Raven SERP Tracking Gone, What’s An SEO To Do?

Written by Kristy Kuntz, the SEO Manager at Evolve. Find her on Twitter!

Google’s Laying Down the Law!

Google has recently been enforcing some pretty strict terms and conditions in relation to its AdWords API. It has decided to restrict access to many paying subscribers who were deemed unable to pass the test. Long story short, Google has limited the use of its AdWords API access in co-existence with other scraped Google data. In this recent blog post, Jon Henshaw, the founder of Raven Tools, discusses how this recent change will affect the Raven Toolset, specifically the SERP Tracker tool and SEMRush data.  Starting on January 2nd, this data will be removed entirely. Another big player, SEOmoz, has had some issues with API data as well. But the latest updates encourage us that SEOmoz has no plans to shut down their rank tracking. According to Rand Fishkin’s words in this discussion on SEOmozas Q&A forum, everything will be back up and running with ranking data soon:

SEOmoz screenshot ranking data

However, the current state of the Rank Tracker tells a different story:

Screenshot of SEOmoz Rank Tracker update

If (and how) SEOmoz is getting around this, remains a mystery for now. However, it does seem pretty clear that Google intends to enforce strict policies relating to the use of its data, just as it always has. This means the future of the Rank Tracker remains unstable. I think Mr. Henshaw summarizes the situation in this snippet from his earlier mentioned article. When referring to the loss of scraped Google data, and what it will mean for SEO, he says:

Raven tools Jon Henshaw statement

Hmm… mysterious and slightly horrifying. Do I think he’s referring to the end of SEO altogether? No. But I think he is hinting at the fact that there may be a hard road ahead.

What We Lose

This is bad news for SEO as an industry, as it means that Google is, once again, choosing to limit our access to its data. What’s even more disappointing is Google’s lack of response to requests to create a similar tool set. In the best-case scenario we lose:

  • Raven SERP Tracker Data

In the worst-case scenario we ALSO lose:

  • SEOmoz Rank Tracker Data
  • All ranking data from reputable SEO resources
  • Whatever else Google decides to take away from us

How We Can Replace this Data?

Unfortunately, we are at Google’s mercy when it comes to its data. However, at the time being, there are still some other options out there for keeping track of the SERPs. SERP Tracking Replacement Tools Here is a brief list of some other sites offering similar rank tracking data:

Webmaster Tools Although Webmaster Tools will not tell you the exact rank for any term you would like, it does give information about the keywords people are searching to find your site and its approximate position in the SERPs for that term. To find this take a look at:

  • Queries and Impressions
  • Position in Search Results by Query

Google Analytics Google Analytics provides us with a vague picture relating to keyword rankings. We can, however, use it to see which pages are driving the most traffic and which of those are being clicked directly from the SERPs. We can also see which keywords are driving traffic to those pages. To find this look at the following data after segmenting by non-paid search:

  • Pageviews by Page
  • Top Landing Pages
  • Traffic Keywords

These tools may not be a perfect replacement for Raven Tools, but it’s somewhere to start.

A Novel Idea

It’s clear that the SEO industry is changing, like it always has. As SEOs, we have a difficult job that involves keeping up with trends and adapting to change. True, we could sit back and complain, blame Raven Tools for its decision and pretend we could have made a better one. Or as an even less productive alternative, we could use words like “evil” or “Satan,” to describe a major search engine, without which (let’s face it) we would all be pretty lost. But, here’s one novel idea. Why don’t we work toward developing new tools that will measure client ROI, not just specific keyword performance? Sure, ranking data is valuable, but it’s just ONE small way to measure online search success. If we can’t get creative and think of a better way to track site performance, we really have no right to be criticizing influential online brands, do we?

An SEO Audit provides a starting point. A proper audit thoroughly investigates and reports a websiteas ability to be crawled effectively by search engine bots. These bots, or aspiders," in turn assess a siteas authority and relevance so the pages can be presented to users who are searching for answers.'>

SEO Audit Flow Chart

By
Emily Wisely. Find her on Twitter!

Overview of an audit:

As an agency, we’re not comfortable suggesting tips and tactics for ranking if we don’t know what’s holding a site back in the first place. As a brand representative, you shouldn’t be comfortable paying an SEO to do his or her SEO thing without knowing what is wrong with your website in the first place. An SEO Audit provides a starting point.

