Distance from Perfect

Posted by wrttnwrd

In spite of all the advice, the strategic discussions and the conference talks, we Internet marketers are still algorithmic thinkers. That’s obvious when you think of SEO.

Even when we talk about content, we’re algorithmic thinkers. Ask yourself: How many times has a client asked you, “How much content do we need?” How often do you still hear “How unique does this page need to be?”

That’s 100% algorithmic thinking: Produce a certain amount of content, move up a certain number of spaces.

But you and I know it’s complete bullshit.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the algorithm. You should definitely chase it. Understanding a little bit about what goes on in Google’s pointy little head helps. But it’s not enough.

A tale of SEO woe that makes you go “whoa”

I have this friend.

He ranked #10 for “flibbergibbet.” He wanted to rank #1.

He compared his site to the #1 site and realized the #1 site had five hundred blog posts.

“That site has five hundred blog posts,” he said, “I must have more.”

So he hired a few writers and cranked out five thousand blogs posts that melted Microsoft Word’s grammar check. He didn’t move up in the rankings. I’m shocked.

“That guy’s spamming,” he decided, “I’ll just report him to Google and hope for the best.”

What happened? Why didn’t adding five thousand blog posts work?

It’s pretty obvious: My, uh, friend added nothing but crap content to a site that was already outranked. Bulk is no longer a ranking tactic. Google’s very aware of that tactic. Lots of smart engineers have put time into updates like Panda to compensate.

He started like this:

And ended up like this:
more posts, no rankings

Alright, yeah, I was Mr. Flood The Site With Content, way back in 2003. Don’t judge me, whippersnappers.

Reality’s never that obvious. You’re scratching and clawing to move up two spots, you’ve got an overtasked IT team pushing back on changes, and you’ve got a boss who needs to know the implications of every recommendation.

Why fix duplication if rel=canonical can address it? Fixing duplication will take more time and cost more money. It’s easier to paste in one line of code. You and I know it’s better to fix the duplication. But it’s a hard sell.

Why deal with 302 versus 404 response codes and home page redirection? The basic user experience remains the same. Again, we just know that a server should return one home page without any redirects and that it should send a ‘not found’ 404 response if a page is missing. If it’s going to take 3 developer hours to reconfigure the server, though, how do we justify it? There’s no flashing sign reading “Your site has a problem!”

Why change this thing and not that thing?

At the same time, our boss/client sees that the site above theirs has five hundred blog posts and thousands of links from sites selling correspondence MBAs. So they want five thousand blog posts and cheap links as quickly as possible.

Cue crazy music.

SEO lacks clarity

SEO is, in some ways, for the insane. It’s an absurd collection of technical tweaks, content thinking, link building and other little tactics that may or may not work. A novice gets exposed to one piece of crappy information after another, with an occasional bit of useful stuff mixed in. They create sites that repel search engines and piss off users. They get more awful advice. The cycle repeats. Every time it does, best practices get more muddled.

SEO lacks clarity. We can’t easily weigh the value of one change or tactic over another. But we can look at our changes and tactics in context. When we examine the potential of several changes or tactics before we flip the switch, we get a closer balance between algorithm-thinking and actual strategy.

Distance from perfect brings clarity to tactics and strategy

At some point you have to turn that knowledge into practice. You have to take action based on recommendations, your knowledge of SEO, and business considerations.

That’s hard when we can’t even agree on subdomains vs. subfolders.

I know subfolders work better. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Let the flaming comments commence.

To get clarity, take a deep breath and ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will this change, tactic, or strategy move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Breaking it down:

“Change, tactic, or strategy”

A change takes an existing component or policy and makes it something else. Replatforming is a massive change. Adding a new page is a smaller one. Adding ALT attributes to your images is another example. Changing the way your shopping cart works is yet another.

A tactic is a specific, executable practice. In SEO, that might be fixing broken links, optimizing ALT attributes, optimizing title tags or producing a specific piece of content.

A strategy is a broader decision that’ll cause change or drive tactics. A long-term content policy is the easiest example. Shifting away from asynchronous content and moving to server-generated content is another example.

“Perfect”

No one knows exactly what Google considers “perfect,” and “perfect” can’t really exist, but you can bet a perfect web page/site would have all of the following:

  1. Completely visible content that’s perfectly relevant to the audience and query
  2. A flawless user experience
  3. Instant load time
  4. Zero duplicate content
  5. Every page easily indexed and classified
  6. No mistakes, broken links, redirects or anything else generally yucky
  7. Zero reported problems or suggestions in each search engines’ webmaster tools, sorry, “Search Consoles”
  8. Complete authority through immaculate, organically-generated links

These 8 categories (and any of the other bazillion that probably exist) give you a way to break down “perfect” and help you focus on what’s really going to move you forward. These different areas may involve different facets of your organization.

Your IT team can work on load time and creating an error-free front- and back-end. Link building requires the time and effort of content and outreach teams.

