Stop Ghost Spam in Google Analytics with One Filter

Posted by CarloSeo

The spam in Google Analytics (GA) is becoming a serious issue. Due to a deluge of referral spam from social buttons, adult sites, and many, many other sources, people are starting to become overwhelmed by all the filters they are setting up to manage the useless data they are receiving.

The good news is, there is no need to panic. In this post, I’m going to focus on the most common mistakes people make when fighting spam in GA, and explain an efficient way to prevent it.

But first, let’s make sure we understand how spam works. A couple of months ago, Jared Gardner wrote an excellent article explaining what referral spam is, including its intended purpose. He also pointed out some great examples of referral spam.

Types of spam

The spam in Google Analytics can be categorized by two types: ghosts and crawlers.

Ghosts

The vast majority of spam is this type. They are called ghosts because they never access your site. It is important to keep this in mind, as it’s key to creating a more efficient solution for managing spam.

As unusual as it sounds, this type of spam doesn’t have any interaction with your site at all. You may wonder how that is possible since one of the main purposes of GA is to track visits to our sites.

They do it by using the Measurement Protocol, which allows people to send data directly to Google Analytics’ servers. Using this method, and probably randomly generated tracking codes (UA-XXXXX-1) as well, the spammers leave a “visit” with fake data, without even knowing who they are hitting.

Crawlers

This type of spam, the opposite to ghost spam, does access your site. As the name implies, these spam bots crawl your pages, ignoring rules like those found in robots.txt that are supposed to stop them from reading your site. When they exit your site, they leave a record on your reports that appears similar to a legitimate visit.

Crawlers are harder to identify because they know their targets and use real data. But it is also true that new ones seldom appear. So if you detect a referral in your analytics that looks suspicious, researching it on Google or checking it against this list might help you answer the question of whether or not it is spammy.

Most common mistakes made when dealing with spam in GA

I’ve been following this issue closely for the last few months. According to the comments people have made on my articles and conversations I’ve found in discussion forums, there are primarily three mistakes people make when dealing with spam in Google Analytics.

Mistake #1. Blocking ghost spam from the .htaccess file

One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to block Ghost Spam from the .htaccess file.

For those who are not familiar with this file, one of its main functions is to allow/block access to your site. Now we know that ghosts never reach your site, so adding them here won’t have any effect and will only add useless lines to your .htaccess file.

Ghost spam usually shows up for a few days and then disappears. As a result, sometimes people think that they successfully blocked it from here when really it’s just a coincidence of timing.

Then when the spammers later return, they get worried because the solution is not working anymore, and they think the spammer somehow bypassed the barriers they set up.

The truth is, the .htaccess file can only effectively block crawlers such as buttons-for-website.com and a few others since these access your site. Most of the spam can’t be blocked using this method, so there is no other option than using filters to exclude them.

Mistake #2. Using the referral exclusion list to stop spam

Another error is trying to use the referral exclusion list to stop the spam. The name may confuse you, but this list is not intended to exclude referrals in the way we want to for the spam. It has other purposes.

For example, when a customer buys something, sometimes they get redirected to a third-party page for payment. After making a payment, they’re redirected back to you website, and GA records that as a new referral. It is appropriate to use referral exclusion list to prevent this from happening.

If you try to use the referral exclusion list to manage spam, however, the referral part will be stripped since there is no preexisting record. As a result, a direct visit will be recorded, and you will have a bigger problem than the one you started with since. You will still have spam, and direct visits are harder to track.

Mistake #3. Worrying that bounce rate changes will affect rankings

When people see that the bounce rate changes drastically because of the spam, they start worrying about the impact that it will have on their rankings in the SERPs.

bounce.png

This is another mistake commonly made. With or without spam, Google doesn’t take into consideration Google Analytics metrics as a ranking factor. Here is an explanation about this from Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s web spam team.

And if you think about it, Cutts’ explanation makes sense; because although many people have GA, not everyone uses it.

Assuming your site has been hacked

Another common concern when people see strange landing pages coming from spam on their reports is that they have been hacked.

landing page

The page that the spam shows on the reports doesn’t exist, and if you try to open it, you will get a 404 page. Your site hasn’t been compromised.

But you have to make sure the page doesn’t exist. Because there are cases (not spam) where some sites have a security breach and get injected with pages full of bad keywords to defame the website.

What should you worry about?

Now that we’ve discarded security issues and their effects on rankings, the only thing left to worry about is your data. The fake trail that the spam leaves behind pollutes your reports.

It might have greater or lesser impact depending on your site traffic, but everyone is susceptible to the spam.

Small and midsize sites are the most easily impacted – not only because a big part of their traffic can be spam, but also because usually these sites are self-managed and sometimes don’t have the support of an analyst or a webmaster.

Big sites with a lot of traffic can also be impacted by spam, and although the impact can be insignificant, invalid traffic means inaccurate reports no matter the size of the website. As an analyst, you should be able to explain what’s going on in even in the most granular reports.

You only need one filter to deal with ghost spam

Usually it is recommended to add the referral to an exclusion filter after it is spotted. Although this is useful for a quick action against the spam, it has three big disadvantages.

  • Making filters every week for every new spam detected is tedious and time-consuming, especially if you manage many sites. Plus, by the time you apply the filter, and it starts working, you already have some affected data.
  • Some of the spammers use direct visits along with the referrals.
  • These direct hits won’t be stopped by the filter so even if you are excluding the referral you will sill be receiving invalid traffic, which explains why some people have seen an unusual spike in direct traffic.

Luckily, there is a good way to prevent all these problems. Most of the spam (ghost) works by hitting GA’s random tracking-IDs, meaning the offender doesn’t really know who is the target, and for that reason either the hostname is not set or it uses a fake one. (See report below)

Ghost-Spam.png

You can see that they use some weird names or don’t even bother to set one. Although there are some known names in the list, these can be easily added by the spammer.

On the other hand, valid traffic will always use a real hostname. In most of the cases, this will be the domain. But it also can also result from paid services, translation services, or any other place where you’ve inserted GA tracking code.

Valid-Referral.png

Based on this, we can make a filter that will include only hits that use real hostnames. This will automatically exclude all hits from ghost spam, whether it shows up as a referral, keyword, or pageview; or even as a direct visit.

To create this filter, you will need to find the report of hostnames. Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Reporting tab in GA
  2. Click on Audience in the lefthand panel
  3. Expand Technology and select Network
  4. At the top of the report, click on Hostname

Valid-list

You will see a list of all hostnames, including the ones that the spam uses. Make a list of all the valid hostnames you find, as follows:

  • yourmaindomain.com
  • blog.yourmaindomain.com
  • es.yourmaindomain.com
  • payingservice.com
  • translatetool.com
  • anotheruseddomain.com

For small to medium sites, this list of hostnames will likely consist of the main domain and a couple of subdomains. After you are sure you got all of them, create a regular expression similar to this one:

yourmaindomain\.com|anotheruseddomain\.com|payingservice\.com|translatetool\.com

You don’t need to put all of your subdomains in the regular expression. The main domain will match all of them. If you don’t have a view set up without filters, create one now.

Then create a Custom Filter.

Make sure you select INCLUDE, then select “Hostname” on the filter field, and copy your expression into the Filter Pattern box.

filter

You might want to verify the filter before saving to check that everything is okay. Once you’re ready, set it to save, and apply the filter to all the views you want (except the view without filters).

This single filter will get rid of future occurrences of ghost spam that use invalid hostnames, and it doesn’t require much maintenance. But it’s important that every time you add your tracking code to any service, you add it to the end of the filter.

Now you should only need to take care of the crawler spam. Since crawlers access your site, you can block them by adding these lines to the .htaccess file:

## STOP REFERRER SPAM 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} semalt\.com [NC,OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} buttons-for-website\.com [NC] 
RewriteRule .* - [F]

It is important to note that this file is very sensitive, and misplacing a single character it it can bring down your entire site. Therefore, make sure you create a backup copy of your .htaccess file prior to editing it.

If you don’t feel comfortable messing around with your .htaccess file, you can alternatively make an expression with all the crawlers, then and add it to an exclude filter by Campaign Source.

