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Archive for the ‘browserank’ Category

What PageRank Can Tell Us About SEO and Bounce Rates

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Last night I posted about what Google has to say on SEO and bounce rates.   You can  view the post here. A great question was posted by Wilson: “David, I was wondering, why Google want to have two different answer for the bounce rates…? ”

Even broken down into four parts, my response was longer than allowed for comments on this blog, so I decided to make it a post on its own.  Here is my answer to Wilson’s question:

Great question. I will get to that, but let us look at another misunderstood part of the Google algorithm.

We have been wondering for years why Google has three different measures for PageRank. The real PageRank calculation used in their algorithm is a complex logarithmic calculation. All other things being equal, a link from a PR4.12964 page is probably worth many links from a PR3.45294 page, for instance (We have no idea to how many decimal spaces the real PageRank is calculated, not whether this has remained steady over the years or whether it fluctuates over time).

Then there is the PageRank in the Google Directory, which supposedly is on a scale of 8. I can’t find any reference to the 8-point scale in the Directory, but the Wikipedia article on PageRank is a good reference on this point. Interestingly, the Google Directory states that…

 ”The green ratings bars are Google’s assessment of the importance of a web page, as determined by Google’s patented PageRank technology and other factors. These PageRank bars tell you at a glance whether Google considers a page to be a high-quality site worth checking out.”

Note the “and other factors” wording.

Finally we have the famous Toolbar PageRank, a green bar on a scale from one to ten. This is what most webmasters mistakenly refer to as Google’s PageRank calculation. However, it is just an estimation that makes a PageRank of 4.0001 look the same as a PageRank of 4.9999, even though the latter might be worth many times the former. Meanwhile, it makes a PageRank of 4.9999 look much less valuable than a PageRank of 5.0001, even though the two are almost the same. Furthermore, everyone involved in SEO can recount numerous instances where a page “should” have a much higher or much lower PageRank than another page, based on the number and value of incoming links, but the Toolbar PageRank does not reflect that. (For instance, I have noted on many sites that a “links” page with identical link juice to a PR3 content page might nevertheless have a PageRank value of zero.)

What does this tell us about bounce rates?

Just like PageRank, bounce rates is a metric Google shares with its users. PageRank is viewable to everybody; bounce rates are viewable only to the website owner. In both cases, Google is showing a very simple calculation … a number people can use to quickly make comparisons between pages, between websites, between last month and this month, etc.

As I wrote above, “It would be a ridiculously simplistic algorithm that calculates bounces using such simple calculations.” Any serious calculation of bounces applied to a search engine ranking algorithm would have to be such a complex multidimensional equation that it would be useless to you or I as humans viewing it with our eyes (unless you happen to be a mathematical genius – and I mean genius – which I am not by a long shot.

Except to the extent that a search engine chooses to reveal how it treats bounces and other actions in its algorithm, we will never know for certain what plays a role and what does not, nor how big a role each factor plays. This is par for the course with ranking algorithms.

It is also totally possible that Google and the other search engines do not include bounce rates and related user actions yet in their algorithms.  Adam Lasnik’s comments quoted in my previous post are good hints, but they are hardly official.     Google engineer Knut Magne Risvik speaking in Norwegian at Digi.no and saying that  Google can measure how many seconds it takes from when a user clicks on a link to click back to Google, and if it is a short time that visit was a failure, is not quite an official Google statement either.  The only search engine that has released anything official is MSN through its BrowseRank paper … and that is not a statement current practice but of future intentions.

As this very young field matures, Google might also change its Google Analytics definition of “bounce rate”. SEO aside, the raging debate over whether a high bounce rate could sometimes be a good thing (depending on the nature of a website) makes a good case for changing the Google Analytics definition, too.

The summary to all this is that I have to answer Wilson with a simple “I don’t know”.  But, just like defining “bounce rate” and “PageRank”, such simple answers are really a lot more complex than they look.

 


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Bounce Rate SEO Fallacies

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Of late there has been a lot of discussion about bounce rates and whether or not the search engines count these in their algorithms.  A few days ago I posted some pros and cons on this issue.  Today I would like to share with you 9 common objections I have seen to using bounce rates as part of the search engine algorithms, and refute 8 of those.

 

As far back as late 2007, there were reports that webmasters were seeing a difference in their rankings for major keywords within a few weeks of drastically changing their bounce rates.  However, none of the tests and reports seem to be complete enough or repeatable enough to constitute “proof”. 

 

As a result, there are plenty of naysayers who believe that such things as bounce rates are not now and probably never will be part of the search engine algorithms. 

