Tuesday, 28 May 2013 01:39

LinkedIn Ads: Where did my clicks go?

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"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." - John Wanamaker

I was reasonably confident this quote was a remnant of a bygone era, especially when it comes to internet marketing, where campaign success is measurable beyond John Wanamaker's dreams. That was until I tried out advertising on LinkedIn.


A while back, I received a promotional email from LinkedIn, touting their ads, and offering a trial of £30 worth of advertising for a sign up fee of £4.

I figured I'd give it a go and get a little experience setting up their ads whilst boosting a bit of brand awareness.


I set up a simple ad with the only real targeting criteria being Edinburgh.

Set the bid around £1.50 per click. LinkedIn was recommending £2 per click, but no justification for that figure was provided during the process. Budget of £8 a day would mean my wee campaign should last 4 days and bring around 20 visitors to the site before the trial budget ran out. I set it to end in 4 days time.


Impressions for the first day looked impressive, almost too good to be true considering the relatively tight targeting, then the ad seemed to stop running. No impressions the next couple of days, and no explanation. I left it and came back to it the following week.

The campaign had stopped as per my settings, but had only actually been visible for one day.

Impressions

Ad Impressions

I still had most of the budget left, so upped the bid to around £2, and restarted the ad with the same criteria as before. Got an email a couple of days later to say it had finished, so I thought I'd have a look at the stats.

Strangely, as you'll see above, despite my raised bid, the impressions were lower for the 2nd run.

Clicks

LinkedIn Clicks

Traffic

Linked ins ad stats were telling me they'd sent 19 visitors.

So I checked google analytics to see what they'd been up to, and it told me that LinkedIn had sent 11 visitors in the same time period - 10 of which had come via my ad campaign. Only 6 were from Edinburgh.

Half my advertising budget seemed to be unaccounted for in analytics.

Given the way the targeting works when you set up LinkedIn ads, geo-targeting is based on the user's profile details, rather than their ip, which I guess is arguably acceptable. "All of the targeting options and values are either directly entered by members on their profiles or algorithmically derived from information entered by members."


Telling me that they'd sent nearly twice as many visitors to my site as they had, isn't. Especially at £2 a click. Half my advertising budget effectively disappeared.

Given the solid reliability of Google Analytics, I'd side with their stats over LinkedIn's every time.

I wonder if anybody can offer an explanation for where half the money I spent on LinkedIn advertising went?

I recently found myself in a situation with time to kill, and only my wife's ipad as company. I started playing with Paper, a great little drawing/painting app, and after my 2nd or 3rd terrible rendition of "a thing in the room", I decided my unique artistic talents were probably best put to use for this site, rather than attempting to become the digital JMW Turner.


So - here are 8 questions that you should ask anyone who offers you search engine optimisation services, rendered in pretend ink and watercolour, and then digitally framed in an attempt to make them look a bit more grandiose.

They should hopefully help you figure out if you're talking to someone who is actually going to be able to help you, or is selling you internet snake oil. Of course, you will have to be able to decipher my handwriting in order to use these, so please accept my apologies for that first hurdle in advance. Edit: since my unique handwriting was proving difficult to decipher, I've added the content as a subtitle under each pic! Mrs. Lee from Primary 4 would be so disappointed with me....


Show me a site that you worked on, ranking for a competitive keyword. Explain what you did.

Done this before?

If it's a decent agency, they should be able to show you a few sites that they've already managed to get to good positions, for reasonably competitive keywords. If they're only able to show you sites ranking well for very long, or obscure searches, it's not a good sign. Once they do show you some, contact the example site owners and ask them for a reference.


Give me 5 examples of sites you'd include in a link-building campaign. Explain your choices.

What's a good link?

You're looking for sites that are relevant to your business, are well established, and hold a certain element of authority. It's worth asking how they'd go about getting the links too.


What technical changes will you be making?

Testing definitions of SEO

This question will allow you to gauge just what you'll be spending your cash on. You need keyword research, a site plan, and on-page optimisation at the very least. Unless your site is already technically optimised, you don't just want link-building, as all the links in the world aren't going to help if your pages are targeted badly.


Do you offer any ranking guarantees? For which keywords?

What is a guarantee worth?

SEO guarantees are the chocolate teapots of digital marketing. A good answer to this question would involve your SEO explaining factors like keyword competition levels, competition site strength, and long-tail keyword opportunities. If they actually do mention a guarantee, try telling them your brother is starting a cereal company and wants to rank No. 1 for "Cornflakes". See how quickly the guarantee unravels.


