PostHeaderIcon Why Every Website (Not Just Local Sites) Should Invest in Local Links and Citations – Whiteboard Friday



Posted by randfish

At first glance, local links and local citations might seem unnecessary for non-local websites. On a closer look, however, there are strong underlying benefits to gaining those local votes of confidence that could prove invaluable for everyone. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains why all sites should consider chasing local links and citations, suggesting a few different ways to discover opportunities in your areas of focus.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to talk about why websites — every website, not just local websites — should be thinking about tactics and a strategy to get local listings and local citations.

Now, this might sound counterintuitive. I’ve actually encountered a lot of folks — especially online-only businesses or even blended online and local businesses — who think, “Are local links really that important to me, or are they off-topic? Could they potentially cause problems and confusion? Should I be trying to get those?” I’m going to try and make the case to you today that you absolutely should.

Recently, I got to visit Scotland to talk to several folks. I visited Skyscanner. I spoke at the Digital Excellence event and spoke, of course, at the Turing Festival, which was a remarkable event in Edinburgh. We actually landed in Glasgow on a Saturday and drove up to a little town called Inveraray. So I’m going to use some examples from Inveraray, Scotland, and I apologize if my accent is miserable.

A few of the businesses we visited there: Loch Fyne Whiskies, they have their own living cask, where they essentially add in whiskies and blends to this cask that keeps evolving; Whisky Shop, which is an online-only shop; and then Inveraray Castle, which is a local business, entirely a local business centered around this lovely castle and estate that I think, if I understood correctly, is run by the Duke of Argyll, Argyll being the region around there. Apparently, Scotland still has dukes in business, which is fantastic.

Local & online business

So for a local and online business, like Lock Fyne Whiskies, they sell whiskies in their specific store. You can go in — and I did — and buy some stuff. They also sell on their website, I believe just in the United Kingdom, unfortunately, for those of you watching around the rest of the world. But there are certainly reasons why they would want to go and get local links from places that link to businesses in Inveraray or in Argyll or in Scotland as a whole. Those include:

  • Boosting their Maps visibility, so that when you’re searching in Google Maps for “whisky” or “whisky shops,” potentially, if you’re near Inveraray, Google Maps will make their business show up higher.
  • Boosting their local ranking so that if you’re searching for “whisky shop Argyll” or “whisky shop Scotland” or “whisky shop near me” and you happen to be there, Google will show this business higher for that ranking as well.
  • Boosting their domain authority, meaning that those local links are contributing to overall ranking ability. That means they can rank for longer-tail terms. That means they can rank more competitively for classic web search terms that are not just in local or Maps.
  • Sending valuable traffic. So if you think about a listing site, like thelist.co.uk has them on there, TripAdvisor has them on there, a bunch of local sort of chamber of commerce — it’s not actually the chamber of commerce there — but chamber of commerce-type sites list them on there, that sends valuable direct traffic to their business. That could be through foot traffic. It could be through referrals. It could be through people who are buying whisky online from them. So a bunch of real good reasons why a local and online business should do this.

Online-only business

But if you’re an online-only business, I think a lot of folks make the case of, “Wait a minute, Rand, isn’t it true that if I am getting local links and local citations, those may not be boosting my relevance, my ranking ability as much as they are boosting my local ranking ability, which I don’t actually care about because I’m not focused on that?”

So, for example, whiskyshop.com, I think they are also based in Scotland, but they don’t have physical locations. It’s an online-only shop. So getting a local link for them in whatever part of the region of Scotland they are actually in would…

  • Boost their domain authority, giving them more ranking ability for long-tail terms.
  • Make it harder for their competitors to compete for those links. This makes link acquisition for an online-only business, even from local sources, a beautiful thing because your competitors are not in that region and, therefore, they can’t go get those same links that you can get simply by virtue of being where you are as a business physically located. Even if you’re just in an office space or working from home, wherever your domain is registered you can potentially get those.
  • Yield solid anchor text. There are a bunch of local sources that will not just point out who you are, but also what you do. When they point out what you do, they can link to your product pages or your different site sections, individual URLs on your site, and provide anchor text that can be powerful. Depending on how those submissions are accepted and how they’re processed, some local listings, obviously, you’re not going to get them, others you are.

