The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Features in Keyword Discovery - Also Searched, Successful Search, Core Search Engine Information, and Competitors Search


New Features Features in Keyword Discovery 2009.If you’ve read some of my previous posts about SEO, then you know how important I think keyword research is. When you break it down, it’s risky to base decisions on what you think people are searching for versus analyzing the actual data. Once you perform keyword research, it can be used to optimize your current content, or more importantly, to help generate ideas for new content.

Needless to say, I’m neck deep in keyword research on a regular basis. Although I’ve used several tools to perform keyword research for my clients, I believe Keyword Discovery by Trellian is the industry leader. As new features are added to the product, I plan to cover them here on my blog in detail. In case you are interested, I’ve written several posts in the past about the importance of keyword research and some overlooked features in Keyword Discovery. After reading this post, you might want to also check them out.

New Features, Better Analysis
I’m going to cover four new features in this post that have been greatly helpful as I work on SEO projects. I’m a firm believer that you need to conduct a thorough analysis of your keywords versus just checking query volume. Trellian obviously understands this too, as they keep adding valuable features that make it a powerful analysis tool for search marketers. These new features help provide important pieces of information so you can make educated decisions about which keywords to target.

The four new features I will cover are:
* Also Searched Queries
* Successful Searches
* Analyze Information from Google, Yahoo, MSN/Bing, and Ask
* Competitors Search

Without further ado, let’s jump in.

1. Also Searched Queries
I love this feature. Have you ever wanted to know which other keywords people are searching for based on an initial keyword? This feature displays “also searched queries” as you search for keywords in the application (along with search volume.) So, if you enter “mens shoes” as the keyword, Keyword Discovery will show you other keywords that were searched for by the same users that searched for mens shoes. You actually know that the same users were searching for these additional keywords… In addition, the order of the results is based on user frequency (and not by pure number of searches in the database). This lets you see which keywords were most often searched by the same users versus just seeing volume numbers.

Click the image below to see a larger version:
The also searched feature in keyword discovery.

So, you can see that people searching for mens shoes are also searching for footwear, mens jeans, mens shirts, etc. You can also see specific retailers they are searching for. All of this data can help you make informed decisions about which keywords to target, as well as which additional keywords you might want to optimize for.

2. Successful Search Score
This is an important metric when analyzing keywords. Successful Search Score essentially tells you the percentage of people that clicked through a search result after searching for a keyword. It gives you a good feel for the keywords that actually generate a click through.

Below you will see a list of 13 keywords based on a search for mens shoes. You can clearly see how certain keywords generate a much higher click through. This metric should be part of your own decision making process for which keywords to target. It’s obviously not the only metric to consider, but when combined with other metrics that KD offers, it can help you determine which keywords to focus on.

Successful search score in keyword discovery.

3. Now You Can Analyze Data From Google, Yahoo, MSN/Bing, and Ask
After adding keywords to one of your projects, Keyword Discovery enables you to analyze those keywords to view a number of key metrics. For example, you can see the number of searches in the database, successful searches (mentioned above), the number of results in each engine for that keyword, and the KEI (or Keyword Effectiveness Index). Keyword Discovery recently broke down this information by core search engine, including Google, Yahoo, MSN/Bing, and Ask. Having all of this information at your fingertips enables you to analyze keywords across the core engines, in order to make smart decisions about which keywords to target. This data helps you understand how competitive each keyword is so you can target the right keywords for the task at hand.

Click the image below to see a larger version:
Analyze core search engine information in keyword discovery.

4. Competitors Feature
Checking this box when conducting a search in Keyword Discovery will display the top websites receiving search engine traffic for that keyword. There are some great competitive analysis tools on the market, and I use several of them on a regular basis, but it’s great to have some base level data at your fingertips while performing keyword research. For example, I entered mens shoes in KD and it displayed the top 100 sites receiving search engine traffic for that keyword (based on Trellian’s Competitive Analysis User Path Data). Your list might start with some obvious players, but as you scan down the results you might find some interesting competitors. And, you can use the results to start performing a deeper competitive analysis.

Click the image below to see a larger version:
Competitor search feature in keyword discovery.

This won’t be my last post about keyword research or Keyword Discovery…
So there you have it. Four new features in Keyword Discovery that can help you select the right keywords for the project at hand. I plan to write more about KD in the future as Trellian adds more features. Actually, there are some features that warrant an entire blog post, so look for more posts in the near future!

I’ll end this post with a Glenn Gabe public service announcement:

Please don’t base your SEO efforts on opinion. Perform extensive keyword research and have that research fuel your projects. A keyword is a terrible thing to waste. :)

GG

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Friday, November 14, 2008

The Microsoft Outlook Rule That Can Save Your Job, How to Delay Your Email by 1 Minute


Setting up a rule in Outlook to delay your emails.This isn’t necessarily a marketing-focused blog post, but I guess that’s based on how you interpret it. If you consider having to market yourself “marketing”, then I guess it still fits my blog! There are times I’ll write about something that I think can be extremely valuable for my readers, even if it’s not directly internet marketing related. This is definitely one of those times and topics. Read on, I have a feeling you won’t regret it.

When Technology Gives You a Minute to Think About Your Message
Email communications can be tough. You obviously can’t see body language or hear tone from the other person involved, which often leads to messages being misinterpreted. For example, is the person joking, serious, a mixture of both, etc? And, you can’t a have real-time exchange which can lead to resolving conflict before it escalates (like if someone could see that you were not happy with their last sentence, they might change the way they are communicating their message). In addition, since the person you are communicating with via email isn’t in front of you, you might feel the need to respond as quickly as possible, which might be rushed and not exactly worded the way you wanted it to (and I’m being nice here…) I think everyone has been in that situation, and it’s easy for an exchange of emails to get out of control. It’s human nature.

So if you are nodding right now in agreement with me, then have I got the solution for you! I learned something about 3 years ago that was so simple, yet brilliant. I saw immediately how it could curb some of the knee-jerk reactions we all experience with email and I’d like to share this tip with you today. And yes, it could actually save your job one day (or save relationships with coworkers, clients, partners, etc.) I actually introduce this tip to anyone that works for me, which they probably end up using when responding to emails from me! ;-) And just to be clear, I'm not saying that I'm perfect at handling email communications...this tip just helps.

The Outlook Rule That Can Save Your Job in 8 Easy Steps
I’ll get to the point and then quickly explain how to set this up. The simple, yet brilliant tip I picked up is to create a rule in Outlook that delays your email by 1 minute (or whatever timeframe you feel is right). This enables you to delay your potentially rushed, rash, rude, biting, retaliatory emails for a short period of time before being sent. That just might be enough time for you to think through what you just wrote and then refine it before it gets sent. I’ve found this rule to be an extremely valuable one to have in place.

Let’s set up a delay in Outlook in 8 easy steps:
1. Open Outlook and click the Tools menu, and then select Rules and Alerts.
2. Click the Create New Rule button.
3. Then start with a blank rule (for me this option is at the bottom of the window). Choose "Check messages after sending". See below.

Microsoft Outlook Rule, check messages after sending.

4. Click next and don’t check any of the conditions listed (since you want every email to be delayed).

Microsoft Outlook Rule, skip conditions.

5. Click next and then click the checkbox for "defer delivery by a number of minutes" at the bottom of the conditions list. When you click the checkbox, the rule shows up in a window below the actions list where you can edit the rule. Click the text, "a number of" to enter the delay. I use 1 minute, but you can use any number of minutes you like.

Microsoft Outlook Rule, defer delivery by a number of minutes.

6. Click next and don’t check any of the exceptions listed.
7. Click next one more time and enter a name for your rule, maybe something like “Email Review Zone”. :-)
8. Then make sure “Turn on this rule” is checked. Then click Finish.

That’s it, you should be good to go. Send a test email and make sure that you see the email sitting in your Outbox for a minute before finally being sent. At that point, you can always go in and edit the email if you decide to change what you originally wrote.

