Nick Wilsdon

Lead SEO, Group Optimisation at Vodafone. Founder at E3 Business Incubator, a consultancy group helping enterprises and start-ups. Digital strategist and veteran SEO/SEM. Views are my own and not representative of my employer (more).

How to Make Seasonal Keyword Heatmaps

Screenshot 2015-05-17 22.05.30I recently had the opportunity to present at the SEJsummit London – a jointly run event between SEJ and SearchMetrics. The event focuses on practical takeaways for in-house and agency marketers.

As part of my presentation, I used an example of a Seasonal Keyword Heat Map. Several people at the event and through Twitter asked questions on this, so I thought I’d follow up with a post describing this technique.

Below you can see a seasonal keyword heat map for the term “holidays + destination”. The red boxes indicate low search volume while green ones indicate high search volume. In this example, we can see that people are generally searching for holidays in Italy or Croatia in January while they look for holidays in Cyprus or Tunisia in August. Spain is a winner in terms of average monthly search interest.

seasonal-keyword-heatmap

The value of this exercise is fairly obvious. It can inform your content calendar or on-page optimisation – and engage clients with this activity. I’ve used it to gain insight on user demand for products and even, as search interest on some keywords can be driven by mass media budgets, identify patterns in competitor spending that can be hijacked.

This is an incredibly easy data exercise to carry out. You only need 15 minutes, Google Keyword Planner data and a copy of Microsoft Excel.

The first task is to use the Google Keyword Planner tool, to get the search volume for a selected group of keywords.

Screenshot 2015-05-18 00.30.11

Once you have these results, then download this data to Excel CVS – making sure you check the box “Segment statistics by month”.

Screenshot 2015-05-18 00.38.36

Screenshot 2015-05-18 00.48.15Once you open this document in Excel all that is left to do is to apply, on a row-by-row basis, some conditional formatting for the colouring.

I hope that was useful. Let me know in the comments how you used these charts and any unusual results they highlighted.

Update: Just been pointed to this post by Chris Moore entitled “Excel conditional formatting per row – heat map” with a handy macro to make colouring in the rows even easier. Thx Chris!

How To Set Up Email & SMS Alerts On Robots.txt Changes

If you get a chance try to attend the Twitter chat sessions run by SEMrush, the folk behind the well-known marketing tool. It’s a great way to view crowdsourced Q&As from the marketing community.

Last week’s session was run by Ian Lurie, a veteran of the industry. You can see one of the exchanges below – view the whole discussion by viewing the questions (Q1-Q6) on the @semrush feed against the answers tagged with #semrushchat.

Disallowing access to Google, via the robots.txt is a very common problem for SEOs. Most developers ensure their working versions are excluded from Google, to prevent duplicate content leaking online. It’s easy to see how their version of the robots.txt can be copied over the live version – quickly resulting in Google deindexing the website in question.

Once this deindexing starts, the clock is ticking on getting the robots.txt file fixed. Dropping out of the search index for a major brand site is an expensive lesson in the importance of this file.

To keep on top of this issue, I recommend signing up to the free service at ChangeDetection.com. Enter the URL of each robots.txt file you wish to monitor and they will email you as soon as changes are detected. In addition, they will store a log of each change so you have a record to check for your forensic SEO investigations (useful when developers have caused and then fixed this issue, but not let anyone know).

Mid-2004 Google Webmaster Tools added their robots.txt testing tool that generated email alerts and logged changes to the file. When this was released it became an additional check for me, but I kept using ChangeDetection on the basis that multiple checks wouldn’t hurt – and in practice GWT access is often setup for agencies with a generic email address, so alerts would not come to my personal inbox.

Screenshot 2015-05-17 00.56.08Unlike GWT, you do not need any authorisation to set up ChangeDetection, so it can even be used to monitor competitors or potential clients.

When IFTTT came on the scene, this warning system got even better. With a few clicks, you can set up ChangeDetection and GWT emails to come to your phone as SMS (the IFTTT recipe for email to SMS here). Well that’s my process, if you have any improvements or tips then please share below.

Opportunities In Mobile Search Have Only Just Begun

With the hype surrounding Google’s Mobile Update on the 21st April you could be forgiven for thinking that the subject of mobile search has died down a little. You’d be wrong though, the mobile update was just the beginning.

For the first time, at their #StepInsideAdWords event last Tuesday, Google has stated that mobile searches have overtaken desktop in 10 countries, including the US and Japan. After talking about the year-of-mobile at conferences since 2008 – it seems to have finally arrived.

However Google faces a significant problem in mobile search. While their superiority as a search engine has been largely based on search relevance, this means little if the user experience is poor. TechCrunch found that 44% of the Fortune 500 companies failed Google’s mobile friendly test. And if we’re being honest, that’s really the entry level position at the moment.

carrot-stick-approachSo Google needs to up their game significantly on mobile, before a competitor starts offering a better experience in this growing search space. That means delivering a series of “carrots and sticks” to get brands to deliver a better mobile experience for Google users.

The first “stick” in this campaign has been Google’s mobile update on the 21st April, which was largely about getting websites to address basic mobile configuration issues and retain their traffic. While you could argue the “carrot” was the chance of better rankings, this would have been more a consequence of competitor failings.

The true “carrot” has been the release of Google’s app indexation and deep linking. Google knows that sometimes the best answer to a mobile search query isn’t a web page at all, but content found within a mobile app. Google’s guide on App Searching For Mobile Search should be required reading for any SEOs right now, and Jill Kocher has written an excellent article on this topic:.

