Confusing Correlation With Causation in SEO

Confusing Correlation With Causation in SEO

I am flabbergasted at how frequently I come across either really bad SEO advice or wild conjectures with no supporting results to back up the claims. However, given the secrecy behind the search engine algorithms and the time consuming nature of conducting rigorous testing of SEO tactics, it is understandable that correlation often becomes confused with causation.

Here is an example from this weekend demonstrating how easy it is to jump to a conclusion based on a correlation that may or may not be supported by causation. On Friday, I created a Twitter profile and account for a site that sells plastic shopping baskets at twitter.com/shoppingbaskets. Over the weekend, the shopping basket website linked to from this new account moved from the second to first page on Google for the term “shopping baskets”. Thus, an easy conclusion to reach is that creating a Twitter profile led to the jump on Google. However, as tempting as it is too think I came up with an “ah-ha”, this experiment needs to be repeated numerous times before any conclusion can be reached.

Assigning causation to any single factor in a change in search engine rankings is likely to be wrong because: a) it is seldom possible to come up with a clean test isolating only one factor influencing results, and b) the search engine algorithms are tweaked almost daily, so a change in rankings may have nothing to do with any sort of measurable activity, a secret change in the algorithm may be solely responsible.

Testing the impact of a single tactic on search engine rankings can provide interesting results, but the results are unlikely to be definitive. Link diversity is widely assumed to be an important factor in the ranking algorithms. Thus. a test of any single tactic typically will lead to an unnatural link profile and the test results may not be replicable in the “wild”. Also, with Google measuring 200 factors, any attempt to test a single factor may be muddied by other influences that were not being controlled.

I am not discounting SEO testing. However for the testing to be valid it should probably be conducted on a number of sites and the results measured over a period of more than 30 days. Leading with that caveat, I still recommend reading Alex Whalley’s test of article marketing and the SEOptimise test of attempting to rank a new domain with just Facebook and Twitter. Due to both these tests being conducted on single sites, it is impossible to know what outside factors may be influencing or polluting the results. But they are interesting tests, and neither author is making any wild unsubstantiated claims based on their results.

Conclusion

When it comes to SEO advice be very skeptical of claims that are not supported by actual results. And even if there is supporting evidence, question if causation has really been proved or is it simply correlation.

Adding Content Provides SEO Benefits

Adding Content Provides SEO Benefits

Two websites that I edit have both recently benefited from the addition of new content. While it cannot be determined from a sample size of two whether the search engine bump is due to having additional content pages on the site or if it is due to visitors being more engaged and Google rewarding the improved metrics, the net result is that the addition of new content pages led to positive search engine results.

The two sites are Coursemarking and ShoppingBasketsPlus.com. CourseMarking had obtained the top position for the term “course marking” within a few weeks of launch. However, little work had been done on the site over the last few months, and it recently fell to second for the term “course marking”. It may have been a victim of the change to the algorithm that Matt Cutts announced that will reduce the value of domain names that exactly match a search term.

Last week, we doubled the number of products offered by CourseMarking, which significantly increased the number of pages on the site. Page views per visitor and time on site both increased and the bounce rate decreased. Within less than a week, the result was a return to the top spot on Google for the term “course marking”. There was little else occurring that can be identified as being likely to have improved the search engine ranking for this site, so the evidence seems to point to the additional content leading to the change in Google rank.

While the changes to CourseMarking.com were made primarily with a focus on increasing sales by expanding the product line, the changes to ShoppingBasketsPlus were largely driven by search engine considerations. We added new webpages intended to bring additional traffic to the site from visitors searching for shopping baskets by color. Thus, we created a new page for every basket color we offer, An example of one of these pages is Black Shopping Baskets. Not only have these new pages worked to bring in additional traffic and sales, they recently led to an order from an agency for a massive corporation that needed baskets of a specific color (sadly, I have not been able top obtain authorization to mention the corporation’s name).

Another product addition to ShoppingBasketsPlus that was largely made to increase the size of the site and add unique content has led to an unexpected bump in sales. Traditionally, a  set of shopping baskets includes 12 baskets, a metal stand and a header sign. Well, due to height of the stand, it is feasible to fit four extra shopping baskets into the box. Thus, we created “Extra Value Sets” with four additional baskets in order to be able to offer more webpages on the site with unique content. Much to our surprise, the extra value sets have turned out to be a good selling item, generating about 1/4 as many orders as the traditional 12 baskets sets. So a product additional that was created largely for a search engine benefit has led to a nice (and unexpected)  increase in average dollars per sale

Conclusion

In these two examples, adding additional content to the site has produced search engine benefits. As caveats, these are both small sites in categories that are not fiercely competitive. It is also likely noteworthy that the new content was unique and led to increased visitor engagement with the site in regard to page views and time on the site. However, regardless on the size of a website and the competitiveness of the category, adding unique new content to a site is likely to be a good SEO tactic

5 Important Things When Adding Web Content

5 Important Things When Adding Web Content

Managing a website or blog can be stressful if you’re not a full-time designer and programmer. But don’t fret if you are looking to add content to your site. Programs are available that make it fairly easy to add text, pictures, videos and other features. Utilize one of those programs and keep the following five tips in mind, and you’ll be on your way to web success.

1. Consider your audience
It’s easy to get caught up in content and tools that capture your interest and completely forget about your audience. Before you add any content to your site, think about what the content will accomplish. Will it capture your intended audiences’ attention? Will it help you meet your goals? If the answer to these questions is “no”, then don’t add the content, no matter how exciting you find it to be. Otherwise, your visitors will leave your site and take their credit cards elsewhere.
2.. Give credit where credit is due
It’s perfectly ok to share content created by someone else as long as you do it legally. Copyright laws apply to the Web, so you need to be sure that you have permission to republish the content. Once you receive permission, remember to also give appropriate attribution on your site.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to crowd your site with unoriginal content. Only add others’ content if it truly adds value to your site and it something that will attract visitors.
3. Re-size and re-test
The last thing your visitors want to do is wait for your site to load. Be mindful of this when you add web content. Keep data small to ensure that your site loads within a reasonable amount of time.
And once you’ve added the content, test, test and test again. When testing, look for the following: load time, placement (does it align properly, is it noticeable), does it work (if it is audio or video, be sure to play it all the way through).
4. Tag it
Take advantage of SEO (search engine optimization) tools and tag your content. This will help get your website catalogued with search engines so that it appears in appropriate search results. Many blogging platforms, like WordPress, allow you to tag your pictures and videos as well as the overall post.
5. Keep it fresh
Websites shouldn’t be stale. The content on the sites need to be updated regularly to keep visitors coming back. Make a design calendar for you to follow. When creating your calendar, keep in mind the text, pictures, video, audio and any other elements you would like to include. Other elements may include calendars, maps, product reviews, tutorials, news and even monthly newsletters.
When adding new content, take a moment to review your entire site. Be sure to remove any content that has become unimportant or irrelevant. Taking the time to do this will also ensure that you’re not duplicating your effort by adding content that already exists.