Ever wonder how powerful some of the oldest SEO recommendations still are?  With the birds and the bears (and a little caffeine) changing so much in SEO since 2011, I wanted to see first hand some of the results we can get from some moves like internal linking and title tag optimization.  Using my own site as the proving ground, and moving quickly between tweaks and first results to try and exclude any other ancillary update or change, I decided to test some optimizations I still see recommended or used in the field.  The set of competing pages I chose below don’t move very often, so I thought this might be a good group to experiment with.

Note: It’s important to understand that this is not a controlled test at all.  Any single domain I’m competing against could be making some changes at the same time which would naturally skew my results.  Let’s take this with  a grain of salt and consider all of this directional. This is not advice, this is merely my experience and thoughts. If I get hammered on this in the comments, so help me…

The tests were run at various times between November 17, 2013 and January 12, 2014.  Just want the results?  Click for the result summaries: #1 and #2.

Truthfully I think the tl;dr can be summed up pretty well in a single statement:

stop lazy seo

[rant] See, the results of these tests turned out as I (and probably most of you) expected. Virtually no gains on the thinnest of tests. There were very little surprises below.  Yet, these still bring related recommendations all the time from lesser quality blogs – or worse, sometimes agencies and consultants.

Last week I walked into a pitch where the prospect showed me some of the projects his current neighborhood SEO company is working on.  He candidly told me he didn’t know what the SEO company was doing for him (which is why he was entertaining new vendors).  With the draft of this post in my head, he started sharing some of the recommendations he was given – some of which coincidentally are listed below. Others recommendations included press release links and quickly churned video production.

Now I’m not one to “negative sell” over a competitor (ie, downplay someone else’s service to promote my own), and I was extremely respectful to this vendor, but I left the meeting really frustrated for this business owner. It took everything I had to keep from blasting this vendor. The business owner is clearly the victim of lazy SEO.  He was a great guy trying to run a business and relied on the company to be his SEO hero. I respectfully gave him my different opinion on tactics and strategies without truly speaking my mind.  I’m still not sure I shouldn’t have been more truthful.

In case you’re wondering, none of the local services in my screenshots below is the vendor I’m reluctantly protecting. [/rant]

Updated 2-20-2014: Lia Barrad made a great point in the comments that I feel should be added here. Unfortunately I couldn’t persuade a client to allow me to display bigger data. As a result I was only limited to do the tests on our own site. The amount of traffic and testing options I had on this relatively small Greenlane site didn’t give me much opportunity to also show a lift/loss in traffic. I really wanted to share that as well, because I truly think qualified and converting traffic is way higher on the list of valuable SEO KPIs. Instead I was relegated to using garbage keywords like “Philadelphia SEO” that doesn’t bring much good traffic (I used to rank extremely well for the term and eventually abandoned it because it wasn’t worth the effort in my case).

Enjoy the test!

Exact Match Internal Anchor Text Optimization

Test 1

Situation: On November 17 2013, using Chrome Incognito, my site ranks #11 for a geo-targeted keyword (see graphic below – in this case I don’t want to muddy this test by adding the keyword anywhere on this website except in the testing page).

Click images for larger view

Search philadelphia seo company

The strongest page on my site is my homepage (which is currently ranking for the keyword above).  It has a PA of 52.58, with 420 external links passing link equity from 51 external domains.

My second strongest page is my Outdated Content Finder tool.  It got mentions in Moz, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, and picked up from mentions at Mozcon.   It has a page authority (PA) of 49.07, with 89 linking root domains, for a total of 100 external, equity passing links.  There are already 40 outbound links from this page, with two being to external domains.

On my Outdated Content Finder page, there isn’t a reference to the homepage using any anchor text but “home” in the navigation.

Test: To see if I could pass better PageRank to my homepage, using an exact match anchor text, I implemented the following:

  1. Added a link onto my second most valuable website page (the OCF tool).
  2. Used Webmaster Tools to “Fetch As Google”, and submit to index (for faster crawling).

Expectation:  In many cases, the Fetch As Google URL submission works really fast (I’ve seen it add a new URL in less than 10 minutes), but I’m not really expecting a jump in rank.  I think because the sitewide navigation, where there’s a home link already embedded, this second link may not have much power.

Result:  It took a few days, but there was a single-position gain on 11/18 (same as the new cache date).  The bump went from position 11 to position 10.  Nothing to hang my hat on normally, but for a page jump, I’m somewhat satisfied in this case.