A proper audit thoroughly investigates and reports a website’s ability to be crawled effectively by search engine bots. These bots, or “spiders,” in turn assess a site’s authority and relevance so the pages can be presented to users who are searching for answers. Read more

SEO Audit case study.A Implementation of our findings is often a task that spans several months and sometimes years, so it can take a while to see results on a large scale.A SEO, remember, has evolvedA into the act of transforming your website into one thatA deservesA to rank well. This accomplishment is not easy to achieve.'>

SEO Audit Case Study

SEO is more often than not a slow and steady race, but it’s always exciting to see speedy results when our recommendations are carried out. Today we’re proud to flaunt an SEO Audit case study. Implementation of our findings is often a task that spans several months and sometimes years, so it can take a while to see results on a large scale. SEO, remember, has evolved into the act of transforming your website into one that deserves to rank well. This accomplishment is not easy to achieve. Read more

Segment Organic Traffic with Landing Pages

You probably associate the term “landing pages” primarily with pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Landing pages are critical to a successful PPC campaign because they segment visitors, thus yielding keyword-relevant results pages, increasing conversion rates, and lowering the cost-per-click (CPC) of the ad. Each ad campaign corresponds with its own unique landing page that is relevant to the ad and stripped of any distracting links or messaging. Landing pages aren’t just for PPC, though, which is why this post is entirely about using landing pages for organic SEO segmentation. Here are a few tips for building some bomb-ass organic landing pages:

Step 1. Create Keyword-Targeted Detail Pages

The most important concept to grasp is creating keyword-targeted detail pages with ranking potential for mid- to long-tail keyword phrases. These pages should target 1-5 keywords, and like other well-built landing pages, should link back to relevant pages within the site that yield conversions. One of the most common mistakes we encounter when conducting a site audit is a lack of detail pages. Websites often attempt to stuff too much information into one category-level page, and each page is expected to rank for a myriad of terms. That’s not gonna happen. Making over-stuffed pages is a mistake for a few reasons:

  1. It ignores the fact that people SCAN web pages. Think about how you navigate a website; most look for specific information quickly by scanning. (Let’s face it: you’re not reading this post word-for-word.) What does catch your eye is price, client testimonials, headlines, and buttons. If you have to dig through mountains of text on a single web page, you will miss important information or a crucial call to action. On the contrary, if there are individual pages dedicated to “pricing,” or “our services,” ranking in the SERPs, this speeds up the process and makes it much more likely that these pages will be visited and the information will be absorbed.
  2. It also ignores the fact that people already know exactly what they are looking for. There are definite exceptions to this. But most people have a pretty good idea of what they are searching for before they reach a website. If they have trouble finding it, they tend to go to a different site. It’s really that simple.
  3. It neglects passing link juice to deep pages. Link juice is the equity that passes through pages on a site from internal and external linking. Think of a link as a pipeline for passing this juice. The homepage tends to receive a ton of this liquid equity from external sites, but the difficulty lies in then passing it to other pages deep within the site. If a site succeeds in bringing links exclusively to the top-level pages, the bottom-level pages will be left dry and unable to rank, even though they hold valuable information about products/services.Therefore, detailed landing pages that bring in traffic for long-tail keywords are critical for passing link juice through a site.
  4. Over-crowded pages increase bounce rates. Even if people are finding what they are looking for on one over-stuffed page (unlikely), this has the potential of increasing your site’s bounce rate. Granted, you might not care about your bounce rate. But, call me paranoid, I have a theory that search engines do.
  5. Detail pages have higher potential to be ranking for the right terms. Search engines do a pretty good job of understanding what pages in a site are about, but they don’t always get it right. Pages dedicated to one topic have a greater opportunity to portray that topic using a few keywords. A few permutations of one core idea is much more simple to manage than a few permutations of quite a few core ideas.

So, SEO landing pages NEED to be keyword-rich and centered on a specific detail of your products or services. This brings me to my next point:

Step 2. Forget Conversions, Think Substance.

