Eli Schwartz

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What is an SEO site audit and do you need one?

I was once talking to an entrepreneur about the SEO performance on his site, and I suggested that he might want to get an SEO site audit to make sure that all of his bases are covered when it comes to SEO. He immediately rejected that idea since as he said “we already have Moz, so we are good.” The fact that he didn’t get the distinction between a tool and an audit made me realize that a lot of people probably are equally unaware.

While Moz, as well as other great tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Searchmetrics are all great tools for reporting out on progress, they don’t do a deep dive sanity check on best practices that is individualized for every site. A better way of understanding this is to use a health analogy.

Using a basic wearable device like a Fibit that keeps on top of some common health stats like activity, heart rate and sleep is no substitute at all for a full physical checkup by a medical professional. Much like this example, a daily stat tracker like the tools above might be able to report on some activity metrics, but they will not catch the impending sitewide “heart attack” that creeping URL changes or misconfigured canonical links could cause.

Even worse, when a site is experiencing an organic issue the last thing anyone should do is rely on a status report from a tool to identify any maladies, much like no one should rely on WebMD for a diagnosis. This is the time to have an experienced professional have a look at the site and conduct an audit to find out what ails the site.

What does a website audit look for?

There are basic templates for a website audit which any experienced search engine optimization professional will use to start; however, once they start digging into the metrics they will diverge into an individualized audit. Just like when someone visits a doctor, they want someone with lots of experience and an innate sense of the questions to ask, the same should apply for an SEO audit.

The more experienced the person or team conducting the audit may be, the more they will be able to tell when things are off and where to look deeper.

Here are the basic things that a website audit will look into:


    • Penalty analysis  –  in a penalty analysis the auditor will look for any unexplained dropoffs in metrics that align with either Google manual actions or known algorithmic updates


  • URL structure – URL’s should have a nice clean structure that make it very clear to both users and search engines what is contained on each page. Ideally there shouldn’t be any parameters in the URL, but this can depend on the specific use cases
  • Duplicate content and canonical usage – There is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty; however, duplicate content issues cause Google to have to make a decision about which URL to index. This may not be the desired URL, so canonicals can help declare the preferred URL. Improper usages of canonicals can be very detrimental to the site.


  • Internal links – In many respects internal links can be more important than external links, so ensuring that everything is in perfect shape for proper crawling and indexation is critical
  • Backlinks – the sites that link in to a site can both help and harm a site, and understanding the mix of backlinks can be an audit unto its own for a big site
  • Indexation  – in my opinion this is the most important part of any audit. This is where the auditor will determine if the site is properly indexed in search and what may be holding it back.
  • Script usage – Despite Google’s proclamations to the contrary using Javascript is simply not as effective for SEO as HTML. Uncovering Javascript that drives important parts of the site can lead to new opportunities for growth
  • Keyword usage – Keywords are the bulwark of any SEO campaign and mapping their usage their usage helps to determine gaps and opportunities.
  • Onpage SEO (titles, descriptions, H1) – These are the basics of any effort and it is always surprising to me how many opportunities can be uncovered by just looking at title tags.
  • Content quality – SEO is driven by content, but poor content can actually be harmful. An outsider’s view of the content can assess the quality of the content portfolio.
  • Robots.txt – this is the directive to search engines on what pages of the site can be crawled. Overdoing it will lead to important pages that can’t get traffic while underdoing it will lead to pages that are useless being crawled.
  • Sitemaps – XML and HTML sitemaps are both helpful and necessary for page discovery, and this analysis will measure the effectiveness of the current setup.
  • Site speed – Page and site speed are factored into the Google algorithm for very slow sites, but even if there’s no algorithmic issue there can always be a poor user experience
  • Expired content – Not all content should be exposed to search engines and users especially content or product that are no longer relevant. How these pages are handled can have a significant impact on a site.
  • Spam – even the most authoritative and secure websites have had issues with spam on the site. While this likely will not lead to a search performance issue it is certainly not a good user experience.
  • Schema markup – In a world of voice assistants and position zero rankings, schema markup is increasingly more important. An analysis of current markup as well as available markup will lead to new opportunities for growth.
  • Mobile vs desktop – Search experiences are completely different on mobile devices so there should be no surprise that mobile SEO can be different to. This analysis reveals those differences.
  • International – An international audit can be a stand alone audit since depending on how many countries are targeted this can be a very broad exercise. This audit will assess all of the areas above, but by specific country.