Implement these combined solutions, and you will worry much less about spam contaminating your analytics data. This will have the added benefit of freeing up more time for you to spend actually analyze your valid data.

After stopping spam, you can also get clean reports from the historical data by using the same expressions in an Advance Segment to exclude all the spam.

Bonus resources to help you manage spam

If you still need more information to help you understand and deal with the spam on your GA reports, you can read my main article on the subject here: http://www.ohow.co/what-is-referrer-spam-how-stop-it-guide/.

Additional information on how to stop spam can be found at these URLs:

In closing, I am eager to hear your ideas on this serious issue. Please share them in the comments below.

(Editor’s Note: All images featured in this post were created by the author.)

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The Inbound Marketing Economy

Posted by KelseyLibert

When it comes to job availability and security, the future looks bright for inbound marketers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for marketing managers will grow by 13% between 2012 and 2022. Job security for marketing managers also looks positive according to the BLS, which cites that marketing employees are less likely to be laid off since marketing drives revenue for most businesses.

While the BLS provides growth estimates for managerial-level marketing roles, these projections don’t give much insight into the growth of digital marketing, specifically the disciplines within digital marketing. As we know, “marketing” can refer to a variety of different specializations and methodologies. Since digital marketing is still relatively new compared to other fields, there is not much comprehensive research on job growth and trends in our industry.

To gain a better understanding of the current state of digital marketing careers, Fractl teamed up with Moz to identify which skills and roles are the most in demand and which states have the greatest concentration of jobs.

Methodology

We analyzed 75,315 job listings posted on Indeed.com during June 2015 based on data gathered from job ads containing the following terms:

  • “content marketing” or “content strategy”
  • “SEO” or “search engine marketing”
  • “social media marketing” or “social media management”
  • “inbound marketing” or “digital marketing”
  • “PPC” (pay-per-click)
  • “Google Analytics”

We chose the above keywords based on their likelihood to return results that were marketing-focused roles (for example, just searching for “social media” may return a lot of jobs that are not primarily marketing focused, such as customer service). The occurrence of each of these terms in job listings was quantified and segmented by state. We then combined the job listing data with U.S. Census Bureau population estimates to calculate the jobs per capita for each keyword, giving us the states with the greatest concentration of jobs for a given search query.

Using the same data, we identified which job titles appeared most frequently. We used existing data from Indeed to determine job trends and average salaries. LinkedIn search results were also used to identify keyword growth in user profiles.

Marketing skills are in high demand, but talent is hard to find

As the marketing industry continues to evolve due to emerging technology and marketing platforms, marketers are expected to pick up new skills and broaden their knowledge more quickly than ever before. Many believe this rapid rate of change has caused a marketing skills gap, making it difficult to find candidates with the technical, creative, and business proficiencies needed to succeed in digital marketing.

The ability to combine analytical thinking with creative execution is highly desirable and necessary in today’s marketing landscape. According to an article in The Guardian, “Companies will increasingly look for rounded individuals who can combine analytical rigor with the ability to apply this knowledge in a practical and creative context.” Being both detail-oriented and a big picture thinker is also a sought-after combination of attributes. A report by The Economist and Marketo found that “CMOs want people with the ability to grasp and manage the details (in data, technology, and marketing operations) combined with a view of the strategic big picture.”

But well-rounded marketers are hard to come by. In a study conducted by Bullhorn, 64% of recruiters reported a shortage of skilled candidates for available marketing roles. Wanted Analytics recently found that one of the biggest national talent shortages is for marketing manager roles, with only two available candidates per job opening.

Increase in marketers listing skills in content marketing, inbound marketing, and social media on LinkedIn profiles

While recruiter frustrations may indicate a shallow talent pool, LinkedIn tells a different story—the number of U.S.-based marketers who identify themselves as having digital marketing skills is on the rise. Using data tracked by Rand and LinkedIn, we found the following increases of marketing keywords within user profiles.

growth of marketing keywords in linkedin profiles

The number of profiles containing “content marketing” has seen the largest growth, with a 168% increase since 2013. “Social media” has also seen significant growth with a 137% increase. “Social media” appears on a significantly higher volume of profiles than the other keywords, with more than 2.2 million profiles containing some mention of social media. Although “SEO” has not seen as much growth as the other keywords, it still has the second-highest volume with it appearing in 630,717 profiles.

Why is there a growing number of people self-identifying as having the marketing skills recruiters want, yet recruiters think there is a lack of talent?

While there may be a lot of specialists out there, perhaps recruiters are struggling to fill marketing roles due to a lack of generalists or even a lack of specialists with surface-level knowledge of other areas of digital marketing (also known as a T-shaped marketer).

Popular job listings show a need for marketers to diversify their skill set

The data we gathered from LinkedIn confirm this, as the 20 most common digital marketing-related job titles being advertised call for a broad mix of skills.

20 most common marketing job titles

It’s no wonder that marketing manager roles are hard to fill, considering the job ads are looking for proficiency in a wide range of marketing disciplines including social media marketing, SEO, PPC, content marketing, Google Analytics, and digital marketing. Even job descriptions for specialist roles tend to call for skills in other disciplines. A particular role such as SEO Specialist may call for several skills other than SEO, such as PPC, content marketing, and Google Analytics.

Taking a more granular look at job titles, the chart below shows the five most common titles for each search query. One might expect mostly specialist roles to appear here, but there is a high occurrence of generalist positions, such as Digital Marketing Manager and Marketing Manager.

5 most common job titles by search query

Only one job title containing “SEO” cracked the top five. This indicates that SEO knowledge is a desirable skill within other roles, such as general digital marketing and development.

Recruiter was the third most common job title among job listings containing social media keywords, which suggests a need for social media skills in non-marketing roles.

Similar to what we saw with SEO job titles, only one job title specific to PPC (Paid Search Specialist) made it into the top job titles. PPC skills are becoming necessary for more general marketing roles, such as Marketing Manager and Digital Marketing Specialist.

Across all search queries, the most common jobs advertised call for a broad mix of skills. This tells us hiring managers are on the hunt for well-rounded candidates with a diverse range of marketing skills, as opposed to candidates with expertise in one area.

Marketers who cultivate diverse skill sets are better poised to gain an advantage over other job seekers, excel in their job role, and accelerate career growth. Jason Miller says it best in his piece about the new breed hybrid marketer:

future of marketing quote linkedin

Inbound job demand and growth: Most-wanted skills and fastest-growing jobs

Using data from Indeed, we identified which inbound skills have the highest demand and which jobs are seeing the most growth. Social media keywords claim the largest volume of results out of the terms we searched for during June 2015.

number of marketing job listings by keyword

“Social media marketing” or “social media management” appeared the most frequently in the job postings we analyzed, with 46.7% containing these keywords. “PPC” returned the smallest number of results, with only 3.8% of listings containing this term.

Perhaps this is due to social media becoming a more necessary skill across many industries and not only a necessity for marketers (for example, social media’s role in customer service and recruitment). On the other hand, job roles calling for PPC or SEO skills are most likely marketing-focused. The prevalence of social media jobs also may indicate that social media has gained wide acceptance as a necessary part of a marketing strategy. Additionally, social media skills are less valuable compared to other marketing skills, making it cheaper to hire for these positions (we will explore this further in the average salaries section below).

Our search results also included a high volume of jobs containing “digital marketing” and “SEO” keywords, which made up 19.5% and 15.5% respectively. At 5.8%, “content marketing” had the lowest search volume after “PPC.”

Digital marketing, social media, and content marketing experienced the most job growth

While the number of job listings tells us which skills are most in demand today, looking at which jobs are seeing the most growth can give insight into shifting demands.

digital marketing growth on  indeed.com

Digital marketing job listings have seen substantial growth since 2009, when it accounted for less than 0.1% of Indeed.com search results. In January 2015, this number had climbed to nearly 0.3%.

social media job growth on indeed.com

While social media marketing jobs have seen some uneven growth, as of January 2015 more than 0.1% of all job listings on Indeed.com contained the term “social media marketing” or “social media management.” This shows a significant upward trend considering this number was around 0.05% for most of 2014. It’s also worth noting that “social media” is currently ranked No. 10 on Indeed’s list of top job trends.

content marketing job growth on indeed.com

Despite its growth from 0.02% to nearly 0.09% of search volume in the last four years, “content marketing” does not make up a large volume of job postings compared to “digital marketing” or “social media.” In fact, “SEO” has seen a decrease in growth but still constitutes a higher percentage of job listings than content marketing.

