Should I Rebrand and Redirect My Site? Should I Consolidate Multiple Sites/Brands? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Making changes to your brand is a huge step, and while it’s sometimes the best path forward, it isn’t one to be taken lightly. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand offers some guidance to marketers who are wondering whether a rebrand/redirect is right for them, and also those who are considering consolidating multiple sites under a single brand.

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

To rebrand, or not to rebrand, that is the question

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we’re going to chat a little bit about whether you should rebrand and consider redirecting your existing website or websites and whether you should potentially consolidate multiple websites and brands that you may be running.

So we’ve talked before about redirection moves best practices. We’ve also talked about the splitting of link equity and domain authority and those kinds of things. But one of the questions that people have is, “Gosh, you know I have a website today and given the moves that Google has been making, that the social media world has been making, that content marketing has been making, I’m wondering whether I should potentially rebrand my site.” Lots of people bought domains back in the day that were exact match domains or partial match domains or that they thought reflected a move of the web toward or away from less brand-centric stuff and toward more keyword matching, topic matching, intent matching kinds of things.

Maybe you’re reconsidering those moves and you want to know, “Hey, should I be thinking about making a change now?” That’s what I’m here to answer. So this question to rebrand or not to re, it is tough because you know that when you do that rebrand, you will almost certainly take a traffic hit, and SEO is one of the biggest places where people typically take that traffic hit.

Moz previously was at SEOmoz.org and moved to moz.com. We saw a dip in our traffic over about 3 to 4 months before it fully recovered, and I would say that dip was between 15% and 25% of our search traffic, depending on week to week. I’ll link to a list of metrics that I put on my personal blog, Moz.com/rand, so that you can check those out if you’d like to see them. But it was a short recovery time for us.

One of the questions that people always have is, “Well wait, did you lose rankings for SEO since SEO used to be in your domain name?” The answer is no. In fact, six months after the move, we were ranking higher for SEO related terms and phrases.

Scenario A: Rebranding or redirecting scifitoysandgames.com

So let’s imagine that today you are running SciFiToysAndGames.com, which is right on the borderline. In my opinion, that’s right on the borderline of barely tolerable. Like it could be brandable, but it’s not great. I don’t love the “sci-fi” in here, partially because of how the Syfy channel, the entity that broadcasts stuff on television has chosen to delineate their spelling, sci-fi can be misinterpreted as to how it’s spelled. I don’t love having to have “and” in a domain name. This is long. All sorts of stuff.

Let’s say you also own StarToys.com, but you haven’t used it. Previously StarToys.com has been redirecting to SciFiToysAndGames.com, and you’re thinking, “Well, man, is it the right time to make this move? Should I make this change now? Should I wait for the future?”

How memorable or amplifiable is your current brand?

Well, these are the questions that I would urge you to consider. How memorable and amplifiable is your current brand? That’s something that if you are recognizing like, “Hey I think our brand name, in fact, is holding us back in search results and social media amplification, press, in blog mentions, in journalist links and these kinds of things,” well, that’s something serious to think about. Word of mouth too.

Will you maintain your current brand name long term?

So if you know that sometime in the next two, three, four, or five years you do want to move to StarToys, I would actually strongly urge you to do that right now, because the longer you wait, the longer it will take to build up the signals around the new domain and the more pain you’ll potentially incur by having to keep branding this and working on this old brand name. So I would strongly urge you, if you know you’re going to make the move eventually, make it today. Take the pain now, rather than more pain later.

Can or have you tested brand preference with your target audience?

I would urge you to find two different groups, one who are loyal customers today, people who know SciFiToysAndGames.com and have used it, and two, people who are potential customers, but aren’t yet familiar with it.

You don’t need to do big sample-sizes. If you can get 5, 10, or 15 people either in a room or talk to them in person, you can try some web surveys, you can try using some social media ads like things on Facebook. I’ve seen some companies do some testing around this. Even buying potential PPC ads and seeing how click-through rates perform and sentiment and those kinds of things, that is a great way to help validate your ideas, especially if you’re forced to bring data to a table by executives or other stakeholders.

How much traffic would you need in one year to justify a URL move?

The last thing I think about is imagine, and I want you to either imagine or even model this out, mathematically model it out. If your traffic growth rate — so let’s say you’re growing at 10% year-over-year right now — if that improved 1%, 5%, or 10% annually with a new brand name, would you make the move? So knowing that you might take a short-term hit, but then that your growth rate would be incrementally higher in years to come, how big would that growth rate need to be?

I would say that, in general, if I were thinking about these two domains, granted this is a hard case because you don’t know exactly how much more brandable or word-of-mouth-able or amplifiable your new one might be compared to your existing one. Well, gosh, my general thing here is if you think that’s going to be a substantive percentage, say 5% plus, almost always it’s worth it, because compound growth rate over a number of years will mean that you’re winning big time. Remember that that growth rate is different that raw growth. If you can incrementally increase your growth rate, you get tremendously more traffic when you look back two, three, four, or five years later.

Where does your current and future URL live on the domain/brand name spectrum?

I also made this domain name, brand name spectrum, because I wanted to try and visualize crappiness of domain name, brand name to really good domain name, brand name. I wanted to give some examples and then extract out some elements so that maybe you can start to build on these things thematically as you’re considering your own domains.