 Philadelphia SEO company results

 

Test 2

To push the rankings a little higher, let’s try a partial-sitewide, exact anchor link to the same homepage.

Test:  11/19 – My blog has a different sidebar than my non-blog pages.  With a widget in WordPress I can add a simple piece of copy with an exact anchor text link:

copy

This isn’t a true fully-sitewide link, and is all one level deeper into the site (http://www.greenlaneseo.com/blog/) but for this experiment I think it’s good enough.

Expectation:   I have a number of blogs with a wide variety of backlinks.  I still believe sitewide links have power (though limited), and expect to possibly see another position bump.

Result: On 11/24 (6 days after the change), the keyword actually dropped two spots to position 12 (page 2).  From what I can observe, no new sites have entered the set.

Test 2.1

Since that sitewide link didn’t work too well, I reversed it.  Actually, I updated it to push all the links into the Outdated Content Finder page.  Maybe if we consolidate into my second most powerful page it might have a positive effect to the same target keyword.

Test:  11/24 – Updated the site-wide copy as follows:

updated-link

Expectation:  Truth is, I expected more from Test 2.  With Test 2.1, I’m even less optimistic there will be a positive change.  At the least, I’m expecting my target keyword to fall back to position #10.

Result: Apparently better than expected.  Now appearing in position 9 for my target keyword since 11/27.

Test 2.1 update - Philadelphia SEO company

Results Summary

The domains in this set stayed relatively constant throughout this 10 day experiment.  Again, I make no claim to this being the results everyone should expect, since we must consider competition, possible backend algorithm changes, and (especially since these are all SEO companies) possible changes by the websites themselves.  But, my theories are as follows:

  • Direct internal linking with specific anchor text still has a little bit of value, especially if you direct it through your best pages.  A single ranking bump from second to first page may be larger if it was a result deeper in the rankings (my guess!).  So, very little gain, and definitely a small recommendation, but there are much bigger SEO fish to fry than this change.  If a client had to pay to have this change done, not sure I would ever put this top on the list.
  • We’ve heard sitewide links may be scrutinized by Google, and it may be true after all with a direct keyword impact dampened.  But, while keyword value may not pass directly, efficient PageRank still may. Some clever “PageRank sculpting” may still have minor value. Keyword, minor.  Once again, recommendations for this kind of result won’t be moving higher on my list any time soon.

 

Title Tag Optimization

Test 1

Situation: Thousands of SEOs, websites, and audit tools suggest these two best practices for title tags:

  • Target keyword should be the first word
  • Title tag must be under 70 characters

Personally, I’ve rejected this for the last 8 years.  Here’s why – I believe Google is more sophisticated, and realizes the target keyword being first in the title isn’t always natural.  In Google’s younger days, sure – it’s a signal they could code to capture, but I think it’s too limiting to be a signal today.  It’s a usual SEO recommendation that surely Google knows about.  Second, if a title tag is too long, it gets truncated.  That’s not a great user experience, but I’ve never seen evidence of the truncated text not helping rank.  I’ve only seen the opposite.

Test: To test this, I updated my title tag for my blog homepage on 11/29/2013.  Target keyword is in the middle of the title tag.  I intentionally caused the tag to truncate.  This is a pretty terrible title, but suits the experiment:

bad title

On a side note, after creating this terrible title tag, I submitted to Fetch as Google.  Within 60 seconds this title tag showed in an incognito search, despite an outdated “Nov 18, 2013” date. That’s remarkable.

On 11/30 through 12/02, I’m ranking position 271 for my keyword.  It seems pretty settled there. On 12/03, I have updated the title tag to this:

updated-title

Expectation:  I don’t think the ranking will move.  I don’t think keyword position matters.

Result: On 12/7 my current rank for the keyword was still 271.  On 1/4/2013, it flopped down to 284.  No positive change.

Test 1.1

I wholeheartedly believe the volatility of a change is different when a rank is in the hundreds, vs. in the tens.  Let’s revise the same test on a keyword that is already ranking well.  For the keyword Philadelphia SEO, my homepage page ranks 6.  The title tag is Greenlane SEO – Search, Analytics, and Strategy Services Since 2005. A Philadelphia SEO Company.