SEO, PPC, and Google Analytics job growth has slowed down

On the other hand, search volume on Indeed has either decreased or plateaued for “SEO,” “PPC,” and “Google Analytics.”

seo job growth on indeed.com

As we see in the graph, the volume of “SEO job” listings peaked between 2011 and 2012. This is also around the time content marketing began gaining popularity, thanks to the Panda and Penguin updates. The decrease may be explained by companies moving their marketing budgets away from SEO and toward content or social media positions. However, “SEO” still has a significant amount of job listings, with it appearing in more than 0.2% of job listings on Indeed as of 2015.

ppc job growth on indeed.com

“PPC” has seen the most staggered growth among all the search terms we analyzed, with its peak of nearly 0.1% happening between 2012 and 2013. As of January of this year, search volume was below 0.05% for “PPC.”

google analytics job growth on indeed.com

Despite a lack of growth, the need for this skill remains steady. Between 2008 and 2009, “Google Analytics” job ads saw a huge spike on Indeed. Since then, the search volume has tapered off and plateaued through January 2015.

Most valuable skills are SEO, digital marketing, and Google Analytics

So we know the number of social media, digital marketing, and content marketing jobs are on the rise. But which skills are worth the most? We looked at the average salaries based on keywords and estimates from Indeed and salaries listed in job ads.

national average marketing salaries

Job titles containing “SEO” had an average salary of $102,000. Meanwhile, job titles containing “social media marketing” had an average salary of $51,000. Considering such a large percentage of the job listings we analyzed contained “social media” keywords, there is a much larger pool of jobs; therefore, a lot of entry level social media jobs or internships are probably bringing down the average salary.

Job titles containing “Google Analytics” had the second-highest average salary at $82,000, but this should be taken with a grain of salt considering “Google Analytics” will rarely appear as part of a job title. The chart below, which shows average salaries for jobs containing keywords anywhere in the listing as opposed to only in the title, gives a more accurate idea of how much “Google Analytics” job roles earn on average.national salary averages marketing keywords

Looking at the average salaries based on keywords that appeared anywhere within the job listing (job title, job description, etc.) shows a slightly different picture. Based on this, jobs containing “digital marketing” or “inbound marketing” had the highest average salary of $84,000. “SEO” and “Google Analytics” are tied for second with $76,000 as the average salary.

“Social media marketing” takes the bottom spot with an average salary of $57,000. However, notice that there is a higher average salary for jobs that contain “social media” within the job listing as opposed to jobs that contain “social media” within the title. This suggests that social media skills may be more valuable when combined with other responsibilities and skills, whereas a strictly social media job, such as Social Media Manager or Social Media Specialist, does not earn as much.

Massachusetts, New York, and California have the most career opportunities for inbound marketers

Looking for a new job? Maybe it’s time to pack your bags for Boston.

Massachusetts led the U.S. with the most jobs per capita for digital marketing, content marketing, SEO, and Google Analytics. New York took the top spot for social media jobs per capita, while Utah had the highest concentration of PPC jobs. California ranked in the top three for digital marketing, content marketing, social media, and Google Analytics. Illinois appeared in the top 10 for every term and usually ranked within the top five. Most of the states with the highest job concentrations are in the Northeast, West, and East Coast, with a few exceptions such as Illinois and Minnesota.

But you don’t necessarily have to move to a new state to increase the odds of landing an inbound marketing job. Some unexpected states also made the cut, with Connecticut and Vermont ranking within the top 10 for several keywords.

concentration of digital marketing jobs

marketing jobs per capita

Job listings containing “digital marketing” or “inbound marketing” were most prevalent in Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, and California, which is most likely due to these states being home to major cities where marketing agencies and large brands are headquartered or have a presence. You will notice these four states make an appearance in the top 10 for every other search query and usually rank close to the top of the list.

More surprising to find in the top 10 were smaller states such as Connecticut and Vermont. Many major organizations are headquartered in Connecticut, which may be driving the state’s need for digital marketing talent. Vermont’s high-tech industry growth may explain its high concentration of digital marketing jobs.

content marketing job concentration

per capita content marketing jobs

Although content marketing jobs are growing, there are still a low volume overall of available jobs, as shown by the low jobs per capita compared to most of the other search queries. With more than three jobs per capita, Massachusetts and New York topped the list for the highest concentration of job listings containing “content marketing” or “content strategy.” California and Illinois rank in third and fourth with 2.8 and 2.1 jobs per capita respectively.

seo job concentration

seo jobs per capita

Again, Massachusetts and New York took the top spots, each with more than eight SEO jobs per capita. Utah took third place for the highest concentration of SEO jobs. Surprised to see Utah rank in the top 10? Its inclusion on this list and others may be due to its booming tech startup scene, which has earned the metropolitan areas of Salt Lake City, Provo, and Park City the nickname Silicon Slopes.

social media job concentration

social media jobs per capita

Compared to the other keywords, “social media” sees a much higher concentration of jobs. New York dominates the rankings with nearly 24 social media jobs per capita. The other top contenders of California, Massachusetts, and Illinois all have more than 15 social media jobs per capita.

The numbers at the bottom of this list can give you an idea of how prevalent social media jobs were compared to any other keyword we analyzed. Minnesota’s 12.1 jobs per capita, the lowest ranking state in the top 10 for social media, trumps even the highest ranking state for any other keyword (11.5 digital marketing jobs per capita in Massachusetts).

ppc job concentration

ppc jobs per capita

Due to its low overall number of available jobs, “PPC” sees the lowest jobs per capita out of all the search queries. Utah has the highest concentration of jobs with just two PPC jobs per 100,000 residents. It is also the only state in the top 10 to crack two jobs per capita.

google analytics job concentration

google analytics jobs per capita

Regionally, the Northeast and West dominate the rankings, with the exception of Illinois. Massachusetts and New York are tied for the most Google Analytics job postings, each with nearly five jobs per capita. At more than three jobs per 100,000 residents, California, Illinois, and Colorado round out the top five.

Overall, our findings indicate that none of the marketing disciplines we analyzed are dying career choices, but there is a need to become more than a one-trick pony—or else you’ll risk getting passed up for job opportunities. As the marketing industry evolves, there is a greater need for marketers who “wear many hats” and have competencies across different marketing disciplines. Marketers who develop diverse skill sets can gain a competitive advantage in the job market and achieve greater career growth.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Deconstructing the App Store Rankings Formula with a Little Mad Science

Posted by AlexApptentive

After seeing Rand’s “Mad Science Experiments in SEO” presented at last year’s MozCon, I was inspired to put on the lab coat and goggles and do a few experiments of my own—not in SEO, but in SEO’s up-and-coming younger sister, ASO (app store optimization).

Working with Apptentive to guide enterprise apps and small startup apps alike to increase their discoverability in the app stores, I’ve learned a thing or two about app store optimization and what goes into an app’s ranking. It’s been my personal goal for some time now to pull back the curtains on Google and Apple. Yet, the deeper into the rabbit hole I go, the more untested assumptions I leave in my way.

Hence, I thought it was due time to put some longstanding hypotheses through the gauntlet.

As SEOs, we know how much of an impact a single ranking can mean on a SERP. One tiny rank up or down can make all the difference when it comes to your website’s traffic—and revenue.

In the world of apps, ranking is just as important when it comes to standing out in a sea of more than 1.3 million apps. Apptentive’s recent mobile consumer survey shed a little more light this claim, revealing that nearly half of all mobile app users identified browsing the app store charts and search results (the placement on either of which depends on rankings) as a preferred method for finding new apps in the app stores. Simply put, better rankings mean more downloads and easier discovery.

Like Google and Bing, the two leading app stores (the Apple App Store and Google Play) have a complex and highly guarded algorithms for determining rankings for both keyword-based app store searches and composite top charts.

Unlike SEO, however, very little research and theory has been conducted around what goes into these rankings.

Until now, that is.

