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Test your technical skills by beating the SEO games

An unusual game entirely made by hidden clues. From a homepage without links, using some of your technical SEO skills, discover the next pages, until reaching the end to earn a place in the hall of fame. If you’re an SEO nerd like yours truly, you’ll love it!

A little confusing at the start, the SEO games can be a fun way to test your knowledge and maybe learn more, but also a very easy place to get stressed after spending a lot of time stuck into a page with no apparent solution.

Who created those games and what can you learn from beating them?

Where to start… Or something like that.

Alexis Sanders, technical SEO at Merkle Inc., is the brain behind the technicalseo.expert game. Gladly, this challenge created last year is still available to play. As you can imagine, once the secret pages are leaked or if eventually Google indexes the pages, the mystery is gone and the game is over. This challenge has levels one, two and three and the first people to finish can have their names in a not-so-secret hall of fame — You still must know the very basics of SEO to find out where it is!

The idea behind the game was to allow junior SEOs to explore the technical aspects of a website. “Level two was created to push the nerdiness to the next level and it continues at the same pace as the end of level one. Level three was designed so no one would pass”, explains Alexis. “I wanted something that would push the challengers. Each individual challenge, in itself, is horrible. It also intertwines, whereas the first two levels are very linear”.

So far, 180 SEOs from around the world managed to finish the game. The declining number per level is an indication of how the difficulty grows, with 125 people finishing level one, 40 completing level two and only 15 beating the third challenge. If you want to try, the hall of fame still has vacancies in levels two and three!

Back in 2014: the first game

We need to go back about four years to really understand how this started: Dean Cruddace, Managing Director at Found.Digital in the UK, decided to create the website oap.ninja to test JavaScript crawling and indexing.

Dean created three levels so far: first and second in July and August 2014, then the third version in September 2016, lasting until November the year after. So far the game has made over 100k page views, considering only the tracked pages, as some URLs can’t be tracked. Each version took between three and four days to be developed.

In Dean’s opinion, the third version is where people got stuck the most. “The audio clues that my voice over mate Guy Harris put together really side-tracked people. There were other techniques of basic JavaScript cloaking that people did not get beyond”, he remembers. The three games have now been retired as too many pages got indexed.

Where are the challengers from?

The techinicalseo.expert domain surpassed 5000 users so far, and the average session has 10.73 pages visited. The game was created in the USA, but the audience has been neck-to-neck between American and French-based SEOs.

Going on a more granular level, unfortunately, the well-known (by SEOs) city called “(not set)” takes the lead, followed by the real cities of London, Paris and Arlington in Dallas (USA).

Curiously, the most popular page is the beginning of level 3. My guess that this is due to curious minds taking a step ahead before finishing levels one and two (you’ll understand once you start playing). There’s some URL guessing on the game, but the most popular 404 is https://technicalseo.expert/playertwo/, most likely due to a lack of attention from players.

Shoving more the data, 14 out of the 15 people who finished level 3 are Europe-based, with one Canadian making the hall of fame too. “This is surprising because one of the challenges in level three is particularly hard for non-US challengers (an oversight in the build)”, reveals Alexis.

Want to try it? Some tips to get you in the right mindset

Today is your lucky day if you’d like some tips to beat Alexis’ game. This is not a starting point, but rather knowledge you should have. Alexis shared five musts with us:

1. Tenacity — I think these challenges are 99% mental stamina. The answers are all available. It’s a matter of being thorough and exploring different approaches to the page.

2. Source code/DOM — Required from level one forward.

3. Understand user agents — This will be helpful throughout all challenges.

4. Headers — This will be helpful throughout all challenges.

5. PWAs — Useful for level two and three.

Since the oap.ninja versions one to three are retired, Dean shared at Optimisey a “stress-free” walkthrough on the v3. Some concepts there will also help you to finish Alexis’s games, so worth checking out (or not, if you want to do it 100% by yourself).