Once you set this up, you will have a 1 minute safety net for your emails. I’m telling you, one day you will thank me for this simple rule. Think about it, if you’ve ever said anything that you regretted 5 minutes after saying it, then this is the rule for you. You get a chance to say it, delay it, and then refine or delete it. It’s brilliant. Go set this up now and let me know what you think. --Now if they can only create something that delays your speech by 1 minute!

GG

PS In case you feel the need to send me a holiday gift after enjoying the Outlook rule so much, iTunes gift certificates are always a good idea, or a pack of Callaway Golf Balls (orange label please). :)

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

YouTube Insight, How to Optimize and Enhance Your Online Videos Using Analytics


YouTube Insight, Optimizing Your Video Clips Using AnalyticsToday I get to write about two of my favorite things, Web Analytics and Online Video. Lucky me! Given that YouTube just surpassed Yahoo as the #2 search engine, I think it’s safe to say that many of you probably visit YouTube regularly to watch videos online. In addition, I know some of you are taking the next step and producing your own videos to share with the world. That covers watching, producing, and sharing, but there’s another concept I wanted to introduce today, and that’s optimization. Did you know that YouTube gives you access to a video analytics package free of charge, right in your YouTube account? It’s called YouTube Insight and it gives you the ability to constantly glean insights from your video clips and viewers. Video producers that use Insight already know its power, but I still think many people don’t know what to do with it, or more importantly, how to optimize their videos using the data provided by Insight. If you’ve read my blog before, then you know how I feel about the importance of web analytics. Well, this is simply an extension of web analytics, but specifically for your own YouTube video clips. Let’s dig in.

What is YouTube Insight?
YouTube Insight is a video analytics tool that provides you with valuable information about your video clips (and your viewers). Insight gives you several reports, including views, popularity, discovery (how people find your videos), and a new piece of functionality called hotspots. Insight Hotspots enable you see which parts of your video are hot (higher engagement) and which parts are cold (less interest and engagement). I will explain more about hotspots below.

Improving Your YouTube Videos with Insight
Let’s face it, producing videos is darn time consuming. I began shooting and editing video in 1995 and one thing I learned very quickly was that producing a video is not easy and takes a lot of time. So, if you are going to spend the time to brainstorm, script, shoot, edit, and publish videos for YouTube, then you are probably going to want to know what works and what doesn’t. For example, which videos are more engaging, which garner most of your views, how popular were they compared to other videos, which parts of the video were more engaging, etc. You want to know this information so you don’t waste valuable time in the future.

Accessing YouTube Insight
You can access Insight in a few different ways once you have logged in. First, you can access your Insight Dashboard by clicking the Account link in the top right of your screen. Then you can click YouTube Insight from the Performance and Data Tools section located near the bottom of the page (left side).

First Click Your Account Link, Then Click YouTube Insight on Your Account Page:
YouTube Account Link

YouTube Insight Link

The second way to access Insight is by entering the My Videos Page (Uploaded Videos) and clicking the Insight button (for each video). The button for Insight is below the video information and is next to Audio Swap.

YouTube Insight Button Located on My Videos Page:
YouTube Insight Button

Insight Dashboard (a snapshot of all videos)
Your Insight Dashboard functions just like a dashboard in any web analytics package and gives you an aggregate view of your videos (your channel). For example, your dashboard will show you which videos are most popular, how many views your channel is getting, which geographic regions hold the most viewers, popularity of videos in your channel, demographics of your viewers, etc. It’s a great way to get an overall view of how your channel is performing. That said, you really should drill into each video to gain the most valuable information… Aggregate data at the channel level doesn’t really give you actionable information.

Tip: When you are ready to analyze a specific video, you can either click its name in the Views tab of your Insight Dashboard or you can go to your My Videos Page and click the Insight button under each video clip. If you always want to begin by analyzing specific videos, then you might start your visit by accessing the My Videos Page instead of the dashboard.

Visits
You can click the Visits tab to see the number of visits each video received in all countries, or in specific regions. You can change the timeframe on the graph and you can choose a specific country from the dropdown on the right. Then, let’s say you choose the United States, you can click on specific states to see your visits per state. To change the date range, you can click the Zoom links in the top of the graph for 1 day, 5 days, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, or Max. Or, you can use the slider below the graph to quickly change the date range of your report.


YouTube Insight Views:
YouTube Insights Views

Popularity
Insight also gives you the option of seeing how popular your videos are compared to other videos in the selected region during that timeframe. Just like with visits, you can click a country on the map to target that region, or you can drill into a region to get more granular. For example, you can click a state in the US to see the popularity within that state. You can also click specific countries within a region like Turkey within the Middle East or China within Asia.

YouTube Insight Popularity:
YouTube Insights Popularity

Discovery (or Traffic Sources)
OK, who else is addicted to checking traffic sources for their website in their web analytics package? It’s hard not be, right? The Discovery tab provides the traffic sources for your video clips. I love it. In a nutshell, it's how people found your video. There are five links within this section and they include:

YouTube Search, or which keywords people are entering to find your videos on YouTube.
Related Videos, or other videos on YouTube where your video thumbnail showed up as a related video and people clicked that thumbnail to get to your video.
Embedded Player, or which sites have embedded your video clip (using the embed code in YouTube).
External Links, or websites that link to your video clip (AKA referring sites).
Google Search, or keywords people are entering in Google to find your video clips.
Google Video, or keywords that people are entering on Google Video to find your video clips.
Other, or links to your video where there is no referring URL (AKA Direct Traffic). This might be a person emailing the link to someone else, IM’ing the link, etc.
YouTube Other, or other pages on YouTube that are linking to your video clips (not related videos).

YouTube Insight Discovery:
YouTube Insights Dicovery

Demographics
Insight provides some basic data regarding the demographics of your viewers. For example, you can see the age range and gender for viewers. In addition, you can click on a specific gender to see the age range within that gender. So, you can click Female and see the age range of your female viewers. {Marketers, can you say Test Group?} More on this later.

YouTube Insight Demographics:
YouTube Insight Demographics

New Addition: Insight Hotspots (and Coldspots)
YouTube just recently made this feature available. Using Insight Hotspots, you can see which parts of your video are more engaging (or less engaging) as compared to other videos of similar length. As the video plays in Insight, there is a graph on the left side of the screen that displays whether that segment of video was hot or cold. If it’s hot, fewer people are leaving your video at that point, or even rewinding the video to see that part again. If it’s cold, more people are skipping that segment or leaving the video at that point. I’ll explain more below about how to use this feature to enhance your videos, but needless to say, it’s an outstanding addition.

YouTube Insight Hotspots:
YouTube Insights Hotspots

This All Sounds Great Glenn, But How Do I Use Insight To Optimize My Videos?
Just like web analytics, having the data available is one thing, but using the data to enhance your efforts is another. Don’t fear! I’ll explain some basic things you can do in order to glean insights from your reporting to optimize your future videos.

1. Your Ad Hoc Focus Group
Companies spend a lot of money testing their creative to understand what will engage targeted viewers. Well, you can use Insight Hotspots to see what is working in your videos and what isn’t, and for free! You can see which parts of your video people like (rewind and watch again) versus don’t like (they skip through or exit the video). For example, you might find that physical stunts are extremely hot where dialogue is cold. Or you might test a few different versions of a video to see which angles yield the highest engagement. Does humor work, action, or a combination of both? Using Insight Hotspots, you can begin to take guesswork out of the equation and make decisions based on data (which is always a smart move!)

2. Using Insight For Keyword Research
I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of Keyword Research for SEO. It’s an incredibly important process to go through in order to optimize your website based on what people ACTUALLY search for (versus what you think they search for). With Insight, you have access to YouTube searches that lead to your videos, Google searches that lead to your videos, and Google Video searches that lead to your videos (and all for free). By analyzing these keywords, you can start to understand the ways in which people search for different types of content and then you can use that information to optimize future videos (and the text content you provide for those videos like your descriptions, tagging, titles, etc.) For example, are people searching for a category, a specific product, do they enter questions or is it by major keyword?

