Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SEO Guide: How to Properly Move Domains

Posted by Danny Dover on August 6th, 2009

Moving domains can make a tremendously negative impact on search engine rankings. This is because the major search engines use metrics on both the domain level and the page level to determine rankings. When a webmaster decides to switch to a brand new domain, they are resetting their domain metrics to zero whether they know it or not. Luckily, there are steps one can take to minimize and in many cases completely negate the affects of a domain move.

SEO Guide: How to Properly Move Domains

Task: Redirect all of the pages from one domain to an entirely different domain.
Example of End Result: and all of it's pages redirect to and it's corresponding pages.

  • Create a sitemap for your old domain.
  • Create content (contact information, description of your company, indication of future plans) and something link worthy for the new domain. (You should start trying to build links early)
  • Setup the new domain and make it live.
  • Register and verify your old domain and new domain with Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Create a custom 404 page for old domain which suggests visiting new domain.
  • In a development environment, test the redirects from the old domain to the new domain. Ideally, this will be a 1:1 redirect. ( to
  • 301 redirect your old domain to your new domain.
  • Submit your old sitemap to Google and Bing. The submission pages are within Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Center (This step will make the engines crawl your old URLs, see that they are 301 redirects and change their index accordingly.)
  • Fill out the Change of Address form in Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Create a new sitemap and submit it to the engines. (This will tell them about any new URLs that were not present on the old domain)
  • Wait until Google Webmaster Tools updates and fix any errors it indicates in the Diagnostics
  • Monitor search engine results to make sure new domain is being properly indexed.
  • Do your happy dance!

Note: You will need to maintain control of the old domain so that the 301 redirects stay valid.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Answers to Social Media Questions You Should Know

Posted by Lee Odden on Aug 7th, 2009

In the course of providing consulting services and conducting training programs for companies on social media marketing & PR or a combination of SEO and social media, there are some common questions that have come up. I thought it might be useful for readers if I documented a few of them here along with answers.

“If we open up to comments, won’t people criticize us?”

This is one of the most common questions I hear. Companies have traditionally feared negative content posted online because bad news travels fast and most businesses aren’t entirely sure of how to deal with online criticism.

Even more of a concern is the fear that after creating social content for the purpose of building goodwill, positive buzz and influencing sales, an angry troll decides to use that platform for their sinister purposes.

To begin answering the “won’t people criticize us” question, let’s start with a “Yes, they may”. The reality is that if a company has angry customers, they are already talking. It’s amazingly simple for anyone to publish their opinion online. Mobile phones make every customer an instant window into the service quality of your company. So if they already think what they think and are posting their opinions online, why not have them do so “in your own backyard”?

You’ll likely never “control the conversation” but if dissenters can publish on a company web site, there are moderation options to display or not display that content. Additionally, customers appreciate how companies respond to legitimate criticism. Such feedback can be helpful insight into customer service and product quality issues. Brand evangelists are often quick to come to a company’s defense when unreasonably negative content gets posted. The opportunity is not to worry about negative comments as much as to identify and empower brand fans.

I heard Gary Vaynerchuk say at a conference, “Now is the time to get rid of the cockroaches in your kitchen”, meaning everything is wide open and people are going to talk. If your company has things to fear then there are other issues to deal with more important than wondering what to do if someone makes a negative comment on a blog.

social media

“Where should we participate?”

As the saying goes, “Fish where the fish are”, so find out where your customers spend time on the social web. What roles do they often play? What are their information discovery, consumption and sharing preferences? Where and how your customers spend their time with social media sites as well as the objectives for your own participation should guide the decision as to which specific services to start with.

A few ways to discover where your customers are on the social web include:

  • Participation – Search, get recommendations and follow links to social applications and join them. While time consuming, there is no substitute for being actively involved with a community to learn about customers.
  • Social Media Monitoring – There are numerous tools for keyword based monitoring that can provide near or real-time insight into the discussions customers are having about topics of interest, what media they’re interacting with and on what social channels.
  • Logging existing traffic and behaviors to your web site from social media web sites. Talk to whoever manages web site reporting in your organization and see if you can get them to construct an ongoing report that segments social media sourced traffic that is already visiting your company web properties.
  • Surveys of your existing customers – Sometimes the best answers are simple. Want to know more about your customers’ social media preferences? Ask them.
  • Referencing demographic information supplied by social media sites that offer advertising. There may be debate about how specifically useful the information offered by Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social network sites that offer advertising can be, but at a high level, it can offer important insights.
  • Third party data sources – While information from Quantcast, Hitwise or Microsoft adCenter Labs Demographics Prediction tools isn’t the same thing as what you’d get from some of the other suggestions above, those data sources familiar to senior management can augment your other research and get their attention for important things like, funding.

interns social media

“How many interns do we need for this?”

