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SEO Reporting: The Intangible Factors to Remember

August 9th, 2011

seo reportingWhen it comes to SEO reporting on the effectiveness of a person or company’s website, there are countless tools to use. In prior posts on quality analysis of SEM data on backlinks and how to use the All-In-One SEO Pack for WordPress, I gave a few ideas. Our page on finding a good SEO-software tool contains links to countless free and paid items.

But, much to the chagrin of people like myself who offer Boston and Israel SEO-consultant services, Internet marketing is neither clean nor mathematical. There are always aesthetic, intangible factors that come into play — particularly since no one outside of Google, if even then, truly knows exactly how the search-engine giant ranks websites (and anyone who says otherwise is, to coin an 80s-movie term, selling something).

For example, Rand Fishkin over at SEOmoz recently wrote a thought-experiment post wondering why a certain blog-post ranked second in search results for the term “seattle waterfront walk” despite a lack of any on-page optimization and a decent level of competition from established domains (including business and government websites). I have not taken the time to review the blog in question, but the example does provide an opportunity for SEO students and hobbyists to strut their digital stuff and propose answers. It could be backlinks; a supposed, inherent authority of Blogspot blogs (which Google, we could presume, favors out of business interest); a good use of search-optimization software; a factor relating to geo-local or personalized search; or something else.

Regardless, the fact remains that ranking for a keyword is a complex, messy practice that everyone from SEO novices to experts is trying to figure out as they go along. We do not know anything for sure; we just have a good idea why and how.

Here is just one example from my own experience. As I wrote in prior posts on article-marketing automation and the use of more-general keywords in online content, Google’s recent Pandora update was an attempt — and a good one, in my opinion — to weed out content farms, spammers, and what I consider to be “crap websites.” (Perhaps that should be a professional term?) One change of many was to downgrade websites in search results that, for example, have too many advertisements “above the fold.” Of course, this is a reasonable action — Google’s intention is to provide search results that list useful, quality websites rather than those that flash countless ads to each and every visitor.

SEO Reporting: The Pros and Cons

However, the change has also affected quality, professional websites. (No one, not even Google, is perfect.) Over at my Considerations journalism blog, I have been working to redesign the site. (Please, give it time — I am a writer and marketer by trade, not a web-development expert.) One thing I did was to redesign the header from a simple, WordPress line of text to an image-based banner that contained a more-professional logo with an advertisement to the right. However, in Google’s digital eye, the change placed two images (Javascript and not) at the top of the website — something that the search engine interpreted as two advertisements “above the fold” (along with a third at the top of the left-hand sidebar).

That was one tick-mark in the “this-website-is-likely-spam” column. How do I know? Well, within two days of making the change, my Google PageRank fell from four to three. (I have not analyzed other metrics yet.)

So, will I keep the banner? Yes. The decision comes down to short-term versus long-term benefit. My philosophy has always been to produce quality content on good websites and then, when possible, optimize for SEO — not to create spam content and then garner spam backlinks. Good writings and good sites that are optimized for social-media sharing will create backlinks and perform other SEM tactics on their own. Personally I do not even bother to get links actively. Every hour that would be spent on submitting to directories or whatnot is an hour that I could spend on writing another quality article.

Here’s what I mean. Sure, I likely took an SEO hit by redesigning the banner. But by creating a site that is as professional and attractive as possible, that will lead to more user engagement — the bounce rate will decrease, the average number of pages viewed will increase, and the amount of social-media sharing will rise. So, in the long term, the short-term pain will lead to long-term digital gain. Although I have no personal data to support this assertion, the going assumption today is that the items I just listed will influence SERPs because they reflect on the quality of a website as far as usefulness and visitor engagement. (If 95% of people who click in search results for a given term go to a website and end up leaving within seconds, Google will know that the site is not extremely relevant to that keyword.)

Remember: If everything you do is done with only SEO in mind, then you are likely a spammer. Moreover, as I wrote in a post on the marketing effects of social-media today, all of these intangible factors will increasingly affect SEM in the first place.

Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.