.

A fantastic effort by all, the quality of the news and production values have come a very long way since I was at WINOL!

Below is a document that outlines the main points we discussed today after the bulletin (you can download a PDF document of this using the link at the bottom of the page).

My main takeaways from today and the things I would love to see on WINOL next time I come back are:

  • Use separate page titles and headlines – one rational (for the search engines) and one for the users.
  • Write meta descriptions – short synopsis of story that is designed to be displayed in the search engine results.
  • Use image ALT tags – this is the best way for search engines to understand what your photojournalism is all about!
  • All reporters should start building up their online profiles using Google+ and linking this up with the content that is produced on WINOL – see this link for more info on making this work effectively –
  • Work on getting the site indexed in Google News by following the guidelines in my document and then submitting a ‘news sitemap’ to Google.
  • Use website crawlers to check the website for errors (broken links etc) and fix as much as possible to maintain a level of quality on the site.

All information can be found here:

Download: Online Marketing for News Websites.

It was great chatting to you all today and if you have any questions about SEO and online marketing send me a tweet!

Scrunch or fold or waste money on a crap advert?

Andrex wants to know whether you scrunch or fold.

No, I don’t know what that means either.

Apparently there is a debate raging: whether it is better to scrunch or fold your toilet paper.

This particular debate seems to have bypassed me, but if it had have caught my attention I am pretty sure it would have happened in my local after roughly four and a half pints.

Andrex disagrees, they think prime time TV is the place to pose the eternal question.

Splashing valuable marketing money Andrex has put together this cringe inducing spot:

It is worth remembering at this stage what it is that Andrex wants to achieve.

They want to sell toilet roll.

It is an eternal truth that the aim of marketing is to sell things. Simple.

Therefore, Andrex wants us to think of them when you need to wipe your bum. They want you to use too much Andrex when you wipe your bum so that you have to go out and buy more Andrex to wipe your bum again next time.

That is it. Nothing will make the Andrex Puppy more happy than to see his profits rising as his toilet roll flies off the shelves.

For most companies the aim is to sell their products and that is why the most effective adverts aim to present a good reason for you to buy their product.

Andrex begs to differ, instead their new advert is not aimed at giving you a good reason to buy their product but is giving a (not-so-good) reason to visit their website and ‘vote’.

This begs the question: why spend money producing and placing an ad that doesn’t try to sell your product?

I can only assume one reasonable explanation, a social meda expert has gotten their way into the company.

Only a social media expert would advise such a thing.

Having spent time with social media types it has become clear that to them ROI is only a part of the puzzle and that ‘relationships’ and ‘community’ are just as important.

I disagree.

Who cares about having a relationship with the people who make paper for you to wipe your bum? I just want to buy it (for a reasonable price), use it and make sure it doesn’t make me sore, nothing more, nothing less.

Then there is the thought that the ‘call to action’ posed in said advert actively requires the viewer to go online, type ‘’ and then vote!

I did vote, out of curiosity, and to my surprise I still wasn’t given a good reason to buy Andrex, I was just presented with the same old Facebook guff that every other big brand is pushing at the moment.

Never has there been a better specimen of crap advertising.

How to Give Away Free Things

I just saw something on Facebook by a small e-commerce site.

It said that they had announced the winner of their recent competition.

The competition was to get 20 ‘likes’ to their profile, or the post that they wrote about the competition, I am not sure, don’t think they were sure either.

The result of this modest like-fest would be that one of the people would receive a free set of products.

Those are good odds.

Good odds for the customer, but what does 20 extra Facebook ‘likes’ get you as a business?

In this case it is the opportunity to oblige yourself to send out your products (the things that pay your wages) for free.

As well as this you get the opportunity to turn a potential customer into a freebie-receiver and 19 other potential customers into losers – particularly sore losers when they look at how good the odds were. What a way to remind them how unfair life is.

Doesn’t this seem mad?

I could do the same thing without bothering to get any ‘likes’ at all.

So why do companies fall over each other to get you to ‘like’ them?

I see no reason.

I hear some of you shouting ‘Graph Search‘ but that sounds like a wild goose that I am not prepared to chase.

So please, enlighten me, why should you seek a ‘like’?

About two years ago I remember reading an article that set out a calculation that said that every Facebook ‘like’ your business gets equates to X amount of revenue over X amount of time.

It sounded convincing and was a good selling point for the ‘like’.

I have since decided that this is bullshit and infact it doesn’t matter how many Facebook ‘likes’ you have, chances are you still don’t know how to run a website.