Social media as a whole is a shiny new object to many companies and is often characterized as something that “Gen Y does” or is subordinated as a collection of small tasks, such that it is relegated to entry level staff or interns.

Corporate social participation can be a lot of work depending on the size of the company, it’s goals and more importantly, the level of social activity of its customers. Some of that work is indeed appropriate for interns and if there is deep user experience with specific services, there is insight to be gained that can be immensley valuable. Segmenting social tasks and forecasting hours should enable most companies to determine how many entry level staff or interns are needed.

However, the question about interns in a discussion about a company’s decision to engage social media needs some consideration. Social media has strategic and tactical roles and public facing activities need to be guided by individuals with deep experience and knowledge regarding Customer Service, Marketing, PR, Sales, Talent Acquisition and even Legal.

Is an intern the best choice to be the face of a company? Pizza Hut thinks so. In the case of the Young and Free campaign by Servus Credit Union, yes. But only with very careful consideration and selection. Other companies put seasoned marketing, customer service or communications professionals in those positions. While the funding debate goes on in terms of justifying the expense of a senior person for a community manager role, the question to consider is, “Who is best qualified to represent your brand?”.

Social Media ROI

“What is the exact ROI from social media?”

The inevitable ROI question is an important one. How do you measure the ROI from public relations, community involvement, attending industry events, focus groups or recruiting? What is a relationship with a customer worth? Or with an industry analyst, journalist or blogger that writes about your company?

Social media participation can serve many outcomes for a business. The key with measuring Social Media ROI is to identify specific goals, build a strategy and execute either a full program or a pilot with the ability to measure outcomes. Those outcomes have value and the goals/measurement piece is the first step.

If a social media effort is focused on connecting with influentials in an industry, aka digital or social media PR, KPIs might include social connections, comments, mentions, links, stories or contributed content. Jason Falls and Katie Payne have some interesting thoughts on that. For example, one of the goals for TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog is to achieve 10-20 unsolicited mentions of our company or key staff by industry blogs, publications or influentials each month. We’ve exceeded that by far.

Another example might simply be list building. Basic Facebook marketing might involve setting up a company page with useful info and discussion, promoting it to attract fans and then providing offers and incentives to join email lists that provide other useful information and benefits. Once a social subscriber/fan/follower opts-in to an email list, you can provide profiling options to ensure they’re getting relevant value and marketing offers.

In the case of 1-800 Flowers, fans can buy directly from the first online store to be launched on Facebook. There’s no question about how to measure the ROI from commerce in that situation. But online commerce is not appropriate or reasonable for many companies, so measuring outcomes that influence sales becomes the “social media ROI” answer.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

10 Things You Must Check When You Re-launch Your Website

Posted by Duncan Morris on August 3rd, 2009

Re-launching a site is a crucial and often worrying time. There are many many things that can go wrong, and when they do go wrong the results are often spectacular.

Over the last few years I've seen a whole bunch of sites re-launch. Almost every one of them has had some small minor issue. A small percentage have left me with some good stories to tell :-) The following is a list of 10 things that you should check prior to and immediately after you have launched a new site. I've focused the list on things that won't necessarily be immediately obvious, but with never the less cause you issues at some point. I've also focussed the tips on a re-launched site, which has a different set of worries to launching a new site.

A number of these checks are things that will involve work at the point of go-live. Any good developer will tell you that you need to avoid doing anything at the point of go live, so you should try to get as much as possible done in advance. The good news is that the majority of the list will require changing something external to the site, so the cost of failure is lower (but still annoying).

1) Put 301 redirects in place.

You've all heard in a million times, but its important enough to say again. If you are changing URLs you must put in place 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new URLs. This is often a tricky thing to test (since in most cases the URL of the test site will be different to the URL of the final live site). Below is one fairly simple way to test that all your redirects are inplace and working as expected.

Step 1. Ensure your test environment works when given the final live URL. If you use an apache server you can do this by adding another ServerAlias to your vhost.

Step 2. Add a line to your hosts file for the live URL. The hosts file entry overrides the DNS entries and allows you to point the live URL at the test server. The effect is that when you type the final URL, rather than seeing the current version of the live site you will see the test version.

Step 3. Run a site search on google.

Step 4. You can now run through each link from those results and ensure that when you put the site live they will correctly redirect.

