Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tips for taking Google Analytics Individual Qualification (IQ) exam

Passing the Google Analytics IQ exam is not incredibly difficult as long as you are adequately prepared. However, if you take this test for granted you will not receive a passing score. After recently taking and passing the exam, here are some tips that may help you should you decide to earn proof of proficiency in Google Analytics. Another good resource is Patrick Moogan's Passing the Google Analytics IQ Exam.

1. Whether you have years of analytics experience or none, take the time to watch all of the Google Analytics IQ Lessons. Each lesson covers a lot of material very quickly and is a great learning tool even if you do not shell out the $50 to take the qualification exam.

2. The exam is "open book" so make sure you keep a browser tab open to the Google Analytics Help Center and also another with a Google Analytics account. Many of the questions on the exam are specific to the GA interface, so it helps to be able to go into a GA dashboard to double-check your answers. Even though you can search for help, don't rely on it. For most questions, I had a pretty good idea what the answer was, but it's nice to be able to double-check.

3. The test is 90 minutes long and consists of 70 questions (as of March 14, 2010, anyway). You need to answer 56 questions (80 percent) correctly in order to pass. If you search for information on the test, you will likely see 75 percent mentioned as the passing score. This is no longer the case, as the passing score was raised to 80 percent earlier this year. Each question is multiple choice but many are of the check-as-many-that-apply variety, which can get tricky. Many questions also require you to have a strong grasp of the GA tracking code, how to modify it and also a solid understanding of regular expressions.

4. Even though the test is only 90 minutes long, you can pause the test at any time and come back (you have five days to finish after starting it). When you pause the test, it exits you completely from the exam so you are unable to see any remaining questions. However, let's say you were to use Snipping Tool or some other screen capture tool on a particular tough question BEFORE you pause the test. That would allow you to take some extra time on some of the more difficult questions.

5. Most of my analytics experience is for content-based sites that have little, if any, e-commerce conversions to track. That's probably why I found the e-commerce sections of the test to be the most difficult, so be prepared for plenty of e-commerce questions, as well as integration with Google Adwords. Again, many of the questions are interface-related, so, for example, make sure you know where to go to enable autotagging, where to add/edit user access, etc.

6. Prepare and take your time. I hate taking timed tests and found myself tempted to rush through the test as that clock ticked down. The test does allow you to mark questions if you want to come back to it later. I highly recommend taking advantage of that feature.

You might be asking yourself, "As a journalist, why would I need proof of proficiency in a web analytics program?" Good question. It's very possible you do not. But in a business that is increasingly Web-first, it certainly couldn't hurt and may give you an edge over another candidate for a job opening. For independent bloggers and news gatherers, having strong analytics skills is invaluable. It's important to know who came to your site, where your visitors came from, what they searched for and, in some cases, why and how.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Meta tags and search engines

Understanding meta tags and how they relate to search-engine results pages (SERPs) is one of the most fundamental concepts of SEO. This article below is a great overview of what each meta tag is and where it displays within a SERP.

To summarize the recommended length of the two most important meta tags -- title and description -- the meta title is about half a tweet (70 characters) and the meta description is about the length of one tweet (140 characters). Any longer and you're potentially throwing valuable keywords out the window.

Unloved, But Still Important: How To Leverage Meta Tags: "I’ve put together a multi-part series covering important aspects of SEO. If you are new to SEO, these tips will help you build a strong foundation for obtaining SEO traffic. For those of you who are more advanced in SEO, my hope is that you’ll pick up a tip or strategy that you aren’t currently [...]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Google Decade: Search In Review, 2000 To 2009

Since I don't have time to come up with my own thoughts lately, I thought I would occasionally post interesting articles that I think would be appropriate to this blog's audience. Enjoy!

The Google Decade: Search In Review, 2000 To 2009: "The 2000s were notable as the first full decade of consumer search. The first decade ever where you could try to sum up what happened in search, as a consumer product. And what happened, in a word, was Google.
In the 1990s, Google barely existed. If search were a religion, it was polytheistic. There were a [...]

Saturday, September 26, 2009

SEO and geography: Where the hell are you?

One of the things I find frustrating with many of the Web sites I consult with is that I oftentimes have no clue where the group is located.

Many of these sites are for individual chapters of our organization, so they are literally all over the map, in the U.S., Canada and a few other countries. So I find it frustrating when, say, I'm trying to determine where the North Coast chapter is and it takes me 15 minutes to determine that it's in Ohio, of all places.

Too often I think we assume people know who we are and where we're located. We don't take into account the search-engine tourists who may stumble on your site by accident. Maybe they have no interest in your content and will never spend a dime on your product, but if your content is in any way specific to one region, you should always let that be known in your page title and/or "about" information. 

I think this definitely can apply to newspapers, especially community sites with vague names. For example, I used to work for a paper called the Dispatch Tribune. Unless you live in that community, you'd have no idea where the paper is located. 

