Get more from your landing pages

Landing pages are your job

You’ve built a winning campaign, with compelling content and a stellar call to action. The reports show a healthy click-through rate, so you can tick that one off, right? No way, José. As email marketers, we’re a dab hand at perfecting the design, targeting and optimization of our messages; but our job goes beyond the remit of the email to include landing pages.

Lying just outside the bounds of your email campaign, landing pages facilitate crucial conversions, including online sales, mailing list sign-ups, and data input. All of these actions are under your influence and should not be overlooked; it’s time to think beyond the initial call to action.

Today’s consumer is looking for a perfect brand interaction

Lead generation marketing is no elaborate rouse. Your modern-day consumer, a tech wizard in their own right, is perfectly aware that their data is a hot commodity. They are willing and able to leverage their details to achieve the best of the best in customer experience, and they’ve already terminated relationships with brands whose interactions haven’t hit the mark.

This new attitude to data sharing doesn’t have to hurt your business; it’s all about understanding customer expectation. We know that a strong email marketing campaign with intelligent personalization, compelling content, and an attractive CTA encourages consumers to click through to convert.

However, if those clicking through are transported to a generic, impersonal homepage, it’s highly likely that all of the magic created from the email will be lost. Your CTA will become diluted by nonspecific website content, and the chances of your customers completing the action you desire get slashed.

In order to keep the magic alive, a strong sense of cohesion must be created between the campaign and the click-through destination. This is where the landing page comes in.

Provide consistent conversion opportunities

Landing pages offer engagement opportunities that arise seamlessly from an initial brand interaction. A landing page can take many forms, and provide a variety of essential services for your business. Ultimately, it’s the best web tool you have to drive your targeted audience to take an action, whether it’s making a purchase, requesting a demo or sales call, or downloading a piece of content.

Use cases for landing pages

Lead generation

Landing pages are the pillar of lead generation. Capture leads from email, social media, and search traffic at an increased rate by sending relevant customers to a targeted landing page. Once you’ve generated these leads, you can then segment, nurture, or pass them on to your sales team.

Support for your side of the bargain

Your offers are designed to increase engagement and drive sales. By implementing a landing page that trades customer contact information for access to the offer, you’ll bag more buck for your benevolence.

Achieve better customer insight

Whatever stage they’re at in the lifecycle, you can use landing pages to obtain more information about your audience. This can help you better profile contacts, leading to better quality customer communication.

Get the measure of engagement

Landing pages facilitate an understanding of which customers are the most engaged with your brand by tracking the interactions of existing leads. This also means you can collect more information on customers’ preferences and online behavior, which is handy for sales.

Get the measure of your success

Each landing page serves as a data asset for your marketing campaign. Track the reports from these pages to get insight into your marketing performance and strengthen your strategy.

There are a variety of ways in which you can incorporate landing pages into your marketing strategy to give them the edge they needs. The next step is to create an effective page that’s fully optimized for a seamless customer interaction.

What does it takes to make your landing pages a success?

The landing page program:

For 10 steps on how to build a high-converting landing page, download our cheatsheet here.

The post Get more from your landing pages appeared first on The Marketing Automation Blog.

Reblogged 2 months ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Google updates quality raters guidelines with details around non-English language web pages

Google made some small tweaks to their quality raters guidelines on July 27, 2017. The previous update, on March 14, 2017, was much larger.

The post Google updates quality raters guidelines with details around non-English language web pages appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 1 year ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Landing pages: why it pays to think beyond the CTA button

You might be thinking that landing pages aren’t your job; after all, your main concern is probably how many people are opening the campaign and clicking. Opens and clicks only take you so far, though: they don’t tell you how much revenue your email campaign generated or how effective your email message was for meeting company goals. And those are the things that help you to reveal the true worth of email marketing within your business which, incidentally, is proving to be a lot. The latest DMA Marketer Tracker report has revealed that the average ROI for email is £30.01 for every £1 spent; not to be sniffed at!

How do you ensure that your email campaigns perform well once the recipient has clicked the CTA button? The answer is to serve them a super-relevant landing page, otherwise they’re likely to bounce. Don’t get us wrong: there are times when it’s okay to direct people to product pages, for instance, if you’ve made it obvious that that’s where you’re sending the user. But on most occasions it’s wise to think carefully about the onward journey.

