5 Spreadsheet Tips for Manual Link Audits

Posted by MarieHaynes

Link auditing is the part of my job that I love the most. I have audited a LOT of links over the last few years. While there are some programs out there that can be quite helpful to the avid link auditor, I still prefer to create a spreadsheet of my links in Excel and then to audit those links one-by-one from within Google Spreadsheets. Over the years I have learned a few tricks and formulas that have helped me in this process. In this article, I will share several of these with you.

Please know that while I am quite comfortable being labelled a link auditing expert, I am not an Excel wizard. I am betting that some of the things that I am doing could be improved upon if you’re an advanced user. As such, if you have any suggestions or tips of your own I’d love to hear them in the comments section!

1. Extract the domain or subdomain from a URL

OK. You’ve downloaded links from as many sources as possible and now you want to manually visit and evaluate one link from every domain. But, holy moly, some of these domains can have THOUSANDS of links pointing to the site. So, let’s break these down so that you are just seeing one link from each domain. The first step is to extract the domain or subdomain from each url.

I am going to show you examples from a Google spreadsheet as I find that these display nicer for demonstration purposes. However, if you’ve got a fairly large site, you’ll find that the spreadsheets are easier to create in Excel. If you’re confused about any of these steps, check out the animated gif at the end of each step to see the process in action.

Here is how you extract a domain or subdomain from a url:

  • Create a new column to the left of your url column.
  • Use this formula:

    =LEFT(B1,FIND(“/”,B1,9)-1)

    What this will do is remove everything after the trailing slash following the domain name. http://www.example.com/article.html will now become http://www.example.com and http://www.subdomain.example.com/article.html will now become http://www.subdomain.example.com.

  • Copy our new column A and paste it right back where it was using the “paste as values” function. If you don’t do this, you won’t be able to use the Find and Replace feature.
  • Use Find and Replace to replace each of the following with a blank (i.e. nothing):
    http://
    https://
    www.

And BOOM! We are left with a column that contains just domain names and subdomain names. This animated gif shows each of the steps we just outlined:

2. Just show one link from each domain

The next step is to filter this list so that we are just seeing one link from each domain. If you are manually reviewing links, there’s usually no point in reviewing every single link from every domain. I will throw in a word of caution here though. Sometimes a domain can have both a good link and a bad link pointing to you. Or in some cases, you may find that links from one page are followed and from another page on the same site they are nofollowed. You can miss some of these by just looking at one link from each domain. Personally, I have some checks built in to my process where I use Scrapebox and some internal tools that I have created to make sure that I’m not missing the odd link by just looking at one link from each domain. For most link audits, however, you are not going to miss very much by assessing one link from each domain.

Here’s how we do it:

  • Highlight our domains column and sort the column in alphabetical order.
  • Create a column to the left of our domains, so that the domains are in column B.
  • Use this formula:

    =IF(B1=B2,”duplicate”,”unique”)

  • Copy that formula down the column.
  • Use the filter function so that you are just seeing the duplicates.
  • Delete those rows. Note: If you have tens of thousands of rows to delete, the spreadsheet may crash. A workaround here is to use “Clear Rows” instead of “Delete Rows” and then sort your domains column from A-Z once you are finished.

We’ve now got a list of one link from every domain linking to us.

Here’s the gif that shows each of these steps:

You may wonder why I didn’t use Excel’s dedupe function to simply deduplicate these entries. I have found that it doesn’t take much deduplication to crash Excel, which is why I do this step manually.

3. Finding patterns FTW!

Sometimes when you are auditing links, you’ll find that unnatural links have patterns. I LOVE when I see these, because sometimes I can quickly go through hundreds of links without having to check each one manually. Here is an example. Let’s say that your website has a bunch of spammy directory links. As you’re auditing you notice patterns such as one of these:

  • All of these directory links come from a url that contains …/computers/internet/item40682/
  • A whole bunch of spammy links that all come from a particular free subdomain like blogspot, wordpress, weebly, etc.
  • A lot of links that all contain a particular keyword for anchor text (this is assuming you’ve included anchor text in your spreadsheet when making it.)

You can quickly find all of these links and mark them as “disavow” or “keep” by doing the following:

  • Create a new column. In my example, I am going to create a new column in Column C and look for patterns in urls that are in Column B.
  • Use this formula:

    =FIND(“/item40682”,B1)
    (You would replace “item40682” with the phrase that you are looking for.)

  • Copy this formula down the column.
  • Filter your new column so that you are seeing any rows that have a number in this column. If the phrase doesn’t exist in that url, you’ll see “N/A”, and we can ignore those.
  • Now you can mark these all as disavow

4. Check your disavow file

This next tip is one that you can use to check your disavow file across your list of domains that you want to audit. The goal here is to see which links you have disavowed so that you don’t waste time reassessing them. This particular tip only works for checking links that you have disavowed on the domain level.

The first thing you’ll want to do is download your current disavow file from Google. For some strange reason, Google gives you the disavow file in CSV format. I have never understood this because they want you to upload the file in .txt. Still, I guess this is what works best for Google. All of your entries will be in column A of the CSV:

What we are going to do now is add these to a new sheet on our current spreadsheet and use a VLOOKUP function to mark which of our domains we have disavowed.

Here are the steps:

  • Create a new sheet on your current spreadsheet workbook.
  • Copy and paste column A from your disavow spreadsheet onto this new sheet. Or, alternatively, use the import function to import the entire CSV onto this sheet.
  • In B1, write “previously disavowed” and copy this down the entire column.
  • Remove the “domain:” from each of the entries by doing a Find and Replace to replace domain: with a blank.
  • Now go back to your link audit spreadsheet. If your domains are in column A and if you had, say, 1500 domains in your disavow file, your formula would look like this:

    =VLOOKUP(A1,Sheet2!$A$1:$B$1500,2,FALSE)

When you copy this formula down the spreadsheet, it will check each of your domains, and if it finds the domain in Sheet 2, it will write “previously disavowed” on our link audit spreadsheet.

