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Browsing posts in: SEO

Google’s organic and paid algorithms can no longer operate independently

Google have always been keen to stress that organic search and paid search results operate completely independent of each other, and generally this is for the right reasons.

They’ve also constantly denied that user signals, in particular CTR, are a ranking signal, despite numerous tests suggesting otherwise.

I don’t envy the engineers who are responsible for evaluating user signals as a quality measure. There are so many  factors to taken into consideration and so much misinformation out there. To give an example, a lot in the industry are fixated on the time-on-site metric, and bounce rate as indicative measures for quality of content. The thinking is that a long session length is a quality measure. This isn’t necessarily true. A short session length and high bounce rate could suggest quick information retrieval, and therefore be a quality signal.

CTR too, is difficult, and assuming this is a ranking signal, there needs to be some connection between organic and paid listings. Through changes over the years, Google have cleverly managed it so that paid search often can be demonstrated to have an incremental effect on performance. Lots of brands will run paid search on generics, and this is likely to reduce the CTR of the organic listing. That reduction in CTR isn’t a reflection on the quality website.

If brands are running paid search, unless organic and paid search algorithms are connected, Google has no robust method to evaluate CTR as a quality signal.  The algorithms need to be connected, and the long standing position of their disconnected status needs to be re-evaluated.

SEOs rejoice! Is Apple now passing the refer in iOS 6?

When Apple first launched iOS 6, it caused a bit of an uproar among digital marketers. Depending on how an iOS 6 user searches in Google, it used to be the case that the refer would not always be passed. If the search box in the top right was used, no refer would be passed and the organic traffic would be incorrectly attributed as direct.

This had big implications when tracking campaign performance, as iOS 6 accounts for around 30% of traffic, resulting in approximately 15% of overall traffic being misattributed.

This week, Searchengineland reported that on the latest version, iOS 7, Apple was again passing the refer. But does this now apply to iOS 6 too? That’s what our data at Arena suggests.

Using various iPhones running iOS 6 in the office at Arena, our tests consistently show the refer being passed. Next, we looked at the web analytics of our clients.

Case study one: This client receives 1m+ visits monthly to their website. Gradually, over the past few months, the proportion of their keywords which are encrypted (represented by the green line) has gradually increased. However, since the 30th July, the proportion of encrypted keywords has jumped by 6% in just one day. This is consistent with our observation as, even though a refer is passed, no keyword is passed within it.


When we investigated the web analytics in more depth, we saw a decline in direct traffic.

Case study two: Again, this client receives 1m+ visits monthly. Assuming that the change was made on the 29th, Arena looked at the amount of traffic attributed to organic search on iOS 6 devices and compared it to the same period in the previous week; the amount of organic iOS 6 traffic increased by 50%. Overall traffic was flat period on period, while, as you might expect, direct traffic fell.

As the SEO channel matures, the need for data to support the business case for investment increases. This change will certainly help that cause, and is great news for digital marketers.

SEO Seminar – Measuring Enterprise Level SEO

In June Arena hosted a SEO Seminar at the Soho Hotel. I was one of the speakers and I chose the topic of how to properly measure SEO. Over the past few months I’ve encountered a lot of SEOs who sadly have no consideration for issues such encrypted search and iOS6. It’s especially timely given that Firefox are now fully supporting Do Not Track (DNT) so looks like the on going battle to get data is set to continue. You can view the bulk of my talk below, otherwise see the rest of the videos here.  

0 to 60mph quickly! Seeing a SEO campaign pay dividends.

There are few things as rewarding as just seeing traffic going up every week in Google Analytics. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the details. We forget that just doing the basic elements of search engine optimisation can be lucrative. No need to talk about semantic mark up, or the impact of social as a ranking signal. The most powerful thing a SEO can do is actually to do some SEO. Hot air isn’t a ranking signal (sadly for a lot of people). This is what I’ve been up to the past couple of months.

1) Find a moderate volume keyword to rank for

This took a few good hours to be fair. If the average est CPC in Adwords is greater than £20 that usually means those in the paid positions are monetising the traffic really well. A challenge is to get a good balance between competitiveness and volume. No good trying to rank for something that will take months when all I want is fairly instant gratification.

2) Spend weekend  building a website

This is usually WordPress. Create some page templates and spend the rest of the day breaking and fixing stylesheets. Absolutely love the developer tools as part of Chrome.

3) Spend another weekend creating content

I find this one of the most difficult tasks. I don’t spin or scrape any content. I actually research the area and then write up some decentish content. As time goes on, I’ll slowly see the bounce rate drop.

4) Spend further weekend linkbuilding. 

When linkbuilding really quickly, I like to mitigate the risk of tripping any filters by leading primarily with brand/URL anchor text. The bulk of my backlink profile will predominately be like this, about 90% and when I get a really high authority/trust link, I’ll opt for some money anchor text.

5) See traffic to the site grow

Frequently check Google Analytics, and occasionally even watch it in real time.

6) Start making £1k per week from the site.

Open a bottle of champagne and book a holiday in the Canary Islands. Good work, job done.



Doesn’t look too shoddy in Searchmetrics either…




Which webpages are making you money?

Yesterday I generated four iGaming players from 15 clicks. That’s great, however with the data that was available to me, I had no idea which pages on my website was sending the clicks that were driving converting clicks.

I have event tracking labels on all of my outbound affiliate links, so in Google Analytics I can drill down to some level to understand what keywords and landing pages are driving those sales, but beyond that, on my affiliate portals, I cant tell which traffic my site gets actually converts.

