Friday, 27 December 2013

6 Personas You Are Obliged as a Designer to Include in the WebDesign Process

It seems that a lot of businesses are re-designing their site lately, and considering that the technology in this field has changed significantly (think of responsive design), I see this as a good step in the direction of having a UX World Wide Web. But, unfortunately, from my experience when re-designing a website, there are people who should most definitely be involved in the process and mainly aren't, or if their recommendations are taken into consideration, this is usually done way down the design/development process.

If you are a designer, like it or not, the power is in your hands: you are most definitely involved early in the process, so if you aren't put into contact with all of the following people, you should definitely ask at least for a short meeting with them. Of course, this means a lot more work for you, but trust me, it is easier to take things into consideration from the start than to have to change your design later. The following are the people you should talk to before starting the design and who you should ask for feedback after you have a wireframe and/or actual design in place (not necessarily in this order):

1. Business Owner
Of course, if we're talking about a big site it doesn't necessary has to be the business owner/CEO, it has to be someone who can tell you the goals of the site (both micro- and macro-goals) and what tactics that are being used by sales to close leads. If the company you're designing for is small, the business owner is the best person who can tell you such aspects of the business.

Limitations: Do note that usually business owners will agree to any design you propose, as they trust you as being the expert. Which you are, but part of being the expert is to know the people who can give you a better insight into what the website needs to do and how it should do it.

2. Customer Support Representative
It is crucial to talk to a Customer Support Representative, as they can give you detailed information on customers' behavior, their preferences, the problems they faced with the old site and so on.

Limitations: Customer Support Representatives usually don't know what they should tell you, being in contact with customers each day they probably have information which they take for granted or about which they assume that it is only logical and that you probably already know. Thus, make sure you are prepared with a set of questions when you first talk to them.

3. UX expert
A UX expert is especially helpful when you already have a wireframe in place, to point out possible usability issues. Of course, after years of experience you will probably have a handle on usability and other UX aspects.

Limitations: UX experts are usually pretty hard to come by, so if you don't have a proper budget a UX expert's opinion will probably be the first thing that you will consider as being redundant. If this is the case, at least take Nielsen's Ten Heuristics into consideration.

Webdesign - UX ten heuristics

4. Online Marketing Specialist
Marketing will be an essential part of any website, that is why it is important to consider it in the design from the start. A specialist can help with call-to-actions (which will help achieve the goals set out by the business owner) and information design (which is highly important for SEO).

Limitations: Marketing is pretty complex on its own, so  you might find yourself that the online marketing specialist will come up with ideas along the way. Although, continuous feedback and improvements are necessary, you have to know where to draw the line. Thus, everything that is needed should be put down in writing, so that when new ideas come up you will be more or less covered.

5. Developer and Development Project Manager
Talking to a developer and to the development project manager is highly important, as they know from the start how the website will be programmed and the technical limitations of a particular CMS and so on.

Limitations: Sometimes what makes sense from a UX, design and marketing point of view, might be hard to implement from a development perspective, but you should try to do your best and together to come up with the best solution possible. If needed, you should also discuss the issues and limitations with the client/business owner.

6. Clients
Clients are very important, the most important actually. But it is last on my list as unfortunately usually the budget allocated won't cover a user quantitative and/or qualitative research as well.

Limitations: Setting up user research is not only costly, but a decent amount of other resources is necessary as well (expertise, time and so on). In any case it is your obligation to ask the business owner/client if talking to a real user would be possible. If not, you should at least base your design on the feedback of a customer support representative.

Who else do you think should be included in the design process? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Steps to Take if You Think You Have Been Hit by a Google Algorithm Update

There are many great articles out there about how to find out if you have been hit by the Panda, Penguin or any other Google Algorithm Update, and what to do if you discovered that you have been impacted by an algorithm or the other. But experience has taught me tips that I haven't come across in other articles on this subject. And these are what I want to share with you today.