Test:  On 1/8 let’s see what happens if I change it to Philadelphia SEO Company – Greenlane SEO – Search, Analytics, and Strategy Services Since 2005.

Expectation:  I don’t think the ranking will move.  I don’t think keyword position matters in this case either.

Result: On 1/12 my current rank for the keyword was still 6.  No positive change (but I’m reverting immediately – that’s a terrible title tag just for a supposed SEO value).

philadelphia seo SERP

 

 Test 2

I don’t believe that a title needs to be under 70 characters for SEO value to take hold.  As mentioned early in this post, a truncated title is not great from a marketing perspective.  Surely there’s better things a user can see than an ellipsis in the SERP link, but when trimming to 70 characters is recommended in order to rank better, I call “shenanigans”.

Test:  I’m not going to work too hard on this test because I’ve tested this before.  On 1/8/2014, on a blog post called Review of Repost.us, I rank #1 for “review of repost.”  The title tag is simply Review of Repost.us.  I am changing the title to past 70 characters:  Review of Repost.us – A Review By Bill Sebald – Is Repost.Us SEO Friendly?  Let’s Find Out!  Greenlane Search Marketing

Expectation: I’m expecting no drop in rank whatsoever.

Result:  On 1/13/2014, no drop with new ugly truncated title tag.

Results Summary

As expected, tweaking the title tags with these old-school recommendations didn’t do anything.  It’s not 2007 anymore.

  • Changing the location of the keyword, and extending past the 70 characters, did not seem to matter.

Conclusion

I do hope you enjoyed the tests.  As stated in the beginning of the post, this is not scientific. Take this as directional and do what you may with the information, but my recommendation for those who still solely rely on these kinds of recommendations to provide your client with SEO services, please reconsider recommending things that have a bigger impact. If you’re a business person yourself, and you get recommendations like this, please don’t drink the kool-aid.

Bill Sebald
Bill Sebald
Follow me on Twitter - @billsebald

I've been doing SEO since 1996. Blogger, speaker, and teacher at Philadelphia University. I started Greenlane in 2005 to help clients leverage search marketing to hit business goals. I love this stuff.

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  • Bill, I love these kinds of microtests. They may not be the most scientific, but they get people thinking about which SEO “truths” they hold to be self-evident. As a follow-up to Test 2, I’d like to see how well a post ranks when the keyword itself gets truncated past ~70 characters.

    • Bill Sebald

      Hi Scott, thanks for reading. I’m a fan of yours! I’ll think about updating with that test – it totally makes sense.

  • Hey Bill,
    This was an awesome post. Love that you went old school with it. Anyways, I thought this would be valuable to our readers, so I included it on my roundup of January’s best SEO, social media, and content marketing articles. http://www.northcutt.com/blog/2014/02/january-resource-round-up-the-best-of-seo-social-media-and-content-marketing/

    • Bill Sebald

      I very much appreciate it Ben! #oldskool

  • That’s cool, Bill. For most situations, I’ve stopped watching individual rankings and focus on overall organic traffic. I wonder how your tweaks affected your rankings and organic traffic for those pages overall.

  • Mike

    Have to disagree on the “Title Tag Optimization” one. Too closed a testing environment.

    Title tags still have value in my book. We tested it on a retail site that accidentally had the CMS generate the whole tag twice and just add text on the end. We got it tidied it up manually on some pages, kept it to a decent length and added category element, those went up in traffic 300%. Each started ranking for variables of that original keyword and improved on the main term too. Look at the bigger picture. I have several stories like this too.

    I’ll take my well targeted good length title tags any day.

    • Bill Sebald

      Keyword order and length was tested, not the inherent value of a title tag. On that I don’t dispute.

      • Mike

        Ok sure, but keyword order does matter too. Reversing sequence in title tag on a site recently so that product name itself started instead of ended title tag made a difference too on a different site when that move was done in isolation.

        • Bill Sebald

          That one I would argue. I see no change routinely. I used to recommend that heavily since 2007 on eCommerce sites (we all did!), and it stopped mattering (in my view) in the last few years.

          It makes sense to me – Google shouldn’t need such a basic signal as keyword order. Natural language doesn’t even work that way. Seems to me today’s Google wouldn’t want to be held by such an old school SEO best practice.

          • McDoogle

            But Bill, in your title tag test you still left the keywords at the beginning (see below).

