Archive for October, 2014

PostHeaderIcon What SEOs Need to Know About Topic Modeling & Semantic Connectivity – Whiteboard Friday



Posted by randfish

Search engines, especially Google, have gotten remarkably good at understanding searchers’ intent—what we
mean to search for, even if that’s not exactly what we search for. How in the world do they do this? It’s incredibly complex, but in today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers the basics—what we all need to know about how entities are connected in search.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re talking topic modeling and semantic connectivity. Those words might sound big and confusing, but, in fact, they are important to understanding the operations of search engines, and they have some direct influence on things that we might do as SEOs, hence our need to understand them.

Now, I’m going to make a caveat here. I am not an expert in this topic. I have not taken the required math classes, stats classes, programming classes to truly understand this topic in a way that I would feel extremely comfortable explaining. However, even at the surface level of understanding, I feel like I can give some compelling information that hopefully you all and myself included can go research some more about. We’re certainly investigating a lot of topic modeling opportunities and possibilities here at Moz. We’ve done so in the past, and we’re revisiting that again for some future tools, so the topic is fresh on my mind.

So here’s the basic concept. The idea is that search engines are smarter than just knowing that a word, a phrase that someone searches for, like “Super Mario Brothers,” is only supposed to bring back results that have exactly the words “Super Mario Brothers,” that perfect phrase in the title and in the headline and in the document itself. That’s still an SEO best practice because you’re trying to serve visitors who have that search query. But search engines are actually a lot smarter than this.

One of my favorite examples is how intelligent Google has gotten around movie topics. So try, for example, searching for “That movie where the guy is called The Dude,” and you will see that Google properly returns “The Big Lebowski” in the first ranking position. How do they know that? Well, they’ve essentially connected up “movie,” “The Dude,” and said, “Aha, those things are most closely related to ‘The Big Lebowski. That’s what the intent of the searcher is. That’s the document that we’re going to return, not a document that happens to have ‘That movie about the guy named ‘The Dude’ in the title, exactly those words.'”

Here’s another example. So this is Super Mario Brothers, and Super Mario Brothers might be connected to a lot of other terms and phrases. So a search engine might understand that Super Mario Brothers is a little bit more semantically connected to Mario than it is to Luigi, then to Nintendo and then Bowser, the jumping dragon guy, turtle with spikes on his back — I’m not sure exactly what he is — and Princess Peach.

As you go down here, the search engine might actually have a topic modeling algorithm, something like latent semantic indexing, which was an early model, or a later model like latent Dirichlet allocation, which is a somewhat later model, or even predictive latent Dirichlet allocation, which is an even later model. Model’s not particularly important, especially for our purposes.

What is important is to know that there’s probably some scoring going on. A search engine — Google, Bing — can understand that some of these words are more connected to Super Mario Brothers than others, and it can do the reverse. They can say Super Mario Brothers is somewhat connected to video games and very not connected to cat food. So if we find a page that happens to have the title element of Super Mario Brothers, but most of the on-page content seems to be about cat food, well, maybe we shouldn’t rank that even if it has lots of incoming links with anchor text saying “Super Mario Brothers” or a very high page rank or domain authority or those kinds of things.

So search engines, Google, in particular, has gotten very, very smart about this connectivity stuff and this topic modeling post-Hummingbird. Hummingbird, of course, being the algorithm update from last fall that changed a lot of how they can interpret words and phrases.

So knowing that Google and Bing can calculate this relative connectivity, connectivity between the words and phrases and topics, we want to know how are they doing this. That answer is actually extremely broad. So that could come from co-occurrence in web documents. Sorry for turning my back on the camera. I know I’m supposed to move like this, but I just had to do a little twirl for you.

Distance between the keywords. I mean distance on the actual page itself. Does Google find “Super Mario Brothers” near the word “Mario” on a lot of the documents where the two occur, or are they relatively far away? Maybe Super Mario Brothers does appear with cat food a lot, but they’re quite far away. They might look at citations and links between documents in terms of, boy, there’s a lot pages on the web, when they talk about Super Mario Brothers, they also link to pages about Mario, Luigi, Nintendo, etc.