Analysis phase

Everything in SEO starts with analyzing your data with the help of the tracking software of your choice. And with this purpose you should analyze as much data as possible (at for least the past year). Apart from looking at monthly organic traffic coming from Google, to figure out approximately the period in which you started having problems, it is important to look at daily search traffic as well. It is normal to see some fluctuations in your daily traffic data, but you might notice that after a particular update the fluctuations slowed down, or that traffic slowly started to decrease and never recovered.

Let's take for example a clients who in the past period hasn't registered major increases or decreases in his search traffic, but if we looked back for the past 24 months we found the following:

1. Organic traffic coming from Google has a couple of drops in the analyzed period and even if traffic eventually recovered from the first 2 decreases, it never recovered from the last big one (November 2012-Janaury 2013).

Drops in Monthly Organic Traffic in Google Analytics

2. When we looked at daily organic traffic we noticed that all the drops can be connected to one of the Panda updates. If we would have analyzed the data only on a per month basis it would have been virtually impossible to figure out which update affected the website, as especially in the past period Google puts live a lot of different updates each month. To help you with the analysis Moz created the "Google Algorithm Change History" page which you should definitely use :) As you can notice in the example below, slight drops have been registered both in August 2011 and January 2012. The first one isn't that important as it came after a sudden increase, so that might have had an impact as well, thus we are going to let is slide. The second one (January 2012) impacted the site as a general decrease can be noticed together with the reduction in traffic fluctuation, although after a couple of months traffic seemed to recover. But starting November 2012, the fluctuation scaled down (again) and when it seemed that traffic is recovering at the end of January 2013 it got hit again. Of course, it is pretty time-consuming to notice these effects, some might be even more subtle. It might help at this stage to create a separate View in Google Analytics, which you would use for the only purpose of analyzing the effect of Google Algorithm Updates on your site - in this View you could keep only organic traffic coming from Google and add annotations corresponding only to Google Updates as per Moz's reports.

Panda Google Update effect on organic traffic from Google Analytics

Whether Google Panda or Google Penguin hit your site, this type of analysis should do the trick in identifying the direction you should go from now on, which we will discuss in the following.

Action phase

So you figured out which algorithm update impacted your site. Now what? Well, depending on what hit you you should start looking at the following:

1. Google Panda
Each update is relatively complex, but what you have to know is that this particular update focuses on what content you have on the site. Thus, you should analyze the following:
- duplicate content issues: having unique meta tags set up for each of your pages can be a tremendous help in this case, as you can see the number of Duplicate Meta Titles and Duplicate Meta Descriptions in Google Webmaster Tools, which usually gives you a hint if you have a problem in this direction due to programing.
- thin content: you should have valuable and, of course, unique content on each of your pages and on your homepage as well. For example on your homepage you could include why you are the best choice or what benefits you offer. If you are an e-commerce site, having unique content on your product pages is extremely important, but hard to do at the same time. I hope I don't even have to mention that you should have a blog, which should be updated every week or so :)
- if Google indexes user profiles from your site, you should take a look at these with a magnifying glass as well
- for ideas on content you can take a quick peek at what your competitors are doing (especially those who are outranking you). Of course, every idea you get from them should be carefully considered if it could apply in your case as well.

2. Google Penguin
Google Penguin is a synonym with webspam and having over-optimized low quality links. Getting hit by Google Penguin could be a little bit harder to recover from than Panda, as it is always easier to modify your site than cleaning up what "link building" has been done in the past or to get others to modify theirs sites. But do not despair! Look at the following:
- who links to your site: use Google Webmaster Tools for this purpose. Analyze the quality of these sites: look at domain authority (should be at least 30) and the ratio of their Total Links/Total Linking Root Domains (should be as close to 1 as possible) in Open Site Explorer, and maybe even Page Rank, although it's not as accurate as it used to be.
- how many links do they have to your site and how many pages do they link to: thus the Links/Linked Pages (taken from Google Webmaster Tools) ratio should be as close to 1 as it can get. If you have thousands of links which lead to the same page on you site, that is a definite alarm signal.
- what kind of link it is: where it's located on the site which links to you (blogrool, footer and other sidewide links are a definite no-no), if it is a paid/affiliate link (these should all have the "nofollow" attribute attached) and so on.
- the anchor text of your links: use Open site Explorer and Ahrefs to analyze this aspect of your links. Branded anchor text should obviously dominate and you should be careful if some non-branded keywords have a high percentage in your anchor text profile.