3. See Which Videos Spike Quickly Versus Providing Sustained Visitors
You might find that an entertaining video has a spike in visitors and then fizzles out, where an educational video builds traffic over time and constantly drives viewers your way. Since you can view visits trended over time, then you can start to get a feel for the lifecycle of specific videos. The more you know about the different types of content you produce, the more you can tailor future content to meet your specific needs (or the needs of your clients).

4. Understand Related Videos That Drive Viewers To Your Video Clips
You can start to learn which types of videos are considered “related” and which videos drive the most viewers. The more you understand the videos that drive people to your own clips, the more you can target future content to that target audience. For example, maybe you had a lot of visitors from How-To videos. You might use this angle in the future to make sure you show up there again, or to capture that traffic from the start...

5. Learn Which Websites Link To Your Video (Referring Sites)
Checking your external links, you can see which websites are linking to your video clips on YouTube. From an SEO standpoint, this provides a great opportunity for link-building. For example, if a site in your industry is linking to your YouTube clips, then maybe they would want to link to your website as well. Links are the lifeblood of SEO and finding topical and relevant link opportunities is extremely important. Note, you can’t see specific URL’s in Insight…you only get domain information, which is a little frustrating. That said, you can probably track down the specific webpage by doing a site command in Google. :)

6. Find Out Which Video Clips Go Viral
If you see a lot of viewers from “Other” in your discovery report (direct traffic), then that’s probably from email, IM, etc. Basically, someone sent around the link for your video to their friends, coworkers, etc. If you had a high percentage of viewers from Direct Traffic, then you might have found something that gets people talking. You can follow this path and test out future videos using similar types of content.

7. See Which Geographic Regions Watch Your Videos (Countries And States)
Are your videos more popular within certain countries or regions? Why were they more popular? For example, did you get a lot of traffic from New York when you shot a video in Times Square? Did you get a lot of traffic from Massachusetts when you showcased Boston Baked Beans in your video about the Best Ideas for Sunday Dinner? On the flip side, did you get a lot of viewers from Hawaii to a video about Surfing the Web on Your Blackberry? Were they interested in surfing or a Blackberry??

Produce, Upload, Analyze, and Refine
Let’s face it, videos are not easy to create (good videos). They cost money, take a lot of time to produce, and a huge amount of effort to pull off. If an average blog post takes a few hours to brainstorm, write, edit, and publish, then a good video takes 4-5X that at least to brainstorm, script, shoot, edit, publish and share. Given the time commitment involved, I highly recommend using YouTube Insight as your video analytics package to glean insights from your viewers in order to optimize and enhance your future clips. If you don’t, then you’re just flying blind. As you can probably guess, I’m against flying blind and you should be too, especially when someone hands you a free analytics package like YouTube Insight!

GG

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Using Keyword Discovery for Keyword Research, Some Commonly Overlooked Features and Functionality


Commonly Overlooked Features in Keyword Discovery.If you’ve read any of my posts about SEO or SEM, then you probably know how strongly I feel about keyword research. I believe performing extensive keyword research is critical to understanding what people are actually searching for versus what you think they are searching for. Opinions are nice, but you should always try and back your decisions with real data (at least as much as possible). In case you are interested in learning more about Keyword Research, you can read my blog post about using Keyword Discovery and WordTracker. I’m a fan of both tools, but I must admit that I’m a bigger fan of Keyword Discovery (KD). Actually, I couldn’t imagine focusing on Search and not having KD by my side. But something hit me about a month ago…I was overlooking some of the outstanding functionality included in Keyword Discovery. Actually, based on my conversations with other marketers, I believe many aren’t using all of the power of Keyword Discovery… So I’m going to help you (and them) by identifying some of the functionality that might be easily overlooked. Let’s get started.

Global Premium Database, Historical View (Past 24 Months)
Keyword Discovery enables you to choose various databases to tap into while performing keyword research. Their Global Premium database holds a few billion searches, looking back 12 months. But, did you know you could actually look back 24 months? Yes, you can and it’s simple to do. Just click the checkbox for “Historical” while searching for keywords.

Historical Keyword Research (24 months) in Keyword Discovery

Why would you want to search historical data?
Depending on the keywords you are researching, there are times you would definitely want to see back past a year. There might have been specific things happening in the past 12 months that would skew your data (think about a presidential election) or a new movie that comes out.

X-Ref (Cross Reference Tool)
I love this tool. Let’s say you are researching a prospective client’s website and want to check a competitor’s site for the keyword set you just searched for. Easy, just click the x-ref tab and Keyword Discovery will prompt you for a URL. Enter a competitor’s URL (the exact page you want to check) and KD will display how many times those keywords show up in the title tag, meta keywords, meta description, and in the page copy on your competitor’s webpage. Keep in mind, the cross reference tool will check at the page level and not at the domain level. This is important…you wouldn’t want to run back to your client and show them one page’s data thinking it was for the entire site. However, it’s a great way to check other pages that rank highly for the terms you are targeting.

For example, let’s enter the keyword “Halloween” and cross reference BuyCostumes.com (my favorite online Halloween shop). Keyword Discovery returns the following results for the homepage:

Click the image below to see a larger version:
Using x-ref to cross reference another webpage in Keyword Discovery.

Permutations
There are times where you want to see the volume for several keywords working together, but ordered in a different sequence. This tool will enable you to target your selected terms (only those terms) and show you all the permutations in the database. This can help you decide which permutations to target (based on the volume of searches you find). To use the tool, simply enter the keywords you want to target, separated by commas.i.e. keyword1,keyword2,keyword3

For example, let’s enter apple,nano,video:
Viewing all permutations for a set of keywords in Keyword Discovery.

Language Translation:
There are times you will be targeting languages other than English. Well, if you are setting up projects in Keyword Discovery to organize your work, then you can also translate your projects into other languages. Yes, this is a very cool piece of functionality that KD provides (although it’s somewhat hidden). Simply create a project, research keywords, and populate that project with those keywords. Then open your project and scroll down to view the icons at the bottom of the results. You will see the Babel Fish icon (a yellow fish icon). When you hover your mouse over the icon, it will say “Translate Keywords”. When you click the icon, you will be prompted to translate your project from English to either Spanish, French, German, or Italian (or vice versa). Select which translation you want to perform and click submit. Voila, your keywords have been translated. Note, you probably wouldn’t want to just take these translations at face level. It’s a good starting point, but I would try and work with someone fluent in that language before implementing a campaign. ;-)

Using language translation in Keyword Discovery.

Trending Graphs
This feature isn’t overlooked as much as the others, but it’s worth mentioning here. Whenever you perform research in Keyword Discovery, there is an option to view trended data for each keyword (as shown below). This enables you to view keyword data over the past 12 months graphically and is extremely important if you are targeting terms that are seasonal. Think about “roses” and Valentine’s day. You can view charts based on historical data, monthly, trended, and you can see market share by engine. This data can help you and your clients map out strategies for targeting groups of keywords throughout the year.

Viewing trending graphs in Keyword Discovery.

Now Don’t Overlook These Great (But Commonly Overlooked) Features!
If you are currently using Keyword Discovery and don't use these features yet, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you aren’t using Keyword Discovery, you should be. I don’t view it as a nice-to-have, it’s a required tool in my arsenal. Once you are comfortable researching keywords, working in the interface, and understanding what the data means, then definitely test out the features I listed in this post.

