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Google Analytics Filters: Tricks for Cleaning Data

The first time you start seeing data flowing in from your tracking software, it is really exciting. After all, these are real people that are interested in visiting your website. Depending on your purposes for tracking visitor activities, you may need to filter your data to get a clearer picture of what is happening. Things like internal traffic from an organization, web development activities or just data that you don’t need to see can clutter up your reports and give you an inaccurate or hard-to-sift through pile of numbers. Read on for some best practices on using Google Analytics filters to make customized reports.

STOP! Don’t Apply an Analytics Filter Yet!

Before you do anything, you need to make a duplicate of your profile in your account. This is a copy of the default profile in your account. At the time of this writing, you can make up to 50 duplicate profiles in one Analytics account for one property. The reason you need to make a duplicate is that you should always maintain an unfiltered profile with all of your data in it. Any analytics filter you apply to a profile throws data away. This data cannot be retrieved, and should you make a mistake or decide that you want the data later, it’s gone for good. By making a duplicate profile, you will always have at least one that has not been touched. If you already have a duplicate profile, skip to the next section. If you have never done this, follow the steps below:

  1. Log into your Analytics account
  2. Click the “Admin” link in the top right-hand corner of the accountGoogle Analytics Filter Screen Shot
  3. Select the profile that you would like to duplicate
  4. Click on the “Profile Settings” tabGoogle Analytics Filter Screen Shot
  5. Click the “Copy this profile” link in the bottom right corner of the screenAnalytics Filter Screen Shot
  6. Confirm the copy

Now that you have a duplicate, you can do whatever you want to the copy of your original knowing that you still have the first profile should you screw things up.

Excluding Traffic Using Filters in Google Analytics

A popular filter to apply to a property is to exclude traffic. If you are running a company, you may want to exclude employee traffic from the website. If you are doing some web development activities or someone you have hired is about to, you may want to exclude them from data so that it isn’t skewed. Another reason you might exclude data is to only look at a certain subset of users. Whatever they case, there are a variety of ways to accomplish this.

Exclude Traffic by IP Address

You can exclude traffic from a site based on the visitor’s IP address or a range of IP addresses. To do this, log into your Analytics account and select your duplicate profile.

  1. Click on the “Admin” link at the top of the screen
  2. Click on the “Filters” tab
  3. Click “New Filter”Filters in Google Analytics Screen Shot
  4. Select the “Create new Filter” radio buttonFilters Google Analytics Screen Shot
  5. Give your filter a name (this can be anything)
  6. If you are only excluding one IP address, you can select the “Predefined filter” option, then “Exclude,” then “Traffic from the IP addresses” and “That are equal to”
  7. Next, enter the IP address

If you are excluding traffic from multiple or a range of IP addresses:

  1.  Follow steps 1-3 above
  2. This time select the “Custom Filter” option
  3. Select the “exclude” radio button
  4. For the filter field, select “IP address”
  5. For the filter pattern, you will have to enter a regular expression for the range of IP addresses you want to exclude. Regular expressions are very difficult to write correctly; however, Google offers an IP address range tool that allows you to do this easily. Use the tool, then just copy and paste your regular expression into the filter pattern field
  6. Make sure “Case Sensitive” is set to “No”

Excluding Visitors by Setting a Cookie

Sometime excluding traffic based on IP address is not practical because computer networks may be utilizing dynamic IP addresses for security. In these cases, you can set a user cookie on the browser to exclude traffic. Note that this method is not ideal because it requires actual people to visit a web page to set the cookie, and the cookie expires or can be erased when someone clears his or her browser cache. It also requires some programming knowledge. Use of this filtering method works best when there are small groups of users that need to be excluded.

 

The web page where the cookie will be set:

  1.  Create a new html page (there does not have to be content, but you can add some if you like)
  2. Add this snippet of Javascript code into the head section of your new page: <body onLoad=”javascript:pageTracker._setVar(‘exclude_visitor’);”>
  3. Also insert your Google Analytics Tracking script into the head of your page (this can be obtained from your GA account) *Note: this must go after the first snippet above or else GA will record a visit
  4. Save the page to your server (IMPORTANT: you should also exclude this page from search engines via robots.txt! Otherwise, regular visitors whom you do not intend to exclude could also visit the page)

Setting up the filter to exclude traffic:

  1.  Log into your Analytics account
  2. Click on the “Admin” button
  3. Click the “Filters” tab
  4. Create a new filter
  5. Click the “Custom Filter” radio button
  6. Select “Exclude”
  7. For the filter pattern select User Defined”
  8. For the filter pattern use “Exclude_Visitor”

After you have set up the filter and you are sure it is working, go ahead and let the user group that you want excluded visit the page on all the browsers that they commonly use. This will effectively exclude them from reports.

Separating Domains Using Google Analytics Filters

When you have a blog, a web store or some other web property that has a different purpose than your main website, it is best for SEO to keep them all on the same or a sub domain. When looking at this data in reports, however, it can be an arduous process to sort through everything to evaluate activity. For instance, you may want to track activity on your blog separately from that of your main website. Using filters, you can separate these.

Including Traffic to a Sub Directory:

  1.  Log into your Analytics account
  2. Click the “Admin” link in the top right corner of the screen
  3. Select the profile you want to apply the filter to
  4. Click the “Filters” tab
  5.  Select “Create new Filter”
  6. Name your filter
  7. Select “Predefined Filter”
  8. Select “Include only,”  “traffic from the subdirectories” and “that begin with.” Note: if you were to select “that are equal to,” any sub directory past the first would also be excluded.
  9. Enter your subdirectory (i.e. /blog)

There are over 50 different options for your  filter field, and out of those there are almost limitless combinations of how you can exclude or include data. The main purpose of filters is to only keep the data that you want in order to make your reports easier to decipher. Remember that you can create up to 50 different profiles and apply all sorts of filters to your data. Some of the most common are to exclude internal traffic or to separate properties, but you can also create filters based on user location, ISP, browser, campaign, page title and lots of e-commerce related characteristics.

