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2 New Tools in Google Analytics: Real-Time Widget and Benchmark Tool

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2 New Tools in Google Analytics: Real-Time Widget and Benchmark Tool was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Google Analytics is every Internet marketer’s best friend. The tools are always changing and updating, making the Google Analytics blog an important one to keep up on so you know the features, capabilities and data available to you. There are a couple new tools that got us really excited because of the intel they provide about how visitors are using our sites. Learn about the new Customer Journey tool and the Real-Time Widget now available through your Google Analytics account.

The Customer Journey to Online Purchase

Google is offering more detailed information to make marketer’s lives easier. On April 25, Google introduced a new benchmarking tool for marketers: The Customer Journey to Online Purchase.

The tool is Google’s response to:

  • The increasing complexity of the customer journey and
  • The increasing need of marketers to make sense of the contribution of each marketing channel in the final purchase so that they can improve their strategy accordingly.

Before committing to buy online, a customer may engage with a specific brand through many different media channels over several days (or even months, in some cases).

Based on the different sectors, different marketing channels come into play at different times and contribute to the final purchase decision.

The tool has been built on data gathered from over 36,000 Google Analytics clients that authorised sharing, including millions of purchases across 11 industries in 7 countries (Australia is not included at the moment).

As it is explained on the Official Google Analytics blog, the tool includes benchmark data for:

  • How different marketing channels (such as display, search, email, and your own website) help move users towards purchases. For example, some marketing channels play an “assist” role during the earlier stages of the marketing funnel, whereas some play a “last interaction” role just before a sale.
  • How long it takes for customers to make a purchase online (from the first time they interact with your marketing to the moment they actually buy something), and how the length of this journey affects average order values. The length of the customer journey, in both number of days and number of interactions, varies widely depending on the type of purchase. Some decisions require substantial research, while others are made very quickly. Typically, more complex purchases lead to longer paths and larger purchase values.

Implications of the Customer Journey to Online Purchase Tool

  • Online retailers need to understand their customer journeys in the context of how a broader data set does similar journeys.
  • By understanding the different stages of the customer journey, businesses can evaluate the success or otherwise of online campaigns and the role each one plays in the conversion.
  • Using this information will help to design campaigns that deliver the right message at the right moment in a customer’s journey to purchase.

Google Analytics New Feature: Real Time Widgets

This is better than TV!

On April 16, Google announced four real-time widgets that can be added to any new or existing Google Analytics Dashboard, marking the first time real-time data has been possible in a dashboard widget.

The widgets make it possible for users to perform many types of real-time analysis and they can also be combined and customised with different filters to segment and compare data side by side.

To set-up a Real-time widget, webmasters simply need to click the +Add Widget menu option from the Google-Analytics dashboard.

Once a widget has been added, they can select Counter, Timeline, Geomap or Table from the Real-time section.

  • Counters show the number of active visitors on the site, in a similar way to the prime “Right Now” counter on the Real-Time overview report. The major difference is that it is possible to determine what the dimension is, if any, to be shown under the counter. On the Real-Time Overview report it shows New vs. Returning users, while on the widget it is possible to select a different dimension to break out that counter’s numbers from the set 11 dimensions available in all the Real Time Widgets: Campaign, City, Country/Territory, Keyword, Medium, Page, Page Title, Referral Path, Source, Traffic Type, or Visitor Type.
  • Timelines show the scrolling pageviews over either the last 30 minutes or last 60 seconds.
  • Geomaps show visits on a map. It is possible to choose to display by country or cities, and drill down a region from a world map down to a national one.
  • Tables show active visitors, with up to three of the dimensions listed above.

Another widget that has been recently added (May 5) to the real time reports is “Goal Conversions”.

Google Analytics conversion widget

Google Analytics real-time conversion widget

Implications of the Google Analytics Real-Time Widget

  • This helps businesses to instantly see how traffic is moving around their website.
  • This gives insight at a very specific level, enabling specific decisions to be made.
  • Real time widgets provide a drill-down that immediately displays the data that matters.

Bruce Clay Blog

Disavowed: Secrets of Google’s Most Mysterious Tool

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Posted by Cyrus Shepard

To many webmasters, Google’s Disavow Tool seems a lifesaver. If you’ve suffered a Google penalty or been plagued by shady link building, simply upload a file of backlinks you want to disavow, and BOOM – you’re back in good graces. Traffic city!

Or nothing happens at all.