GG

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

QuickTime Pro, A Powerful and Versatile Video Tool for Web Marketers


QuickTime Pro, the handy video tool from Apple.OK, hypothetical situation. You’re working on a tight deadline for a web video marketing campaign. You’re close to finalizing several creative elements for your client and you just received the final video clips on cd-rom (they unfortunately exported the clips for you). It ends up the person sending you the clips didn’t know the format you needed them in, so you’re left with a few files in varying formats and dimensions. None are optimal, by the way. What do you do?? Well, my hope is that you’ll know exactly what to do after reading this post! You’ll use QuickTime Pro to transcode those videos into a format you can use across marketing channels, whether that’s for uploading to YouTube, for use on mobile devices like iphones or blackberries, or for distribution via cd-rom or dvd-r. In my opinion, QuickTime Pro is a phenomenal tool to have in your web marketing arsenal. Sure, it doesn’t replace a full blown editing system like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere (by any stretch), but it’s fast, has some great features and can save you a lot of time. Let’s dig in.

What is QuickTime Pro?
I know you’ve all heard of QuickTime Player (QT), but Apple also provides a wealth of features bundled into their QuickTime Pro product. It’s only $29.99 and can really save you a lot of time (no, I didn't mean to rhyme that...) You just need to purchase a registration key and then enter that key into your QT Player (in your preferences). QuickTime Pro comes with a number of handy features that you’ll end up using all of the time (once you know that they are there!) You see, QT Pro is part of QuickTime Player, so you won’t find a unique application or interface for working with clips. Using QT Pro, you can convert clips to a number of formats, you can perform some minor editing, and you can even combine clips, creating a separate QT movie from the original you opened! You can encode clips using the H.264 and AAC codecs, which provide maximum quality at extremely small file sizes. More on this later… Even though most people would think that they are just in the standard QT Player while using QT Pro, looks can be deceiving… Let’s take a look at some of the most useful features of QuickTime Pro for web marketers.

Useful Features of QuickTime Pro:

Converting Video Clips to Other Formats (Transcoding Video Files)
So what can do with QuickTime Pro? The short answer is plenty! In my opinion, the most useful feature is its import and export capabilities. You can open a wide range of formats using QT Pro and then easily transcode them to other formats (convert them). Check out the technical specs page to learn more, but it’s a ridiculously handy tool to have around. You can easily convert your clips to a number of formats, including MPEG-4, AVI, QT Movies, DV Stream, etc. (See the screenshot listed below.)

Exporting video clips using QuickTime Pro (transcoding video).

The export feature is available for any format that QuickTime can open, and it can import quite a number of formats… So, if you needed a version of your video for mobile devices, for YouTube, for providing a downloadable version from your website, and on cd-rom, then QT Pro can help you… It can handle all of those tasks quickly and efficiently. Even though I have several professional level editing systems here, it’s sometimes easier to convert video in QT Pro. And yes, it's great for performing basic edits… On that note, let’s take a look at some of the basic editing features built into QuickTime Pro. Read on.

Basic Editing in QuickTime Pro:

Trimming Based on In and Out Points
Do you have 30 seconds of footage that you want to export from a 90 second clip? No problem, you can easily set the in and out points and then trim the clip. Just set the in and out points using sliders while in QT Pro (in the QT player) and then trim the clip by selecting Edit, Trim to Selection. You’re left with the 30 seconds you want to export… Then, export the clip in the various formats you require. Now, what about if you have two clips that you want to combine? Next feature please!

Trimming video clips using QuickTime Pro in and out sliders.

Combining Video Clips by Using Add to Movie
I actually just ran into this situation last week. I had 2 clips that I wanted to combine for a mobile version of a video. QT Pro lets you easily select the second clip and then add it to the first clip. Simply click Window, Show Movie Properties to bring up the Tracks Window. You can select the video and audio track and then click Extract. This will create a new movie containing the tracks you selected. Then click Edit, Select All. Then Edit, Copy. Go back to your original clip and set the playhead at the end of the clip. Then click Edit, Add to Movie and walla, the second clip has been added to the end of the first clip. Nice. Now you are ready to export the final combined clip to a number of formats. It’s a great feature, very simple but powerful.

Combining video clips using QuickTime Pro Add to Movie.

H.264 Video and AAC Audio
If you’ve dealt with video recently, you’ve probably heard of the H.264 codec. It’s an incredible video format (and part of the MPEG-4 standard), that gives you outstanding video quality at a low file sizes. H.264 can be used for web video, mobile video, cd-rom, etc. Whenever I need to upload a video to YouTube, I go with H.264 and I’m never disappointed. Simply open your clip, select File, Export. Then choose QuickTime Movie and select H.264 from the video codec menu. You can set the data rate, frame rate, frame size, etc. You can even add filters, deinterlace your video, etc. It’s fast and provides outstanding quality. You won’t be disappointed!

AAC
QuickTime Pro also let you encode your audio using the AAC codec, which also provides outstanding quality (rivaling uncompressed CD Audio) at small file sizes. It’s an extremely efficient audio codec and part of the MPEG-4 specification. As a side note, most of the music sold on the iTunes Music store is encoded using AAC. Enough said.

Back to Our Hypothetical Situation…
Let’s jump back to our hypothetical situation mentioned earlier to see how you would handle it with QuickTime Pro. Let’s say you were sent a 3 minute clip for your web video marketing project. You really just need 90 seconds of it. You will need a version for YouTube, a version for mobile devices, and a version for DVD-R for a presentation. It ends up that the clip was exported from Final Cut as a self contained QT movie. You open the clip in QT Pro and set the in and out points to the 90 seconds you want. You trim the clip by selecting Edit, Trim Selection. You are now left with just the 90 seconds you want. Next, click File, Export and you are presented with the Export Dialog Box. Let’s start with the H.264 version for YouTube. You want the highest quality file, so set the data rate, frames per second, and audio encoding properly (the actual settings depend on a number of factors. Maybe that's another post!) Select H.264 as the video encoder for video and AAC for audio. Export your clip to a directory on your hard drive.

Now let’s tackle the mobile version. Select export to iphone, which provides a great format for mobile. The file will be an .M4V and can easily be transferred to your iphone or blackberry. Now, let's say there was a 10 second video clip with a call to action edited late in the game. You just grabbed the 10 second clip and want to add it to the first clip, which will give you a final, 100 second video. No problem. QuickTime Pro to the rescue! Open the original clip and click View, Movie Properties. Select the video and audio tracks by control clicking each track in the window and click Extract. Go back to your first clip and position the playhead at the end of your video file. Then click File, Add to Movie. You’re done. Easy, right? Then export to whichever format you need…

QuickTime Pro Summary
In closing, although this post was just an introduction to QuickTime Pro, I hope you can see its power. It’s definitely a great weapon to have in your web marketing arsenal. It has saved me numerous times… Now, it won’t replace your editing software like Premiere or Final Cut, but it’s still a great tool to have around (especially at the $30 price point)! It does a great job for quick edits, opening several formats, and then exporting or transcoding to a number of other useful formats. It just may save your marketing campaign some day. :-)

GG

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Performing Keyword Research and SEO, Don’t Assume You Know the Right Words to Target!


How to perform keyword research.When it comes to Natural Search and SEO, performing extensive keyword research for your given business is critical. In my experience, most people are too close to their businesses to understand what people are really searching for. You may have seen this too, like using terminology and acronyms that only industry folks use. Or, if you have been in an industry for 20 years, then you surely must know how people search the web for your products or services, right? Don’t make this mistake! You might get a few by chance, but I’ll guarantee you are missing huge opportunities if you ignore keyword research. So don’t do it. :-)

Skepticism is Good
Right now, some of you are probably skeptical. That’s good, and I’ll give you some examples to curb your skepticism. Let’s say you are in the summer rental business at the Jersey shore. If you performed keyword research for your business, you would find that beach rentals is searched 4X more than summer rentals, which in turn is searched for 10X more than nj shore rental and beach house for rent. Without keyword research, it’s all based on opinion… I’ll take real data over opinion 99% of the time. That’s one thing about keyword research that I love… it takes guesswork out of the equation. Armed with data, you can make the right decisions from the beginning of your seo project before wasting time, money, and effort.