Are you comfortable working with the platform my site is built on?

Technical Knowledge Test

Just do a quick check to find out if they have experience working on your site's platform. Plenty of people know their way around Wordpress, but would be faced with a time consuming learning curve and potential mistakes if they were asked to optimise a site built on Drupal.


Explain 'schema' microdata to me.

Up to date?

This should reveal a little about whether the person you're speaking to is keeping up to date with SEO best practise. They should talk about how Schema microdata allows you to ensure google understands exactly what an item on your website is. (typical example - when you use the word Avatar, are you referring to the film, a picture or the incarnation of a Hindu deity?) Schema allows you to tell search engines exactly which, and is also really useful for local business sites. (Cat is 100% decorative)


I've been working on new meta-keywords with my nephew. Can I send them to you to build in?

Are you going to tell me it like it is?

Or just agree with me. Firstly, adding meta-keywords is a complete waste of time on the vast majority of websites, Secondly, how did you and your nephew go about selecting these keywords? Did you research them, or just brainstorm a massive list. If they just say 'yes', they're happy to accept your money, but aren't going to provide you with expert guidance.


My friend got 1000 links for 5 dollars, can you do the same?

Are you going to royally screw up my site?

Spammer test: If they say yes, put down the phone immediately and go wash your hands.

Scottish Independence - Search Trends and Speculation

A snapshot of independence related searches.

With a date for Scotland's independence referendum now set, I thought it might be interesting to have a wee look at which related terms people have been typing into Google. Maybe there are some obvious trends that might shed some light on the current mood of the nation regarding the independence debate.

edit: if you've arrived on this page looking for more information on the respective sides of the debate regarding Scottish independence, have a look at this site I set up on the back of the research below.


Keyword Research

So we kick off with the Google Keyword Tool, and some of the keyword research that usually tells us how an SEO client's customers search for their products or services. In this case, I had a look at terms related to 'Scottish Independence' and 'Scotland Independence'.

The statistics below tell show the approximate average number of times the queries have been typed into Google, in the UK, on a monthly basis (based on the previous 12 months).

The figures themselves are what Google refer to as 'Exact Match' (The search volume for that specific keyword and close variants) - So pretty much exactly the terms that are typed in.

The other match options are 'Broad Match' (The sum of the search volumes for the keyword, related grammatical forms, synonyms, and related words), and 'Phrase Match' (The sum of search volumes that include the whole phrase or near variants of the whole phrase.)

I've gone for exact match stats in this case in an attempt to remove any potential ambiguity (so the actual number of similar searches is much greater than those shown below, but they're a good relative guide).


Types of search

For now, we'll split the searches into informational, for, and against. (note: I'm limiting the keyword numbers a bit so only the top related searches are included below - otherwise you'd be scrolling through tables for a long time.)


Informational Keywords

Keyword Local Monthly Searches (United Kingdom)
[scottish independence] 12100
[scottish independence poll] 1900
[scotland independence] 1900
[scottish independence pros and cons] 720
[scottish independence referendum] 590
[scottish independance] 390
[independent scotland] 390
[should scotland become independent] 390
[scottish independence debate] 210
[reasons for scottish independence] 210
[scotland independence poll] 210
[scottish independence for and against] 170
[scotland independence referendum] 170
[will scotland become independent] 170
[independence scotland] 140
[independence for scotland] 140
[indyref] 140
[should scotland be independent] 91
[scottish independence consultation] 73
[alex salmond independence] 73
[scotland independance] 73
[scottish independence 2014] 58
[scottish independence arguments] 46
[scottish independence statistics] 46

'For' Independence

Keyword Local Monthly Searches (United Kingdom)
[arguments for scottish independence] 210
[benefits of scottish independence] 58
[advantages of scottish independence] 46
[scottish independence pros] 22
[argument for scottish independence] 16

'Against' Independence

Keyword Local Monthly Searches (United Kingdom)
[arguments against scottish independence] 320
[cons of scottish independence] 36
[problems with scottish independence] 12
[negatives of scottish independence] <10
[the price of scottish independence] <10

Still Undecided

So looking at these searches, it would appear that the vast majority of related Google searches are being made by people who are looking for more information. You could infer that they are still gathering information and haven't yet made any firm decisions. The for and against search volume is pretty evenly matched, and actually - the intent behind those searches is not entirely clear. What does the person searching for "arguments against scottish independence" actually want with the results?