 

What filters are you using on your data? How do they help you get a clearer picture of your data?

Alternatives to Google Analytics

Measuring your activities as an online marketer is arguably one of your most important tasks. As the old saying goes, if you don’t know where you are headed, how will you know when you get there? Google Analytics is a very popular and robust platform; however, it is not the only option for tracking out there. We would like to point out some of the alternatives (both free and paid) that are available on the market for tracking your website and other marketing activities.

HiStats

A pretty good package that I have come across (and that is also completely free) is HiStats. It touts itself as a 100% free web-based tracking platform, and from what I have seen, that is completely true. You won’t find a lot of tracking platforms like Google that are completely free and also pretty effective. HiStats uses JavaScript to record page views just like GA does, and it features many of the same standard reporting features.

Pros

  • Free (up to 10 million hits a day – if you surpass that, you can afford to pay for tracking)
  • Data-rich basic reports like time on site, page views, bounce and exit rates, geo-location and pretty much any other basic reporting you can think ofHistats Screen shot
  • Custom date range with comparison
  • Log analyzer
  • Multilingual reports
  • Live data feed

Cons

  • Tons of ads in reports pages and elsewhere on the site (I guess they have to make money somehow)
  • No apparent support for customizable tracking
  • Terms of service says you cannot change the code snippet used to count page views

If you are looking for an alternative to Google, but don’t want to miss out on all the great data, give this one a try. It’s pretty easy to set up — you just have to provide your name, email and website URL, then embed their code on your site and you are good to go.

 

Clicky

If you are looking for a low-priced and feature-rich tracking platform, Clicky has a pretty good offering. They have a free limited version; however, the paid one is about 20 bucks a month and worth the cost for some of the features you get. The free plan allows you to track one website and up to 3,000 page views per month. If you are a heavy user, this won’t be adequate for you. The pro plan gets you three websites per month and up to a million page views per day. Custom pricing is also available.

Clicky Screenshot

 

Pros

  • Free (good for small sites with low traffic)
  • Heat maps
  • Engagement reports
  • Custom reporting
  • Easy setup

Cons

  • You pretty much have to pay if you have a site with any kind of high traffic
  • An annoying Clicky Analytics button shows up on your website by default, although it can be removed.
  • Even for paid accounts, some historic data is purged once a year (Why, Clicky! Why!)

Click Tale

Normally, I like to point out platforms that are of high quality and also free, but sometimes that isn’t possible. If you are interested in something more comprehensive than GA, but can’t afford their premium package, you may want to check out Click Tale. Don’t get me wrong — at almost 1,000 dollars per month to start, this is not something that novices or those with tight budgets should consider. It does offer a lot of compelling features, though, and for businesses heavily immersed in activity online, it has some great tools.

 

Clicktale screenshot

Pros

  • Heat map suite: a full suite of visual reports that track mouse movements, clicks and scrolling. Keep in mind that this isn’t a traditional heat map that tracks eye movements, but it’s pretty cool stuff
  • Captures keystrokes, as well
  • Link analytics:  You can view reports on how visitors respond to and interact with the hyperlinks on your site. You can even track mouse hovers, hesitations and hovers that resulted in a conversion (sweet!)
  • Form reports:  I don’t think I have seen more in-depth form tracking functionality. You can see where users abandoned a funnel, what fields are tripping them up or are too ambiguous, as well as a refill report, which gives data on how often users have to go back and refill form data
  • Lots of other basic data reporting features

Cons

  • It’s expensive for solo marketers: There is a free plan, but it is only good up until 400 page views per month, which even a brand new site would blow through easily. Premium plans start at around 950 dollars and go up from there
  • There have been questions raised elsewhere on the web as to the reliability of the tracking software. For example, one user reported using a form built with AJAX that gave users helpful feedback while filling in form fields. In the video made by Click Tale to report user behavior, the AJAX generated suggestions were not visible. These would be important in determining why users are having trouble with certain fields

If you search the web, you will find dozens of other self-hosted and web-based tracking platforms. I picked out these three because they were moderately comparable to Google Analytics, and had some pretty compelling features. If you are in the market for tracking software, look for something that will fulfill your goals. Your goals may be specific if you are looking for a platform just for your business, and they may be more general if you are planning on using tracking on others’ websites.

 

What platforms do you use to track your website activity? What benefits do they bring to the table? What are their drawbacks?

Making Changes to Your Website Based on Data

In our previous post, we talked about mining data from Google Analytics. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do next once you have gleaned data from your website. As web marketers with access to loads of useful data, we still spend much of our time guessing about exactly what will please our visitors. This post will offer some tips on what to do with data once you are done analyzing it.

Engaging Your Visitors

Forming deep connections with visitors to your website is an important part of building a brand online. Identify pages where users are spending the most time. What is it about those pages that keeps people on your site? Mimic these characteristics on other parts of your website. You can also look at your keywords report to see which keywords are correlated with long stays on your website. This clues you in to similar key terms that may be useful to target on other pages of your site in a search marketing campaign.

Top Entrance Pages from Search Referrals

Take a look at Traffic Sources -> Search -> Overview, and then add a secondary metric of landing pages. These are the pages that visitors are finding and clicking on in searches. Your most visited page may be your home page (which is fairly common), but take a look at other pages that are ranked highly in the number of visits. These pages are doing very well in search engine results pages, and you can compare them to pages that may not be showing up so high in the reports to help you improve their rankings.