Step 5. Remove the hosts file entry. A simple step that is often overlooked. If you forget to remove the hosts file entry you will always see the version on your test server.

2) Add analytics code to every page

One of the most , if not the most crucial times to see what is happening on your site is just after a re-launch. Time after time people forget to add (or update) the analytics code.

Not much more to say about this one, unless you want to be blind as to what is happening on your new site, can I suggest you ensure your developers know that they need analytics code on *every* page of the website.

3) Robots.txt and Sitemaps

I debated whether to include this in the list, because it feels that this falls into regular site testing, rather than something that sits on the boundary of things you would hope your developers already knew and were testing for. I decided to include it, not least because the title says 10 things to check, and without it I only had 9!

Sitemaps and robots.txt often play a crucial role in the SEO strategy, but from my experience they are normally added on as an afterthought. You should ensure that you update the robots.txt and your sitemaps to mirror your new site structure.

4) Update Google Adwords

Prior to the site going live, you should test that site still work with the adwords tracking code. In order to track activity within adwords Google appends tracking parameters onto the URL.

A client of ours once re-launched a website that broke in horrible ways if there were any parameters appended to the URL. It took a while to track down the issue purely because no-one likes clicking on their own adverts.

The following Google help talks you through the glid parameter. In a nutshell you need to check that the following still work. or

As part of the go live process you should also update your Adwords campaign. Whilst your users won't notice and probably don't care that the advert is taking them via a 301 redirect, this proabably won't be doing great things for your quality score. At the very minimum you should update the URLs that have changed to be be in their new format.

A re-launch is likely to give you a new set of opportunites for adwords. It's likely there are new pages that open up options for bidding on new keywords. There are probably some keywords that are no longer relevant. The worst thing you could do would be to ignore you adword campaigns, since this will inevitably lead to throwing money down the drain.

I've talked about Google Adwords because this is by far the most common advertising platform, but you should revist all of your adverstising to ensure it matches the new site.

We once took over and "optimised" a Google advertising campaign that had been spending *a lot* of money sending visitors to a page that no longer existed.

5) Review all conversion endpoints

No doubt the old site will have stunning call to actions that encourage your users to do something that is beneficial to your business. These conversions will (obviously) be being tracked somewhere. I encourage you to review anything that tracks or reports on these conversions. Most likely there will be goals or funnels within your analytics program that rely on certain URLs. You need to ensure that you update these or else it will look like your website no longer converts.

If you are driving traffic to your website using Google adwords then you will probably have conversion code on certain pages of your website. Prior to the site going live you should check that the new conversion pages also have this code. On a similar note you should also check that any e-commerce tracking is also updated and migrated across to the new site.

In general people are very reluctant to trust data put in front of them and are always looking for a way to invalidate the data so they can go back to gut feel. The last thing you want to do is to invalidate your reports by missing data for however long it takes to get the conversion or e-commerce code put back on the site.

6) Full end to end test

I couldn't write a list without begging you to do a full end to end test. No matter how much testing you have done, and no matter how confident you are that everything works, please, please, please perform a full end to end test. In the case of a site re-launch something will have changed since you did a test. It could be something as small as a DNS update, an IP address changing or the fact that you have removed a hosts file, but something will have changed since you last tested the site. Whatever it is that has changed will have invalidated all your previous tests, so please, please, please perform a full end to end test.

Often payment gateway providers only accept requests from a given IP address. We knew of a site that re-launched onto new servers. Everything went smoothly, all the tests completed satisfactorily, and the website worked as expected. You could add products into your cart, and move all the way through the checkout process. It was only when you actually clicked the pay now button when the payment gateway failed because the IP address had changed.

If you don't perform a full end to end you are leaving something to chance, and will be leaving money on the table. Your customers won't ring you up and tell you that they can't order, they will most likely just find another website.

7) Server logs

The first few hours, and days after a site has gone live is a scary time for all involved. No matter how much testing has gone on something will have changed in order to put the site live.

Ask your sys admin to give you regular reports on any status codes that aren't 200. If I was you I'd keep an eye on any 404 errors you receive along with any server 500 errors. I'd probably also be checking Google webmaster central for any errors in their crawl stats.

For those of you who use Google Analytics the following blog post talks nicely about tracking 404 errors. You have to add a snippet of code on the page, but once done you can track 404 errors from Google analytics.

8) Ranking reports

The title pretty much says it all. If your URLs are changing and you run ranking reports (or for that matter any reports that rely on URLs) you should update them. As we said previously there is nothing worse than invalidating all your reports by having the wrong URLs.