Over the course of five studies analyzing various publicly available data points for a cross-section of the top 500 iOS (U.S. Apple App Store) and the top 500 Android (U.S. Google Play) apps, I’ll attempt to set the record straight with a little myth-busting around ASO. In the process, I hope to assess and quantify any perceived correlations between app store ranks, ranking volatility, and a few of the factors commonly thought of as influential to an app’s ranking.

But first, a little context

Image credit: Josh Tuininga, Apptentive

Both the Apple App Store and Google Play have roughly 1.3 million apps each, and both stores feature a similar breakdown by app category. Apps ranking in the two stores should, theoretically, be on a fairly level playing field in terms of search volume and competition.

Of these apps, nearly two-thirds have not received a single rating and 99% are considered unprofitable. These studies, therefore, single out the rare exceptions to the rule—the top 500 ranked apps in each store.

While neither Apple nor Google have revealed specifics about how they calculate search rankings, it is generally accepted that both app store algorithms factor in:

  • Average app store rating
  • Rating/review volume
  • Download and install counts
  • Uninstalls (what retention and churn look like for the app)
  • App usage statistics (how engaged an app’s users are and how frequently they launch the app)
  • Growth trends weighted toward recency (how daily download counts changed over time and how today’s ratings compare to last week’s)
  • Keyword density of the app’s landing page (Ian did a great job covering this factor in a previous Moz post)

I’ve simplified this formula to a function highlighting the four elements with sufficient data (or at least proxy data) for our analysis:

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

Of course, right now, this generalized function doesn’t say much. Over the next five studies, however, we’ll revisit this function before ultimately attempting to compare the weights of each of these four variables on app store rankings.

(For the purpose of brevity, I’ll stop here with the assumptions, but I’ve gone into far greater depth into how I’ve reached these conclusions in a 55-page report on app store rankings.)

Now, for the Mad Science.

Study #1: App-les to app-les app store ranking volatility

The first, and most straight forward of the five studies involves tracking daily movement in app store rankings across iOS and Android versions of the same apps to determine any trends of differences between ranking volatility in the two stores.

I went with a small sample of five apps for this study, the only criteria for which were that:

  • They were all apps I actively use (a criterion for coming up with the five apps but not one that influences rank in the U.S. app stores)
  • They were ranked in the top 500 (but not the top 25, as I assumed app store rankings would be stickier at the top—an assumption I’ll test in study #2)
  • They had an almost identical version of the app in both Google Play and the App Store, meaning they should (theoretically) rank similarly
  • They covered a spectrum of app categories

The apps I ultimately chose were Lyft, Venmo, Duolingo, Chase Mobile, and LinkedIn. These five apps represent the travel, finance, education banking, and social networking categories.

Hypothesis

Going into this analysis, I predicted slightly more volatility in Apple App Store rankings, based on two statistics:

Both of these assumptions will be tested in later analysis.

Results

7-Day App Store Ranking Volatility in the App Store and Google Play

Among these five apps, Google Play rankings were, indeed, significantly less volatile than App Store rankings. Among the 35 data points recorded, rankings within Google Play moved by as much as 23 positions/ranks per day while App Store rankings moved up to 89 positions/ranks. The standard deviation of ranking volatility in the App Store was, furthermore, 4.45 times greater than that of Google Play.

Of course, the same apps varied fairly dramatically in their rankings in the two app stores, so I then standardized the ranking volatility in terms of percent change to control for the effect of numeric rank on volatility. When cast in this light, App Store rankings changed by as much as 72% within a 24-hour period while Google Play rankings changed by no more than 9%.

Also of note, daily rankings tended to move in the same direction across the two app stores approximately two-thirds of the time, suggesting that the two stores, and their customers, may have more in common than we think.

Study #2: App store ranking volatility across the top charts

Testing the assumption implicit in standardizing the data in study No. 1, this one was designed to see if app store ranking volatility is correlated with an app’s current rank. The sample for this study consisted of the top 500 ranked apps in both Google Play and the App Store, with special attention given to those on both ends of the spectrum (ranks 1–100 and 401–500).

Hypothesis

I anticipated rankings to be more volatile the higher an app is ranked—meaning an app ranked No. 450 should be able to move more ranks in any given day than an app ranked No. 50. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that higher ranked apps have more installs, active users, and ratings, and that it would take a large margin to produce a noticeable shift in any of these factors.

Results

App Store Ranking Volatility of Top 500 Apps

One look at the chart above shows that apps in both stores have increasingly more volatile rankings (based on how many ranks they moved in the last 24 hours) the lower on the list they’re ranked.

This is particularly true when comparing either end of the spectrum—with a seemingly straight volatility line among Google Play’s Top 100 apps and very few blips within the App Store’s Top 100. Compare this section to the lower end, ranks 401–)500, where both stores experience much more turbulence in their rankings. Across the gamut, I found a 24% correlation between rank and ranking volatility in the Play Store and 28% correlation in the App Store.

To put this into perspective, the average app in Google Play’s 401–)500 ranks moved 12.1 ranks in the last 24 hours while the average app in the Top 100 moved a mere 1.4 ranks. For the App Store, these numbers were 64.28 and 11.26, making slightly lower-ranked apps more than five times as volatile as the highest ranked apps. (I say slightly as these “lower-ranked” apps are still ranked higher than 99.96% of all apps.)

The relationship between rank and volatility is pretty consistent across the App Store charts, while rank has a much greater impact on volatility at the lower end of Google Play charts (ranks 1-100 have a 35% correlation) than it does at the upper end (ranks 401-500 have a 1% correlation).

Study #3: App store rankings across the stars

The next study looks at the relationship between rank and star ratings to determine any trends that set the top chart apps apart from the rest and explore any ties to app store ranking volatility.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

As discussed in the introduction, this study relates directly to one of the factors commonly accepted as influential to app store rankings: average rating.

Getting started, I hypothesized that higher ranks generally correspond to higher ratings, cementing the role of star ratings in the ranking algorithm.

As far as volatility goes, I did not anticipate average rating to play a role in app store ranking volatility, as I saw no reason for higher rated apps to be less volatile than lower rated apps, or vice versa. Instead, I believed volatility to be tied to rating volume (as we’ll explore in our last study).

Results

Average App Store Ratings of Top Apps

The chart above plots the top 100 ranked apps in either store with their average rating (both historic and current, for App Store apps). If it looks a little chaotic, it’s just one indicator of the complexity of ranking algorithm in Google Play and the App Store.

If our hypothesis was correct, we’d see a downward trend in ratings. We’d expect to see the No. 1 ranked app with a significantly higher rating than the No. 100 ranked app. Yet, in neither store is this the case. Instead, we get a seemingly random plot with no obvious trends that jump off the chart.

A closer examination, in tandem with what we already know about the app stores, reveals two other interesting points:

  1. The average star rating of the top 100 apps is significantly higher than that of the average app. Across the top charts, the average rating of a top 100 Android app was 4.319 and the average top iOS app was 3.935. These ratings are 0.32 and 0.27 points, respectively, above the average rating of all rated apps in either store. The averages across apps in the 401–)500 ranks approximately split the difference between the ratings of the top ranked apps and the ratings of the average app.
  2. The rating distribution of top apps in Google Play was considerably more compact than the distribution of top iOS apps. The standard deviation of ratings in the Apple App Store top chart was over 2.5 times greater than that of the Google Play top chart, likely meaning that ratings are more heavily weighted in Google Play’s algorithm.

App Store Ranking Volatility and Average Rating

Looking next at the relationship between ratings and app store ranking volatility reveals a -15% correlation that is consistent across both app stores; meaning the higher an app is rated, the less its rank it likely to move in a 24-hour period. The exception to this rule is the Apple App Store’s calculation of an app’s current rating, for which I did not find a statistically significant correlation.

Study #4: App store rankings across versions

This next study looks at the relationship between the age of an app’s current version, its rank and its ranking volatility.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

In alteration of the above function, I’m using the age of a current app’s version as a proxy (albeit not a very good one) for trends in app store ratings and app quality over time.

Making the assumptions that (a) apps that are updated more frequently are of higher quality and (b) each new update inspires a new wave of installs and ratings, I’m hypothesizing that the older the age of an app’s current version, the lower it will be ranked and the less volatile its rank will be.

