I am trying a different approach to my blogging here – closer to creative writing – and would love feedback. This method could be more effective than link building, if you aren’t interested in my story then you can find the data here.
T’was just past midnight this Friday. Bass shook the walls violently keeping the peasants (me et al) on the outside, longingly nodding our heads with less enthusiasm each time a new tune dropped. Funny smelling smoke floated over the razor wire fence that blocked our access. It meandered away in thick clouds blowing in the wind – carefree as us, had we been inside.
The lost and the damned of Bristol town; stuck out in the early autumnal chill, waving our (admittedly not very) expensive tickets to bouncers who cared nought for our plight. We had no choice beyond idle small talk and pretending not to line cut. The crush from behind intensified as most bodies had the same idea – step on people’s toes, get ahead in life. Few gave up to wandering around aimlessly with their phones out looking for an in. Opportunity.
Wait, What, Why?
What does any of this have to do with my SEO I hear you asking, mouse crawling towards the back button. My Friday night theatrics are a modification on a little explored SEO theory which could compete with link building. Moz showed a similar method move one of their pages 6 spaces up the organic listings to #1 in just 3 hours.*
Both these ranking factors are harder to prove than most. Some people believe that bookmarks are as strong a ranking factor as backlinks. Others believe that Google completely ignores them. Later I’ll analyse data from both sides of the debate and come to my own conclusion but I urge you to see what log
In the meantime you can’t just trust other people’s experience. Pro or casual if you have the chance you should explore test every factor you can. Google are so secretive, who knows what treasure you can uncover with a bit of analysis.
*Case study analysis in ‘Clickthrough rate and Correlations‘
Chrome & Clubbing
For a while I’ve wanted to do a study on the power of Google’s non search focussed products for SEO. Friday night I had the bonus of a lot of bored people, drunk or worse, all with E-Tickets on their internet connected smartphones. This was my eureka moment.
Scanning the crowd I rapidly homed in on my first victim, alone and on his phone. I skipped through the queue, a social chameleon getting ever closer to the door. “Hi I’m Dave, this queuing sucks doesn’t it?” (It really did) not my greatest opener, but it worked.
Or maybe it was the beer I offered him because small talk flowed, eventually making it’s way to what we do for a living. BINGO. “Check my blog out, it has loads of marketing tips to help you make money online.”
He obliged. What a gent.
“Could you Search for Brighton SEO Consultant using chrome logged into your Google account?”
It’s a term I know I am easily found for, gets low traffic but converts well. I haven’t yet got the number one slot cemented although generally hover between 1-3 on the SERPs. Perfect.
As requested we use his Samsung Galaxy something (Android OS) with Chrome and were logged into (a) Google account. My hypothesis would be that’s the optimal way to get the most mobile ranking juice.
We were both slightly past tipsy, my friend struggling to spell “Optimise” while I slowly found the hyphen my muscle memory usually hits. With him holding his phone and me stabbing in letters with my index finger – one eye shut to aid my depth perception – we eventually got the correct spelling. Bang, what should have taken seconds was achieved in a few short minutes through teamwork. I’d (slightly) increased my click through rate, gained a Google bookmark and moved forwards in the queue.
If you ask a small free favor of a bored raver, you get rewarded. In this large crowd you would be surprised how many people I found working marketing or sales. A backlink feels like a big ask if you have nothing to give in return but asking in person for a bookmark or click through when people are bored and want to socialise face to face? Worst case a stranger decides you’re the resident weirdo.
Pro tip – have you got anything better to do while commuting?
People tend to be helpful. The ‘cooler’ your product the better. Aim high you could gain some social shares or even direct sales. It’s difficult to say no to somebody’s face when they are costing you nothing but paying with their company. That is the beauty of this method, if you are comfortable in your environment you will always have the upper hand.
At one point somebody tapped me on the shoulder. A girl with glitter on her face smiled and asked “what are you doing?”
Before I knew it I had a flock of followers asking “So what actually is SEO?” If I can get people interested in marketing while at a club night, just think of where you can pick up bookmarks and (artificially) boost your click through rate.
Click Through Rate & Correlations
Click through rate has a massive correlation with high rankings (although it is the ultimate chicken or the egg scenario, obviously rank#1 gets the most traffic from the term in question). It is however VERY controversial to manipulate CTR for rankings, and I would guess pretty obvious to Google if you do it on a large scale.
Why we can be sure click through rate is a ranking factor (getting technical)
We can be fairly sure click through rate is a strong ranking factor and it is likely a direct factor. The first piece of evidence is SearchMetrics study referenced above.
Every year SearchMetrics:
- Take 10,000 keywords which are deemed to be a fair representation and fit analysis.
- Look at the first 3 pages/300,000 URLs
- They run all this data through Spearman’s Correlation – pretty advanced stats
- They look at year on year changes, what appears currently effective or trendy and try and find statistical anomalies*
- They then present the data like a dream
*Nearly 100% of the data will have the search term in the page title. Because of the nature of how Spearman’s correlation works this comes up with a near 0% correlation rather than 100%. No system is perfect.
As established click through rate had the highest correlation of any tested factor in 2015. That’s an extremely high correlation but not yet proof. Alone a correlation can never prove anything.