 

I am of the opposite view; bounce rates will certainly be a major part of search engine algorithms and probably already are to some degree.  That is in large part – but not completely – the premise behind Sticky SEO.  Let us not forget that Microsoft has been spending a fair amount of energy on what has been called BrowseRank, which is in part based on bounce rates.

 

Objection 1, there is no definition of “bounce rate”. 

 

Response. This is the flimsiest of arguments.  A bounce is when someone leaves a website, going back where they came from.

 

Objection 2, I don’t like how Google Analytics defines a bounce.

 

Response.  Sadly, Google doesn’t ask me for advice, either.  But cheer up, the bounce rate in Google Analytics might not be the same as they use in their algorithm, just as the little green bar is not necessarily the PageRank they use in their algorithm.

 

 

Objection 3, many sites don’t have Google Analytics turned on, so Google would have very incomplete data.

 

Response (scratching my head in confusion).  What does Google Analytics have to do with anything?  This is about Google (or Yahoo, or MSN, or Ask, or some other) tracking their own traffic and how their own users move about and – most importantly – how their users return to their website.

 

Objection 4, what is the threshold for a bounce?  After 5 seconds?  After 10 second?  After 15 seconds? This is a mess!  (This is often part of the how-do-we-define-a-bounce debate.)

 

Response.   A bounce is a bounce, whether it takes a person one second or one hour to bounce back, it is a bounce.  How the search engines choose to treat bounces with varying lag times is another matter.  Let’s be clear; they won’t tell you, just as they won’t tell you how many links on a page they index, how many they follow and how many they count in their ranking algorithms.  Furthermore, it is a moving target.  Just like every other algorithm input, bounce rates and bounce lag times will not be treated in the exact same way one day to the next.

 

Objection 5, what if people quickly click on an external link and leave my site?  They found the site useful because they found a useful link on it, but they bounced.

 

Response.  That is not a bounce, that’s a referral.  A bounce is when someone hits the back button.

 

Objection 6, what if the user quickly closes the window?

 

Response.  That could be any number of things, but it is not a bounce.  Who can guess how the search engines might treat that, or even if they treat it at all?  However, it need not be considered a bounce unless the search engines believe it should be.

 

Objection 7, doesnt a bounce mean the person has found what they want?  Cant a bounce sometimes be good?

 

Response.  Sometimes, perhaps, but rarely.  After 5 seconds, a person has no time to read a page.  After 30 seconds, they might have found something useful.  So lag times matter.  More importantly, the search engines can determine what a person does next.  If a person returns to the search results and clicks on another link, that is a sign they did not find what they want.  If they return to the search results and conduct a similar search, that might also be a sign they did not find what they want.  If they return to the search results and conduct an unrelated search, that might be a sign that they found what they want.  Search engines can weigh various bounces in light of the user’s next action.

 

Objection 8, for some searches, people look for multiple sources, such as comparing prices, comparing products, seeking varying opinions, etc.  Too many sites would be penalized if all those bounces were to be counted in the rankings.

 

Response.  This is an example of false logic.  If someone clicks on one website, then bounces, clicks on another website, then bounces, clicks on another website then bounces…all the high-ranking websites for that particular search query would be equally affected.  Nobody would suffer a ranking disadvantage because rankings are relative.  On the other hand, if one site typically bounces and the others don’t, the bouncy site clearly is less useful than the others and should be demoted.

 

Objection 9.  Cant I just set up a bot to visit all my top competitors and leave their site after varying numbers of seconds to make it appear that their sites are all bouncy?

 

Response.  Yes, you can.  And you can get very creative.  I have even heard of couriers in China travelling from one Internet café to another to click on a particular site as a means of increasing its rankings.  I have no answer for this, other than that the search engines will have to control for this, just as they have found ways to control for automated link-building.

 

So have no fear.  Good websites that provide what their visitors want or who help them find what they want will prosper.  Sticky SEO looks at conversions and stickiness as integral elements to SEO.

 

Cheap sites that do a lot of link-building – bouncy SEO – counting on large volumes of traffic to offset poor conversion rates, will suffer – because the search engines will stop sending them that traffic. 

 

It’s just a matter of time.  Or perhaps it has already started.

 

 

 


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Sticky SEO e-Book released

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

After a month of working on it, and at least a month of technical delays, I have finally released Sticky SEO. This groundbreaking SEO guide will help you get prepared for the wave of algorithm changes that will sweep a lot of websites right under the rug.