Whether you decide to hire an expert or conduct your own audit, always make sure you are taking a deep look at all of the most important issues and not just relying on the quick health checkup of a tool.


The odd story of how AT&T’s biggest Super Bowl launch became the website for the world’s largest casino loyalty program

Super Bowl Launches

The phenomenon of using the massive audiences tuned in to watch the big game as a base to pitch for sales is far from new and there are notable Super Bowl commercials going as far back as the 1960’s.

What is a bit more unique is the companies that have used the Super Bowl audience to introduce a product or offering for the very first time. Apple famously launched the Macintosh with their “1984” commercial, and the infamous Dot Com Super Bowl of 2000 was a veritable feast of tech companies using investor money to launch their websites.

In 2002, mobile technology was in its absolute infancy and “killer features” like SMS were just coming onto the scene. In an attempt to make a play for a vast swathe of market share, AT&T made an audacious launch of unlimited calling and texting – unheard of at the time, and they used a Super Bowl commercial to draw attention to an unknown website with details about their new product offering.


What is Mlife?

For weeks before Super Bowl XXXVI AT&T ran a series of TV commercials and billboards teasing a new product called Mlife. Nowhere in the advertisements was the AT&T brand name or any details on what Mlife was supposed to be. During the actual Super Bowl, there were a series of 15 seconds ads showing belly buttons with one simple call to action: Go to Mlife.com. Millions of people did just that (I was one of them) and the sheer onslaught of traffic brought the website to its knees. No one was even able to find anything more about Mlife since the website could not load.

Fortunately for AT&T, there were other Mlife spots during that game and viewers were able to at least learn that AT&T was behind the campaign. (You can watch all of the commercials on this site that gathers all old Super Bowl ads.)

During the days and weeks after the Super Bowl, AT&T was declared the clear winner of advertising championship, and their commercials were the topic of discussion on all the morning shows.

What is Mlife Today?

In business, brand and company names are always changing with mergers, acquisitions and just straight rebrands. Even a storied brand like AT&T has gone through its own brand name changes. (Remember American Telephone & Telegraph or the more recent Cingular Wireless?)

The wireless industry – now called the mobile industry hardly resembles what existed in 2002.  The powers-that-be at AT&T decided that they no longer needed the Mlife brand, but they did something that just might horrify any marketer. They sold the domain, the brand equity and all the SEO value acquired by launching the website during a Super Bowl. Today if you go to Mlife.com, it is the homepage for MGM Resorts’ (the parent brand of casinos like Bellagio, Aria, and MGM Grand) loyalty program.

Without a website like Zillow for domains it is hard to know how much MGM paid AT&T for the domain name. In my admittedly finger in the wind guess, it couldn’t have been too expensive, as there are a number of related names to Mlife that are owned and monetized by domain squatters. (I refuse to link, so just guess them yourself.)

At the time MGM registered the domain in 2010 they didn’t seem married to the name Mlife as the name for MGM’s loyalty program’s name.  The actual loyalty club product was not even launched until 2011. While the domain squatters wouldn’t have let these other names go for a steal they would certainly have to be less costly than what AT&T should have priced the domain if they had valued it correctly.

MGM Mlife

Millions of Dollars in Earned Marketing Wasted

As with all assets, there are many ways to price a domain name, but one that should never be neglected is the value of the brand and SEO pointing to the domain. Leaving aside the debate over the specific value of a link, the links directed at Mlife could be considered relevant and valuable if AT&T would have used the domain to redirect it to one of their latest mobile promotions. Even if by some weird algorithm twist the links had zero value whatsoever, there are possibly still users that click on the article  links to a 16 year old mobile campaign that are not going to find the most recent mobile deals.

