Thursday, April 21, 2011

Website Optimization

Note the Client companies are based in either the US or Canada and the “percentage of traffic outside key service areas” are based on each client’s target market.

For instance, if a client only services the US only, any traffic outside the US would be traffic outside their service area.

Evaluating Your Own Traffic For Relevance

To use our own web design and Internet marketing business as an example, we service both Canada and the US, but were getting 24% of our traffic from other international countries. Big portions of that traffic were companies looking to sell their services to us.

These international visitors would fill in our web forms and call us to inquire, untimely skewing our website analytics data by not giving us a real understanding of how our website was performing to quality prospects.

A solution had to be implemented to significantly reduce the amount of resources we were dedicating to people outside our service areas.

Ultimately, we didn’t want to be contacted from people we couldn’t help. The four possible solutions we considered were:

  1. Create a custom report in Google Analytics to filter out the unwanted data (reporting related)

  2. Adjust the content of our website (website related)

  3. Block the traffic from specific Countries from viewing our website (server related)

  4. Don’t change anything.

Option #1

When evaluating the first solution, creating a custom report to filter out this data in Google Analytics, this would clear up our analytics data. Implementing a filter would provide a more realistic picture of quality prospects we could service in our geographic area instead of those prospects or solicitors in other counties we don’t service.

This option didn’t run the risk of blocking any traffic or robots that we do want. It’s also a simple filter to add in Google Analytics. We set up another Profile with the country exclusions filters. A new Profile was the preferred approach, rather than going through the extra steps of creating Custom Reports.

However, setting up analytical filters doesn’t fully resolve the issue, since these visitors could still access our site, fill in web forms, and contact us, ultimately wasting resources that we could dedicate elsewhere.

It wouldn’t give us a true picture of what was going on. It also wouldn’t resolve the problem – we didn’t want to be contacted by companies from some outside countries.

Option #2

Updating the website content to say you only service a specific area is another solution that we considered.  This would inject more geo-targeted keywords into your site, which would help in local SEO. Adding a graphical map, drop-down options and/or links that allow the visitor to select their country would help qualify visitors.

Some of the downfalls of this option include spending a much higher amount of time to implement versus the other options. The success of this would also be dependent on how honest the visitor is.

Assuming visitors are reading your website content, adding geo-targeted keywords into your site would set a clearer expectation of service area delivery. However, this option still doesn’t resolve the issue of sharing contact information that allows unsolicited visitors to contact us and invalid web form data.

Option #3

How about blocking or filtering visitors automatically based on their IP address? When considering to block website visitors by IP it’s important to first evaluate the reliability of the IP address(es). The accuracy of an IP list is over 99.5% on a country level and 80% on a city level. The smaller the location, the less reliable the IP address.

Internet Service Providers change IP addresses they designate to customers. Some change them more frequently than others, which is why you want to keep the database of IPs updated. Scheduling a monthly update is typically a good routine if city level IP authentication is required. Country level is much more static.

The benefit of blocking the country via IP address would not only clean up analytical data, but also ensure our sales funnel was more efficient and provide a more accurate picture of real prospects in all systems. We needed to consider other issues in this approach.

One concern was the potential for a search crawler coming from an IP in the location we were planning on blocking. For example, there was a possibility that Google’s search crawler would also be blocked if it came from the same country. The implementation of this option is more technical. One would need to obtain a list of IP addresses for the desired locations and update the websites htaccess file.

In our example, the inquiries from some countries became so frequent that we couldn’t ignore it any longer. After much debate, we decided to ban the countries; however, we would only ban one at a time to evaluate the effects.

For instance, one of the largest traffic sources, accounting for approximately 20% of this, was from India, a market we don’t service. These Indian visitors were companies looking to sell their services to us.

We executed the ban in the polite Canadian way. We also implemented the Google Analytics profile with the country filter to monitor future website statistics versus the past.

Those visitors that came from our blocked list would land on a different page that displayed a nice message. It read: “Thank you for visiting. However, we don’t provide services in your area.”

In sum, the tests have gone over very well. Banning the country from our website has significantly cut down the number of unsolicited calls, emails and web form requests. It also gave us a much more accurate picture of how our website was performing within our own target market and service area.

Considerations For Blocking Traffic By Location

If you’re considering this strategy, some factors to consider when filtering visitors include:

  • Why do you want to filter website traffic?

  • Which locations would you want to filter?

  • How much traffic do you currently get from locations outside your service area?

  • How important is this traffic?