So from awful, we go to tolerable, good, and great. So Science-Fi-Toys.net is obviously terrible. I’ve taken a contraction of the name and the actual one. It’s got a .net. It’s using hyphens. It’s infinitely unmemorable up to what I think is tolerable — SciFiToysAndGames.com. It’s long. There are some questions about how type-in-able it is, how easy it is to type in. SciFiToys.com, which that’s pretty good. SciFiToys, relatively short, concise. It still has the “sci-fi” in there, but it’s a .com. We’re getting better. All the way up to, I really love the name, StarToys. I think it’s very brandable, very memorable. It’s concise. It’s easy to remember and type in. It has positive associations probably with most science fiction toy buyers who are familiar with at least “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.” It’s cool. It has some astronomy connotations too. Just a lot of good stuff going on with that domain name.

Then, another one, Region-Data-API.com. That sucks. NeighborhoodInfo.com. Okay, at least I know what it is. Neighborhood is a really hard name to type because it is very hard for many people to spell and remember. It’s long. I don’t totally love it. I don’t love the “info” connotation, which is generic-y.

DistrictData.com has a nice, alliterative ring to it. But maybe we could do even better and actually there is a company, WalkScore.com, which I think is wonderfully brandable and memorable and really describes what it is without being too in your face about the generic brand of we have regional data about places.

What if you’re doing mobile apps? BestAndroidApps.com. You might say, “Why is that in awful?” The answer is two things. One, it’s the length of the domain name and then the fact that you’re actually using someone else’s trademark in your name, which can be really risky. Especially if you start blowing up, getting big, Google might go and say, “Oh, do you have Android in your domain name? We’ll take that please. Thank you very much.”

BestApps.io, in the tech world, it’s very popular to use domains like .io or .ly. Unfortunately, I think once you venture outside of the high tech world, it’s really tough to get people to remember that that is a domain name. If you put up a billboard that says “BestApps.com,” a majority of people will go, “Oh, that’s a website.” But if you use .io, .ly, or one of the new domain names, .ninja, a lot of people won’t even know to connect that up with, “Oh, they mean an Internet website that I can type into my browser or look for.”

So we have to remember that we sometimes live in a bubble. Outside of that bubble are a lot of people who, if it’s not .com, questionable as to whether they’re even going to know what it is. Remember outside of the U.S., country code domain names work equally well — .co.uk, .ca, .co.za, wherever you are.

InstallThis.com. Now we’re getting better. Memorable, clear. Then all the way up to, I really like the name AppCritic.com. I have positive associations with like, “Oh year, restaurant critics, food critics, and movie critics, and this is an app critic. Great, that’s very cool.”

What are the things that are in here? Well, stuff at this end of the spectrum tends to be generic, forgettable, hard to type in. It’s long, brand-infringing, danger, danger, and sketchy sounding. It’s hard to quantify what sketchy sounding is, but you know it when you see it. When you’re reviewing domain names, you’re looking for links, you’re looking at things in the SERPs, you’re like, “Hmm, I don’t know about this one.” Having that sixth sense is something that we all develop over time, so sketchy sounding not quite as scientific as I might want for a description, but powerful.

On this end of the spectrum though, domain names and brand names tend to be unique, memorable, short. They use .com. Unfortunately, still the gold standard. Easy to type in, pronounceable. That’s a powerful thing too, especially because of word of mouth. We suffered with that for a long time with SEOmoz because many people saw it and thought, “Oh, ShowMoz, COMoz, SeeMoz.” It sucked. Have positive associations, like StarToys or WalkScore or AppCritic. They have these positive, pre-built-in associations psychologically that suggest something brandable.

Scenario B: Consolidating two sites

Scenario B, and then we’ll get to the end, but scenario B is the question like, “Should I consolidate?” Let’s say I’m running both of these today. Or more realistic and many times I see people like this, you’re running AppCritic.com and StarToys.com, and you think, “Boy, these are pretty separate.” But then you keep finding overlap between them. Your content tends to overlap, the audience tends to overlap. I find this with many, many folks who run multiple domains.

How much audience and content overlap is there?

So we’ve got to consider a few things. First off, that audience and content overlap. If you’ve got StarToys and AppCritic and the overlap is very thin, just that little, tiny piece in the middle there. The content doesn’t overlap much, the audience doesn’t overlap much. It probably doesn’t make that much sense.

But what if you’re finding like, “Gosh, man, we’re writing more and more about apps and tech and mobile and web stuff on StarToys, and we’re writing more and more about other kinds of geeky, fun things on AppCritic. Slowly it feels like these audiences are merging.” Well, now you might want to consider that consolidation.

Is there potential for separate sales or exits?

Second point of consideration, the potential for separate exits or sales. So if you know that you’re going to sell AppCritic.com to someone in the future and you want to make sure that’s separate from StarToys, you should keep them separate. If you think to yourself, “Gosh, I’d never sell one without the other. They’re really part of the same company, brand, effort,” well, I’d really consider that consolidation.

Will you dilute marketing or branding efforts?

Last point of positive consideration is dilution of marketing and branding efforts. Remember that you’re going to be working on marketing. You’re going to be working on branding. You’re going to be working on growing traffic to these. When you split your efforts, unless you have two relatively large, separate teams, this is very, very hard to do at the same rate that it could be done if you combined those efforts. So another big point of consideration. That compound growth rate that we talked about, that’s another big consideration with this.

Is the topical focus out of context?

What I don’t recommend you consider and what has been unfortunately considered, by a lot of folks in the SEO-centric world in the past, is topical focus of the content. I actually am crossing this out. Not a big consideration. You might say to yourself, “But Rand, we talked about previously on Whiteboard Friday how I can have topical authority around toys and games that are related to science fiction stuff, and I can have topical authority related to mobile apps.”