They can look at the anchor text connections of those links. They could look at co-occurrence of those words biased by a given corpi, a set of corpuses, or from certain domains. So they might say, “Hey, we only want to pay attention to what’s on the fresh web right now or in the blogosphere or on news sites or on trusted domains, these kinds of things as opposed to looking at all of the documents on the web.” They might choose to do this in multiple different sets of corpi.

They can look at queries from searchers, which is a really powerful thing that we unfortunately don’t have access to. So they might see searcher behavior saying that a lot of people who search for Mario, Luigi, Nintendo are also searching for Super Mario Brothers.

They might look at searcher clicks, visits, history, all of that browser data that they’ve got from Chrome and from Android and, of course, from Google itself, and they might say those are corpi that they use to connect up words and phrases.

Probably there’s a whole list of other places that they’re getting this from. So they can build a very robust data set to connect words and phrases. For us, as SEOs, this means a few things.

If you’re targeting a keyword for rankings, say “Super Mario Brothers,” those semantically connected and related terms and phrases can help with a number of things. So if you could know that these were the right words and phrases that search engines connected to Super Mario Brothers, you can do all sorts of stuff. Things like inclusion on the page itself, helping to tell the search engine my page is more relevant for Super Mario Brothers because I include words like Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Nintendo, etc. as opposed to things like cat food, dog food, T-shirts, glasses, what have you.

You can think about it in the links that you earn, the documents that are linking to you and whether they contain those words and phrases and are on those topics, the anchor text that points to you potentially. You can certainly be thinking about this from a naming convention and branding standpoint. So if you’re going to call a product something or call a page something or your unique version of it, you might think about including more of these words or biasing to have those words in the description of the product itself, the formal product description.

For an About page, you might think about the formal bio for a person or a company, including those kinds of words, so that as you’re getting cited around the web or on your book cover jacket or in the presentation that you give at a conference, those words are included. They don’t necessarily have to be links. This is a potentially powerful thing to say a lot of people who mention Super Mario Brothers tend to point to this page Nintendo8.com, which I think actually you can play the original “Super Mario Brothers” live on the web. It’s kind of fun. Sorry to waste your afternoon with that.

Of course, these can also be additional keywords that you might consider targeting. This can be part of your keyword research in addition to your on-page and link building optimization.

What’s unfortunate is right now there are not a lot of tools out there to help you with this process. There is a tool from Virante. Russ Jones, I think did some funding internally to put this together, and it’s quite cool. It’s 
nTopic.org. Hopefully, this Whiteboard Friday won’t bring that tool to its knees by sending tons of traffic over there. But if it does, maybe give it a few days and come back. It gives you a broad score with a little more data if you register and log in. It’s got a plugin for Chrome and for WordPress. It’s fairly simplistic right now, but it might help you say, “Is this page on the topic of the term or phrase that I’m targeting?”

There are many, many downloadable tools and libraries. In fact, Code.google.com has an LDA topic modeling tool specifically, and that might have been something that Google used back in the day. We don’t know.

If you do a search for topic modeling tools, you can find these. Unfortunately, almost all of them are going to require some web development background at the very least. Many of them rely on a Python library or an API. Almost all of them also require a training corpus in order to model things on. So you can think about, “Well, maybe I can download Wikipedia’s content and use that as a training model or use the top 10 search results from Google as some sort of training model.”

This is tough stuff. This is one of the reasons why at Moz I’m particularly passionate about trying to make this something that we can help with in our on-page optimization and keyword difficulty tools, because I think this can be very powerful stuff.