  • How to funnel visitors outside your service areas?

  • The accuracy of the IP addresses locations in mind.

  • Effects of non-human visitors.

A few months after we implemented this, we received a direct mail package that contained pens with our logo on them from a company that wished to sell us branded pens.

Guess what it said under our logo? “Thank you for visiting. However, we don’t provide services in your area.” We had a good laugh. Someone obviously didn’t read what they printed. It was evidence that our website block was working and a nice souvenir.

The key takeaway, as always, is monitor your traffic and conversions. Track where your quality traffic is coming from and decide for yourself if you should block the traffic of certain countries. Make sure to proceed with caution to ensure that you are not missing some opportunities.

Think outside of the box for other ideas of how you can use that traffic. Perhaps referring the traffic to a partner or creating a unique service for specific markets is another option to consider.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: 100% Organic - Search Engine Optimization Tips | SEO: General

OwnLocal is a Y-Combinator bred startup that helps local newspapers survive on the Internet. OwnLocal swoops into small towns sprinkled across America’s less tech savvy plains and puts on quite a clever show. In no way are they grifters; but with their guaranteed promises of success, small town publishers don’t stand a chance.

Lloyd W. Armbrust, II, OwnLocal’s Founder and CEO, puts its technology in the hands of local publications, newspapers or television stations, so that they can then sell successful modern digital strategies like owning a website, blogging, SEO optimization, design, group deals and more to local businesses. In other words, OwnLocal acts like a web development department for local newspapers providing them with simple, sellable products including a white label daily deal product and a white label Yelp-like product.

“In rural America, small businesses would rather the Internet didn’t exist, but it does. We sell a package through their local newspapers that creates a website for them, writes relevant blog posts for them and pushes out media to Twitter and Facebook. So, we manage all of that for them but we do it through their newspaper.”

-Lloyd W. Armbrust

OwnLocal trains local media employees and shows them how to put on a “Web a la carte” presentation for small businesses even though the local businesses may have never heard of Groupon, Yelp or LivingSocial. To date, OwnLocal has powered more than 1,000 small businesses and over 100 publications.

OwnLocal also sells its product, “AdForge” as “the best print-to-digital ad conversion software in the world.” AdForge is designed to take print ads and put them on the web, on mobile and on tablets. AdForge easily converts print ads into clickable, shareable, printable, mappable and sendable digital ads.

Say you’re a lawyer or a plumber, OwnLocal will create websites optimized for search engines and deal with social media elements like blogging, tweeting and Facebooking, saving these small service businesses a lot of time and effort. Businesses can choose from a variety of different websites from simple splash pages to editable, manageable sites. OwnLocal then taps into its network of college students and stay at home moms to write the company’s blog posts. But again, all of this is through the local newspaper.

Today, OwnLocal announces its “Arcade” partnership with HeyZap, another YC startup, to bring more than 50,000 social and casual games to newspapers and local media. Rather than just having a few puzzle games like crosswords and Sudoku, newspapers will have access to games that reflect what their audiences have come to expect from social networks and social game sites. Initial launch partners include A.H. Belo Corp.‘s The Press-Enterprise and Impre Media, the largest Spanish language newspaper group in America as well as 25 other newspapers. OwnLocal expects that newspapers will see financial benefits, increased time-on-site and more return visits.

In York, Nebraska– a town with a population of 10,000– OwnLocal made The York News Times $140,000 last year. OwnLocal takes 30% and the newspaper gets the remaining 70% of revenues from its tech products sold. $100,000-300,000 is an easy number to make for local papers, says Armbrust.  OwnLocal doesn’t work with media outlets that have circulations less than 1,000. And its sophisticated system tell them exactly how much money they can make just from circulation numbers. Guaranteed revenue reports based on circulation for dying newspapers? Maybe dreams do come true.

“The community newspaper I worked at was purchased and sold to Gatehouse Media. I started thinking, what can we do? Is there a situation where you can make this product that’s all-encompassing that could make these newspapers money? I felt for these guys. Print is declining.”

–Lloyd Armbrust

Armbrust has worked in the newspaper industry for 11 years, including two years working on OwnLocal. His Co-Founder Jason Novack is the hardcore hacker in the pair. Armbrust says their main competitor, ReachLocal charges 5 times as much as OwnLocal because they utilize a network of 1,000 local sales reps.

To date, OwnLocal has received just under a million seed funding from Y Combinator, Baseline Ventures, Lerer Media Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Joshua Schachter and Alex Moore.

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