My answer is if the content overlap is strong and the audience overlap is strong, you can do both on one domain. You can see many, many examples of this across the web, Moz being a great example where we talk about startups and technology and sometimes venture capital and team building and broad marketing and paid search marketing and organic search marketing and just a ton of topics, but all serving the same audience and content. Because that overlap is strong, we can be an authority in all of these realms. Same goes for any time you’re considering these things.

All right everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I look forward to some great comments, and we’ll see you again next week. take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Using Term Frequency Analysis to Measure Your Content Quality

Posted by EricEnge

It’s time to look at your content differently—time to start understanding just how good it really is. I am not simply talking about titles, keyword usage, and meta descriptions. I am talking about the entire page experience. In today’s post, I am going to introduce the general concept of content quality analysis, why it should matter to you, and how to use term frequency (TF) analysis to gather ideas on how to improve your content.

TF analysis is usually combined with inverse document frequency analysis (collectively TF-IDF analysis). TF-IDF analysis has been a staple concept for information retrieval science for a long time. You can read more about TF-IDF and other search science concepts in Cyrus Shepard’s
excellent article here.

For purposes of today’s post, I am going to show you how you can use TF analysis to get clues as to what Google is valuing in the content of sites that currently outrank you. But first, let’s get oriented.

Conceptualizing page quality

Start by asking yourself if your page provides a quality experience to people who visit it. For example, if a search engine sends 100 people to your page, how many of them will be happy? Seventy percent? Thirty percent? Less? What if your competitor’s page gets a higher percentage of happy users than yours does? Does that feel like an “uh-oh”?

Let’s think about this with a specific example in mind. What if you ran a golf club site, and 100 people come to your page after searching on a phrase like “golf clubs.” What are the kinds of things they may be looking for?

Here are some things they might want:

  1. A way to buy golf clubs on your site (you would need to see a shopping cart of some sort).
  2. The ability to select specific brands, perhaps by links to other pages about those brands of golf clubs.
  3. Information on how to pick the club that is best for them.
  4. The ability to select specific types of clubs (drivers, putters, irons, etc.). Again, this may be via links to other pages.
  5. A site search box.
  6. Pricing info.
  7. Info on shipping costs.
  8. Expert analysis comparing different golf club brands.
  9. End user reviews of your company so they can determine if they want to do business with you.
  10. How your return policy works.
  11. How they can file a complaint.
  12. Information about your company. Perhaps an “about us” page.
  13. A link to a privacy policy page.
  14. Whether or not you have been “in the news” recently.
  15. Trust symbols that show that you are a reputable organization.
  16. A way to access pages to buy different products, such as golf balls or tees.
  17. Information about specific golf courses.
  18. Tips on how to improve their golf game.

This is really only a partial list, and the specifics of your site can certainly vary for any number of reasons from what I laid out above. So how do you figure out what it is that people really want? You could pull in data from a number of sources. For example, using data from your site search box can be invaluable. You can do user testing on your site. You can conduct surveys. These are all good sources of data.

You can also look at your analytics data to see what pages get visited the most. Just be careful how you use that data. For example, if most of your traffic is from search, this data will be biased by incoming search traffic, and hence what Google chooses to rank. In addition, you may only have a small percentage of the visitors to your site going to your privacy policy, but chances are good that there are significantly more users than that who notice whether or not you have a privacy policy. Many of these will be satisfied just to see that you have one and won’t actually go check it out.

Whatever you do, it’s worth using many of these methods to determine what users want from the pages of your site and then using the resulting information to improve your overall site experience.

Is Google using this type of info as a ranking factor?

At some level, they clearly are. Clearly Google and Bing have evolved far beyond the initial TF-IDF concepts, but we can still use them to better understand our own content.

The first major indication we had that Google was performing content quality analysis was with the release of the
Panda algorithm in February of 2011. More recently, we know that on April 21 Google will release an algorithm that makes the mobile friendliness of a web site a ranking factor. Pure and simple, this algo is about the user experience with a page.

Exactly how Google is performing these measurements is not known, but
what we do know is their intent. They want to make their search engine look good, largely because it helps them make more money. Sending users to pages that make them happy will do that. Google has every incentive to improve the quality of their search results in as many ways as they can.

Ultimately, we don’t actually know what Google is measuring and using. It may be that the only SEO impact of providing pages that satisfy a very high percentage of users is an indirect one. I.e., so many people like your site that it gets written about more, linked to more, has tons of social shares, gets great engagement, that Google sees other signals that it uses as ranking factors, and this is why your rankings improve.

But, do I care if the impact is a direct one or an indirect one? Well, NO.

Using TF analysis to evaluate your page

TF-IDF analysis is more about relevance than content quality, but we can still use various precepts from it to help us understand our own content quality. One way to do this is to compare the results of a TF analysis of all the keywords on your page with those pages that currently outrank you in the search results. In this section, I am going to outline the basic concepts for how you can do this. In the next section I will show you a process that you can use with publicly available tools and a spreadsheet.

The simplest form of TF analysis is to count the number of uses of each keyword on a page. However, the problem with that is that a page using a keyword 10 times will be seen as 10 times more valuable than a page that uses a keyword only once. For that reason, we dampen the calculations. I have seen two methods for doing this, as follows:

term frequency calculation

The first method relies on dividing the number of repetitions of a keyword by the count for the most popular word on the entire page. Basically, what this does is eliminate the inherent advantage that longer documents might otherwise have over shorter ones. The second method dampens the total impact in a different way, by taking the log base 10 for the actual keyword count. Both of these achieve the effect of still valuing incremental uses of a keyword, but dampening it substantially. I prefer to use method 1, but you can use either method for our purposes here.

