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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Google Trends and Keyword Research

Keyword research for SEO and SEM is a hot topic. A simple google search for the term provides more that 18,10,000 results. There are many paid and free tools available to do keyword research.In this blog post, I will concentrate on Google Trends as a tool for keyword research. Google Trends shows the search volume in a relative scale. It shows how a search term is searched in Google relative to the total search volume. The beauty of this tool is that it allows comparison between multiple terms. Added capabilities of Google Trends include selection of date for search volume, inclusion of news related to the search term and so on.

So how to include Google Trends in your market research?

The important aspect of Google Trends is that it provides the historical information and how the search volume has changed across years. This gives us an idea about not only the trend and volume; but also to learn about any seasonal effects. For example, consider the below chart. It shows the search volume trend for ‘buy AC’. As we know the sales of air conditioners are most during summer days. And the trend validates that. A look at the geography map, most of the searches come from northern part of India where the affect of summer is more.

Let’s consider another example. If your business concentrates on publishing audiobooks, one of the keyword to focus on would be ‘audiobook’. However there may be three other possibilities – ‘audio book’, ‘audio books’, ‘audiobooks’. Google Trends help you to have simultaneous analysis of how these keywords do in terms of search volume.

Another use case is the location of words in a search phrase. Let’s consider for example ‘quality management consulting’ and ‘consulting quality management’. As we can see there are variations in search volumes for each and we may choose one over the other based on trend.

Finally the important benefit of keeping a track on Google Trends is for Content Marketing. It helps in two fronts – to keep an appropriate calendar following the trend and developing content marketing themes based on rising/top keyword volumes. If you are in search marketing domain, I am sure you would have come across Google Trends being used as a keyword research tool. Of course one of the utilities of Google Trends is keyword research, but it has a wider utility of being a market research tool. For example, if you look at the chart for audiobooks from above example, we can see searches for ‘tamil audio books’ is rising at a staggering 450% . If you are a business focused on publishing audiobooks, you may want to increase number of Tamil titles. Let me close this post by providing another interesting use of Google Trends in keeping a track of key brand keywords. If you are the digital marketer in one of the leading online travel sites, this is a chart that you will ponder about. It shows ‘yatra.com’ as a search term decrease over time drastically and ‘makemytrip’ gained the leadership position over time.

A quick check of 'MBA' term shows a decreasing trend ;)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, September 25, 2015

Naming new products and versions

New product naming is always a challenge a fun experience. Name plays an important role, be it just a product or a brand. Naming products when improvements are introduced rapidly is handled to an extend by including a version - ing system. Thus a V2 product is an enhanced version of its  first entry and is always a better one. While naming a product, the following are the deciding factors -

Product name should align with your brand be it the parent company or the segment. For example ipad mini means a miniature version of orginal ipad and ipad air is the lighter version. A good example from the online advertising space if Google DoubleClick suite of products.

Product name should ring a bell without making a buyer think on what it means. For example, when the next version of ipad was introduced,  it being called ipad air 2. Having said that here the interesting  part - how about when Apple introduced all these products for the first time? At that time iPod is new, iPad is new. But even then, the usage of pod indicates related to music, and pad being something related to holding in hand to write or do something. Another fact is it used the 'i' append to relate and align with Apple products.

One example which completely screwed up this part is the kitchen appliance maker TTK-Prestige. If you consider their induction cooktop, they use a weird naming convention to differentiate between models. For example, PIC 3.0, PIC 6.0 V2, PIC 14.0. It is a natural tendency for the end user to think a 14.0 model is better and the latest. However that may not be the case at all!

Let's take another aspect. Let's assume we are going to market with an improved version  of an already prominent product in the market. We see many marketers naming such offering Next Generation. This name is such a cliche that every Tom, Dick and Harry uses it. Things get complicated if the next generation offering misses some favorite use cases the old version was doing (even if they are  silly!); then it puts a doubt on the existing customer base about the maturity of next generation. 

Another challenge in this type of naming to consider is what if we are envisioning to come up with another version in future; what will we call it then ? It may look awkward to even call it Next Generation V2 ...isn't it?

What do you think about naming products?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Shift of On Page SEO to Off Page SEO

As we discussed in the refresher note on SEO, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques are generally classified in to on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Explosion of social media usage and improvements in search engine algorithms have literally shifted the focus areas of a SEO professional. Gone are the days when on-page optimization techniques covered most of the SEO portfolio. In my opinion, the importance of on-page optimization has been drastically reduced. Today off-page optimization requirements are getting more prominence. Also SEO activities are becoming more of a day-to-day routine. Gone are the days when we completed all on-page optimization requirements like setting the tags properly, using keywords and wait for search engines to pick-up out web-pages. Today, search engine algorithms are becoming sophisticated enough to customize the search results based on the user’s interest, browsing history, specific requirements and so on.
Consider for reference the updated report from search engine land (The Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors); as we can see what matters more is how relevant is your website to the audience? Is it credible? Is the content share-able? and so on. These are the factors which affects the traffic to a website. Thus off-page SEO is getting more prominence these days.Thus, Off-page optimization techniques decide on improving the search rankings; on-page SEO techniques help in sustaining those rankings.