Here is a gif that shows the process:

5. Make monthly or quarterly disavow work easier

That same formula described above is a great one to use if you are doing regular repeated link audits. In this case, your second sheet on your spreadsheet would contain domains that you have previously audited, and column B of this spreadsheet would say, “previously audited” rather than “previously disavowed“.

Your tips?

These are just a few of the formulas that you can use to help make link auditing work easier. But there are lots of other things you can do with Excel or Google Sheets to help speed up the process as well. If you have some tips to add, leave a comment below. Also, if you need clarification on any of these tips, I’m happy to answer questions in the comments section.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

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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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Spam Score: Moz’s New Metric to Measure Penalization Risk

Posted by randfish

Today, I’m very excited to announce that Moz’s Spam Score, an R&D project we’ve worked on for nearly a year, is finally going live. In this post, you can learn more about how we’re calculating spam score, what it means, and how you can potentially use it in your SEO work.

How does Spam Score work?

Over the last year, our data science team, led by 
Dr. Matt Peters, examined a great number of potential factors that predicted that a site might be penalized or banned by Google. We found strong correlations with 17 unique factors we call “spam flags,” and turned them into a score.

Almost every subdomain in 
Mozscape (our web index) now has a Spam Score attached to it, and this score is viewable inside Open Site Explorer (and soon, the MozBar and other tools). The score is simple; it just records the quantity of spam flags the subdomain triggers. Our correlations showed that no particular flag was more likely than others to mean a domain was penalized/banned in Google, but firing many flags had a very strong correlation (you can see the math below).

Spam Score currently operates only on the subdomain level—we don’t have it for pages or root domains. It’s been my experience and the experience of many other SEOs in the field that a great deal of link spam is tied to the subdomain-level. There are plenty of exceptions—manipulative links can and do live on plenty of high-quality sites—but as we’ve tested, we found that subdomain-level Spam Score was the best solution we could create at web scale. It does a solid job with the most obvious, nastiest spam, and a decent job highlighting risk in other areas, too.

How to access Spam Score

Right now, you can find Spam Score inside 
Open Site Explorer, both in the top metrics (just below domain/page authority) and in its own tab labeled “Spam Analysis.” Spam Score is only available for Pro subscribers right now, though in the future, we may make the score in the metrics section available to everyone (if you’re not a subscriber, you can check it out with a free trial). 

The current Spam Analysis page includes a list of subdomains or pages linking to your site. You can toggle the target to look at all links to a given subdomain on your site, given pages, or the entire root domain. You can further toggle source tier to look at the Spam Score for incoming linking pages or subdomains (but in the case of pages, we’re still showing the Spam Score for the subdomain on which that page is hosted).

You can click on any Spam Score row and see the details about which flags were triggered. We’ll bring you to a page like this:

Back on the original Spam Analysis page, at the very bottom of the rows, you’ll find an option to export a disavow file, which is compatible with Google Webmaster Tools. You can choose to filter the file to contain only those sites with a given spam flag count or higher:

Disavow exports usually take less than 3 hours to finish. We can send you an email when it’s ready, too.

WARNING: Please do not export this file and simply upload it to Google! You can really, really hurt your site’s ranking and there may be no way to recover. Instead, carefully sort through the links therein and make sure you really do want to disavow what’s in there. You can easily remove/edit the file to take out links you feel are not spam. When Moz’s Cyrus Shepard disavowed every link to his own site, it took more than a year for his rankings to return!

We’ve actually made the file not-wholly-ready for upload to Google in order to be sure folks aren’t too cavalier with this particular step. You’ll need to open it up and make some edits (specifically to lines at the top of the file) in order to ready it for Webmaster Tools

In the near future, we hope to have Spam Score in the Mozbar as well, which might look like this: 

Sweet, right? 🙂

Potential use cases for Spam Analysis

This list probably isn’t exhaustive, but these are a few of the ways we’ve been playing around with the data:

  1. Checking for spammy links to your own site: Almost every site has at least a few bad links pointing to it, but it’s been hard to know how much or how many potentially harmful links you might have until now. Run a quick spam analysis and see if there’s enough there to cause concern.
  2. Evaluating potential links: This is a big one where we think Spam Score can be helpful. It’s not going to catch every potentially bad link, and you should certainly still use your brain for evaluation too, but as you’re scanning a list of link opportunities or surfing to various sites, having the ability to see if they fire a lot of flags is a great warning sign.
  3. Link cleanup: Link cleanup projects can be messy, involved, precarious, and massively tedious. Spam Score might not catch everything, but sorting links by it can be hugely helpful in identifying potentially nasty stuff, and filtering out the more probably clean links.
  4. Disavow Files: Again, because Spam Score won’t perfectly catch everything, you will likely need to do some additional work here (especially if the site you’re working on has done some link buying on more generally trustworthy domains), but it can save you a heap of time evaluating and listing the worst and most obvious junk.

Over time, we’re also excited about using Spam Score to help improve the PA and DA calculations (it’s not currently in there), as well as adding it to other tools and data sources. We’d love your feedback and insight about where you’d most want to see Spam Score get involved.

Details about Spam Score’s calculation

This section comes courtesy of Moz’s head of data science, Dr. Matt Peters, who created the metric and deserves (at least in my humble opinion) a big round of applause. – Rand

Definition of “spam”

Before diving into the details of the individual spam flags and their calculation, it’s important to first describe our data gathering process and “spam” definition.

For our purposes, we followed Google’s definition of spam and gathered labels for a large number of sites as follows.

  • First, we randomly selected a large number of subdomains from the Mozscape index stratified by mozRank.
  • Then we crawled the subdomains and threw out any that didn’t return a “200 OK” (redirects, errors, etc).
  • Finally, we collected the top 10 de-personalized, geo-agnostic Google-US search results using the full subdomain name as the keyword and checked whether any of those results matched the original keyword. If they did not, we called the subdomain “spam,” otherwise we called it “ham.”

We performed the most recent data collection in November 2014 (after the Penguin 3.0 update) for about 500,000 subdomains.