Once you have the TF calculated for every different keyword found on your page, you can then start to do the same analysis for pages that outrank you for a given search term. If you were to do this for five competing pages, the result might look something like this:

term frequency spreadsheet

I will show you how to set up the spreadsheet later, but for now, let’s do the fun part, which is to figure out how to analyze the results. Here are some of the things to look for:

  1. Are there any highly related words that all or most of your competitors are using that you don’t use at all?
  2. Are there any such words that you use significantly less, on average, than your competitors?
  3. Also look for words that you use significantly more than competitors.

You can then tag these words for further analysis. Once you are done, your spreadsheet may now look like this:

second stage term frequency analysis spreadsheet

In order to make this fit into this screen shot above and keep it legibly, I eliminated some columns you saw in my first spreadsheet. However, I did a sample analysis for the movie “Woman in Gold”. You can see the
full spreadsheet of calculations here. Note that we used an automated approach to marking some items at “Low Ratio,” “High Ratio,” or “All Competitors Have, Client Does Not.”

None of these flags by themselves have meaning, so you now need to put all of this into context. In our example, the following words probably have no significance at all: “get”, “you”, “top”, “see”, “we”, “all”, “but”, and other words of this type. These are just very basic English language words.

But, we can see other things of note relating to the target page (a.k.a. the client page):

  1. It’s missing any mention of actor ryan reynolds
  2. It’s missing any mention of actor helen mirren
  3. The page has no reviews
  4. Words like “family” and “story” are not mentioned
  5. “Austrian” and “maria altmann” are not used at all
  6. The phrase “woman in gold” and words “billing” and “info” are used proportionally more than they are with the other pages

Note that the last item is only visible if you open
the spreadsheet. The issues above could well be significant, as the lead actors, reviews, and other indications that the page has in-depth content. We see that competing pages that rank have details of the story, so that’s an indication that this is what Google (and users) are looking for. The fact that the main key phrase, and the word “billing”, are used to a proportionally high degree also makes it seem a bit spammy.

In fact, if you look at the information closely, you can see that the target page is quite thin in overall content. So much so, that it almost looks like a doorway page. In fact, it looks like it was put together by the movie studio itself, just not very well, as it presents little in the way of a home page experience that would cause it to rank for the name of the movie!

In the many different times I have done an analysis using these methods, I’ve been able to make many different types of observations about pages. A few of the more interesting ones include:

  1. A page that had no privacy policy, yet was taking personally identifiable info from users.
  2. A major lack of important synonyms that would indicate a real depth of available content.
  3. Comparatively low Domain Authority competitors ranking with in-depth content.

These types of observations are interesting and valuable, but it’s important to stress that you shouldn’t be overly mechanical about this. The value in this type of analysis is that it gives you a technical way to compare the content on your page with that of your competitors. This type of analysis should be used in combination with other methods that you use for evaluating that same page. I’ll address this some more in the summary section of this below.

How do you execute this for yourself?

The
full spreadsheet contains all the formulas so all you need to do is link in the keyword count data. I have tried this with two different keyword density tools, the one from Searchmetrics, and this one from motoricerca.info.

I am not endorsing these tools, and I have no financial interest in either one—they just seemed to work fairly well for the process I outlined above. To provide the data in the right format, please do the following:

  1. Run all the URLs you are testing through the keyword density tool.
  2. Copy and paste all the one word, two word, and three word results into a tab on the spreadsheet.
  3. Sort them all so you get total word counts aligned by position as I have shown in the linked spreadsheet.
  4. Set up the formulas as I did in the demo spreadsheet (you can just use the demo spreadsheet).
  5. Then do your analysis!

This may sound a bit tedious (and it is), but it has worked very well for us at STC.

Summary

You can also use usability groups and a number of other methods to figure out what users are really looking for on your site. However, what this does is give us a look at what Google has chosen to rank the highest in its search results. Don’t treat this as some sort of magic formula where you mechanically tweak the content to get better metrics in this analysis.

Instead, use this as a method for slicing into your content to better see it the way a machine might see it. It can yield some surprising (and wonderful) insights!

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Understanding and Applying Moz’s Spam Score Metric – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

This week, Moz released a new feature that we call Spam Score, which helps you analyze your link profile and weed out the spam (check out the blog post for more info). There have been some fantastic conversations about how it works and how it should (and shouldn’t) be used, and we wanted to clarify a few things to help you all make the best use of the tool.

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand offers more detail on how the score is calculated, just what those spam flags are, and how we hope you’ll benefit from using it.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. 

Click on the image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video transcription

Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re going to chat a little bit about Moz’s Spam Score. Now I don’t typically like to do Whiteboard Fridays specifically about a Moz project, especially when it’s something that’s in our toolset. But I’m making an exception because there have been so many questions and so much discussion around Spam Score and because I hope the methodology, the way we calculate things, the look at correlation and causation, when it comes to web spam, can be useful for everyone in the Moz community and everyone in the SEO community in addition to being helpful for understanding this specific tool and metric.

The 17-flag scoring system

I want to start by describing the 17 flag system. As you might know, Spam Score is shown as a score from 0 to 17. You either fire a flag or you don’t. Those 17 flags you can see a list of them on the blog post, and we’ll show that in there. Essentially, those flags correlate to the percentage of sites that we found with that count of flags, not those specific flags, just any count of those flags that were penalized or banned by Google. I’ll show you a little bit more in the methodology.