Google employees are known for giving misleading at best and incorrect at worst information. There are too many examples to list, but the following quote seems absolutely legit when paired with SearchMetrics’ Correlations – specially as it cites one of Google’s patents:
“It’s pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feed back into ranking to improve the quality of search results. Infrequently clicked results should drop toward the bottom because they’re less relevant, and frequently clicked results bubble toward the top. Building a feedback loop is a fairly obvious step forward in quality for both search and recommendations systems, and a smart search engine would incorporate the data. The actual mechanics of how click data is used is often proprietary, but Google makes it obvious that it uses click data with its patents on systems like “Rank-adjusted content items.”
That’s about as close as you can get to proving anything SEO. Does that mean artificially increasing your click through rate is the secret to being an SEO god? It may be, but we haven’t discovered how yet. A massive increase in clickthroughs on a low traffic page, low traffic search term or low down result appears not to work.
I will leave you with two of the conflicting case studies which I mentioned earlier. Moz actually got a strongly positive effect from CTRM (Clickthrough rate manipulation) using their many social media followers.
Moz’s CTR study summary:
- Only experimented for 3 hours.
- They used real people on different devices around the world.
- In this time they received around ~228 clicks on the page.
- In this time they moved up from rank #7 to the first position.
This is Moz – probably the largest of all SEO blogs, they were using real people on an established search term and a real web page with massive authority already.
The Negative SEO Study
Now Search Engine Land’s Study. I believe that the Author Bartosz Góralewicz made a massive mistake when he decided that “Higher click through rate [equates to] higher rankings.” He used bots and really focussed on quantity over quality. I feel his methodology embodies the reason that Google have a search quality team.
A few holes I can pick in his study:
- He inflated the searches for ‘negative SEO’ by 592% over the course of his study.
- He used bots to get over 100,000 unnatural hits to his website – he justified this by ensuring the same IP wasn’t used twice and by setting a delay.
- Some of the keywords he used were not even on the first 11 pages.
So we have a fairly legit short term study by Moz. You can inflate your CTR and that if you do it correctly you could well benefit. I believe CTR is a factor. Revisiting what Edmund Lau said “any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feed back into ranking to improve the quality of search results”.
If you want a bit more data that click through rate is a ranking factor, rather than just a correlation then here is another great study by Larry Kim for Moz.
I believe this technical section proves – in so far as anything about Google’s algorithm can – that CTR is manipulable for search ranking gains. The difference between the case studies I have given, and my Friday night boogie is that Friday’s strategy was all me. I wasn’t using a proxy clicker and I was in no position to get greedy. This sort of methodology is perfect for a small local business.
Local click through rate manipulation
Now back at the club things are getting quite interesting (to the SEO nerd). We are pretty tightly boxed in, that means all my clicks would be coming from different devices but the same location. What result could that have? I can’t say; that is a study for another day – do local search terms searched from a local mobile device carry extra ranking power?
Skip forward forty five minutes, in that time I had slowly approached six people and generated a little group of friendly drunken people searching for various terms on their phone and bookmarking me on chrome. Most were using Android. I find this interesting because as far as I know it’s a completely unique SEO technique where practically your charisma will define your success.
Near the door I became pumped by success. I felt I could yell “Anybody with an android smart phone and data want to do me a massive favour?” I am sure plenty of people would have and this isn’t just for SEO, I would imagine if you are a proactive youtuber or social media guru followers would come easily.
Now this tale has to end, I was rudely interrupted before I had a chance by the doorman frisking me. After that my marketing plans were quickly forgotten, replaced by a crunchy bass.
I would call this unusual SEO technique a grey hat method. It could be seen as click through rate manipulation – but my motivation was trying to investigate whether local hits and Chrome bookmarks can help as much as a backlink. You are self promoting, the fact that you are more requesting a favour than selling doesn’t make this a black hat practice (in my opinion, please voice yours in the comments).
I guess the moral of this story is if you ask assistance from a likeminded stranger – to their face – generally they will help. Does this method work? That remains to be seen but if I can get bookmarks at a club night where nobody has heard of SEO nearly any industry can do the same. Who knows where you will find your next big client!
Benefits of collecting Google bookmarks in person:
- You theoretically could get ranking benefits comparable to a humble backlink
- You can make yourself really hard to ignore!
- It’s mobile, you just need somebody else’s phone – easy for the smart generation
- You make new friends
- You can make sales if you are a salesman but you will probably make less new friends
- It kills time where you would just be loitering
- You line cut supprisingly far and leave your old friends in your dust
And that my friends is the beauty of this technique, whether it works for you or not you are the first one of your friends in the club!
I was doing a collection of short reads and wanted to try something different. This wasn’t written with any form of keyword planning in mind so it will only be read if people share it. I hope you like the tongue in cheek style, I had a lot of fun writing this and may try storytelling more often. This came out a lot longer than first intended but if you want more first person creative style blogs please give some feedback.
Help me and see how many bookmarks you can get while at the bus stop, commuting. Whenever boredom strikes walk the street and find your smartphone wielding victims then see what they do for your business. It’s an easy opener to a soft sale so a win, win. Please report back and we can build something together =).
A full case study coming in the next month. It will probably be back to my data heavy normal style, but we shall see the response this post gets.
For an article that is a (lot) more serious but with a similar theme please read my investigation into how much we actually know about SEO ranking factors and how much is guesswork, or just wrong. Like Google/Chrome Bookmarks, most of what we know comes from a verbal source or written opinion. Often these quotes blow up and go viral whether they are reliable or not, before you know it keyword stuffing is apparently still a viable technique.