If you’re wondering when you might adopt a dedicated landing page for your campaign, we’ve compiled a list of four common use cases. If time’s a worry, you should also check out the dotmailer landing pages add-on, which offers the seamless functionality of our drag-and-drop EasyEditor. (P.S. you can also download a free copy of our latest ‘Get more from your landing pages’ guide).

Collecting additional data

You might have someone’s name and email address but what else do you know about them? Landing pages are the ideal place to embed a form to gather more data on your contacts; for example, you might encourage them to provide their preferences for ongoing email content or register their interest for a soon-to-be-launched event or product.

Targeted offers and offerings

If you’re sending out a specific offer or set of offers, a dedicated page with more information than was previously available in the email can aid conversions. What’s more, ‘exclusive’ landing pages can be safely hidden from the search engines, without damaging rankings of permanent pages, so only those with the link can view it.

Tracking individuals’ interest and intents

Landing pages facilitate an understanding of which customers are the most engaged with your brand by tracking the re-engagements of existing leads. This also means you can collect more information on customers’ preferences and online behavior, which is handy for sales.

Measuring success of marketing campaigns

Each landing page serves as a data asset for your marketing campaign, enabling you to get insight into its performance. A landing page created for a specific marketing campaign will allow you to understand the strength of your proposition – for example, the email might’ve done a great job of luring them in but the detailed landing page could be a total turn-off. On the other hand, the landing page could seal the deal and you’ll want to replicate those successes in future campaigns.

Why not get your hands on our free landing pages guide for the latest landing page advice – including 10 tips for optimization:

 

 

The post Landing pages: why it pays to think beyond the CTA button appeared first on The Email Marketing Blog.

Reblogged 1 year ago from blog.dotmailer.com

The Complete Guide to Creating On-Site Reviews+Testimonials Pages

Posted by MiriamEllis

“Show your site’s credibility by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials. An author biography or testimonials from real customers can help boost your site’s trustworthiness and reputation.”Google Search Console Course

2017 may well be the year of testimonials and reviews in local SEO. As our industry continues to grow, we have studied surveys indicating that some 92% of consumers now read online reviews and that 68% of these cite positive reviews as a significant trust factor. We’ve gone through a meaningful overhaul of Google’s schema review/testimonial guidelines while finding that major players like Yelp will publicly shame guideline-breakers. We’ve seen a major publication post a controversial piece suggesting that website testimonials pages are useless, drawing thoughtful industry rebuttals illustrating why well-crafted testimonials pages are, in fact, vitally useful in a variety of ways.

Reviews can impact your local pack rankings, testimonials can win you in-SERP stars, and if that isn’t convincing enough, the above quote states unequivocally that both reviews and testimonials on your website can boost Google’s perception of a local business’ trustworthiness and reputation. That sounds awfully good! Yet, seldom a day goes by that I don’t encounter websites that are neither encouraging reviews nor showcasing testimonials.

If you are marketing local enterprises that play to win, chances are you’ve been studying third-party review management for some years now. Not much has been written about on-site consumer feedback, though. What belongs on a company’s own testimonials/reviews page? How should you structure one? What are the benefits you might expect from the effort? Today, we’re going to get serious about the central role of consumer sentiment and learn to maximize its potential to influence and convert customers.

Up next to help you in the work ahead: technical specifics, expert tips, and a consumer feedback page mockup.

Definitions and differentiations

Traditional reviews: Direct from customers on third-party sites

In the local SEO industry, when you hear someone talking about “reviews,” they typically mean sentiment left directly by customers on third-party platforms, like this review on TripAdvisor:

rt1.jpg

Traditional testimonials: Moderated by owners on company site

By contrast, testimonials have traditionally meant user sentiment gathered by a business and posted on the company website on behalf of customers, like this snippet from a bed-and-breakfast site:

rt2.jpg

Review content has historically been outside of owners’ control, while testimonial content has been subject to the editorial control of the business owner. Reviews have historically featured ratings, user profiles, images, owner responses, and other features while testimonials might just be a snippet of text with little verifiable information identifying the author. Reviews have typically been cited as more trustworthy because they are supposedly unmoderated, while testimonials have sometimes been criticized as creating a positive-only picture of the business managing them.