What is true is that you can spot check this yourself right now. It is very possible to go look at things like related searches, look at the keyword terms and phrases that also appear on the pages that are ranking in the top 10 and extract these things out and use your own mental intelligence to say, “Are these terms and phrases relevant? Should they be included? Are these things that people would be looking for? Are they topically relevant?” Consider including them and using them for all of these things. Hopefully, over time, we’ll get more sophisticated in the SEO world with tools that can help with this.

All right, everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this addition of Whiteboard Friday. Look forward to some great comments, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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PostHeaderIcon Rig of the Month: Visible Contrast




Visible ContrastThe slickest side panel you’ve ever seen

If you look closely at the thumbnail, you’ll see what looks like the Windows Start Menu overlaid on some computer parts. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. This month’s Rig of the Month is centered around an incredibly basic, but undeniably awesome idea. Chris “Mosquito” Albee from TheModZoo.com installed an LCD panel—minus the backlight—into the side of a white NZXT H230 case. The result is simply incredible.

It’s not the most practical idea, but it looks spectacular and makes us want OEM cases with embedded LCD screens. Chris says that the modded display is transparent when displaying white pixels and can act as a regular case window if needed. Lighter colors are still slightly see-through and the combination of light and dark creates a stunning effect. This contrast between opaque and transparent was the inspiration for the mod’s name: Visible Contrast.

“One fun use for the transparent LCD panel is the ability to use a utility like Rainmeter to overlay usage and temperature data directly over the various components of the case,” Chris says. “It’s also a pretty cool conversation piece as well in its own right; especially when you have a black and white video looping on it.”

Inside the case, an Intel Core i7-4770K running at 4.8GHz sits alongside 16GB of G.Skill Sniper RAM, an MSI GTX 650 Ti Boost, and a terabyte of total storage. After some internal modifications, Chris also managed to stick a 240mm radiator inside to support a custom water cooling loop for the CPU. 

Have a case mod of your own that you would like to submit to our monthly feature? Make sure to read the rules/tips here and email us at mpcrigofthemonth@gmail.com with your submissions.

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PostHeaderIcon Convincing Old-School Clients that Things Have Changed



Posted by Kristina Kledzik

There’s a reason we use the terms 
“white hat” and “black hat” for SEO: it used to be the Wild West. Black hat tactics were so effective, they were almost necessary to market online. Paying a few thousand dollars to an SEO could get you to rank #1 for almost any term (before you let them go and your competitor paid them the same to outrank you). You only got a few thousand dollars in return for that ranking, though, since there weren’t many people shopping online yet.

Fast forward to today: Ranking well on Google is
insanely profitable—much more so than it ever was in the early days—and Google’s algorithm has advanced dramatically. But former SEOs and people outside our industry still hold on to that idea that a few thousand dollars of “technical SEO” can make them magically rank #1. 

So, how do you convince your old school clients things have changed?

The immediate answer

When this comes up in conversation, I have a few trump phrases that usually bring clients around:

  • “Yeah, that used to be a great tactic, but now it puts you at risk for getting a penalty.” (Really, any response that includes the word “penalty” stops clients in their tracks.)
  • “That makes sense, but Matt Cutts said…” / “Good point, but Google’s official blog recommends…”
  • “I / another coworker / another client / a Mozzer has tried that, and it had disastrous results…”

Basically, acknowledge their idea as valid so you don’t insult them, then explain why it won’t work in a way that scares the shit out of them by mentioning real repercussions. Or, you know, just persuade them gently with logic.

If you can’t persuade/scare the shit out of them, tell them you’ll do some research and get back to them. Then do it.

If that doesn’t work…

Okay, so you have answers for on-the-spot questions now. They will work anywhere from moderately well to amazingly well, depending on your delivery and the respect you’ve gained from your client. But the client may ask for more research, or be skeptical of your answer. To be really effective, the right answer has to be coupled with a lot of respect and a logical, well-delivered explanation. 