Here are some more quick examples:
Do you sell jewelry? Did you know that the keyword jewelry showed up 12X more than the keyword jeweler in Keyword Discovery? Let’s shift our focus to a buggy business? Pest control is searched 10X more than exterminator. Sell infant bedding? Did you know that the keyword baby bedding showed up 16X more than the keyword infant bedding? That's 16X more! I think you get my point… Do your keyword research and move opinions to the side…focus on real data, real searches, and don’t waste your time and effort trying to rank for keywords that won’t pay off.

Keyword Research Tools:
The two most popular options for keyword research are WordTracker (WT) and Keyword Discovery (KD). I have used WordTracker much longer than Keyword Discovery, but I can tell you that I’m really digging KD. Both are great tools and will give you excellent data. WordTracker’s database holds approximately 330 million metacrawler searches where Keyword Discovery holds over 36 Billion from over 200 search engines. I often find myself using both tools to find the right keywords, and if you focus on SEO, I would probably keep accounts with both services. Their prices won’t break the bank… WordTracker is $59/month and you can get a fairly large discount for an annual purchase ($329 for the year). Keyword Discovery is $70/month and I believe both are a small price to pay for finding the right keywords via the multitude of tools they provide. Your return on investment should be huge, to say the least.

A Closer Look at Keyword Discovery:
Let’s say you sell women’s jewelry and wanted to do some keyword research. You would log into KD and enter jewelry in research mode (see screenshot below). You will see the top searched terms with the keyword jewelry in them. The one column provided at this stage is “Searches”, or the number of times that the keyword was searched for over the past 12 months.

Screenshot from Keyword Discovery (Research Screen):
Click the image below to view a larger version.
Researching a keyword in Keyword Discovery

Now, if you click the icon for “Analyze”, then you will see those keywords with some additional columns like “Occurrences”, “KEI”, and “Predicted Daily”. Occurrences shows the estimated number of webpages the keyword shows up on. KEI is a formula for showing you how competitive the keyword is. I can dedicate an entire post to KEI and you can read more about it on the web, but not all keywords are equal from a competitive standpoint. KEI helps you determine which keywords are worth going after and which ones might be too tough to rank for. Predicted Daily is just that, the predicted amount of times that the keyword is searched for each day.

Screenshot from Keyword Discovery (Analyze Screen):
Click the image below to view a larger version.
Analyzing a keyword in Keyword Discovery

Drill in further to find targeted, long tail keywords…
At this point, you can click on any keyword to see a list of longer tail keywords containing the original word you clicked on. For example, click diamond jewelry to see all the keywords in the database that have the words diamond and jewelry as part of the keyword. This will include diamond jewelry watches, black diamond jewelry, diamond jewelry stores, etc. Then click “Analyze” again to view the additional columns I mentioned above.

I have my keywords, now what?
Let’s say you performed keyword research, found your target keywords, and have the spreadsheet sitting in front of you. Now what? Well, you would want to include these keywords on your website within the right HTML elements. For example, you would want to use these keywords in the title tag, the meta description tag, in the page copy, within your page headings (H1, H2, etc.), in your navigation and anchor links, and in image alt text. You would want to take a hard look at the pages on your site and optimize each one for the specific content they hold. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but well worth it. If you have a large site, definitely work with your developers on how to optimize the site dynamically. I can also write an entire post on optimizing the elements I just listed, but you’ll unfortunately have to wait for that one! I want to keep this post from being 25 pages long. ;-)

In SEO, your work is never done.
Once you optimize your website, you can’t just sit back. Like everything in web marketing, you need to track your results and refine your strategy as needed. Maybe some of your optimization isn’t paying off like you want it to, so you may need to go back and research more terms and optimize more pages. Or, you might want to tweak some of your pages, based on changes in your industry, your products, or seasonality. If you are using a robust web analytics package (Omniture, Coremetrics, Google Analytics, etc.), then you should have some great data to analyze. Then learn from the data and make changes to improve your rankings. I have written several posts about web analytics and you should definitely check them out.

OK, I’m sure you are chomping at the bit to get started (at least I hope you are!) Definitely stop back and let me know how keyword research works for you and your business. Go ahead, real data awaits!

BTW, did you know that SEO is searched for 3X as much as Search Engine Optimization? We are lazy typists, aren’t we? Quick tangent...do acronyms affect your business? ;-)

GG

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Friday, April 11, 2008

LiveHttpHeaders and SEO, How to Check Your HTTP Response Headers for Red Flags


Using LiveHttpHeaders to Check Your HTTP Response Codes for SEODoes your website throw a 302 when it should throw a 301? Does it throw a 200 when it should be a 404? Are there 500’s thrown on your site that look like 404’s? Do you think I’m insane yet? Hear me out…

Whether you understand the introduction above or don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s still something extremely important for you in this post. Every time you load a webpage, your browser REQUESTS a file and then the server provides a RESPONE to that request (also called a Response Header). Response headers can help you identify critical issues on your site (especially from an SEO standpoint). Now, you probably have a few key questions.

1) How do I check my response headers?
2) What should I be looking for?

Although I can’t cover everything about response headers in this post, I will answer the two questions listed above and provide some examples along the way.

Let me start by answering the first question since it’s the easiest… I highly recommend using LiveHttpHeaders, an add-on for Firefox that displays http headers in real time (as you browse webpages). This tool can save you a lot of time and possibly help you diagnose some serious SEO-related issues. I will answer the second question later in the post.

Install LiveHttpHeaders Now:
First, visit the LiveHttpHeaders project website and install the add-on. You will need to restart Firefox after installing LiveHttpHeaders. Once restarted, you can trigger LiveHttpHeaders in two ways. You can click Tools, LiveHttpHeaders, which will trigger a new window where you can view header responses in real time as your browse the web. You can also click View, Sidebar, LiveHttpHeaders to view response headers in a sidebar within Firefox. I prefer the new window, since I have dual monitors and it doesn’t take up any browser space. :-) Either way works fine.

To quickly test it out before we go any further, go and visit Google with LiveHttpHeaders running. When you hit the homepage of Google, you will see a bunch of information scroll by in LiveHttpHeaders. For our purposes, let’s look at the top of the window (the first piece of information sent back to you). I have stripped out some of the information you don’t need to focus on for this example.

http://www.google.com/

GET / HTTP/1.1
Host: www.google.com
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.11) Gecko/20071127 Firefox/2.0.0.11
Keep-Alive: 300
Connection: keep-alive

HTTP/1.x 200 OK
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8
Content-Length: 2547


I have bolded the response code, which shows 200 (or ok). 200 is a good thing... and now I can explain more about response headers and codes. By the way, where you see 200 in the window is where you would also see other response codes like 301, 302, 404, etc.

Back to our two questions for a minute. The second question was “What should I be looking for?” In a nutshell, you should be looking for the file requested and the response code sent by the server. Let’s start with a definition of a response header and identify some core http response codes.

As I mentioned earlier, when you load a webpage, two things happen. There is an http request (by your browser) and then an http response is sent (by the server). There is a response code returned as part of the http response. Some of the following codes might be familiar to you, and others aren’t. If you focus on SEO, then get to know them…they can really help you diagnose problems on your website.