Hybrid sentiment: Review+testimonial functionality on company site

Things are changing! More sophisticated local businesses are now employing technologies that blur the lines between reviews and testimonials. Website-based applications can enable users to leave reviews directly on-site, they can contain star ratings, avatars, and even owner responses, like this:

In other words, you have many options when it comes to managing user sentiment, but to make sure the effort you put in yields maximum benefits, you’ve got to:

  1. Know the guidelines and technology
  2. Have a clear goal and a clear plan for achieving it
  3. Commit to making a sustained effort

There is a ton of great content out there about managing your reviews on third-party platforms like Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc., but today we’re focusing specifically on your on-site reviews/testimonials page. What belongs on that page? How should you populate and organize its content? What benefits might you expect from the investment? To answer those questions, let’s create a goal-drive plan, with help from some world-class Local SEOs.

Guidelines & technology

There are two types of guidelines you need to know in the consumer sentiment space:

1) Platform policies

Because your website’s consumer feedback page may feature a combination of unique reviews and testimonials you directly source, widgets featuring third-party review streams, and links or badges either showcasing third-party reviews or asking for them, you need to know the policies of each platform you plan to feature.

Why does this matter? Since different platforms have policies that range from lax to strict, you want to be sure you’re making the most of each one’s permissions without raising any red flags. Google, for example, has historically been fine with companies asking consumers for reviews, while Yelp’s policy is more stringent and complex.

Here are some quick links to the policies of a few of the major review platforms, to which you’ll want to add your own research for sites that are specific to your industry and/or geography:

2) Google’s review schema guidelines

Google has been a dominant player in local for so long that their policies often tend to set general industry standards. In addition to the Google review policy I’ve linked to above, Google has a completely separate set of review schema guidelines, which recently underwent a significant update. The update included clarifications about critic reviews and review snippets, but most germane to today’s topic, Google offered the following guidelines surrounding testimonial/review content you may wish to publish and mark up with schema on your website:

Google may display information from aggregate ratings markup in the Google Knowledge Cards. The following guidelines apply to review snippets in knowledge cards for local businesses:

– Ratings must be sourced directly from users.
– Don’t rely on human editors to create, curate or compile ratings information for local businesses. These types of reviews are critic reviews.
– Sites must collect ratings information directly from users and not from other sites.

In sum, if you want to mark up consumer feedback with schema on your website, it should be unique to your website — not drawn from any other source. But to enjoy the rewards of winning eye-catching in-SERP star ratings or of becoming a “reviews from the web” source in Google’s knowledge panels, you’ve got to know how to implement schema correctly. Let’s do this right and call on a schema expert to steer our course.

Get friendly with review schema technology.

rtdavid.jpg

The local SEO industry has come to know David Deering and his company TouchPoint Digital Marketing as go-to resources for the implementation of complex schema and JSON-LD markup. I’m very grateful to him for his willingness to share some of the basics with us.

Here on the Moz blog, I always strive to highlight high quality, free resources, but in this case, free may not get the job done. I asked David if he could recommend any really good free review schema plugins, and learned a lot from his answer:

Boy, that’s a tough one because I don’t use any plugins or tools to do the markup work. I find that none of them do a good job at adding markup to a page. Some come close, but the plugin files still need to be edited in order for everything to be correct and properly nested. So I tend to hard-code the templates that would control the insertion of reviews onto a page. But I can tell you that GetFiveStars does a pretty good job at marking up reviews and ratings and adding them to a site. There might be others, too, but I just don’t have any personal experience using them, unfortunately.

