April 13th, 2011.
Using non-standard characters in the page title and meta description tag seems to be a growing trend in many industries. The idea is that by using eye-catching non-standard characters readers attention is drawn to their result first, even in preference to results that may be above them.
The practice of optimising search results to maximise click-through-rate is not a new one and has been used in PPC advertising to good effect for years, but where PPC ads have to go through an approval process (where many techniques are outlawed) meta descriptions and organic results do not, so boundaries can be pushed much further.
Who Is Doing It?
How Do I Use Special Characters In My Title And Description?
Use of many characters seem to be by trial and error. John Campbell is a man with far more patience than I, and he has tested the indexing of many special characters.
Special characters can be created using Unicode such as,
© is created with:©
® is created with:®
™ is created with:™
A full list of Unicode characters can be found on Wikipedia
What Are The Effects?
Currently there is largely anecdotal evidence for the benefits of an increase in click through rate. It would be difficult to test definitively as there are several other variables to factor-in.
Shaun Anderson at Hobo is well respected within the industry for running extensive tests on theories rather than relying on guesswork, he is running one the tests shown above,
It’s incredibly hard to test the impact of this on SERPS in an accurate manner. I am currently running some tests on pages on my site. You need a page with stable rankings, and a stable flow of traffic to get exact results, and that’s kind of difficult with the ever-fluctuation of Google SERPS and how changes to the UI (based on query or geo-location – for instance) impact your rankings and clicks on a daily basis – over time – in a natural way. Special characters in snippets certainly get noticed and commented upon, that’s for sure. Once you rank, GETTING CLICKED is what it is all about – every little thing that might help, should be tested on for size. You can get a way with a lot in terms of getting special characters in your snippet DESCRIPTION – but not so much in your TITLE link description (Google strips out some special characters from this element if you try it).
I was also lucky enough to hear from Craig Parker at Soula.com who has conducted some tests of his own.
In a short test I ran on a UK based e-commerce site I found implementing special characters in title tags had a small positive effect on click-through but this was not statistically significant, after around a week it caused a small negative change in [Google] rankings.
Implementing special characters in the meta was difficult to get indexed/displayed on the SERPs and provided a very minimal increase, again not statically significant.
The Bigger Picture…
The largest problem with this technique is that the more people use it the less effective it becomes. how long until our search results pages look like this and nobody derives any benefit from it?
The new and improved version
What are your thoughts on this?
February 24th, 2011.
The current trend of Newspaper sites to publish their content behind paywalls seems to be gathering speed. The recent Google announcement of its OnePass payment system can only increase the process by making payment technology available to a wider audience.
I thought it would be interesting to look to see how the move to paywalls has affected the news sites backlink acquisition rates.
So far the main newspapers that have added Paywalls have been,
- The Financial Times – 2002
- Moneyweek – 2005
- The Times and The Sunday Times – April 2010
- The News Of The World – November 2010
- The Telegraph is set to add a paywall in September 2011
Taking the two most recent examples of The Time and The News Of The World, and using the excellent Majestic SEO graph functionality we are able to see changes on their backlink acquisition rates.
Similar, but less dramatic results for The Times. This is slightly more confusing as the paywall coincided with a domain change from timesonline.co.uk to thetimes.co.uk. We can see clearly that link gains to the old URL start to decline without the new domain ever really gaining links as a comparative rate.
Where I see some really interesting data is in the rate of acquisition for competitors sites who chose not to implement a paywall. A close online and offline competitor to both The Times and NOTW is The Daily Mail.
Their acquisition rate starts to climb sharply from the date The Times paywall goes live, and their highest ever month coincides with the NOTW adding their paywall. It’ll be interesting to see if the following two low months, December and January are a result of incomplete link data or some other trend.
It’s an interesting theory to see of the final few content producers within a market start to perform far better in terms of finance and popularity than those that eventually choose to follow the paywall route.
July 13th, 2010.
It often seems to be normal practice to treat SEO campaigns as a stand-alone form of marketing. Groups of shadowy geeks perform magic in the room at the end of the corridor, with sales and marketing teams avoiding them as much as possible at the water cooler.
However, it’s important to remember that SEO is just another form of marketing – and as such planning and integrating your search engine optimisation with your other marketing channels will mean far more coherent and effective campaigns.
All advertising campaigns should have SEO and the company website in-mind. Is it easier for rushed commuters to remember an often random telephone number or a website address?
Do you now see more and more TV and poster campaigns telling people to ‘Google’ or ‘search’ them? With the growing bias towards the personalisation of Google search results, having users Google and click-through to your brand is likely to mean you’re then likely to appear more favourably for them in subsequent searches.
Any increase in brand searches on Google will also (arguably) benefit your site with increased brand visibility after the UK brand update back in March.
- Feature your website address prominently
- Consider asking people to Google/search you – make sure you’re ranking for the term though!
- Maybe target your SEO towards a memorable phrase you can ask people to search for – “army jobs” is a good current example.