Are they arming themselves with arguments to convince friends, or simply trying to understand the potential negatives? It's a difficult call to make.



Trends

So with the keyword research (average monthly stats for the past 12 months) as a starting point, we can now take that data over to Google's trend tool and see what it tells us about the changes over time.


Let's have a look at the searches for 'Scottish Independece' and 'Scotland Independence' since 2004.


And the same searches over the past 12 months:


Regional interest is as you'd expect:


Google suggests some related terms too:



It also tells us which searches are rising in frequency:



For vs. Against

Not very scientific, as the research shows people use a wide variety of terminologies in their searches, and this is just a comparison of two, but of interest nonetheless.




What is this telling us?

From my perspective, I look at those searches and see a lot of undecided people searching for important information. Think of the volume of searches done, and then think about which sites appear in Google's search results for those informational queries.

The sites that appear for these results, are the ones that these internet users will be basing their opinions on. They'll be reading the facts and opinions of those sites - which will ultimately affect their opinion, which in turn will have an effect on the way they vote in the referendum, and in turn, will potentially have an impact on the future of Scotland.

So, the question is: do 'Yes' or 'No' biased sites dominate the search results for the popular searches? Or do we have neutral sites at the top of the results pages, awaiting the undecided voter?


Search Results for "Scottish Independence"

Keyword Country
scottish independence GB
Position URL Title
1 www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/23/scottish-independence-poll-support-sterling Scottish independence Poll Finds Deep Divisions Over Whether To ...
2 www.guardian.co.uk/politics/scottish-independence Scottish independence | Politics | The Guardian
3 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_independence Scottish independence - Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
4 www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-13326310 BBC News - Q&A: Scottish independence Referendum
5 www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-21828424 BBC News - Scottish independence: Referendum To Be Held On 18 ...
6 www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/politics/scottish-independence-referendum-date-september-18-1-2849108 Scottish independence Referendum Date:September 18 - Politics ...
7 www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/03/salmond-names-scottish-independence-referendum-date Salmond Names Scottish independence Referendum Date
8 www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/date-set-for-scottish-independence-referendum-8544269.html Date Set For Scottish independence Referendum - UK Politics - UK ...
9 www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/this-weeks-big-questions-could-scottish-independence-happen-should-it-how-important-to-it-is-alex-salmond-8545451.html This Week\'s Big Questions: Could Scottish independence Happen ...
10 blogs.spectator.co.uk/tag/scottish-independence Scottish independence » Spectator Blogs


Search Results for "Scotland Independence"

Keyword Country
scotland independence GB
Position URL Title
1 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_independence Scottish independence - Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
2 www.guardian.co.uk/politics/scottish-independence Scottish independence | Politics | The Guardian
3 news.sky.com/story/1067962/scotland-independence-referendum-date-set Scotland: Independence Referendum Date Set
4 www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-13326310 BBC News - Q&A: Scottish independence Referendum
5 www.yesscotland.net Yes Scotland: The Campaign For An Independent Scotland
6 www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/03/salmond-names-scottish-independence-referendum-date Salmond Names Scottish independence Referendum Date
7 uk.reuters.com/article/2013/03/21/uk-scotland-referendum-idUKBRE92K0MZ20130321 Scotland independence Referendum Set For September 18, 2014 ...
8 www.snp.org/vision/better-scotland/independence Independence | Scottish National Party
9 www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/03/21/-scotland-independence-vote-date_n_2922456.html Alex Salmond To Set Scottish Independence Referendum Date In ...
10 www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/61076.aspx Scottish Independence Referendum Bill - Scottish Parliament


Search Results for "Scottish independence pros and cons"

Keyword Country
scottish independence pros and cons GB
Position URL Title
1 hard-copy.co.uk/the-proper-pros-and-cons-of-scottish-independence The Proper Pros and Cons Of Scottish Independence? - Hard-Copy
2 www.theweek.co.uk/politics/scots-independence/35617/pros-and-cons-scottish-independence Pros and cons Of Scottish independence | Scots ... - The Week
3 forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2013/krent-able-the-pros-and-cons-of-scottish-independence Krent Able – The pros and cons Of Scottish independence….. | The ...
4 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_independence Scottish independence - Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
5 www.economicshelp.org/blog/5156/economics/economics-of-scottish-independence Economics Of Scottish Independence - Economics Blog
6 local.stv.tv/glasgow/magazine/210393-glasgow-university-first-to-cast-scottish-independence-vote Glasgow University First To Cast Scottish independence Vote ...
7 yougov.co.uk/news/2012/10/16/scottish-independence-battle-joined Scottish Independence: The Battle
8 headscrolls.blogspot.com/2012/01/scottish-independence-pros-and-cons.html Headscrolls: Scottish Independence: Pros and cons
9 www.squidoo.com/should-scotland-go-for-complete-independence Should Scotland Go For Complete independence?
10 www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/may/20/can-scotland-pay-its-way Can Scotland Pay Its Own Way? | Politics | The Guardian