Relationship between number of flags and spam

The overall Spam Score is currently an aggregate of 17 different “flags.” You can think of each flag a potential “warning sign” that signals that a site may be spammy. The overall likelihood of spam increases as a site accumulates more and more flags, so that the total number of flags is a strong predictor of spam. Accordingly, the flags are designed to be used together—no single flag, or even a few flags, is cause for concern (and indeed most sites will trigger at least a few flags).

The following table shows the relationship between the number of flags and percent of sites with those flags that we found Google had penalized or banned:

ABOVE: The overall probability of spam vs. the number of spam flags. Data collected in Nov. 2014 for approximately 500K subdomains. The table also highlights the three overall danger levels: low/green (< 10%) moderate/yellow (10-50%) and high/red (>50%)

The overall spam percent averaged across a large number of sites increases in lock step with the number of flags; however there are outliers in every category. For example, there are a small number of sites with very few flags that are tagged as spam by Google and conversely a small number of sites with many flags that are not spam.

Spam flag details

The individual spam flags capture a wide range of spam signals link profiles, anchor text, on page signals and properties of the domain name. At a high level the process to determine the spam flags for each subdomain is:

  • Collect link metrics from Mozscape (mozRank, mozTrust, number of linking domains, etc).
  • Collect anchor text metrics from Mozscape (top anchor text phrases sorted by number of links)
  • Collect the top five pages by Page Authority on the subdomain from Mozscape
  • Crawl the top five pages plus the home page and process to extract on page signals
  • Provide the output for Mozscape to include in the next index release cycle

Since the spam flags are incorporated into in the Mozscape index, fresh data is released with each new index. Right now, we crawl and process the spam flags for each subdomains every two – three months although this may change in the future.

Link flags

The following table lists the link and anchor text related flags with the the odds ratio for each flag. For each flag, we can compute two percents: the percent of sites with that flag that are penalized by Google and the percent of sites with that flag that were not penalized. The odds ratio is the ratio of these percents and gives the increase in likelihood that a site is spam if it has the flag. For example, the first row says that a site with this flag is 12.4 times more likely to be spam than one without the flag.

ABOVE: Description and odds ratio of link and anchor text related spam flags. In addition to a description, it lists the odds ratio for each flag which gives the overall increase in spam likelihood if the flag is present).

Working down the table, the flags are:

  • Low mozTrust to mozRank ratio: Sites with low mozTrust compared to mozRank are likely to be spam.
  • Large site with few links: Large sites with many pages tend to also have many links and large sites without a corresponding large number of links are likely to be spam.
  • Site link diversity is low: If a large percentage of links to a site are from a few domains it is likely to be spam.
  • Ratio of followed to nofollowed subdomains/domains (two separate flags): Sites with a large number of followed links relative to nofollowed are likely to be spam.
  • Small proportion of branded links (anchor text): Organically occurring links tend to contain a disproportionate amount of banded keywords. If a site does not have a lot of branded anchor text, it’s a signal the links are not organic.

On-page flags

Similar to the link flags, the following table lists the on page and domain name related flags:

ABOVE: Description and odds ratio of on page and domain name related spam flags. In addition to a description, it lists the odds ratio for each flag which gives the overall increase in spam likelihood if the flag is present).

  • Thin content: If a site has a relatively small ratio of content to navigation chrome it’s likely to be spam.
  • Site mark-up is abnormally small: Non-spam sites tend to invest in rich user experiences with CSS, Javascript and extensive mark-up. Accordingly, a large ratio of text to mark-up is a spam signal.
  • Large number of external links: A site with a large number of external links may look spammy.
  • Low number of internal links: Real sites tend to link heavily to themselves via internal navigation and a relative lack of internal links is a spam signal.
  • Anchor text-heavy page: Sites with a lot of anchor text are more likely to be spam then those with more content and less links.
  • External links in navigation: Spam sites may hide external links in the sidebar or footer.
  • No contact info: Real sites prominently display their social and other contact information.
  • Low number of pages found: A site with only one or a few pages is more likely to be spam than one with many pages.
  • TLD correlated with spam domains: Certain TLDs are more spammy than others (e.g. pw).
  • Domain name length: A long subdomain name like “bycheapviagra.freeshipping.onlinepharmacy.com” may indicate keyword stuffing.
  • Domain name contains numerals: domain names with numerals may be automatically generated and therefore spam.

If you’d like some more details on the technical aspects of the spam score, check out the 
video of Matt’s 2012 MozCon talk about Algorithmic Spam Detection or the slides (many of the details have evolved, but the overall ideas are the same):

We’d love your feedback

As with all metrics, Spam Score won’t be perfect. We’d love to hear your feedback and ideas for improving the score as well as what you’d like to see from it’s in-product application in the future. Feel free to leave comments on this post, or to email Matt (matt at moz dot com) and me (rand at moz dot com) privately with any suggestions.

Good luck cleaning up and preventing link spam!



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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Moving 5 Domains to 1: An SEO Case Study

Posted by Dr-Pete

People often ask me if they should change domain names, and I always shudder just a little. Changing domains is a huge, risky undertaking, and too many people rush into it seeing only the imaginary upside. The success of the change also depends wildly on the details, and it’s not the kind of question anyone should be asking casually on social media.

Recently, I decided that it was time to find a new permanent home for my personal and professional blogs, which had gradually spread out over 5 domains. I also felt my main domain was no longer relevant to my current situation, and it was time for a change. So, ultimately I ended up with a scenario that looked like this:

The top three sites were active, with UserEffect.com being my former consulting site and blog (and relatively well-trafficked). The bottom two sites were both inactive and were both essentially gag sites. My one-pager, AreYouARealDoctor.com, did previously rank well for “are you a real doctor”, so I wanted to try to recapture that.

I started migrating the 5 sites in mid-January, and I’ve been tracking the results. I thought it would be useful to see how this kind of change plays out, in all of the gory details. As it turns out, nothing is ever quite “textbook” when it comes to technical SEO.

Why Change Domains at All?

The rationale for picking a new domain could fill a month’s worth of posts, but I want to make one critical point – changing domains should be about your business goals first, and SEO second. I did not change domains to try to rank better for “Dr. Pete” – that’s a crap shoot at best. I changed domains because my old consulting brand (“User Effect”) no longer represented the kind of work I do and I’m much more known by my personal brand.