Yup, a storm is coming and some websites will thrive while others crumble to dust.  It’s all about user metrics and what I call the “Usefulness Algorithm”. Sticky SEO is the answer, and this is the first eBook to give useful strategies and practical tips on how to be one of the websites that will thrive.

I should note that Sticky SEO really is not like any other SEO book.  If you find this blog post searching for “SEO book” or SEO eBook “, and are expecting the same SEO 101, you won’t find it here.  Sticky SEO doesn’t include any of that stuff.  It’s all good – don’t stop adding relevant content and building link after link after link to your site – but this is a different, more exciting story.  This is for website owners who want to pump up their profits today and power up their rankings for tomorrow.

Here is the link:
http://www.seo-writer.com/books/sticky-seo.html

 


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Sticky SEO Imminent

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

I promised a couple months ago that I would follow up the aborted series on BrowseRank with a complete ebook on the topic.  Now that ebook is imminent.  We’ll be releasing it as soon as we clear up a few server issues.  Just to whet your appetite, here’s the image of the cover…

 


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BrowseRank follow-up

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

Regular readers might have noticed that I have not published any additional posts in the BrowseRank series, despite the fact that there are obviously more to come.  Actually there are not.  But there is something better…

 …an eBook!

Yes, I have decided to publish an eBook on the topic.  Don’t worry, the eBook will be 100% free, so you’ll get all the tips and advice you would have gotten in a series of blog posts, only more.

So fasten your seatbelts and make sure your seats are in an upright position, because we’ll be taking off real soon. :-)

 


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BrowseRank Strategies – Quality Content

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

Last week, I reported on how BrowseRank goes beyond PageRank to rank websites according to user behavior.  I won’t repeat all that here, but the bottom line is that increasingly you will need to reduce bouncebacks from your website to the search engines.  A fe days ago I offered the first in a series of strategies to employ.  I am generally moving from most obvious to least obvious, so last week I offered tips on how web site design can keep more visitors on your site.

Today, we look at an almost as obvious strategy…

STRATEGY #2 – Write website content that keeps the reader reading.

Nothing in this post is revolutionary, but all of it is necessary.

  1. Make sure the content is relevant.  Stay on theme.
  2. Check and double-check your grammar and spelling.  Do as I say, not as I do!  This is crucial, because if people see a spelling mistake, they will wonder, even subconsciously, if your product also has flaws.  And they might leave to conduct a new search.
  3. Make sure the content is useful.  We run a freelance writer’s service, and you would be amazed (or maybe not) at how many website owners come looking for optimized website content.  Quality?  Well, the writing has to be good (see tip #1 above), but it really doesn’t matter what we write, what message we offer, what information we include.  More important is that it is cheap.  I usually send those people over to GetAFreelancer.com.  They are missing the point.  Useless optimized content offers a very small benefit.  Useful optimized content offers so much more.
  4. Answer all the questions.  This is something that takes a little more thought.  What questions do your visitors have?  Does your content answer them?  Questions could be about you, about your policies, pricing and shipping, and about what you offer.  Those are obvious.  But what about how to use your products?  Where they can be found?  Can they be used in cold Canada or hot Mexico?  What if a person is older, younger, thinner, wider, a newbie, a pro…what about all the possible questions that every niche or subniche of your customers might have.
  5. Expanding on #4, can people easily find shipping info?  For instance, do you ship to Canada?  If I can’t find that out quickly, I won’t stick around.  Is pricing easy to find.  If I am already at the stage where I might be ready to buy, I look for pricing almost immediately.  If I can’t find it, I’ll search somewhere else.  In short, any content that your audience is likely to be searching for needs to be obvious and easy to find.
  6. If your website is an ecommerce site, do you have plenty of descriptions and suggestions of how to use each product?
  7. New and unique non-commercial content is also ideal, because that also engages a visitor.  Just make sure to read tip #1 above before creating an entertaining video or interactive game or photo gallery or top-ten list.  We recently redesigned the website of a steel-bending client, and tracked the click locations.  An amazing number of clicks were on a “samples of our work” link that is just a souped-up, funky slide show we created for them.  Yes, even an industrial website can be cool!
  8. Remember to use small paragraphs.  Huge chunks of text make people’s eyes gloss over and they subconsciously reach for the “back” button.

From a site usefulness perspective, your content needs to first an foremost include the information visitors are searching for, so that they do not bounce right back to the search engine.  Secondly, it needs to engage readers so that they stay on and make a purchase…and at least if they do bounce back to the search engine, it’s after a long visit on your site (signaling that the site was useful for them).

