You are looking at your Google Analytics dashboard and can see that you have more unique visitors this month than last month. That’s good, right?
Maybe. Online marketing offers far more insight into customer behavior than traditional sales channels. In fact, the amount of data is so overwhelming that most marketers simply ignore it. Free tools, such as the popular Google Analytics, are very helpful for answering the question: “What happened on my site yesterday, last week, last month…” But by itself, this data is of limited value as it offers no context. Are your competitors’ websites attracting more or fewer visitors than yours? How is your company’s website positioned relative to your competitors’ in terms of relevant keywords? Are you really just shooting in the dark, or can you identify actionable best practices by observing the online practices of companies you admire?
If Google Analytics is your marketing dashboard, where is your marketing GPS to offer direction?
Map Your Competitive Landscape
Marketing is about how to best position your product or service in the competitive environment. Therefore, you need to map out the boundaries of your competitive landscape so you can understand how your product is currently positioned and how it could be better positioned to make the most of your product’s advantages. Traditionally, marketers have relied on the elements of Product, Price, Place, and Promotion (the “Four P’s“) to map the environment. You can see that merely reviewing your site’s traffic offers very little to guide your marketing strategy. Specifically, you need to know in which categories (expressed as keywords) your product competes best.
In essence, you need to create a mini Balanced Scorecard from which you can determine daily actionable marching orders. It’s simple really…
- identify your website and the websites of your competitors
- identify keyword combinations your potential customers commonly search
- plot relative positions over time
A straight forward, though mundane, method to capture this site ranking information is to create a table with position (e.g., we are in the 4th position of the search results) in the columns, and your website and each of your competitor’s sites in the rows. Then perform a Google search for each keyword combination and count the number of results until you find the websites you are tracking. Let’s say you are the product manager for espn.go.com, and you want to know how you compete for the keywords “latest news.” Your table will look something like this:
For Keyword “latest news” on Google:
And then… Do this for each relevant search engines (at least Google, Bing, Yahoo).
And then… Repeat the exercise for each set of targeted keywords.
And then… Update all periodically (weekly?) to build a good history sampling.
And then… Plot results on a chart over time to highlight progress & trends.
You can see that this is an unreasonably tedious process, unless you maybe have an intern or two with nothing else to do. In the end, if you simply regurgitate these tables into a powerpoint presentation, you’re going to look like a hack to your boss or to your client. You can’t be a marketer without cool graphs and charts, everyone knows that! Time to bust out Excel Charts and waste half a day trying to highlight some vague insight, whatever that might be.
Ready to Try the GPS?
As an alternative, Caphyon’s Advanced Web Ranking, after a two-minute setup, will do all of this for you automatically…
Ideally you would run Advanced Web Ranking on a server or an always-connected desktop system so it can continuously run as a background process. The software comes in three versions: Mac, Linux, and Windows. I’ve personally tested versions on a MacBook Pro laptop and on a 64-bit CentOS VPS. The interfaces of both work similarly, which may annoy Apple purists, but I found the interface functional and easy to use. Of course, on the laptop, I have to open the app and launch project updates manually since I put the machine to sleep when I’m carrying it around.
I should mention that the software takes a conservative approach to managing the search engine queries. AWS doesn’t launch all searches at once or even one-after-the-other because that would be abusive and likely violate the terms of service for free use of the search service. To lesson the impact of the searches, AWS mimics a live user by pausing between searches and randomizing the order of the searches. This takes longer, but is a reasonable compromise in my opinion.
You Have Unique Content, but Do You Have Authority?
Google and probably other search engines determine the relative value of a website in primarily two ways:
- Unique content that is highly relevant to the search query, and
- An “authority” value largely determined by the number of other sites that link to your content.
So unique content, while absolutely necessary, is not good enough to earn tons of search traffic. Google, and the other search engines, do their best to match what people’s search queries, to content that matches. At it’s core, SEO is employed to help the search engines in this task. To do this, you need to understand exactly what words people are using in their searches, then modify your text enough so you give give Google an easy match. Google even provides free keyword tool to help you do this as perfect matches make them look good. But theirs is a simple broad-brush kind of tool not adequate for anyone creating an ongoing campaign rather than a on-time insight snapshot. Keyword choice is a moving target. While someone might start their search for “trees”, she will quickly learn that she needs to be more specific if she is looking for information about “pine trees”. That’s why a good keyword research tool like the one included with AWR, is so valuable. It combines keyword insights from numerous sources, and points out opportunities in your own text to increase your chances of attracting the kind of visitor you most want to attract to your site. Even slight changes to the words in your posts can make a world of difference to your organic (i.e., search-based) traffic.
Once a search engines recognizes you have content that matches someone’s search, they need to estimate the quality — or “Authority” — of your content. Presently, most use the number of sites that link to your content as a key indicator. Each “backlink” is basically considered a vote of confidence for the quality of the content. However, the trick is understanding that some inbound links are more valuable than others: This blog does not produce anywhere near the authority of, say, The New York Times. The details of ranking algorithms are the “secret sauce” that Google and the others carefully guard to prevent unscrupulous marketers from gaming the system without offering valuable content. Judging the search results I’ve seen lately, preventing slimy marketers from gaming the system must be really hard to do.