Leveraging offline PR campaigns is a great way of getting added value out of both. I’m often surprised how many SEOs haven’t even asked if a client has a PR campaign in place, think of all of those link opportunities that have been missed and all of the great web content that is going to waste.
- Ensure you have spoken to the PR campaign account manager so they know the importance of asking for their editorial to be placed online and understand the impact of links from their content.
- Make use of the content the PR is generating. Ask to get cc’d in on their releases and discuss the scope for them to help distributing your linkbait to their journalists and their media contacts.
- Between you draw up a list of the online properties you want to see your client featured on. Many blogs now have larger readerships than national newspapers – they make-up an important part of both PR and SEO campaigns, you need to make sure you approach these sites correctly with a strong proposition.
Publishing good content is often the stumbling-block that holds-up many good SEO campaigns. The first port of call should be the client, asking the right questions about what’s on their shelves gathering dust can save thousands in content writers fees.
- Encourage staff at the company to make public the results of any research or industry analysis that they have performed.
- Ensure your entire product catalogue or list of services is published on your site. The more you can break this down into component products and services and publish these on their own individual pages the better.
- Consider making any stats facts and figures that you have into an infographic. You’ll find presenting data in a graphical format gets a lot more attention than a simple table of figures.
- Get the entire company blogging. If you can get everyone enthusiastic about publishing great content it takes a lot of the time pressure away from the SEO and marketing teams. Often the real industry experts in the company lie outside of these departments anyway.
- Are there already any user guides, FAQs, or client literature already in existence that can easily be published online?
Keep in regular contact with your sales teams about client feedback. make sure you gather data as much as possible from phone conversations.
- Find out from your sales teams how customers refer to your products and services. Often it’s different to how you refer to them – the keywords that you’re targeting should reflect this.
- Get feedback from your sales teams about questions and objections that frequently crop-up. The chances are that if people are asking questions they’ll also be Googling them too so make sure you add these to the FAQ section of your site.
In any linkbuilding campaign your existing contacts should be your first port of call. High-quality, on-topic links from relevant sites, as easily obtainable as a quick email or phone call.
- Partner companies and suppliers and distributors sites are always worth leveraging for links.
- Encourage your staff to blog if not doing-so already. Either on your own corporate blog or on their own sites. Branding your staff as experts can be as effective as branding your company.
- Check to see if industry association or corporate qualifications sites offer links back to their members
- Make sure you put your company forward for corporate awards, usually even the nominations receive links back to their site.
Image credit – Rachel Creative
Images are a fantastic way to present data and abstract concepts, they’re a much clearer way of getting information across and more people take the time to digest it. I thought it would be a good idea to try to present solutions and explanations to the more common SEO questions that we hear from our clients.
The image covers everything from basic keyword research concepts, through site architecture, page optimisation, link building, SEO tactics, social media, and some basic SEO and PPC clickthrough stats and explantions.
Search engine optimisation and digital marketing for small business isn’t easy. For big-brands people love linking to them without them having to ask, even without them deserving it in many cases.
Small business don’t have that luxury, that’s not to say that the smaller guys can’t compete, they just have to work harder and smarter to get their share of attention online.
Some of my favourite small business SEO tips are below, some are mine, others are from people who volunteered their own ideas on Twitter.
- Optimise for local search. Figure out who are the authoritative citations within your city – ie touchnottingham.com via @APSG
- Concentrate on local search and longer search terms as these give more of a chance with a smaller budget. Google Maps add is a must in your town! via @StuartFlatt
- Be active online. Forge relationships with blog owners, find journalists on Twitter. These contacts will be invaluable when it comes to getting coverage.
- Write content that’s relevant to your business and your customers & keep it up to date. via @picseli
- Get your analytics package in place as early as possible. The more data you have the more you’ll be able to analyse your marketing decisions.
- Utilise your current relationships – reciprocal linking is not perfect, but still has a good effect on local search (imo) via @CMaddison
- Brand yourself as an expert. Write informative articles about your industry. Post them on your site, ask to have your work published on others.
- Try to focus on conversions rather than rankings. Too many small business owners are obsessed with being first, rather than focusing on profits. via @CMaddison
- At the very least ensure your page titles are unique and relevant to the content on them.
- Don’t scrimp on your website, a less than satisfactory site may save cash in the short term, but it’ll cost you in conversions.
- Build your list – capture customer data, segment it, test it and contact them regularly (not too regularly) with useful information, articles, links and offers.
- Consider using Adwords for initial data collection / keyword selection – find your best converting/most profitable keywords for under £100 via @CMaddison
- Build trust – make sure you’re easily contactable, make sure your site has a prominent address and telephone number on each page, explain why your buying process is secure.
- Find out who your competition is, then find out who links to them using Open Site Explorer – get those sites to link to you.
- Setup Google alerts for your business name. Make sure you monitor these, it’s a great opportunity to ask for links when people forget, or to network with people who are already talking about you.