Becoming Better SEO Scientists – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by MarkTraphagen

Editor’s note: Today we’re featuring back-to-back episodes of Whiteboard Friday from our friends at Stone Temple Consulting. Make sure to also check out the second episode, “UX, Content Quality, and SEO” from Eric Enge.

Like many other areas of marketing, SEO incorporates elements of science. It becomes problematic for everyone, though, when theories that haven’t been the subject of real scientific rigor are passed off as proven facts. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Stone Temple Consulting’s Mark Traphagen is here to teach us a thing or two about the scientific method and how it can be applied to our day-to-day work.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard.
Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Howdy, Mozzers. Mark Traphagen from Stone Temple Consulting here today to share with you how to become a better SEO scientist. We know that SEO is a science in a lot of ways, and everything I’m going to say today applies not only to SEO, but testing things like your AdWords, how does that work, quality scores. There’s a lot of different applications you can make in marketing, but we’ll focus on the SEO world because that’s where we do a lot of testing. What I want to talk to you about today is how that really is a science and how we need to bring better science in it to get better results.

The reason is in astrophysics, things like that we know there’s something that they’re talking about these days called dark matter, and dark matter is something that we know it’s there. It’s pretty much accepted that it’s there. We can’t see it. We can’t measure it directly. We don’t even know what it is. We can’t even imagine what it is yet, and yet we know it’s there because we see its effect on things like gravity and mass. Its effects are everywhere. And that’s a lot like search engines, isn’t it? It’s like Google or Bing. We see the effects, but we don’t see inside the machine. We don’t know exactly what’s happening in there.

An artist’s depiction of how search engines work.

So what do we do? We do experiments. We do tests to try to figure that out, to see the effects, and from the effects outside we can make better guesses about what’s going on inside and do a better job of giving those search engines what they need to connect us with our customers and prospects. That’s the goal in the end.

Now, the problem is there’s a lot of testing going on out there, a lot of experiments that maybe aren’t being run very well. They’re not being run according to scientific principles that have been proven over centuries to get the best possible results.

Basic data science in 10 steps

So today I want to give you just very quickly 10 basic things that a real scientist goes through on their way to trying to give you better data. Let’s see what we can do with those in our SEO testing in the future.

So let’s start with number one. You’ve got to start with a hypothesis. Your hypothesis is the question that you want to solve. You always start with that, a good question in mind, and it’s got to be relatively narrow. You’ve got to narrow it down to something very specific. Something like how does time on page effect rankings, that’s pretty narrow. That’s very specific. That’s a good question. Might be able to test that. But something like how do social signals effect rankings, that’s too broad. You’ve got to narrow it down. Get it down to one simple question.

Then you choose a variable that you’re going to test. Out of all the things that you could do, that you could play with or you could tweak, you should choose one thing or at least a very few things that you’re going to tweak and say, “When we tweak this, when we change this, when we do this one thing, what happens? Does it change anything out there in the world that we are looking at?” That’s the variable.

The next step is to set a sample group. Where are you going to gather the data from? Where is it going to come from? That’s the world that you’re working in here. Out of all the possible data that’s out there, where are you going to gather your data and how much? That’s the small circle within the big circle. Now even though it’s smaller, you’re probably not going to get all the data in the world. You’re not going to scrape every search ranking that’s possible or visit every URL.

You’ve got to ask yourself, “Is it large enough that we’re at least going to get some validity?” If I wanted to find out what is the typical person in Seattle and I might walk through just one part of the Moz offices here, I’d get some kind of view. But is that a typical, average person from Seattle? I’ve been around here at Moz. Probably not. But this was large enough.

Also, it should be randomized as much as possible. Again, going back to that example, if I just stayed here within the walls of Moz and do research about Mozzers, I’d learn a lot about what Mozzers do, what Mozzers think, how they behave. But that may or may not be applicable to the larger world outside, so you randomized.