Now that you analyzed your backlink profile consider the following tips:
- If you have sitewide links from authoritative domains in your industry (to the same page on your site), then you are in somewhat of a pickle. You should consider that if you add the nofollow attribute to all of those links, you might get hurt as it won't pass any potential link juice and in the end a link from an authority site in your field is a definite plus. Thus, if possible, you should keep the link from the homepage dofollow and to the rest add the nofollow attribute. Of course, this means that you are in good relations with the respective company.
- links from low quality sites, which don't bring you a significant amount of traffic, should be removed. Contact the webmaster of the respective site, follow-up, document everything in a Google Drive spreadsheet and if the links is still live, use Google's Disavow Tool (but do use it with precaution!). If a low quality site does bring you converting traffic, adding a nofollow attribute might be the best solution.
- if you notice that you have an over-optimized anchor text profile, you have some work cut out for you. You need to identify the site from which you have links with that particular anchor text and either change the anchor text or remove the link.

3. Other updates
Even though websites have usually been hit by the above updates, there are some other updates you should consider as well, as on the long-term you might be effected:

a. Hummingbird
Although not an algorithm update like Panda and Penguin, it is in fact a "redesign" of the algorithm. Thus from now on:
- use responsive web design (easier said than to implement, but even if you don't start redesigning your site now, do plan for it in the near future)
- instead of focusing on keywords, focus on queries and the questions of your potential customers (your blog will come extremely handy in this regard)

b. Knowledge Graph
Although very different from the other Google updates, this is still very important as it represents the start of  Google's switch to semantic search (which is somewhat what Hummingbird represents as well). Thus:
- implement Rich snippets (apart from Google Authorship; company, product and blog post related snippets should be implemented)
- offer content which doesn't simply answer a question, but which offers in-depth knowledge as well, which leads us to the next point

c. News and In-Depth Articles
You might have noticed that some SERPs contain a News and/or In-Depth Articles section. Even though the first has been around for quite some time, the second is relatively new. In order to try to capitalize on these:
- concentrate on creating news that are worth covering by major media outlets. Use press releases and media pitches in this regard
- write articles that discuss every aspect of a particular topic that might be of interest to your prospects

d. Exact-match domain
Google changed the way it was handling exact-match domains back in 2012,  thus reducing the presence of low quality EMDs.Thus, those site which have exact-match domains aren't favored anymore. In this case everything we talked about in this article holds true: work on having a great site and this sort of updates won't effect you that much even if you have an exact-match domain.

e. Google Plus
You might think that I went cuckoo, but bear with me. Even though Google Plus is a separate product, it does have an impact on SERPs (watch this Whiteboard Friday) and it does have an important role in Google's process to personalize search results. Thus:
- do true social marketing on Google Plus as well, not just Facebook and/or Twitter; automate as much as you can but do not forget about interactions
- ask your writers to set up Google Authorship and encourage them to have an active Google+ profile

 Well, that's basically it. I'm looking forward to hear you thoughts and experiences with Google algorithm updates and everything that impacts Google SERPs in the comment section below!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

How to prevent Negative SEO or How to prevent your competitors in harming your website

Some time ago one of my work colleagues left in order to go to another, much bigger Online Marketing company and at one point when we met up we started talking about how things are working for her at her new employer. And what she told me left me speechless. At my current company, we pride ourselves in being an online marketing firm which, apart from working according to white-hat SEO practices, abides by ethical and moral rules when it comes to providing services to our clients. So when I've heard that my colleague's new company was buying links by the dozens, not to their clients' websites, but to their clients' competitors' sites, I was astonished.

