SEO Tips and Thoughts at Web Analytics Wednesday

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Last week’s Columbus Web Analytics Wednesday had something of an odd vibe, but it was also one of the most tactically informative ones that we’ve had to date! The crowd was smaller than usual — 18 attendees — due to a confluence of factors ranging from the influenza virus (not H1N1, as far as I know, but appropriate precautionary non-attendance by several people), to business travel to residential water line leaks, to touching-if-inconveniently-timed spousal romantic gestures! The silver lining is that, to a person, there was genuine regret about not being able to attend the event, which is a strong indication that our informal community of local analysts really has solidified. (Monish Datta was in attendance, so I am able to gratuitously make a reference to him — ask him or me at the next WAW what that is all about, if you don’t already know!)

As for the event itself, we welcomed a new sponsor — Resource Interactive. The topic for the event was search engine optimization (SEO) with a little bit of search engine marketing (SEM). It wasn’t the first time that we relied on Dave Culbertson of Lightbulb Interactive to present, and it likely will not be the last, as his knowledge and enthusiasm about SEO, SEM, and web analytics is both entertaining and informative!

Dave Culbertson at Web Analytics Wednesday

Dave attended SMX East in New York the week before WAW, and he agreed to pull together the highlights of the sessions that he attended. One of my favorite tweets from Dave while he was at the conference was this one:

“Ended up leading a lunchtime discussion on web analytics at #smxeast. Web analytics and SEO – like peanut butter and chocolate!”

Partly because Dave is one of the organizers of Columbus Web Analytics Wednesday, and partly because, well, SEO/SEM and web analytics really should be integrated, “search” is a frequent cornerstone of our WAW topics. Dave’s presentation was titled SMX East 2009: The Spinal Tap Wrap-up. At least half of us (myself included) didn’t get the reference, while a solid quarter of the attendees immediately got it and thought it was quite clever and amusing. There were 11 slides in the deck, so:

The presentation focussed primarily on SEO tips, although there was some SEM here and there. An incomplete list of the nuggets/surprises that jumped out the most to me included:

  • PageRank sculpting — this is when you try to gently influence the Google PageRank for pages you control by making subtle, behind-the-scenes tweaks to both that page and other pages that you control that link to that page. Apparently, a somewhat common way to do this has been through the use of the NoFollow tag. While this may have worked at one point, Google now pretty much ignores the tag when it comes to assessing PageRank
  • rel=”canonical” — this is a biggie, especially when it comes to web analytics and campaign tracking; this is a tag that can be added to a page to specify the exact “preferred” URL for the page. It’s important because many pages get linked to or arrived at with one or many extraneous parameters tacked on to the end of the URL: campaign tracking parameters for the web analytics tool, link tracking information for the e-mail engine from which a user may access the page, session ID or user ID information for the application that is rendering the page to enable it to make subtle tweaks in the content, etc. The full adoption of this tag by Google, Yahoo! Search, and Bing should go a long way towards removing the tension that exists between the SEO person pushing for the removal of these parameters in links (to avoid link dilution) and the web analyst who pushes to add them (to improve tracking capabilities). Google put together a nice write-up and video on the canonical tag after SMX West.
  • keywords — this is “keywords for SEO,” rather than the SEM usage of the term. A lot of information was presented about studies as to where the appearance of a keyword had the most/least impact. Having the keyword in the domain name itself was great, but, of course, you’re not going to be able to do that for too many keywords! (I couldn’t help but thinking of Clearsaleing’s site, though!) Even better is to have the keyword in the domain and in the directory path (i.e., Having the keyword in a subdomain ( is apparently not very effective (there was a quick side discussion about an online shoe retailer — and I can’t remember which one it was and, ironically, can’t seem to put together the right Google search to figure it out — that tried creating a subdomain for very type of shoe they sold…which then helped trigger Google to make this not effective; I’m fuzzy on the specifics, obviously!) Another point here is that there is both the “what the search engine algorithm puts weight on keyword-wise” and the “how user behavior — which links users follow — is affected by keywords showing up in subdomains, domains, query parameters, etc.” factor — it’s hard to tease out which is which, so the studies have focussed more on “what actually happens” rather than “why it happens.”

At the end of the day, search engine optimization still comes down to providing great content in a way that users can easily navigate to it and consume it. Google’s algorithms are geared around making the same recommendations that a human being with an infinite knowledge of what content was where on the web would recommend in response to a question from another human being. SEO efforts need to focus on helping that theoretical human out — not trying to fool him/her!

I also distributed copies of the deck that Laura Thieme of Bizresearch presented at SMX East. That presentation was primarily SEM-focussed, but it also had some great nuggets in it. Unfortunately, Laura wasn’t able to attend WAW (see the first paragraph of this post!) this month. Laura presented at WAW back in July and really knows her way around SEM, so we missed having her there!

All in all, it was a good event!

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  1. Tim, great post, always good to see that the Columbus group is keeping tight and getting new sponsor blood.

    I attended my 2nd WAW in Cambridge, MA last week. Sponsors so far include Quantivo and Sitespect (one of my new vendors). You’ll be happy to know that the format is surprisingly similar to what was setup in Columbus. We’ve been meeting at a big Irish pub near MIT (the Asgard, you know it? looks somewhat new) and due to the larger group size (40-50 ppl) the timing is a lot more structured…apps, drinks, 6:30-8:30 w/ quick 10-15 min presentation in the middle. Not much formal question/answer, instead mostly mingling. Good stuff.

    Side question, How long until you start posting S-E-Mo friendly posts to or perhaps boldy… Hopefully no one takes the latter URL literally, yikes.

  2. Thanks for the perspective, Scott! We missed you. I’ll wait until my Google top 5 ranking for branded monish datta searches slip before I start seeking out new domains!

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