Real Time

At first, the real time feature in Analytics is cool to look at, but you might consider it to be a novel addition, at best, after a short time. There are actually a couple of cool uses for this feature. It’s not wise to make programming or content changes to a live site, but it can happen sometimes. You can use the real-time report to see if anyone is looking at the page you plan on changing before you take action. Other uses for the report include checking initial progress of a campaign like an email blast, sharing content on social media that involves a link to your site or any other activities that involve sending traffic to your property. You should always have some other, more recordable method of tracking for a campaign, but the real-time report can give you a good initial picture of how your campaign is shaping up.

Site Speed

Having a slow website can increase bounce rates and, in general, promote a poor user experience. The site speed report is one that gets little fanfare, but it’s pretty useful. You can see the speed of your site’s average load times in most major browsers and mobile operating systems. You can also look at load times on the page level. If you see that load times are too high, you can take proper action. Google provides a site speed analysis for free, and it will tell you exactly what may be causing your site to move slowly.

Observe, Hypothesize, Test, Repeat

In any post about how to use data in Analytics, testing should always be mentioned. Sometimes there are small tweaks that can be made to a website, but often our assumptions must be validated by a series of tests to ensure that we are making the right decisions.

A/B/n and Multivariate Testing

After data has been analyzed and conclusions drawn, don’t just start changing things around on your website or individual pages. Not only will this confuse you down the road, but you will not be able to determine if your educated guess about what to change was, in fact, correct. Instead, you can set up carefully administered tests. Two of the most common forms are A/B/n tests (also known as A/B testing or split testing) and multivariate testing.

A/B/n testing

  • This is a very common form of testing used in web design and web usability. It involves making two versions of a page and sometimes three. Traffic is then divided among the pages to see which variation has the best results in terms of a goal. The goal could vary, and some examples might be increasing time one page, increasing conversions, decreasing bounce rate or getting visitors to perform some kind of action. The benefit to this type of testing is that it’s easy to set up and implement.

Multivariate testing

  • This is similar to A/B testing; however, it involves testing multiple variables on a webpage. Another way to think of this kind of testing is many A/B tests happening on the same page at the same time. The main purpose for this kind of testing is to determine which combination of variables produces the desired result based on the goal of the test. Multivariate tests can be very difficult, time consuming and expensive to undertake. It is best to start out with A/B/n testing first, especially for smaller tasks.

Testing your changes is very important. Keep a log of how each variation of a page performed when you set up your tests. For an A/B test, narrow down your best guesses as to how you could better accomplish your goal with the layout and elements of a page. Then, pick the two best configurations (or three if you have that many), and start your test. Here is a great resource on setting up an A/B test for your website.

What you do with your data will largely depend on what it is telling you. High bounce rates, low visit durations, low numbers of pages viewed and scant referrals or conversions will all have their own solutions. Make sure you are analyzing your data with the context in mind. For instance, a high bounce rate on a single page blog may not be an indication of copy that isn’t engaging or interesting. Low conversion rates could be attributed to other factors like a long or confusing sales process.

What decisions have you made for your website based on Analytics data? Did you find that further testing helped identify what you needed to change on your website?

How to Mine Your Data in Google Analytics

new vs returningOne of the greatest things about the analytical platforms available for websites is the sheer abundance of data. There is so much data, in fact, that it’s easy to get paralyzed and not really know which direction to take. In this post, we’ll explore several options for mining your data from Google Analytics and how to make practical use of it in your everyday activities.

Keyword Traffic Sources

The keywords you use on your website are some of the most important text. Analytics provides keyword reports that show you exactly which terms visitors used to find you. At the time of this writing, the keyword traffic sources report can be found by navigating to Traffic Sources -> Overview. The keyword report should be the default report view. If it isn’t, simply click on “view full report” in the bottom right-hand corner of the summary report, and select from one of the primary dimensions listed above the report view.

The keywords report has a variety of purposes. It can be used to track progress in on- and off-site SEO campaigns, as a tool to optimize for keywords that you may not be targeting but that people are using to find your site, and the level of engagement visitors have with your site in relation to the keyword they used to find it.

Tracking SEO campaigns:

  • The presence of targeted keywords in the keyword report gives a good indication that SEO efforts are paying off. Adding a secondary dimension like referral source can give you further verification that the site is ranking for a particular keyword phrase in searches.

Going after keywords:

  • With all the keyword research tools and software programs out there for determining the best phrases, we still miss the mark sometimes. Keyword data in analytics tells us exactly the terms people are using to find our website. Sometimes, you may find terms that your site is ranking for, but that you aren’t targeting specifically. If you can tell from low bounce rates and high visit durations that these unexpected keywords are beneficial, you can then optimize certain pages of your site to be more relevant for those terms.

Tweaking your Content:

  • On the other side of the coin, there may be words or phrases you are trying to rank for, but data may suggest that visitors don’t find your pages relevant. High bounce rates and low visit durations compared with a high percentage of new visits on a particular phrase may suggest that you are succeeding in ranking for that term, but that your content on the page is not that useful or relevant for visitors using that term to find your site.

Note that you can also associate a Google Analytics account with a web master tools account to view lots of useful SEO data. You can see additional keyword terms that were used to find the property, click through rates, landing pages, impressions and more.

Campaigns

Tracking advertising campaigns online is far more fruitful than tracking more traditional marketing such as direct mail. Using Google’s URL builder, advertisers can put uniqe URLs in their ads so that data can be tracked easily in campaign referral reports provided by analytics. Once you have a campaign and tracking set up for it, other metics in analytics can tell you how successful your efforts have been. The campaigns report can be found by going to Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Campaigns. Basic metrics like bounce rate, visit duration and the number of visits can tell you if your campaigns are doing well or if they need attention.