It sounds like, at present, best bets are going to be to go with a paid service or roll up your sleeves to dig into schema hard coding. *If anyone in our community has discovered a plugin or widget that meets the standards David has cited, please definitely share it in the comments, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at the example David kindly provided of perfect markup. He notes,

“The following example is rather simple and straightforward but it contains everything that a review markup should. (The example also assumes that the review markup is nested within the markup of the business that’s being reviewed):”

"review": {
    "@type": "Review",
    "author": {
        "@type": "Person",
        "name": "Reviewer's Name",
        "sameAs": "<a href="http://link-to-persons-profile-page.com">http://link-to-persons-profile-page.com</a>"
    }
    "datePublished": "2016-09-23",
    "reviewBody": "Reviewer's comments here...",
    "reviewRating": {
        "@type": "Rating"
        "worstRating": "1",
        "bestRating": "5",
        "ratingValue": "5"
    }
},

This is a good day to check to see if your schema is as clean and thorough as David’s, and also to consider the benefits of JSON-LD markup, which he describes this way:

“JSON-LD is simply another syntax or method that can be used to insert structured data markup onto a page. Once the markup is created, you can simply insert it into the head section of the page. So it’s easy to use in that sense. And Google has stated their preference for JSON-LD, so it’s a good idea to make the switch from microdata if a person hasn’t already.”

There are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to schema + reviews

I asked David if he could share some expert review-oriented tips and he replied,

Well, in typical fashion, Google has been fickle with their rich snippet guidelines. They didn’t allow the marking up of third-party reviews, then they did, now they don’t again. So, I think it would be a good idea for businesses to begin collecting reviews directly from their customers through their site or through email. Of course, I would not suggest neglecting the other online review sources because those are important, too. But when it comes to Google and rich snippets, don’t put all of your eggs (and hopes) in one basket.

*As a rule, the reviews should be directly about the main entity on the page. So keep reviews about the business, products, services, etc. separate — don’t combine them because that goes against Google’s rich snippet guidelines.”

And any warnings about things we should never do with schema? David says,

“Never mark up anything that is not visible on the page, including reviews, ratings and aggregate ratings. Only use review markup for the entities that Google allows it to be used for. For example, the review and rating markup should not be used for articles or on-page content. That goes against Google’s guidelines. And as of this writing, it’s also against their guidelines to mark up third-party reviews and ratings such as those found on Google+ or Yelp.

Ready to dig deeper into the engrossing world of schema markup with David Deering? I highly recommend this recent LocalU video. If the work involved makes you dizzy, hiring an expert or purchasing a paid service are likely to be worthwhile investments. Now that we’ve considered our technical options, let’s consider what we’d like to achieve.

Define your consumer feedback page goals.

rtmike.jpg

If I could pick just one consultant to get advice from concerning the potential benefits of local consumer feedback, it would be GetFiveStars’ co-founder and renowned local SEO, Mike Blumenthal.

Before we dive in with Mike, I want to offer one important clarification:

If you’re marketing a single-location business, you’ll typically be creating just one consumer feedback page on your website to represent it, but if yours is a multi-location business, you’ll want to take the advice in this article and apply it to each city landing page on your website, including unique user sentiment for each location. For more on this concept, see Joy Hawkins’ article How to Solve Duplicate Content Local SEO Issues for Multi-Location Businesses.

Now let’s set some goals for what a consumer feedback page can achieve. Mike breaks this down into two sections:

1. Customer-focused

  • Create an effective page that ranks highly for your brand so that it becomes a doorway page from Google.
  • Make sure that the page is easily accessible from your selling pages with appropriately embedded reviews and links so that it can help sell sitewide.

2. Google-focused

  • Get the page ranking well on brand and brand+review searches
  • Ideally, get designated with review stars
  • Optimally, have it show in the knowledge panel as a source for reviews from the web

This screenshot illustrates these last three points perfectly:

rt4.jpg

Time on page may make you a believer!

Getting excited about consumer feedback pages, yet? There’s more! Check out this screenshot from one of Mike’s showcase clients, the lovely Barbara Oliver Jewelry in Williamsville, NY, and pay special attention to the average time spent on http://barbaraoliverandco.com/reviews-testimonials/:

rt5.jpg

When customers are spending 3+ minutes on any page of a local business website, you can feel quite confident that they are really engaging with the business. Mike says,

“For Barbara, this is an incredibly important page. It reflects almost 9% of her overall page visits and represents almost 5% of the landing pages from the search engines. Time on the page for new visitors is 4 minutes with an average of over 3 minutes. This page had review snippets until she recently updated her site — hopefully they will return. It’s an incredibly important page for her.”

Transparency helps much more than it hurts.