Some of the most common http response codes are:

200 – ok (the webpage was returned ok)
301 – Permanent redirect (seo friendly) J
302 – Temporary redirect (don’t use this unless you absolutely have to!)
400 – Bad request (uh, not good)
401 – Unauthorized (you need to be authenticated)
403 – Forbidden (doesn’t matter who you are, it’s forbidden)
404 – Not found (not necessarily a bad thing…I’ll explain more later.)
500 – Internal server error (something went very wrong processing the webpage…)
502 – Bad gateway (also not a good thing)

Why are http response codes important? One of your goals as an SEO is to enable the bots to easily index your site. You don’t want them to get caught up in any way, shape or form. For example, 302 redirects are not the SEO-friendly way to tell Google where a page you removed now resides (you should use a 301 redirect instead). So constantly providing 302’s would be a very bad thing to do. Or how about throwing a 200 (ok) when you really should be throwing a 404. For example, the page isn’t there, but you just told Google that it is. Again, not a good thing to do. Therefore, finding 302’s, 404’s, 403’s, 500’s, etc. is critical to creating a clean path for the bots, which means you can have more of your content indexed and at a solid frequency. Let’s take a look at how LiveHttpHeaders can help you out.

Checking Your Response Headers:
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation. One morning you wake up and decide that you want to increase your natural search rankings. You launch an SEO initiative and get moving quickly. The first thing you want to do is to audit your current site structure (since you know that without a sound and clean structure, you’re dead in the water). So as part of your audit, you want to ensure your response headers and response codes look ok.

You fire up LiveHttpHeaders and visit your website:

* You hit the Homepage, 200 returned,
* You visit a Top Level Product Category, 200 returned,
* Then you try and visit a product detail page and you hit a 302 redirect. Hold on… You find that all links to your product detail page go through a 302 redirect. This was implemented as part of a recent code change. This is something you would want to change ASAP. The content on your product detail page is obviously important so you wouldn’t want to be throwing 302’s prior to the bots hitting those pages…
* But it doesn’t stop there. You know that you changed dozens of older product pages recently and created new URL’s. You check out the old URL’s and find 302 redirects to the new product pages. You would want to change that too… and provide a 301 redirect from the old page to the new page, safely passing link power from the old page to the new one.
* Then you check out some product categories on your site that have been removed completely (you won’t be selling those products anymore), but you find 200’s instead of 404’s. A 404 (page not found) is the proper response code to throw in this situation, as it will tell the engines that the page has been removed and that it should be de-indexed. You don’t want the page to be indexed if it’s not actually there, right?
* Last you check some newly added pages and find they are not displaying correctly. It looks like they aren’t on the site, which means you should see a 404. But…the server returns a 500 (or internal server error). Again, not a good thing as the bots traverse your website content and this is something invisible to the naked eye as you test your website. You would need to be checking response codes to find this issue…

OK, I think you get the picture! Keep in mind that a full SEO assessment covers much more than just checking response codes, but it’s an important part to revealing SEO-related issues. And you know what? Sometimes it’s darn easy to find a serious issue that can be resolved fairly quickly. For example, providing a 302 redirect right on your homepage! Or throwing 200’s for any page that’s been removed from your site.

Think Like a Bot:
I’ll end this post with an analogy. Imagine you needed to check every room in a 10 story hotel to document the type of TV that’s in each room. But the elevators don’t work properly, some of the staircase entrances are locked, and every now and then the room numbers change on you. Would you have an easy time completing your task? Would you keep trying to come back to “index” each room? Or would you stop a few rooms in and say, “Hey look, Lost is on.” And then sit back and watch the show….and forget about the TV’s (or your content). ;-)

GG

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Using SWFObject 2.0 to Embed Flash While Providing SEO Friendly Alternative Content


Providing Alt Content for Flash Using SWFObject 2.0
Or is it friendly? More on that later... While mapping out and building your website content, chances are you have come across a situation where you really want to utilize flash versus html content (for some functionality). Although flash can provide an extraordinary level of interactivity, the problem (SEO-wise), is that flash content cannot be indexed by the search engines (at least for now). So, you might find yourself wanting to use flash for a given task, but you might also be struggling with the lack of search engine friendly content. I have been developing with flash for over 10 years and I also work extensively on Natural Search projects, so believe me, I feel your pain. :-) I wanted to write this post to introduce and explain SWFObject 2.0, the latest and greatest version of the popular flash replacement library.

A Quick SWFObject Disclaimer:
Unfortunately, I (or anyone else for that matter) cannot tell you that using SWFObject is entirely search engine safe. In a perfect world, providing an accurate, alternative html version of your flash content is extremely beneficial. I’m sure that Google and the other engines would have no problem with developers using it that way. But…and it’s an important but, there will always be those who exploit something like SWFObject for cloaking.

Let’s define cloaking: Providing one version of your content to the search engines while providing a different version of content to visitors. i.e. Altered content meant to trick the search engines.

You can easily see why this could be problematic for the search engines… There has been much debate about whether SWFObject is search engine safe or not, and I cannot give you the answer. That said, I think if you utilize SWFObject to provide alternative content that directly reflects your flash content, then you should be fine. I will show you how to do this later in the post.

SWFObject 2.0 Versus SWFObject 1.5
So what’s the difference between SWFObject 2.0 and SWFObject 1.5? Well, 2.0 is the latest version of the package (thank you Captain Obvious), which enables you to provide alt html content for your flash content using standards compliant markup. Version 2.0 will replace 1.5 and other forms of flash replacement like the flash player detection kit and UFO. That said, SWFObject 1.5 is still a great solution and you may choose to keep using 1.5 until you feel comfortable using 2.0. However, you will probably want to use version 2.0 based the benefits of the new process. :)

Static Versus Dynamic Publishing
There are 2 ways to use SWFObject 2.0, providing alt content using standards compliant markup (called static publishing) and inserting alt content using unobtrusive JavaScript (called dynamic publishing). Using dynamic publishing with SWFObject 2.0 is very similar to using SWFObject 1.5, where using static publishing is the new process. In this post, I will cover the standards compliant way (static) to use SWFObject 2.0 to embed flash content in your webpage. Let’s get started.

Download SWFObject 2.0
First, visit the Google Code Project for SWFObject 2.0 and download the zipfile containing the files you need. (FYI, you should download swfobject_2_0_rc2.zip). You can also download the official documentation and always have it handy. Extract the files to your hard drive and then copy the contents to your working directory. That way, you always have the original as a backup….good lesson from my programming days. :) View the screenshot below to see which files and folders your swobject2 directory should contain.

Folder Contents for SWFObject 2.0

SWFObject and Static Publishing
Let’s implement the standards compliant version of the package to replace your flash content with alternative html content. The alt content should directly reflect the content contained in your flash movie.

1. In your swfobject2 directory, open the index.htm file, which uses the static version of swfobject 2.0. Use this file as the template for your own implementation.
2. Look at the source code to follow along. In the head of the document, you will notice the following line of code:

Adding the SWFObject JavaScript Library to Your HTML Document

3. This line of code adds the SWFObject JavaScript library in your document. Including this code is a necessary component for the package to work properly.
4. Next, let’s hop down to the html portion of the document. Note, I have changed the code below to reflect my own flash movie and alt content. You can still easily follow along, though:

Click the image below to view a larger version:
The Nested Object Tags When Using the SWFObject Static Method

5. The code above includes a series of nested object tags, which enables the SWFObject package to provide cross-browser support. When adding your own content, you will need to replace a few items:

a. Replace “swfobject2-exampleb.swf” with the name of your actual flash movie. Note, the swfobject download includes a file named “test.swf”, so if you want to run the page using that flash movie, you should be good to go.

b. Change the width and height to match your actual flash movie’s width and height. My flash movie is 400x300.

6. About half way down the page, you will find a div tag for your alternate content. This is where you will provide alternate html content that directly reflects your flash movie's content. Feel free to use any html tags here to provide your alternative content. As you can see in the image below, I described my flash movie content in HTML.