            “I rank #1 for “review of repost.” The title tag is simply Review of Repost.us. I am changing the title to past 70 characters: Review of Repost.us – A Review By Bill Sebald – Is Repost.Us SEO Friendly? Let’s Find Out! Greenlane Search Marketing”

            Have you tried moving them further from the front to see if it affects rankings then?

          • Bill Sebald

            Hi McDoogle, this was actually targeting a different test.

  • Bill, great test! – length of title tag or meta tags really don’t matter anymore from my experience.

  • Hey Bill,

    Great article and congrats on making it into the Moz newsletter.

    I noticed you mentioned using Incognito mode and just wanted to mention that Incognito doesn’t depersonalize your results. See http://moz.com/blog/face-off-4-ways-to-de-personalize-google

    The best way to depersonalize is to add this string to your url in Google: “&pws=0”

    So the search would look like this “https://www.google.com/search?q=philadelphia+seo+company&pws=0&hl=en&num=10”

    • Bill Sebald

      Forgot that trick and will take your advice! Thanks!!!

  • Sha

    Hi Bill,

    Great to see you testing some minor factors that could influence the rankings. However, the test period is too short and usually there is google dance before a new ranking is effected. You seem to have made changes before the real effects could be seen. Rankings take time to stabilize and settle therefore tweaking 1 after another might not be the best way to conclude your test.

    Regards

    • Bill Sebald

      I noted in the post for factors like these and to take the results with a grain if salt, but I’ve certainly seen much less Google Dance in recent years in sync with my results here. Actually some of these tests are still in play and the ranks are still stationary.

  • Eli Schwartz

    Great post Bill and I love reading about SEO tests!

    For the jury is still out on whether keyword order matters. I have seen similar results to yours on existing pages that I tested, but at the same time, I find reordering keywords can be pretty helpful when fixing reputation problems.

    • Bill Sebald

      I can see that! The messaging in a title tag is important, so in that (and clickthroughs) I think word order certainly matters. Just as it would in an news headline or book title!

  • Hi Bill, thanks for your article, let me make a comment regarding Test 2. I don’t quite agree that the length of the title tag does not matter. Not because longer than 70 symbol tags do not count, they do count, and I am with you on that, but I think longer is the title tag, less “dense” and weaker is the key word. In other words suppose we are promoting a 10 symbol key word, the best result if we have the title tag exactly these 10 symbols. Any additional word in title beyond these 10 symbols would dilute the key word. Adding as many as 70 or even more symbols will make our key word even more dilutes and rather week.

  • First sorry my bad english.

    I had doing a lot of texts, experiments, etc, on my site and, its sad but nothing is working. I´m sure that google make dance the serps several times each day and changes its rules each 5 days. I´m thinking that you must change every 5 days something on your sites and they go up.

  • I was actually discussing this yesterday with a few people as I’ve seen similar results even when totally removing relevant keywords from title tags(bit of a drop in rankings at first then back to the original position).

    Probably worth keeping http://www.seobythesea.com/2012/08/google-rank-modifying-spammers-patent/ in mind when doing any experiments too:)

    Enjoyed your post 🙂

    • Bill Sebald

      Bill Slawski is brilliant – I will definitely read this post. Thank you.

  • I like the idea of testing these old techniques, but in my opinion they don’t really prove much, results fluctuate from day to day anyway, some moving a couple of places others dropping off then coming back. This seems to happen to every website I run ranking reports for.

    Thanks

    Andy

    • Bill Sebald

      I think you make a great point, which ties nicely to the theme of my post – don’t waste time (and client’s money) on this old school little stuff that doesn’t do much. There’s bigger SEO work to be done.

  • Hi Bill, it’s always a pleasure to read your blog posts, especially when you go into detail like this. I guess the results were more or less what we could have expected, but to see a real case study is such a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to write this, it’s appreciated.

    PS. Your tab index on this comment box jumps from the email field to the search field at the top right of your website.

    • Bill Sebald

      This theme needs an update bad. Thanks for the note and the compliment.

  • Dear Bill,

    thank you for this interesting little experiment.

    IMO the keywords need to be in the first 70 characters, otherwise the site drops. I would be curious to see what happens though in reality, since this is speculation.

    To shape the internal navigation structure IMO can have an impact, if pages with strong incoming links have very few internal links, passing on the bulk of their juice to those. It would be up to an experiment as well though.

    Thank you for posting your experience on this one.