The jewelry store utilizes GetFiveStars technology, and represents a perfect chance to ask Mike about a few of the finer details of what belongs on consumer feedback pages. I had noticed that GetFiveStars gives editorial control to owners over which reviews go live, and wanted to get Mike’s personal take on transparency and authenticity. He says,

“I strongly encourage business owners to show all feedback. I think transparency in reviews is critical for customer trust and we find that showing all legitimate feedback results in less than a half-point decline in star ratings on average.


That being said, I also recommend that 1) the negative feedback be held back for 7 to 10 days to allow for complaint resolution before publishing and 2) that the content meet basic terms of service and appropriateness that should be defined by each business. Obviously you don’t want your own review site to become a mosh pit, so some standards are appropriate.


I am more concerned about users than bots. I think that a clear statement of your terms of service and your standards for handling these comments should be visible to all visitors. Trust is the critical factor. Barbara Oliver doesn’t yet have that but only because she has recently updated her site. It’s something that will be added shortly.

Respond to on-page reviews just as you would on third-party platforms.

I’d also noticed something that struck me as uncommon on Barbara Oliver Jewelry’s consumer feedback page: she responds to her on-page reviews, just as she would on third-party review platforms. Mike explains:

“In the ‘old’ days of reviews, I always thought that owner responses to positive reviews were a sort of glad handing … I mean how many times can you say ‘thank you’? But as I researched the issue it became clear that a very large minority of users (40%) noted that if they took the time to leave feedback or a review, then the owner should acknowledge it. That research convinced me to push for the feature in GetFiveStars. With GetFiveStars, the owner is actually prompted to provide either a private or public response. The reviewer receives an email with the response as well. This works great for both happy and unhappy outcomes and serves double-duty as a basis for complaint management on the unhappy side.


You can see the evolution of my thinking in these two articles

What I used to think: Should A Business Respond to Every Positive Review?

What I think after asking consumers their thoughts: Should A Business Respond to Every Positive Review? Here’s The Consumer View.

Reviews on your mind, all the time

So, basically, consumers have taught Mike (and now all of us!) that reasonable goals for reviews/testimonials pages include earning stars, becoming a knowledge panel review source, and winning a great average time on page, in addition to the fact that transparency and responsiveness are rewarded. Before he zooms off to his next local SEO rescue, I wanted to ask Mike if anything new is exciting him in this area of marketing. Waving goodbye, he shouts:

Sheesh … I spend all day, every day thinking about these sorts of things. I mean my motto used to be ‘All Local, All the Time’… now it’s just ‘All Reviews, All the Time.’

I think that this content that is generated by the business owner, from known clients, has incredible import in all aspects of their marketing. It is great for social proof, great user-generated content, customer relations, and much more. We are currently ‘plotting’ new and valuable ways for businesses to use this content effectively and easily.


I’m experimenting right now with another client, Kaplan Insurance, to see exactly what it takes to get rich snippets these days.”

I know I’ll be on the lookout for a new case study from Mike on that topic!

Plan out the components of your consumer feedback page

rtphil.jpg

Phil Rozek of Local Visibility System is one of the most sophisticated, generous bloggers I know in the local SEO industry. You’ll become an instant fan of his, too, once you’ve saved yourself oodles of time using his Ultimate List of Review Widgets and Badges for Your Local Business Website. And speaking of ‘ultimate,’ here is the list Phil and I brainstormed together, each adding our recommended components, for the elements we’d want to see on a consumer feedback page:

  • Full integration into the site (navigation, internal linking, etc.); not an island page.
  • Welcoming text intro with a link to review content policy/TOS
  • Unique sentiment with schema markup (not drawn from third parties)
  • Specification of the reviewers’ names and cities
  • Owner responses
  • Paginate the reviews if page length starts getting out of hand
  • Provide an at-a-glance average star rating for easy scanning
  • Badges/widgets that take users to the best place to leave a traditional third-party review. Make sure these links open in a new browser tab!
  • Video reviews
  • Scanned hand-written testimonial images
  • Links to critic-type reviews (professional reviews at Zagat, Michelin, etc.)
  • A link to a SERP showing more of the users’ reviews, signalling authenticity rather than editorial control
  • Tasteful final call-to-action

And what might such a page look like in real life (or at least, on the Internet)? Here is my mockup for a fictitious restaurant in Denver, Colorado, followed by a key:

Click to open a bigger version in a new tab!