On-page optimization techniques are the foundation to building your SEO strategies. Not giving due importance to on-page SEO is like not worrying about your building’s foundation. Irrespective how many floors you build, how marvellous its architecture is or how well you do its interior decoration; the building won’t stand long unless the foundation is done properly; similar is the case when we consider on-page v/s off-page SEO.

Let’s take an example to understand this. Assume you wrote a stellar article, but didn’t give due importance to set its titles and meta descriptions properly. While the search engine may give it importance based on keyword density and also readers may share it across social media channels; but you stand to lose out on sustaining the ranking because of bad meta tag usage. Similarly you stand to lose out on sharing perspective too since the title, automatic description etc that get pulled by social media platforms won’t be proper. Thus on-page optimization requirements the hygiene factors and off-page optimization requirements are the motivational factors to keep visiting and sharing your website.

SEO should be considered as a strategic component of your marketing mix. Often the On-Page optimization v/s Off-Page optimization discussions pop up when a firm consider SEO to be an overhead effort. The shift of importance to off-page techniques from on-page optimization epitomizes the fact that SEO is becoming more strategic in nature. Consider your SEO efforts as an investment to build your brand. SEO is not about a web developer doing her part; it’s a marketer’s thought process in action.Hence it is important to keep a process in place to ensure on-page  requirements being met and continued investment in off-page  requirements to keep your website relevant and drive traffic!

If you are more interested in this topic, consider reading this Forbes interview with Sam McRoberts, a well know SEO Expert in the industry.

What do you think about on-page SEO v/s off-page SEO? Is the relevance of SEO tactics increasing or diminishing?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dofollow, Nofollow - What to follow!

Dofollow, Nofollow, Doindex and No-index
These are the four terms you often encounter while discussing about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Understanding these terms are also important from two other perspectives – Link Building and Social Bookmarking. Let’s briefly discuss about these today.


This concept was introduced to overcome some of the earlier black-hat SEO techniques in link building. How many links are you getting from outside is (was) an important factor in Google PageRank and other search engine rankings. As you might have guessed, this resulted in lot’s of spam with folks trying to link to a website from all places possible (comments, forum threads, paid links and so on).

Simply put, nofollow is just an attribute of the ‘rel’ HTML tag. If we use the ‘nofollow’ attribute, it tells the search engines that the linking can be discarded for search ranking. Introduction of this concept helped to reduce a lot of link spams. Read this wikipedia article for a good coverage on spamdexing and link spams (Spamdexing-Wikipedia). A good example to understand the importance of follow/Nofollow concept is the comments section in your blog. I am sure, if you have a blog, you will be getting lot’s of spam comments and many ‘look-good-yet-spam’ type comments linking back to the commenter’s website. There are plugins available for wordpress using which you can set nofollow attribute for the comments in your blog. Thus search engines won’t give importance to the linking from your site. Even in blogger, when you add a link, there is an option to put it as no-follow.

Nofollow can be at two level – link level and content level. A link can be set noFollow by providing a rel attribute in href tag. Content level nofollow is set using the content attribute (meta name="robots" content="nofollow")

The above snippet makes the entire web page or a blog post nofollow for Google thus not considering any links in the page for link juice. Now let’s understand follow attribute. If the link or content doesn’t have the rel tag attribute set as nofollow; it is generally considered to be followed.However the right practice to tell the search engine that you want to make a particular link or page follow-able is using the attribute Dofollow. For example - using attribute rel="dofollow"

Having discussed these, I would also like to say that over time, the importance given to these attributes by online marketers have gone down. Many of the popular sites like Facebook and Twitter have ‘Nofollow’ policy; yet the links coming from those are considered important for search engine rankings.The most important thing to keep in mind is – links are always good (at least for driving traffic if not SERP); and we need to use them cautiosly and not as a spamming tool. Here is Google’s view on nofollow.


Noindex attribute tells the search engines whether to crawl the webpage or not. This attribute is used in conjunction with meta tag. These are mainly used in cases of large web pages or utility pages (like printing, mobile etc.) or those involving large amount of back-end communications or intranet webpages. Usage and interpretation of Noindex could vary between search engines and we can set the attribute at search engine level as below (Read more in this Noindex-Wikipedia article)

These basic terms discussed in this post are foundational for building a good link building and social media strategies (we will look into these in later posts).

What’s your view about Nofollow/Dofollow; do you think search engines consider these important in their search algorithms?
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A refresher note on Search Engine Optimization

In the next few blog posts, I will continue with my jottings on Digital Marketing and specifically on  Search Engines and Algorithms; as a refresher, today will focus on basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques out there.

So what is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an art and science that an Online Marketer needs to master in order for his company’s websites to appear at the top of a search engine’s results for a given search word. With the world becoming more complex and moving fast, research shows that search engine users rarely go beyond the first few pages of search results. Hence it becomes an importance mandate for the online marketer to make sure his or her website appears in the top search results. The major search engines now have predominantly limited to Google and Bing. Although there are various other general and niche search engines available, Google and Bing shares captures the major market share especially Google capturing almost 70%.