That business case was strong enough that I was willing to accept some losses. We went through a similar transition here
from SEOmoz.org to Moz.com. That was a difficult transition that cost us some SEO ground, especially short-term, but our core rationale was grounded in the business and where it’s headed. Don’t let an SEO pipe dream lead you into a risky decision.

Why did I pick a .co domain? I did it for the usual reason – the .com was taken. For a project of this type, where revenue wasn’t on the line, I didn’t have any particular concerns about .co. The evidence on how top-level domains (TLDs) impact ranking is tough to tease apart (so many other factors correlate with .com’s), and Google’s attitude tends to change over time, especially if new TLDs are abused. Anecdotally, though, I’ve seen plenty of .co’s rank, and I wasn’t concerned.

Step 1 – The Boring Stuff

It is absolutely shocking how many people build a new site, slap up some 301s, pull the switch, and hope for the best. It’s less shocking how many of those people end up in Q&A a week later, desperate and bleeding money.


Planning is hard work, and it’s boring – get over it.

You need to be intimately familiar with every page on your existing site(s), and, ideally, you should make a list. Not only do you have to plan for what will happen to each of these pages, but you’ll need that list to make sure everything works smoothly later.

In my case, I decided it might be time to do some housekeeping – the User Effect blog had hundreds of posts, many outdated and quite a few just not very good. So, I started with the easy data – recent traffic. I’m sure you’ve seen this Google Analytics report (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages):

Since I wanted to focus on recent activity, and none of the sites had much new content, I restricted myself to a 3-month window (Q4 of 2014). Of course, I looked much deeper than the top 10, but the principle was simple – I wanted to make sure the data matched my intuition and that I wasn’t cutting off anything important. This helped me prioritize the list.

Of course, from an SEO standpoint, I also didn’t want to lose content that had limited traffic but solid inbound links. So, I checked my “Top Pages” report in
Open Site Explorer:

Since the bulk of my main site was a blog, the top trafficked and top linked-to pages fortunately correlated pretty well. Again, this is only a way to prioritize. If you’re dealing with sites with thousands of pages, you need to work methodically through the site architecture.

I’m going to say something that makes some SEOs itchy – it’s ok not to move some pages to the new site. It’s even ok to let some pages 404. In Q4, UserEffect.com had traffic to 237 URLs. The top 10 pages accounted for 91.9% of that traffic. I strongly believe that moving domains is a good time to refocus a site and concentrate your visitors and link equity on your best content. More is not better in 2015.

Letting go of some pages also means that you’re not 301-redirecting a massive number of old URLs to a new home-page. This can look like a low-quality attempt to consolidate link-equity, and at large scale it can raise red flags with Google. Content worth keeping should exist on the new site, and your 301s should have well-matched targets.

In one case, I had a blog post that had a decent trickle of traffic due to ranking for “50,000 push-ups,” but the post itself was weak and the bounce rate was very high:

The post was basically just a placeholder announcing that I’d be attempting this challenge, but I never recapped anything after finishing it. So, in this case,
I rewrote the post.

Of course, this process was repeated across the 3 active sites. The 2 inactive sites only constituted a handful of total pages. In the case of AreYouARealDoctor.com, I decided to turn the previous one-pager
into a new page on the new site. That way, I had a very well-matched target for the 301-redirect, instead of simply mapping the old site to my new home-page.

I’m trying to prove a point – this is the amount of work I did for a handful of sites that were mostly inactive and producing no current business value. I don’t need consulting gigs and these sites produce no direct revenue, and yet I still considered this process worth the effort.

Step 2 – The Big Day

Eventually, you’re going to have to make the move, and in most cases, I prefer ripping off the bandage. Of course, doing something all at once doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.

The biggest problem I see with domain switches (even if they’re 1-to-1) is that people rely on data that can take weeks to evaluate, like rankings and traffic, or directly checking Google’s index. By then, a lot of damage is already done. Here are some ways to find out quickly if you’ve got problems…

(1) Manually Check Pages

Remember that list you were supposed to make? It’s time to check it, or at least spot-check it. Someone needs to physically go to a browser and make sure that each major section of the site and each important individual page is resolving properly. It doesn’t matter how confident your IT department/guy/gal is – things go wrong.

(2) Manually Check Headers

Just because a page resolves, it doesn’t mean that your 301-redirects are working properly, or that you’re not firing some kind of 17-step redirect chain. Check your headers. There are tons of free tools, but lately I’m fond of
URI Valet. Guess what – I screwed up my primary 301-redirects. One of my registrar transfers wasn’t working, so I had to have a setting changed by customer service, and I inadvertently ended up with 302s (Pro tip: Don’t change registrars and domains in one step):

Don’t think that because you’re an “expert”, your plan is foolproof. Mistakes happen, and because I caught this one I was able to correct it fairly quickly.

(3) Submit Your New Site

You don’t need to submit your site to Google in 2015, but now that Google Webmaster Tools allows it, why not do it? The primary argument I hear is “well, it’s not necessary.” True, but direct submission has one advantage – it’s fast.

To be precise, Google Webmaster Tools separates the process into “Fetch” and “Submit to index” (you’ll find this under “Crawl” > “Fetch as Google”). Fetching will quickly tell you if Google can resolve a URL and retrieve the page contents, which alone is pretty useful. Once a page is fetched, you can submit it, and you should see something like this:

This isn’t really about getting indexed – it’s about getting nearly instantaneous feedback. If Google has any major problems with crawling your site, you’ll know quickly, at least at the macro level.

(4) Submit New XML Sitemaps

Finally, submit a new set of XML sitemaps in Google Webmaster Tools, and preferably tiered sitemaps. While it’s a few years old now, Rob Ousbey has a great post on the subject of
XML sitemap structure. The basic idea is that, if you divide your sitemap into logical sections, it’s going to be much easier to diagnosis what kinds of pages Google is indexing and where you’re running into trouble.

A couple of pro tips on sitemaps – first, keep your old sitemaps active temporarily. This is counterintuitive to some people, but unless Google can crawl your old URLs, they won’t see and process the 301-redirects and other signals. Let the old accounts stay open for a couple of months, and don’t cut off access to the domains you’re moving.