9) Email footers

I hope by now you have all taken Rand's 1st headsmacking tip to heart and have added link requests to any automated emails. If you have, then now is the time to change (or at least check) the URLs.

On a related note, any links that you can get updated from old URLs to the new URLs will prove very beneficial.

10) Monitor bounce rates

Bounce rates are often a good metric to determine how the public have taken to your new site. Avinash has talked about bounce rates and as a general rule, when Avinash talks, you should listen. It is most interesting to look at pages where the bounce rate has changed dramatically.

If it has reduced then there are probably lessons you can learn and apply to other pages on your site. If it has increased then there are lesson to be learnt, and these lessons should be learnt quickly!

As with all metrics they are only an indication, just because you have seen a change in bounce rate doesn't mean you should hurry through changes for the sake of changes.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Microsoft/ Yahoo Deal Already Reshaping SEO

Posted by Mihaela Lica on 31 July 2009

The search engine landscape has already changed since Microsoft released Bing: all SEOs expected the unexpected; we all knew that Bing was just the first step towards something bigger, louder, and in the end more significant. Microsoft didn’t disappoint – the latest deal with Yahoo has already stirred controversy in all SEO circles.

The pondering just started: is the deal a threat to Google?

“We’re more nervous about making sure we stay focused ourselves rather than what the competition does.” - Google’s Tim Armstrong said in 2008, in an interview about a possible Microsoft/ Yahoo merger. Will he say the same thing today, knowing that together Microsoft and Yahoo share 30% of the search market? Will he make the same statement when everyone knows that Google is losing money (proof the last AOL stake move)?

Is the Microsoft/Yahoo deal scaring Google?

These questions concern more the SEO community and the investors than they do the users, who generally believe that the “unexpected” deal between Google’s main competitors will not change their search habits. Bing did not bring ground-breaking technology to search – all it brought was a different way to categorize results, probably copied from hakia or Kayak, but this is beside the point.

As far as how does the Microsoft/Yahoo deal change SEO, there are at least two important aspects we cannot ignore:

  • Bing will be the exclusive search engine for all Yahoo sites for the whole duration of the agreement (which is 10 years).
  • Microsoft will also have exclusive access to Yahoo’s core search technologies and will also have the ability to integrate these technologies into its existing platforms if necessary.

Based on the information above, the following conclusions are a no brainer:

  • SEO for Bing is worth the effort. Bing’s results are different from what Google and Yahoo display now, somehow “richer” in displaying a variety of results for a given query. With Bing powering Yahoo search we can assume that this way of serving search results will probably be adopted by Yahoo too.
  • We cannot be sure if Yahoo’s local search is part of the deal, but if it is Bing will have a lot to gain. Since Bing is serving local listings in the search results it becomes vital for companies to be listed in Bing’s local listing center. This does not impact businesses outside the US just yet, but it is still an important SEO pointer for the future.
  • Based on personal experience, it is a mistake to ignore Bing Webmaster Tools – if you don’t have an account there you are probably missing a lot of Bing traffic. Unless you want to ping Bing each time you publish new content it is advisable to submit a sitemap to Bing via Bing Webmaster Tools.

    To ping Bing simply follow the formula:[your sitemap web address]

    Other important data you could gather from Bing Webmaster Tools: filter backlinks by top-level domain, subdomain or subfolder and filter outbound links by top-level domain, subdomain or subfolder. Bing also offers a tool that helps you see how your site performs in search results for searches using specific keywords. Comparing the data from Bing Webmaster Tools to Google you can also learn how the two search engines see your site. This will give you the tools to plan better SEO strategies for the two.

  • With Yahoo out of the search spectrum, Yahoo site explorer may go away too. This was an important tool to gather link information for SEOs. Many SEO tools that relied on Yahoo for link data will break too – so SEOs will face new challenges when it comes to link research.
  • Last but not least, MSN AdCenter will probably get more attention from advertisers in the US (where the impact of the deal is the strongest) as an alternative to Google AdWords. Microsoft ads already provide for better conversions than Google ads, but this is the first time Google actually faces serious competition in this field. 30 % of the market doesn’t sound like much, but it can soon become a threat if Microsoft proves that it can serve ads that have better quality and relevancy, and more importantly higher conversions.

This is what Google should fear. As far as SEO for Bing is concerned, in relation with PPC advertising, remember that any PPC campaign is pointless if a site is not built to sell: we are talking design, content, and usability, of course. As a final note, take into consideration the fact the Yahoo is still the most visited site in the world. A Bing search bar on such a site is in effect more popular than Google itself, or at least potentially. It appears as if MS is not as dumb as they pretend to be most of the time.