This is a big online marketing company I'm speaking of. So this shows you two things: 1. That you have to be very careful of what online marketing company you choose to work with, because if they have absolutely no problem in doing this, who knows what they are able to do to your own website and 2. That even if you work hard in building up your site and everything you do is 100% according to Google's Quality Guidelines, if your competitor buys tons of questionable links to your site, you can still get hurt.

Before Google Penguin people didn't really talk about negative SEO. Of course, buying links was a black-hat practice long before, but I don't believe websites were negatively influenced by these sort of practices, not in the way they are currently anyway. If you still don't quite believe in negative SEO, you should definitely check out this experiment from Tasty Placement, which shows the impact of low quality links on rankings. It will make a believer out of you.

So what is there to be done in order to prevent competitors to buy links to your website? Well, you can't really do much to prevent it, but what you can do is to implement a process through which you can catch such a  practice on time and do what you can in order to fix it. Below is a short guideline in order to help you get started (please use this before crying out for your MAA' :).

1. Monitor. In order to catch such practices you have to monitor your link profile. You could start implementing the following steps only when you notice something odd going on with you rankings or organic traffic and so on, but you should do it constantly. In any case, as you might know, there are a couple of great tools, which can help you in doing so. The main one is Google Webmaster Tools. So after you have logged on to GWT and go to the Search Traffic section to the Links to your site area, click on More to see the whole list of Who links the most. Here you will find the Download latest links button with guessed it! You can download the latest links to your website :)

Now, depending on the amount of links you receive in a given time frame, you should do this periodically and not only with the sole purpose of preventing competitors in harming your website.

An additional tool you can use is Open Site Explorer. Even though you can download a similar report containing inbound links as from GWT, I like to use the Anchor Text report (unfortunately you do need a paid Moz account to have access to the complete list) and I'll tell you how I actually use it in a minute. What is important to note is that you should download this report often, as you will need a previous Anchor Text report to do the necessary comparisons later.

2. Analyze. All the tools in the world cannot help you if you don't analyze your data properly. So, the first step would be to analyze the Anchor Text report from OSE (don't worry if you don't have this one, you can still figure things out, but it could take more time than with this particular report). So if you do have the Anchor Text report you should compare it to the previous one you downloaded (this is why you have to download this report often). You should be looking for abnormal increases in a particular anchor text. Why? you ask. Because when competitors buy links they buy a bunch and I don't believe that they will take the time to "diversify" the anchor text the links will have. That way, apart from pointing paid links to your site they will also create an unbalance in your anchor text profile, which can likewise gain the disapproval of the Mighty Google.

The reason I said having the Anchor Text report might save you time, because it is much easier to spot if something odd is going on with your anchor text profile, than going directly to the next step.

So if something is not quite right with your Anchor Text report you have to take the link report you have downloaded from Google Webmaster Tools and identify any spammy links that started pointing recently to your website. Again you can use a couple of tools for this. What we have recently tried is Link Detective, which you can use to take a look at the domain and page authority of the links you uploaded, together with their type. If you notice a bunch of low authority sites (an authority under 30 for example) pointing to your site and you are more or less sure that you or your team didn't build those links, then you might have gotten a nasty present from one of your competitors.What is there to do next?

3. Act. Be prepared because a lot of work awaits you. There have been many articles on how to clean up your link profile, which are perfectly viable in this case as well, so I will not get into more details here. But, an additional thing you can do is try to identify the service which was used by your competitor. Try searching for clues on the pages you are getting harmful link juice from, for example. If you are able to identify the company, you should contact them and try to get those particular links removed.

There it is. MAA coming to the rescue when your competitor is bullying you :) Have you ever thought that your competitor could be buying paid links to your website? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Taking Google Analytics With a Pinch of Salt

I just came back from the iCEEfest (Interactive Central & Eastern Europe Festival), where I had the pleasure to meet several giants of the internet. During a presentation on YouTube Advertising, one of the lovely ladies from Google asked the audience if the data provided by AdWords and Google Anlaytics are different (regarding the data which theoretically should be the same), which data set should we trust? Even if I was saying "AdWords" as loud as my comfort zone permitted, she made the following comparison: "Should you trust Google Analytics, which is a free product or AdWords for which you pay and for which we work very hard to make it as accurate as possible?". This got me thinking about the discrepancies I've noticed along the way, not only between the data offered by AdWords and Analytics, but within the Analytics data set as well.