Click the image below to view a larger version:
Providing Alternative HTML Content for Your Flash Movie

7. Let’s move back to the head of your html document for a second. You will need to register your flash movie with the swfobject library. Note, my page uses "exampleID" for the outer object tag id. You can use whatever you like or just keep the current id. You will see the following lines of code:

Register Your Flash Movie with SWFObject

8. The three parameters contain:

a.The id of the outermost object tag (myID). Note, you can change the id of the outermost object tag, but it must match what you enter in the JavaScript code when you register your flash movie. So, if you entered “flashID” instead, then you would need to enter “flashID” when you register your flash movie in the code above. Again, I used "exampleID".

b. The version of the flash plugin you are targeting (9.0.0), and

c. The name of the express install flash movie (if you wish to use one). Note, express install will display a standard dialog box that will enable your visitors without the required plugin version to download the flash plugin. I have noticed some buggy behavior with the express install functionality, so I just provide my own link to the flash plugin. Therefore, I enter false as the third parameter.

SWFObject 2.0 Code Generator
That’s all you need to do in order to use the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0. I know that opening the hood and working with code directly can be tough for non-programmers, so the creators of SWFObject have been nice enough to create a code generator for you. I didn’t want to mention it until after you went through the code so you can get a good feel for how this works. :-) I know…tough love! You can download the generator from the Google Code Project. The generator presents a form where you can enter the necessary information about your projects and then it generates the right code for you. I actually find it easier to drill into the code, but that’s what I’m used to!

A Working Example
Here is a simple example of using the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0. After viewing the flash content, you can click View, and then Source in your browser to see the alt content in the html. I also uploaded a webpage where I am forcing the browser to show you the alt content. This is what visitors would see if they didn't have the required version of the flash plugin. In addition, the static version of SWFObject 2.0 doesn’t rely on JavaScript to provide your flash content, so your visitors will see your flash content even if they have JavaScript turned off. A nice benefit. When you look at the source code, you can see an additional parameter I added for turning off the standard right click menu. You need to add this in two locations (both object tags) as you’ll see in the code. You can use a number of flash parameters and the SWFObject 2.0 documentation lists them for you. i.e. menu, loop, quality, wmode, etc.

Adding parameters within your object tags.

Click to Activate this Control
I know…Ugh. I won’t go into how or why Internet Explorer 6+ users must click to activate a flash movie, but it’s extremely annoying (especially for flash developers that work hard on creating killer flash movies!) Unfortunately, the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0 doesn’t alleviate this problem, where the dynamic versions of both SWFObject 2.0 and 1.5 alleviate the problem! Go figure. If you are looking to get rid of the dreaded “click to activate” message, then use the dynamic version of SWFObject 2.0 or 1.5 (not covered in this post). I may detail using the dynamic version of SWFObject in future posts, but this post is already getting too long! ;-)

Summary
OK, that was a lot to cover, but now you have a way to provide alternative html content for your killer flash content…and the search engines can index the alt content to boot! Again, nobody can guarantee that this is 100% search engine safe…thanks to some bad people who exploit this functionality. That said, if your alt content directly reflects your flash content, you should be ok. Used properly, this enhances the accessibility and usability of your site and will enable your killer content to be found by the search engines.

Just don’t go nuts when providing your alt content… :)

GG

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

301 Redirect HTML Files Without Using ISAPI Rewrite


Using 301 Redirects When All Else FailsWhen you run a website, there are times that you'll need to redirect older webpages to newer webpages or you might want to redirect multiple domain names to a single domain name. There are two key ways to accomplish this task, issuing a 301 redirect or a 302 redirect. What you might not know is that a 301 redirect is search engine friendly and a 302 redirect is not. 301’s will safely tell the search engines that one page has been permanently moved to a new location, while 302’s tell the search engines that it’s a temporary redirect (which can cause problems down the line.) This shouldn’t be news for anyone working in the search industry, but might be news for website owners outside of the industry. My post today isn’t about what 301’s and 302’s are, but it’s about a unique challenge I ran into recently with one of my clients. We needed to 301 redirect several HTML files to new pages on the website without using the standard methods of issuing a 301 redirect. Also, the website was running on a shared server, which was an added barrier. By writing this post, my hope is that I can help some of you who might run into the same situation. More on this soon. Let’s start with a quick review of redirects.

Let’s Define 301 and 302 redirects:
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect and tells the search engines that the old webpage has been permanently moved to a new location. It basically tells Google and the other engines that you have permanently moved one page from HERE to THERE. If you need to redirect a file on your website, then you should always use a 301 redirect.

A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect, and is not search engine friendly. It basically tells Google and the other engines that the file in question has temporarily moved from HERE to THERE. There have been vulnerabilities in the past with using 302 redirects, which is a reason that 302’s aren’t trusted. If you need to redirect one page to another on your website, then don’t use a 302. Always use a 301 redirect when possible.

The 301 Challenge
Back to the redirect challenge that I recently faced. Again, my hope is that the solution can help some of you who might run into the same situation. One of my clients has a website that’s running on a windows server and contains a combination of HTML, ASP, and ASP.net files. We needed to redirect several older HTML pages to new ASP.net pages, which at first glance would be relatively simple to do. If you are on a windows server, I highly recommend using ISAPI rewrite to issue 301 redirects. This is similar to using an .htaccess file on a linux or unix server. You can issue one line commands using a text file named httpd.ini that sits at the root level of your website. It easily enables you to issue 301 redirects, rewrite URLs, etc. It’s a great utility to have installed…

The Shared Server Problem
Here was the problem. We couldn’t use ISAPI rewrite. The website was running on a shared server and the web hosting company would not install ISAPI rewrite on the server. Some hosting companies will and others won’t…this specific hosting provider wouldn’t after several requests to do so.

Issue the 301 Via ASP.net Code
So, my next move was to issue the 301 redirects via code (either through ASP or ASP.net). There was also a problem with using this technique. The files we needed to redirect were HTML files and not ASP or ASP.net files, so I couldn’t add the necessary VB or VBScript code to the pages that needed to be redirected. Moving on…

Run HTML Files Through ASP.net
My third idea was to run all HTML files on the website through ASP.net, which would enable me to add ASP.net code to each of the HTML files. Basically, when an HTML file is requested, it would run through the ASP.net engine. Then I could issue the 301 redirect via ASP.net code instead of using ISAPI rewrite. Cool, right? The hosting provider made the change on the server (running HTML files through ASP.net), but to our dismay, some of the HTML files on the site were not rendering properly. So, we reverted back to the original setup (where HTML files were not run through ASP.net). Again, moving on…

The Fourth Time is a Charm…
My fourth idea finally worked. The hosting provider basically said we were out of luck, but I wasn’t ready to give up so fast… I knew that Classic ASP is still supported on windows server, even when running ASP.net. Classic ASP was the original version of Microsoft’s server side scripting framework. The next version of the framework was ASP.net, which has also gone through its own upgrades over the years. So, I posed the question…couldn’t we try and run HTML files through Classic ASP instead of ASP.net? My client’s hosting provider made the change and bingo, it worked like a charm. We can now issue search engine friendly 301 redirects on HTML pages. Just to clarify, this meant that I could add Classic ASP code to any HTML file running on the website. For our purposes, I could issue a 301 redirect via Classic ASP code, the HTML file would be run through the Classic ASP engine, and everyone would be happy. :)

The Added Benefits of Using This Solution:
The obvious benefit is that we can now use 301 redirects with any HTML file on the website, when needed. The added benefit is that we can now also use Classic ASP code within any HTML file running on the website. Typically, HTML files can only contain HTML code (no server side functionality.) But with this solution, I can make database calls, provide dynamic content, use session variables, and any other Classic ASP functionality available. It’s a flexible solution, to say the least.

In closing, please remember the following items when you need to redirect HTML files on your website:

1. If you need to redirect a webpage or domain name, use a 301 redirect.

2. Don’t use 302 redirects. If you do, use them at your own peril. {cue mad scientist laughter}.

3. If your website is hosted on a windows server, use ISAPI rewrite to issue your 301 redirects. It's a great utility.

4. If you can’t use ISAPI rewrite and you are in a shared environment, try and issue the redirect via ASP or ASP.net code. If you are trying to redirect HTML files, you’ll need to skip to #5 below.