So I thought, wouldn’t be great if I could see which pages on my affiliate website were the clicks that converted?

  1. On affiliate portals, create a different campaign URL for each of your main landing pages
  2. Cloak each URL using .htaccess
  3. Replace all of your outgoing links with variables
  4. In a PHP file, set a URL variable using the  $_SERVER function
  5. Write conditional statements that set the outgoing link based on matching the URL function
  6. BOOM!
Following this methodology, I can now break down my iGaming accounts and see of the pages that are driving clicks, which ones (and therefore what traffic) is actually making me sales.

Month by Month Volumes Back in Keyword Suggestion Tool

At Arena we have regular meetings with Google about organic search (it’s not with engineers, so about as insightful as you would expect), and it was in this session we vented our frustration over the removal of the monthly volumes being exported from the keyword suggestion tool. They said that they would feed this back to the product team, and sure enough, today I can see that when you export data from the keyword suggestion tool, you get monthly volumes again. No more normalising Insights data 🙂

How Google blocks the keyword in the referrer

Martin here at Arena has just been looking into how Google go about blocking the keyword in the referrer. We did a search for the term “seo” at https://www.google.com whilst logged into a Google Account. With Google Instant turned on it created the following URL…


Wikipedia was top of the results, so we had a look at the html element containing the result, which looked like this…

You’ll see a bit a of JavaScript there bound to the ‘onmousedown’ event, which calls a function called ‘rwt(…)’. Here is the function declaration…

There is a lot going on in there, but essentially it redirects the browser to a new URL with the ‘q=’ parameter wiped (as indicated by the wonderful red arrow above), which then redirects to the desired page you clicked on in the search result (which is passed via the ‘url=’ parameter). So, from the search result itself (Wikipedia in this case), the referrer becomes…


Meaning the ‘q=’ parameter exists, but is empty! This is very bad news for our natural search scripts (and analytics packages full-stop!), the only thing we’ll be able to tell from the referrer is that they came from Google, any brand/generic keyword logic goes out of the window. The only thing we could do is isolate this traffic and track it differently, as we know it’ll be coming from ‘www.google.com/url…’ instead of ‘www.google.com/search…’.

Using Robots.txt to Stop Pages Appearing in Search Results

This is one of my favourite SEO mythbusters.

It is the notion that preventing Google crawling a page in your robots.txt will prevent it appearing in organic search results. It’s rare to come across examples, but today I have, triggering me to make this blog post. In case there is any confusion, Matt Cutts explains it clearly in this Webmaster video. He also runs over the use of the meta noindex tag.

Here is the example. ESPN shop are disallowing all UAs from crawling the domain ESPNshop.co.uk.

However if you do some very strict searches, Google still shows the URL in search results.

I love quick wins. Remember if there is a page you want removed from Google organic search results, either

– Add the meta noindex to the <head> tag

– Remove the URL in Google Webmaster Tools


Catching and Resuscitating Dropped Domains

Catching dropped domains can instantly provide you not only with a solid backlink profile decent but also referral traffic. In this blog post I provide some advice on how to catch them and bring them back to life, illustrated with my real life example.

Within a niche one of my clients works within, a satirical one page website generated hundreds of authoritative  of links (TBPR5 if that ticks your boat). I first saw it on Reddit and dreamt I had come up with the idea, as it was a rare testament to the fact content is king.

In a moment of idle web surfing, I went back to revisit the site only to see that the domain was pending deletion. For those unaware, this is generally the ‘lifecycle’ of a domain.

  1. Available
  2. Registered
  3. Expiration (around 40 days)
  4. Redemption period (around 30 days)
  5. Pending deletion (around 5 days)

Until it hits pending deletion, the owner can claw back their domain. Fortunate timing for me, as it was already pending deletion so I knew it would just be a matter of time before it would become available.

At this point, I wouldn’t recommend just hanging around. Instead, use a number of backordering services, and where possible, all of them. Three noticeable companies include Pool.com, Namejet.com and snapnames.com. Generally you don’t pay unless they catch it, in which case you are quids in. If two or more people attempt to backorder it, it goes to auction. That’s what happened with me on Pool.com, and so it was set to go the highest bidder.

My auction went on for about 45 minutes, and ended up at around £230 ($400). Anyone who is familiar with paid linking will know this to be good value. Not that I was concerned, I wasn’t buying it for link equity, but just for fun and lulz.

I haven’t done this technique enough times to suggest that how I resuscitated it definitely the cause, but there is logic behind it. When I speak of resuscitating a dropped domain, I mean that TBPR returns. From this, I take Google to algorithmically valuing it in regards to page and domain authority, plus TrustRank as it did before it dropped. Here is what I did…

  • Visit archives.org and return what content you can find possible
  • This includes page titles and meta descriptions
  • My site was ODP listed, so I matched natural search copy with that
  • Don’t add any links (yet) until the domain has been brought back to life

Sure enough, come the next TBPR update, that little green box was back. The site was receiving around 3,000 visits a month from referral links and continues to grow. Think about how you can use this approach, but don’t abuse it.

  1. Scrape around the Internet for sites with authoritative links that have dropped
  2. Keep an eye on content that goes genuinely unintentionally viral, but may be likely to drop in the future with automatic tools
  3. Harvest a list of dropping domains and pull SEOmoz data in to analyse strength to draw up a list of acquisitions
  4. (My favourite) Take the referral traffic the sites was getting and use it to get eyeballs on your new content. If you’ve got a ton of referral traffic from places like Reddit, invite people to check out new content. With that, you can amplify new content you are creating and leverage more benefit.