Second (I learned this one the hard way), make sure that your Google Webmaster Tools site verification still works. If you use file uploads or meta tags and don’t move those files/tags to the new site, GWT verification will fail and you won’t have access to your old accounts. I’d recommend using a more domain-independent solution, like verifying with Google Analytics. If you lose verification, don’t panic – your data won’t be instantly lost.

Step 3 – The Waiting Game

Once you’ve made the switch, the waiting begins, and this is where many people start to panic. Even executed perfectly, it can take Google weeks or even months to process all of your 301-redirects and reevaluate a new domain’s capacity to rank. You have to expect short term fluctuations in ranking and traffic.

During this period, you’ll want to watch a few things – your traffic, your rankings, your indexed pages (via GWT and the site: operator), and your errors (such as unexpected 404s). Traffic will recover the fastest, since direct traffic is immediately carried through redirects, but ranking and indexation will lag, and errors may take time to appear.

(1) Monitor Traffic

I’m hoping you know how to check your traffic, but actually trying to determine what your new levels should be and comparing any two days can be easier said than done. If you launch on a Friday, and then Saturday your traffic goes down on the new site, that’s hardly cause for panic – your traffic probably
always goes down on Saturday.

In this case, I redirected the individual sites over about a week, but I’m going to focus on UserEffect.com, as that was the major traffic generator. That site was redirected, in full on January 21st, and the Google Analytics data for January for the old site looked like this:

So far, so good – traffic bottomed out almost immediately. Of course, losing traffic is easy – the real question is what’s going on with the new domain. Here’s the graph for January for DrPete.co:

This one’s a bit trickier – the first spike, on January 16th, is when I redirected the first domain. The second spike, on January 22nd, is when I redirected UserEffect.com. Both spikes are meaningless – I announced these re-launches on social media and got a short-term traffic burst. What we really want to know is where traffic is leveling out.

Of course, there isn’t a lot of history here, but a typical day for UserEffect.com in January was about 1,000 pageviews. The traffic to DrPete.co after it leveled out was about half that (500 pageviews). It’s not a complete crisis, but we’re definitely looking at a short-term loss.

Obviously, I’m simplifying the process here – for a large, ecommerce site you’d want to track a wide range of metrics, including conversion metrics. Hopefully, though, this illustrates the core approach. So, what am I missing out on? In this day of [not provided], tracking down a loss can be tricky. Let’s look for clues in our other three areas…

(2) Monitor Indexation

You can get a broad sense of your indexed pages from Google Webmaster Tools, but this data often lags real-time and isn’t very granular. Despite its shortcomings, I still prefer
the site: operator. Generally, I monitor a domain daily – any one measurement has a lot of noise, but what you’re looking for is the trend over time. Here’s the indexed page count for DrPete.co:

The first set of pages was indexed fairly quickly, and then the second set started being indexed soon after UserEffect.com was redirected. All in all, we’re seeing a fairly steady upward trend, and that’s what we’re hoping to see. The number is also in the ballpark of sanity (compared to the actual page count) and roughly matched GWT data once it started being reported.

So, what happened to UserEffect.com’s index after the switch?

The timeframe here is shorter, since UserEffect.com was redirected last, but we see a gradual decline in indexation, as expected. Note that the index size plateaus around 60 pages – about 1/4 of the original size. This isn’t abnormal – low-traffic and unlinked pages (or those with deep links) are going to take a while to clear out. This is a long-term process. Don’t panic over the absolute numbers – what you want here is a downward trend on the old domain accompanied by a roughly equal upward trend on the new domain.

The fact that UserEffect.com didn’t bottom out is definitely worth monitoring, but this timespan is too short for the plateau to be a major concern. The next step would be to dig into these specific pages and look for a pattern.

(3) Monitor Rankings

The old domain is dropping out of the index, and the new domain is taking its place, but we still don’t know why the new site is taking a traffic hit. It’s time to dig into our core keyword rankings.

Historically, UserEffect.com had ranked well for keywords related to “split test calculator” (near #1) and “usability checklist” (in the top 3). While [not provided] makes keyword-level traffic analysis tricky, we also know that the split-test calculator is one of the top trafficked pages on the site, so let’s dig into that one. Here’s the ranking data from Moz Analytics for “split test calculator”:

The new site took over the #1 position from the old site at first, but then quickly dropped down to the #3/#4 ranking. That may not sound like a lot, but given this general keyword category was one of the site’s top traffic drivers, the CTR drop from #1 to #3/#4 could definitely be causing problems.

When you have a specific keyword you can diagnose, it’s worth taking a look at the live SERP, just to get some context. The day after relaunch, I captured this result for “dr. pete”:

Here, the new domain is ranking, but it’s showing the old title tag. This may not be cause for alarm – weird things often happen in the very short term – but in this case we know that I accidentally set up a 302-redirect. There’s some reason to believe that Google didn’t pass full link equity during that period when 301s weren’t implemented.

Let’s look at a domain where the 301s behaved properly. Before the site was inactive, AreYouARealDoctor.com ranked #1 for “are you a real doctor”. Since there was an inactive period, and I dropped the exact-match domain, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a corresponding ranking drop.

In reality, the new site was ranking #1 for “are you a real doctor” within 2 weeks of 301-redirecting the old domain. The graph is just a horizontal line at #1, so I’m not going to bother you with it, but here’s a current screenshot (incognito):

Early on, I also spot-checked this result, and it wasn’t showing the strange title tag crossover that UserEffect.com pages exhibited. So, it’s very likely that the 302-redirects caused some problems.

Of course, these are just a couple of keywords, but I hope it provides a starting point for you to understand how to methodically approach this problem. There’s no use crying over spilled milk, and I’m not going to fire myself, so let’s move on to checking any other errors that I might have missed.

(4) Check Errors (404s, etc.)