Essentially, this means that the value of the domain is worth considerably more to AT&T than it would be to any other party that wanted to buy it.

A Lesson for All Marketers

Within this odd marketing story there lies a key lesson for any marketer. When evaluating the book value of any marketing asset you need to consider the sum of all the history behind the asset before selling it off or relegating it to the trash. Every marketer is going to have a long list of failed projects and assets, and while they all might not have reached their desired potential this does not mean that the all of the efforts were for naught. Every social media fan, link, feedback review and even just access to a domain for SEO testing likely has a higher value to the company than just the street or market value of just that asset.

Every time I go to Las Vegas and see MGM billboards telling me to go to “Mlife.com” to sign up for their loyalty program, I remember the 2002 AT&T campaign that launched that domain and I reflect on this missed opportunity. To me, and hopefully to you too, AT&T’s folly should serve as a stark reminder that in web marketing, everything counts.


Here Are The Top Marketing Words in Job Titles on LinkedIn

I have been spending a lot of time in LinkedIn lately trying to fill an open SEO position at SurveyMonkey. (If you are a creative and analytical SEO person and want to join an amazing pre-IPO company with millions of organic visits per month, please get in touch!) Having looked at hundreds of LinkedIn profiles for marketers of all kinds, it got me curious about the most popular keywords in job titles, and which major US cities had the most people with those keywords in job titles.

Generally, most job titles are set by employers, so understanding popular keywords also gives some interesting clues about how companies are structuring their marketing teams. From an employee standpoint knowing the popular titles reveals some great directional info about the keywords one should include in their profile if they want recruiters to reach out to them about new opportunities. Additionally, slicing this data by the most populous cities with significant Internet-focused businesses reveals the digital skills and titles valued by region.

For the purposes of this analysis, I searched for keywords (the full list is at the end of this post) specifically included within a job title, and I filtered that search by people located within a metro area. The areas I looked at were the San Francisco Bay area, New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, Miami/Ft Lauderdale, Boston and Washington DC.

Here are some of my most interesting discoveries:

  • For nearly every keyword on my list, New York City had the highest number of people using the searched keywords. As the most populous metro area in the US, this makes a lot of sense, of course.
  • The one huge exception is people that used the words “Growth”, “Growth Marketing”, “Growth Marketer” and “Growth Hacker” in the title. The San Francisco Bay Area was the clear winner here with nearly 50% more people using the word “Growth” than in New York. While the meaning of the words “Growth” and “Growth Marketing” is still up for debate, some sort of online marketing is usually included in the responsibilities of an individual responsible for growth.
  • On that note, there are more people in the Bay Area using the words “Content Marketing” and “Growth” than “SEO”. This is the only area where this is the case!
  • Based on these keywords, Los Angeles has more people working in SEO, PPC and Social Media than the San Francisco Bay area, while the Bay Area has more people working in general digital marketing and content marketing than Los Angeles.
  • The word “Digital” is used significantly more in all locations than either “online” or “Internet”
  • “Digital Marketing” beats “Internet Marketing” while “Internet Marketer” beats “Digital Marketer”; however, “Digital Strategist” seems like a far more popular choice
  • The same concept does not hold true for content marketing where using the words “content marketing” seems to be more popular than “content strategist.”
  • Relative to the amount of people using the word “SEO” in their title, there are very few people in SEO specific roles like manager, director and VP.
  • For paid media practitioners, SEM seems like the most popular keyword choice out of all the other options.
  • In the Bay Area, there are nearly as many people working in “CRM” than there are in SEO.
  • The cities with the most marketing people in rank order are:

    • New York
    • San Francisco
    • Los Angeles
    • Chicago
    • Boston
    • Dallas
    • Washington DC
    • Seattle
    • Miami
  • The most popular cities for SEO in rank order are:

    • New York
    • Los Angeles
    • San Francisco
    • Chicago
    • Miami
    • Dallas
    • Boston
    • Seattle
    • Washington DC
  • The most popular cities for content marketing in rank order are:

    • New York
    • San Francisco
    • Los Angeles
    • Chicago
    • Boston
    • Seattle
    • Washington DC
    • Dallas
    • Miami

Did I miss anything in this analysis? Please get in touch!


keywords searched for this analysis:

  • marketing
  • marketer
  • brand
  • inbound
  • online
  • internet
  • internet marketing
  • internet marketer
  • Digital
  • digital marketing
  • Digital Marketer
  • digital strategist
  • search engine
  • organic
  • SEO
  • SEO manager
  • head of seo
  • SEO director
  • VP SEO
  • content
  • content marketer
  • content strategist
  • content marketing
  • social media
  • social marketing
  • ppc
  • user acquisition
  • paid media
  • SEM
  • performance marketing
  • performance marketer
  • email
  • crm
  • growth
  • growth marketing
  • growth marketer
  • growth hacker













Optimizing for the Invisible Search Keyword

In the early days of search, optimizing for a particular keyword was as easy as jamming it (and every related iteration) in a meta keywords tag. As search engines, namely Google, became more advanced, websites began utilizing other signals, like placement of a keyword, keyword density, and backlinks, all acquired from some of the best local lead generation sites, to determine the relevance of a webpage to a query.. A diligent SEO could still rank on a particular query if they reverse engineered the right formula for ranking.

In 2016, Google introduced Rank Brain which uses machine learning to understand a user’s query and the webpages that will deliver the best results for that query. This leap forward in Google’s algorithm makes it infinitely harder to rank on a keyword by sheer brute force.  If a webpage does not match the intent of a user’s query, as determined by Rank Brain, then there is no amount of links and keywords that can make a page rank in the results.

The complexity of Rank Brain can be illustrated by viewing search results which appear to be based on hidden keywords. Hidden keywords are the words that the user DID NOT type, yet Google assumes they are a part of the query anyways.

Here are some examples.

  • For the keyword “Customer Satisfaction”, Google has determined that a user is searching for a result that informs them of the level of importance of customer satisfaction. The results for the query “customer satisfaction” and “customer satisfaction importance” are very similar. Since Google assumes that when a user searches for customer satisfaction, they really want to know about the importance, they simply append the keyword importance [important] invisibly to the query.

  • Local queries are one of the first places Google started using this invisible keyword. Queries like “pizza” or “car dealership” will typically have the user’s location appended to them invisibly. In the example below, you can see these results showing results as if I have included my location.
  • In this final example, Google has determined that someone who searches the keyword “online surveys” (the plural form) is looking to take online surveys rather than create them. Looking at the top few results, it does not look like these sites really even optimized their title tag towards the keyword of “online surveys”. For this query, Google has determined that someone searching for “online surveys” is really searching for “paid surveys” and even in the “people also search” box supports that.


What should you do about this:

Rather than just relying on keyword search volume in deciding what kinds of content to write on a website, you also need to take the next step of understanding what kind of content Google believes users want to see on that query. This information should be utilized both in the theme of the content you write and also in the keywords used on the page. If you optimize for the invisible keyword you just might get a leg up over competitors who did not bother to optimize for the full phrase Google is querying for in their database.


Google is the source and antidote to bad medical advice online

We are privileged to live in an age overflowing with information. With access to the entire world’s knowledge literally in our pockets, there is never an excuse to have dinner debates about whether Friendster was the world’s first social network or how to the source of a Singlish phrase. Even more than the random useless trivia that we draw from the internet, we pretend the internet can substitute as as our parents, our legal advisors and even our clergy

One major area of online search is health. We find a rash on our arm, we ask Siri to Google it. We even ask Google to diagnose multiple symptoms (bad idea: the results usually, falsely, point to a deathly disease).  

To anyone that read the recent news about a person dying as a result of a Baidu search this is no surprise and we all do it. While Baidu might have quality issues when it comes to ranking results, the same wrong information is still available in Google.   

Search as the means 

According to a survey I conducted in the US on SurveyMonkey Audience with 395 random Americans, 77 percent of respondents admitted to going online to diagnose medical symptoms. 