We want to control. So we’ve got our sample group. If possible, it’s always good to have another sample group that you don’t do anything to. You do not manipulate the variable in that group. Now, why do you have that? You have that so that you can say, to some extent, if we saw a change when we manipulated our variable and we did not see it in the control group, the same thing didn’t happen, more likely it’s not just part of the natural things that happen in the world or in the search engine.

If possible, even better you want to make that what scientists call double blind, which means that even you the experimenter don’t know who that control group is out of all the SERPs that you’re looking at or whatever it is. As careful as you might be and honest as you might be, you can end up manipulating the results if you know who is who within the test group? It’s not going to apply to every test that we do in SEO, but a good thing to have in mind as you work on that.

Next, very quickly, duration. How long does it have to be? Is there sufficient time? If you’re just testing like if I share a URL to Google +, how quickly does it get indexed in the SERPs, you might only need a day on that because typically it takes less than a day in that case. But if you’re looking at seasonality effects, you might need to go over several years to get a good test on that.

Let’s move to the second group here. The sixth thing keep a clean lab. Now what that means is try as much as possible to keep anything that might be dirtying your results, any kind of variables creeping in that you didn’t want to have in the test. Hard to do, especially in what we’re testing, but do the best you can to keep out the dirt.

Manipulate only one variable. Out of all the things that you could tweak or change choose one thing or a very small set of things. That will give more accuracy to your test. The more variables that you change, the more other effects and inner effects that are going to happen that you may not be accounting for and are going to muddy your results.

Make sure you have statistical validity when you go to analyze those results. Now that’s beyond the scope of this little talk, but you can read up on that. Or even better, if you are able to, hire somebody or work with somebody who is a trained data scientist or has training in statistics so they can look at your evaluation and say the correlations or whatever you’re seeing, “Does it have a statistical significance?” Very important.

Transparency. As much as possible, share with the world your data set, your full results, your methodology. What did you do? How did you set up the study? That’s going to be important to our last step here, which is replication and falsification, one of the most important parts of any scientific process.

So what you want to invite is, hey we did this study. We did this test. Here’s what we found. Here’s how we did it. Here’s the data. If other people ask the same question again and run the same kind of test, do they get the same results? Somebody runs it again, do they get the same results? Even better, if you have some people out there who say, “I don’t think you’re right about that because I think you missed this, and I’m going to throw this in and see what happens,” aha they falsify. That might make you feel like you failed, but it’s success because in the end what are we after? We’re after the truth about what really works.

Think about your next test, your next experiment that you do. How can you apply these 10 principles to do better testing, get better results, and have better marketing? Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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UX, Content Quality, and SEO – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by EricEnge

Editor’s note: Today we’re featuring back-to-back episodes of Whiteboard Friday from our friends at Stone Temple Consulting. Make sure to also check out the first episode, “Becoming Better SEO Scientists” from Mark Traphagen.

User experience and the quality of your content have an incredibly broad impact on your SEO efforts. In this episode of Whiteboard Friday, Stone Temple’s Eric Enge shows you how paying attention to your users can benefit your position in the SERPs.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard.
Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Hi, Mozzers. I’m Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting. Today I want to talk to you about one of the most underappreciated aspects of SEO, and that is the interaction between user experience, content quality, and your SEO rankings and traffic.

I’m going to take you through a little history first. You know, we all know about the Panda algorithm update that came out in February 23, 2011, and of course more recently we have the search quality update that came out in May 19, 2015. Our Panda friend had 27 different updates that we know of along the way. So a lot of stuff has gone on, but we need to realize that that is not where it all started.

The link algorithm from the very beginning was about search quality. Links allowed Google to have an algorithm that gave better results than the other search engines of their day, which were dependent on keywords. These things however, that I’ve just talked about, are still just the tip of the iceberg. Google goes a lot deeper than that, and I want to walk you through the different things that it does.

So consider for a moment, you have someone search on the phrase “men’s shoes” and they come to your website.

What is that they want when they come to your website? Do they want sneakers, sandals, dress shoes? Well, those are sort of the obvious things that they might want. But you need to think a little bit more about what the user really wants to be able to know before they buy from you.