Few Google products have produced more fear, rumors and speculation. No one outside Google knows exactly how it works, and fewer understand how to succeed with it. To better understand, I used the tool myself to disavow 1000s of links, and talked with dozens of SEOs who used it in attempts to recover from Google penalties.

How Dangerous Is Disavow?

When you first log into the Disavow Tool, Google does everything in its power to dissuade you from actually using it with scary messaging.

Do Not Disavow

What’s the worst that could happen?

To find out how much damage I could do, I performed an experiment: Disavowing every link pointing to my website. Over 35,000 of them.

In this case, no reconsideration request was filed. Would the disavow tool work on its own?

Experiment

Disavow 35,000 Links to a Single Website

URL: http://cyrusshepard.com

Process:

  1. Download all links from Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Upload 35,000 properly formatted links to Google's Disavow Tool
  3. Wait 2 Months

Results:

Disavow-experiment

After 2 months, nothing happened. No drop in traffic.

The evidence suggests one of three possibilities:

  1. You must file a reconsideration request after disavowing your links, or…
  2. The disavow has built-in safeguards in order to protect you from disavowing good links, or…
  3. It takes longer than 2 months for Google to process all the links.

We’ve heard conflicting accounts from Googlers whether the tool works automatically, or if must file a reconsideration request for it to work. The data implies the later, although some SEOs say they’ve seen results from using the Disavow without filing a reconsideration request.

Google also states they reserve the right to ignore your disavowed links if they think you made a mistake, much like rel=”canonical”.

Best Advice: Safeguards or not, you might still shoot yourself in the foot. Be careful disavowing links!

Can You Use Disavow for Penguin?

Can you use the Disavow Tool if you haven't received a manually penalized? For example, will it work for Penguin?

The answer: maybe.

Here's a reminder: Google updates like Panda and Penguin are part of Google's overall algorithm. They automatically affect your rankings without direct human intervention. On the other hand, a manual penalty is often applied when you violate Google's guidelines. These can be both applied and lifted manually by Google's Webspam team.

Google representatives, including Matt Cutts, have gone on record to say the Disavow Tool could be used to help if you’ve been hit by Penguin (an algorithmic action), but also suggests that this applies to links that also violate Google’s Quality Guidelines.

Penguin and Google’s Unnatural Link Warnings often go hand in hand. So if you were hit by one, you are often hit by the other. Conversely, certain SEOs have claimed benefits from using the disavow on sites that were not penalized.

Best Advice: If you’ve been hit with a manual penalty, you need to file a reconsideration request if using the Disavow Tool. If you haven't been manually penalized, the benefits of using the tool are inconclusive.

Pro Tips for Reconsideration Requests

1. Remove First, Disavow Last

Google wants you to remove links first. Disavow is a last resort.

100% accuracy isn’t required, but effort counts.

Google’s Webspam team keeps a historical index of your backlink profile, so that when you file a reconsideration request they can see the links you’ve worked to remove.

2. Gather Your Links

You can use any source you want, but Google recommends downloading your Latest Links report directly from Webmaster Tools.

3. Find the Bad Links

You can do this two ways, with either automatic tools or manual analysis. Realistically, you should use both. Best Manual Analysis Resource:

Best Link Removal Research Tools:

Link Removal Resources

4. Outreach, Outreach, Outreach

Next, you’re going to send emails to get those links removed. Lots of emails.

Resources for Link Removal Outreach:

4. Trust in Google Docs

When you document your efforts, don’t submit random links to the Webspam team; they may not click on them. By sharing all your evidence via Google Docs, you provide a level of protection that helps ensure the Webspam team sees your evidence.

5. When in Doubt, Disavow Entire Domains

Google’s Disavow Tool gives you 2 options when disavowing links: individual URLs or entire domains.

Many webmasters fail at their reconsideration requests the first time because they miss too many links. The fear is that you’ll disavow something valuable, but if you’ve been rejected time and time again, this one change often leads to success.

Here’s a screenshot from Dr. Pete’s post showing both formats.

Disavow Format

Best Advice: If you are rejected after disavowing individual URLs, try disavowing entire domains.

6. Formatting Counts

Google rejects many disavow files because of bad formatting, but webmasters usually never know. Guidelines state the file type should be .txt only and “must be encoded UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII.”

7. Bonus: Extra "Removed" Links with Screaming Frog

Google’s link index of your site is rarely up to date. They undoubtedly include links that no longer exist. To find dead links quickly, download a complete file of your latest links from Google Webmaster Tools into Screaming Frog (use List Mode) or another crawler of your choice.