Tactics for relevant, visible content and current best practices in UX are going to be more involved, requiring research and real study of your audience.

What you need and what resources you have are going to impact which tactics are most realistic for you.

But there’s a basic rule: If a website would make Googlebot swoon and present zero obstacles to users, it’s close to perfect.

“All other things being equal”

Assume every competing website is optimized exactly as well as yours.

Now ask: Will this [tactic, change or strategy] move you closer to perfect?

That’s the “all other things being equal” rule. And it’s an incredibly powerful rubric for evaluating potential changes before you act. Pretend you’re in a tie with your competitors. Will this one thing be the tiebreaker? Will it put you ahead? Or will it cause you to fall behind?

“Closer to perfect than my competitors”

Perfect is great, but unattainable. What you really need is to be just a little perfect-er.

Chasing perfect can be dangerous. Perfect is the enemy of the good (I love that quote. Hated Voltaire. But I love that quote). If you wait for the opportunity/resources to reach perfection, you’ll never do anything. And the only way to reduce distance from perfect is to execute.

Instead of aiming for pure perfection, aim for more perfect than your competitors. Beat them feature-by-feature, tactic-by-tactic. Implement strategy that supports long-term superiority.

Don’t slack off. But set priorities and measure your effort. If fixing server response codes will take one hour and fixing duplication will take ten, fix the response codes first. Both move you closer to perfect. Fixing response codes may not move the needle as much, but it’s a lot easier to do. Then move on to fixing duplicates.

Do the 60% that gets you a 90% improvement. Then move on to the next thing and do it again. When you’re done, get to work on that last 40%. Repeat as necessary.

Take advantage of quick wins. That gives you more time to focus on your bigger solutions.

Sites that are “fine” are pretty far from perfect

Google has lots of tweaks, tools and workarounds to help us mitigate sub-optimal sites:

  • Rel=canonical lets us guide Google past duplicate content rather than fix it
  • HTML snapshots let us reveal content that’s delivered using asynchronous content and JavaScript frameworks
  • We can use rel=next and prev to guide search bots through outrageously long pagination tunnels
  • And we can use rel=nofollow to hide spammy links and banners

Easy, right? All of these solutions may reduce distance from perfect (the search engines don’t guarantee it). But they don’t reduce it as much as fixing the problems.
Just fine does not equal fixed

The next time you set up rel=canonical, ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will using rel=canonical to make up for duplication move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Answer: Not if they’re using rel=canonical, too. You’re both using imperfect solutions that force search engines to crawl every page of your site, duplicates included. If you want to pass them on your way to perfect, you need to fix the duplicate content.

When you use Angular.js to deliver regular content pages, ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will using HTML snapshots instead of actual, visible content move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Answer: No. Just no. Not in your wildest, code-addled dreams. If I’m Google, which site will I prefer? The one that renders for me the same way it renders for users? Or the one that has to deliver two separate versions of every page?

When you spill banner ads all over your site, ask yourself…

You get the idea. Nofollow is better than follow, but banner pollution is still pretty dang far from perfect.

Mitigating SEO issues with search engine-specific tools is “fine.” But it’s far, far from perfect. If search engines are forced to choose, they’ll favor the site that just works.

Not just SEO

By the way, distance from perfect absolutely applies to other channels.

I’m focusing on SEO, but think of other Internet marketing disciplines. I hear stuff like “How fast should my site be?” (Faster than it is right now.) Or “I’ve heard you shouldn’t have any content below the fold.” (Maybe in 2001.) Or “I need background video on my home page!” (Why? Do you have a reason?) Or, my favorite: “What’s a good bounce rate?” (Zero is pretty awesome.)

And Internet marketing venues are working to measure distance from perfect. Pay-per-click marketing has the quality score: A codified financial reward applied for seeking distance from perfect in as many elements as possible of your advertising program.

Social media venues are aggressively building their own forms of graphing, scoring and ranking systems designed to separate the good from the bad.

Really, all marketing includes some measure of distance from perfect. But no channel is more influenced by it than SEO. Instead of arguing one rule at a time, ask yourself and your boss or client: Will this move us closer to perfect?

Hell, you might even please a customer or two.

One last note for all of the SEOs in the crowd. Before you start pointing out edge cases, consider this: We spend our days combing Google for embarrassing rankings issues. Every now and then, we find one, point, and start yelling “SEE! SEE!!!! THE GOOGLES MADE MISTAKES!!!!” Google’s got lots of issues. Screwing up the rankings isn’t one of them.

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

Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The Best of the Best: Celebrating the Top 10 of the Moz Top 10 for 2014

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Oh no, another year-end roundup! But before you click away, let me sell you a little on why this is the roundup you actually want to read.

You see, to compile the
Moz Top 10 over the last year, we probably read 50 or more articles EACH WEEK, that’s around 100 articles for every issue. We then spent innumerable hours curating and culling until we could share with you the very best of those articles in the bi-weekly Top 10.

