No Keyword Suggestions Coming In?

So, it’s pretty clear that even after you confirm that the code is installed properly, some people still have no suggestions coming in. Well, this has to do with making sure your site meets some base-line level of search-friendliness. This is why I recommend blogging software, especially for someone just getting started with the HitTail process. There are three issues here to consider: being visible at all, what content you already have, and priming the pump with new content.

Being visible at all, you should know by whether anything is coming in under the Search Hits tab. If you are sure the tracking code is installed properly, and still nothing comes in under Search Hits, your site may be just too new to be producing visits through search yet, and you should consider some alternative promotional activities, or your site is completely invisible to search, and you should consider different website publishing software, or perhaps (and this is PERHAPS) a different domain.

Once you’re visible at all, the next thing is how much content you already have on your site that is working well for you. If you do have a lot, then HitTail should start streaming in the suggestions right away–because it is about incremental improvements over hits you are already creating. There is a catching-up period during which time A LOT of suggestions may pour in all of the sudden. After that, they will slow down considerably. This may be disappointing, but is exactly where the HitTail becomes so strategic, and will save you lots of time optimizing in the long run. More on that in a later post!

Finally, if you have SOME content on your site that is producing A LITTLE bit, the suggestion stream may also be slow. There may be no suggestions at all. If this is your situation, and you still want to use the HitTail method, you’ve got to prime the pump with content. You have to brainstorm topics you WOULD like to come up on, have something useful to say about them, and start blogging. Get 20 or 30 posts out there over the course of the month. Once the Google/Yahoo/MSN indexing cycle goes by, you will have a much greater chance of producing some hits… particularly the obscure ones that live in the long tail.

But don’t stop blogging. You should get into the grove and build momentum. Aside from USING HitTail suggestions, this is where some of the greatest advantage in SEO comes from. For a multitude of reasons, not all companies can talk freely and often on their website. The nimbleness and agility that a single individual has is often one of the biggest advantages of the David vs. Goliath in SEO. Everything from politics to IT issues can keep the necessary work from being done in large corporations. So use that though to keep your spirits up during the keyword suggestion dry season.

Double-checking that HitTail is working properly

Update: HitTail no longer requires you to install tracking code. We have left this page up for backwards compatibility in case you are still using the old (tracking code) method of collecting keyword data. The recommended approach for using HitTail involves linking your Google Search Console account, which is a short process that we’ll walk you through once you sign up for a trial.
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If you suspect that something is wrong, you can double check that everything is working properly finding a page on your site that has some relatively unique text on it, which you know has produced search hits in the past. You homepage is always a good choice. Copy some text, then shut all your web browsers.

That’s right! Shut every web browser. The reason is that you have to ensure that you’re starting a new session. This is part of the HitTail magic that I may explain in more detail later.

Now open a new browser, visit the engine that the page CAN be found in (usually, Google), and paste that phrase into the search box. Be careful of line-breaks. Put double-quotes around the phrase. And submit the search.

You should see your page come up in the search results. If you don’t, you may not be sufficiently along in SEO to benefit from HitTail. You need to at least be findable! If you see your page, click it. Now, log into HitTail, and you should see that hit as (probably) the top item under the Search Hits tab. This will confirm that everything is working.

A Long Tail Keyword – How Valuable Is It Anyway?

So how valuable is a long tail keyword, anyway? What we’re talking about is picking a topic that you know will produce better for you, if only you addressed it head-on. In this case, it’s the notion of a long tail keyword. To answer that, let’s first look at the keyword traffic distribution on your site. How much traffic are your top-10 producing keywords accounting for? Well, for the three sites I’m personally monitoring with HitTail: the Connors site, my personal Mike-Levin.com site, and the HitTail site itself, the distribution looks like this…

HitTail.com
Top ten keywords are 53.8 % of all your search traffic.
Long tail keywords are 46.2 % of all your search traffic.

Connors.com
Top ten keywords are 12.2 % of all your search traffic.
Long tail keywords are 87.8 % of all your search traffic.

Mike-Levin.com
Top ten keywords are 12.6 % of all your search traffic.
Long tail keywords are 87.4 % of all your search traffic

So, for Mike-Levin.com and Connors.com, two very long-established sites, it’s almost identical. For the relative newcomer, HitTail.com, which was established only this January, it’s almost a 50/50 split. Using the “Top-10” producing keywords is somewhat arbitrary. It’s just that it serves as a perfect benchmark and basis for comparing multiple sites.

I don’t have enough data yet to know these splits are representative of new sites versus old sites. But I’m going to guess, yes. It only makes sense. A brand new site can and will only be able to get a toe-hold, by definition on fewer keywords. On the first hit, the distribution will actually look 100% vs. 0%. Then, it will journey on its way to some more healthy split between top-producing keywords, and the long tail.