Bounce Rate:

  • A high bounce rate for a campaign can tell you things about your ad(s). The most obvious problem may be that your landing page is not relevant to your ad. If your value proposition stated in the ad, keywords or other elements aren’t consistent with your landing page, people will leave right away.

Visit Duration:

  • Analytics tells you how long a visitor stayed on your site after clicking an ad. Visit duration can be especially revealing for sites that are sending visitors through a conversion funnel. A low overall visit duration for a campaign where visitors are prompted to go through a conversion funnel may indicate that the process is too long or ambiguous in some way. A short visit duration on a single page in a conversion funnel may also suggest that the process is confusing in some way, or that the pages are poorly designed.

Number of Visitors:

  • The number of visitors from a campaign gives you direct evidence as to the success of your ad in terms of driving traffic. You can use this metric to determine if it’s worth advertising on a specific property.

Audience

There are a variety of metrics in the audience reports that can help you make decisions about your website. Some notable reports like Technology and Mobile can help you make decisions about design and programming tasks for your site. Using data in the Browser & OS report, you can make programming decisions about your website. This report can be found under Audience -> Technology -> Browser & OS. Data from mobile overview and devices reports can help you make decisions about whether mobile content is something you should be thinking about if you haven’t already. These reports can be found under Audience -> Mobile -> Overview or Devices.

Browser & OS:

  • There are tons of technologies available that make the web more beautiful. Flash, HTML5, CSS3 and other programming languages and software enable web designers to make visually appealing pages with advanced functionality. Unfortunately, there are few standards when it comes to browsers, and not all features work the same in all browsers. In fact, it can be extremely time consuming and tedious to ensure that a single effect can be viewed consistently across all devices. Using the Browser & OS reports, you can determine if these programming challenges need to be undertaken or not. For example, you may find that 95% of your visitors don’t have the most current version of Flash and haven’t for the past 7 months. Knowing that, you may hold off on relying on the technology for a web redesign.

Mobile:

  • Mobile is growing by leaps and bounds. The number of mobile devices accessing the web now outnumbers more traditional devices. Businesses often ask, “Should I have a mobile website?” The answer isn’t always clear, and as a business, you don’t want to spend a lot of time and money making your site mobile-friendly if you don’t have to. Mobile reports in analytics can give you an idea if users are demanding mobile-friendly content from you. If you have the traffic volumes, it can also tell you which devices are used most often to access your site. Using this information, you can make decisions about whether having mobile-ready content is worth the investment, and if it is, which devices are most important for optimization.

Referring Websites

This is one of my favorite reports because you can see the other websites that are sending traffic to yours. There are a couple of cool things you can learn by looking at data from these reports. If you are involved in backlink building or commenting on forums or blogs, you can see the websites where your time has been well spent building links or being active. You can also use it as a collaboration tool for reaching out to other webmasters in your niche.

Forum Commenting:

  • Forum commenting is a great way to build awareness of a brand, generate links to your site and, in general, position yourself as a thought leader. You can determine if your overall activities are effective by seeing the number of visitors referred, how long they stayed on your site, how many pages they looked at and the percentage of new visits. An example of where you could use data is if you are active on a forum for the purposes of marketing. If you have a link to your website or one of its pages in a signature on the forum, you will be able to see referrals coming from that link. Say you post to the forum three times per day, five days per week over a three month period. If you see that you are only receiving a handful of referrals from those links, this could be an indication that other visitors to the forum aren’t responding well to your product/service, or that the forum isn’t a good place to be spending your time. On the other hand, if you see that your time spent posting has brought you many dozens of referrals, perhaps it would be wise to increase activity on the same forum or similar sites.

Link Building:

  • The referring websites report not only allows you to check on the progress of a link building campaign, it can help you identify sites that probably shouldn’t be connected to yours. By clicking on a referring site in reports, you can see the path where the referral came from. This is the exact page that sent a visitor to your site and also the location of a backlink. By visiting the URLs specified in analytics, you can see if your backlinks are placed in appropriate areas such as within copy and with anchor text that is favorable to you. Viewing these URLs will also give you a good idea if the site linking to yours is of good quality or not. For instance, if you see that the site’s content has nothing to do with yours, or if it is spammy or poorly designed, its links should be removed. The same is true if a site links from blog networks, disproportionate anchor text links, or is generally untrustworthy. Referring website reports will not identify these links for you, but they will show you pages that are referring traffic, which allows you to decide for yourself if the links need to be removed.

Visitors Flow

The visitors flow report is a neat visual representation of how people move throughout your site. Using this report, you can identify where visitors enter your site and which pages they travel to afterwards. Using the data, you can determine if your site is easy to navigate. Looking at this report as a whole can be confusing because there may be many different pages with many different connections. The whole thing can look like a spider web. In other words, it’s impressive, but useless.

Interpreting Visitor Flow:

  • Instead of looking at the visitor flow report as a whole, identify single connections among one, two or three pages. Perhaps you have a conversion funnel or a series of pages that you want visitors to follow. By isolating the pages in the report, you can see where visitors are traveling among those few pages and make assumptions as to why. For example, you may want visitors to travel deeper into your site from the home page. If looking at the visitor flow report reveals that a majority of visitors are bouncing after seeing the home page, this could be an indication that your content is not engaging, your navigation may be confusing, or perhaps some other mechanism in place to drive traffic to the site is misleading.