Basically, what this means is for sites that had 0 spam flags, none of the 17 flags that we had fired, that actually meant that 99.5% of those sites were not penalized or banned, on average, in our analysis and 0.5% were. At 3 flags, 4.2% of those sites, that’s actually still a huge number. That’s probably in the millions of domains or subdomains that Google has potentially still banned. All the way down here with 11 flags, it’s 87.3% that we did find banned. That seems pretty risky or penalized. It seems pretty risky. But 12.7% of those is still a very big number, again probably in the hundreds of thousands of unique websites that are not banned but still have these flags.

If you’re looking at a specific subdomain and you’re saying, “Hey, gosh, this only has 3 flags or 4 flags on it, but it’s clearly been penalized by Google, Moz’s score must be wrong,” no, that’s pretty comfortable. That should fit right into those kinds of numbers. Same thing down here. If you see a site that is not penalized but has a number of flags, that’s potentially an indication that you’re in that percentage of sites that we found not to be penalized.

So this is an indication of percentile risk, not a “this is absolutely spam” or “this is absolutely not spam.” The only caveat is anything with, I think, more than 13 flags, we found 100% of those to have been penalized or banned. Maybe you’ll find an odd outlier or two. Probably you won’t.

Correlation â‰  causation

Correlation is not causation. This is something we repeat all the time here at Moz and in the SEO community. We do a lot of correlation studies around these things. I think people understand those very well in the fields of social media and in marketing in general. Certainly in psychology and electoral voting and election polling results, people understand those correlations. But for some reason in SEO we sometimes get hung up on this.

I want to be clear. Spam flags and the count of spam flags correlates with sites we saw Google penalize. That doesn’t mean that any of the flags or combinations of flags actually cause the penalty. It could be that the things that are flags are not actually connected to the reasons Google might penalize something at all. Those could be totally disconnected.

We are not trying to say with the 17 flags these are causes for concern or you need to fix these. We are merely saying this feature existed on this website when we crawled it, or it had this feature, maybe it still has this feature. Therefore, we saw this count of these features that correlates to this percentile number, so we’re giving you that number. That’s all that the score intends to say. That’s all it’s trying to show. It’s trying to be very transparent about that. It’s not trying to say you need to fix these.

A lot of flags and features that are measured are perfectly fine things to have on a website, like no social accounts or email links. That’s a totally reasonable thing to have, but it is a flag because we saw it correlate. A number in your domain name, I think it’s fine if you want to have a number in your domain name. There’s plenty of good domains that have a numerical character in them. That’s cool.

TLD extension that happens to be used by lots of spammers, like a .info or a .cc or a number of other ones, that’s also totally reasonable. Just because lots of spammers happen to use those TLD extensions doesn’t mean you are necessarily spam because you use one.

Or low link diversity. Maybe you’re a relatively new site. Maybe your niche is very small, so the number of folks who point to your site tends to be small, and lots of the sites that organically naturally link to you editorially happen to link to you from many of their pages, and there’s not a ton of them. That will lead to low link diversity, which is a flag, but it isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. It might still nudge you to try and get some more links because that will probably help you, but that doesn’t mean you are spammy. It just means you fired a flag that correlated with a spam percentile.

The methodology we use

The methodology that we use, for those who are curious — and I do think this is a methodology that might be interesting to potentially apply in other places — is we brainstormed a large list of potential flags, a huge number. We cut that down to the ones we could actually do, because there were some that were just unfeasible for our technology team, our engineering team to do.

Then, we got a huge list, many hundreds of thousands of sites that were penalized or banned. When we say banned or penalized, what we mean is they didn’t rank on page one for either their own domain name or their own brand name, the thing between the
www and the .com or .net or .info or whatever it was. If you didn’t rank for either your full domain name, www and the .com or Moz, that would mean we said, “Hey, you’re penalized or banned.”

Now you might say, “Hey, Rand, there are probably some sites that don’t rank on page one for their own brand name or their own domain name, but aren’t actually penalized or banned.” I agree. That’s a very small number. Statistically speaking, it probably is not going to be impactful on this data set. Therefore, we didn’t have to control for that. We ended up not controlling for that.

Then we found which of the features that we ideated, brainstormed, actually correlated with the penalties and bans, and we created the 17 flags that you see in the product today. There are lots things that I thought were going to correlate, for example spammy-looking anchor text or poison keywords on the page, like Viagra, Cialis, Texas Hold’em online, pornography. Those things, not all of them anyway turned out to correlate well, and so they didn’t make it into the 17 flags list. I hope over time we’ll add more flags. That’s how things worked out.

How to apply the Spam Score metric

When you’re applying Spam Score, I think there are a few important things to think about. Just like domain authority, or page authority, or a metric from Majestic, or a metric from Google, or any other kind of metric that you might come up with, you should add it to your toolbox and to your metrics where you find it useful. I think playing around with spam, experimenting with it is a great thing. If you don’t find it useful, just ignore it. It doesn’t actually hurt your website. It’s not like this information goes to Google or anything like that. They have way more sophisticated stuff to figure out things on their end.

Do not just disavow everything with seven or more flags, or eight or more flags, or nine or more flags. I think that we use the color coding to indicate 0% to 10% of these flag counts were penalized or banned, 10% to 50% were penalized or banned, or 50% or above were penalized or banned. That’s why you see the green, orange, red. But you should use the count and line that up with the percentile. We do show that inside the tool as well.

