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by Dave Cosper

Google-Caffeine-Logo.jpgThe paradigm of SEO is the consequence of its misuse. But that's what Caffeine is for - to clean up the mess. Of course there's good SEO, but anyone in the field
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has seen entire industries centered on paid and reciprocal link building. Not that either practice is inherently bad, they're just no longer sustainable. With Google Caffeine changes beginning to roll out over the past few months I've witnessed the proverbial rug being pulled out from this market. Unnatural links just no longer carry the weight they used to. This isn't a gradual shift - this is happening right now on a very large scale. The full Caffeine launch is coming soon or so the rumor goes.
From the recent SEO chatter I'm hearing, the unofficial word is Caffeine is live on over 80% of Google's data servers. Apparently the infrastructure is set and it's a matter of observing and testing datasets now. I've already noticed quicker more efficient indexing and fresh content rising much faster to the top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Which is nice.
The last we heard from Google's Matt Cutts on the subject was a blog entry back in Novemeber:
"I know that webmasters can get anxious around this time of year, so I wanted to reassure site owners that the full Caffeine roll out will happen after the holidays. Caffeine will go live at one data center so that we can continue to collect data and improve the technology, but I don't expect Caffeine to go live at additional data centers until after the holidays are over."
Well since Cutts' update, the holidays have long passed and webmasters are starting to see funny little occurrences in both site analytics and search results. This can only mean one thing, Caffeine is here - or at least a soft version.
While Google has always made significant progress in identifying and removing systematic "cheaters", these changes to the algorithm are more than a line drawn in the sand. Things like hidden text, unnatural keyword density and those comma separated lists are being heavily penalized. Sure, the buying and selling of links will continue, but as the masses catch onto the recent ineffectiveness of these practices it is inevitable clients will abate.
To avoid speaking too soon (and there are still many unknowns and no official word from the Big G), I've been holding off on publishing this article for weeks. I'm still trying to get a handle on some of the odd fluctuations in site metrics attributed to what's undoubtedly bits and pieces of the Caffeine implementation. If you follow Google's patent activity, there's been some interesting recent activity in the area of phrase-based indexing. This could perhaps be a clue to what webmasters are witnessing as significant traffic drops relating to "long-tail keywords". Because Google remains so tight lipped on the roll out, everything is a best guess (that's my official disclaimer).
There has actually been websites set up to provide side-by-side comparisons between the old and new Google algorithm, including and The funny thing is, when I go to these sites now I can't seem to differentiate "old" and "new" anymore. Hmmm.
Compare-Google-Caffeine.pngAs early as March, we began witnessing significant changes on a week to week basis in indexing discrepancies - not to mention another TB PageRank update. It would be easy to associate many of these changes with the PR update, although I think it's clear we're seeing more than that. Like almost everyone else, amid the flurry, our entire web staff at EZlocal has taken a baited breath wait and see approach. So far so good, our site has been a beneficiary.
We've almost doubled our indexed pages in less than six months and the Google bot is crawling deeper and more feverishly than ever. As of January this year, we're up to over 1,400,000 pages crawled with expectations of an accelerating pace here forward. From our end it's hard to pinpoint exactly how much of this might be attributed to Caffeine changes as during the same time period we've also taken significant steps to restructure our site map along with a few notable homepage and navigation tweaks aimed at opening up logical "crawling channels" to fresh and unique deep-content in as few clicks as possible (three clicks is our benchmark). We also added a real-time interactive KML map to boost indexing of any action related to our business profiles including photo uploads, reviews, new data added, etc. Google loves aggregating map information and not enough sites are taking advantage of this.
So what does Google's new Caffeine algorithm want to see?
There is general agreement on what a full scale roll out of Caffeine might include and what we can expect to see. I suggest re-examining the content on your site for freshness and uniqueness. You can also leverage your social media presence to diversify your link portfolio. I'm also in the camp of relevancy trumping links, but the two go hand in hand. When you're developing a link building strategy target some quality and highly relevant backlinks. Take into consideration the link text and position in regards to textual content on the page. Audit your user interface and code, optimize images with related non-spammy meta-tags (GIFs or PNGs for smaller files and JPEGs for larger more detailed images), purge unnecessary duplicate content and take steps to increase page load speeds - there's a direct correlation in site speed and indexing.
Our recent server upgrade yielded a 900% page loading speed increase and depth of indexing shot up immediately. The spiders don't like to hang around and waste time. These are just a few quick tips; sustainable organic growth requires a commitment to unique and valuable content creation on a regular basis and the wherewithal to deliver it effectively. In a nutshell, the key to the new Caffeine algo is to build reputation and authority.
Back in August, Google had the following to say regarding it's perspective on quality search engine performance (hinting at it's Caffeine ambitions) ...
Google-algo.jpgPerhaps the only thing to note here can be pulled right out of webmaster central, "compute how reputable those pages are". I'm seeing this essentially translate to relevancy now expanding to include new kinds of citations from a host of social networks and community driven pages. This is what they call blended results. These parameters include a new real-time collective measuring of input from a host of content sources including relevant sites, established sources like Wikipedia, blogs, press releases, social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare to name a few, as well as video sources (favoring YouTube). How heavily will the real-time data stemming from location-based "check-in" models be weighed? Perhaps quite a bit.
From the user standpoint I'm seeing emphasis on blended real-time results. In a sample Google search I did for bp oil spill, page one results included a blend of press releases, videos, trusted sources (newspaper and .gov), as well as a scrolling real-time feed featuring a combination of popular social media updates and breaking news stories.
Google-Caffeine-SERP.jpgThe new approach catering to Caffeine appears to favor a more altruistic SEO model and rightfully so. Marketers will need to shift priority and think "relevance" rather than just links. Effectively deliver quality content - the high-level perspective is really that simple. Qualitative not quantitative, although if you can quantify quality you may be on to something. The old adage "build it and they will come" has more merit now than ever. I'm willing to bet most people already knew this was an important ranking factor, but what's more interesting is how important this is now and how Google Caffeine is using brand new parameters to measure it and putting a whole new premium on these factors.
To adapt to the new blended search results we're seeing out of Caffeine it's going to be really important for SEO companies to push clients into the social realm. There are far too many opportunities to be missed with the advent of the Facebook "Like" feature and Twitter's "Places of Interest". I like these social links better than traditional links because they're related to a specific user and open up all new gateways to social sharing and traffic. There's so much promise, we added the new Facebook Recommend feature to over 16 million business profile pages in our EZlocal search directory.
It's not going to be easy to fool Google anymore. To rank well in a Google Caffeine world, you need to think about how you can encourage other people to want to link back to you within a meaningful context.
I also have a feeling Matt Cutts is due for an appearance on the subject. In the meantime, stay tuned. My next article topic will go into greater depth regarding local-social optimization factors and how this will play an even greater role in the new SEO world of Google Caffeine.

