Is Your Website Traffic Down? Is Google to blame?

Has your website traffic dipped and you are confused why? Has the number of leads you used to get via your website dried up? Unless you have missed it, Google made some major changes to their algorithms.  Google makes changes all the time, but the latest version to an  algorthim called Panda, combined with a new algorithm added called Penguin,  has had a major impact on many SMB &SME websites and blogs. No it’s not just me imaging things. Even properties that had survived earlier changes have seemingly been hit. Sure many big brands have nothing to worry about, but there are lots that have not escaped. You can also guarantee it’s a major story when it gets out of the niche SEO press an into something like the Wall Street Journal.

Now before you get the pitchforks and gather the village, how can you be sure it’s really Google’s fault? So glad you asked. I hope you took me up on the earlier advice to track data on your site, because now I am going to show you how you can tell it’s a Google change for sure. I will be using data from a friends site where he has okayed me to share the data. To protect the innocent, I have blurred identifying information, but if you are hit by algorithm changes you will see something similar.

So onto the analytics. If you are like small sites who rely a lot on Google traffic, the one way to confirm this is go into the “All traffic” report, and then you will want to check the box for Google, and then click “Plot Rows”. When down it should look like something below. (Click to enlarge).

As you can see, whatever happens at Google has a major impact on his site. Every small change from Google has an impact on his overall traffic. To see exactly where it’s impacted, you can then apply a comparison from a before changes to after in Google Analytics. The final major algorithm changed happened April 24th, so you should compare 7 days to the most recent 7 days. Make sure you compare the same days of the week.

You can then look at the content and the keyword report and you will see quickly where the issues are. In our sample site, for example, there was one keyword that drove lots of traffic from Google.  It has nearly be vaporized. Of course, this is a little hard to tell, as now with  keyword “not provided” kind of obscures some conclusions. Nonetheless, if you focus on the source of Google and the comparison of dates and you see large negative drops, you can assume it is because of Google.

So what are some of the reasons for this drop? We all say we are honest and follow white-hat tips, but do we really? Do we always write for humans? Do we never consider SEO when creating content? Let’s look at some of the tips from Google Quality Guidelines. Are you sure you don’t break or stretch some of them?

1. Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
2. Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
3. Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.
4. Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
5. Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.

If you are like most and you feel you already follow the guidelines. What can you do? I want to be as honest as possible. No one knows. Anyone who tells you they have a solution is guessing at best. Google is not sharing any tips beyond telling you to following their quality guidelines, because they do not want SEO’s to game the system. Does that mean all hope is lost? No. Lots of the advice is solid advice, but we should have been doing it before. Now it’s just gotten a bit more urgency. In the case of expediency, to address these issue, it’s best to be able to identify what has hit your site and focus on that first. Keep in mind, while there are not many solid solutions the facts are these: We know that the Panda algorithm targets low quality content (i.e. Thin content, duplicate content, etc.) We know that Penguin targets web spam with a focus on keyword stuffing, anchor test and inbound links. Beyond that there is no detailed solution or fix.

I did not want you to read all of this without some advice, so below is what I have gathered personally, based on my own experience, what I have tested and seen. Once again, I, like everyone else has no real idea, but these tips are are solid no matter what algorithm changes are:

1-Revisit old content and make sure it’s truly of quality. In my own view, there also seems to be a death of evergreen content (i.e. content which never goes bad- such as how to tie your show). You might want to consider removing the date info in your CMS or revisit the topic with updates.

2 – Make sure you name your image files right,  have clean alt tags and anchor text. Avoid keyword stuffing or long titles.

3- Fix your back-link profile. Maybe you are getting links from bad neighborhoods, from unrelated websites or the anchor text (the text used in the link) is too similar across many sites. You can use MajesticSEO (paid), SEOMOZ (paid) or Blekko (if you lack the funds). Identify which sites Google finds bad and remove your links from them. You will be able to identify them by the fact they themselves have been hit. (i.e it looks like lots of small directories have been hit)

4- If you are a blog, it seems there has been a death of evergreen content (i.e. content which never goes bad- such as how to tie your show). You might want to consider removing the date info in your CMS or revisit the topic with updates.

5- Fix your speed issues.

6- Write amazing quality content and if you are not able to, just have a great service or experience for your customer, so people will be encouraged to share positive links to you on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

7- Repeat previous steps, because this is a never-ending battle.

In the end, most of us chase after Google because a majority of searcher’s use Google. As this is case we have to follow their rules to play their game. At the  same time you have to ask are they really to blame for the loss of traffic? Not really. I know it’s hard to accept, but it really is a wake up call to diversify. If your most significant traffic was Google discovery, then this was never a sustainable model. If you look at the big brands or even small connected brands, algorithm changes will/do not affect them. You need to consider (as much work as it is) PPC campaigns, creating videos, email marketing, social media, print advertising, focus on Bing and other search engines. The simplest and best advice is just to make the best content you can and forget about Google and it’s algorithms.