In April, Google announced that it would be offering links to pages within mobile apps, not only for searchers who have the app installed, but also for all mobile searchers on Android devices. This is good news for ecommerce sites with excellent apps that are having trouble increasing their app user base, because Google’s search results can help increase install rates as well as boost re-engagement from existing users.

Brands who have already heavily invested in their app infrastructure could already direct users to that content and deliver a superior user experience. For example, imagine a user investigating a mobile carrier outage – conducting this through the app would allow the brand to capture all the information they need to turn that search inquiry into a report, topped off with a CRM process that lets the user know once the outage had been fixed.

This opportunity enters unchartered waters for some SEOs. They will have to start thinking carefully around search intent, website/app content and how these journeys could best be served. Together with colleagues from every side of the business, they should help identify and engineer user search journeys into the most positive experience available.

Can Search Data Rescue Inaccurate Election Polling?

Arguably the biggest losers from this last UK election have been the polling companies. Throughout the election process they predicted the main political parties were deadlocked, while the election delivered a decisive win for the Conservative Party.

Historically there are plenty of polls that have missed the mark but in this age of data, our trust in polls seems to have grown out of proportion with their accuracy. The strategies the political parties adopted during the election were based on the poll data. The media coverage and focus was on dealing with a hung parliament rather than on the issues that the parties stood for. The UK election will be a case study in the pitfalls of trusting poll data.

But could we have done better, in this age of data? Perhaps. According to the Head of YouGov, Peter Kellner, the polls before the election were far off the mark because voters said one thing, but then did another once they got to the ballot box.

This phenomenon has been put down to the Shy Tory Factor, when conservative voters provide misleading answers to pollsters or refuse to participate in exit polls (where it is called “non-response bias” by pollsters).

The prevailing theory is that these Shy Tory, or Shy Conservative, voters opt out of polling, or offer misleading answers, because they don’t view the elite media, who sponsor the opinion and exit polls, as truly neutral.

Google certainly see some opportunity to address this bias and discover what people really think. They employed a PhD student at Harvard University, Stephens-Davidowitz, after he investigated the potential of Google search data to gauge users’ views. People are more likely to be honest in searches than in polls, he reasoned, for example people Google the word “porn” far more than most ever let on.

So it seems like search could provide the answer to poll accuracy in the future, together with social platforms like Facebook, who are developing their understanding of audience similarities to scale their marketing propositions. Although whether these tech giants wants to step into this influential role, in light of current EU Anti-trust legislation against Google or the negative feedback on their other studies is another question.

In any case there are lessons here for aspiring data analysts – our focus should increasingly be on search intent.

We should be examining search data carefully to determine what our users think and prioritising this information over user surveys. Search-engine specialists, together with their UX, PR and social media colleagues, should help identify and engineer user search journeys into positive experiences. When it comes to measuring or influencing sentiment towards a political party –or brand– I predict this approach will come to be surprisingly effective.

Three Easy Steps To Protect Your Online Identity

Top 10 BreachesIt’s a familiar news story these days – yet another major website is compromised and thousands of user account details are leaked online.

Now there is a website to help you discover if your details have been taken in this way. HaveIBeenPwned.com has been launched by Troy Hunt, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional awardee for Developer Security and international speaker on web security.

Insert your email address on the website to find out if your details have been leaked, in the original attack or subsequently in one of the many occasions these details are shared online.

Now if you find your account has been compromised, don’t panic. The first course of action is to change that password, not just on the hacked website but on any any other website where that password is used.

This is the problem with online passwords. Because they are hard to remember we have a tendency to use the same password more than once. Hackers know this, so once they have your email and password combination they will use this on other popular websites. If they’re really lucky, you used this combination for your email account. At which point they can simply request passwords to be resent to them, or even impersonate you directly.

Scary stuff, but there are easy steps which you can take to protect yourself and limit the damage from these website attacks.

Step 1: Set Up Email Alerts

On the haveibeenpwned.com website, click in the Notify Me option in the menu. Troy has kindly set up free email alerts to let you know if your account has been compromised. Feel free to buy him a morning latte on the donation page, he deserves it.

Step 2: Learn to use a password keeper

If we used a unique password for every website, these kind of data leaks would not be such an issue. This would be impossible for us to remember but help is at hand, in the form of password keepers.

These tools keep all your passwords in one place, and you only have to remember the access login to the tool. lastpass-logoI would recommend Keepass (hosted on your computer) or LastPass (hosted online), depending on your preferences.

If you host the password keeper tool on your own computer, then save the password database in DropBox, Google Drive or similar file back-up service. You can then access either system through any internet connected device – including your mobile.

Step 3: Protect your email at all costs

Special protection should be considered for your email account, as this is the nexus point for your online security. Once your email has been breached then other passwords can be requested.

Many online email providers, such as Gmail, are now offering two-factor authentication (2FA) protection. Once set up, the system will request a code sent by SMS to your phone, in addition to your password. You can set this system up in Gmail by following this guide.

For bonus points you might want to look at using a security key, such as those sold by Yubico. These are physical USB devices that will authenticate access to your password keeper. As of October Google has allowed these devices to be used on their accounts,

Multiple keys can be bought, so you have a backup but it is worth reading Brian Proffitt’s article on what to do if you loose your 2FA device.

Hopefully this article has set you on the path to better online security. This is one area where is pays to be proactive, so make this a weekend project to protect yourself and your clients. If you have any questions, then please let me know below.