  • Richard Strange

    Hi,

    Based on the site-wide link test with anchor text, how would you say that affects all those sites with the additional navigation in the footer? Still commonly found on many sites.

    • Bill Sebald

      Some think the location of those footer links play a role… you know, that would be a really good follow up test? My assumption is the same as a global sidebar or top nav sitewide link.

      • Richard Strange

        Your suggestion would be logical. Love to see the results too. Thanks.

  • The best thing that works is content, content, content. You also can’t test by just looking yourself… it’s not static for all users anymore. They play around with the position of websites and run automated tests. If users click more, they leave it up there and if they take longer to come back to Google and search again, it gets ranked higher.

  • Thank you for sharing this information. I have been afraid of using keyword specific links (anchor text) because I got burned a year or two ago when an SEO company abused this practice on my website. I tried to unravel anchor text links as much as possible, and my website recovered but is still not firing on all cylinders. I am going to circle back around and start linking some of my other websites and pages to my important pages.
    Thanks,
    Brian
    PS Maybe we can talk about SEO sometime?

    • Bill Sebald

      Any time, Brian. Feel free to reach out to me through the contacts / forms on this site.

  • Amazing post, we will try to use it here in Brasil.

  • Andrew Rowland

    Hey Bill,

    I don’t think the 70 character title tag recommendation has to do with ranking – it has to do with CTR. The title tag is the headline for your ad/article and I know from my own testing – optimizing that as you would ad text for AdWords pays dividends from increased CTR without a change in position.

    • Bill Sebald

      I agree!

  • Thanks for sharing some testing, which IMO, every SEO worth their salt does continuously throughout their career.

    Forgetting the advice for a second, I strongly believe we (SEOs) can’t afford to give opinions like this without enough data to prove our point.

    I’m all ears to hearing new developments in SEO, but trying to prove a point with a handful of tests just doesn’t cut it. Regarding your title test 1.1, don’t you find it really funny how 8 out of the top ten listings (https://www.google.com/search?q=philadelphia+seo+company&gl=us&pws=0) all contain “Philadelphia” + “SEO” in their titles, and 5 of which are clearly towards the start of the title?

    Little tests in semi-isolation should only be used to further investigate, if something of interest occurs. For example, I recently nofollowed most of my internal links on davidsottimano.com and traffic + search queries have shot up inexplicably, but I’m not going to write a blog post about “PageRank Sculpting still works!”, because it’s irresponsible. To be confident, I’d have to execute this implementation on at least 20 sites, and provide exact details of how I measured it.

    Re: truncated title tags > Google is surely using user metrics to re-order rankings for certain queries, one of those signals would most certainly be based on CTR. A truncated title tag would miss out on a fundamental CTR enhancement, the brand. Although we can’t prove it, it’s still another consideration you should have taken account of.

    • Bill Sebald

      I was waiting for this one. This is why I posted: Note: It’s important to understand that this is not a controlled test at all. Any single domain I’m competing against could be making some changes at the same time which would naturally skew my results. Let’s take this with a grain of salt and consider all of this directional. If I get hammered on this in the comments, so help me…

      I appreciate your view but disagree with some. I do think little tests are better than no tests, and that’s what a lot of SEOs run with. Hearsay. And even with the above caveat that this is “directional”, it’s still enough data to satisfy me. If you ran with your test and posted “I think PageRank sculpting may still work, and here’s why, with as some supporting data,” I personally would appreciate that. This post is simply for those who aren’t testing, and would like to see someone’s experience. Frankly most SEO tests simply can’t be run with statistical accuracy, so we only have these little experiments.

      > Regarding your title test 1.1, don’t you find it really funny how 8 out of the top ten listings all contain “Philadelphia” + “SEO” in their titles, and 5 of which are clearly towards the start of the title?

      Not really. So do most of the page 2 – 10. Most SEOs are raised to think this way, thus their own title tags. It didn’t improve when I made the move, and that’s what I’m sticking with.

      • I appreciate the disclaimer, but it still doesn’t account for the fact that you’re giving advice based on a few small tests.

        I didn’t say testing wasn’t good, and there’s a lot of merit in small tests. But in a world with over a trillion pages indexed and constant ranking fluctuation, there’s no way we can give advice based on a handful of small tests – I guess we can just agree to disagree.

