April 12, 2012

Using Keyword Rankings to Measure SEO Success

BrightEdge vs AWR

Using keyword ranking positions as a measure of SEO success isn’t perfect. Do you track 200 keywords, or 2000? Do you include branded keywords that you’ll likely rank for anyway? What do you do when you want to add new keywords? And then there’s the issue of customized search results. Is one scrape from one IP a good measure of the actual position?

I’ve used three different keyword ranking tools to gather this data – AdvancedWebRanking (AWR), BrightEdge, and to a small extent Positionly. Each has their pros and cons, but all can be leveraged to gain insight on your SEO performance.

AWR is great, and is probably my favorite and the most complete seo software package of the three. The thing I like most about it is that I understand how it gets the data. It runs locally on your computer, and scrapes the rankings directly from Google. I know it’s using my IP and I know what time it crawled. That’s valuable information when I need to explain fluctuations to a client – “Well, the report is from Monday morning, but if you search now for ‘cloud hosting’ you’ll see that you’re back at position 2.” With BrightEdge, when you export or compare data you can’t select rankings from a specific day, just for an entire week. I have no idea if the reported position was pulled on Sunday or Thursday.

Search results continue to become more and more tailored to the individual user. A searcher from New York will see different results from a user in Vancouver – even if neither is logged in. With AWR running locally, I know that the results I’m seeing are from my city, and to take that with a grain of salt. In BrightEdge, I need to take that gain of salt blindly, as I do not know how they’re getting the rankings. Fortunately, you can customize the search engine being used in both. There’s a lot of other factors that go into the personalization of results, but with being able to do things like see the user agent of the scraper, there’s just more transparency with AWR.

One of the things almost every SEO I know misses when thinking about keyword ranking software is the imperfection of the data. All of these tools are scrapers. They’re pinging Google and interpreting the results. Google doesn’t like this. Robots, hitting up their servers, not viewing ads, to reverse engineer their rankings? Aww hell no. These spiders frequently time out or get blocked out with a captcha by Google. I’ve been using AWR and BrightEdge in parallel for the past 3 months, and this happens in both… a lot. That’s the reason we use both, so that if one messes up, we’ll hopefully have solid data with the other. The only thing is, AWR tells you when it fails and on what keywords it failed. BrightEdge doesn’t, and will often show a stable keyword dropping from the first page to the tenth.

AWR does a better job with transparency. BrightEdge does a better job with user experience and ease of use. AWR has to be running on your own machine, while BrightEdge is SaaS on the cloud. I like the ability to automatically create customized reports with AWR (and then send them via email or push them to an FTP server), but BrightEdge is way better when it comes to grouping keywords and exporting to Excel. To me, having accurate data is way more important than saving a few seconds when sorting it.

Positionly is only in the beginning stages, but I feel it holds real promise. They have a great email alert system, and are at a way more practical price point than BrightEdge. If they can combine the best of both, I think we’ll see a worthy competitor emerge.

If you’re using any of these three, or a completely different solution, let us know what you thought.

April 21, 2011

Think Like MacGyver

When I was flying to Detroit from the Dominican Republic I did what I normally do. Open up my laptop, plug in my headphones, and zone off into some Louis C.K. or Jim Gaffigan standup.

Then I got a tap on my shoulder – my brother wanted to listen. I only had one audio output, so it looked like we had to go one earbud each. But wait, my MacGyver kicked in. Here’s what I had:

What would you do? Tell him he could listen to the soundtrack from The Incredibles while I laugh myself to tears? Give him an earbud and subject both of us to a terrible audio experience? Nah, we used what we had and made it work.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Made a Wi-Fi hotspot
  2. Converted the video into a .mp4 with VLC
  3. Loaded up MAMP
  4. Dumped the video into the the MAMP folder
  5. Connected the iPhone to my MacBook’s Wi-Fi
  6. Streamed on the iPhone
  7. Both lol’d at 30,000 ft

Turns out I didn’t even need the rubber band or paper clips!

Startups need to think this way. Take what you’ve got, and multipurpose it. Sure, having an audio splitter would have done the trick, just like having an extra iMac for the conference room would make meetings easier. But instead, buy a nice 27” monitor and adaptor so you can just plug your existing assets into it. Think carefully about spending expensive investor money when you don’t have to.

April 17, 2011

Ineffective Slogans

“We Work Hard So You Don’t Have To”

I’m sure you’ve heard this one. But do you actually know what company says it? Likely not, since it’s such a generic line. It could apply to almost any service, and to tons of products aimed to increase efficiency. A quick google search for the line will bring up vacation planning services, horse stables, janitorial services, and the one you probably heard it from, Scrubbing Bubbles. Scrubbing Bubbles is throwing away money on a slogan that does not build their brand.

“Welcome to the Human Network”

Yes, Cisco is trying to demonstrate how technology doesn’t need to be complicated and that they have excellent customer service. But who is their real audience? Is it the Marketing Director who wants to be able to pick up the phone and call someone, or the HR head who values interpersonal connection? No, it’s the IT guy who wants to make sure that the system works, without interruption, automatically.

“Believe in Something Better”

Like the Scrubbing Bubbles slogan, this could apply to anyone. It’s too grandiose of a slogan for an unknown company like U.S. Cellular. I’m sure it was just made by combining four or five different slogans their marketing team came up with in order to make everyone happy.


It’s tough to make a one word slogan work for a company, especially a company that has a “too expensive for what you actually get” reputation.

So what DOES make a good slogan?

  • Quickly explains the value your provide
  • Memorable (often by evoking emotion or humor)
  • Simple

One of my favorite slogans is from Diapers.com.

“We Deliver Everything But The Baby”

There is no question what diapers.com does after you hear this slogan. It’s simple, memorable, catchy, and tells exactly what they do. I can’t think of a better use of the domain name.

“Change We Can Believe In”

This slogan works well as a whole, but let’s break it down. If they solely went after the word ‘Change’ by itself like Acura went after ‘Advance,’ this would not have been as effective. The Obama campaign established the whole line first, and as it caught on, they could simply use the word ‘Change.’ The word ‘We’ gives it that popular team mentality, and makes people want to be part of something. ‘Believe’ signals vision, trust, and confidence, and appeals to people’s aspirational goals. Altogether, this slogan is rock solid.

Slogans should be used to enforce your brand. If done right, you can ‘claim’ additional words in consumer’s minds. Take the time when making a slogan and make sure it appeals to your audience’s needs.