Results

How update frequency correlates with app store rank

The first and possibly most important finding is that apps across the top charts in both Google Play and the App Store are updated remarkably often as compared to the average app.

At the time of conducting the study, the current version of the average iOS app on the top chart was only 28 days old; the current version of the average Android app was 38 days old.

As hypothesized, the age of the current version is negatively correlated with the app’s rank, with a 13% correlation in Google Play and a 10% correlation in the App Store.

How update frequency correlates with app store ranking volatility

The next part of the study maps the age of the current app version to its app store ranking volatility, finding that recently updated Android apps have less volatile rankings (correlation: 8.7%) while recently updated iOS apps have more volatile rankings (correlation: -3%).

Study #5: App store rankings across monthly active users

In the final study, I wanted to examine the role of an app’s popularity on its ranking. In an ideal world, popularity would be measured by an app’s monthly active users (MAUs), but since few mobile app developers have released this information, I’ve settled for two publicly available proxies: Rating Count and Installs.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

For the same reasons indicated in the second study, I anticipated that more popular apps (e.g., apps with more ratings and more installs) would be higher ranked and less volatile in rank. This, again, takes into consideration that it takes more of a shift to produce a noticeable impact in average rating or any of the other commonly accepted influencers of an app’s ranking.

Results

Apps with more ratings and reviews typically rank higher

The first finding leaps straight off of the chart above: Android apps have been rated more times than iOS apps, 15.8x more, in fact.

The average app in Google Play’s Top 100 had a whopping 3.1 million ratings while the average app in the Apple App Store’s Top 100 had 196,000 ratings. In contrast, apps in the 401–)500 ranks (still tremendously successful apps in the 99.96 percentile of all apps) tended to have between one-tenth (Android) and one-fifth (iOS) of the ratings count as that of those apps in the top 100 ranks.

Considering that almost two-thirds of apps don’t have a single rating, reaching rating counts this high is a huge feat, and a very strong indicator of the influence of rating count in the app store ranking algorithms.

To even out the playing field a bit and help us visualize any correlation between ratings and rankings (and to give more credit to the still-staggering 196k ratings for the average top ranked iOS app), I’ve applied a logarithmic scale to the chart above:

The relationship between app store ratings and rankings in the top 100 apps

From this chart, we can see a correlation between ratings and rankings, such that apps with more ratings tend to rank higher. This equates to a 29% correlation in the App Store and a 40% correlation in Google Play.

Apps with more ratings typically experience less app store ranking volatility

Next up, I looked at how ratings count influenced app store ranking volatility, finding that apps with more ratings had less volatile rankings in the Apple App Store (correlation: 17%). No conclusive evidence was found within the Top 100 Google Play apps.

Apps with more installs and active users tend to rank higher in the app stores

And last but not least, I looked at install counts as an additional proxy for MAUs. (Sadly, this is a statistic only listed in Google Play. so any resulting conclusions are applicable only to Android apps.)

Among the top 100 Android apps, this last study found that installs were heavily correlated with ranks (correlation: -35.5%), meaning that apps with more installs are likely to rank higher in Google Play. Android apps with more installs also tended to have less volatile app store rankings, with a correlation of -16.5%.

Unfortunately, these numbers are slightly skewed as Google Play only provides install counts in broad ranges (e.g., 500k–)1M). For each app, I took the low end of the range, meaning we can likely expect the correlation to be a little stronger since the low end was further away from the midpoint for apps with more installs.

Summary

To make a long post ever so slightly shorter, here are the nuts and bolts unearthed in these five mad science studies in app store optimization:

  1. Across the top charts, Apple App Store rankings are 4.45x more volatile than those of Google Play
  2. Rankings become increasingly volatile the lower an app is ranked. This is particularly true across the Apple App Store’s top charts.
  3. In both stores, higher ranked apps tend to have an app store ratings count that far exceeds that of the average app.
  4. Ratings appear to matter more to the Google Play algorithm, especially as the Apple App Store top charts experience a much wider ratings distribution than that of Google Play’s top charts.
  5. The higher an app is rated, the less volatile its rankings are.
  6. The 100 highest ranked apps in either store are updated much more frequently than the average app, and apps with older current versions are correlated with lower ratings.
  7. An app’s update frequency is negatively correlated with Google Play’s ranking volatility but positively correlated with ranking volatility in the App Store. This likely due to how Apple weighs an app’s most recent ratings and reviews.
  8. The highest ranked Google Play apps receive, on average, 15.8x more ratings than the highest ranked App Store apps.
  9. In both stores, apps that fall under the 401–500 ranks receive, on average, 10–20% of the rating volume seen by apps in the top 100.
  10. Rating volume and, by extension, installs or MAUs, is perhaps the best indicator of ranks, with a 29–40% correlation between the two.

Revisiting our first (albeit oversimplified) guess at the app stores’ ranking algorithm gives us this loosely defined function:

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

I’d now re-write the function into a formula by weighing each of these four factors, where a, b, c, & d are unknown multipliers, or weights:

Ranking = (Rating * a) + (Rating Count * b) + (Installs * c) + (Trends * d)

These five studies on ASO shed a little more light on these multipliers, showing Rating Count to have the strongest correlation with rank, followed closely by Installs, in either app store.

It’s with the other two factors—rating and trends—that the two stores show the greatest discrepancy. I’d hazard a guess to say that the App Store prioritizes growth trends over ratings, given the importance it places on an app’s current version and the wide distribution of ratings across the top charts. Google Play, on the other hand, seems to favor ratings, with an unwritten rule that apps just about have to have at least four stars to make the top 100 ranks.

Thus, we conclude our mad science with this final glimpse into what it takes to make the top charts in either store:

Weight of factors in the Apple App Store ranking algorithm

Rating Count > Installs > Trends > Rating

Weight of factors in the Google Play ranking algorithm

Rating Count > Installs > Rating > Trends


Again, we’re oversimplifying for the sake of keeping this post to a mere 3,000 words, but additional factors including keyword density and in-app engagement statistics continue to be strong indicators of ranks. They simply lie outside the scope of these studies.

I hope you found this deep-dive both helpful and interesting. Moving forward, I also hope to see ASOs conducting the same experiments that have brought SEO to the center stage, and encourage you to enhance or refute these findings with your own ASO mad science experiments.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s deconstruct the ranking formula together, one experiment at a time.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How Much Has Link Building Changed in Recent Years?

Posted by Paddy_Moogan

I get asked this question a lot. It’s mainly asked by people who are considering buying my link building book and want to know whether it’s still up to date. This is understandable given that the first edition was published in February 2013 and our industry has a deserved reputation for always changing.

I find myself giving the same answer, even though I’ve been asked it probably dozens of times in the last two years—”not that much”. I don’t think this is solely due to the book itself standing the test of time, although I’ll happily take a bit of credit for that 🙂 I think it’s more a sign of our industry as a whole not changing as much as we’d like to think.

I started to question myself and if I was right and honestly, it’s one of the reasons it has taken me over two years to release the second edition of the book.

So I posed this question to a group of friends not so long ago, some via email and some via a Facebook group. I was expecting to be called out by many of them because my position was that in reality, it hasn’t actually changed that much. The thing is, many of them agreed and the conversations ended with a pretty long thread with lots of insights. In this post, I’d like to share some of them, share what my position is and talk about what actually has changed.

My personal view

Link building hasn’t changed as much we think it has.

The core principles of link building haven’t changed. The signals around link building have changed, but mainly around new machine learning developments that have indirectly affected what we do. One thing that has definitely changed is the mindset of SEOs (and now clients) towards link building.

I think the last big change to link building came in April 2012 when Penguin rolled out. This genuinely did change our industry and put to bed a few techniques that should never have worked so well in the first place.

Since then, we’ve seen some things change, but the core principles haven’t changed if you want to build a business that will be around for years to come and not run the risk of being hit by a link related Google update. For me, these principles are quite simple:

  • You need to deserve links – either an asset you create or your product
  • You need to put this asset in front of a relevant audience who have the ability to share it
  • You need consistency – one new asset every year is unlikely to cut it
  • Anything that scales is at risk

For me, the move towards user data driving search results + machine learning has been the biggest change we’ve seen in recent years and it’s still going.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into all of this and I’ll talk about how this relates to link building.