Summary

Unsurprisingly, lots of Scots are turning to the web with their independence related queries. Even less surprisingly, lots of them haven't made up their mind yet, and are still gathering information.

The issue of the bias of the websites that they are presented with by Google is analogous to the choice of newspaper your local newsagent has on the shelf. It's just that in this case, you're a lot more likely to select something from the top shelf, and the publications on the top shelf are therefore the ones that will be shaping opinion the most.

It's probably a good thing that's not the case in your newsagent.

Anyway - We'll revisit this topic as the referendum approaches, so you should follow me on Twitter here (or any of the social networks on the top right of the site) if you want to be informed when we do.

I'll leave the debate over which sites are biased or not and what that implies to the comments section - please get stuck in.

Thanks for reading,

Mark

Saturday, 23 February 2013 22:24

Google Penalises Scotsman.com

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Google penalises The Scotsman and Interflora

Why Google penalised The Scotsman and Johnston Press, and the implications for the future of their sites.

Last week, Google penalised The Scotsman and a number of other Johnston Press news websites for selling links.

To understand the reason for the penalty, you need to know a little about how Google's search engine ranking system works. At the moment, around 200 different factors are used to determine which sites are at the top of the page when you type a query into Google and hit the search button.

One of these - and still one of the most important, is the number, and quality of links from other websites that the site in question has.
So - if Google has to choose between two sites with very similar content and structure, the site that has 200 other sites linking to it can typically be judged to be more trusted and established than the site with 10 others linking to it (provided the links come from trusted sites). Google assigns each website a score between 0 and 10 based on the number of other sites linking to it, and that score is named Pagerank. The USA Government's website is a 10, Facebook is a 9, the blog you set up a few years ago and posted to twice is a 0. Building a high pagerank score takes a lot of work.

Additionally - over time, Google has become much better at understanding trends and online 'buzz' - so if a lot of websites suddenly start linking to one in particular within a short period of time, Google's algorithm will pick up on that, and is more likely to promote that site in the search engine results- in the short term at least.


Buying links from other sites therefore, can impact the algorithm, and in turn, the ranking of any particular site - affecting the quality of the search results. Which is why Google states that the practise is against their webmaster guidelines (guidelines that anyone managing a large website, or with an interest in SEO will be aware of):

Webmaster Guidelines

Note the key classification of "links that pass PageRank". The many ads you see across thousands of established sites avoid penalisation by not passing pagerank - all they do is send traffic to a site - they don't attempt to imply to Google that the link is natural or organic and should therefore be considered a pagerank 'vote' - they're shouting to Google "this is an ad!", by using a simple change to the link code that tells Google's algorithm not to follow the link. These types of link are therefore called 'nofollow' links.


Interflora

Valentine's day was approaching, and Interflora's marketing team were faced with the task of ensuring that their site appeared at the top of the Google results for the many upcoming flower related searches.

Google's own data suggests that an average of 2,740,000 searches broadly related to flowers are completed each month in the UK, 1,220,000 for 'florists', and 201,000 for 'flower delivery' - with Valentine's day approaching, the number of queries including the term Valentine would increase, and a high rank for those queries would make a big difference to Interflora's sales over a peak trading period.

Some studies estimate that the site ranking first on Google gets 53% of the traffic for that query, so the potential benefits to the site at number 1 are obvious.


Valentine's Day is the busiest time of the year for 'flower delivery' after Mother's Day.

The Campaign

So - Interflora created a bunch of 'advertorials' - paid for content, full of Valentine related content (the text used for, and around links is used by Google to determine the queries that sites should rank well for).


Interflora Ads
(Image from David Naylor's Blog which details Interflora's mistake in more detail.)

They paid Johnston Press to put the advertorials on their sites - not just The Scotsman, but also a host of their regional news sites.

The expected effect being a boost in ranking on Google's results pages for Valentine Flower related queries - these would be good quality links, from established, trusted sites, which are the links that really make a difference.

