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 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.


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 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 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


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.

Will There Ever Be A Social Media Privacy Backlash?

Will There Ever Be A Social Media Privacy Backlash?

In asking twenty-somethings about online privacy, it’s pretty typical to get a response along the lines of “what privacy. Young adults that are active social media consumers and creators are so used to their information being widely distributed that they often express a lack of concern about their privacy, because they take it for granted that they don’t have any.

I have also taken a similarly blithe attitude towards my own online privacy. As an online marketer, I want my presence spread across the web. As a buyer of online media, I have an understanding of the types of information that is being collected.  However, a couple of events that occurred today have me a bit non-plussed. The first came from being logged into Linkedin. I was served up as a “people you may known” with the name of a contractor that I have not worked with in over three years. It’s likely that she at some point authorized Linkedin to scrape her e-mail address book. However, it was still sort of stunning to me to discover that Linkedin had uncovered a relationship that only consisted of a limited e-mail exchange from over 3 years ago

The second event that gave me pause about how much information from our social media profiles is being passed around occurred when I made a comment on a post on A link to my Facebook profile and my headshot popped up on the comment. While I want to increase my Facebook exposure to potential prospects and online marketers, I am not sure I want to increase it by that much to the entire Internet community (or at least the audience).

While privacy advocates are up in arms about the loss of privacy, I’m not sure if the broader community of social media users will ever get too upset. There is a part of me that thinks “hey if the loss of control over how my profile is distributed bothers someone like me, it might really bother people that don’t an interest in increasing their online exposure”. On the other hand, most social media users seemingly couldn’t care less. Further, when on, by being logged into Facebook at the time, it made it easy to post a comment without having to set-up a commenting profile or input a captcha code. Afterwards, I did go and check on my Facebook privacy settings, but ultimately did not make any changes. Thus, as long as there is a benefit trade off for giving up some of my privacy, I ultimately find it to be acceptable

The only sign I can find of a mass social media privacy backlash is the lack of traction for the new Google +1 button. Even on technology related sites, very few people are clicking on this latest Google attempt at social media. This could be a signal that folks have had enough of social inter connectivity and their loss of privacy. Time will tell whether it becomes a growing trend. However, I have not seen any other evidence of this becoming a trend. A check of “privacy” on Google Trends shows that searches for this term are trending down, even while articles about “privacy” are trending up.

How Google Updates Toolbar PageRank?

How Google Updates Toolbar PageRank?

Google’s failure to publish updated Toolbar PageRank scores since January is doing a disservice to the new blogs that have been launched  during the last 7-9 months.

Regardless of Google attempts to minimize the misuse of this tool by sites selling links, it remains a highly scrutinized number.  Having a Toolbar PageRank of zero makes it more challenging for new blogs to establish credibility, gain readers, compel readers to leave comments, and recruit guest post authors.

Given that this blog, Internet Marketing Remarks, is one of the new blogs that lacks the credibility provided by the little green gauge showing PageRank in toolbars, I definitely am biased in regard to this issue.

I sort of doubt that many of Google’s shareholders share my opinion that Google has an obligation to update Toolbar PageRank. Frankly, I would have a tough time making a persuasive case to them that updating this metric that does not produce any revenue should be obligatory. Further, as pointed out in an article by Barry Schwartz, there are many that want PageRank to be deleted from toolbars. Google has recently diminished the importance of Toolbar PageRank by removing the gauge from the current version of their toolbar.

I had to go back to 2007 to find a positive quote about Toolbar PageRank from a “Googler”:

“PageRank is an important signal and remains one of many effective measures of quality, but admittedly it’s often viewed and used/abused in ways that run contrary to the interests of searchers and webmasters. Still, a lot of folks find the PR information useful; it provides a great incentive to try out our toolbar and explore its other features as well.” 

Does the fact that this blog does not have the benefit of a Toolbar PageRank score severely damage this blog and/or other new blogs? Absolutely not. Anyone that is interested in doing more that just a cursory glance at a Toolbar has lots of other tools to use to evaluate a site, including SEOmoz’s Open Site ExplorerAlexa and other tools.

Thus, maybe if I had an audience with the powers that be at Google, I would attempt to cajole them into updating Toolbar PageRank at least one more time before it is retired so that this blog could have the credibility of a Toolbar PageRank score. Ultimately though, I find it hard to make a good case for Google having a responsibility to update Toolbar PageRank

Bing and Google Search Engine Results Pages

Bing and Google Search Engine Results Pages

What terms are most important to you from a search engine traffic perspective? Regardless of the terms, most bloggers and Internet marketers are likely to evaluate the performance of a search engine based on how much traffic it delivers. Thus, in my completely biased opinion, despite Bing’s slightly growing market share (up to 30% for Bing and Yahoo combined according to some recent studies), the quality of their search results is falling behind Google’s.

The reason this opinion is so biased is because it is based on the ranking of these two search engines for a single term – specifically “shopping baskets”.

As background, the reason “shopping baskets” is the keyword term I pay the most attention to is because it is the primary revenue driver for my firm’s demonstration e-commerce site Shopping Baskets Plus, as well as a keyword that we use to demonstrate our capabilities at search engine optimization.

As of today, Shopping Basket Plus ranks #1 on Google and #15 on Bing for the keyword term “shopping baskets. A case can be made that should rank first for the term “shopping baskets” based on providing more information about plastic shopping baskets than any other website. There are other sites that provide a broader selection that also are commonly found in the top spot, as the top four spots for this term bounce around a bit from day to day..

Frankly, for the term “shopping baskets”, Bing’s ranking of sites today is inferior to that of Google, and this is not just based on my own site. The rankings of the other sites on the first page are also out of whack with the sites that offer viewers the best user experience.

Bing is between a rock and a hard place. They probably have to offer results that are somewhat differentiated from Google in order to continue growing market share. However, Google has a huge advantage versus Bing due to having more search data to use in updating their results, plus the huge amount of data Google can mine from their widely distributed toolbar. If Bing’s results are too differentiated from Google’s they will lose credibility. A positive for Bing is that the inferior results they provide for searches on “shopping baskets” is the exception not the rule. For the most part, the quality of Bing’s search results is pretty good. Also, as pointed out in an article by Benjamin Vigneron, “Bing’s market share could grow thanks to Facebook integration into the Bing search results. The truly personalized way Bing is starting to leverage Facebook data is promising from a search experience perspective. It could make lots of searchers – especially those with an intense Facebook activity – switch from Google to Bing”..

Personally, I would like to see Bing increase their market share. The cost per click for pay per click advertising on Bing is much less expensive than it is on Google. For some categories, the cost per click is only half as expensive on Bing, making it easier to pay-out a campaign.  I would enjoy seeing my lower cost clicks from Bing increase. However, Google delivers so much more traffic that if you are interested in volume, it’s far and away the more productive vehicle.


Recent reports indicate that Bing and Yahoo are up to a combined 30% share of U.S. searches. However, if Google can use their advantage in having more data to analyze to return better a better quality results to searchers Bing has a serious problem on its hands. Searching for the term “shopping baskets” is a bit on an aberration, but provides an example of a search result where Google is dramatically better than Bing. Time will tell whether Bing can match the quality of Google’s search results over the long term