Ideally, you would write such unique and brilliant content that all the most respected web publishers in the world would instantly recognize the greatness of your words and shower your site with well-composed links. Back in reality, however, you need to actively promote your content to get enough links to show up anywhere near the first page of a Google search result. For instance, if you are trying to position your site for the very competitive keyword combination of “real estate”, you are going to need to have many thousands of quality links to break past Realtor.com, Trulia, and 1,040,000,000 others. (That’s the real number by the way.) On the other hand, if you want your site to rank for “Bungalow at 1456 Harrison Street Denver” a handful of links should be plenty to secure a top position.
Bring It All Together with Advanced Link Manager
Clearly, any competitive online marketing campaign requires both great original content and an active link-building campaign. Advanced Link Manager is SEO software that helps you to analyze link popularity links for both your website and for your competitors websites at the same time. There are numerous spammy “black hat” SEO techniques for building many links quickly. In my opinion these tactics are not only unethical, but pragmatically, if you are trying to build a brand, the short-term bump in authority is not worth the long-term risk of being penalized by the search engines when they figure out all your inbound links are of very low quality. Besides, it’s just sleazy. A proper link manager can help you to help the search engines find promote the unique and so-very-valuable material on your site.
What Are They Doing to Rank So Highly?
Did you ever wonder how a competitor’s site ranks so much better than yours even with very similar content? No need to wonder anymore. You’ll not only gain insight into what is (and isn’t) working for you, but also what is (and isn’t) working for your competitors. The difference may just be swapping out a few better-performing keywords in you posts or creating a couple of easy to get back-links. No need to guess about it. Just review the reports and you’ll know what to do.
Advanced Link Manager will help you evaluate the value of potential referrers by Google Pagerank, Alexa score, domain age, and more. Additionally, it organizes a report of your inbound links in a way that you can easily see what link text and keywords are driving the best traffic with the highest conversion rates. Again, the key is that you can see this not only for your sites, but for those of your competitors and peers. In essence, you gain the ability to reverse engineer the marketing campaigns of successful sites. Google Analytics will not do this for you.
It worth stating again that in order to drive any real marketing value from your website you need both highly targeted unique content (as in you didn’t just copy and paste it from some other website) and a coordinated link-building strategy to increase your site’s authority. There are many sites out there who will drive traffic to your site using nothing other than SEO techniques like creating hundreds of backlinks to your blog. BS. You might get a bunch of un-targeted, non-converting traffic for a while until you get slapped with a Google Penalty. Stay away from those clowns. Your credit card will be charged long before you realize the extent to which you tarnished your brand. Remember, you can’t take pee out of a swimming pool.
Hopefully, at this point, you agree that you need some sort of tools to assist you in defining a productive online strategy, like Advanced Web Ranking and Advanced Link Manager. Of course, there are other products and services that can help you do this. Your search will find a number of limited free “sampler” tools that can give interesting results. The thing is, effective marketing is about creating and refining processes. These sort of one-off tools are more novelty than anything else. Still, they’re more productive than Facebook and you still use that.
For more serious consideration you might evaluate wonderful hosted services such as SEOmoz (at $99-2,000/mo), Raven (at $19-249/mo), Majestic SEO (at £9.99-250/mo), and SEO Book (at $300/mo). They are all excellent services and, frankly, are probably easier to use than Caphyon’s tools. I recommend you check these out if you are seeking a solution for your own online properties especially if you are not technically inclined.
If, on the other hand, you want to really get into the belly of the beast and really understand why things are happening as they are, I’ve found no better tools than the combination of Advanced Web Ranking and Advanced Link Manager. They are serious tools, and they are priced accordingly at $99-599 each. Note this is a one-time cost that includes 1 year of maintenance (updates and support). They release a lot of updates so you’ll want to stay current. Renewing maintenance plans for updates and support for another year, costs from $29-119. I think their product is quite competitively priced, especially if you are an agency working with multiple client sites. So whether your clients are internal or external, most of the check-writers will be happy to see the cool reports (Charts! Graphs!) and your professional interpretation anyway.
Finally, I am also encouraged that in addition to clients like Sony, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Electronic Arts, MTV, nVidea, Siemens, and Disney, Caphyon’s testimonials page is rife with SEO and web marketing firms.
That seems like that should be worth something.
Disclosure: I have been working with the free demos of the Enterprise versions of the products and I used a few provided screen shots to save me the trouble of mocking up data for display here. Caphyon offers free licenses to bloggers and internet columnists who write about their products. Though everything I’ve expressed here reflects my honest opinions, I probably wouldn’t have put so much effort into this post, nor would I have put as many external links, were it not for Caphyon’s generous offer. As it is, I suppose everybody wins. And I like it when things work like that.