5. If you can’t add ASP.net or Classic ASP code because you are working with HTML files, then try running your HTML files through the ASP.net or Classic ASP engine. Then you’ll be able to add the 301 redirect code to your HTML files.

Happy Redirecting!

GG

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Multivariate Testing with Google Website Optimizer – Increase Conversion Rate and Take Guesswork Out of the Equation


Multivariate Testing Using Google Website OptimizerWebsite and campaign optimization has become an extremely hot area of web marketing recently. My guess is that you’ve heard the terms split testing, A/B testing, multivariate testing, Taguchi method, etc. thrown around on blogs and at conferences recently. What do these terms mean?? They all refer to the concept of scientifically testing your marketing campaigns in order to increase conversion (whether that’s increasing sales, downloading a whitepaper, filling out a contact form, subscribing to your RSS feed, etc.) This post is intended to be an introduction to multivariate testing using Google’s free optimization tool called Google Website Optimizer. I’ll explain more about it a little later on.

Let’s start with a quick definition of multivariate testing:
Multivariate testing enables you to test several components of a website to determine the optimal combination for increasing conversion. But unlike a traditional split test, which tests one creative versus another, multivariate testing enables you to test the combination of elements on a page and then will determine the optimal combination of those elements for increasing conversion.

Here’s a quick example:
Let’s say you are running a paid search campaign and you have set up a landing page specifically for your paid search visitors. The page currently converts at .75%. You’re not thrilled… In addition, your analytics package shows that you have a 60% bounce rate on the landing page. Again, you’re not thrilled. With multivariate testing, you can take that landing page and then determine key components of the page that you would like to test in order to increase conversion. For example, you might want to test the header graphic, the headline, and a call to action on the page. So, you have 3 components (or page sections) to test and then you can create multiple versions of each component. Let’s say you tested 4 versions of each component, which would mean that you have 81 possible combinations of elements. Your testing application would automatically change the content for different visitors and then measure the effectiveness of each element and the combination of elements. Cool, right? Note, the more components you test and more versions of components will extend the length of your test. There needs to be statistical significance in order to accurately determine the best combination of elements.

Enter Google Website Optimizer:
There are several tools on the market to help you with multivariate testing, including Offermatica and Optimost (probably the most popular services.) However, you might want to consider a great starter application before diving into the more complex applications listed above. That’s where Google Website Optimizer comes in. It’s Google’s free optimization tool that does a great job with basic multivariate testing. It’s a great way to start your in-house testing program. Heck, it’s free! I’ll take you through a quick example below.

A Real World Example, Step by Step:
One of my clients sells software (B2B) and they noticed a lot of people visiting the demo page, which also has customer testimonials as part of the page. After utilizing their web analytics package to analyze the past few months of activity, I could clearly see that visitors weren’t taking the next step and clicking the call to action to buy the software from the page. So, to increase conversion, we decided to use multivariate testing using Google Website Optimizer.

Here is what I did and how it worked:

1. I broke down the demo page into the core components we wanted to test. This ended up being the header graphic, the headline, and 2 calls to action (one at the top of the page and one below the fold). Note that mapping out your test is probably the toughest part since if you test the wrong components, then you probably won’t achieve your goals. :-) I recommend including everyone at this stage, including the designers, the marketing group, your VP, developers, etc. You don’t have to take everyone’s recommendation, but it typically gives you a good view of the possibilities.

2. Access Google Website Optimizer, which can be found in your AdWords account under campaign management. Create a new experiment and follow the steps for setting up your experiment. There are 5 steps and I briefly touch on each of them below.

3. Click the button for identifying your experiment pages. This will include the page you are testing and the conversion page.

4. Name your experiment and locate your test page and conversion page.

5. The second step (at least in Google Website Optimizer) is to plan your experiment. I briefly explained my client’s experiment above, but this is the step where you figure out which components to test in order to increase conversion. I determined that the header graphic, the headline and 2 calls to action would be the components to test and that we would test 3 different versions of each (giving us 81 possible combinations).

6. Add the JavaScript tags to both the test page and the conversion page. Google gives you detailed instructions for doing this, so I won’t add each step of accomplishing this task. Basically, you’ll be adding some JavaScript to each page and then identifying the unique sections of your page that you will be testing. Once you identify a section, such as the headline, then you will add specific JavaScript so Google Website Optimizer can swap out content on the fly for testing purposes. If you are familiar with HTML and JavaScript, this process is fairly simple. If you aren’t familiar with HTML and JavaScript, then have a developer help you.

7. Then you can click “Check tags on page” once they are uploaded and Google will automatically check them for you. A nice feature…Note, you can also check local pages, if needed by browsing your computer for the webpages.

8. Now is the fun part. You will create the different versions of each component. Don’t be shy here…make sure each version is significantly different or your results may not tell you anything! Remember, we are testing conversion, not how pretty something is. To me, I love this part of website testing. Why? Because it’s sometimes the ugliest component that pulls the best response. Nothing drives designers crazier that showing them an ugly element that converted twice the rate of the prettiest graphic. :-) And remember you are always starting with the original page and elements as a comparison.

9. Once you create and enter each variation for your test components, then you can preview the experiment. You can also tell Google Website Optimizer how much traffic to use for the test. For example, 50% of the traffic to the page, 75%, or 100% of the traffic. You can determine this, based on your exact experiment.

10. Preview your experiment. Having 4 components and 3 variations of each component yields 81 possible combinations. And, Google Website Optimizer enables you to view each combination in a slick preview screen. You can use dropdowns to select each combination or specific versions of each component. **Note, if you see something wrong, change it now. Close out the preview and click the back button to re-edit your versions. If you go live with the experiment, you will NOT be able to change the component versions.

11. When you are ready and everything looks perfect, simply click the Launch Now button to start your test. Now all you need is traffic. :-O By the way, you should start with a page that gets a lot of traffic. In order to scientifically determine which combination of elements works best, you need enough traffic to thoroughly test all of the combinations. The more components and variations you have, the more traffic and time you will need.

Go have a snack, grab lunch, hit the local bar, or wherever you want to boast about the multivariate test you just set up. :-) Check back a few hours later and you can start to review the reporting for your experiment. I plan to write a post that extensively covers the reporting in Google Website Optimizer, but in a nutshell, you can see the following statistics:

Under the Combinations Tab:
* which combinations are performing the best
* which combinations are performing the worst
* each combination’s chance of beating the original
* each combination’s chance of beating the other combinations
* observed improvement over the original
* conversions per visitor

Under the Page Sections Tab:
* the estimated conversion rate for each element within each component
* each variation’s chance of beating the original
* each variation’s chance of beating the other combinations
* observed improvement over the original
* conversions per visitor
* section relevance rating, which basically tells you how important variations in that section are to the overall experiment.


The results of my experiment:
And why I love multivariate testing…we never would have picked the combination that pulled the best response.

1. A header graphic that was relatively cluttered from a design standpoint, but one that builds credibility, performed the best. Needless to say, the designers never would have chosen this header. :-)

2. All 3 of the headlines performed well. The original actually performed better than the rest, but not much better…

3. A simple call to action (as compared to the other variations) performed the best at the top of the page.

4. For the lengthier call to action below the fold, a conversational call to action performed the best. This played on the fact that if you actually got down to the second call (below the fold), then you probably went through most of the content on the page.

Taking Action:
Based on the multivariate test, the optimal combination (out of 81 possible combinations) showed a 60% observed improvement over the original. So we reviewed the results and recently implemented the winning combination.

In Closing…
I hope this post helped you understand what multivariate testing is, how you can use it, and leaves you wanting to set up your first experiment. What I like best about scientific marketing is that you take opinion out of the equation (or mostly out of the equation). If your VP loves one piece of creative and you believe it’s not the right one…test it! It’s hard to argue with real data…and the reporting can act as nice buffer, which will help you keep your job! ;-)

GG

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