When finished, take any links that return a 404 and download these into a spreadsheet. Be sure to include these dead links as "Removed" when you submit your reconsideration request to Google, otherwise they may not know about them.

Conclusion

The Disavow Tool is useful, but damn tricky.

Someday, perhaps Google can get away from tools like the Disavow. Today, good SEOs can't keep up with what's considered a good link or a bad, and Google continually cracks down on what it considers a “bad link.”

For successful marketers, it’s much more fulfilling to build new links, than disavow old ones.

I suppose that's Google's point, no?

Penalty Lifted

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Google Disavow Tool

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Google launched a disavow links tool. Webmasters who want to tell Google which links they don’t want counted can now do so by uploading a list of links in Google Webmaster Tools.

If you haven’t received an “unnatural link” alert from Google, you don’t really need to use this tool. And even if you have received notification, Google are quick to point out that you may wish to pursue other avenues, such as approaching the site owner, first.

Webmasters have met with mixed success following this approach, of course. It’s difficult to imagine many webmasters going to that trouble and expense when they can now upload a txt file to Google.

Careful, Now

The disavow tool is a loaded gun.

If you get the format wrong by mistake, you may end up taking out valuable links for long periods of time. Google advise that if this happens, you can still get your links back, but not immediately.

Could the use of the tool be seen as an admission of guilt? Matt gives examples of “bad” webmaster behavior, which comes across a bit like “webmasters confessing their sins!”. Is this the equivalent of putting up your hand and saying “yep, I bought links that even I think are dodgy!”? May as well paint a target on your back.

Some webmasters have been victims of negative SEO. Some webmasters have had scrapers and autogen sites that steal their content, and then link back. There are legitimate reasons to disavow links. Hopefully, Google makes an effort to make such a distinction.

One wonders why Google simply don’t discount the links they already deem to be “bad”? Why the need for the webmaster to jump through hoops? The webmaster is still left to guess which links are “bad”, of course.

Not only is it difficult working out the links that may be a problem, it can be difficult getting a view of the entire link graph. There are various third party tools, including Google’s own Webmaster Central, but they aren’t exhaustive.

Matt mentioned that the link notification emails will provide examples of problem links, however this list won’t be exhaustive. He also mentioned that you should pay attention to the more recent links, presumably because if you haven’t received notification up until now, then older links weren’t the problem. The issue with that assumption is that links that were once good can over time become bad:

  • That donation where you helped a good cause & were later mortified that “online casino” and “discount cheap viagra” followed your course for purely altruistic reasons.
  • That clever comment on a well-linked PR7 page that is looking to cure erectile dysfunction 20 different ways in the comments.
  • Links from sources that were considered fine years ago & were later repositioned as spam (article banks anyone?)
  • Links from sites that were fine, but a number of other webmasters disavowed, turning a site that originally passed the sniff test into one that earns a second review revealing a sour stench.

This could all get rather painful if webmasters start taking out links they perceive to be a problem, but aren’t. I imagine a few feet will get blasted off in the process.

Webmasters Asked, Google Gaveth

Webmasters have been demanding such a tool since the un-natural notifications started appearing. There is no question that removing established links can be as hard, if not harder, than getting the links in the first place. Generally speaking, the cheaper the link was to get the higher the cost of removal (relative to the original purchase price). If you are renting text link ads for $ 50 a month you can get them removed simply by not paying. But if you did a bulk submission to 5,000 high PR SEO friendly directories…best of luck with that!

It is time consuming. Firstly, there’s the overhead in working out which links to remove, as Google doesn’t specify them. Once a webmaster has made a list of the links she thinks might be a problem, she then needs to go through the tedious task of contacting each sites and requesting that a link be taken down.

Even with the best will in the world, this is an overhead for the linking site, too. A legitimate site may wish to verify the identity of the person requesting the delink, as the delink request could come from a malicious competitor. Once identity has been established, the site owner must go to the trouble of making the change on their site.

This is not a big deal if a site owner only receives one request, but what if they receive multiple requests per day? It may not be unreasonable for a site owner to charge for the time taken to make the change, as such a change incurs a time cost. If the webmaster who has incurred a penalty has to remove many links, from multiple sites, then such costs could quickly mount. Taken to the (il)logical extremes, this link removal stuff is a big business. Not only are there a number of link removal services on the market, but one of our members was actually sued for linking to a site (when the person who was suing them paid to place the link!)