Is it worth putting a whole new page on your website or blog just to pick up the one or two hits per month that may occur on that topic? Is it worth building the long tail? Where does the rule of diminishing returns kick in, and say “Stop, already! Will adding that one more really make a difference? Can’t I stop already, and call the site done?”

The answer is no, never… not if you want to be competitive.

That’s right, never. So long as you’re adding valuable content to your readers, such as this post, then you know you’re going to proportionally increase your natural search hit traffic by that one little bit. Would Amazon.com say no to carrying one more book in their inventory, because they don’t think that one sale would make a difference? No, it’s contrary to their business model and mission! Similarly, a truly competitive natural long tail keyword optimizer would never say no to a search hit of a potentially qualified customer that they know, almost for certain, that they will get by adding that one more page.

This is a different business than the outsourcing of keyword combination derivation that’s done for PPC. For those not familiar, that’s where you brainstorm keywords, used suggestion tools to get even more keywords, then hire low-cost labor to do every combination possible for plugging into pay-per-click campaigns.

The HitTail method in comparison has strategy, science and style behind it. It’s fun. It’s the next great game in the evolving field of marketing. Writing for SEO should be nothing like that Wall Street Journal writer’s experience, encountering slime-ball plagiarizers ripping off copy from the W.H.O. Instead, every one of your words should be original and from your heart. It’s like “Whose Line Is It Anyway” but for marketers. The subject matter can be ludicrous, but the skits are always funny.

Well, the HitTail suggested topics can be all over the place, but you the marketer get to choose only the ones that make sense for your audience. Then, you play “whose line is it anyway” to inform, educate or entertain, and compete for the finite amount of daily traffic that occurs each day on that long tail keyword…

…or else, your competition will.

The Next Big Thing: A Killer App for SEO

There is a certain chicken-or-the-egg dilemma in the HitTail approach to keyword marketing. Suggestions will only be issued if SOME search is already leading to your site. It expands upon content that already appears on your site by seizing upon happy accidents. This post poses to solve the chicken-and-egg dilemma in a cleverly self-referential fashion.

We’ve all sat and brainstormed keywords before, and know that there’s no way to outguess the collective guessing power of the world. Those of us who look closely at our log files are also often surprised by the infinite variety of terms that actually do lead to our site, which could very well convert into customers, but for which we could have never anticipated.

Finding and targeting all these keywords in doorway pages is enormously spammy. And why target them, if they’re already leading to your site? The point is to ferret out new and lucrative terms–only those terms that produced one or two happenstance hits, and are buried so deep that no one else is likely to match the original searcher’s determination. These keywords are gold. And the list of such words is much shorter than you might imagine. They come in a few a day, and maybe only one of these is a truly appropriate writing topic… coincidentally just about the rate you might like to blog!

But that doesn’t solve an “under-stimulating” site, where the suggestions stop coming in. For those, you have to float a few test balloon posts based on your brainstorming. Get into the mind of the searcher. What MIGHT they be searching on? Then, make a post regarding your thoughts on that topics, and name it with GOOD keywords. I was tempted to name this post “floating test balloons” or perhaps “the happy keyword accident”. But that’s not in the head of HitTail potential users. The SEO-Scoop site said it best: the killer SEO app of the year. And that did indeed rocket me to the first page of Google on the phrase killer seo app.

But that’s still not in the mind of HitTail potential users, nor the slightly broader audience I wish to reach. They’re all looking for the next killer app… or perhaps the next big thing. Well, Blogger supports fairly long titles, and those are perfectly valid headline ideas for this article, so I will use both. This article is not intended to get a sniper-like direct hit on any search terms. It’s intended to stimulate the suggestion tool! Who knows what two words will combine in a happy accident and reveal to me exactly the right concept to bring in HitTail users.

It sounds like a post on subject-matter toical focus using the gun analogy is coming soon. When you make a page to get search hits, which do you go for? The sniper approach on a particular phrase and exact arrangement of words, or the shotgun approach, where you try to pick up as many as possible hits with one shot?

Made it into The Museum of Modern Betas

I’m absolutely thrilled to say that HitTail made it into the Museum of Modern Betas within days of us putting the descriptive PowerPoint/Flash demo out there. I think that was the critical piece in hitting home what this site is all about. It was recently described as too obtuse, which I wholeheartedly agree with. It’s a big reason why this wasn’t even viable until there was a concept with which to “frame” the description, and timed with the pay-per-click honeymoon being over. While I expect the AdWord and Yahoo Search Marketing to continue to rise, I also believe that the average marketing department will start looking for alternatives, encounter the concept of SEO, be disheartened about how expensive, difficult and rife with conflicting information it can be, and look for an alternative even to that. Indeed, HitTail is positioned in the path of the Tornado, and few sites have stated it so eqloquently as Saurier Duval at the Museum of Modern Betas.