Many of you are probably thinking, “I establish respect by being right / talking professionally / offering a lot of case studies during the sales process.” That’s the sort of thinking that
doesn’t earn respect. You gain respect by consistently being:

1. Respectful, even if your clients are wrong

It’s embarrassing to be wrong. When your client says, “What meta keywords should we put on this page?” and you chuckle and say, “Gosh, meta keywords haven’t been used in so long—I don’t even think Google ever used them,” your client is going to fight you on it, not because they’re particularly invested in the idea of using meta keywords, but because you’ve made them feel wrong.


So when your client is wrong, start by validating their idea
. Then, explain the right solution, not necessarily digging into why their solution is wrong:

Client: What meta keywords should we put on this page?

You: Well, I’m going to put together some keywords to target on this page next week, but making them meta keywords won’t make much of a difference. Google doesn’t look at them because it’s so easy to spam (wouldn’t it be nice if they did?). Anyway, when I send you those keywords that we should target, I’ll also include what we need to change on the page in order to target them.

Answering like this will keep your conversations positive and your clients open to your ideas, even if your ideas conflict directly with theirs. 

2. Honest

You’re probably smart enough not to make up client anecdotes or lie about what Matt Cutts has said. Where I usually see dishonesty in consulting is when consultants screw up and their clients call them on it. 

It looks bad to be wrong, especially when someone is paying you to be right. It’s even worse to be caught in a lie or look dishonest. Here’s my mantra:
It’s not wrong to make an honest mistake. When clients tell you you’ve done something wrong, consider it a misunderstanding. Explain where you were coming from and why you did what you did briefly, then fix it.

(Note: this obviously doesn’t work if you made a stupid mistake. If you made a stupid mistake, apologize and offer to fix it, free of charge. It’ll lose you some money up front, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.)

3. Direct

This is the best outline for any answer:

  1. Brief answer, in one sentence
  2. Deeper explanation of answer
  3. Information to back it up
  4. Reiteration of brief answer

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard another consultant (or myself) not be entirely sure of an answer and ramble on for a couple of minutes before stopping to complete silence from their client. Or know the answer but think it’s too complicated and deliver an answer that only confuses their client more.

By starting with the answer, the client already knows what’s coming, so all other information you give after that will naturally support your answer as you go, rather than possibly leading them down the wrong path. Consider these alternatives:

Standard answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: Competition is always a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. It’s easier to rank for, say, “yellow sapphire necklaces” than “blue sapphire necklaces” because there are more blue sapphire necklaces out there. But this is definitely what we should do to increase our rankings.

Direct answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: I don’t know, it’s not something that we can definitively say in SEO, unfortunately. Competition is a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. But, regardless, this is the most effective action that we could take to increase our rankings.

The more direct answer admits doubt, but is still much more convincing in the end (though both are vague and obviously top-of-mind examples… just ignore that). 

4. Complimentary and inclusive

It’s called the 
Benjamin Franklin Effect: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” (Props to Rob Ousbey for telling me about this.)

When your client has done something right, compliment them on how they’ve made your job easier since you don’t have to fix their mistakes. When your client has done something wrong, let them know what they should do to fix it, but help them share in the work to make the change. It’ll make the client feel valued and it’ll take a big part of the workload off of you.

5. Proactive

Good project management is the key to effective consulting. When clients don’t know what you’re working on, they get worried that you’re wasting their money. Make sure that you consistently:

  • Meet; I like to have scheduled meetings once a week
  • Share a 3-6 month project plan, with dates and deliverables outlined
  • Ship those deliverables on time
  • Respond to emails within a day or two, even if the answer is “Great question! I’m prioritizing [other project for the same client right now], can I get back to you in a week or so?”
  • Follow up with open questions; if a client asks you a question in a meeting you don’t know, admit you don’t know, say you’ll get back to them after you research it, then actually do that

I think that project management is often dropped because it seems so easy that it’s de-prioritized. Don’t believe that: this may be the most important of the five traits I’ve listed.

To sum it up: be honest, selfless, and proactive, and your clients are going to love you.