Google Analytics is a great tool for measuring activity on a website. It’s important to develop specific goals and questions rather than looking at the data passively with no real objective. The amount of data can be overwhelming, but if you have a narrow set of concerns, the data can be very insightful and easy to understand. You can find even more information on how to gather your data and make actionable decisions on the official Google Analytics Blog.

 

How do you mine data in Analytics? Have you ever found yourself paralyzed by the amount of information presented to you by the platform?

2012 Google Algorithm Updates: Part 2

Google updates its algorithm hundreds of times in a year. Here are the rest of the updates for 2012 ending with some of the most recent changes to date.

Multiple Panda UpdatesPanda 3.7, 3.8 and 3.9

An update (Panda 3.7) was applied to the Panda change on June 8, 2012 affecting less than 1% of queries. Later that same month on the 25th, Google rolled out another refresh update (Panda 3.8 data only) but no algorithm change. On July 24, 2012, one month after the first Panda update, Google rolled out a new change (Panda 3.9) that affected about 1% of queries.

 

Unnatural Link Warnings
On July 19, 2012, the company sent out unnatural link warnings through web master tools in another effort to combat link spam. The company also announced that these new warnings may not represent a serious problem. Search Engine Round Table provides an overview of the update.

Massive Changes
In one of the larger releases for the year, Google posted over 80 changes to the algorithm for June/July. Notable in this batch was Google’s improvement of “when is” and “what is” queries. The change allowed for better understanding of queries that ask questions like when is Halloween? Other improvements include better understanding of queries about weather, improved display of business information for mobile, and improvements for autocomplete that gives users more accurate information based on their home country.

DMCA Takedown
On August 10, 2012, Google released an update that penalized sites with repeated copyright violations.

SERP Change
In a more radical change to their user interface, Google rolled out an update that would decrease the amount of results that appear in SERP’s. On August 14, 2012, only 7 results could be seen in a Google SERP as opposed to the previous 10. The update had a much larger effect on overall searches at about 18%. This update indirectly created much more competition for the coveted first page of Google making it slightly more difficult to reach that spot. This post on 7-result SERP’s from SEOMoz gives a comprehensive overview on the subject.

20th Panda and EMD (Exact Match Domain) Update
On September 27, 2012, Google rolled out a rather large Panda update that affected about 2.4% of queries. In that same update came a lot of changes concerning exact match domains or EMD’s. A huge swath of websites that utilized EMD’s were devalued largely because of other poor ranking signals and not because the site used an EMD.

Penguin Update Number 3 and Page Layout Number 2
In October of 2012, Google introduced another Penguin update. The company reported that changes would be significant but when the time came, they rolled out a minor update that only affected less than 1% of queries. Also in October, a second page layout update was introduced but it was unclear how significant a change would happen. The original update was targeted at websites that had too many ads above the fold in the header of their pages.

Panda #21
In November of 2012, Google put out yet another update to Panda. This one officially impacted 1.1% of queries and was not seen as a significant change.

This list is essentially a summary of major and minor updates that Google has applied to its algorithm over 2012. There are hundreds of updates that go on throughout any given year that are not necessarily promoted to the public. Google makes changes to its algorithm in some form on almost a daily basis. It can also be difficult to gauge the performance of a website in search at any given time because of the way Google rolls out its updates. First the company tests changes on a subset of real users before rolling out a change across the entire user base. Therefore behavior of a website in search cannot always be predicted and sites may sometimes behave oddly.

Google is always thinking of its users when it is planning a change and it recommends to SEO’s that they do the same. Many of these updates mentioned may have little to no significance if webmasters are creating great content and designing for the people consuming that content instead of for search engines.

2012 Google Algorithm Updates: Part 1

Google had a busy year in 2012 with about 33 groups of major updates released to its proprietary search algorithm and other parts of its platform. With the flurry of updates keeping search engine marketers and SEO’s on their toes, it can be difficult to keep up on all the changes. That’s why we have compiled them all here for you to see in a 2 part post. So sit back and buckle up, the scenery changes quickly.

The Venice Update
On February 27, 2012, Google launched the Venice update which was one notable change of 40 that occurred to the algorithm in this month. The specific wording of the algorithm modification was “This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.” This means that location based signals (such as the location setting in a Google account, a user’s IP address and other signals) are playing a larger role in the results that Google delivers to its users.

The Rest of the February 2012 Updates
Along with the Venice update, there were numerous other changes to the algorithm for February. Among some of the more exciting updates were the international launch of shopping rich snippets which allowed users to more easily identify sites that have relevant product information along with featured reviews and ratings, better support for English spelling correction especially for rare queries and a Panda update that made the previous version more sensitive to changes on the internet.  SEOMoz provides some great visual examples of how the Venice Update impacted localized results.

Panda 3.3 and 3.4
PandaThe Panda update is noted as having an unusually long lifespan for an algorithm update. At the end of February (Panda 3.3) and March (Panda 3.4), Google released minor updates to the famed Panda change. What was notable about 3.4 was that the company announced its update via Twitter. Google’s Tweet below indicates the scope of searches that will be impacted. An update (Panda 3.5) made later in April was also of small significance.

 


March Batch of Updates
In April of 2012, Google released a batch of updates for the month of March. Among them were improvements to the handling of symbols for indexing, autocomplete improvements for equation related queries, better results for navigational type queries (searches where people are looking for a specific website), and more relevant image search results. A really cool part of this update was that when Google put out its monthly blog post featuring the latest updates, they also included an uncut video showing a search quality meeting. It gives great insight into how these decisions are made; very cool!

