Semantic Search. I imagine saying it five times into a mirror conjures an effect similar to horror classic Candyman. It’s all anyone in the Search world is talking about on blogs, at conferences, and in hushed whispers in the break rooms of agencies.
Yes, the future is coming, and it is semantic. Some of it is already here. Let’s take advantage of it! Many posts just like this one focus solely on the how, but today I’m going to switch it up and give you the why.
Google’s Hummingbird release, as documented by our own Andrew Garberson, changed the search game in a major way. Not only did (not provided) significantly alter data available to search marketers, Hummingbird signaled a major learning leap on the part of Google.
No longer confined to a toddler-level reading ability wherein a term is just a term unto itself and needs endless repetition (read: keyword stuffing), it signals a shift towards a first-grade reading level by the search engines to place words in context and take educated guesses at synonyms, meanings and full language understanding.
Example: “hot dog” and “hotdog” meant different things to pre-Hummingbird search, but could easily be synonyms to the current technology.
It’s clear that the concept of a singular keyword is dying if not dead. (more…)
I recently had a problem with my client – I ran out of things to write about. The client, a chimney sweep, has been with our company for 3 years and in that time we have written every article under the sun informing people about chimneys, the issues they cause, potential hazards, and optimal solutions. All of that writing has worked and worked well. We have seen over 100% traffic increases YoY. The challenge now is to keep that momentum.
Brainstorming sessions weren’t working. They looked more like a list of accomplishments than of new ideas. Each new idea seemed like we were slightly changing an already successful article written in the past. I wanted something new and I wanted to make sure it was tied to a strategy. Tell me if this sounds familiar!
So I internalized the problem. I let it smolder and waited for the answer. Then while reflecting on the effects of website architecture and content consolidation, topic modeling popped into my head. If I could scrape the content we’ve already written and throw it into an Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) model I could let the algorithm do the brainstorming for me.
For those of you unfamiliar with Latent Dirichlet Allocation it is:
“a generative model that allows sets of observations to be explained by unobserved groups that explain why some parts of the data are similar. For example, if observations are words collected into documents, it posits that each document is a mixture of a small number of topics and that each word’s creation is attributable to one of the document’s topics.” -Wikipedia
All that basically say is that there are a lot of articles on a website, each of those articles is related to a topic of some sort, by using LDA we can programmatically determine what the main topics of a website are. (If you want to see a great visualization of LDA at work on 100,000 Wikipedia articles, check this out.)
So, by applying LDA to our previously written articles, we can hopefully find areas to write about that will help my client be seen as more authoritative in certain topics.
So I got to researching. The two tools I found which allowed me to quickly test this idea were a content scraper by Kimono and a Topic Modeling Tool I found on code.google.com.
Scrape Content With Kimono
Kimono has an easy to use web application that uses a Chrome extension to train the scraper to pull certain types of data from a page. You are then able to give Kimono a list of URLs that have similar content and have it return a CSV of all the information you need.
Training Kimono is easy; data selection works similar to the magnifying glass feature of many web dev tools. For my purposes I was only interested in the header tag text and body content. (Kimono does much more than this, I recommend you check them out). Kimono’s video about extracting data will give you a better idea of how easy this is. When it’s done Kimono gives you a CSV file you can use in the topic modeling tool.
Compile a Lists of URLs with Screaming Frog
Next I needed a list of URLs for Kimono to scrape. Screaming Frog was the easy solution for this. I had Screaming Frog pull a list of articles from the clients blog, then I plugged those into Kimono. You could also use the page path report from Google Analytics.
Here is what that process looks like:
Map Topics With This GUI Topic Modeling Tool
Many of the topic modeling tools out there require some coding knowledge. However, I was able to find this Topic Modeling Tool housed on code.google.com. The development of this program was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to Yale University, the University of Michigan, and the University of California, Irvine.
The institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. My mission is to understand how strong my clients content library is and how I can connect them with more people. Perfect match.
Download the program, then:
1. Upload the CSV file from Kimono into the ‘Select Input File or Dir’ field.
2. Select your output directory.
3. Pick the number of topics you would like to have it produce. 10-20 should be fine.
4. If you’re feeling like a badass you can change the advanced settings. More on that below.
5. Click Learn Topics.
Main Topic Modeling Interface
Advanced Settings Interface
Besides the basic options provided in the first window, there are more advanced parameters that can be set by clicking the Advanced button.
Remove stopwords – If checked, remove a list of “stop words” from the text.
Stopword file – Read “stop words” from a file, one per line. Default is Mallet’s list of standard English stopwords.
Preserve case – If checked, do not force all strings to lowercase.
No. of iterations – The number of iterations of Gibbs sampling to run.
– For T500 default iterations = 1000
– Else default iterations = 2*T
Suggestion: Feel free to use the default setting for number of iterations. If you run for more iterations, the topic coherence *may* improve.
No. of topic words printed – The number of most probable words to print for each topic after model estimation. Default is print top-10 words. Typical range is top-10 to top-20 words.
Topic proportion threshold – Do not print topics with proportions less than this threshold value. Good suggested value is 5%. You may want to increase this threshold for shorter documents.