HitTail and The Long Tail – How They Relate

How does HitTail relate to Wired Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson’s concept of The Long Tail? It connects on two levels. First, when you graph how much traffic is generated to your site by what keywords, you inevitably end up with the characteristic long tail graph. A very few keywords are responsible for a tremendous amount of your traffic. But when you look at the rest of your keywords, you will notice two things. First, they almost never stop. The long tail of natural search for a site that has a good deal of content is very long indeed. The potential happenstance word combinations (your inventory) is for all intents and purposes, unlimited. And the determination of searchers in stepping through and clicking search results (the demand) is similarly infinite. And very few tools attempt to track your keywords in this way, keeping a permanent record of your keyword click-through (transaction history). HitTail does precisely that. It is possible to pinpoint the first time a particular word combination EVER led to your site. This is the data that gets mined for superior natural search optimization–but it is the graph that you get when you plot keywords vs. hits that invokes Chris’ concept.

The second way HitTail connects to the concept is exactly to how Google’s AdWords campaign does. The majority of Google’s advertisers are smaller businesses selling products that are not necessarily carried in inventory in retail outlets. They’re not on the shelves of Walmart. For people with product that would be difficult to distribute through traditional channels, AdWords makes better sense. You can reach your market no matter how geographically dispersed. Similarly, HitTail endeavors to have the same marketing reach, but without necessarily having to mount a massive paid keyword campaign. Because shelf-space is limited, traditional retail only likes to carry products that will sell frequently enough to pay for the space. It’s often thought of as the 80/20 rule: 20% of the product accounts for 80% of sales. So, it makes sense to only carry the 20%. The rest, and indeed the majority, of products are simply unavailable. The Internet, with sites like Amazon and iTunes changed that, making it possible to carry unlimited number of products, because of unlimited amount of shelf space. And that’s the second way HitTail relates to the concept. Anyone with a product or service to sell, who has a difficult time reaching their market with traditional distribution channels would be wise to look at growing their long tail of natural search in order to reach their market. You are growing your long tail of natural search to sell your long tail products to your customer-base that is dispersed thinly across the world.

This is possible because no matter how competitive things look in the search results, competitiveness slopes off dramatically as you put the third, fourth or fifth word into search. In fact, it gets outright simple to be on the first page of Google results when your term is sufficiently obscure. Professional SEO’s sometimes for the sake of experimentation make up a word to see how long it takes to appear in the search engines, and what position it will achieve. It’s a sort of benchmarking game. The first famous SEO contest used such a made-up word: Nigritude Ultramarine. I did a test last year with the term Googlesteading. So, that’s great for made up words, but you can confirm the effect with long phrases by going to just about any website, picking up a long phrase, and searching for it in double-quotes. It becomes very easy to build a long tail of such terms and phrases on your website that don’t need to be paid for with a PPC campaign. But its only worth putting that sort of work in if you have evidence that those phrases will produce for you. And that’s what HitTail does: provides evidence of what terms are most likely to produce for you, so you can intelligently grow your long tail into areas where demand actually exists.

SEO: a Sub-Category of Public Relations?

The biggest thing going against the burgeoning field of search engine optimization (SEO) is the name itself. In the very earliest days of the debate, I weighed in on the side of SEO, making the uncommon argument that we are indeed optimizing the search engines themselves. The thread is buried somewhere in the archives of Search Engine Forums (before WMW and SEW ruled the world), but the mainstream argument went that SEO was technically inaccurate and didn’t cover the broad expanse of what we actually did.

I countered that SEO was accurate, and did indeed cover it… that is of course until PPC came along, first from GoTo.com, then eventually Google. So it’s ironic now that I end up working for the PR Firm that represented GoTo.com in those early days, in the days of fierce church & state debates over advertisements in search results. And my thinking remains 100% consistent. We are indeed optimizing the search engines, and specifically the natural or free results in those search engines, because everything else is advertising. Only influencing the mainstream editorial results lands in the domain and realm of PR. Yes, a PR firm can consult strategically on what keywords you should buy in a PPC campaign, but don’t expect a PR firm to deliver maximum value by managing paid keyword campaigns. Instead, let them focus on optimizing natural results, and getting “hits” just as they would in mainstream media, like newspapers, magazines and TV.

So, blogging wasn’t enough, and the PR industry is planting its flag in SEO, huh? No, only the PR firms who have the technical chops and big picture to do so. Even SEM firms who allegedly offer SEO services often only walk clients through enough of the process to do a one-time stimulation of the engines resulting in a temporary spike in hits, only to wane throwing everyone into a tizzy and a mad dash to pay for more keywords in a PPC campaign. Conversely, PR firms often only focus on “optimizing” press releases.