Critically, the advertorials did not use the 'nofollow' code on the links to Interflora's website, and were quite specifically designed to pass pagerank and encourage Google's algorithm to associate specific (Valentines) terms with the Interflora pages they linked to.

This was a big campaign that violated Google's webmaster guidelines blatantly, on a large scale - across a range of news sites that Google trusted and awarded relatively high pagerank scores. Google noticed.

Google Takes Action

At the time of writing, if you run a search for Interflora on Google, you'll only see paid for advertisements - their organic search listing has been removed. No Interflora sites will show organically for any flower related queries. If they want traffic from Google at the moment, they need to pay for it, and at a current average cost per click of £1.92 for ads targeting the term 'flower delivery', their search engine related traffic has recently become considerably more expensive to attain.

(edit - Interflora are back on google as of 3/3/13)

The whole Interflora/Johnston Press situation compelled Google's anti-spam chief Matt Cutts to write this reminder that advertorials should not contain links that pass pagerank. You know your website is in hot water if that guy is blogging about what you've done wrong.

Johnston Press

For knowingly selling paid links, The Scotsman and JP's regional news sites were not removed from the search results - you can still find The Scotsman's site if you perform a brand related navigational search.

They have however, had their pagerank scores reduced drastically, and Google now trusts them less. The Scotsman's pagerank dropped from 7 to 3, most of Johnston Press' regional sites involved had their pagerank reduced to 0.


Impact

For the Scotsman website, this is a disaster. Dropping to a pagerank of 3 means that the search engine rankings they used to command for generic searches are gone - most likely for good.


Here are the top ranking sites on google.co.uk for the term 'Scottish News' (look at the Pagerank (PR)):

Top 10 sites for query Scottish News

Currently, the Scotsman is halfway down page 4 of google.co.uk for this query.


And the top ranking sites for "Jobs in Scotland":


Top 10 sites for query Jobs in Scotland

I gave up looking for The Scotsman in the results for this query after page 5.

The bottom line is that these types of informational searches will no longer bring traffic to the Scotsman site - the competition is now trusted more.

The Scotsman Website & Brand

So the Scotsman website finds itself in a situation where the only traffic they'll get will be paid for or brand led.

Unfortunately - the brand led searches are declining:



So - declining brand led traffic and negligible Google search traffic for the foreseeable future. No new visitors from Google, and declining brand loyalty. The Scotsman website just became a very tough sell to any potential advertiser.


Summary

The Scotsman team prior to the Johnston Press purchase were slow off the mark with the web side of the business - for many years the Scotsman's website design, user experience and functionality were years behind the competition. Today, the site resembles a generic content management system, and has nothing to differentiate it from the numerous alternative online news sources available.


Recovering from a Google penalty as severe as this takes time and a lot of work. In order to climb back up the ladder, you need to consider how a site can become an authority again, generate fresh new content and get links because they're creating content that people actually want to link to.

For an established newspaper site, that should be second nature, but the decline in The Scotsman's circulation has meant cutbacks, less journalists & more recycled news from other sources.

The question facing Johnston Press is whether or not they have the resources to pull themselves back up now they've indirectly opened the door for their competition to step in.


Last year, Johnston Press reported that their digital revenue rose by 8.4%

.

If that digital revenue was driven by advertising that violated Google's guidelines - it's gone. No tech savvy marketing manager will risk an 'Interflora' now. If it was driven by ads sold on promises of pageview and impression stats, those stats just became redundant - from February this year, the Scotsman's website traffic will drop massively. If it was sold on the promise of search results - who would advertise a job on a site that can't be found by people looking for a job?


For the Scotsman to recover, it will take considerable strategic changes to their site, content strategy and advertising policies. Changes that would appear to be contrary to Johnston Press' current model.

Failing to address these matters quickly will leave a historic brand that struggled to make the digital leap, floundering in online obscurity.


Thanks for reading, I try to update this blog with interesting digital marketing stuff whenever I can, so please consider following Media Chimps or myself (Mark Proctor) on a social network of your choice.

PS - Here's a (nofollow) link to The Scotsman's site.

Edit (27/03/2013): Just checked today and the Scotsman's site pagerank has been returned to 7. All offending links have been removed, and Google must have decided that a temporary punishment was enough.

Edit 2: I've changed the site around since this blog was originally published, and the commenting system is different now, so I've attached a screenshot of the original article comments below so they're not removed from the site.

Original Comments
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