There’s one more that I should include here too, which is that…

  • Local information, even citations by themselves, can be a trust signal for Google, where they essentially say, “Hey, you know what, we trust that this is a real business that is really in this place. We see citations for it. That tells us we can trust this site. It’s not spammy. It doesn’t have these spam signals around it.” That’s a really big positive as well. So I’d add that — spam trust issues.

Local-only business

Lastly, a local-only business — I think this is the most obvious one — we know that it…

  • Boosts Maps visibility
  • Boosts local rankings
  • Boosts your long-tail ranking ability
  • Sends valuable direct traffic, just like they do to a local and online business.

Easy ways to find citation/link sources in your locale:

If you’re going to go out and look for some local links, a few quick recommendations that are real easy to do.

  1. Do a search for a business name, not necessarily your business name — in fact, not your business name – anybody, any of your competitors or anyone in the region. It doesn’t have to necessarily be your business. It could be someone in the county or the territory, the state, the city, the town, minus their site, because you don’t want results from their site. You’re actually looking for: What are all the places where their business is talked about? You can add in, if you’d like, the region or city name.
  2. Search for one local business and another one. So, for example, if I was Whisky Shop and I were in Inveraray or I were in Argyll, I could search for “Loch Fyne Whiskies” and “Inveraray Castle,” and I would come back with a list of places that have both of those on their website. That often turns out to be a great source of a bunch of listings, listing opportunities and link opportunities.
  3. Google just by itself the city plus the state, or region or country, and get lots and lots of places, first off that describe that place, but then also that note notable businesses or that have business listings. You can add the word “listings” to this query and get some more great results too.
  4. Try out some tools here — Link Intersect in Moz, or Majestic, or Ahrefs — and get lots of results by plugging in two of these and excluding the third one and seeing who links to these that doesn’t link to this third one.
  5. Use business names in the same fashion that you do in Google in tools like a Mention, a Talkwalker, Google Alerts, or Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer and see who is talking about these local businesses or regions from a news or blog or forum or recent perspective.

So with that, I hope you’ll do me a favor and go out, try and get some of those local links. I look forward to your comments, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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PostHeaderIcon Should SEOs and Marketers Continue to Track and Report on Keyword Rankings? – Whiteboard Friday



Posted by randfish

Is the practice of tracking keywords truly dying? There’s been a great deal of industry discussion around the topic of late, and some key points have been made. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand speaks to the biggest challenges keyword rank tracking faces today and how to solve for them.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about keyword ranking reports. There have been a few articles that have come out recently on a number of big industry sites around whether SEOs should still be tracking their keyword rankings.

I want to be clear: Moz has a little bit of a vested interest here. And so the question is: Can you actually trust me, who obviously I’m a big shareholder in Moz and I’m the founder, and so I care a lot about how Moz does as a software business. We help people track rankings. Does that mean I’m biased? I’m going to do my best not to be. So rather than saying you absolutely should track rankings, I’m instead going to address what most of these articles have brought up as the problems of rank tracking and then talk about some solutions by which you can do this.

My suspicion is you should probably be rank tracking. I think that if you turn it off and you don’t do it, it’s very hard to get a lot of the value that we need as SEOs, a lot of the intelligence. It’s true there are challenges with keyword ranking reports, but not true enough to avoid doing it entirely. We still get too much value from them.

The case against — and solutions for — keyword ranking data

A. People, places, and things

So let’s start with the case against keyword ranking data. First off, “keyword ranking reports are inaccurate.” There’s personalization, localization, and device type, and that biases and has removed what is the “one true ranking.” We’ve done a bunch of analyses of these, and this is absolutely the case.

Personalization, turns out, doesn’t change ranking that much on average. For an individual it can change rankings dramatically. If they visited your website before, they could be historically biased to you. Or if they visited your competitor’s, they could be biased. Their previous search history might have biased them in a single session, those kinds of things. But with the removal of Google+ from search results, personalization is actually not as dramatically changing as it used to be. Localization, though, still huge, absolutely, and device differences, still huge.

Solution

But we can address this, and the way to do that is by tracking these things separately. So here you can see I’ve got a ranking report that shows me my mobile rankings versus my desktop rankings. I think this is absolutely essential. Especially if you’re getting a lot of traffic from both mobile and desktop search, you need to be tracking those separately. Super smart. Of course we should do that.

We can do the same thing on the local side as well. So I can say, “Here, look. This is how I rank in Seattle. Here’s how I rank in Minneapolis. Here’s how I rank in the U.S. with no geographic personalization,” if Google were to do that. Those types of rankings can also be pretty good.