I have had more clients than I care to remember who do not know who their competition is and what their USP is and yet they are happy to lecture me on their need to encourage Facebook likes, sometimes to the point of stand-off.

I’ll tell you what I’d really like, I’d like it if you would all stop wasting time (and ultimately money) trying to get me to ‘like’ you and instead use the savings to lower your prices / improve your genuine marketing knowledge.

I’d really like that.


A Simple Way to Improve Your Keyword Research

Out of all of the SEO tasks that fill my to-do list on a regular basis, keyword research is the one that I most love to see. Keyword research, as I am sure you are aware, is an important part of running an SEO project. It is so important that if it hasn’t been done properly I insist that a project stops until it has been carried out in a comprehensive way.

Keyword research has a very simple aim: to find keywords that have a high amount of searches are relevant and have a low amount of competition. All too often the keyword research is stifled by a lack of time and budget forcing SEOs to carry out half-baked work that causes them to miss one or more of these requirements. I want to present a new process that I believe can be as quick as any other but yields vastly more reliable results that always take into account the fundamental aims of keyword research.

The current keyword research process goes a little like this; log into a keyword gathering tool, enter a search using some keyword ideas, export the resulting list into Excel. The list is then looked over and with nothing more than subjective opinion and local monthly search volume a shortlist is chosen. Sometimes this process works but when it does I would wager that it was pure luck rather than SEO expertise that brought success.

Simple Keyword Research Process

The new process I want to present is designed to take all of the guesswork out of keyword research. Let’s go back to our list of aims that keyword research should focus on. Number one is to find keywords that have a high search volume. Taking care of this part of the process should be very familiar and it does involve simply using the keyword tool of your choice. Use the tool to gather as many keywords as you can handle, search and re-search using different variations and by all means use more than one tool. Don’t get bogged down by duplicates cropping up when you export lists, this can be easily filtered out in Excel. The aim here is to gather as many potentially relevant keywords as you can, from as many sources as you can. The key thing to remember is that the list of keywords you have need to have a localised search volume associated with them. You should only limit this stage of the process by the amount of time you have to play with.

The next aim of keyword research is to find keywords that are relevant. Normally the only way to judge relevancy is to go down the list of keywords and use your opinion to say whether a keyword is relevant or not. This binary approach does not work because some keywords are more relevant than others. This means we need to quantify the process to give each keyword a fair chance. It is here that I like to use the following method: imagine we are doing SEO for a pet supplies website – take a keyword, for example ‘dog house’ and give it a relevancy score of 1.0 – now for every other thing that the keyword can describe remove 0.1. It may be that there is a local pub called ‘The Dog House’ so remove 0.1, then there is a film of the same name – remove another 0.1. So that leaves this keyword with a relevancy score of 0.8, make a note of this in a new column within your spreadsheet next the local monthly search volume.

The third and final fundamental aim of keyword research is to find keywords that have low levels of competition. To quantify the level of competition we need to use a search engine and a bit of basic maths. Carry out a search for the keyword you are analysing. Again you must start this process by giving your keyword a competition score of 1.0. Once the search results are returned you must remove 0.1 from the competition score for every result that has the keyword you are analysing in either the title or description of the results. In the case of ‘dog house’ there are two organic results in that have the keyword in their title and / or description. This means the competition score for ‘dog house’ is 0.8. Add this to another column within your spreadsheet.

The Final Keyword Research Formula

We now have in our spreadsheet a list of keywords, their local search volumes, a relevancy score and a competition score. The information is all numerical which allows us to combine all of the data to score each keyword fairly. To combine the data you must simply complete the following formula:

Local monthly search volume X relevancy X competition = keyword opportunity score

In the case of our keyword ‘dog house’ the formula might be as follows:

2500 X 0.8 X 0.8 = 1600

What is the advantage of this method? Let’s consider that you also have the keyword ‘cheap dog house’ in your list. This keyword may have a local search volume of 6000 and on the face of it seem like an excellent keyword choice. Then imagine that we carry out the research and find it to have a relevancy score of 1.0 but a competition score of 0.3. The formula would look like this:

6000 X 1.0 X 0.2 = 1200

When we take into account all factors we can immediately see that this keyword ends up with a lower final score and that optimising for ‘cheap dog house’ could be a bad move because the high levels of competition on this keyword are not made up for by the relevancy or search volume. This is invaluable information and can turn a mediocre SEO project into a winning one.

I would strongly recommend that all SEOs employ this keyword research method on future projects when time is tight, it certainly isn’t as advanced as keyword research gets, to see what else can be done I would point you in the direction of Richard Baxter, however it is certainly a robust and fair way to test all keywords and end up with a reliable list.