My Domain is NOT parked
On April 16, 2012, the search giant rolled out an update that fixed an issue with domains mistakenly being recognized as parked when they were not. When a domain is seen as parked by a search engine, it is devalued in the SERP’s because there is no real content for users to see.  Search Engine Land covers the topic here.

And Then There was a Penguin

PenguinThis is starting to sound like some strange dream. On April 24, 2012, Google rolled out the Penguin update to combat web spam. This was a highly anticipated update and one that changed the way many websites optimize their content and structure today. Google’s post was titled “Another Way to Reward High-Quality Sites” and the update targeted sites that were blatantly engaging in webspam tactics to deceive both users and Google.

A screen shot from Google’s post highlights a site that may appear legitimate at first glance but that is obviously using tactics that create a poor user experience.  Notice in the screen shot how the anchor text in the links has nothing to do with the overall theme of the article.

Example of Link Spam

There were also 52 other updates in April including an increase in the company’s “base” index and numerous updates to sitelinks. The last update that was rolled out in April was Panda 3.6 which, like the other updates to Panda, had a relatively small impact on overall searches.

The Other 52 Updates for April 2012

Some of the notable improvements made to Google’s algorithm in April of 2012 include: More domain diversity which delivered users a wider spectrum of separate websites in SERP’s, more improvements to local navigational searches, and better search query interpretation. The improved interpretation actually better predicts the intention of user queries based on their previous searches. Another important part about his batch of updates was one that increased the size of Google’s base index. The base index is the database which is used to match a user’s query. Google points out that updates to their indexes are not always mentioned in their monthly update blog posts.  Click here for the  full list of updates in April.

The Knowledge Graph

Google takes a step toward building the next generation of search with the Knowledge Graph. On May 16, 2012, the company began rolling out the project. Instead of focusing on strings of characters and words, Google began to deliver results based on objects and their relationship to other things in the world. The graph currently contains more than 500 million objects and more than 3.5 billion facts about the relationships among those objects. The knowledge graph is truly one of the most exciting and unique updates of 2012.

Penguin 1.1
On May 25, 2012 Google rolled out the first data update for Penguin.

39 Updates for May 2012
This batch of updates (posted in June), featured an updated search app for iPhone, better detection of pages that have been hacked and improved detection of link schemes. The link scheme detection is a notable improvement as this is one  of the most widely used ways of increasing the popularity of a website. It also reaffirms that this is a strong signal that Google looks at to determine the value of any particular website.

That does it for the first half of 2012. Check out the rest of the updates for the year as well as the most recent changes to Google’s algorithm in the second part of this post.

Google Analytics – Top Tips for Small Businesses

After setting up pay-per-click campaigns, landing pages, social profiles and/or a really great website; you must have a way to track all the activity that is happening with these elements.  Google Analytics provides webmasters and business owners with an incredibly powerful free tracking tool to get actionable data about their online business activities.  While there are many things that analytics can do, if you are new to the platform, there are some very effective tips to help you make the most of your online measurement initiatives.

What is Google Analytics?

Lets get the basics out of the way. Through the use of JavaScript code applied to a web page, Google is able to provide data about the behavior of a website’s visitors. When you sign up for analytics, you are given an account with an easy to use interface that allows you to view organized reports of the data that is aggregated in the account. Basic reports include measurements such as time on site, number of pageviews, number of visitors, where the visitors came from, how many pages they looked at, what buttons or links they clicked on, the type of device they used to view your site and from where in the world they accessed your website among many other metrics. Users can also customize analytics in a variety of ways both from a tracking and reporting standpoint.

Profiles and Filters

Analytics Profiles

When your analytics account is first set up, it will have a default profile to collect data and will be labeled as such by Google. You can create up to 50 profiles in your analytics account. A filter is sort of like a rule that you can apply to a profile and lets Google know what data you would like to keep and what data you don’t need. Filters are not set up by default on your account.
As a best practice, you should not apply any filters to your default profile. All data that is collected in this profile should be left in its raw form. This is to ensure that in the event you make a mistake with a filter, there is still a profile that has all data in it. Start by creating at least one duplicate profile. Do this even if you do not plan on applying any filters to the new profile.

To create a duplicate profile:

  • Log into your analytics account.
  • Click on the “admin” link on the orange bar at the top right of your dashboard.
  • Click the “new profile” button.
  • Make sure the option to track your website is selected.
  • Give your filter a name.
  • Set the time zone setting as you wish.
  • Click the “create profile” button.

Filters

There are many ways that you can filter your data and one you should definitely apply right away is to exclude internal traffic or traffic that is not related to your business objectives. This could include traffic generated from employees, from web development activities or any other source that doesn’t provide actionable market based data. Not excluding this data will either hinder your decision making or cause you to make inaccurate decisions based on data that isn’t telling an accurate story about your website visitors.

Filter Patterns

When setting up a filter to exclude unwanted traffic to your website, you will notice that there are many different options for how to identify that traffic. One of the most common and effective ways to do this is to exclude users based on an IP address. If you are only excluding one machine, you can simply use that machine’s IP address. More often, a small business may use a range of IP addresses for their employees. In this scenario, you can enter an IP address range as the filter pattern. Any IP address that matches that range will not be counted in your data for the profile you set up the filter in.

To set up a filter that excludes unwanted traffic:

 

  • Log into your analytics account.
  • Click on “admin” on the orange bar in the top right corner of your dashboard.
  • Select the profile you would like to apply the filter to (IMPORTANT! Remember to only apply filters to copies of your default profile).
  • Select the filters tab.
  • Click the “new filter” button.
  • Make sure the “create new filter” radio button is selected.
  • Enter a name for your filter (i.e. Exclude Internal Traffic or Unwanted Traffic or whatever you want to call it).
  • If you want to exclude traffic from a single IP address, you can select the “predefined filter” radio button.
  • From the drop down menus select “exclude” “traffic from the IP addresses” and “that are equal to”.
  • To exclude traffic from a range of IP addresses, select the “custom filer” radio button.
  • Select the “exclude” radio button.
  • In the filer field drop down menu, select the “IP Address” option under Audience/Users.
  • The range of IP addresses can be entered in the filter field text box.