What advice do you have? What have you learnt? What are your coping strategies?

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Saturday, May 19th, 2012 at 22:37

Yahoo! Free Small Business Marketing Dashboard

It’s been a while since there has been something to write enthusiastically or positive about over at Yahoo! Earlier this month, Yahoo! delivered an amazing product, that should be a real home run. Yahoo! launched a Marketing Dashboard that really gives you a head start in taking your online business to the next level. Most importantly, they offer a free version, which in this sphere is not usually done.  Even the Premium version of the tool is very reasonably priced at $24.99 a month (on a 12-month contract–not including partner services). The Yahoo! Marketing dashboard, really has some powerful tools that will allow you to take your marketing to the next level while saving you the time or money of hiring a full staff to do the same thing. So what does it include?

  • Business listings –  Learn where of if  search engines and directories include your business. It also allows you to discover new listing opportunities you may be missing. This is really a key now that search engines include local search results so high at the top. Forget the Yellow Pages, this is where you need to be.
  • Online business reputation – Learn what customers are saying about you across the Web. Sure you can choose to ignore Facebook or Twitter, but this does not mean that customers are not talking about you. With this tool, in one easy place you can hear what they are saying and see the sentiment of these reviews.
  • Web site traffic – Discover how many people are visiting your site and where they are coming from. It also allows you to integrate with Google Analytics.
  • Marketing campaigns – This is of course the real jewel of the dashboard (in my view). It allows you to track key metrics from email marketing (if you are using Constant Contact) search engine optimization (SEO), and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns (if you are using Orange Soda),  so you know what is working and changes you need to make.
  • Online sales – If your site is hosted with a Yahoo Merchant Solution,  you can also get your daily sales  along with order and revenue reporting.

To get a better feel for all the features, Yahoo! has put together these videos. I recommned you check them out.

I also want to add, , while this may sound like a sales pitch, I get no cut from you signing up with Yahoo! I just really feel if you have an online business and you are not already doing something to track your business, this is the best tool for you to get your feet wet.  From an ease of use perspective, I cannot think of any other tool out there, at this price, offering such a powerful feature set.

So what do you think? Have you tried the  Small Business Marketing Dashboard or is there another tool you prefer?

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Saturday, May 12th, 2012 at 08:36 Analytics With Real Examples

I am pleased to announce the release of my new blog which is called The goal of this blog is to provide real answers for Analytics questions, working code and examples, videos as well as a my own personal playground for testing analytics ideas. Having said that I will still blog about analytics on, but at Statstory, I will delve into deper issues that do not fall directly into the world of Digital Marketing. But have no fear, I will still offer articles here I feel have a direct impact for marketers and SMB’s and the way they go about their business. If you have an interest in this area, I hope you’ll check it out.

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Saturday, April 28th, 2012 at 16:17

Concrete5: The CMS Option You Are Looking For

A couple of years ago, I was looking for a solution that would be easy for users to update, with a backend that was fully customizable. In the past, if someone asked my opinion on what to use to accomplish this, my inital reaction was to recommend WordPress.WordPress is easy to setup, use and customize for most needs, but it requires a lot of work if a non-coder will be managing the content. So in my view, WordPress is still a fine option, but if non-technical user content manipulation is a major concern, Concrete5 is the best option.

I don’t know why it took so long, but for me, Concrete5 flew mostly under the radar. That is until WordPress fell short for my needs and I started to look at other solutions. I wish I had learnt about it sooner, but it’s better than never and personally I think at the right time. Concrete5 was created by Franz Maruna and Andrew Embler in 2003, for there own use. It was only in June 2008, due to a more “noble human cause” Concrete5 was released to the public with a very permissive open licence. In doing so, they gave an aswesome tool for all us to build great websites and an option beyond the traditonal Drupal/Joomla debate. Also by opening it up, they got the assistance of the public feedback and code additions  to make it an even better product.