Even if you’re a terrible SEO (though try your best to be a good one), clients are going to respect consultants who put their clients’ business first, are open and honest about what they’re doing and thinking, and get their work done without being micromanaged.

Now that you’ve earned your client’s respect, they will be open to you changing their mind. You just have to give them a reason to.

Nail it with a great argument

When a client says, “Can we rank for ‘trucks’ by putting the word ‘truck’ as the alt text to each image on this page?” our mind immediately says, “No, why would you think that?” That’s not going to win the argument for you.

The reason we SEOs say “why would you think that?” is because we know the answer. So, teach your client. Start by validating their idea (what did we just learn about clients being wrong?), then explain the right answer, then explain why their answer won’t work:

Client: Can we rank for “trucks” by putting the word “truck” as the alt text to each image on this page?

You: Well, that would certainly get “trucks” on the page more often! To really optimize the page for “trucks,” though, we’ll need to put it in the page title, and a few times in the body of the page. SEO is all about competition, and our competition is doing that. We have to at least match them. Once the page is optimized for “trucks,” though, we’ll still have to work to get more backlinks and mentions around the web to compete with Wikipedia, which ranks #1 right now for “trucks.”

Don’t focus too much on their mistake.The more time you spend on the disagreement, the more frustrated your client will get; the more time you spend on your solution, the more impressed they’ll be with you.

If that doesn’t work, do the research to tell an even better story:

  • Give examples from other clients. Don’t give away too many names, of course, but knowing that you’ve solved this problem or a problem like it in the past makes clients feel much more confident in you.
  • If you’ve never seen this problem before, reach out to your SEO community. One of the best parts of working at Distilled is that when a client off-handedly emails me a question, I can email all Distilled consultants and usually get an answer (or at least an educated guess) within an hour or so. If you work on your own, build a community online, through Moz or another online portal, and ask them.
  • Forecast the effects of your solution. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not good at this because it can take a long time. But if your client is resistant, it’s definitely worth the trouble. Take clients through how you worked out the forecasting so they can see how much they’ll gain by working with you.

Once you’ve got proof behind your argument, restate your position, add your new arguments, and then follow up with your position and what you recommend your client does now. Make sure that you end in an action so there’s something concrete for them to focus on. 

Practice, practice, practice delivery

You can have the perfect explanation and a great relationship with your client, but if you trip over your own words or confuse your client, you won’t be convincing.

Written reports

Edit the paper multiple times. Only include the information that directly leads to an action item, don’t include all of the information that they already know, or that just shows you did your homework. That stuff is boring, and will encourage your client to skim, which will often lead to misinterpretations. Next, have a friend who’s been in SEO for awhile and knows about this old school stuff edit it. It’s hard to know where your descriptions might break down without someone else’s perspective.

Verbal presentations 

Practice your presentation ahead of time: talk through your recommendations to a friend or coworker. Have them interrupt you, because you will definitely be interrupted when you’re talking to your client. Make sure that you’re okay with that, that you can have a separate conversation, then jump back in to the report.

For presentations that are brief and over the phone, make sure that you’ve already sent your client something written. If it’s a report, make it clear and to the point (as described above), if it’s not, outline the action items in an email or a spreadsheet, so your client has something concrete to look at as you discuss. I’ve also found clients are able to digest information much better when they’ve already read it.

For big presentations – the ones that need an accompanying PowerPoint, follow the same advice as I gave in the written report section: Edit to be succinct, and get feedback.

This is pretty much a post on good consulting

I’ve consulted clients on technical SEO, promotions / outreach, creative, and content strategy-based projects, and I’ve found that the key to being effective in every one is a) coming up with a good answer, and b) everything discussed in this post. Building respect and communicating effectively is the foundation that supports your answers in almost every relationship, consulting, in house, or even personal. The key to convincing your clients that their black hat, overly white hat, or completely UX-based solutions are wrong is all sort of the same.

So what do you think? What resistance have you come up against in your consulting projects? Share in the comments below!

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