So this is not just another listicle. This article is in fact the distillation of the very best content from all over the interwebs for the past year that has anything to do with digital marketing. Basically,
we read 2,600 (or so) articles so you don’t have to.

What does “best” mean?

There’s no formula for what makes an article Top-10 worthy. We look for the best content of each two week period and then try and winnow and fit it until each newsletter contains just the right balance of digital marketing tips, tricks, analysis, and inspiration.

We work to reach beyond SEO and find articles that will help people who specialize in content, social, design, UX, and more broaden their skill set and understand the work their marketing compatriots engage in. The mix and style changes as the author of this newsletter changes. I’m biased toward content marketing, Cyrus loves SEO. Trevor’s a sucker for a journalistic slant.

But whoever is writing the latest edition is trying to find that perfect balance so you come away from the newsletter having found at least one article that teaches you something new, changes the way you think about marketing, or makes your job a little easier.

We look for articles by authors new and old that are
well written, well illustrated, and comprehensive. Sometimes we publish something because it’s a really good resource or because it says the thing that needs to be said.

Some pieces make the Top 10 because they are
heart-achingly eloquent. And sometimes we include a little something fun, playful, or easy on the eyes (but still educational) at the end to finish your day off right.

Then news
breaks (ahem, Google) and we reconfigure it all.

The Top 10 of the Top 10

For the Top 10 of the Moz Top 10, we could have gone with the most newsworthy content—articles that claim
some tactic is dead
or some era is over, but Search Engine Land already did that, so I wanted to take a different approach.

Instead, I chose the articles from 2014 that endure. Below you’ll find articles that continue to inspire, how-tos and guides so comprehensive they deserve a revisit, and, yes, even a few tips and tricks that you should really get to. Without further ado, here are the best of the best…

1. Life is a Game. This is Your Strategy Guide

If you can master life, all that marketing stuff is a cake walk. Level up in your day-to-day with this thoughtful, comprehensive, and gorgeous guide from Oliver Emberton.

2. Announcing the All-New Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

Paddy Moogan knows a thing or two about link building, and here he’s teamed up with some folks at Moz to turn all of that information into an easy-to-follow yet comprehensive guide. I had no part in this project, so I can safely tell you I <3 the Zelda references.

3. No Words Wasted: A Guide to Creating Focused Content

From getting customer interviews right to nailing content promotion, this massive guide from Distilled covers everything you need to know about content strategy. I learn something new (or rediscover something I should never have forgotten) every time I read it.

4. Micro Data & Schema.org Rich Snippets: Everything You Need to Know

If you don’t know what micro data are and you haven’t figured out what to do with Schema.org, your content marketing is missing a crucial element for SERP success. BuiltVisible to the rescue with this amazing and easy-to-follow guide.

5. The Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization

If you suspect there’s a blockage in your sales funnel, it’s time to think about CRO. This guide from Qualaroo will tell you everything you need to know to start pinpointing (and fixing) your barriers to conversion.

6. 2014 Industry Survey Results

A survey so big we can only do it once every two years. Peek at salaries, tools, and trends to compare where the digital marketing industry was at the beginning of 2014 to where you are now for a peek at what the future may hold. 

7. UX Crash Course: User Psychology

Composed of 31 lessons, this online “course” will help you understand user motivation and how you can use psychology to massively improve your user experience.

8. A Geek’s Guide to Gaming The Algorithms

Sometimes looking at information from a slightly different angle makes it easier to digest. In this delightful piece, Ian Lurie teaches us when it’s okay to game the algorithms at the same time as he’s spelling out, in plain language, what each algorithm update was really about.

9. The Ultimate List of IFTTT Recipes for Marketers

Favorite part of this amazingly detailed post from SEER? The fact that it starts from a user’s perspective. So whether you want to “stalk your competitors’ stocks” or “keep track of industry meetups,” there’s an answer (in the form of an IFTTT recipe) here for you.

10. The Rich Snippets Algorithm

So much changed in the realm of rich snippets last year. AJ Kohn delves into the relationship between those rich snippets and knowledge graph results. It’s a heady post that just might offer some interesting insight into the future of SERPs.

Sign up for the Moz Top 10

Like what you see? Want us to read all the articles while you peruse a summary of the most important things you need to know?

Sign up for the Moz Top 10

After you click that big red button, you’ll be taken to the Moz Top 10 page and asked to enter your email and hit “subscribe.” At that moment we’ll put you on the list for the very next edition, currently scheduled for January 13.

Submit to the Moz Top 10

And if you’re someone who’s writing Top-10-worthy content and we just haven’t found you yet, we want to read what you’ve got. So please send us your suggestions. Each edition of the Moz Top 10 only covers content from the most recent two-week period, so send that link while the content is still fresh.

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

Reblogged 4 years ago from moz.com