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by Garry Przyklenk

Back in March, Google launched a new AdWords reporting feature called AdWords Search Funnel.  This long awaited reporting feature provides valuable insights into search user behavior with respect to conversions attributed to paid search campaigns, ad groups and keywords.  If you use all of these reports, that's great, but I'm guessing you already have a tough time
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keeping up with the standard AdWords interface and changing quality scores.  So instead of going through all the reports, I'm going to focus on three absolutely essential reports you should be scrutinizing: assisted conversions, top paths, and time lag reports.

NOTE: The public roll-out should be complete by now, so ensure you have access by logging into your AdWords account and selecting the Reporting tab > Conversions > Search Funnels (in the left column).

Assisted Conversions

Most Google AdWords accounts are built on a product or geographic hierarchy at the campaign level, so looking at the assisted conversions report at the campaign level might not yield much insight.  Drill down to the keyword level and prepare to be amazed.  This particular report isn't explained too well in the Google AdWords help section, but I typically rely on it to tell me which keywords are driving last-click conversions, and which are contributing to last-click conversions on other keywords.

Let's use an example.  Say you're an electronics retailer and you're targeting two phrase match keywords:

  • digital cameras
  • canon digital cameras
Users type in "digital cameras" into Google, see your ad and click it and are sent to a relatively generic but well-converting landing page of cameras on promotion.  In their effort to research their eventual purchase, they might do a number of searches on particular models before settling on a particular brand, say Canon.  Knowing you had a bunch of cameras on promotion, their next search term might be "canon digital cameras" and this time they click on your ad to a landing page with all your smoking hot Canon promotions.  Your price and pedigree is irresistible and they buy a Canon camera.  Google AdWords attributes the last-click conversion to "canon digital cameras" and an assist to "digital cameras."

Would you have gotten the conversion if you only had the longer tail keyword?  Maybe, but maybe not.  With the "Assisted Conversions" report you can test out.

Top Paths

Once again, the "Top Paths" report defaults to Google AdWords campaigns, which is probably less useful for most advertisers than selecting ad group, or keyword level data.  Although the "Assisted Conversions" report conveys much of the same information in terms of conversion events, "Top Paths" gives you the ability to go beyond a binomial relationship.  This stuff is exciting because you may actually witness user intent and search sophistication increase incrementally over time.  In addition, if you have a fairly large set of keywords, it can also give you some clues into the influence your ads and landing pages have on visitors.  Consider the same example we used above, except introduce another step in the path:

  • digital cameras
  • canon digital cameras
  • canon sd110 digital camera
If you notice this path show up in the "Top Paths" report fairly often, you may want to circumvent the second or third step in the process by influencing a purchase decision for the "Canon SD110" on your generic landing page.  Asking questions from your data also helps: do I see the same top path behavior for other manufacturer products like Sony or Nikon?  If not, why?

Time Lag

Although the data available from the "Time Lag" report is also available in Google Analytics with a bit of tinkering, having it available through Google AdWords Funnel Reports without the need for specifying segments is extremely helpful.  As the name suggests, the "Time Lag" report displays the distribution of elapsed time before visitors convert through AdWords campaigns.  Considerable insight is provided by way of customizing your analysis starting point: from first impression, from first click, or from last click.  Obviously, you're aiming to optimize the time to conversion from first impression.

ASIDE: Googlers, if you're reading, the only thing I don't like about this report is that you cannot break down distributions by campaign, ad group, and keyword like all the other reports.  Sure, a quick workaround is to specify new conversion goals that are campaign-, ad group-, or keyword-specific, but I would probably reserve doing that only for the severely problematic ads.

Why should you scrutinize the "Time Lag" report or even worry about its existence?  Of all the conversions I generated last week from paid search, 83% occurred on the same day.  You could say that's pretty good, and I'd agree, but I'm still worrying about the 7% of conversions that occurred in the "12+ days" bucket.  What that's telling me is that a good chunk of conversions can be attributed to old ads, potentially old landing pages, maybe old keywords!  Even if I don't report the true number of conversions for my campaigns for last week to my boss, I need to know what the true performance of those campaigns was so I don't make matters worse.

A little bit of extra data can go a long way in making you look like a PPC dynamo, so be sure not to skip over the Google AdWords Search Funnel reports.

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