A landing page not centered on conversions? Blasphemy! Ok fine, don’t forget conversions entirely. But don’t concentrate on them solely. It’s true that landing pages are usually created to yield conversions. But so often, landing pages turn into only a contact form and a call to action and nothing more. Yes, these should probably be included somewhere on your landing page, but what it really needs is substance. This substance should correspond with keywords each page is meant to target, as discussed above. So, if you are following Step 1 and creating keyword-rich detail pages, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Step 3. Segment based on Persona and Stage in Conversion Funnel

Each site has visitors in all three stages of the conversion funnel: awareness, consideration, and purchase. In addition, each website has visitors from different demo- and psycho- graphics. So, for example, Evolve’s website has visitors in their mid-30s who are in the awareness stage. They may be building their own website and have heard of SEO and need more information. But Evolve also has visitors in their mid 50s in the purchase stage. These visitors may be the head of the marketing department at an agency looking for an SEO firm to hire. The list goes on. Once you have tapped in to who exactly is visiting your site and what they are looking for, you will be able to create landing pages for each one based on the keywords that they are likely to be searching. Make sense?

Summary:

Detailed landing pages are crucial for segmenting audiences in the SERPs, for both paid and organic listings. Organic landing pages should be specific and should target keywords that each segment of your audience is likely to be searching. As the search engines continue to change algorithms and re-evaluate relevant search results, I imagine that having segmented organic landing pages will continue to be increasingly important.

B2B Landing Page Optimization Webinar: Overview

On Tuesday I tuned into a webinar hosted by Tim Ash of SiteTurners and Oli Gardner of Unbounce. These gentlemen are experts in conversion rate optimization, and have a very impressive portfolio of happy clients. That said, I was stoked to listen in and pick up some tips. Tim jumped right into it by listing the most critical components that make up successful B2B landing pages:

    1. Appearance. It didn’t come to a surprise to me when Tim pointed out that the design of a website reflects the personality, competence, and relevancy of the brand.
    2. Clear calls to action. When pages are too cluttered with text or links, it’s difficult for users to know where to move next.
  1. Less info requested. Forms are a must on landing pages (almost always), but if you require too many fields to be filled in, customers might bounce, especially if the information is a bit too personal for a white paper download (e.g. sex, age, or address). Limit the number of hoops a visitor is required to jump through and you will see a greater number of conversions.
  2. Less text. The way we read on the web is completely different; we scan! That’s why this post is broken up into short sections, each with a bolded phrase. We know you’re not going to read much more than that.
  3. Trust symbols. In B2B, as Tim said, reputation matters. In order to show that your company is capable to handle the visitor’s needs, showcase your qualifications. This can be achieved through client logos, awards received, certifications, and testimonials.

Tim and Oli then started to live-review a few real landing pages that other webinar attendees had previously submitted. It was pretty cool to see what immediately stood out to these fellas as problematic.

Landing page #1:

Screenshot of landing page

  1. Not specific enough. The menu bar is likely to pull visitors out of the conversion funnel.
  2. No contact form. There is no way for the company to collect data.
  3. Video takes up too much real estate. Tim mentioned that because the video doesn’t show the product being used, it is a waste of precious above-the-fold space.
  4. Testimonial is ineffective. Because the client quote bleeds below the fold, it just looks like a bunch of text. Testimonials belong further down on the page. A better practice would be the use of badges, which convey trust instantly.

 

Landing page #2:

screenshot of second landing page

  1. Lengthy headline. Oli pointed out that the headline was too long; it should be broken up into a headline and sub-headling.
  2. Too text-heavy. No one is going to take the effort to read all of the text.
  3. Ineffective form. See how there is no background around the form? It just blends into the background, which is a mistake. There should be some sort of box or contrasting background to constrain the form. Also, the fields extend below the fold, making it appear endless. The unnecessary fields probably deter users from completing the CTA.

 

Landing page #3:

screenshot of third landing page

  1. Generic speak. The headline is too vague; customers don’t understand what is actually being sold. Also, it’s located awkwardly to the side and then repeated below the header, which is a waste of valuable real estate.
  2. Mystery company. Customers get that it’s a marketing company, but a tagline below the logo would further explain what this brand does.
  3. Terrible images. As someone who absolutely resents stock photography, I was very relieved to hear Tim and Oli comment on the horrible choices this company made. Stock photography (which Tim calls business porn,) reduces trust because it fails to separate your brand from the thousands of other generic brands that use images of (carefully-diversified) high-fiving men and women.
  4. Floating form. Like the previous landing page, the form here needs to be constrained within a box.