        “Frankly most SEO tests simply can’t be run with statistical accuracy, so we only have these little experiments.” – I agree, because there are too many unknown variables and we can’t control the environment…but we still need a decent sample size to be able to give a data driven opinion, 3 tests on title tag optimization isn’t a decent sample size.

        • Bill Sebald

          I have amended the post to let everyone know this is not advice. Thank you for your comments. I do appreciate them.

          • Thanks Bill. Since I’m no statistician myself, I’ve asked some folks to contribute to a future blog post dedicated to SEO testing. Hopefully we can all find a structure that works, and then we can just focus on executing the tests (which is what we do best).

          • Bill Sebald

            Very cool. I’ll help promote it! Shoot me a note when you have it.

  • It would have been cool to see a test for the Meta Description tag too.
    I’d have thrown in a Meta Keyword test too just to prove that it has no effect today.

    Good post though all the same.

  • Totally agree with your findings based upon my own testing. The old school suggestions don’t hurt, but they’re not by themselves going to give you great rankings. My experience today is that long content articles that are multimedia rich seem to be doing the best, even if they’re not 100% keyword optimized.

  • HI Bill,

    Every thing you read about SEO now states that the new SEO is basically blogging and sharing those articles and blog posts via social media. Obviously links help if they are “natural” links.

    What are your thoughts on the basics of “SEO strategies in 2014”?

  • I do recommend these so called old school tactics but they must be done alongside sustainable tactics.
    Must be the day for old school thinking because I wrote a blog post today too about old SEO tactics and that in moderation they do still have their place in website ranking.

    • Bill Sebald

      Post it in the comments. I’d like to read it.

    • I would agree that old school tactics still have their place, but that is more because SEO has evolved and those tactics still play a role. For Title tags keyword placement and length (lack of truncation) tie directly into click through rates from SERPs, which has a direct impact on rankings.

      So, while I still recommend keeping relevant keywords/phrases close to the front of a title tag and keeping it to 70 characters, I make that recommendation because of the impact on click through rate, not because I believe either of those has a direct impact on rankings.

      And it is not always relevant to have a keyword at the front of a title tag, it just depends on the business goals of the page/site. Sometimes the brand is more important, and more now mimicking natural speech is important.

      I love that Google bolds the query terms and their synonyms so I don’t HAVE to push them front and center at the searcher. It makes creating high-quality titles easier.

      This was a pretty cool test Bill, thanks for sharing it!

      • Bill Sebald

        I think many would disagree that clicks help rank (including last year’s studies) unless they’re your own clicks (personalization). So would the guys I know who created click bots on proxies to try to boost their ranks to no avail. Too easy to game.

        • Yes, I completely agree that clicks don’t impact rankings – click through rates are not the same thing.

          In a Feb 22, 2012 Moz post by Dr. Peter Meyers, he discussed two “usage factors” he believed to be relevant to rankings: click through rate and dwell time.

          These factors were included in the Moz 2013 Search Ranking Factors survey, and it appears the SEO community is split (60%m agree/40% disagree) on whether these usage factors impact search.

          It would appear you are in the group that does not believe. I did some searching, but have not successfully found the studies you mentioned – could you post the links so I can go see what others are saying?

          I, honestly, have had zero exposure to the other side of the discussion.

          • Bill Sebald

            Got it – I read your comment too fast the first time. Yup, CTR as a factor has been alluded to by engineers and patents.

            Still, I don’t think about it much – I straddle the fence on that one, and don’t think CTR would weigh too much only because it’s “gameable” as well. I’ve also seen ecommerce tests on SERP pogosticking, none of which hurt or helped rankings in any meaningful way (a private study from 2011).

            I know some people who created bots with proxies and created a high CTR. Unless Google sniffed it out, they never had success.

            But, CTR does seem good in theory.

        • Hi Bill,
          these are nice experiments. I am also a little bit unsure wether the test duration has been long enough or not. But as you said earlier in the comments, some tests ran longer with the same results – maybe you could add that in the article?

          I did an SEO experiment regarding the click-through-rate http://www.cleveres-webdesign.de/en/click-through-rate-ranking-factor/ – in this test I found ranking changes that might result from the changed CTR. Rand Fishkin also did some tests on that and concluded that click-through-rate “can, at least in some circumstanes, have an effect on ranking”. What do you think about that?