Don’t just take everything and disavow it all. That can get you into serious trouble. Remember what happened with Cyrus. Cyrus Shepard, Moz’s head of content and SEO, he disavowed all the backlinks to its site. It took more than a year for him to rank for anything again. Google almost treated it like he was banned, not completely, but they seriously took away all of his link power and didn’t let him back in, even though he changed the disavow file and all that.

Be very careful submitting disavow files. You can hurt yourself tremendously. The reason we offer it in disavow format is because many of the folks in our customer testing said that’s how they wanted it so they could copy and paste, so they could easily review, so they could get it in that format and put it into their already existing disavow file. But you should not do that. You’ll see a bunch of warnings if you try and generate a disavow file. You even have to edit your disavow file before you can submit it to Google, because we want to be that careful that you don’t go and submit.

You should expect the Spam Score accuracy. If you’re doing spam investigation, you’re probably looking at spammier sites. If you’re looking at a random hundred sites, you should expect that the flags would correlate with the percentages. If I look at a random hundred 4 flag Spam Score sites, 7.5% of those I would expect on average to be penalized or banned. If you are therefore seeing sites that don’t fit those, they probably fit into the percentiles that were not penalized, or up here were penalized, down here weren’t penalized, that kind of thing.

Hopefully, you find Spam Score useful and interesting and you add it to your toolbox. We would love to hear from you on iterations and ideas that you’ve got for what we can do in the future, where else you’d like to see it, and where you’re finding it useful/not useful. That would be great.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday and will join us again next week. Thanks so much. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

ADDITION FROM RAND: I also urge folks to check out Marie Haynes’ excellent Start-to-Finish Guide to Using Google’s Disavow Tool. We’re going to update the feature to link to that as well.

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Are On-Topic Links Important? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

How much does the context of a link really matter? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand looks at on- and off-topic links to uncover what packs the greatest SEO punch and shares what you should be looking for when building a high-quality link.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

On-Topic Links Whiteboard

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat a little bit about on-topic and off-topic links. One of the questions and one of the topics that you see discussed all the time in the SEO world is: Do on-topic links matter more than off-topic links? By on topic, people generally mean they come from sites and pages that are on the same or very similar subject matter to the site or page that I’m trying to get the link to.

It sort of makes intuitive sense to us that Google would care somewhat about this, that they would say, “Oh, well, here’s our friend over here,” we’ll call him Steve. No we’re going to call him Carl, because Carl is a great name.

Carl, of course, has CarlsCloset.net, CarlsCloset.net being a home organization site. Carl is going out, and he’s doing some link building, which he should, and so he’s got some link targets in mind. He looks at places like RealSimple.com, the magazine site, Sunset Magazine, UnderwaterHoagies.com, Carl being a great fan of all things underwater and sandwich related. So as he’s looking at these sites, he’s thinking to himself, well, from an SEO perspective, is it necessary the case that Real Simple, which has a lot of content on home organization and on cleaning up clutter and those kinds of things, is that going to help Carl’s Closet site rank better than, say, a link from UnderwaterHoagies.com?

The answer is a little tough here. It could be the case that UnderwaterHoagies.com has a feature article all about how submariners can keep their home in order, even as they brunch under the sea. But maybe the link from RealSimple.com is coming from a less on-topic article and page. So this starts to get really messy. Is it the site that matters, or is it the page that matters? Is it the context that matters? Is it the link itself and where that’s embedded in the site? What is the real understanding that Google has between relationships of on-topic and off-topic? That’s where you get a lot of convoluted information.

I have seen and we have probably all heard a ton of anecdotal evidence on both sides. There are SEOs who will argue passionately from their experience that what they’ve seen is that on-topic links are hugely more beneficial than off-topic ones. You’ll see the complete opposite from some other folks. In fact, most of my personal experiences, when I was doing more directed link building for clients way back in my SEO consulting days and even more recently as I’ve helped startups and advised folks, has been that off-topic links, UnderwaterHoagies.com linking to Carl’s Closet, that still seems to provide quite a bit of benefit, and it’s very had to gauge whether it’s as much, less than, more than any of these other ones. So I think, on the anecdotal side, we’re in a tough spot.

What we can say is that probably there’s some additional value from on-topic sites, on-topic pages, or on-topic link connections, that Google has some idea of context. We’ve seen them make huge strides with algorithms like Hummingbird, certainly with their keyword matching and topic modeling algorithms. It seems very unlikely that there would be nothing in Google’s algorithm that looks at the context or relationship of content between linking pages and linking websites.

However, in the real world, things are almost never equal. It’s not like they’re going to get exactly the same anchor text from the same importance of a page that has the same number of external links, that the content is exactly the same on all three of these websites pointing over to Carl’s Closet. In the real world, Carl is going to struggle much harder to get some of these links than others. So I think that the questions we need to ask ourselves, as folks who are doing directed marketing and trying to earn links, is: Will the link actually help people? Is that link going to be clicked?

If you’re on a page on Real Simple that you think very few people ever reach, you think very few people will ever click that link because it just doesn’t appear to provide much value, versus you’re in an article all about home organization on Underwater Hoagies, and it was featured on their home page, and you’re pretty sure that a lot of the submariners who are eating their subs under the sea are very interested in this topic and they’re going to click on that link, well you know what? That’s a link that helps people. That probably means search engines are going to treat it with some reverence as well.

Does the link make sense in context? This is a good one to ask yourself when you are doing any kind of link building that’s directed that could potentially be manipulative. If the link makes sense in context, it tends to be the case that it’s going to be more useful. So if Carl contributes the article to UnderwaterHoagies.com, and the link makes sense in context, and it will help people, I think it’s appropriate to put it there. If that’s not the case, it could look a little manipulative. It could certainly be perceived as self-serving.