 

Wrap-up:

If you ever have a chance to attend a webinar by Tim Ash, I highly recommend it; it’s great seeing real-life examples of what-not-to-do in a landing page. Sometimes these realizations can be harsh, but it’s also encouraging when they reinforce what you already know. For more best practices, check out our earlier blog post about landing pages.

Optimizing PDFs for Search and Tracking Them in Analytics

A common misconception is that PDFs are images and are therefore not crawlable to search engines. This is simply not true. PDFs can be crawlable and can have individual ranking potential, much like any static HTML page, if they are built correctly.

Make Sure PDFs are Text-Based

PDFs can either be text-based or image-based. Text based PDFs are created using text-based programs, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign. Image-based PDFs are generated through scanning in documents or creating them through programs such as Adobe Photoshop. Here’s the test: Check whether or not you can select/highlight the text. When you hover your mouse over the text, it should change from the arrow to the text icon. Then it should allow you to select or interact with the text. This means that the content is registering as text to the search engines. Check out this snippet from our SEO Beginners Guide as an example:

PDFs can be crawlable

As Always, Use Those Keywords

Use keywords throughout the text, just like in any other piece of content that you are optimizing for search engines. Namely in the headers, body copy, and as anchor text to other pages within the site. More importantly though, use keywords when naming the file. The PDF filename is generally what will show up as the direct URL in the SERPs (see below), unless of course you manually change it.

Screenshot of PDF in Google

As we have discussed in many blog posts and best practice documents, URLs are such a huge contributor to ranking potential, they can’t afford to be overlooked.

Cross-Linking

Much like we have discussed before, internal linking is extremely important for passing link equity (we call it link juice) throughout a site. The same goes for PDFs. Especially if PDFs are being shared with external domains (discussed in my next point), it’s extremely important that they link back to relevant internal pages, and vise versa.

Link Building

PDFs can be great link bait. That is if they follow these guidelines:

  1. They are informational, not promotional.
  2. They are visually appealing and include diagrams, graphics, and charts.
  3. They provide a value to one or more segments of your audience.
  4. They are published on sites that are visited by these segments of your audience.

 

Create Supplemental HTML Pages

Let’s say that you have followed all of these steps and have an optimized PDF ready to be shared. Now what? Where do you place that PDF? We have a simple solution for that. For every PDF, create an HTML page specifically dedicated to it. This page should be targeted toward the same or similar keyword terms and should include information such as:

  • Who would derive benefit from reading the PDF
  • What the basic topic is about
  • How to download it (the literal link)
  • Why it was created or why it is important
  • Where on the site they can find similar information

For an example, check out our SEO Audit Checklist page: /seo-audit-checklist/.

Tracking PDF Downloads

While we are on the subject of PDF optimization, it’s also important to discuss how to track PDF downloads in Google Analytics. There are quite a few methods out there, but this is our recommended method.

Event Tracking

PDF downloads can be tracked internally with Google Analytics Event Tracking. Hereas how to set it up:

  1. Find the internal href link(s) to the PDF
  2. Insert the code that follows:<a href= a#a onclick=_gaq.push([a_trackEventa, acategorya, aactiona, alabela, value]);a>Anchor Text Here</a>
  3. Replace “Category” with the over-arching category of the action. So for example, “PDF Download.”
  4. Replace “Action” with the specific action item being measured. For example “SEO Audit Checklist.”
  5. Replace “Label” with any additional detail that is needed to keep each item separate. This is an optional step, but sometimes is necessary when there are a few similar items for download.

This is useful for tracking downloads that occur from any internal page with the GA tracking code. But what about external links to the PDF? As far as I know, there is not a simple way to measure traffic that links directly to a PDF using Analytics (if any Analytics gurus out there knows of a way, please post it). That is part of the reason why we dedicate pages within our site that correspond with PDF downloads (like this one: /seo-audit-checklist/). This serves as a gateway page, from which PDF downloads can be tracked. When conducting link-building initiatives, we try to request that the link be sent to this gateway HTML page. From there we can easily track behavior, whether that is a PDF download or not, and we can see referral traffic. There are other ways to do this, such as through additional tracking software, but we find this to be the easiest.

Recap

PDFs are misunderstood creatures. They can actually provide significant SEO benefit when created and shared correctly. Make sure the work you put into creating an awesome PDF pays off by allowing search engines to interpret the content and share it with the correct audience.