The typical mindset for building links has changed

I think that most SEOs are coming round to the idea that you can’t get away with building low quality links any more, not if you want to build a sustainable, long-term business. Spammy link building still works in the short-term and I think it always will, but it’s much harder than it used to be to sustain websites that are built on spam. The approach is more “churn and burn” and spammers are happy to churn through lots of domains and just make a small profit on each one before moving onto another.

For everyone else, it’s all about the long-term and not putting client websites at risk.

This has led to many SEOs embracing different forms of link building and generally starting to use content as an asset when it comes to attracting links. A big part of me feels that it was actually Penguin in 2012 that drove the rise of content marketing amongst SEOs, but that’s a post for another day…! For today though, this goes some way towards explain the trend we see below.

Slowly but surely, I’m seeing clients come to my company already knowing that low quality link building isn’t what they want. It’s taken a few years after Penguin for it to filter down to client / business owner level, but it’s definitely happening. This is a good thing but unfortunately, the main reason for this is that most of them have been burnt in the past by SEO companies who have built low quality links without giving thought to building good quality ones too.

I have no doubt that it’s this change in mindset which has led to trends like this:

The thing is, I don’t think this was by choice.

Let’s be honest. A lot of us used the kind of link building tactics that Google no longer like because they worked. I don’t think many SEOs were under the illusion that it was genuinely high quality stuff, but it worked and it was far less risky to do than it is today. Unless you were super-spammy, the low-quality links just worked.

Fast forward to a post-Penguin world, things are far more risky. For me, it’s because of this that we see the trends like the above. As an industry, we had the easiest link building methods taken away from us and we’re left with fewer options. One of the main options is content marketing which, if you do it right, can lead to good quality links and importantly, the types of links you won’t be removing in the future. Get it wrong and you’ll lose budget and lose the trust if your boss or client in the power of content when it comes to link building.

There are still plenty of other methods to build links and sometimes we can forget this. Just look at this epic list from Jon Cooper. Even with this many tactics still available to us, it’s hard work. Way harder than it used to be.

My summary here is that as an industry, our mindset has shifted but it certainly wasn’t a voluntary shift. If the tactics that Penguin targeted still worked today, we’d still be using them.

A few other opinions…

I definitely think too many people want the next easy win. As someone surfing the edge of what Google is bringing our way, here’s my general take—SEO, in broad strokes, is changing a lot, *but* any given change is more and more niche and impacts fewer people. What we’re seeing isn’t radical, sweeping changes that impact everyone, but a sort of modularization of SEO, where we each have to be aware of what impacts our given industries, verticals, etc.”

Dr. Pete

 

I don’t feel that techniques for acquiring links have changed that much. You can either earn them through content and outreach or you can just buy them. What has changed is the awareness of “link building” outside of the SEO community. This makes link building / content marketing much harder when pitching to journalists and even more difficult when pitching to bloggers.

“Link building has to be more integrated with other channels and struggles to work in its own environment unless supported by brand, PR and social. Having other channels supporting your link development efforts also creates greater search signals and more opportunity to reach a bigger audience which will drive a greater ROI.

Carl Hendy

 

SEO has grown up in terms of more mature staff and SEOs becoming more ingrained into businesses so there is a smarter (less pressure) approach. At the same time, SEO has become more integrated into marketing and has made marketing teams and decision makers more intelligent in strategies and not pushing for the quick win. I’m also seeing that companies who used to rely on SEO and building links have gone through IPOs and the need to build 1000s of links per quarter has rightly reduced.

Danny Denhard

Signals that surround link building have changed

There is no question about this one in my mind. I actually wrote about this last year in my previous blog post where I talked about signals such as anchor text and deep links changing over time.

Many of the people I asked felt the same, here are some quotes from them, split out by the types of signal.

Domain level link metrics

I think domain level links have become increasingly important compared with page level factors, i.e. you can get a whole site ranking well off the back of one insanely strong page, even with sub-optimal PageRank flow from that page to the rest of the site.

Phil Nottingham

I’d agree with Phil here and this is what I was getting at in my previous post on how I feel “deep links” will matter less over time. It’s not just about domain level links here, it’s just as much about the additional signals available for Google to use (more on that later).

Anchor text

I’ve never liked anchor text as a link signal. I mean, who actually uses exact match commercial keywords as anchor text on the web?

SEOs. 🙂

Sure there will be natural links like this, but honestly, I struggle with the idea that it took Google so long to start turning down the dial on commercial anchor text as a ranking signal. They are starting to turn it down though, slowly but surely. Don’t get me wrong, it still matters and it still works. But like pure link spam, the barrier is a lot more lower now in terms what of constitutes too much.

Rand feels that they matter more than we’d expect and I’d mostly agree with this statement:

Exact match anchor text links still have more power than you’d expect—I think Google still hasn’t perfectly sorted what is “brand” or “branded query” from generics (i.e. they want to start ranking a new startup like meldhome.com for “Meld” if the site/brand gets popular, but they can’t quite tell the difference between that and https://moz.com/learn/seo/redirection getting a few manipulative links that say “redirect”)

Rand Fishkin

What I do struggle with though, is that Google still haven’t figured this out and that short-term, commercial anchor text spam is still so effective. Even for a short burst of time.

I don’t think link building as a concept has changed loads—but I think links as a signal have, mainly because of filters and penalties but I don’t see anywhere near the same level of impact from coverage anymore, even against 18 months ago.

Paul Rogers

New signals have been introduced

It isn’t just about established signals changing though, there are new signals too and I personally feel that this is where we’ve seen the most change in Google algorithms in recent years—going all the way back to Panda in 2011.

With Panda, we saw a new level of machine learning where it almost felt like Google had found a way of incorporating human reaction / feelings into their algorithms. They could then run this against a website and answer questions like the ones included in this post. Things such as:

  • “Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?”
  • “Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?”
  • “Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?”

It is a touch scary that Google was able to run machine learning against answers to questions like this and write an algorithm to predict the answers for any given page on the web. They have though and this was four years ago now.

Since then, they’ve made various moves to utilize machine learning and AI to build out new products and improve their search results. For me, this was one of the biggest and went pretty unnoticed by our industry. Well, until Hummingbird came along I feel pretty sure that we have Ray Kurzweil to thank for at least some of that.

There seems to be more weight on theme/topic related to sites, though it’s hard to tell if this is mostly link based or more user/usage data based. Google is doing a good job of ranking sites and pages that don’t earn the most links but do provide the most relevant/best answer. I have a feeling they use some combination of signals to say “people who perform searches like this seem to eventually wind up on this website—let’s rank it.” One of my favorite examples is the Audubon Society ranking for all sorts of birding-related searches with very poor keyword targeting, not great links, etc. I think user behavior patterns are stronger in the algo than they’ve ever been.

– Rand Fishkin

Leading on from what Rand has said, it’s becoming more and more common to see search results that just don’t make sense if you look at the link metrics—but are a good result.

For me, the move towards user data driving search results + machine learning advanced has been the biggest change we’ve seen in recent years and it’s still going.

Edit: since drafting this post, Tom Anthony released this excellent blog post on his views on the future of search and the shift to data-driven results. I’d recommend reading that as it approaches this whole area from a different perspective and I feel that an off-shoot of what Tom is talking about is the impact on link building.

You may be asking at this point, what does machine learning have to do with link building?

Everything. Because as strong as links are as a ranking signal, Google want more signals and user signals are far, far harder to manipulate than established link signals. Yes it can be done—I’ve seen it happen. There have even been a few public tests done. But it’s very hard to scale and I’d venture a guess that only the top 1% of spammers are capable of doing it, let alone maintaining it for a long period of time. When I think about the process for manipulation here, I actually think we go a step beyond spammers towards hackers and more cut and dry illegal activity.

For link building, this means that traditional methods of manipulating signals are going to become less and less effective as these user signals become stronger. For us as link builders, it means we can’t keep searching for that silver bullet or the next method of scaling link building just for an easy win. The fact is that scalable link building is always going to be at risk from penalization from Google—I don’t really want to live a life where I’m always worried about my clients being hit by the next update. Even if Google doesn’t catch up with a certain method, machine learning and user data mean that these methods may naturally become less effective and cost efficient over time.