New games on the way

If you’ve been through all the games and found every secret URL, there’s more for you soon. Dean is planning to release v4 of oap.ninja in April 2018. “Alexis let me know that she was inspired to create a version of her own game based on mine, which is a huge compliment considering the levels of evil she has added to her level 3”, says him.

In return, Dean felt inspired to create a new version and spills out a taste of what SEOs can expect. “It’s mainly due to that torture that I promised Alexis equal pain through mirrored sites and all other kinds of VPN shenanigans to get my revenge”, he teases.

What do you think about these SEOs games? Have they helped you to learn something new or don’t you like them at all? How much angry have you felt and what’s the happiness after realising the answer was just in front of you? Leave a comment below!

Originally published at www.stateofdigital.com on March 1, 2018.


Test your technical skills by beating the SEO games was originally published in pelogia.it • Digital Marketing on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

State of Digital

From in-house to agency SEO: three learnings from my first month

For years I wondered how would be to work for an agency. Until I moved to Dublin, all my SEO life had been in-house — first in a huge travel e-commerce in Latin America and then in an international gaming company in Amsterdam. These are just my first impressions, but agency life has been intense and exciting. To be honest, quite the way I pictured. If you’re interested in moving from one side to another, hopefully, this post will help you build your list of pros and cons and give a little light before making a decision.

Are you ready to move to an agency? Photo by Jack Moreh

Why changing?

You can have many reasons for changing your career. I moved to Dublin in September 2016 with the goal of scoring a job in an agency. The reason is because I felt a bit frustrated having sort of the same reality constantly and doing the same job most of the time. I always tried to balance this by having my own side projects and freelancing (more for the excitement of having different challenges than actually for the money). It helped for a while, but it was not the same as if I could guarantee a large proportion of my weekdays dealing with different scenarios.

How did it happen?

In late February I joined Mediavest Ireland as a Client Manager. Five months before, I had a couple of interviews processes going on, even before I moved to Dublin. I had a long process with another big Irish agency (which is now is a competitor) and when I was waiting for that last positive call, they picked someone else. I had also shot with another international group and got another no, even though they hired me for a freelance project a couple of weeks later.

Meanwhile, I became a full-time freelancer and even considered making that my new career path. It took around seven months for a Twitter contact (that will be another post) I made through Learn Inbound to refer me for Mediavest.

This little intro is just to help those who were in the same situation as I once was: keep searching. It takes time but it’s worth it!

Without further ado, here’s what I learned in my first real month in an agency.

First learning: stakeholders everywhere

I wanted more websites to deal with, I got them. And many stakeholders. When working in-house I had to report to no more than two people (it was a startup). Now I have a senior client manager and at least three directors to report to.

On the client side, there’s also a lot of stakeholders. Marketing managers, product managers, developers. Every report, audit or recommendation I send goes to at least five people initially and then spread to more stakeholders inside the companies. Get ready to be observed and questioned (in a good way)!

Second learning: reporting is hard

Communicating to a lot of people on a daily basis is a common part of my day. Mistakes probably won’t pass unnoticed, so reviewing, over and over, before sending a document to a client is mandatory. This can be a little frustrating at first, but I do feel more proud when things are finally done.

While in-house you don’t always need to care about making beautiful reports and unclear communication can be solved quickly (at least most people are a few meters away), in the agency side things are different. You have a client who invested money and needs to rely on what you’re doing. It’s your job now to translate the SEO world for them — how search engines are evolving and prove that you really know what you’re recommending.

During the first week, I had difficulties in moving from “do this” in one slide to a step-by-step on “why this is really important for your business” — building a case to convince clients to make changes. A few times I felt I had a document ready to go until a more experienced colleague checked it and came back with a lot of changes.

My SEO soul was never hurt because I didn’t have problems with the recommendations, but only with the way I reported. I’m always challenged to dig more and more to build a case and make my points as clear as possible. Remember that your clients aren’t seeing how hard you have worked on something, just the outcome. The work you do for weeks should allow them spend only a few hours processing and acting on it.

