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Mad Science Experiments in SEO & Social Media

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Mad Science Experiments in SEO & Social Media Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz rand@moz.com | @randfish


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Caveat #1 I am not a scientist.


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Caveat #2 Search engines & social platforms change. These results probably will, too.


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Caveat #3 Don’t misinterpret my enthusiasm for certainty! Skepticism of even those tests that produces consistent, repeatable results is wise.


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with some fun, less rigorous, one-off tests. Let’s Start


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Has Google Really “Stuck a Fork” in All Forms of Guest Blogging?


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Via Matt Cutts’ Blog


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My Problogger Guest Post


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My Takeaway: There’s a kind of guest post Google wants to count and a kind they don’t. If you can’t tell the difference, do as Matt says and stick a fork in it ?


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Did Google’s Removal of Author Pics Directly Affect AdWords CTR?


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Via Wordstream’s Blog: http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2014/07/10/removal-google-photos-impacts-ad-ctr


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“…it’s clear to us that based on this data, it’s not realistic to say the deletion of Google authorship photos has no impact on the CTR of other elements on the SERP.” - Larry Kim, Wordstream


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Avg CTR change 2wks prior vs 2 wks after removal Appearance of authorship in top 10 Keyphrase bid on by Moz SEO Tools SEO Backlinks KW Research Tool Keyword Search Mozrank -5% +19% +8% -1% -13% +23% #3, #4, #9, #10 #3, #9 #2, #6, #10 #3, #5, #7, #8, #9 #3, #5, #7, #8 #5, #7, #8, #9


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My Takeaway: Larger sample sets are critical to understand whether authorship pics removal positively affected AdWords CTR. I wouldn’t categorize us as having a “smoking gun” at this point.


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Do Photo Tweetstorms Cost Followers or Grow Them?


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The most followers I’ve ever lost in a day


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How does that compare to an average Sunday?


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My Takeaway: Photo tweetstorms are probably too interruptive (even when “on topic”) to be a valuable tool for me on a regular basis.


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Can Internal Links Move the Needle By Themselves?


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Ugh. Page Three? I can do better than that.


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I went to ~15 of the most relevant pages on Moz, and added a link to the post from inside the content (not footers/sidebars/nav).


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3 weeks after these pages were re-indexed with the new link, the page dropped 2 ranking positions ?


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Bill Sebald ran a very similar test1 and found similar results (inconsistent, minor movement)


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My Takeaway: I’m in the process of repeating this test a few more times, but I suspect internal anchor text and links are still playing a relatively minor role (especially when it’s older pages being updated)


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Can Anchor Text Influence Search Suggest?


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A few years back, I started using this anchor text to link to Geraldine’s blog in my official bio (which goes on a lot of event sites when I speak)


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Hmm… That’s interesting.


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Not a personalized thing.


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Other non-anchor phrases in the bio don’t appear to be impacting suggest


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Research paper SERPs may be another good example of this


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Only 18 results for this phrase, but all are linking with the exact anchor text to this PDF document


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My Takeaway: More testing is needed, but it seems likely that anchor text influences search suggest more so than other kinds of in-document, text-based phrase use.


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More rigorous, controlled, repeatable experiments Phase 2


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Does Google Index URLs Shared on Social Media Faster?


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Using nonsense words with few results, I created a variety of test pages w/ no links to them.


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Some I tweeted (not all from my account)


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Others were shared on Google+


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Shared on Google+ Shared on Twitter In XML Sitemap Only ~12 hours ~10 hours ~11 hours ~12 hours ~11 hours ~3 days 3-4 days *each test was performed on a unique URL and keyword combination with no overlap and no conflating factors I could find (e.g. links, non-network sharing, etc)


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My Takeaway: The effect may be related to scrapers or something else (and not directly tied to social networks), but regardless, social sharing looks to be a consistently faster indexing method.


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Can Google+ Shares or +1s Impact Non-Personalized Search?


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#21 #22 #23 #24 #25 #26 At 10:50am, the test URL ranked #26 in logged-out, non-personalized, non-geo-biased, Google US results.


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42 minutes later, after ~30 shares, 40 +1s, and several other G+ accounts posting the link, the target moved up to position #23 #21 #22 #23 #24 #25 #26


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#21 #22 #23 #24 #25 #26 48 hours later, after 100 shares of the post, 95 +1s, and tons of additional posts, the result was back down to #25


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#21 #22 #23 #24 #25 #26 It bounced around a little, settled in at #22, then recently fell again to #29


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Many G+ users personalized results, however, were clearly affected. #1 #2 #3 #4 #5


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Eric Enge and the Stone Temple crew ran a much more in-depth analysis2 with consistent, similar results.


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My Takeaway: Activity on Google+ does not appear to directly influence non-personalized rankings. But for personalized/logged-in rankings, they can still be powerful.


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Has Anchor Text Lost Its Once Mighty Impact on Rankings?


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1) Three word, informational keyword phrase with relatively light competition and stable rankings Test Conditions: 2) We selected two results (“A” and “B”), ranking #13 (“A”) and #20 ( “B”) in logged-out, non-personalized results 3) We pointed links from 20 pages on 20 unique, high-DA, high-trust, off-topic sites at both “A” and “B”


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A) We pointed 20 links from 20 domains at this result with anchor text exactly matching the query phrase #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 B) We pointed 20 links from the same 20 pages as “A” to this URL with anchor text that did not contain any words in the query


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#11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 After 20 days, all of the links had been indexed by Google. “A” and “B” both moved up 4 positions. None of the other results moved more than 2 positions.