Key to the mockup:

  1. Page is an integral part of the top level navigation
  2. Welcoming text with nod to honesty and appreciation
  3. Link to review content policy
  4. Paginated on-page reviews
  5. Call-to-action button to leave a review
  6. Easy-to-read average star rating
  7. Schema marked-up on-page reviews
  8. Sample owner response
  9. Links and badges to third party reviews
  10. Link to SERP URL featuring all available review sources
  11. Links to professional reviews
  12. Handwritten and video testimonials
  13. Tasteful final call-to-action to leave a review

Your live consumer feedback page will be more beautifully and thoughtfully planned than my example, but hopefully the mockup has given you some ideas for a refresh or overhaul of what you’re currently publishing.

Scanning the wild for a little sentiment management inspiration

I asked Phil if he’d recently seen local businesses recently making a good effort at promoting consumer feedback. He pointed to these, with the proviso that none of them are 100% perfect but that they should offer some good inspiration. Don’t you just totally love real-world examples?

Lightning round advice for adept feedback acquisition

Before we let Phil get back to his work as “the last local SEO guy you’ll ever need,” I wanted to take a minute to ask him for some tips on encouraging meaningful customer feedback.

“Don’t ask just once. In-person plus an email follow-up (or two) is usually best. Give customers choices and always provide instructions. Ask in a personal, conversational way. Rotate the sites you ask for reviews on. Try snail-mail or the phone. Have different people in your organization ask so that you can find ‘The Champ’,” says Phil. “Encourage detail, on-site and off-site. Saying things like ‘It will only take you 60 seconds’ may be great for getting big numbers of on-site testimonials, but the testimonials will be unhelpfully short or, worse, appear forced or fake. Dashed-off feedback helps no one. By the way, this can help you even if a given customer had a bad experience; if you’re encouraging specifics, at least he/she is a little more likely to leave the kind of in-depth feedback that can help you improve.”

Sustain your effort & facilitate your story

Every time Google sharpens focus on a particular element of search, as they are clearly doing right now with consumer and professional sentiment, it’s like a gift. It’s a clanging bell, an intercom announcement, a handwritten letter letting all of us know that we should consider shifting new effort toward a particular facet of marketing and see where it gets us with Google.

In this specific case, we can draw extra inspiration for sustaining ourselves in the work ahead from the fact that Google’s interest in reviews and testimonials intersects with the desires of consumers who make transactional decisions based, in part, on what Internet sentiment indicates about a local business. In other words, the effort you put into acquiring and amplifying this form of UGC makes Google, consumers, and your company happy, all in one fell swoop.

If you took all of the sentiment customers express about a vibrant, given business and put it into a book, it would end up reading something like War and Peace. The good news about this is that you don’t have to write it — you have thousands of potential volunteer Tolstoys out there to do the job for you, because reviewing businesses has become a phenomenal modern hobby.

Your job is simply to provide a service experience (hopefully a good one) that moves customers to start typing, back that up with a variety of ongoing feedback requests, and facilitate the publication of sentiment in the clearest, most user-friendly way.

Some more good news? You don’t have to do all of this tomorrow. I recently saw a Google review profile on which a business had “earned” over 100 reviews in a week — a glaring authenticity fail, for sure. A better approach is simply to keep the sentiment conversation going at a human pace, engaging with your customers in a human way, and ensuring that your consumer feedback page is as good as you can possibly make it. This is manageable — you can do this!

Are you experimenting with any page elements or techniques that have resulted in improved user feedback? Please inspire our community by sharing your tips!

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 2 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The perfect local SEO landing page

Columnist Marcus Miller shares tips, advice and an infographic on creating highly optimized, high-converting landing pages for local SEO.

The post The perfect local SEO landing page appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 2 years ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Google Updates The Search Quality Rating Guidelines

Google has updated their search quality raters guidelines document on March 28, 2016 reducing it from 160 to 146 pages.

The post Google Updates The Search Quality Rating Guidelines appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 2 years ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

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.)

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 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it