          • Bill Sebald

            I’m skeptical that clicks can improve rankings. For one, it would be directly contradictory to what Google has told us in the past about user data as a signal (which wouldn’t be a surprise I suppose). Second, Google must know that the minute the community generally agrees it’s a factor, scripts/bots on proxies would flood the SERPs. Unless Google feels they solved click-fraud (and maybe they did in some circumstances), this just seems a little too dangerous. In a perfect world clicks should be a factor.

  • Miguel

    Hi Bill, great idea for this post, thanks for sharing it all.

    I wanted to ask, what ARE you’re typical on-page SEO revalations to clients if you feel that Title tags and internal links are not strong on-page optimizations?

    A great follow up post would be to go over what you DO feel are good on-page SEO items to focus on.

  • Hi Bill,
    Love the post. I’m a first timer and found you through the Moz roundup. I’d love to hear about some of the other faulty SEO tips “the other” company was touting. Can you share?

    Thanks,
    David “new subscriber” Cohn

    • Bill Sebald

      One was press release links. I’m now seeing the press release syndication sites getting thrown back in failed reinclusion requests. Bad news for their clients.

  • Brilliant research – even if it isn’t overly scientific. I find that these sort of tests are the best and get to the point straight away – no need for the extra fluff.

    We are actually compiling our own little (fluff free) research on hosting location and rankings. Soon to be published. 🙂

  • A nice test I will say. Sometimes old truths become outdated and many people still hold them as sacred. This is also happening in seo.

    The earlier we constantly test these beliefs, the better we shall be ready to advise our clients and follow what works.

    SEO is not stagnant. Once in a while we should test our beliefs to discover if it still holds water.

    Thanks for an article that was sweet for me to read.

  • While I enjoyed reading your efforts about rank, what I feel is missing in your data is how many clicks resulted in actual customers. As an old school SEO that offers new school marketing services, I find that when customers come to me, it is because they have the rank and not the results. So we look at rebranding and finding terms relevant to the market they are trying to reach, they work on the rank.

    • Bill Sebald

      That is a super valuable point. So much so that I’m going to promote it into my article later today.

  • AJ Mihalic (@ajmihalic)

    I think it’s obvious that pointing good links to a page, even internal ones, will help it rank (if it isn’t well linked already), but I don’t really think internal anchor text makes a significant difference. You showed that it’s possible that links to the OCF page affect ranking, but not necessarily whether anchor text was influential or not. So, your test was really: “internal linking optimization” not “exact match internal anchor text optimization”.

    Why not try linking to it without the exact anchor text? Maybe “try it now” or something to see if it changes.

    I like your point about title tags, especially on the homepage. That said I think the recommendation is valid, but over-simplified. I like simple focused title pages & title tags, so keyword early in title becomes a natural result of page development and a correct signal too. I agree that forcing this is dumb, and honestly I imagine has more chance of being a negative signal in many cases.

  • Amazing test you got here. Up until now I believed the same thing, that the title tag should start with your keyword, but as you just showed it doesn’t matter how you do your title.

    OK, but do you believe that there should be some keyword density in the title? Or you think that, that doesn’t matter either?

    Thanks

  • There is an argument you didn’t leave these tests running long enough, but then you’d end up with other factors becoming involved. One of those SEO tests that really need multiple domains and pages to remove as many variables as possible. Understand you weren’t going for that level of testing.

    I do a lot of SEO testing, here’s a simple test on adding alt text to a text link http://stallion-theme.co.uk/wordpress-seo-tutorial-anchor-text/ the test is part of the link with anchor text “Best WordPress SEO Setup”.

    View source of the link and search for the made up word in Google, right now there are no results for this made up word, so Google hasn’t indexed that text. This is a clear cut SEO result, Google ignores alt text incorrectly added to text links.

    Alt text is not supposed to be added to text links, so not a surprising result, but it shows how to isolate a single variable by setting up a simple test. I’ve similar test for the title attribute of text links, alt text of image (linked and not linked) and loads more. Top result is one of my tests on another site: https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rls=GGLD,GGLD:2005-16,GGLD:en&q=%22Welcome+to+SEO+Gold%27s+Search+Engine+Optimization+Company%22

    You might be able to gain some insight about title element length on the first domain I linked to. I run a theme that turns large comments into post like pages (it’s under WordPress) and the comment pages have title elements. Run a Google site search on the domain and you find hundreds of comments indexed and the titles are far more natural than your average blog and some are repeated. Quite a large set of data to play with.

