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9 Important SEO Habits You Should Adopt Now

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Want to improve your SEO strategies and skills to move the needle even more for your organizations and clients?

Then it’s time to ditch the bad habits and start creating new habits – or enhancing existing ones.

Although we typically gravitate toward specific areas of SEO (technical, on-page, off-page), based on our interests or familiarity, usually we can’t focus on SEO 100 percent of the time.

Our focus is spread thin.

Here’s how you can build habits that help you broaden your scope of context- and content-driven SEO – without working twice as many hours!

1. Research Deeper

The word “research” means different things to different people.

In our industry, it often relates to keywords, competitors, and links.

As SEO focus continues to shift more to focus on the whole rather than the granular details, it is as important as ever to have good processes and habits for performing research.

While I have worked to pivot and use terms like “audience” rather than “keyword” when pertaining to my research processes on the front end of SEO campaigns, I find that some of the deep insights for terms and topics come from concentrated efforts to use tools and available data.

I’m using more tools, spending more time in the SERPs, and focusing on finding ways to understand the audience in greater detail than in the past, while not abandoning the principles of old-school keyword research as well.

We know we have to go deeper while also keeping in mind that mining for that one long-tail keyword is short-sighted in the context-based era of SEO that we’re in.

2. Measure More

I’m willing to bet that 9 out of 10 people in charge of SEO for their company or clients would admit that we spend less time in Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and other analytics tools than we wish.

The time is now to find ways to get numbers coming to you or dedicating time nearly daily to jumping into the numbers.

The more time we spend in the data, the more we can measure, add custom dimensions, adjust attribution models, and find insights that we won’t get if we just drop in weekly or monthly to produce a report.

3. Learn Daily

We have great go-to sources like Search Engine Journal to use when we need to find an answer or learn about what is happening in the SEO world.

That isn’t enough!

With the speed of change in website technology, trends, and digital marketing, we have to find ways to learn daily.

A great way to build this habit is finding ways to follow favorite industry sources and have the news come to you.

I get my daily learning in through article feeds delivered by email and in social channels.

I have found that subscribing and following selectively in channels that aren’t as cluttered with noise helps me focus in on the articles I need to see without having to go out to each of the sites individually – which won’t happen organically my day goes too fast for that kind of free time.

4. Work Backwards

We’re getting better at this because we have to.

SEO is part of the digital marketing mix and has a seat at the table.

However, we’re competing against channels and noise about blockchain, AI, voice, chatbots, and more.

We have to stick to what our stakeholders care about – how search meets business goals.

To make sure we’re on point, we have to start with business goals and work backwards to our metrics.

When we start with our KPIs (e.g., rankings, average position, traffic) first, we lose the important message of sales, leads, revenue, and ROI that the C-suite and clients care most about and gain the opportunity to educate them along the way.

5. Truly Focus on Context

If you’ve been in the SEO world for a long time or if you’re only doing it part-time as part of a broader role, plus a host of other reasons, it is easy to focus on old tactics or small updates.

While I can speak to specific case studies of updates to a single tag and ranking improvements, they are rarer than in the past.

Getting context right and focusing on relevance and authority status for topics as a whole is critical to SEO success.

If you’re stuck on old tactics or just dropping in from time to time to make small updates, you’re going to fight an uphill battle.

Shifting to a context mindset is important and thinking with context first and keywords, technical, and links second will help drive the right priority in your SEO plan.

6. Stay Technically Sharp

Now that I have talked about context, I have to balance that out with making sure that we stay sharp on the technical aspects of SEO.

While it is possible to pump out a ton of content or build a lot of links and rank well, the nuances of technical SEO still play a factor.

Even if you’re more of a content and creative-minded SEO, there are aspects of technical SEO you can master.

Navigating issues with duplicate content, canonicals, indexing, disavowing bad links, page speed optimization, and other aspects of technical SEO are still important.

In fact, it seems that technical SEO skills are fading a bit.

7. Engage Stakeholders

Unless you’re a designer, writer, coder, and IT person in addition to your SEO role, you can’t do your job alone.