Thus, the search engine optimization principles followed by marketers are predominantly catering to the expectations of Google search engine algorithms. SEO principles have evolved over the years and have gained prominence to an extend that an online marketer cannot not only avoid thinking seriously about it but also make sure that no negative effects are developing against the brand being marketed. Best practices and misuses of SEO have given rise to two basic principles – white hat SEO and black hat SEO. Basically, White hat SEO does not violate the search engine’s terms of service, but benefits appear only slowly. Black hat SEO, while faster, involves fake websites, comment spam and other unsavory tactics. Use of Black hat techniques may lead to removal from the search engine’s database.
The subject area of Search Engine Optimization is vast, vibrant and continuously evolving that a comprehensive discussion is beyond the scope of a single post. Put it simple, Search Engines are software programs that crawl the World Wide Web, create indexes and provide results matching to a search keyword. Indexing is the process that creates a search index, a special database that holds a list of all the words on all the pages on the Web (Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Company's Website (3rd Edition) (IBM Press) )

Ranking various associated page is the crux of the search results and of most importance to a SEO Professional. Search engines use various methods to decide on the relevance of keyword-page combination before displaying the results. Some of these techniques are standard across the search engines, while some are confidential proprietary techniques. An online marketer can concentrate on these standard techniques and those will be the context for following discussions in this section. Keyword density (pages that have more of the terms in the query tend to rank higher) is by far the simplest and foundation technique in SEO. Mike & Bill argue around 7 percent of the words matching the query (a 7 percent keyword density) are “good” matches. The technique and associated algorithm gets complex since the user searches for more than keyword at a time – rather a key-phrase! The second technique associated with SEO is the Keyword prominence (where they appear on a web page). Titles, Headings, and Body text are the prominent places in a web page that a search engine will look for. Link building (backlinks, cross links, internal-external links) is another technique generally used in SEO. Links especially links from external authentic websites act as a measure of credibility for search engines. For example, PageRank – Google’s search algorithm gives significant importance to this. Since its ultimately a piece of code (rather called as spider or crawler) that indexes all the web pages against appropriate keywords, HTML tags and how the web page is developed also become important for SEO. There used to a large number of search engines interacting with each other for search results and paid inclusions. However today, only a few exists [specifically Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and few local search engines like Guruji and Khol).

The best place to learn about various techniques is Google Webmaster’s tutorials. How Google Search Works provides the information at a layman’s level. Another comprehensive book on this topic is Search Engine Optimization Secrets.

Today, SEO is moving more towards quality of content rather than the technical stuffs one can do for a website. I believe Google made these changes since the technical knitty-gritties can be easily mastered by anyone – thus circumventing the requirement of providing quality content to users.
Search Engine Optimization techniques are broadly classified in on-page SEO and off-page SEO. These two represents the methods a marketer can follow for tweaking the site and utilizing other channels apart from own site to improve the search engine ranking. 

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO can be considered more like an extension of the web page content. In on-page SEO, a marketer concentrates on the technical elements that a search engine crawler will look for while ranking web pages. A typical element in the past which lost its prominence; yet important and act as a hygiene factor is the meta-tags. A marketer tries to improve the accessibility of a search engine to find, crawl and index his web pages through the HTML elements like title tags, meta tags, ALT tags and so on. This step is slightly technical in which the marketer works with the technical team.

Off-Page SEO

Off page SEO refers to the techniques an online marketer use to build credibility using external channels. One of the parameters that is included in search engine algorithms are to rank based on the aspect of credibility of a website in a particular domain, industry or a topic. Search engines captures this information based on factors like cross links to a web site, credibility of other websites mentioning about the service etc. Linking within a website appropriately is a good strategy followed by online marketers. Low quality incoming links can negatively impact the ranks. This was introduced by Google in order to avoid malpractices prevalent at one point of time such as link farm, keyword stuffing etc.

As earlier, search engine crawlers look for specific HTML tags to index and rank web pages against keywords. For example, let’s consider a search query for IIM Bangalore and see how HTML tags of IIMB website map to the search result. This is pictorial represented below.There are many other HTML tags that are of significance for SEO like IMG ALT tags, tags in case flash is not loading etc. We will study some these while doing the SEO Audit for Books Talk. However there are many elements that a search engine cannot read while indexing that an online marketer should be aware of. Some of these are URL redirects, purely flash designs, AJAX technologies, frames and so on. Search engines also generally omit spelling variations, grammatical variations, antiphrasis (like where to, how to etc.) and stop words (like or, and, of…).A great resource for On-Site SEO is provided by Vudu marketing here.

Before considering implementing the On-Site SEO guide, I would suggest to start of with Google Webmasters Tools first.This tool provides basic details about whether the search engine is facing any issues like crawl errors. We can also provide sitemaps that enables the engines to crawl our sites better.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net