Analyze The Output
The output of this raw data is a list of keywords organized into rows, each row representing a topic. To make analysis easier I transposed these rows into columns. Now I put my marketer hat on and manually highlighted every word in these topics that directly related to services, products, or the industry. That looks something like this:
Once I identified the keywords that most closely related to the client’s industry and offering, I eyeballed several themes that theses keywords could fall under. I found themes related to Repair, Fire, Safety, Building, Home, Environmental, and Cleaning.
Once I had this list, I looked back through each topic column and added the themes I felt best matched the words above each LDA topic. That gave me a range at the top of my LDA topics which I could sum using a countif function in Excel. The result is something to the right.
Obviously this last part is far from scientific. The only thing remotely scientific about this is using Latent Dirichlet Allocation to organize words into topics. However it does provide value. This is a real model rooted in math; I used actual blog content not a list of keywords that came from a brainstorming session and Ubersuggest, and with a little intuition I got an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of my clients blog content.
Cleaning is a very important part of what my client does, yet it does not have much of a presence in this analysis. I have my next blog topic!
Something To Consider
LDA and topic modeling have been around for 11 years now and most search related articles about the topic appear between 2010 and 2012. I am unsure why that is as all of my efforts have been put toward testing the model. Moving forward I will be digging a little deeper to make sure this is something worth perusing. If it is, you can expect me to report on a more scientific application, along with results, in the future.
In the lexicon of modern marketing, “content marketing” has become a rather popular phrase to bandy about. And it seems like everyone wants to sell you their foolproof recipe for success.
Today, I’m playing that game. My ridiculous line of buzzword-edition Marketing Magnetic Poetry is, “High ROI content marketing is a product of efficiency, synergy, and multi-tasking.” And my “secret sauce” to content creation is:
Always Be Creating content.
This is no secret to true master bloggers and content marketers; they’re 24/7 creators. I don’t include myself in such company, but the better I get at it, the better the return I see on time spent.
Any time you make a significant change related to your website, whether that’s content or the underlying architecture, you should check to see if your changes have impacted the SEO best practices you’ve already put into place.
A few weeks ago, a client unexpectedly informed me that they migrated their web server to a different platform. As I scrambled to see if there were any SEO issues (there were), I realized how little was written on this topic, so I began asking questions and taking notes.
Disclaimer: I’m no expert on servers and web hosting.* However, I am one of the world’s most prolific practitioners of freaking out about things that could hurt a site’s search engine rankings.
Below are a few big takeaways regarding how server software can impact SEO and how to ensure your server switch is smooth with SEO. (more…)
In 2013, LunaMetrics hosted its first free SEO training, designed for local students and recent graduates and partnering with local non-profit organizations. The event was so successful for all who attended that LunaMetrics will offer the free training again this year, over the weekend of October 18-19.
The students who were chosen to participate in last year’s program left with knowledge of SEO best practices and experience optimizing a website for search engine traffic. These employable skills and experiences could be added to their professional résumés to help kickstart their professional careers in essentially any field.
LaToya Johnson, then a Carlow University MBA student, participated in the 2013 training. She gave this advice, “…I would encourage other students to take advantage; not only will you gain knowledge, great networking opportunities, and a certificate. You may also discover a passion that you didn’t know that you possessed.” (more…)
Spurred on by the Edward Snowden revelations, Google has begun taking security more seriously. After the revelations came out, Google quickly secured and patched their own weaknesses. Now they are pushing to encrypt all internet activity by incentivizing websites that use SSL certificates by giving them a boost in rankings.
During a Google I/O presentation this year called HTTPS Everywhere, speakers Ilya Grigorik and Pierre Far made it clear that this move is not just about encrypting the data being passed between server to browser, but also to protect users from having the meta data surrounding those requests collected.
Though the meta data collected by visiting a single unencrypted website is benign, when you aggregate that data it can pose serious security risk for the user. Thus by incentivizing HTTPS, Google has begun to eliminate instances on the web where users could be vulnerable to having information unknowingly collected about them.
I will give you the spark notes version of the HTTPS Everywhere presentation, but even that will warrant a TL;DR stamp. My hope is that this outline and the resource links contained within it give you a hub you can use when evaluating and implementing HTTPS on your site. (more…)
No company dictates the online marketing industry and all of our careers like Google. Regardless of whether you use the company’s products, your customers do and that leaves you no choice but to become a Google expert.
This post outlines 20 things that every marketer should know about Google. Some are huge (and somewhat unimaginable) dollar figures. Others are market share percentages. The one thing they all have in common: you need to know them.
If we missed any important facts, please let us know in the comments. (more…)
A holistic industry transformation was the tone at MozCon this year and Erica McGillivray and team did a fantastic job getting speakers that supported this theme. Those chosen for the conference are experts in their fields, pushing conventional wisdom and challenging us with new ways to tackle old problems. Each spoke on different topics, but to the same point.
MozCon started with a presentation from our fearless SEO leader, the Wizard of Moz himself, Rand Fishkin. Rand started off the conference by reflecting on the past year in search and framing his vision for the future. He highlighted 5 big trends from the past year.
You know what’s been grinding my gears lately? No matter how long I’ve been in the search field, or what happens out there in the industry, some myths continue to persist. Wishful thinking? Lack of education? I say both.
Let’s clear up some common misconceptions with the help of some industry experts from Google+. If you’re an average web user, Google+ probably doesn’t have a place in your life. However, I’ve found it to be a thriving locale for search industry discussion! Add one of these experts to your circles and join the conversation today.