There are of course other things such as social signals that have come into play. I certainly don’t feel like these are a strong ranking factor yet, but with deals like this one between Google and Twitter being signed, I wouldn’t be surprised if that ever-growing dataset is used at some point in organic results. The one advantage that Twitter has over Google is it’s breaking news freshness. Twitter is still way quicker at breaking news than Google is—140 characters in a tweet is far quicker than Google News! Google know this which is why I feel they’ve pulled this partnership back into existence after a couple of years apart.

There is another important point to remember here and it’s nicely summarised by Dr. Pete:

At the same time, as new signals are introduced, these are layers not replacements. People hear social signals or user signals or authorship and want it to be the link-killer, because they already fucked up link-building, but these are just layers on top of on-page and links and all of the other layers. As each layer is added, it can verify the layers that came before it and what you need isn’t the magic signal but a combination of signals that generally matches what Google expects to see from real, strong entities. So, links still matter, but they matter in concert with other things, which basically means it’s getting more complicated and, frankly, a bit harder. Of course, on one wants to hear that.”

– Dr. Pete

The core principles have not changed

This is the crux of everything for me. With all the changes listed above, the key is that the core principles around link building haven’t changed. I could even argue that Penguin didn’t change the core principles because the techniques that Penguin targeted should never have worked in the first place. I won’t argue this too much though because even Google advised website owners to build directory links at one time.

You need an asset

You need to give someone a reason to link to you. Many won’t do it out of the goodness of their heart! One of the most effective ways to do this is to develop a content asset and use this as your reason to make people care. Once you’ve made someone care, they’re more likely to share the content or link to it from somewhere.

You need to promote that asset to the right audience

I really dislike the stance that some marketers take when it comes to content promotion—build great content and links will come.

No. Sorry but for the vast majority of us, that’s simply not true. The exceptions are people that sky dive from space or have huge existing audiences to leverage.

You simply have to spend time promoting your content or your asset for it to get shares and links. It is hard work and sometimes you can spend a long time on it and get little return, but it’s important to keep working at until you’re at a point where you have two things:

  • A big enough audience where you can almost guarantee at least some traffic to your new content along with some shares
  • Enough strong relationships with relevant websites who you can speak to when new content is published and stand a good chance of them linking to it

Getting to this point is hard—but that’s kind of the point. There are various hacks you can use along the way but it will take time to get right.

You need consistency

Leading on from the previous point. It takes time and hard work to get links to your content—the types of links that stand the test of time and you’re not going to be removing in 12 months time anyway! This means that you need to keep pushing content out and getting better each and every time. This isn’t to say you should just churn content out for the sake of it, far from it. I am saying that with each piece of content you create, you will learn to do at least one thing better the next time. Try to give yourself the leverage to do this.

Anything scalable is at risk

Scalable link building is exactly what Google has been trying to crack down on for the last few years. Penguin was the biggest move and hit some of the most scalable tactics we had at our disposal. When you scale something, you often lose some level of quality, which is exactly what Google doesn’t want when it comes to links. If you’re still relying on tactics that could fall into the scalable category, I think you need to be very careful and just look at the trend in the types of links Google has been penalizing to understand why.

The part Google plays in this

To finish up, I want to briefly talk about the part that Google plays in all of this and shaping the future they want for the web.

I’ve always tried to steer clear of arguments involving the idea that Google is actively pushing FUD into the community. I’ve preferred to concentrate more on things I can actually influence and change with my clients rather than what Google is telling us all to do.

However, for the purposes of this post, I want to talk about it.

General paranoia has increased. My bet is there are some companies out there carrying out zero specific linkbuilding activity through worry.

Dan Barker

Dan’s point is a very fair one and just a day or two after reading this in an email, I came across a page related to a client’s target audience that said:

“We are not publishing guest posts on SITE NAME any more. All previous guest posts are now deleted. For more information, see www.mattcutts.com/blog/guest-blogging/“.

I’ve reworded this as to not reveal the name of the site, but you get the point.

This is silly. Honestly, so silly. They are a good site, publish good content, and had good editorial standards. Yet they have ignored all of their own policies, hard work, and objectives to follow a blog post from Matt. I’m 100% confident that it wasn’t sites like this one that Matt was talking about in this blog post.

This is, of course, from the publishers’ angle rather than the link builders’ angle, but it does go to show the effect that statements from Google can have. Google know this so it does make sense for them to push out messages that make their jobs easier and suit their own objectives—why wouldn’t they? In a similar way, what did they do when they were struggling to classify at scale which links are bad vs. good and they didn’t have a big enough web spam team? They got us to do it for them 🙂

I’m mostly joking here, but you see the point.

The most recent infamous mobilegeddon update, discussed here by Dr. Pete is another example of Google pushing out messages that ultimately scared a lot of people into action. Although to be fair, I think that despite the apparent small impact so far, the broad message from Google is a very serious one.

Because of this, I think we need to remember that Google does have their own agenda and many shareholders to keep happy. I’m not in the camp of believing everything that Google puts out is FUD, but I’m much more sensitive and questioning of the messages now than I’ve ever been.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts in the comments.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How to Create Boring-Industry Content that Gets Shared

Posted by ronell-smith

If you think creating content for boring industries is tough, try creating content for an expensive product that’ll be sold in a so-called boring industry. Such was the problem faced by Mike Jackson, head of sales for a large Denver-based company that was debuting a line of new high-end products for the fishing industry in 2009.

After years of pestering the executives of his traditional, non-flashy company to create a line of products that could be sold to anglers looking to buy premium items, he finally had his wish: a product so expensive only a small percentage of anglers could afford them.

(image source)

What looked like being boxed into a corner was actually part of the plan.

When asked how he could ever put his neck on the line for a product he’d find tough to sell and even tougher to market, he revealed his brilliant plan.

“I don’t need to sell one million of [these products] a year,” he said. “All I need to do is sell a few hundred thousand, which won’t be hard. And as far as marketing, that’s easy: I’m ignoring the folks who’ll buy the items. I’m targeting professional anglers, the folks the buyers are influenced by. If the pros, the influencers, talk about and use the products, people will buy them.”

Such was my first introduction to how it’s often wise to ignore who’ll buy the product in favor of marketing to those who’ll help you market and sell the product.

These influencers are a sweet spot in product marketing and they are largely ignored by many brands

Looking at content for boring industries all wrong

A few months back, I received a message in Google Plus that really piqued my interest: “What’s the best way to create content for my boring business? Just kidding. No one will read it, nor share information from a painter anyway.”

I went from being dismayed to disheartened. Dismayed because the business owner hadn’t yet found a way to connect with his prospects through meaningful content. Disheartened because he seemed to have given up trying.

You can successfully create content for boring industries. Doing so requires nothing out of the ordinary from what you’d normally do to create content for any industry. That’s the good news.

The bad news: Creating successful content for boring industries requires you think beyond content and SEO, focusing heavily on content strategy and outreach.

Successfully creating content for boring industries—or any industry, for that matter—comes down to who’ll share it and who’ll link to it, not who’ll read it, a point nicely summed up in this tweet:

So when businesses struggle with creating content for their respective industries, the culprits are typically easy to find:

  • They lack clarity on who they are creating content for (e.g., content strategy, personas)
  • There are no specific goals (e.g., traffic, links, conversions, etc.) assigned regarding the content, so measuring its effectiveness is impossible
  • They’re stuck in neutral thinking viral content is the only option, while ignoring the value of content amplification (e.g., PR/outreach)

Alone, these three elements are bad; taken together, though, they spell doom for your brand.

content does not equal amplification

If you lack clarity on who you’re creating content for, the best you can hope for is that sometimes you’ll create and share information members of your audience find useful, but you likely won’t be able to reach or engage them with the needed frequency to make content marketing successful.

Goals, or lack thereof, are the real bugaboo of content creation. The problem is even worse for boring industries, where the pressure is on to deliver a content vehicle that meets the threshold of interest to simply gain attention, much less, earn engagement.

For all the hype about viral content, it’s dismaying that so few marketers aren’t being honest on the topic: it’s typically hard to create, impossible to predict and typically has very, very little connection to conversions for most businesses.