The following two glitches stuck to mind (until now) and I wanted to share them with you, in case you have encountered the same problems, you need to know that you are not alone :)

1. Traffic coming through non-branded keywords. No one can argue with the fact that this metric is plays an important role in measuring result based SEO efforts (even though (not provided) gives us headaches almost each day). What I've noticed is the following: if you apply a filter to filter out a particular keyword form organic traffic, and than you filter only the organic visits that came through the same keyword, the sum is actually not equal to total organic traffic. Lets see an example. I took a dating site, which has not many organic visits, and excluded the keyword "date" from the organic visits:
Google Analytics | Organic traffic being applied one exclude filter

After, I applied a filter to see only the visits coming through the keyword "date":

Google Analytics | Organic traffic being applied one include filter

The excluding filter gave the result 662,925 visits, the including filter gave as a result 831 visits, which totals 663,756 visits, while without any filters the organic traffic is of:

Google Analytics | Total organic traffic

You realize that the issue here is not about those 22 visits, but the higher organic traffic one site has the higher the difference. And I know that Google does not recommend using more than one filter, which in this case is not the case. If anybody can tell what I am missing please do.

2. Paid search traffic. We all know how important it is to attribute conversions to traffic channels, especially when we are investing money in paid search campaigns. This Google Analytics glitch confused me even more than the previous one. As you know you can see your PPC campaigns in 3 places in Google Analytics, that is if you connect your GA account with your Google AdWords account, under:
1. Traffic Sources -> Sources-> Search-> Paid;
Google Analytics | Paid campaigns screenshot

2. Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Campaigns;
Google Analytics | Campaigns screenshot

3. Traffic Sources - Advertising -> AdWords -> Campaigns.
Google Analytics | AdWords campaigns screenshot

It is important to note that in the following example, the business only had AdWords campaigns running and that all links pointing to the site were compiled with the help of Google's URL builder. As you can see under the Paid Search Campaigns all visits are show, although the campaign parameter came through only for a very small amount of traffic. Due to this fact only a small amount of traffic is shown under Campaigns. Where AdWords Campaigns are concerned, the 17 visits for which the campaign parameter did not come though are not shown, although the tracking platform does recognize that the source of those 17 visits is Google. So when applying filters and attributing conversions, you have to be careful and check that the whole amount of traffic is take into consideration.

What other Google Analytics glitches have you encountered? Would love to hear your stories in the comment section below :)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

How to Monitor the WWW for Business Growth

I know you agree that the interaction between prospects, clients (former and actual), partners, industry leaders and even competitors is highly important, especially if the topic of discussion is your brand and your products/services. This has always been the case, but with the dawn of Web 2.0 the way Word-Of-Mouth works has changed. And with this change new daily/weekly tasks were added to the online marketer's job description. Apart from blogging and managing social media, monitoring what internauts say about your brand and other topics of interest became mandatory. Fortunately, the way we do this became easier thanks to the tools available to us now.

Why do you need web monitoring?
Before we cut to the chase it is important to recognize the benefits such a monitoring activity can have for your business. In my opinion the benefits can be separated into 2 main categories. Firstly, monitoring the web has a role in brand reputation management: where the good, the bad and the ugly of your business will come to surface. This includes you listening to what your prospects and clients are saying about you and thus getting to know them better (what motivates them, what are they actually looking for in your product/service and so on), information if used properly can benefit your business to a great extent. Secondly, when monitoring the web, opportunities may arise that might have less to do with your blogging and social marketing activities, but it can influence your public relations activities, product/service development activities and so on.