It is true that local ranked tracking has gotten a little more challenging, but we’ve seen that folks like, well Moz itself, but folks like STAT (GetStat), SERPs.com, Search Metrics, they have all adjusted their rank tracking methodologies in order to have accurate local rank tracking. It’s pretty good. Same with device type, pretty darn good.

B. Keyword value estimation

Another big problem that is expressed by a number of folks here is we no longer know how much traffic an individual keyword sends. Because we don’t know how much an individual keyword sends, we can’t really say, “What’s the value of ranking for that keyword?” Therefore, why bother to even track keyword rankings?

I think this is a little bit of spurious logic. The leap there doesn’t quite make sense to me. But I will say this. If you don’t know which keywords are sending you traffic specifically, you still know which pages are receiving search traffic. That is reported. You can get it in your Google Analytics, your Omniture report, whatever you’re using, and then you can tie that back to keyword ranking reports showing which pages are receiving traffic from which keywords.

Most all of the ranked tracking platforms, Moz included, has a report that shows you something like this. It says, “Here are the keywords that we believe are likely to have sent these percentages of traffic to this page based on the keywords that you’re tracking, based on the pages that are ranking for them, and how much search traffic those pages receive.”

Solution

So let’s track that. We can look at pages receiving visits from search, and we can look at which keywords they rank for. Then we can tie those together, which gives us the ability to then make not only a report like this, but a report that estimates the value contributed by content and by pages rather than by individual keywords.

In a lot of ways, this is almost superior to our previous methodology of tracking by keyword. Keyword can still be estimated through AdWords, through paid search, but this can be estimated on a content basis, which means you get credit for how much value the page has created, based on all the search traffic that’s flowed to it, and where that’s at in your attribution lifecycle of people visiting those pages.

C. Tracking rankings and keyword relevancy

Pages often rank for keywords that they aren’t specifically targeting, because Google has gotten way better with user intent. So it can be hard or even impossible to track those rankings, because we don’t know what to look for.

Well, okay, I hear you. That is a challenge. This means basically what we have to do is broaden the set of keywords that we look at and deal with the fact that we’re going to have to do sampling. We can’t track every possible keyword, unless you have a crazy budget, in which case go talk to Rob Bucci up at STAT, and he will set you up with a huge campaign to track all your millions of keywords.

Solution

If you have a smaller budget, what you have to do is sample, and you sample by sets of keywords. Like these are my high conversion keywords — I’m going to assume I have a flower delivery business — so flower delivery and floral gifts and flower arrangements for offices. My long tail keywords, like artisan rose varieties and floral alternatives for special occasions, and my branded keywords, like Rand’s Flowers or Flowers by Rand.

I can create a bunch of different buckets like this, sample the keywords that are in them, and then I can track each of these separately. Now I can see, ah, these are sets of keywords where I’ve generally been moving up and receiving more traffic. These are sets of keywords where I’ve generally been moving down. These are sets of keywords that perform better or worse on mobile or desktop, or better or worse in these geographic areas. Right now I can really start to get true intelligence from there.

Don’t let your keyword targeting — your keyword targeting meaning what keywords you’re targeting on which pages — determine what you rank track. Don’t let it do that exclusively. Sure, go ahead and take that list and put that in there, but then also do some more expansive keyword research to find those broad sets of search terms and phrases that you should be monitoring. Now we can really solve this issue.

D. Keyword rank tracking with a purpose

This one I think is a pretty insidious problem. But for many organizations ranking reports are more of a historical artifact. We’re not tracking them for a particular reason. We’re tracking them because that’s what we’ve always tracked and/or because we think we’re supposed to track them. Those are terrible reasons to track things. You should be looking for reasons of real value and actionability. Let’s give some examples here.

Solution

What I want you to do is identify the goals of rank tracking first, like: What do I want to solve? What would I do differently based on whether this data came back to me in one way or another?

If you don’t have a great answer to that question, definitely don’t bother tracking that thing. That should be the rule of all analytics.

So if your goal is to say, “Hey, I want to be able to attribute a search traffic gain or a search traffic loss to what I’ve done on my site or what Google has changed out there,” that is crucially important. I think that’s core to SEO. If you don’t have that, I’m not sure how we can possibly do our jobs.