A good first stop for unexpected errors is the “Crawl Errors” report in Google Webmaster Tools (Crawl > Crawl Errors). This is going to take some digging, especially if you’ve deliberately 404’ed some content. Over the couple of weeks after re-launch, I spotted the following problems:

The old site had a “/blog” directory, but the new site put the blog right on the home-page and had no corresponding directory. Doh. Hey, do as I say, not as I do, ok? Obviously, this was a big blunder, as the old blog home-page was well-trafficked.

The other two errors here are smaller but easy to correct. MinimalTalent.com had a “/free” directory that housed downloads (mostly PDFs). I missed it, since my other sites used a different format. Luckily, this was easy to remap.

The last error is a weird looking URL, and there are other similar URLs in the 404 list. This is where site knowledge is critical. I custom-designed a URL shortener for UserEffect.com and, in some cases, people linked to those URLs. Since those URLs didn’t exist in the site architecture, I missed them. This is where digging deep into historical traffic reports and your top-linked pages is critical. In this case, the fix isn’t easy, and I have to decide whether the loss is worth the time.

What About the New EMD?

My goal here wasn’t to rank better for “Dr. Pete,” and finally unseat Dr. Pete’s Marinades, Dr. Pete the Sodastream flavor (yes, it’s hilarious – you can stop sending me your grocery store photos), and 172 dentists. Ok, it mostly wasn’t my goal. Of course, you might be wondering how switching to an EMD worked out.

In the short term, I’m afraid the answer is “not very well.” I didn’t track ranking for “Dr. Pete” and related phrases very often before the switch, but it appears that ranking actually fell in the short-term. Current estimates have me sitting around page 4, even though my combined link profile suggests a much stronger position. Here’s a look at the ranking history for “dr pete” since relaunch (from Moz Analytics):

There was an initial drop, after which the site evened out a bit. This less-than-impressive plateau could be due to the bad 302s during transition. It could be Google evaluating a new EMD and multiple redirects to that EMD. It could be that the prevalence of natural anchor text with “Dr. Pete” pointing to my site suddenly looked unnatural when my domain name switched to DrPete.co. It could just be that this is going to take time to shake out.

If there’s a lesson here (and, admittedly, it’s too soon to tell), it’s that you shouldn’t rush to buy an EMD in 2015 in the wild hope of instantly ranking for that target phrase. There are so many factors involved in ranking for even a moderately competitive term, and your domain is just one small part of the mix.

So, What Did We Learn?

I hope you learned that I should’ve taken my own advice and planned a bit more carefully. I admit that this was a side project and it didn’t get the attention it deserved. The problem is that, even when real money is at stake, people rush these things and hope for the best. There’s a real cheerleading mentality when it comes to change – people want to take action and only see the upside.

Ultimately, in a corporate or agency environment, you can’t be the one sour note among the cheering. You’ll be ignored, and possibly even fired. That’s not fair, but it’s reality. What you need to do is make sure the work gets done right and people go into the process with eyes wide open. There’s no room for shortcuts when you’re moving to a new domain.

That said, a domain change isn’t a death sentence, either. Done right, and with sensible goals in mind – balancing not just SEO but broader marketing and business objectives – a domain migration can be successful, even across multiple sites.

To sum up: Plan, plan, plan, monitor, monitor, monitor, and try not to panic.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Announcing the New &amp; Improved Link Intersect Tool

Posted by randfish

Y’all remember how last October, we launched a new section in Open Site Explorer called “Link Opportunities?” While I was proud of that work, there was one section that really disappointed me at the time (and I said as much in my comments on the post).

Well, today, that disappointment is over, because we’re stepping up the Link Intersect tool inside OSE big time:

Literally thousands of sweet, sweet link opportunities are now yours at the click of a button

In the initial launch, Link Intersect used Freshscape (which powers Fresh Web Explorer). Freshscape is great for certain kinds of data – links and mentions that come from newly published pages that are in news sources, blogs, and feeds. But it’s not great for non-news/blogs/feed sources because it’s intentionally avoiding those!

For example, in the screenshot above, I wanted to see all the pages that link to SeriousEats.com and SplendidTable.org but don’t link to SmittenKitchen.com.

That’s 671 more, juicy link opportunities thanks to the hard work of the Moz Big Data and Research Tools teams.

How does the new Link Intersect work?

The tool looks at the top 250,000 links our index has pointing to each of the intersecting targets you enter, and the top 1 mllion links in our index pointing to the excluded URL.

Link Intersect then runs a differential comparison to determine which of the 250K links to each of the intersecting targets are from the same URL or root domain, and removes any of those links that point to the top million links to the excluded URL/root/sub domain.

This means it’s possible for sites and pages with massive quantities of links that we won’t show every intersecting link we know about, but since the sorting is in Page Authority order, you’ll get the highest quality/most important ones at the top.

You can use Link Intersect to see three unique views on the data:

  • Pages that link to subdomains (particularly useful if you’re interested in shared links to sites on hosted subdomains like blogspot, wordpress, etc or to a specific subdomain section of a competitor’s site)
  • Pages that link to root domains (my personal favorite, as I find the results the most comprehensive)
  • Root domains that link to the root domains (great if you’re trying to get a broad sense of domain-level outreach/marketing targets)

Note that it’s possible the root domains will actually expose more links that pages because the domain-level link graph is easier and faster to sort through, so the 250K limit is less of a barrier.

Like most of the reports in Open Site Explorer, Link Intersect comes with a handy CSV Export option:

When it finishes (my most recent one took just under 3 minutes to run and email me), you’ll get a nice email like this one:

Please ignore the grammatical errors. I’m sure our team will fix those up soon 🙂

Why are these such good link/outreach/marketing targets?

Generally speaking, this type of data is invaluable for link outreach because these sites and pages are ones that clearly care about the shared topics or content of the intersecting targets. If you enter two of your primary competitors, you’ll often get news media, blog posts, reference resources, events, trade publications, and more that produce content in your topical niche.

They’re also good targets because they actually link out! This means you can avoid sifting through sites whose policies or practices mean they’re unlikely to ever link to you – if they’ve linked to those other two chaps, why not you, too?!

Basically, you can check the trifecta of link opportunity goodness boxes (which I’ve helpfully illustrated above, because that’s just the kind of SEO dork I am).