Bring others into your strategy and your circle. Engaging those you depend upon can help you get exactly what you need.

Additionally, find ways to involve product teams, marketers from other channels, sales people, research, PR, the C-suite, and actual customers to help you learn and evolve your strategy.

I’m not saying to give people control or say over how SEO is done, but you can:

  • Educate them.
  • Learn any insights they can provide on your competition and target audiences.
  • Know your customer’s journey.
  • Use that valuable information to shape your plan.

8. Integrate with Other Marketing Channels

We can learn a lot and leverage what is working in other areas of marketing and advertising. It is often easy to link up with paid search and share keyword data.

Push beyond your comfort zone and find ways to gain insight from traditional marketing, print, and offline experiences.

We can do a lot to support the other channels, which can help us with content, links, and other the external factors that we can’t normally influence to fuel our SEO.

9. Balance Your Focus Across SEO

We’re all admittedly strong in some areas and weaker in others. Or, maybe you’re a unicorn or rock star that is awesome at everything.

Even if that’s the case, there are aspects of SEO that we like more than others.

Regardless of whether we’re stronger on or prefer content over technical, technical over off-page, off-page over on-page, etc., we have to create habits that balance out our focus.

Yes, you can focus on one thing, do it really well, and produce results. However, that’s a risky strategy that can backfire when a major algorithm update comes out or when a competitor shifts focus or enters your industry and has a balanced approach that crushes you.

Make sure you’re focused on all aspects of SEO and make intentional choices on why you are focusing on certain aspects and in what priority order.

Build enough balance and redundancy in your strategy to mitigate risk.

Conclusion

Many elements go into SEO. While this is a simple statement, it’s also very true.

So start building new habits now. Fill in any gaps you have in your knowledge or routines.

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Video: Chris Boggs on experience in the SEM industry

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Chris Boggs has been doing the SEO and SEM thing since 2000 — yes, for over 20 years. Boggs does both SEO and PPC and has worked at both large agencies and smaller agencies and in-house at both large companies and small companies. He has been on his own, running his own agency named Web Traffic Advisors, since 2014.

Boggs is a former US Marine and credits a lot of his success in the industry to what he learned from his service. He also credits his previous jobs and bosses with his success. We spoke about that and also chatted about some of the earlier days in SEM.

Our conversation went into some technical SEO topics and PPC topics as well. I hope you enjoy learning about Chris Boggs, he is a good man.

I started this vlog series recently, and if you want to sign up to be interviewed, you can fill out this form on Search Engine Roundtable. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel by clicking here.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.



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Leverage Python and Google Cloud to extract meaningful SEO insights from server log data

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For my first post on Search Engine Land, I’ll start by quoting Ian Lurie:

Log file analysis is a lost art. But it can save your SEO butt!

Wise words.

However, getting the data we need out of server log files is usually laborious:

  • Gigantic log files require robust data ingestion pipelines, a reliable cloud storage infrastructure, and a solid querying system
  • Meticulous data modeling is also needed in order to convert cryptic, raw logs data into legible bits, suitable for exploratory data analysis and visualization

In the first post of this two-part series, I will show you how to easily scale your analyses to larger datasets, and extract meaningful SEO insights from your server logs.

All of that with just a pinch of Python and a hint of Google Cloud!

Here’s our detailed plan of action:

#1 – I’ll start by giving you a bit of context:

  • What are log files and why they matter for SEO
  • How to get hold of them
  • Why Python alone doesn’t always cut it when it comes to server log analysis

#2 – We’ll then set things up:

  • Create a Google Cloud Platform account
  • Create a Google Cloud Storage bucket to store our log files
  • Use the Command-Line to convert our files to a compliant format for querying
  • Transfer our files to Google Cloud Storage, manually and programmatically

#3 – Lastly, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of Pythoning – we will:

  • Query our log files with Bigquery, inside Colab!
  • Build a data model that makes our raw logs more legible 
  • Create categorical columns that will enhance our analyses further down the line
  • Filter and export our results to .csv

In part two of this series (available later this year), we’ll discuss more advanced data modeling techniques in Python to assess:

  • Bot crawl volume
  • Crawl budget waste
  • Duplicate URL crawling

I’ll also show you how to aggregate and join log data to Search Console data, and create interactive visualizations with Plotly Dash!