What’s In It For Google?

Webmasters now face the prisoner’s dilemma and are doing Google’s job for them.

It’s hard to imagine this data not finding it’s way to the manual reviewers. If there are multiple instances of webmasters reporting paid links from a certain site, then Google have more than enough justification to take it out. This would be a cunning way around the “how do we know if a link is paid?” problem.

Webmasters will likely incorporate bad link checking into their daily activities. Monitoring inbound links wasn’t something you had to watch in the past, as links were good, and those that weren’t, didn’t matter, as they didn’t affect ranking anyway. Now, webmasters may feel compelled to avoid an unnatural links warning by meticulously monitoring their inbound links and reporting anything that looks odd. Google haven’t been clear on whether they would take such action as a result – Matt suggests they just reclassify the link & see it as a strong suggestion to treat it like the link has a nofollow attribute – but no doubt there will be clarification as the tool beds in. Google has long used a tiered index structure & enough complaints might lower the tier of a page or site, cause it’s ability to pass trust to be blocked, or cause the site to be directly penalized.

This is also a way of reaffirming “the law”, as Google sees it. In many instances, it is no fault of the webmaster that rogue sites link up, yet the webmaster will feel compelled to jump through Google’s hoops. Google sets the rules of the game. If you want to play, then you play by their rules, and recognize their authority. Matt Cutts suggested:

we recommend that you contact the sites that link to you and try to get links taken off the public web first. You’re also helping to protect your site’s image, since people will no longer find spammy links and jump to conclusions about your website or business.

Left unsaid in the above is most people don’t have access to aggregate link data while they surf the web, most modern systems of justice are based on the presumption of innocence rather than guilt, and most rational people don’t presume that a site that is linked to is somehow shady simply for being linked to.

If the KKK links to Matt’s blog tomorrow that doesn’t imply anything about Matt. And when Google gets featured in an InfoWars article it doesn’t mean that Google desires that link or coverage. Many sketchy sites link to Adobe (for their flash player) or sites like Disney & Google for people who are not old enough to view them or such. Those links do not indicate anything negative about the sites being linked into. However, as stated above, search is Google’s monopoly to do with as they please.

On the positive side, if Google really do want sites to conform to certain patterns, and will reward them for doing so by letting them out of jail, then this is yet another way to clean up the SERPs. They get the webmaster on side and that webmaster doing link classification work for them for free.

Who, Not What

For a decade search was driven largely by meritocracy. What you did was far more important than who you were. It was much less corrupt than the physical world. But as Google chases brand ad Dollars, that view of the search landscape is no longer relevant.

Large companies can likely safely ignore much of the fear-first approach to search regulation. And when things blow up they can cast off blame on a rogue anonymous contractor of sorts. Whereas smaller webmasters walk on egg shells.

When the government wanted to regulate copyright issues Google claimed it would be too expensive and kill innovation at small start ups. Google then drafted their own copyright policy from which they themselves are exempt. And now small businesses not only need to bear that cost but also need to police their link profiles, even as competitors can use Fivver, ScrapeBox, splog link networks & various other sources to drip a constant stream of low cost sludge in their direction.

Now more than ever, status is important.

Gotchas

No doubt you’ve thought of a few. A couple thoughts – not that we advocate them, but realize they will happen:

  • Intentionally build spam links to yourself & then disavow them (in order to make your profile look larger than it is & to ensure that competitor who follows everything you do – but lacks access to your disavow data – walks into a penalty).
  • Find sites that link to competitors and leave loads of comments for the competitor on them, hoping that the competitor blocks the domain as a whole.
  • Find sites that link to competitors & buy links from them into a variety of other websites & then disavow from multiple accounts.
  • Get a competitor some link warnings & watch them push to get some of their own clean “unauthorized” links removed.
  • The webmaster who parts on poor terms burning the bridge behind them, or leaving a backdoor so that they may do so at anytime.

If a malicious webmaster wanted to get a target site in the bad books, they could post obvious comment spam – pointing at their site, and other sites. If this activity doesn’t result in an unnatural linking notification, then all good. It’s a test of how Google values that domain. If it does result in an unnatural link notification, the webmaster could then disavow links from that site. Other webmasters will likely do the same. Result: the target site may get taken out.

To avoid this sort of hit, pay close attention to your comment moderation.

Please add your own to the comments! :) Gotchas, that is, not rogue links.

Further opinions @ searchengineland and seoroundtable.

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