So what makes Concrete5 so amazing (in my view)? Here are just a couple of reasons Concrete5 may be the CMS option for your needs, as it was for mine:

  • Concrete5 is an open-source PHP MYSQL based script which is free. I have always appreciated being able to get in the guts of things
  • It’s super easy to build with, once you get the hang of things. There is a lack of updated documentation, but by asking questions, looking/exploring the code, you will see it’s pretty straight forward
  • It has fine granular control for user permissions. This is awesome if you are turning the site over to other parties to modify content. You can specify what they can edit or modify, right down to the block level.
  • Upgrading is smooth. You can back-up your database easily. Best of all, Concrete5 is a true MVC. The core code remains untouched as you modify “your” version of it, so you never have to worry about over-writes or other issues you might with other software.
  • It’s extremely user friendly for the non-techincal user once it’s set up. Need WYSIWYG editor? Done! Need to allow users to move content around? Easy! Allow front end editing? Yep! Made a boo-boo and need to go back a version or 6? No problemo! It’s honestly as close as you can get to great parts of Sharepoint, without all the downside.
  • The Marketplace. There are tons of things free for use with the core Concrete5, including themes and add-ons galore. The prices are more than fair and reasonable. If you are a coder yourself you can sell or offer for free your own upgrades as well.

As someone who has a passion for web development, I’m also a marketer. I understand that not everyone is willing (or capable) to get deep in code, but nonethless, Concrete5 (with the marketplace for your needs) offers a nice balance for both the coder and the marketer. For the Web Development/IT team, they are able to build a robust CMS that allows users of different abilities and roles to take charge of the site. From a marketing perspective, it allows them the freedom to change a banner ad, modify a file or change content on the fly without calling out for technical assistance. Another positive is the learning curve for a site admin is quick, because it’s initivituive. For users it’s seamless. It is truly the easiest DIY CMS in the marketplace.

Having said all of the above, there are some things/tips I felt was worth noting/sharing before you jump in. While Concrete5 is a great tool, I thought it was only fair to share the following:

  • The default search is really not that great, and there are few options in the marketplace. It’s an okay search for pages, but it you want it to search the text of your PDF or if you are looking for filters to reorder searches by date or relevance, there are slim pickings. You can certainly code something yourself, consider a Google Custom search or use a search script like Lucene to make it better. I think the issue of search is an issue for most out-of-the-box CMS scripts.
  • The documentation is sometimes scattered, and out of date. many screen shots or walk-through use code/screenshots of things that have changed. This can be very frustrating at first, because in the end most solutiobs end up being easy in Concrete5. Unfortunately when you start out using Concrete5 it’s not as simple to learn all the tricks. I should point out many CMS’s do have this issue as well, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me as Concrete5 is an awesome tool. Be warned, though, if you are expecting hand-holding this is your warning that this script does not offer you this.
  • The Concrete5 community. Sometimes you get answers, but sometimes you won’t. To increase your chances try to get the answer first by doing the work. Most users of the community are Web Developers so if you expect someone to just hand over the code, it is unlikely to happen. Having said this, they are very friendly and the support for many of the add-ons (including the free ones) is great.
  • -Test locally or have a sandbox. I highly recommend you use XAMPP to test locally because it’s just the smart thing to do. To make Concrete5 work you will need to change a line in the file C:\xampp\php\php.ini: error_reporting = E_ALL | E_STRICT to error_reporting = E_ALL & ~(E_NOTICE | E_STRICT | E_DEPRECATED).
  • Concrete5 is very unforgiving if you make coding errors which is wehy you should test and work locally.
  • Don’t worry if you break a page, you can roll back versions, even by sitemap. First approve than remove the pages that give you an issue
  • If you remove a block, you will lose all your content.

I really find none of the downsides to be a deal breaker, at least for me. Nevertheless, if you are tight on budget (i.e. not willing to spend any money) or insistent on DIY, Concrete5 customization is not for the coding faint of heart. You will need to get your hands dirty with some code. To get it functional you do not need to be a coding expert, but if you want a nice theme you will need to have an interest/ability to get coding. Of course, you can hire someone to do the work for you, but part of the fun is getting in the guts and doing it yourself. Best of all, no matter the path, once you are finished, you will have an amazing tool that your whole team can use easily. If you are convinced and ready to get started, download Concrete5 here and the best place to learn more is here!

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Monday, April 9th, 2012 at 10:19

So You Want To Sell Online: Shopify, Magento, Prestashop and More…

Comparison of Shopify, Magento, PrestaShop, Concrete5 and WordPressIf you have a business, you might think that selling your products online is difficult, but it’s not as hard as it once was. In the last couple of years, there have been great strides to getting your business online, and moving beyond the traditional areas of entry such as E-Bay. If you are serious about selling products online, but want to have a professional look to the experience, there are several solutions, which, depending on your level of comfort of code, that can make sense. The benefit of these solutions is you own the experience and you also get all of the money with little or no transaction fees. Not all of the solutions work for all businesses and business types, so I will outline the product and some information you need to know before you jump. Whatever you choose, if you are interested in selling online, the next couple of solutions are your best bet to getting there.