We attribute search traffic gains and losses by tracking broadly, a broad enough set of keywords, hopefully in enough buckets, to be able to get a good sample set; by tracking the pages that receive that traffic so we can see if a page goes way down in its search visits. We can look at, “Oh, what was that page ranking for? Oh, it was ranking for these keywords. Oh, they dropped.” Or, “No, they didn’t drop. But you know what? We looked in Google Trends, and the traffic demand for those keywords dropped,” and so we know that this is a seasonality thing, or a fluctuation in demand, or those types of things.

And we can track by geography and device, so that we can say, “Hey, we lost a bunch of traffic. Oh, we’re no longer mobile-friendly.” That is a problem. Or, “Hey, we’re tracking and, hey, we’re no longer ranking in this geography. Oh, that’s because these two competitors came in and they took over that market from us.”

We could look at would be something like identify pages that are in need of work, but they only require a small amount of work to have a big change in traffic. So we could do things like track pages that rank on page two for given keywords. If we have a bunch of those, we can say, “Hey, maybe just a few on-page tweaks, a few links to these pages, and we could move up substantially.” We had a Whiteboard Friday where we talked about how you could do that with internal linking previously and have seen some remarkable results there.

We can track keywords that rank in position four to seven on average. Those are your big wins, because if you can move up from position four, five, six, seven to one, two, three, you can double or triple your search traffic that you’re receiving from keywords like that.

You should also track long tail, untargeted keywords. If you’ve got a long tail bucket, like we’ve got up here, I can then say, “Aha, I don’t have a page that’s even targeting any of these keywords. I should make one. I could probably rank very easily because I have an authoritative website and some good content,” and that’s really all you might need.

We might look at some up-and-coming competitors. I want to track who’s in my space, who might be creeping up there. So I should track the most common domains that rank on page one or two across my keyword sets.

I can track specific competitors. I might say, “Hey, Joel’s Flower Delivery Service looks like it’s doing really well. I’m going to set them up as a competitor, and I’m going to track their rankings specifically, or I’m going to see…” You could use something like SEMrush and see specifically: What are all the keywords they rank for that you don’t rank for?

This type of data, in my view, is still tremendously important to SEO, no matter what platform you’re using. But if you’re having these problems or if these problems are being expressed to you, now you have some solutions.

I look forward to your comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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PostHeaderIcon A Guide to Sampling in Google Analytics



Posted by Tom.Capper

Sampling is a process used in statistics when it’s unfeasible or impractical to analyse all the data that exists. Instead, a small, randomly selected subset is used to keep things manageable. Many analytics platforms use some sort of sampling to keep report loading times in check, and there seem to be three schools of thought when it comes to sampling in analytics. There are those who are terrified of it, insisting in unsampled versions of any report. Then there are those who are relaxed about it, trusting the statistical logic. And then, lastly, there are those who are oblivious.

All three are misguided.

Sampling isn’t something to fear, but, in Google Analytics in particular, it can’t always be trusted. Because of that, it’s definitely worth your time to understand when it occurs, how it affects your work, and how it can be avoided.

When it happens

You can always tell when sampling is being used, because of this line at the top of every report:

If the percentage is less than 100%, then sampling is in progress. You’ll notice above that I’ve produced a report based on more than half a billion sessions without any sampling — sampling isn’t just about the sheer number of sessions involved in a report. It’s about the complexity of what you’re asking the platform to report on. Contrast the below (apologies for the small screenshots; I wanted to make sure the whole context was included, so have added captions explaining just what you’re looking at):

No segment applied, report based on 100% of sessions

Segment applied, report based on 0.17% of sessions

The two are identical apart from the use of a segment in the second case. Google Analytics can always provide unsampled data for top-line totals like that first case, but segments in particular are very prone to prompting sampling.

The exact same level of sampling can also be induced through use of a secondary dimension:

Secondary dimension applied, report based on 0.17% of sessions

A few other specialised reports are also prone to this level of sampling, most notably:

  • The Ecommerce Overview
  • “Flow Reports”

Report based on 0.17% of sessions

Report based on <0.1% of sessions

To summarise so far, sampling can happen when we use:

  • A segment
  • More than one dimension
  • Certain detailed reports (including Ecommerce Overview and AdWords Campaigns)
  • “Flow” reports

The accuracy of sampling

Sampling, for the most part, is actually pretty reliable. Take the below two numbers for organic traffic over the same period, one taken from a tiny 0.17% sample, and one taken without sampling:

Report based on 0.17% of sessions, reports 303,384,785 sessions via organic

Report based on 100% of sessions, reports 296,387,352 sessions via organic

The difference is just 2.4%, from a sample of 0.17% of actual sessions. Interestingly, when I repeated this comparison over a shorter period (last quarter), the size of the sample went up to 71.3%, but the margin of error was fairly similar at 2.3%.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the deeper you dig into your data, the smaller the effective sample becomes. If you’re looking at a sample of 1% of data and you notice a landing page with 100 sessions in a report, that’s based on 1 visit — simply because 1 is 1% of 100. For example, take the below:

Report based on 45 sessions

Eight percent of a whole year’s traffic to Distilled is a lot, but 8% of organic traffic to my profile page is not, so we end up viewing a report (above) based on 45 visits. Whether or not this should concern you depends on the size of the changes you’re looking to detect and your threshold for acceptable levels of uncertainty. These topics will be familiar to those with experience in CRO, but I recommend this tool to get your started, and I’ve written about some of the key concepts here.

In extreme cases like the one above, though, your intuition should suffice – that click-through from my /about/ page to /resources/…tup-guide/ claims to feature in 12 sessions, and is based on 8.11% of sessions. As 12 is roughly 8% of 100, we know that this is in fact based on 1 session. Not something you’d want to base a strategy on.

If any of the above concerns you, then I’ve some solutions later in this post. Either way, there’s one more thing you should know about. Check out the below screenshot:

Report based on 100% of sessions, but “All Users” only accounts for 38.81% “of Total”

There’s no sampling here, but the number displayed for “All Users” in fact only contains 38.8% of sessions. This is because of the combination of there being more than 1,000,000 rows (as indicated by the yellow “high-cardinality” warning at the top of the report) and the use of a segment. This is because of the effect of those rows grouped into “(other)”, which are hidden when a segment is active. Regardless of any sampling, the numbers in the rows below will be as accurate as they would be otherwise (apart from the fact that “(other)” is missing), but the segment totals at the top end up of limited use.

So, we’ve now gone over:

  • Sampling is generally pretty accurate (+/- 2.5% in the examples above).
  • When you’re looking at small numbers in reports with a high level of sampling, you can work out how many reports they’re based on.
    • For example, 1% sampling showing 100 sessions means 1 session was the basis of the number in the report.
  • You should keep an eye out for that yellow high-cardinality warning when also using segments.

What you can do about it

Often it’s possible to recreate the key data you want in alternative ways that do not trigger sampling. Mainly this means avoiding segments and secondary dimensions. For example, if we wanted to view the session counts for the top organic landing pages, we might ordinarily use the Landing Pages report and apply a segment:

Landing Pages report with Organic Traffic segment, based on 71.27% of sessions

In the above report, I’ve simply applied a segment to the landing pages report, resulting in sampling. However, I can get the same data unsampled — in the below case, I’ve instead gone to the “Channels” report and clicked on “Organic Search” in the report:

Channels > Organic Search report, with primary dimension “Landing Page”, based on 100% of sessions

This takes me to a report where I’m only looking at organic search sessions, and I can pick a primary dimension of my choice — in this case, Landing Page. It’s worth noting, however, that this trick does not function reliably — when I replicated the same method starting from the “Source / Medium” report, I still ended up with sampling.

A similar trick applies to custom segments — if I wanted to create a segment to show me only visits to certain landing pages, I could instead write a regex advanced filter to replicate the functionality with less chance of sampling:

Lastly, there are a few more extreme solutions. Firstly, you can create duplicate views, then apply view-level filters, to replicate segment functionality (permanently for that view):

Secondly, you can use the API and Google Sheets to break up a report into smaller date ranges, then aggregate them. My colleague Tian Wang wrote about that tool here.

Lastly, there’s GA Premium, which for a not inconsiderable cost, gets you this button:

So lastly, here’s how you can avoid sampling:

  • You can construct reports differently to avoid segments or secondary dimensions and thus reduce the chance of sampling being triggered.
  • You can create duplicate views to show you subsets of your data that you’d otherwise have to view sampled.
  • You can use the GA API to request large numbers of smaller reports then aggregate them in Google Sheets.
  • For larger businesses, there’s always the option of GA Premium to receive unsampled reports.

Discussion

I hope you’ve found this post useful. I’d love to read your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

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