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Repeat the Experiment!


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B) We pointed 20 links from 20 domains to this URL with anchor text that did not contain any words in the query #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 A) We pointed 20 links from the same pages/domains at this result with anchor text exactly matching the query phrase


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1) Three word, informational keyword phrase with relatively light competition and stable rankings Anchor Text Test #2 2) We selected two results (“A” and “B”), ranking #20 (“A”) and #14 ( “B”) in logged-out, non-personalized results 3) We pointed links from 20 pages on 20 unique, high-DA, high-trust, off-topic sites at both “A” and “B”


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#11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 After 16 days, all of the links had been indexed by Google. “A” moved up 19 positions to #1! B moved up 5 positions to #9. None of the other results moved more than 2 positions.


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Repeat the Experiment!


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1) Three word, hobby-related keyword phrase with very light competition and stable rankings Anchor Text Test #3 2) We selected two results (“A” and “B”), ranking #31 (“A”) and #11 ( “B”) in logged-out, non-personalized results 3) We pointed links from the same 20 pages on 20 unique, high-DA, high-trust, off-topic sites at both “A” and “B”


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B) Non-anchor links pointed here #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #31 #32 #33 #34 #35 #36 #37 #38 #39 #40 A) Anchor text links pointed here


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#11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 After 8 days, not quite all of the links had been indexed by Google. “A” moved up 30 positions to #1! B moved up 1 position to #10. None of the other results moved more than 2 positions.


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My Takeaway: Links with exact match anchor text are still considerably more powerful than non-anchor match links (and surprisingly powerful overall).


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Do Nofollowed Links Have Any Direct Impact on Rankings?


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1) Low search volume queries with very stable results (first test was on a competitive result, second was on a very low difficulty query) Nofollow Link Tests 2) All links were nofollowed (confirmed by asking IMEC participants to submit their URLs in web form) 3) Links were placed in page content, never comments, footers, headers, nav, or sidebars


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Test #1: We pointed nofollow links from pages on 55 unique domains at the page ranking #16 #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20


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Test #1: After indexation of all the links, the page only moved up a single result. #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20


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#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 Test #1: We asked participants to remove the nofollows, and the page moved up rapidly to #6


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Repeat the Experiment!


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#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 Test #2: We pointed nofollow links from pages on 42 unique domains at the page ranking #9


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#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 Test #2: After indexing all the nofollow links, the page rose to position #6 and stayed there.


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#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 Test #2: We asked participants to remove the nofollows. Upon indexation, the page rose to position #5 where it remains (75% of links re-indexed 8 days later)


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My Takeaway: The experiment needs to be repeated 2-3 more times at least, but early data suggests there may be a relationship between ranking increases and in-content, nofollowed links


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A Fascinating Side-Effect Presented Itself in All of Our Link-Based Experiments


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#11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 Months after the links had been removed, every page we linked to continued to rank considerably higher than their initial position


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#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 This phenomenon has consistently held true for our more recent link tests, though those links have only been down weeks rather than months.


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Respect to Martin Panayotov and Mike King. They called it 3 years ago in the Moz blog comments.


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My Takeaway: Link ghosts appear to be a real phenomenon with powerful and lasting effects. Studying this more could lead to some fascinating insights & tactics.


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Can Query & Click Volume Directly Impact Rankings?


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At the time I sent this tweet, the page had been live and indexed for just under 9 days


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3hrs + 228 clicks later


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Repeat the Experiment!


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1) 4 of the 6 were totally private, known only to the IMEC testing group. 2 were publicly promoted on social. 6 Unique Query & Click Tests 2) Queries with very little to no search volume were chosen. Clicks confirmed through a web form & analytics. 3) We strived to make the queries and clicks happen in as short a period as possible, but this was quite hard w/ the private tests (public tests were done in 3-6 hour windows)


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Private test: 164 clicks Private test: 143 clicks Private test: 148 clicks +1 position +1 position +1 position Each test was performed on relatively non-competitive SERPs with low search volume, old pages ranking, and nearly no movement or new results or new incoming links to ranking pages. Public test: 581 clicks Public test: 434 clicks Disamb test: 148 clicks +1 position +1 position -1 position


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I worried that by publishing a blog post on the experiment, we nudged Google to tighten their criteria around how clicks influence rankings (but it’s impossible to test that hypothesis) From my blog post on Queries & Clicks


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Just try it one more time…


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#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 8 days after its publication, this blog post ranked #10 for this query


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315 clicks and ~2 hours later… It’s ranking #5! #1 #2 #3 #4 #5


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#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 After another 30 minutes (3 hours total) and 60 clicks (~375 total), it’s moved to #1


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My Takeaway: Queries and clicks can, at least in some circumstances, have an effect on rankings. Determining what triggers this effect is our next step.


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Experiments Future


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Does text surrounding a link influence the ranking of the linked-to page? Could these words near this link make that page rank better for queries that include (or are related) to them?


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How many searches does it take to impact search suggest?


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Do On-Topic Links Pass More Value than Off-Topic Links?


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Will multiple links from a high authority site move rankings more than one link each from multiple, low authority sites?


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Can we get wider reach for Facebook posts with a little upfront engagement?


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the Quest! Join


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Contribute to IMEC Lab experiments by signing up at: bit.ly/imeclab


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Download: bit.ly/mozmadscience


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