Then, can you actually acquire the link? It’s wonderful when you go out and you make a list of, hey, here’s the most important and relevant sites in our sector and niche, and this is how we’re going to build topical authority. But if you can’t get those links, hey that’s tough potatoes, man. It’s no better than putting a list of links and just sorting them by, God knows, a horrible metric like PageRank or Alexa rank or something like that.

I would instead ask yourself if it’s realistic for you to be able to get those links and pursue those as well as pursuing or looking at the metrics, and the importance, and the topical relevance.

Let’s think about this from a broad perspective. Search engines are caring about what? They’re caring about matching the content relevance to the searcher’s query. They care about raw link popularity. That’s sort of like the old-school algorithms of PageRank and number of links and that kind of thing. They do care about topical authority and brand authority. We talked about on Whiteboard Friday previously around some topical authorities and how Google determines the authority and the subject matter of a site’s authority. They care about domain authority, the raw importance of a domain on the web, and they care about things like engagement, user and usage data, and given how much they can follow all of us around the web these days, they probably know pretty well whether people are clicking on these articles using these pages or not.

Then anchor text. Not every link that you might build or acquire or earn is going to provide all of these in one single package. Each of them are going to be contributing pieces of those puzzles. When it comes to the on-topic/off-topic link debate, I’m much more about caring about the answers to these kinds of questions — Can I acquire the link? Is it useful to people? Will they actually use it? Does the link make sense in context? — than I am about is it on-topic or off-topic? I’m not sure that I would ever urge you to prioritize based on that.

That said, I’m certainly looking forward to your feedback this week and hearing about your experiences with on-topic and off-topic links, and hopefully we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The Most Important Link Penalty Removal Tool: Your Mindset

Posted by Eric Enge

Let’s face it. Getting slapped by a manual link penalty, or by the Penguin algorithm, really stinks. Once this has happened to you, your business is in a world of hurt. Worse still is the fact that you can’t get clear information from Google on which of your links are the bad ones. In today’s post, I am going to focus on the number one reason why people fail to get out from under these types of problems, and how to improve your chances of success.

The mindset

Success begins, continues, and ends with the right mindset. A large percentage of people I see who go through a link cleanup process are not aggressive enough about cleaning up their links. They worry about preserving some of that hard-won link juice they obtained over the years.

You have to start by understanding what a link cleanup process looks like, and just how long it can take. Some of the people I have spoken with have gone through a process like this one:

link removal timeline

In this fictitious timeline example, we see someone who spends four months working on trying to recover, and at the end of it all, they have not been successful.
A lot of time and money have been spent, and they have nothing to show for it. Then, the people at Google get frustrated and send them a message that basically tells them they are not getting it. At this point, they have no idea when they will be able to recover. The result is that the complete process might end up taking six months or more.

In contrast, imagine someone who is far more aggressive in removing and disavowing links. They are so aggressive that 20 percent of the links they cut out are actually ones that Google has not currently judged as being bad. They also start on March 9, and by April 30, the penalty has been lifted on their site.

Now they can begin rebuilding their business, five or months sooner than the person who does not take as aggressive an approach. Yes, they cut out some links that Google was not currently penalizing, but this is a small price to pay for getting your penalty cleared five months sooner. In addition, using our mindset-based approach, the 20 percent of links we cut out were probably not links that were helping much anyway, and that Google might also take action on them in the future.

Now that you understand the approach, it’s time to make the commitment. You have to make the decision that you are going to do whatever it takes to get this done, and that getting it done means cutting hard and deep, because that’s what will get you through it the fastest. Once you’ve got your head on straight about what it will take and have summoned the courage to go through with it, then and only then, you’re ready to do the work. Now let’s look at what that work entails.

Obtaining link data

We use four sources of data for links:

  1. Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Open Site Explorer
  3. Majestic SEO
  4. ahrefs

You will want to pull in data from all four of these sources, get them into one list, and then dedupe them to create a master list. Focus only on followed links as well, as nofollowed links are not an issue. The overall process is shown here:

pulling a link set

One other simplification is also possible at this stage. Once you have obtained a list of the followed links, there is another thing you can do to dramatically simplify your life.
You don’t need to look at every single link.

You do need to look at a small sampling of links from every domain that links to you. Chances are that this is a significantly smaller quantity of links to look at than all links. If a domain has 12 links to you, and you look at three of them, and any of those are bad, you will need to disavow the entire domain anyway.

I take the time to emphasize this because I’ve seen people with more than 1 million inbound links from 10,000 linking domains. Evaluating 1 million individual links could take a lifetime. Looking at 10,000 domains is not small, but it’s 100 times smaller than 1 million. But here is where the mindset comes in.
Do examine every domain.

This may be a grinding and brutal process, but there is no shortcut available here. What you don’t look at will hurt you. The sooner you start on the entire list, the sooner you will get the job done.

How to evaluate links

Now that you have a list, you can get to work. This is a key part where having the right mindset is critical. The first part of the process is really quite simple. You need to eliminate each and every one of these types of links:

  1. Article directory links
  2. Links in forum comments, or their related profiles
  3. Links in blog comments, or their related profiles
  4. Links from countries where you don’t operate/sell your products
  5. Links from link sharing schemes such as Link Wheels
  6. Any links you know were paid for

Here is an example of a foreign language link that looks somewhat out of place:

foreign language link

For the most part, you should also remove any links you have from web directories. Sure, if you have a link from DMOZ, Business.com, or BestofTheWeb.com, and the most important one or two directories dedicated to your market space, you can probably keep those.