If the chapter mentioned above had mentioned Ohio in its page title, that obviously would help users determine whether or not to click through to your site. Also, maybe they don't know the exact name of your organization but they're looking for a group like yours in that area of the country. If your site in no way mentions where you are, you're potentially missing out on new visitors, customers, subscribers or members. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

New content challenges

Let me start off with one of those trite sentences about how long it's been since I've updated this blog. Yes, it has been a long time, but I've also been very busy with some new projects.

Of course, the biggest change came in September when I accepted a new job. This change will likely impact the subject matter of this blog going forward, but I don't intend to change the title or the focus completely. Hopefully I will still have some SEO content that will relate to journalists and other media professionals.

The new job, however, is really quite a change and a whole new challenge.

At my last job, I helped a group of magazines develop their online content strategies. The new gig is for a professional organization for administrative professionals. The organization has a fairly robust Web community, which offers its members a variety of social networking options, as well as a simple content management system (CMS) for its chapter and division Web sites. The organization has somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 members, all of whom could potentially contact me with questions. So, yeah, it's a much bigger pool of people to deal with. But so far, it hasn't been too overwhelming.

There really is very little emphasis on SEO at this point, but I hope to eventually (and gradually) inject some SEO principles to the group, which I think has the potential to bring in some new members.

So, at this new job, we have 100's of chapters and divisions all over the country. Most of them have their own Web site. When these webmasters have questions or problems with their sites, they email me. They also email me if they can't log on to our headquarters' web community. They also email me to ask how to add documents to their online libraries, and how to upload images, how to place a sponsor's ad, how to have their site added to our chapter locator, "What's a domain, anyway," and "Can we add this or that to the site?"

Basically, I do a lot of explaining, a lot of impromptu tutorials and emails fixing problems and finding solutions.

But I think the change will give me a different perspective on Web content than where I came from. It's a totally new focus, with different needs, different people and very different levels of Web knowledge. I definitely think getting away from ad impressions, page views, unique visitors and all that other "revenue-facing" junk will be good.

It's definitely a different work environment, but also not bad. I really enjoy everybody I work with in our building, and the members I interact with on a daily basis have, for the most part, been very easy to work with. I expect it will open some doors to some new ideas, so hopefully I'll have time to occasionally share some of them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Most important SEO strategy for Web sites

Of all the search-engine optimization (SEO) tricks and strategies, what is the single-most important? This is a question that was posed to me this morning during a meeting.

To be honest, I never really had thought about it, so the question caught me a bit off-guard. On a day-to-day basis, I worry about so many little SEO parts that add up to a whole, that picking one as most important had never occurred to me. But after giving it more thought throughout the day, I think I stand by my gut reaction: Page titles.

Of all the microscopic, behind-the-scenes tricks you can implement, the first words readers see in a search-engine results page (SERP) are still your most important. Not your headline, H1, H2 tags or any linking strategy, keyword density or any other SEO jargon. It sounds simple but then search-engine users want simple answers to their search queries.

For example, let's say you built a great informational landing page about woodchucks because, well, aren't we all looking for great information about woodchucks? You could have the best content in the world about woodchucks, if your page title says "Welcome" or something else generic, a search-engine user is more likely to click on one of your woodchuck competitors that came up with a more search-friendly page title. It doesn't matter if your woodchuck page is somehow the first result listed, your crummy title negates that.

Ironically, since I use Blogger for this blog, I can't modify the page title of each blog post, but since most of my advertisers, uh, do not exist, I really don't care where my blog ranks. But if you do care, you should think about every single title of every page on your site.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Community newspaper survival guide

"Ten Things Local Newspapers Need To Do" is an interesting article that ran on this morning.

Here are some of my favorites:

"3. Out with circ staff, in with SEO: This one will be hard for newspapers to follow, but Glaser says to cut the circulation, printing, print production side and supplant them with more tech, SEO, community managers. Your readers are online and it’s time to cultivate that readership."

OK, for selfish reasons, I really like No. 3, but I do believe community newspapers should invest more money in their online staffs, both editorial and advertising. Community newspapers should also help small companies create a better Web presence for their business. If you can help little guys like Nick's Good Times Tow -- (Aside: That's a real business, and I always imagine having my car towed by them and being handed a beer or something.) -- improve its Web presence, it's only going to help your ability to sell local online advertising.

"6. Find a better reason for multimedia: Just because anyone can use a video camera, doesn’t mean you should run clips for the hell of it. Find a good reason to use video or audio—and if you don’t have one, don’t use it."

At the same time, don't assume you have to use a lot of expensive equipment and know a lot about video production in order to use video on your site. A cheap digital camera, YouTube and a basic understanding of Windows MovieMaker is a good place to start.

"9. You’re in the directory business: Newspapers missed out early on by not broadening their advertiser mix to include plumbers and pizza places. Online directories snapped up those dollars when the space was still growing substantially. Still, better late than ever, a number of newspapers have been turning to local businesses they previously ignored. And given newspapers’ continued brand advantage, they can set up their own local directories and beat the interlopers at their own game."

Creating directories are a great way to attract new readers and encourage readers to come to your site for more than news. For each directory, you should create a separate page for each business or organization that you list. This will help you rank for each business or organization and will also increase your average page views per visit (stickiness).