NOTE! Your IP addresses must be entered as regular expressions. They must be entered in this format whether you are entering a single IP address or a range of IP addresses. Don’t know what a regular expression is or how in the world to write one? No problem! Google provides a really great regular expression generator ( aka the IP address range tool and used for IP addresses only). Simply plug in your IP address or addresses and the generator will spit out a perfectly crafted regular expression that you simply copy and paste into the filter pattern field.

ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE! Filters in your profiles are executed in the order that they are placed. So for example if you have a filter excluding all traffic from Michigan placed before a filter that includes only traffic from Detroit, the second filter will not work properly because relevant traffic from that region has already been thrown out by the first filter. As a best practice, if you have a lot of complex filters you should apply them to different profiles to get the best data.

Google Analytics Goals

Having Google’s Analytical platform installed on your website will provide you a lot of basic tracking but there are also opportunities to customize your data. Goals in analytics are scenarios that you can set up to track when a specific action takes place.

Available options include:

  • A URL destination
  • Visit duration
  • Page/visit
  • Event

Goals are a very powerful feature of analytics because you can use them to measure the success of things like conversion funnels, design changes, content configuration and pretty much anything else. You can also create steps in your goal process letting analytics know that a goal is only to be recorded when a particular series of events takes place. A common scenario might be a goal set up to record a URL destination of a confirmation page for a web form. A required first step might be the form page itself or perhaps a series of form pages before the final URL destination is recorded. With this information, business owners can see where visitors to their website may have abandoned a process or had trouble performing some action. It can also help them track their return on investment. For instance if a business person is driving traffic to a lead generation page using pay-per-click methods, they can use goals in analytics to determine how often a visit to the page from PPC resulted in a lead.
One of the most basic goals is the URL destination. This goal records when visitors arrive at a page of your website that you have entered as the goal URL.

To set up this type of goal:

  • Log into your analytics account.
  • Click on “admin” on the orange bar in the top right corner of your dashboard.
  • Click on the profile that you would like to apply your goal to (note that you can apply a goal to any profile without damaging data but you should apply it to a profile that will not exclude data that the goal may rely on to execute).
  • Select the goals tab.
  • Click on “+Goal” to create a new goal (note that you can create up to 20 goals per profile).
  • Name your goal (this can be anything you want however you should name it something relevant and descriptive as the name will appear in reports. A relevant and descriptive name will help you identify your goals more easily).
  • Make sure the “active” radio button is selected (This should be selected by default).
  • Click the “URL Destination” radio button.
  • Enter your goal URL (Do not enter the entire URL in this field. Instead, enter everything after your main domain name. This is known as the URI. For instance you WOULD NOT enter www.example.com/trackme.html but YOU WOULD enter /trackme.html).
  • Make sure “exact match” is selected in the match type drop down menu.
  • If your URI is case sensitive check the “case sensitive” checkbox.
  • You can enter a goal value if you would like but this is not required. Click here to learn more about goal values.
  • From here you can also select to use the goal funnel. Checking this box will make more options appear that ask you to enter more steps in the process for your goal. This is not required however if you have additional steps in a process such as multiple form pages or other pages that users must pass before they reach the goal URL, check this box. Just like for the URL destination, only enter the URI for the URL that you want to check as a step. You can also check a box that makes the step a requirement. Checking this will tell analytics not to record a goal unless the visitor first goes through that particular page.
  • Click the “Save” button.

While very basic, these tips are best practices and will lay the groundwork for an analytics account that is accurate and efficient at collecting data. Remember to clearly define your business goals so that you can use the data analytics generates to make good decisions. You can also find additional Google analytics training at Google’s Conversion University.

The Best WordPress Plugins for Internet Marketers

WordPress is arguably one of the most flexible and widely used content management systems on the web. The dynamic nature of the popular CMS allows a novice to easily set up powerful functionality or a seasoned development professional to bend it to their will. The system has been especially valuable for internet marketers with the variety of both free and paid plugins available for installation. If you are an internet marketer or simply interested in promoting your WordPress site, the following list of plugins are handy tools to have.

Every Marketer Should have a Good SEO Plugin

There are tons of SEO plugins made for WordPress. Some free, some paid and some specialized for specific SEO tasks. If you have one that is working for you then by all means, stick with it. However if you haven’t made up your mind I’d like to recommend a few. All of these plugins are easy for novices to use yet also offer some advanced functionality for SEO professionals. The first is SEO Ultimate which is a great general SEO plugin for WordPress. It features an easy to use interface that allows you to enter meta descriptions and title tags for posts right below the post editor. You can monitor 404 error pages and apply site-wide SEO settings. Another great optimization plugin is the Yoast SEO plugin which has some great features. Users can edit their robots and .htaccess files right from the Yoast interface and permalink cleanup is a snap. Finally the All in One SEO Pack is also a great option for WordPress sites. It has good support for Google Analytics, it generates meta tags automatically and works great out-of-the-box for beginners.

Analytics is a Must

For any internet marketer, being able to measure success is imperative. WordPress integrates very easily with Google Analytics making it easy to generate actionable data. The Google Anlytics plugin for WordPress makes setting up tracking super simple. It provides an easy-to-use interface along with short descriptions on how to configure analytics to get you the data you need. Of course you can still use the traditional Google interface if you prefer but setting things up within the plugin is much simpler and doesn’t require pasting code snippets into HTML on your website. A notable feature of the widget is that you can select a check box to log outgoing links as events, a process which is much more tedious without the plugin and that requires programming knowledge.