Excited? Let’s get cracking!

System requirements

We will use Google Colab in this article. No specific requirements or backward compatibility issues here, as Google Colab sits in the cloud.

Downloadable files

  • The Colab notebook can be accessed here 
  • The log files can be downloaded on Github – 4 sample files of 20 MB each, spanning 4 days (1 day per file)

Be assured that the notebook has been tested with several million rows at lightning speed and without any hurdles!

Preamble: What are log files?

While I don’t want to babble too much about what log files are, why they can be invaluable for SEO, etc. (heck, there are many great articles on the topic already!), here’s a bit of context.

A server log file records every request made to your web server for content.

Every. Single. One.

In their rawest forms, logs are indecipherable, e.g. here are a few raw lines from an Apache webserver:

Daunting, isn’t it?

Raw logs must be “cleansed” in order to be analyzed; that’s where data modeling kicks in. But more on that later.

Whereas the structure of a log file mainly depends on the server (Apache, Nginx, IIS etc…), it has evergreen attributes:

  • Server IP
  • Date/Time (also called timestamp)
  • Method (GET or POST)
  • URI
  • HTTP status code
  • User-agent

Additional attributes can usually be included, such as:

  • Referrer: the URL that ‘linked’ the user to your site
  • Redirected URL, when a redirect occurs
  • Size of the file sent (in bytes)
  • Time taken: the time it takes for a request to be processed and its response to be sent

Why are log files important for SEO?

If you don’t know why they matter, read this. Time spent wisely!

Accessing your log files

If you’re not sure where to start, the best is to ask your (client’s) Web Developer/DevOps if they can grant you access to raw server logs via FTP, ideally without any filtering applied.

Here are the general guidelines to find and manage log data on the three most popular servers:

We’ll use raw Apache files in this project.

Why Pandas alone is not enough when it comes to log analysis

Pandas (an open-source data manipulation tool built with Python) is pretty ubiquitous in data science.

It’s a must to slice and dice tabular data structures, and the mammal works like a charm when the data fits in memory!

That is, a few gigabytes. But not terabytes.

Parallel computing aside (e.g. Dask, PySpark), a database is usually a better solution for big data tasks that do not fit in memory. With a database, we can work with datasets that consume terabytes of disk space. Everything can be queried (via SQL), accessed, and updated in a breeze!

In this post, we’ll query our raw log data programmatically in Python via Google BigQuery. It’s easy to use, affordable and lightning-fast – even on terabytes of data!

The Python/BigQuery combo also allows you to query files stored on Google Cloud Storage. Sweet!

If Google is a nay-nay for you and you wish to try alternatives, Amazon and Microsoft also offer cloud data warehouses. They integrate well with Python too:

Amazon:

Microsoft:

Create a GCP account and set-up Cloud Storage

Both Google Cloud Storage and BigQuery are part of Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Google’s suite of cloud computing services.

GCP is not free, but you can try it for a year with $300 credits, with access to all products. Pretty cool.

Note that once the trial expires, Google Cloud Free Tier will still give you access to most Google Cloud resources, free of charge. With 5 GB of storage per month, it’s usually enough if you want to experiment with small datasets, work on proof of concepts, etc…

Believe me, there are many. Great. Things. To. Try!

You can sign-up for a free trial here.

Once you have completed sign-up, a new project will be automatically created with a random, and rather exotic, name – e.g. mine was “learned-spider-266010“!

Create our first bucket to store our log files

In Google Cloud Storage, files are stored in “buckets”. They will contain our log files.

To create your first bucket, go to storage > browser > create bucket:

The bucket name has to be unique. I’ve aptly named mine ‘seo_server_logs’!

We then need to choose where and how to store our log data:

  • #1 Location type – ‘Region’ is usually good enough.
  • #2 Location – As I’m based in the UK, I’ve selected ‘Europe-West2’. Select your nearest location
  • #3 Click on ‘continue’

Default storage class: I’ve had good results with ‘nearline‘. It is cheaper than standard, and the data is retrieved quickly enough:

Access to objects: “Uniform” is fine:

Finally, in the “advanced settings” block, select:

  • #1 – Google-managed key
  • #2 – No retention policy
  • #3 – No need to add a label for now

When you’re done, click “‘create.”