1. Shopify to me is one of the best options for a business looking to dip their feet into ecommerce. It is the only one which is fully hosted, without an option to host yourself. To me it’s solution that offers the best fit for those that want to sell online, but really have no interest in the code (i.e. How it works.) Shopify is great because it takes care of the hosting, it’s PCI Complaint (i.e it meets Payment Card Industry Rules) and an extensive option for free and paid themes. There is a 2% transaction fee for the entry level program, but their top line program waives all fees. You can see the latest pricing here. With a 30-day free trial and the ability to upgrade or downgrade your plan without additional charges is a big plus

2. Magento is the another great option. It is has become the big beast of ecommerce. Recently, it was bought by E-Bay (Paypal). Magento offer several product solutions from community to full enterprise (which are self-hosted) to their new fully hosted option of Magento Go. Unless you’re a real code hound, Magento Community is not a good fit. It is not PCI Compliant, and you really need to want to get your hands dirty. If you have code experience and the money, Magento Enterprise is an awesome product, which will far exceed your wildest dreams. Nevertheless, for the average business looking to get online, Magento Go is a great option. They offer many of the features of Shopify, but there is no transaction fees even at the entry level. Magento offer a 30-day trial and easy upgrade to other options. The Magento Go product is relatively new compared to Shopify. My edge goes to Shopify as it had been in the full hosting business longer, and Magneto is not as quick as easy to pick up when you want to make customizations. As someone who loves code and a challenge, I appreciate Magento and the fact I can deep and dirty with the code. It really is a personal prefernce, thankfully with free trails available from both, you can get a sense which is the better fit. Learn more about Magento Go here.

3. Prestashop is another superb solution for a small business. They are mostly known as a self-hosted solution, where you can get down in the code and do you own thing. More recently they launched PrestaBox, which is there hosted solution. The cost of PrestaBox, is a $10 (Euro) set-up and a 2% transaction fee. What makes Prestashop unique, is by being a European based company, multi-languages are available for your website much easier. Personally, the I have always used the self-hosted option when using PrestaShop. I would also recommend it for business in French speaking areas or countries, as the native language of the development team is french.

The next two options are not ecommerce platforms per se, but they are CMS platforms with a critical mass of installs: Concrete5 and WordPress. They are great fit for companies already using the platform or if they are looking to sell only a couple of dozen products. The main benefit of using these platforms is that they are free and open-source, so you can modify to your hearts content. The downside of these solutions is you need to love code, you are on your own for hosting and, as these are community supported, sometimes you may not get the quick answers that you need when you have questions.

4. Concrete5 is amazing when it comes to flexibility of adding content. You can build whatever you like, and make it easy in the future to change content as you need. However, while Concrete5 is free, some of the add-ons you might need to set-up your store are not. Before you get scared, keep in mind you can build your own add-ons for free (well, you know in your own time), and there are lots of free add-ons. Nevertheless, if you have to pay for an extension or two the prices are fair, especially when compared to to the time and effort it would take to code the same same add-on. Most importantly, the ecommerce add-on found in the Concrete5 marketplace is supported by the Concrete5 development team. Another benefit of this solution is that if you look at the cost of hosting Concrete5 yourself and buying a couple of add-ons, you are saving tons of money compared to other solutions by year two of your Conceret5 project. You can benefit even more if you have an interest in do-it-yourself. The code is not impossible to understand (assuming you get PHP) and make modifications is super simple with their structure of separating out the core when a future upgrade occurs.

5. WordPress. No this is not a typo. Sure you can use WordPress for blogs, but more and more companies are using it as a CMS. WordPress has countless add-ons to sell memberships and allow you to also sell products. To me it’s the perfect solution if you already have WordPress up or if you are looking to sell less than a dozen items. My favourite add-ons for Ecommerce task in WordPress are: WP Easy Paypal and s2Member® Framework, but there are literally hundreds of cart free cart solutions to choose from. Personally, WordPress works if what you are selling is small subset skus, but you want to have the ability to easily add posts/comments on the products right on the page. For higher volume solutions, I would consider one of the other solutions above.

In my view, these five picks each bring to the table something unique, but thankfully they all have the ability to try before you buy. A couple of further notes on my list. I figure most small business do not have the time to get involved in coding their store, that’s why some usual suspects are missing. If you are still looking for other options and have time to tinker with code, I can recommend you look at OpenCart , CS-Cart , Zen Cart and OSCommerce. Whatever you decide, the options to get your online website looking like a professional destination for your customers is better than ever before. Take the time to get the best fit for you and your audience.

Share your thoughts: What solutions have you tried from the list? What did you like/hate about them? What advice do you have in making a selection?

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Sunday, March 11th, 2012 at 14:52