First of all, there has to be a way to buy. By the way, affiliate sites don’t have ways to buy. So the line of thinking I’m talking about might not work out so well for affiliate sites and works better for people who can actually sell the product directly. But in addition to a way to buy, they might want a privacy policy. They might want to see an About Us page. They might want to be able to see your phone number. These are all different kinds of things that users look for when they arrive on the pages of your site.

So as we think about this, what is it that we can do to do a better job with our websites? Well, first of all, lose the focus on keywords. Don’t get me wrong, keywords haven’t gone entirely away. But the pages where we overemphasize one particular keyword over another or related phrases are long gone, and you need to have a broader focus on how you approach things.

User experience is now a big deal. You really need to think about how users are interacting with your page and how that shows your overall page quality. Think about the percent satisfaction. If I send a hundred users to your page from my search engine, how many of those users are going to be happy with the content or the products or everything that they see with your page? You need to think through the big picture. So at the end of the day, this impacts the content on your page to be sure, but a lot more than that it impacts the design, related items that you have on the page.

So let me just give you an example of that. I looked at one page recently that was for a flower site. It was a page about annuals on that site, and that page had no link to their perennials page. Well, okay, a fairly good percentage of people who arrive on a page about annuals are also going to want to have perennials as something they might consider buying. So that page was probably coming across as a poor user experience. So these related items concepts are incredibly important.

Then the links to your page is actually a way to get to some of those related items, and so those are really important as well. What are the related products that you link to?

Finally, really it impacts everything you do with your page design. You need to move past the old-fashioned way of thinking about SEO and into the era of: How am I doing with satisfying all the people who come to the pages of your site?

Thank you, Mozzers. Have a great day.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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For Writers Only: Secrets to Improving Engagement on Your Content Using Word Pictures (and I Don’t Mean Wordle)

Posted by Isla_McKetta

“Picture it.”

If you’re of a certain generation, those two words can only conjure images of tiny, white-haired Sophia from the Golden Girls about to tell one of her engaging (if somewhat long and irrelevant) stories as she holds her elderly roommates hostage in the kitchen or living room of their pastel-hued Miami home.

Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, those words should become your writing mantra, because what readers do with your words is take all those letters and turn them into mind pictures. And as the writer, you have control over what those pictures look like and how long your readers mull them over.

According to
Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene, reading involves a rich back and forth between the language areas and visual areas of our brains. Although the full extent of that connectivity is not yet known, it’s easy to imagine that the more sensory (interesting) information we can include in our writing, the more fully we can engage our readers.

So if you’re a writer or content marketer you should be harnessing the illustrative power of words to occupy your readers’ minds and keep them interested until they’re ready to convert. Here’s how to make your words
work for you.

Kill clichés

I could have titled this piece “Painting a Picture with Words” but you’ve heard it. Over and over and over. And I’m going to propose that every time you use a cliché, a puppy dies. 

While that’s a bit extreme (at least I hope so because that’s a lot of dead puppies and Rocky’s having second thoughts about his choice of parents), I hope it will remind you to read over what you’ve written and see where your attention starts to wander (wandering attention=cliché=one more tragic, senseless death) you get bored. Chances are it’s right in the middle of a tired bit of language that used to be a wonderful word picture but has been used and abused to the point that we readers can’t even summon the image anymore.

Make up metaphors (and similes)

Did you know that most clichés used to be metaphors? And that we overused them because metaphors are possibly the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for creating word pictures (and, thus, engaging content)? You do now.

By making unexpected comparisons, metaphors and similes force words to perform like a stage mom on a reality show. These comparisons shake our brains awake and force us to pay attention. So apply a whip to your language. Make it dance like a ballerina in a little pink tutu. Give our brains something interesting to sink our teeth into (poor Rocky!), gnaw on, and share with out friends.