Neither approach is the true PR+SEO way. A competent PR firm delivering SEO services will not only walk you through getting your site up to speed technically, but will educate the client on how to keep the tension in the machinery so that natural search hits do not wane, and they become a permanent addition to the company’s assets. That is to say, blog regularly and lead the discussion in your own industry with your own voice so that you are growing the size and search-influence of your main website. Blogging and SEO are interconnected. And a corporate blogging strategy has a lot more to it than espousing onto the Internet. Topics must be chosen with care to align to the company’s goals, and topics known to lead to new customers.

So, what to call this next evolution of both the fields of public relations and search engine optimization? Calling it SEO is like calling sushi “cold dead fish”. We can do better! I just don’t know what that is yet. I’ve often considered just going with “public relations”, because search is just another vehicle for reaching the public. And therefore SEO is just a facet of public relations, and all the SEOers of the world are just working in a marketing sub-field of public relations. That never seems to sit well with SEO pros. Of course neither does it when I tell public relations people they’re just in a sub-field of marketing.

Ah, the super-umbrella of marketing, and how that relates to sales and the rest of the business! Sounds like a topic for a future post.

Some HitTail Beta Tester Quotes

I’ll use this blog post to track the quotes as they come in. By far, the most generous and hopeful is from Donna D. Fontenot of SEO-Scoop.com who said:

“Just started using this brand spanking new SEO tool called HitTail and I am already addicted to it. […] This could be the killer SEO app of the year!”

I encourage you to visit her site for the rest of the quote.

Mark Wilson of Semantic Thoughts has this to say:

“Now there is a site to help you build a long tail! […] They have some very interesting graphics to explain what they do (explaining concepts like this is not easy to do).”

Duane Forrester, and Insider from Search Engine Forums, has this to say:

“After only a few hours of this thing tracking data, here’s what I think: 1 – it works – too many tools you try are busted out of the gate and the guy keeps saying, ‘Sorry about that – try it now…’ This one works as explained. 2 – It makes me feel……….excited! […] OK, now, my overall impression is this could very well become a useful too for me.”

And of the PowerPoint/Flash presentation I put together with the trial version of the awesome Camtasia product from TechSmith, here is what a respected ex-boss and serial entrepreneur had to say:

“It is a GREAT concept/idea and the presentation is probably one of (if not THE!) best I have seen. VERY clear and informative…!!”

The Tracking GIF Performance Question

Ok, so the next common beta tester question is that of performance. Tracking gifs have been known to slow down page-loads. Will HitTail as well?

Of course, we plan for this to never occur. Our ability to expand our servers will rely greatly on how well this things takes off. If I see hundreds of registrations to start to pour in, we are going to be able to quickly dedicate new servers to the cause and ensure slowdown never occurs.

From a technical standpoint, we have taken many precautions to make sure we can continue to operate at with extremely fast performance. I don’t want to give too much away because it is part of our secret sauce, suffice to say because we are so focused on one little feature, tracking for SEO, we have to do much less than other sites who serve tracking GIFs. We also have the ability to specifically distribute the traffic amongst multiple servers according to load.

One of the beautiful characteristics of HitTail that makes it work so well is that the sites who need it most have the lowest traffic. Sure, we’ll attract (and already have) some of the most hyper-competitive SEOs and affiliate marketers who are trying out the latest killer app for SEO, but I expect that over time, the vast majority of users will be members of small or medium size company’s marketing departments who are looking for intelligent alternatives or ways to enhance their paid keyword campaigns.

So, the bottom line is that the entire system is rigged to maintain low-stress/low-volume on our equipment, coupled with the ability to rapidly distribute the workload as it achieves massive success.

Starting The Privacy Policy

I clearly have to write the privacy statement as one of the first beta-testing issues. It comes up over and over. I have to research the topic and hand it over to my bosses to hammer out, but I’m going to put the spirit of the thing here so that all you beta testers feel comfortable.

We use the same technology as popular analytics software in order to have access to the page-visit information from your site. Specifically, we use a tracking gif graphic just like Google Analytics (previously Urchin), and certain versions of WebTrends. It essentially gives us access to your log files, and this brings up both privacy and performance questions. I’ll answer the privacy question here, and the performance question in another post.

We will not violate the privacy of HitTail users. The data will not be shared with other companies or sold or provided in any way. HitTail will not be a success if we violate our users’ privacy. And to put a fine point on it, Google the company that’s developing it: Connors Communications. It’s the PR firm that launched Amazon.com and Priceline. It simply could never do something bad from a public relations standpoint as sharing data. We consider ourselves as having the same confidential relationship with you as we would any public relations client. We hope that the relationship we’re starting with you through HitTail will encourage you to approach us to discuss your public relations needs, or refer associates to us that are looking for a PR firm that really “gets it”.

So, your privacy is important to us, and I will be using the spirit of what’s expressed in this post as the starting point for an official privacy policy.