Step One - Establish Goals
The second step would be to establish your goals - as always :). Think about what you would like to achieve with this task. For Brand Reputation Management, goals that you could set could be to offer customer support on social media channels, discover customer complaints early and fix them, maybe turn unsatisfied customers into true evangelists for your brand, which leads us to building a relationship with possible brand evangelists, crisis management and so on. Discovering complementary opportunities could regard discovering possible newsjacking topics for press releases and other PR opportunities, developing a new product/service even better than the one your competitors launched and so on.

Step Two - The Tools
There are quite a couple of tools that you could use for this purpose, both free and paid.
The obvious and free tools would be Google Alerts, Social Mention and the search function from Twitter. Another tool that I like is Mention, especially because it has a free version, a desktop app and I believe it to be highly accurate.

Monitoring the web for brand reputation managementI did notice a flaw in a couple of these tools: if you have an abbreviation for a brand name or if your brand name can be abbreviated (for example SD4M), and believe me most of your customers will shorten your brand name if they can, then some of these might give you results when that string of characters appears in unfriendly URLs, as for the previous example, which might have nothing to do with your actual brand. This might not be the case thought for notorious brands.

Another service I really like using is HARO (aka Help A Reporter Out), as it is a great way to build up relationships with journalists and maybe even be mentioned in a piece. Of course, sometimes they are looking for your customers and not you. In these cases, what I usually do is to post on our social accounts that such an opportunity is available for our fans/followers. If we do get some positive feedback from our fan base regarding that particular post, than I let the reporter who submitted the query know what we did to help and mention that if any additional help is needed we are at his/her disposal.

When looking for a tool to use, depending on your budget, remember one thing: no tool is perfect, but you do have to search for the best tool that will work for your business.

Step Three - Setting Up 
What keywords should you monitor? Here are a couple of ideas:
Brand related keywords:
- brand and company name, with all of the variations this might take
- name of your CEO
For these I would monitor every result possible.
Non-brand related keywords:
- the main keywords from your industry, in order to monitor if any subject arises, which you might need to approach in a press release or blog post (this is the way )
- the brand names of your main competitors
For these keywords monitoring only the best result would be sufficient.

In order to practice newsjacking you must keep your eyes and ears open for any topics, which have potential, outside of your industry.

Step Four - Act
All the monitoring in the world won't have any results if you don't act on it. Thus here are a couple of pointers:
* When it comes to bad comments, it goes without saying that you have to be tactful. You should analyze if the person who posted the particular bad remark is doing it to troll around. If yes, then do not answer. If you believe that he/she is not a troll, then answer politely. It is a good rule of thumb to never answer when you're angry. I've read it recently in an article (I'm so sorry I couldn't find it again, if you do know which one I'm talking about please let me know and I'll link to it), in which it was advised not to use your brand's name when responding to a complaint, especially when this is on a complaint site. Instead use generic wording like "the company". The reasoning behind this is that the more your brand name is mentioned on that particular page, the chances are higher for it to appear in the first SERs (Search Engine Results) for your brand name, which prospects will most likely search for when thinking of buying from you. So if you want to avoid bad impressions appearing on the first results for your brand name this is a great tip.
* Respond to the good tweets or comments that come up regarding your brand. You will probably not be able to answer all of them, but try to respond a couple in one monitoring session.
* If someone is asking a question regarding your field of expertise do not hesitate to answer, but remember that trying to sell your product/service at this point is a huge no-no.
* If someone is complaining about your competitor, be there for them (favorably, before your competitor can respond to the complaint :) )
* If a topic comes up that could be a great subject for a blog post or press release, forward it to the person responsible. If someone has a problem that Customer Support can handle, forward it to them and so on.
* If a competitor launches a new feature or product, you might consider forwarding the press release to your Product Manager.

In any case the greatest advice that you probably already heard is to act human and listen to your instincts. Think about it this way: if someone said or asked something, how would you have reacted, if you would have been there in person?

In case you are saying to yourself "This looks like a lot of wrok, Csilla. I don't have the time for this". Remember: with the right tools all this can be done in 15 minutes a day and the benefits are definitely worth it :)

Did you monitor the web until now? What's the biggest success you had from it? Do you know of any other tools that can help in the monitoring process? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.