You’ve created your first bucket! Time to upload our log data.

Adding log files to your Cloud Storage bucket

You can upload as many files as you wish, whenever you want to!

The simplest way is to drag and drop your files to Cloud Storage’s Web UI, as shown below:

Yet, if you really wanted to get serious about log analysis, I’d strongly suggest automating the data ingestion process!

Here are a few things you can try:

  • Cron jobs can be set up between FTP servers and Cloud Storage infrastructures: 
  • FTP managers like Cyberduck also offer automatic transfers to storage systems, too
  • More data ingestion tips here (AppEngine, JSON API etc.)

A quick note on file formats

The sample files uploaded in Github have already been converted to .csv for you.

Bear in mind that you may have to convert your own log files to a compliant file format for SQL querying. Bigquery accepts .csv or .parquet. 

Files can easily be bulk-converted to another format via the command line. You can access the command line as follows on Windows:

  • Open the Windows Start menu
  • Type “command” in the search bar
  • Select “Command Prompt” from the search results
  • I’ve not tried this on a Mac, but I believe the CLI is located in the Utilities folder

Once opened, navigate to the folder containing the files you want to convert via this command:

CD 'path/to/folder’

Simply replace path/to/folder with your path.

Then, type the command below to convert e.g. .log files to .csv:

for file in *.log; do mv "$file" "$(basename "$file" .*0).csv"; done

Note that you may need to enable Windows Subsystem for Linux to use this Bash command.

Now that our log files are in, and in the right format, it’s time to start Pythoning!

Unleash the Python

Do I still need to present Python?!

According to Stack Overflow, Python is now the fastest-growing major programming language. It’s also getting incredibly popular in the SEO sphere, thanks to Python preachers like Hamlet or JR.

You can run Python on your local computer via Jupyter notebook or an IDE, or even in the cloud via Google Colab. We’ll use Google Colab in this article.

Remember, the notebook is here, and the code snippets are pasted below, along with explanations.

Import libraries + GCP authentication

We’ll start by running the cell below:

It imports the Python libraries we need and redirects you to an authentication screen.

There you’ll have to choose the Google account linked to your GCP project.

Connect to Google Cloud Storage (GCS) and BigQuery

There’s quite a bit of info to add in order to connect our Python notebook to GCS & BigQuery. Besides, filling in that info manually can be tedious!

Fortunately, Google Colab’s forms make it easy to parameterize our code and save time.

The forms in this notebook have been pre-populated for you. No need to do anything, although I do suggest you amend the code to suit your needs.

Here’s how to create your own form: Go to Insert > add form field > then fill in the details below:

When you change an element in the form, its corresponding values will magically change in the code!

Fill in ‘project ID’ and ‘bucket location’

In our first form, you’ll need to add two variables:

  • Your GCP PROJECT_ID (mine is ‘learned-spider-266010′)
  • Your bucket location:
    • To find it, in GCP go to storage > browser > check location in table
    • Mine is ‘europe-west2′

Here’s the code snippet for that form:

Fill in ‘bucket name’ and ‘file/folder path’:

In the second form, we’ll need to fill in two more variables:

The bucket name:

  • To find it, in GCP go to: storage > browser > then check its ‘name’ in the table
  • I’ve aptly called it ‘apache_seo_logs’!

The file path:

  • You can use a wildcard to query several files – Very nice!
  • E.g. with the wildcarded path ‘Loggy*’, Bigquery would query these three files at once:
    • Loggy01.csv
    • Loggy02.csv
    • Loggy03.csv
  • Bigquery also creates a temporary table for that matter (more on that below)

Here’s the code for the form:

Connect Python to Google Cloud Storage and BigQuery

In the third form, you need to give a name to your BigQuery table – I’ve called mine ‘log_sample’. Note that this temporary table won’t be created in your Bigquery account.