Engage the senses

If the goal of all this attention to language is to turn reading into a full brain experience, why not make it a little easier by including sensory information in whatever you’re writing? Here are a few examples:

  • These tickets are selling so fast we can smell the burning rubber.
  • Next to a crumbling cement pillar, our interview subject sits typing on his pristine MacBook Air.
  • In a sea of (yelp!) never ending horde of black and gray umbrellas, this red cowboy hat will show the world you own your look.
  • Black hat tactics left your SERPs stinking as bad as a garbage strike in late August? Let us help you clear the air by cleaning up those results.

See how those images and experiences continue to unfold and develop in your mind? You have the power to affect your readers the same way—to create an image so powerful it stays with them throughout their busy days. One note of caution, though, sensory information is so strong that you want to be careful when creating potentially negative associations (like that garbage strike stench in the final example).

Leverage superlatives (wisely) and ditch hyperbole

SUPERLATIVES ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVEST TOOL YOU CAN USE EVER (until you wear your reader out or lose their trust). Superlatives (think “best,” “worst,” “hairiest” – any form of the adjective or adverb that is the most exaggerated form of the word) are one of the main problems with clickbait headlines (the other being the failure to deliver on those huge promises).

Speaking of exaggeration, be careful with it in all of its forms. You don’t actually have to stop using it, but think of your reader’s credence in your copy as a grasshopper handed over by a child. They think it’s super special and they want you to as well. If you mistreat that grasshopper by piling exaggerated fact after exaggerated fact on top of it, the grasshopper will be crushed and your reader will not easily forgive you.

So how do you stand out in a crowded field of over-used superlatives and hyperbolic claims? Find the places your products honestly excel and tout those. At Moz we don’t have the largest link index in the world. Instead, we have a really high quality link index. I could have obfuscated there and said we have “the best” link index, but by being specific about what we’re actually awesome at, we end up attracting customers who want better results instead of more results (and they’re happier for it).

Unearth the mystery

One of the keys to piquing your audience’s interest is to tap into (poor puppy!) create or find the mystery in what you’re writing. I’m not saying your product description will suddenly feature PIs in fedoras (I can dream, though), but figure out what’s intriguing or new about what you’re talking about. Here are some examples:

  • Remember when shortcuts meant a few extra minutes to yourself after school? How will you spend the 15-30 minutes our email management system will save you? We won’t tell…
  • You don’t need to understand how this toilet saves water while flushing so quietly it won’t wake the baby, just enjoy a restful night’s sleep (and lower water bills)
  • Check out this interactive to see what makes our work boots more comfortable than all the rest.

Secrets, surprises, and inside information make readers hunger for more knowledge. Use that power to get your audience excited about the story you’re about to tell them.

Don’t forget the words around your imagery

Notice how some of these suggestions aren’t about the word picture itself, they’re about the frame around the picture? I firmly believe that a reader comes to a post with a certain amount of energy. You can waste that energy by soothing them to sleep with boring imagery and clichés, while they try to find something to be interested in. Or you can give them energy by giving them word pictures they can get excited about.

So picture it. You’ve captured your reader’s attention with imagery so engaging they’ll remember you after they put down their phone, read their social streams (again), and check their email. They’ll come back to your site to read your content again or to share that story they just can’t shake.

Good writing isn’t easy or fast, but it’s worth the time and effort.

Let me help you make word pictures

Editing writing to make it better is actually one of my great pleasures in life, so I’m going to make you an offer here. Leave a sentence or two in the comments that you’re having trouble activating, and I’ll see what I can do to offer you some suggestions. Pick a cliché you can’t get out of your head or a metaphor that needs a little refresh. Give me a little context for the best possible results.

I’ll do my best to help the first 50 questions or so (I have to stop somewhere or I’ll never write the next blog post in this series), so ask away. I promise no puppies will get hurt in the process. In fact, Rocky’s quite happy to be the poster boy for this post—it’s the first time we’ve let him have beach day, ferry day, and all the other spoilings all at once.

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SheerSEO Review – Analyzing Your On-page SEO

http://webincomejournal.com/5013/sheerseo-review.html – An inside look on how SheerSEO tool can help you in analyzing your o-page SEO for better results.

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