    David

  • Got sent here by moz.com, nice work indeed.
    However, I disagree with you on the position of the keyword in title. I personally have done a few tests back in late 2013 and found that it does matter. I also can say that in english effect might be minimal. However, for my own language “Turkish” it is a game changer. I am still convinced that g-translate data is still quite poor for my language. So think I am still using that as an advantage.
    Keep up the good work..

  • Michael Hasson

    Bill, thanks for running these tests. Like you said, while these are not results we should bet the farm on, it is nice to see what happens, just to provide us with some experimental direction of our own.

    In regards to truncated titles – I’ve actually been wanting to test wether or not they can affect click through rate… Meaning, if you write a catchy enough title that people start reading, but get cut off, does it make them click just because they want to see what the rest of the title says?? Might be interesting to test.

    -Michael

    • Bill Sebald

      I’d like to see that! The ellipsis is kind of off-putting.

  • Thanks for a good read Bill. Liked the piece on the Title length, I am particularly interested about going over so called limit even by just a few words. Food for though! Nick :=)

  • Georgie Hope

    Hi Bill,

    In Australia using the keyword at the start of the title tag for small business websites is one of the most powerful SEO strategies that I use everyday. Low competition keywords often move from >100 to the top ten within a matter of days and other higher competition keywords move from >100 by an improvement of 20-30 places a month. In some cases I can get this effect without even doing any link building or other on page SEO. Just setting up the title tags properly from the beginning with keywords that are relevant to the content on the page.

    I would not expect a highly competitive keyword like SEO blog to change position in Google in ten days or even 10 months just by changing it in the title tag. But for keywords with the type of business and the city in them you can get major changes via the title tag over 1-6 months.

    • Bill Sebald

      That sounds like the US Google from 2007.

  • Rob Thomas

    Good Post. I agree on KW order in title. That’s been gamed a long time and I doubt Google cares much as long as it’s there somewhere.

    As for the truncation issue – Google’s all about user experience right? If Google thought the user would benefit from longer title tags in the SERPs they’d provide for that.

    If I knowingly am producing TTs outside the range of what I know Google will display, especially site-wide, then it seems to reason I might take a little bit of a hit for my “lack” of providing the optimal user experience. My two cents.

  • I seldom leave a response, but I browsed a few of the remarks on Old School SEO Tests In Action (A 2014 SEO
    Experiment) – Bill Sebald. I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright.
    Could it be only me or do some of the comments appear as if they are coming from
    brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are posting on other online sites,
    I would like to keep up with you. Could you
    post a list of the complete urls of all your social networking sites like your linkedin profile,
    Facebook page or twitter feed?

    achat louboutin pas cher

  • So one thing I have found interesting. Is having super short titles for example we had a client targeting the kw “Breckenridge Lodging”. They ranked #1 for it. A competitor decided to create a title tag including only “Breckenridge Lodging” no brand name or anything. By doing that they out ranked us temporarily. I believe this is because their title tag was not diluted. However, after being in that position for due weeks I believe they feel because of a lack of authority. If they had that title and authority I believe they would out rank us.

  • Bill congratulations on SEO of the year at Searchlove Boston. You gave us all a lot think about.

    Tom

  • I agree with you on the character limit test, but changing the position of the keyword does bring a change in the SERPs. I’ve experienced this for many B2B related terms (but Of-course, it could be because another agency is also working on the keywords that me & my team has been focusing on)

    Just sharing my experience, not making any statement, but ‘Usage of Brand Name or Domain, really helps you get there & stay safe’

  • Bill, a great case study on old school ranking factors. This explains how and why the old things still matter and why we shouldn’t take everything that goes on in the forums.

    Looking forward to another rocking case study from you.

    Regards,
    Nauf Sid

  • Tom

    I found this on Moz today – excellent series of tests. I’d be interested in hearing about some longer-term examples on fresh pages too, but I understand your need to revert back quickly since you’re dealing with your main blog. Lots to think about, thanks!

  • Hi I am so glad I found your website, I really found you by accident, while I was searching on Yahoo for something else,
    Anyways I am here now and would just like to say cheers
    for a fantastic post and a all round thrilling blog (I also
    love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it
    all at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds,
    so when I have time I will be back to read much more,
    Please do keep up the fantastic b.

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