Show Your Visitors more Content While Lowering Your Bounce Rate

Showing your visitors related content to the posts they are reading is a great way to both lower the bounce rate of your blog or website and also keep visitors there. I highly recommend Yet Another Related Post Plugin (YARPP). It has a Templating system that allows you to configure how your posts look to readers. Best of all, it has a customizable algorithm that can find related content from across your site. The plugin is especially useful if you have been blogging for a long time and have tons of content on your site that you may not even remember is there.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

If you are running a business website with Worpress or if you just want to have a way for visitors to contact you, having a good form is essential. Setting up forms with validation is next to impossible if you don’t have programming knowledge and finding a good one for WordPress can be trickier than meets the eye. If you don’t mind spending a little cash, it doesn’t get much better than Gravity Forms. Not only can you create visually appealing and professional looking forms, but layout and validation are a snap. It integrates with Paypal and Mailchimp and it also allows you to create forms where users can upload images or documents among other things. For about 40 bucks you can get an individual user license. If you are looking for something free, Contact Form 7 is a good alternative. The interface isn’t as user friendly but there is a lot of good validation and form field functionality.

Sharing is Caring

Social Media should be an essential component of any internet marketing campaign. Giving your visitors a way of sharing your great content is a must. You should make it as easy and simple as possible for visitors to spread your content across social networks. A great way to do that is with the Sociable plugin. While there are many great sharing plugins out there, Sociable is an easy to use and easy to customize option. Some social sharing widgets don’t allow you to select the social networks that appear which is important if you know where your target audience is spending most of their time.

WordPress is a brilliant platform for internet marketers because it allows those with little or no programming knowledge to build intuitive and attractive websites on their own. The best part about it is all the amazing plugins available for accomplishing your marketing goals. If you wanted to market something online in the past, it used to mean being a programming wizard. WordPress and all the awesome plugins available for it have changed all that. With the right tools, internet marketers can now easily look like superstars without a lot of effort.

What are your favorite plugins for WordPress that aren’t included in this list?

Google Author Rank Explained

Is Author Rank The Future of Google?

If you are an avid internet user, where do you go when you need a phone number?  What about when you need information for research, or when you want to explain something to your children or write a paper for school?  Chances are you hop online and look for quality content to absorb.  If you are an experienced internet user, you know that you have to be careful about the content that you use because it may not be accurate.  Google realized this same thing many years ago and ever since it has been searching for better and better ways to deliver high quality content to its users.  It is estimated that over 70% of web surfers use a search engine to find what they are looking for.  Google works hard to deliver the very best results and it is on the verge of doing that better than anyone else.  Enter Google Authorship and the Author Ranking measurement.

 

The Pursuit of Perfection: Will the Google Authorship Program Deliver?

Before we jump into the Google Authorship program and AuthorRank, a little background is required.  Most SEO’s and web marketing professionals are aware of Google’s PageRank measurement that determines the popularity of a web page.  Several years ago, Google also applied for a patent for a measurement known as AgentRank.  The aim of AgentRank was to tie content creators to the original works they created.  Unfortunately at the time, there was no viable way to match authors with content.  Now with Google Plus and the Google Authorship program, there is a viable solution emerging to help accomplish this task.  AuthorRank is a natural extension of these initiatives and is a measurement of the caliber of content that an author produces.  It takes into account things like average PageRank, Google Plus engagement level, authority of publishing sites, posting frequency, engagement on posts and social signals among other factors.  Google Plus, the Authorship program and AuthorRank are part of a relentless pursuit on the part of Google to deliver quality content to their users while at the same time making it that much harder to game the system.

 

Rationale: Why Author Ranking is Better

Google’s current ranking system is heavily dependent on links.  In the beginning, inbound links to a website were one of the main factors in determining its value.  In theory, when people find content they think is useful, they link their own websites or other web properties to it.  In turn, this gives a signal to search engines that the content is important and when a query is used to find similar content, the search engine serves up that important content.  The only problem with this scenario is that webmasters can create quality backlinks to their websites and give the appearance that their site is important when in fact it may not be.  So there needs to be another method to determine if a site is worthy of being displayed first to searchers.  The Authorship program and Author Ranking could potentially be that method.

 

Getting Involved: Is Author Rank Important To You?

Anyone can sign up for the Google Authorship program and start linking their content to their Google Plus account.  All you need to do to get started is create a Google Plus profile (if you don’t already have one) and then enter your email at plus.google.com/authorship.  Click the validation link in the confirmation email you get from Google.  You must then link your content with your Google Plus profile by either creating a link to your Google Plus profile from your web page or submitting an email that is hosted on the same domain as your content.  If you submit an email provided by someone else, the link option will be for you.

 

Conclusion

Google and other search engines are constantly balancing the needs of three competing interests: those of searchers, those of advertisers and their own interests.  Catering too much to any of them will mean failure overall.  Finding content that is relevant for their users can be a tricky business, especially when there are so many people out there trying to get in front of the millions upon millions of people using search every day.  The more our society becomes dependent on search and the internet as a central conduit through which all information is accessed, the more important it will become to make sure that content is accurate.  Few fail-safes exist at this point to weed out that bad content yet market driven initiatives like the Authorship program and AuthorRank are working to bridge the gap between those looking for good content and those looking to provide it.

 

Have you heard of the Google Authorship Program or Author Rank?  How do you see this impacting SEO in the future?