Okay, so now things are getting really exciting, as we can start querying our dataset via SQL *without* leaving our notebook – How cool is that?!

As log data is still in its raw form, querying it is somehow limited. However, we can apply basic SQL filtering that will speed up Pandas operations later on.

I have created 2 SQL queries in this form:

  • “SQL_1st_Filter” to filter any text
  • “SQL_Useragent_Filter” to select your User-Agent, via a drop-down

Feel free to check the underlying code and tweak these two queries to your needs.

If your SQL trivia is a bit rusty, here’s a good refresher from Kaggle!

Code for that form:

Converting the list output to a Pandas Dataframe

The output generated by BigQuery is a two-dimensional list (also called ‘list of lists’). We’ll need to convert it to a Pandas Dataframe via this code:

Done! We now have a Dataframe that can be wrangled in Pandas!

Data cleansing time, the Pandas way!

Time to make these cryptic logs a bit more presentable by:

  • Splitting each element
  • Creating a column for each element

Split IP addresses

Split dates and times

We now need to convert the date column from string to a “Date time” object, via the Pandas to_datetime() method:

Doing so will allow us to perform time-series operations such as:

  • Slicing specific date ranges 
  • Resampling time series for different time periods (e.g. from day to month)
  • Computing rolling statistics, such as a rolling average

The Pandas/Numpy combo is really powerful when it comes to time series manipulation, check out all you can do here!

More split operations below:

Split domains

Split methods (Get, Post etc…)

Split URLs

Split HTTP Protocols

Split status codes

Split ‘time taken’

Split referral URLs

Split User Agents

Split redirected URLs (when existing)

Reorder columns

Time to check our masterpiece:

Well done! With just a few lines of code, you converted a set of cryptic logs to a structured Dataframe, ready for exploratory data analysis.

Let’s add a few more extras.

Create categorical columns

These categorical columns will come handy for data analysis or visualization tasks. We’ll create two, paving the way for your own experiments!

Create an HTTP codes class column

Create a search engine bots category column

As you can see, our new columns httpCodeClass and SEBotClass have been created:

Spotting ‘spoofed’ search engine bots

We still need to tackle one crucial step for SEO: verify that IP addresses are genuinely from Googlebots.

All credit due to the great Tyler Reardon for this bit! Tyler has created  searchtools.io, a clever tool that checks IP addresses and returns ‘fake’ Googlebot ones, based on a reverse DNS lookup.

We’ve simply integrated that script into the notebook – code snippet below:

Running the cell above will create a new column called ‘isRealGbot?:

Note that the script is still in its early days, so please consider the following caveats:

  • You may get errors when checking a huge amount of IP addresses. If so, just bypass the cell
  • Only Googlebots are checked currently

Tyler and I are working on the script to improve it, so keep an eye on Twitter for future enhancements!

Filter the Dataframe before final export

If you wish to further refine the table before exporting to .csv, here’s your chance to filter out status codes you don’t need and refine timescales.

Some common use cases:

  • You have 12 months’ worth of log data stored in the cloud, but only want to review the last 2 weeks
  • You’ve had a recent website migration and want to check all the redirects (301s, 302s, etc.) and their redirect locations
  • You want to check all 4XX response codes

Filter by date 

Refine start and end dates via this form:

Filter by status codes

Check status codes distribution before filtering:

Code:

Then filter HTTP status codes via this form:

Related code:

Export to .csv 

Our last step is to export our Dataframe to a .csv file. Give it a name via the export form:

Code for that last form:

Pat on the back if you’ve followed till here! You’ve achieved so much over the course of this article!

I cannot wait to take it to the next level in my next column, with more advanced data modeling/visualization techniques!

I’d like to thank the following people:

  • Tyler Reardon, who’s helped me to integrate his anti-spoofing tool into this notebook!
  • Paul Adams from Octamis and my dear compatriot Olivier Papon for their expert advice
  • Last but not least, Kudos to Hamlet Batista or JR Oakes – Thanks guys for being so inspirational to the SEO community!

Please reach me out on Twitter if questions, or if you need further assistance. Any feedback (including pull requests! :)) is also greatly appreciated!