52 percent of Americans even used an image search engine like Google Images or Pinterest to diagnose a skin condition. 
When respondents were asked why they went online instead of reaching out to to a doctor, nearly twice as many stated “ease of use” vs. cost. 

While many medical professionals are opposed to this practice, there are others that think it’s a great idea. According to these medical professionals, searching online for answers to health issues leads to a more engaged patient and even allows people to figure out if a “nasty rash” is a mosquito bite or a creeping parasitic infection that requires a trip to the emergency room. Self-diagnosis might even be a good method to reduce the load on the health care system by empowering patients to triage themselves. 

The source of all of this health info 
However, there is one major issue with this hypothesis: Much of the medical resources on the web is horrifically inaccurate (just like everything else on the web). The authors of the vast trove of health information on the Internet are not trained medical professionals. Rather, they are “content marketers” hired to produce articles to rank high on Google searches. That means that much of Google’s highest ranked medical advice is written by a person who’s job is to simply bring people to a website. 

Lacking the medical background to write original medical information, content marketers source their writing from other websites. For the discerning content marketer trained to ignore user generated content, they instead source content written by other content marketers thus contributing to the ever growing cycle of manufactured, and often false, medical advice. 

“There are ample examples of how doctors who have taken an oath to ‘do no harm’ respond to financial and other incentives in ways that do harm patients,” says Josh Steimle, CEO of digital marketing agency MWI, citing a 2015 Los Angeles Times article that explores variances in the rates of c-section births in Los Angeles area hospitals. 

“I have great respect for content marketers and doctors, but should I believe that content marketers, who haven’t taken anything like the Hippocratic Oath, and aren’t nearly as sensitive to the harm they may be doing, are producing accurate health information online when it may not be in their best financial interests? It’s great for patients to do research online, and there is valuable work content marketers can do to put helpful medical information on the internet. But since we can’t even trust doctors 100 percent of the time, it’s up to patients to do thorough research and make sure the information they’re getting is accurate.” 

To a patient in need, it is not obvious that the health care information found online was not produced by a medical professional. The medical advice usually appears on seemingly reputable health websites or even homepages of local family doctors. Additionally, consumers are lulled into thinking the information must be correct because it appears high on Google. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

“Depending on the scenario, relying on inaccurate medical information could have deadly consequences when wrong advice is given,” says marketing visionary John Rampton. “While there are certainly laws and codes of ethics that require content produced online to be correct, content marketers might not even be aware that these laws even exist.” 

To illustrate the scale of this issue, let’s look at a very standard Google query like “cure nearsightedness.” Most eye care professionals would say that there is no way to revert nearsightedness. However, if a layperson searches such a question online, they would be led to believe that indeed, nearsightedness is curable. Without linking to any particular results (I don’t want to send people to these pages), there are particular websites that offer unproven and false ways to “cure” nearsightedness. Consumers may not be aware that the motivation behind these websites is to sell a product rather than share information. 

In this case, the harm is the false hope of an eventual cure, but the risk is far greater when it comes to advice about “eating salad to stave off cancer” or following diets that deprive the body of essential nutrients. 

Google as the savior 
It’s worth it to note that all is not lost in the fight against this tide of unverified and bogus content. In the beginning of 2015, Google started showing medical information in the knowledge graph. While, Google uses an actual doctor to verify these answers, these verified results will likely only show up on the limited amount of queries for which Google is able to curate the results. 
On the millions of other queries that could not possibly be moderated by a human, Google relies on the standard components of their algorithm which are designed to evaluate quality and relevancy. Without knowing exactly how Google makes these determinations, we can assume that Google looks at which websites link into a piece of content as a signal of quality. Additionally, Google could analyze article wording and phrasing to see if it is similar to other trusted medical sources. 
Health search in the new norm 

One in 20 searches conducted on Google are for health related queries; therefore, the trend of using Google in lieu of a doctor is likely to grow. This challenge of keeping us protected from bad advice is set to become even more critical as more users turn to the internet for daily questions. In my survey, the majority of users only looked at 1-2 websites for medical advice, so provided Google can keep these top results accurate, they limit the exposure to factually inaccurate results. 
If you are questioning why people even bother creating content that Google will keep out of the top results, you are not alone. That’s an answer for another article. In the meantime, you can rest assured that the runny nose you have is probably not the Zika virus. But just in case you are concerned, here are the actual symptoms of Zika on Google as approved by a doctor. 