What I’ve found is that businesses, regardless of category, struggle to create worthwhile content, leading me to believe there is no boring industry content, only content that’s boring.

“Whenever we label content as ‘boring,’ we’re really admitting we have no idea how to approach marketing something,” says Builtvisible’s Richard Baxter.

Now that we know what the impediments are to producing content for any industry, including boring industries, it’s time to tackle the solution.

Develop a link earning mindset

There are lots of article on the web regarding how to create content for boring industries, some of which have appeared on this very blog.

But, to my mind, the one issue they all suffer from is they all focus on what content should be created, not (a) what content is worthy of promotion, (b) how to identify those who could help with promotion, and (c) how to earn links from boring industry content. (Remember, much of the content that’s read is never shared; much of what’s shared is never read in its entirety; and some of the most linked-to content is neither heavily shared nor heavily read.)

This is why content creators in boring industries should scrap their notions of having the most-read and most-shared content, shifting their focus to creating content that can earn links in addition to generating traffic and social signals to the site.

After all, links and conversions are the main priorities for most businesses sharing content online, including so-called local businesses.

ranking factors survey results

(Image courtesy of the 2014 Moz Local Search Ranking Factors Survey)

If you’re ready to create link-earning, traffic-generating content for your boring-industry business follow the tips from the fictitious example of RZ’s Auto Repair, a Dallas, Texas, automobile shop.

With the Dallas-Forth Worth market being large and competitive, RZ’s has narrowed their speciality to storm repair, mainly hail damage, which is huge in the area. Even with the narrowed focus, however, they still have stiff competition from the major players in the vertical, including MAACO.

What the brand does have in its favor, however, is a solid website and a strong freelance copywriter to help produce content.

Remember, those three problems we mentioned above—lack of goals, lack of clarity and lack of focus on amplification—we’ll now put them to good use to drive our main objectives of traffic, links and conversions.

Setting the right goals

For RZ, this is easy: He needs sales, business (e.g., qualified leads and conversions), but he knows he must be patient since using paid media is not in the cards.

Therefore, he sits down with his partner, and they come up with what seems like the top five workable, important goals:

  1. Increased traffic on the website – He’s noticed that when traffic increases, so does his business.
  2. More phone calls – If they get a customer on the phone, the chances of closing the sale are around 75%.
  3. One blog per week on the site – The more often he blogs, the more web traffic, visits and phone calls increase.
  4. Links from some of the businesses in the area – He’s no dummy. He knows the importance of links, which are that much better when they come from a large company that could send him business.
  5. Develop relationships with small and midsize non-competing businesses in the area for cross promotions, events and the like.

Know the audience

marketing group discussing personas

(image source)

Too many businesses create cute blogs that might generate traffic but do nothing for sales. RZ isn’t falling for this trap. He’s all about identifying the audience who’s likely to do business with him.

Luckily, his secretary is a meticulous record keeper, allowing him to build a reasonable profile of his target persona based on past clients.

  • 21-35 years old
  • Drives a truck that’s less than fours years old
  • Has an income of $45,000-$59,000
  • Employed by a corporation with greater than 500 employees
  • Active on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter
  • Consumes most of their information online
  • Typically referred by a friend or a co-worker

This information will prove invaluable as he goes about creating content. Most important, these nuggets create a clearer picture of how he should go about looking for people and/or businesses to amplify his content.

PR and outreach: Your amplification engines

Armed with his goals and the knowledge of his audience, RZ can now focus on outreach for amplification, thinking along the lines of…

  • Who/what influences his core audience?
  • What could he offer them by way of content to earn their help?
  • What content would they find valuable enough to share and link to?
  • What challenges do they face that he could help them with?
  • How could his brand set itself apart from any other business looking for help from these potential outreach partners?

Putting it all together

Being the savvy businessperson he is, RZ pulls his small staff together and they put their thinking caps on.

Late spring through early fall is prime hail storm season in Dallas. The season accounts for 80 percent of his yearly business. (The other 20% is fender benders.) Also, they realize, many of the storms happen in the late afternoon/early evening, when people are on their way home from work and are stuck in traffic, or when they duck into the grocery store or hit the gym after work.

What’s more, says one of the staffers, often a huge group of clients will come at once, owing to having been parked in the same lot when a storm hits.

Eureka!

lightbulb

(image source)

That’s when RZ bolts out of his chair with the idea that could put his business on the map: Let’s create content for businesses getting a high volume of after-work traffic—sit-down restaurants, gyms, grocery stores, etc.

The businesses would be offering something of value to their customers, who’ll learn about precautions to take in the event of a hail storm, and RZ would have willing amplifiers for his content.

Content is only as boring as your outlook

First—and this is a fatal mistake too many content creators make—RZ visits the handful of local businesses he’d like to partner with. The key here, however, is he smartly makes them aware that he’s done his homework and is eager to help their patrons while making them aware of his service.

This is an integral part of outreach: there must be a clear benefit to the would-be benefactor.

After RZ learns that several of the businesses are amenable to sharing his business’s helpful information, he takes the next step and asks what form the content should take. For now, all he can get them to promote is a glossy one-sheeter, “How To Protect Your Vehicle Against Extensive Hail Damage,” that the biggest gym in the area will promote via a small display at the check-in in return for a 10% coupon for customers.

Three of the five others he talked to also agreed to promote the one-sheeter, though each said they’d be willing to promote other content investments provided they added value for their customers.

The untold truth about creating content for boring industries

When business owners reach out to me about putting together a content strategy for their boring brand, I make two things clear from the start:

  1. There are no boring brands. Those two words are a cop out. No matter what industry you serve, there are hoards of people who use the products or services who are quite smitten.
  2. What they see as boring, I see as an opportunity.

In almost every case, they want to discuss some of another big content piece that’s sure to draw eyes, engagement, and that maybe even leads to a few links. Sure, I say, if you have tons of money to spend.

big content example

(Amazing piece of interactive content created by BuiltVisible)

Assuming you don’t have money to burn, and you want a plan you can replicate easily over time, try what I call the 1-2-1 approach for monthly blog content:

1: A strong piece of local content (goal: organic reach, topical relevance, local SEO)

2: Two pieces of evergreen content (goal: traffic)

1: A link-worthy asset (goal: links)

This plan is not very hard at all to pull off, provided you have your ear to the street in the local market; have done your keyword research, identifying several long-tail keywords you have the ability to rank for; and you’re willing to continue with outreach.

What it does is allow the brand to create content with enough frequency to attain significance with the search engines, while also developing the habit of sharing, promoting and amplifying content as well. For example, all of the posts would be shared on Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook. (Don’t sleep on paid promotion via Facebook.)

Also, for the link-worthy asset, there would be outreach in advance of its creation, then amplification, and continued promotion from the company and those who’ve agreed to support the content.

Create a winning trifecta: Outreach, promotion and amplification

To RZ’s credit, he didn’t dawdle, getting right to work creating worthwhile content via the 1-2-1 method:

1: “The Worst Places in Dallas to be When a Hail Storm Hits”
2: “Can Hail Damage Cause Structural Damage to Your Car?” and “Should You Buy a Car Damaged by Hail?”
1: “Big as Hail!” contest

This contest idea came from the owner of a large local gym. RZ’s will give $500 to the local homeowner who sends in the largest piece of hail, as judged by Facebook fans, during the season. In return, the gym will promote the contest at its multiple locations, link to the content promotion page on RZ’s website, and share images of its fans holding large pieces of hail via social media.

What does the gym get in return: A catchy slogan (e.g., it’s similar to “big as hell,” popular gym parlance) to market around during the hail season.

It’s a win-win for everyone involved, especially RZ.

He gets a link, but most important he realizes how to create content to nail each one of his goals. You can do the same. All it takes is a change in mindset. Away from content creation. Toward outreach, promote and amplify.

Summary

While the story of RZ’s entirely fictional, it is based on techniques I’ve used with other small and midsize businesses. The keys, I’ve found, are to get away from thinking about your industry/brand as being boring, even if it is, and marshal the resources to find the audience who’ll benefit from from your content and, most important, identify the influencers who’ll promote and amplify it.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it