Happy Pythoning!

This year’s SMX Advanced will feature a brand-new SEO for Developers track with highly-technical sessions – many in live-coding format – focused on using code libraries and architecture models to develop applications that improve SEO. SMX Advanced will be held June 8-10 in Seattle. Register today.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Charly Wargnier is a seasoned digital marketing consultant based in the UK, leaning on over a decade of in-the-trenches SEO, BI and Data engineering experience. Charly has worked both in-house and agency-side, primarily for large enterprises in Retail and Fashion, and on a wide range of fronts including complex technical SEO issues, site performance, data pipelining and visualization frameworks. When he isn’t working, he enjoys coding for good and spending quality time with his family – cooking, listening to Jazz music and playing chess, in no particular order!



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Microsoft Office hits pause on forcing Bing search in Chrome, Firefox

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Microsoft recently announced a new “extension” as part of an update to its Office 365 ProPlus software that forcibly changes company-wide Chrome and Firefox search engine defaults to Bing search, automatically, from what is likely set to Google. After considerable backlash, the company is reversing course, a bit.

In a predatory fashion, the extension automatically seeks out, through the network and local device file systems, installations of independent browsers (Chrome and Firefox were mentioned) in order to edit configuration files outside its own software ecosystem.

A compromise

In a halfhearted reversal, Microsoft will compromise with modifications that comply more with administrators’ wishes to make the extension optional. This will result in a timeline delay, as well. Rather than automatically changing default search engines for Chrome and Firefox to Bing, administrators are now required to opt-in for it to do so, and actions will initially be limited to only Active Directory joined devices.

This means, at first, the extension won’t act like a worm that traverses the whole network looking for vulnerable computers — until sometime “in the future.”

In the future we will add specific settings to govern the deployment of the extension to unmanaged devices. 

Microsoft

It’s still troubling Microsoft plans to do this but is understandable when considering what is often done in tandem with an organization’s rules. IT infrastructure setup and maintenance require super-user levels of control over software installation and configuration settings.

The problem is when organizations are less restrictive, allowing users to install Chrome and Firefox rather than limit them to using Microsoft Edge or past versions of IE. Browser applications get very personalized when authenticated with Google and/or Firefox Accounts for services such as Google search.

No matter how convenient the ability to search for docs and refs from shared drives and Microsoft applications via Chrome and Firefox default search is, users of those browsers should be able to do that through company resources and manage search defaults on their own.

Security implications

In more restrictive organizations, like those that require secure access to sensitive information by authenticated staff, having “overlord” control over networked machines is a vital component of IT systems operations. In those cases, it is commonplace to disallow software installations in the first place.

It stands to reason security incidents can increase when browser search with Microsoft in Bing accesses network resources. Administrators have to take care when considering such applications. They certainly didn’t ask for the features the new extension provides and rightly view the move as one of pure marketing.

It’s when users are allowed to install programs that policy and operations should be less impinging. Automatically changing default search settings to Bing while only providing last-minute instructions for administrators who must take action to prevent the extension from executing was a very poor way to introduce a controversial procedure in Office 365 setup.

Why we care

Ironically, ink from the press about the backlash gave the search capability of Microsoft in Bing a spotlight that the extension may not have received otherwise. Microsoft should not resort to leveraging its Office 365 install base to switch user-defined search defaults from a desired choice to Bing in order to unfairly compete. It demonstrates how much it would like to take search market share away from Google. Bing integrated with Microsoft search competes fairly well with its unique results from network resources, something Google can only emulate with its own suite of interoperable services appearing in search results.


About The Author

Detlef Johnson is the SEO for Developers Expert for Search Engine Land and SMX. He is also a member of the programming team for SMX events and writes the SEO for Developers series on Search Engine Land. Detlef is one of the original group of pioneering webmasters who established the professional SEO field more than 20 years ago. Since then he has worked for major search engine technology providers, managed programming and marketing teams for Chicago Tribune, and consulted for numerous entities including Fortune 500 companies. Detlef has a strong understanding of Technical SEO and a passion for Web programming.



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