Link Intersect is limited only by your own creativity – so long as you can keep finding sites and pages on the web whose links might also be a match for your own site, we can keep digging through trillions of links, finding the intersects, and giving them back to you.

3 examples of Link Intersect in action

Let’s look at some ways we might put this to use in the real world:

#1: I’m trying to figure out who links to my two big competitors in the world of book reviews

First off, remember that Link Intersect works on a root domain or subdomain level, so we wouldn’t want to use something like the NYTimes’ review of books, because we’d be finding all the intersections to NYTimes.com. Instead, we want to pick more topically-focused domains, like these two:

You’ll also note that I’ve used a fake website as my excluded URL – this is a great trick for when you’re simply interested in any sites/pages that link to two domains and don’t need to remove a particular target.

#2: I’ve got a locally-focused website doing plumbing and need a few link sources to help boost my potential to rank in local and organic SERPs

In this instance, I’ll certainly look at pages linking to combinations of the top ranking sites in the local results, e.g. the 15 results for this query:

This is a solid starting point, especially considering how few links local sites often need to perform well. But we can get creative by branching outside of plumbing and exploring related fields like construction:

Focusing on better-linked-to industries and websites will give more results, so we want to try to broaden rather than narrow our categories and look for the most-linked-to sites in given verticals for comparisons.

#3: I’m planning some new content around weather patterns for my air conditioning website and want to know what news and blog sites cover extreme weather content

First, I’m going to start by browsing some search results for content in this field that’s received some serious link activity. By turning on my Mozbar’s SERPs overlay, I can see the sites and pages that have generated loads of links:

Now I can run a few combinations of these through the Link Intersect Tool:

While those domain names make me fear for humanity’s intelligence and future survival, they also expose a great link opportunity tactic I hadn’t previously considered – climate science deniers and the more politically charged universe of climate science overall.


I hope you enjoy the new Link Intersect tool as much as I have been – I think it’s one of the best things we’ve put in Open Site Explorer in the last few months, though what we’re releasing in March might beat even that, so stay tuned!

And, as always, please do give us feedback and feel free to ask questions in the comments below or through the Moz Community Q+A.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

International SEO Study: How Searchers Perceive Country Code Top-Level Domains

Posted by 5le

The decision to focus your site on an international audience is a big step and one fraught with complexities. There are, of course, issues to deal with around language and user experience, but in addition there are some big technical choices to make including what domains to use.

Any authoritative
international SEO guide will elaborate on the differences between the options of subdirectory, subdomain, and country-code top level domain (CCTLD). One of the most common suggestions is for a site to opt to use a ccTLD (e.g. domain.co.uk) as the domain extension. The reasoning behind this is the theory that the ccTLD extension will “hint” to search engines and users exactly who your target audience should be versus the other, less explicit options. For example, a search engine and human user would know, even without clicking into a site, that a site that ends with .co.uk is targeting a user looking for UK content. 

We have solid data from
Google that a ccTLD does indicate country targeting; however, when it comes to users there is only an assumption that users even notice and make choices based on the ccTLD. However, this is a fairly broad assumption that doesn’t address whether a ccTLD is more important than a brand name in the domain or the quality of a website’s content. To test this theory, we ran a survey to discover what users really thought.

User knowledge of TLDs

Even before trying to understand how users related to ccTLDs it is essential to validate the assumption that users even know that general TLDs exist. To establish this fact, we asked respondents to pick which TLD might be the one in use by a non-profit. Close to
100% of respondents correctly identified a TLD ending with .org as the one most likely to be used by a non-profit. Interestingly, only 4% of people in the US stated that they were unsure of the correct TLD compared to 13% of Australians. Predictably, nearly all marketers (98%) chose the .org answer.

Another popular TLD is the .edu in use by educational assumptions, and we wanted to understand if users thought that content coming from a .edu domain might be more trustworthy. We asked users if they received an unsolicited email about water quality in their town whether they would place more trust in a sender’s email address that ended with .edu or .com.
89% of respondents in the US chose the .edu as more trustworthy, while only 79% said the same in Australia. Quite interestingly, the marketer responses (from the survey posted on Inbound.org were exactly the same as the Australians with 79% declaring the .edu to be more trustworthy.

.org cctld survey australia

If users can identify a .org as the correct TLD for a non-profit, and a .edu as a TLD that might be more trustworthy, it is likely that users are familiar with the existence of TLDs and how they might be used. The next question to answer is if users are aware of the connection between TLDs and locations.

Country relationship awareness

Next, we asked respondents to identify the location of a local business using a .ca TLD extension. The majority of respondents across all three surveys correctly chose Canada; and nearly all marketers (92%) got this correct. Oddly, more Australians (67%) correctly identified Canada than Americans (62%). We would have thought Americans should have been more familiar with the TLD of a neighboring country. Additionally, more Americans (23%) fell for the trick answer of California than Australians (15%). Regardless, we were able to conclude that most Internet users are aware of TLDs and that they are tied to a specific country.

canada cctld survey

To really gauge how much users know about TLDs and countries, we asked users to pick the right domain extension for a website in another country. In the US survey, we asked users to pick the correct TLD for an Australian company, and in the Australian survey we used a British company. In each of the questions we gave one correct answer possibility, one almost correct, and two entire wrong choices.For example, we gave .co.uk and .uk as answer choices to Australians.

In both the US and Australia, the majority of respondents chose the correct TLD, although Americans seem to have been confused by whether Australia’s TLD was .AU (35%) or .com.AU (24%).

There is a common practice of using country-code domain extensions as a vanity URL for content that is not geotargeted. For example, .ly is the domain extension for Libya, but it is frequently used on domains that have a word that ends with “ly.” Additionally, .me is the domain extension for Montenegro; however, the TLD is used for many purposes other than Montenegro content.