For a decade I have offered people a rule for these types of directories, which is “no more than seven links from directories.” Even the good ones carry little to no value, and the bad ones can definitely hurt you. So there is absolutely no win to be had running around getting links from a bunch of directories, and there is no win in trying to keep them during a link cleanup process.

Note that I am NOT talking about local business directories such as Yelp, CityPages, YellowPages, SuperPages, etc. Those are a different class of directory that you don’t need to worry about. But general purpose web directories are, generally speaking, a poison.

Rich anchor text

Rich anchor text has been the downfall of many a publisher. Here is one of my favorite examples ever of rich anchor text:

The author wanted the link to say “buy cars,” but was too lazy to fit the two words into the same sentence! Of course, you may have many guest posts that you have written that are not nearly as obvious as this one. One great way to deal with that is to take your list of links that you built and sort them by URL and look at the overall mix of anchor text. You know it’s a problem if it looks anything like this:

overly optimized anchor text

The problem with the distribution in the above image is that the percentage of links that are non “rich” in nature is way too small. In the real world, most people don’t conveniently link to you using one of your key money phrases. Some do, but it’s normally a small percentage.

Other types of bad links

There is no way for me to cover every type of bad link in this post, but here are other types of links, or link scenarios, to be concerned about:

  1. If a large percentage of your links are coming from over on the right rail of sites, or in the footers of sites
  2. If there are sites that give you a site-wide link, or a very large number of links from one domain
  3. Links that come from sites whose IP address is identical in the A block, B block, and C block (read more about what these are here)
  4. Links from crappy sites

The definition of a crappy site may seem subjective, but if a site has not been updated in a while, or its information is of poor quality, or it just seems to have no one who cares about it, you can probably consider it a crappy site. Remember our discussion on mindset. Your objective is to be harsh in cleaning up your links.

In fact, the most important principle in evaluating links is this:
If you can argue that it’s a good link, it’s NOT. You don’t have to argue for good quality links. To put it another way, if they are not obviously good, then out they go!

Quick case study anecdote: I know of someone who really took a major knife to their backlinks. They removed and/or disavowed every link they had that was below a Moz Domain Authority of 70. They did not even try to justify or keep any links with lower DA than that. It worked like a champ. The penalty was lifted. If you are willing to try a hyper-aggressive approach like this one, you can avoid all the work evaluating links I just outlined above. Just get the Domain Authority data for all the links pointing to your site and bring out the hatchet.

No doubt that they ended up cutting out a large number of links that were perfectly fine, but their approach was way faster than doing the complete domain by domain analysis.

Requesting link removals

Why is it that we request link removals? Can’t we just build a
disavow file and submit that to Google? In my experience, for manual link penalties, the answer to this question is no, you can’t. (Note: if you have been hit by Penguin, and not a manual link penalty, you may not need to request link removals.)

Yes, disavowing a link is supposed to tell Google that you don’t want to receive any PageRank, or benefit, from it. However, there is a human element at play here.
Google likes to see that you put some effort into cleaning up the bad links that you have gotten that led to your penalty. The more bad links you have, the more important this becomes.

This does make the process a lot more expensive to get through, but if you approach this with the “whatever it takes” mindset, you dive into the requesting link removal process and go ahead and get it done.

I usually have people go through three rounds of requests asking people to remove links. This can be a very annoying process for those receiving your request, so you need to be aware of that. Don’t start your email with a line like “Your site is causing mine to be penalized …”, as that’s just plain offensive.

I’d be honest, and tell them “Hey, we’ve been hit by a penalty, and as part of our effort to recover we are trying to get many of the links we have gotten to our site removed. We don’t know which sites are causing the problem, but we’d appreciate your help …”

Note that some people will come back to you and ask for money to remove the link. Just ignore them, and put their domains in your disavow file.

Once you are done with the overall removal requests, and had whatever success you have had, take the rest of the domains and disavow them. There is a complete guide to
creating a disavow file here. The one incremental tip I would add is that you should nearly always disavow entire domains, not just the individual links you see.

This is important because even with the four tools we used to get information on as many links as we could, we still only have a subset of the total links. For example, the tools may have only seen one link from a domain, but in fact you have five. If you disavow only the one link, you still have four problem links, and that will torpedo your reconsideration request.

Disavowing the domain is a better-safe-than-sorry step you should take almost every time. As I illustrated at the beginning of this post, adding extra cleanup/reconsideration request loops is very expensive for your business.

The overall process

When all is said and done, the process looks something like this:

link removal process

If you run this process efficiently, and you don’t try to cut corners, you might be able to get out from your penalty in a single pass through the process. If so, congratulations!

What about tools?

There are some fairly well-known tools that are designed to help you with the link cleanup process. These include
Link Detox and Remove’em. In addition, at STC we have developed our own internal tool that we use with our clients.

These tools can be useful in flagging some of your links, but they are not comprehensive—they will help identify some really obvious offenders, but the great majority of links you need to deal with and remove/disavow are not identified. Plan on investing substantial manual time and effort to do the heavy lifting of a comprehensive review of all your links. Remember the “mindset.”

Summary

As I write this post, I have this sense of being heartless because I outline an approach that is often grueling to execute. But consider it tough love. Recovering from link penalties is indeed brutal.
In my experience, the winners are the ones who come with meat cleaver in hand, don’t try to cut corners, and take on the full task from the very start, no matter how extensive an effort it may be.

Does this type of process succeed? You bet. Here is an example of a traffic chart from a successful recovery:

manual penalty recovery graph

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it