Competition is Good for Google and the World

I recently wrote on SearchEngineLand that after many years of stability, Google’s share of the search market dipped a few percentage points, according to the October Comscore’s report on desktop search market rankings (Note, the Google search market share number has remained at the current level since the October decline).  Like many digital marketers, I don’t completely trust the Comscore rankings since I have always seen a different breakdown of search engine traffic in my own logs. To understand if Google’s market share truly decreased or if this was just a Comscore blip, I ran a survey on SurveyMonkey Audience.


In my survey, I asked people to share their primary desktop search engine, and here are the results:

Search Engine Market Share

I ran this same survey one year ago, and according to my survey, Google had 80% of the market. Based on my survey results, it would seem to be that Google is actually losing market share— and it’s not just Comscore’s reporting methodology. While a decline in market share for the first time in many years might not seem like it bodes well for Google and its shareholders, I actually think this is the best thing ever for Google and the whole Internet.


Keeping Google honest

Generally, Google runs a search engine that for the most part does what users need as evidenced by their market share. However, they make constant search improvements to bring Google closer to their ultimate goal of achieving Larry Page’s vision of a “perfect search engine,” which he described as “something that understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.”



Background of Google enhancements


While Google claims to make thousands of tweaks to their core website ranking algorithm every year, they only make a small amount of updates that fundamentally transform the Google search results. Some of the really big updates merit blog posts on the Google webmaster blog and receive official names (Kind of like hurricanes.)




In 2011, the Panda algorithm targeted low quality content that plagued the Google search result pages. This update was massive, and according to Google, it impacted more than 10% of all queries. Like every piece of Google’s search algorithm, they never detailed exactly what it looked for, but many people did notice that it did a pretty good job of removing the kinds of results that seemed artificial.




In 2012, Google released the Penguin algorithm, which was aimed at neutralizing websites that took advantage of artificial links to increase their websites’ rankings. Links pointing to a website have always been an important part of how Google determines a website’s ranking; and it was one of the key features that Google differentiated themselves from competitors and directories during the late 1990’s. Rather than earn links naturally, webmasters skirted the process by using a variety of means including exchanges of cash to acquire links. Again, Google never detailed exactly how this algorithm works, but it is meant to determine whether links have been earned “naturally” or “unnaturally” (as defined by Google of course).



Mobile friendliness, Hummingbird and Rank Brain


In addition, there have been a series of recent updates aimed at improving search results on mobile. One update specifically demoted websites on mobile search that were deemed not “mobile friendly”. Others like “Hummingbird” improved search, so people can get results faster, sometimes without even clicking a website result.


Most recently, Google launched an algorithm update they dubbed “Rank Brain”. Rank Brain uses artificial intelligence to interpret never before seen queries and serve up the best results for the searcher based on what Google thinks they are seeking.



Competition as a motivation

Constant improvements of their search engine, with the occasional rewrite of their core algorithms, is expensive, and the exercise isn’t just one of altruism. Without the pressure of competitors biting at their heels, they might be less motivated to create the perfect search engine.


International markets are a perfect test of a more competitor-free environment, and notably even some of their big algorithm updates take a bit of time to migrate out of the US. In Singapore, where I am currently living and working, Google has almost complete dominance. As an English-speaking country with near total penetration of the Internet, Google’s search results should be as “perfect” as they are in the US, but they are not.


Singapore as an example

I was recently searching on for a baby bassinet for my newborn. The first result is for the US based Toysrus.com website which does not even allow for shipping to Singapore. Imagine if this were to happen in the US, where the results for a Canadian or Mexican website that does not offer shipping to the US showeed up in US results. Users would scamper off to Bing or Yahoo or DuckDuckGo faster than a blink of an eye.


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