We wanted to understand if users noticed this type of TLD usage or if they thought the content might still be related to another country. We asked respondents what might be on a website that ended with .TV which is the TLD for the island nation of Tuvalu and is also a popular TLD for TV show websites. 51% of US respondents thought it might be a TV show and 42% chose the “it could be anything” answer. In Australia, 43% thought the site would be a TV show, and 44% said “it could be anything”.

tuvalu cctld survey

One of the answer options was that it could be a website in Tuvalu and interestingly twice as many Australian (9%) chose this option vs US respondents (4.5%). This question was one of the areas where marketers’ answers were very different from those in the US and Australia. 77% of marketers chose the TV show option and only 19% said it could be anything.

Based on the these three results, it is apparent that
users recognize TLDs, know that they are from other countries, and appear to make some judgments around the content based on the TLD.

Decision making using TLDs

Since users know that TLDs are an important part of a URL that is tied to a country of origin, it is important to understand how the TLD factors into their decision-making processes about whether or not they visit certain websites.

We asked users whether they thought medical content on a foreign TLD would be as reliable as similar content found on their local TLD. In the US, only 24% thought the content on the non-local TLD (.co.uk) was less reliable than content on a .com. In Australia, the results were nearly identical to what we saw in the US with only 28% answering that the non-local TLD (.co.uk) was less reliable than the content on a .com.au. Even 24% of marketers answered that the content was less reliable. The remaining respondents chose either that the content equally reliable or they just didn’t know. Based on these results, the TLD (at least as long as it was a reputable one)
does not seem to impact user trust.

UK cctld survey

Digging into the idea of trust and TLD a bit further, we asked the same reliability question about results on Google.com vs Google.de. In the US, 56% of respondents said that the results on Google.de are equally reliable to those on Google.com, and in Australia, 51% said the same thing when compared to Google.com.au. In the marketer survey, 66% of respondents said the results were equally reliable. The fact that the majority of respondents stated that results are equally reliable should mean that users are more focused on the brand portion of a domain rather than its country extension.

CcTLD’s impact on ecommerce

Making the decision to use a ccTLD on a website can be costly, so it is important to justify this cost with an actual revenue benefit. Therefore the real test of TLD choice is how it impacts revenue. This type of answer is of course hard to gauge in a survey where customers are not actually buying products, but we did want to try to see if there might be a way to measure purchasing decisions.

To achieve this result, we compared two different online retailers and asked respondents to choose the establishment that they thought would have the most reliable express shipping. In the US survey, we compared Amazon.co.jp to BestBuy.com. In the Australian survey, we compared Bigw.com.au (a well known online retailer) to Target.com. (Interesting fact: there is a Target in Australia that is not affiliated with Target in the US and their website is target.com.au) The intent of the question was to see if users zeroed in on the recognizable brand name or the domain extension.

cctld trust survey

In the US, while 39% said that both websites would offer reliable shipping, 42% still said that Best Buy would be the better option. Australians may have been confused by the incorrect Target website, since 61% said both websites would have reliable shipping, but 34% chose Big W. Even marketers didn’t seem oblivious to domain names with only 34% choosing the equally reliable option, and 49% choosing Best Buy. The data in this question is a bit inconclusive, but we can definitively say that while a large portion of users are blind to domain names, however, when selling online it would be best to use a familiar domain extension.

cctld trust survey australia

New TLDs

Late last year, ICANN (the Internet governing body) announced that they would be releasing dozens of new
GTLDs, which opened up a new domain name land grab harkening back to the early days of the Internet. Many of these domain names can be quite expensive, and we wanted to discover whether they even mattered to users.

gtld survey

We asked users if, based solely on the domain name, they were more likely to trust an insurance quote from a website ending in .insurance.
62% of Americans, 53% of Australians, and 67% of marketers said they were unlikely to trust the quote based on the domain alone. Based on this result, if you’re looking to invest in a new TLD simply to drive more conversions, you should probably do more research first. 

A new gTLD is probably not a silver bullet.

Methodology

For this survey, I collaborated with
Sam Mallikarjunan at HubSpot and we decided that the two assumptions we absolutely needed to validate where 1) whether users even notice ccTLDs and 2) if so do they really prefer the TLD of their country. While we received 101 responses from a version of the survey targeted at marketers on an Inbound.org discussion, we primarily used SurveyMonkey Audience, which allowed us to get answers from a statistically significant random selection of people in both the United States and Australia.

We created two nearly identical surveys with one targeted to a US-only audience and the other targeted to an Australian-only audience. A proper sample set is essential when conducting any survey that attempts to draw conclusions about people’s general behavior and preferences. And in this case, the minimum number of respondents we needed in order to capture a representative example was 350 for the U.S. and 300 for Australia.

Additionally, in order for a sample to be valid, the respondents have to be chosen completely at random. SurveyMonkey Audience recruits its 4-million+ members from SurveyMonkey’s 40 million annual unique visitors, and members are not paid for their participation. Instead, they are rewarded for taking surveys with charitable donations, made on their behalf by SurveyMonkey.

When tested against much larger research projects, Audience data has been exactly in line with larger sample sizes. For example, an Audience survey with just 400 respondents about a new Lay’s potato chip flavor had the same results as a wider contest that had 3 million participants.

SurveyMonkey’s survey research team was also able to use SurveyMonkey Audience to accurately predict election results in both 2012 and 2013. With a US sample size of 458 respondents and an Australian one of 312 all drawn at random, our ccTLD user preferences should reliably mirror the actual reality.

Summary

There will be many reasons that you may or may not want to use ccTLDs for your website, and a survey alone can never answer whether a ccTLD is the right strategy for any particular site. If you are thinking about making any big decisions about TLDs on your site, you should absolutely conduct some testing or surveying of your own before relying on just the recommendations of those who advise a TLD as the best strategy or the others that tell you it doesn’t matter at all.

Launching a PPC campaign with a landing page on a ccTLD and measuring CTRs against a control is far cheaper than replicating your entire site on a new TLD.

Based on our survey results, here’s what you should keep in mind when it comes to whether or not investing your time and money in a ccTLD is worth it:

  1. Users are absolutely aware of the TLDs and how they might relate to the contents of a website
  2. Users are aware of the connection between TLDs and countries
  3. Users do make decisions about websites based on the TLD; however there are no absolutes. Brand and content absolutely matter.

As to whether a ccTLD will work for you on your own site, give it a try and report back!

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