 


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BrowseRank Strategies – Quality Web Site Design

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

A few days ago I reported on how BrowseRank goes beyond PageRank to rank websites according to user behavior.  Modern search engines tend to rank websites by relevancy and importance, and of course their algorithms can be gamed.  The concept of BrowseRank, which I have been mentioning to clients already for two years, would add a third and almost more important measurement – usefulness.  This, too, can be gamed.  However, most of the gaming would also work to your visitor’s advantage, so the Web will be a better place for it. 

In preparation for BrowseRank and perhaps other search engine measures of website usefulness, this is the first in a series of posts that will help you make your website appear useful in the eyes of the search engines.  You will probably find that these are things you should be doing anyway to increase conversions and profits, but that is not my area of expertise, so here we will look at them from an SEO perspective.

STRATEGY #1 – Design a website that says “Quality” the minute a visitor lands there.

This might seem soooooo obvious, but it needs to be said.  As obvious as it might seem, I come daily across dozens of websites that say “Amateur” or “Crap”.  Here are a few tips to make your website look like a professional website that can be trusted.

  1. Get a professional design that looks at least somewhat modern and in a style that suits your products and target audience.
  2. Lose the square corners.  Some corners are OK, but if your design is based on boxes, it looks like a basement job.
  3. No Adsense-type ads.  Yuck! Honestly, that is the biggest sign of a low-quality website.  A run of Adsense across the bottom is not bad, but the more prominent the PPC ads the cheaper the site appears.  By the way, ads are OK.  The more they look like content or part of the website, the better.  Adsense style ads just look cheap.
  4. Keep it clean.  Clutter looks as bad on a website as it looks here on my desk.  (But I don’t have a webcam to display this disaster to the world, so don’t display a mess on your website!)
  5. Make sure your web pages look good in various browsers and in various screen resolutions.  If 70% of people see a superb website and the other 30% see garbled images and text, they will bounce back to the search engine … which tells the engine that your website is not very useful (and it isn’t if it can’t easily be read by 30% of searchers).
  6. Make sure your website is available, which means good hosting.  I am never shy about recommending Phastnet web hosting.  This blog is hosted there and I have been migrating my sites to them over the years because of the five-star service I get when I need it.
  7. Make sure your code is working properly.  Seeing a PHP error makes the site look broken.  I don’t buy from someone who might be selling me broken goods.
  8. Avoid overly flashy design.  If your visuals call attention to themselves and distract from your message, you will lose people.
  9. Avoid automatic audio playing.  I can guarantee you that 99% of people browsing from a cubicle, as well as others in shared space, will zip back to the search engine in no time flat.  That sends a pretty bad signal to the search engines.
  10. Nix the cover page, especially one that shows a slide show on start-up.  And if you think people can easily scroll to the bottom to click the “skip intro”, it’s easier still to click the “back” button and choose a new website that does not place a barrier to its visitors.

Those are my top 10 web design tips for helping visitors see quality in your website.  Please feel free to add to this list in the comments below. Following these tips is not enough to make them stay on your website, but at least they won’t leave because the design scares them away.  In future “episodes”, I will share with you some additional strategies to help the search engines view your website as “useful”.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that we have some top quality SEO web designers on our team.  :-)  

 


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BrowseRank Goes Beyond PageRank

Monday, August 18th, 2008

I am just back from vacation and wading through three weeks of emails, but while I was gone a story broke that I just can’t let pass.  You might have heard me say it before, but sooner or later the search engines will shift their algorithms from focusing just on relevance and importance to include a third pillar: usefulness. 

This story entitled Microsoft Talks about BrowseRank Beyond PageRank shows that Microsoft is well on it’s way to developing just such an algorithm.  The article mentions a few ways a search engine can determine how useful searchers find a result, but there are more that are not mentioned in the article.

  1. Click-thru rates.
  2. Number of people who bounce back to the search page.
  3. Time before a person bounces back.
  4. Number of pages a user visits before bouncing back.
  5. Time spent on the specific page clicked.
  6. Whether the person bothered to scroll down on the page.

Of course, people like me would totally mess up the algorithm; I leave my windows open forever.  And if you think that user behavior is hard to manipulate, think again.  Usability will be now more important for SEO, but also will be coaxing users to spend more time on the website and go deeper in.

But the biggest change we will see is that website owners will have to focus on not letting their visitors bounce back to Google.  Suddenly having links to other useful sites will be a good thing, to the dismay of so many website owners who are terrified of placing a link to anybody else, for fear they might bleed customers, PageRank or both.

As all user search engines move into measuring user behavior, new strategies will be required.  I will report on some of those shortly.

Stay tuned… 

 


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