Maybe you’ll feel bad for a minute, but much prouder later. I promise!

Third learning: in-house experience also brings value to the table

Working in-house gave me a real long-term experience of handling many external and internal changes, making me confident to advise clients, even if I’ve been studying their website for a short period. As SEO tends to take time, is great to bring this experience from when I had time to process changes and learn. Based on my experience and hearing from others, in-house seems to be an environment with a little less time pressure. It’s like I spent the last three and half years building a case study.

The day-to-day of an agency is way more dynamic, with more time constraints and surely a couple of extra hours of work needed to meet deadlines. But not everything is different. If you’ve been in-house for a while, dig in your mind things you passed through.

Some of the in-house experience I took to my agency life are:

  • Closely following several Google algorithm updates
  • Following technical changes being implemented and long term results
  • Seeing international website launches in new markets from day zero
  • Having the power to quickly react to content trends
  • Asking all sorts of questions to developers

On top of that, having closer relationships with business stakeholders and openly discussing the effects of these changes is something more difficult to have when you’re a third-party. All of this deep knowledge-sharing has helped me to mature learnings and understand how SEO has affected the business over the years.

Are you ready to move?

Each person and situation is different, I know. It took me months developing the decision to switch. Reading, talking to people, considering pros and cons. If you’re in the doubtful moment, leave a comment or ask me privately at hi@pelogia.it. Glad to help!

Originally published at www.stateofdigital.com on April 27, 2017.


From in-house to agency SEO: three learnings from my first month was originally published in pelogia.it • Digital Marketing on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

State of Digital

How a hoax Daft Punk website earned 300 links in 10 days

How a hoax Daft Punk website earned 300 links in 10 days

Daft Punk are a music duo who know how to build up mystery around their news. For instance, they only went on tour twice, in 1997 and 2007. Following the pattern, after another 10 years would make sense for them to hit the road again. Meanwhile, in 2013, the french guys released the worldwide hit Random Access Memories and took almost five months from announcing until releasing the album, starting with a 30 seconds sample of Get Lucky. Whatever Daft Punk release, they are great in creating anticipation.

So when a website named alive2017.com popped up, a roller coaster of rumours and emotions started in a matter of days. The story was born and started developing itself on Reddit and didn’t take long to hit the news: 11 days after the domain was registered it became a huge story around the world.

The whole website has just a homepage, as you can see below:

A little secret in the source code

While the page has almost no information, it’s possible to see a small countdown zooming the letter ‘I’. Looking into the source code, there are comment lines pointing October 27th as a ‘wake up’ date, as well geographic coordinates pointing to Paris, Los Angeles, London, New York, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Ibiza, and Indio. A mix of uncountable fans urging to watch the group live, their tour behaviour together with a story quick to write and very clickable was enough to build up a story.

While is not possible to precise when the website went live, here is a timeline of events:

Take a look at the summary provided by Majestic:

Here is the backlink history:

The number is very impressive and quality as well. BBC, MTV, Billboard, NME, Gizmodo and Gawker are among the top sources which linked alive2017.com. A delirium for any link builder:

Most of the stories are just replicating the same information as described previously in this post and pointing October 27th as truth day. So guess what happened in the so expected day? Well, nothing happened.

From the beginning some fans were sceptical. Just in the first thread, it was pointed that the website was very amateur and not related at all to Daft Punk official websites. On the other side, some believed this was also a way to keep the mystery. Anyway, when people want to see something, there are ways to make yourself believe.

Just liked appeared from nowhere, alive2017.com was shut down, receiving the last visit from Googlebot on November 9. You still can see it on Archive.org.

Daft Punk did not officially react in any moment and it’s very hard to point what is the motivation behind someone investing time and knowledge in creating a page like this but it is no news that the internet is full of fake stories. Could it be used for spam in the future? Would be easy to rank with decent content after such a wave of strong and trustable links? These questions are unanswered, but we will keep an eye there.

And guess what? Alive2018.com has got an owner as well. The domain was registered on October 4th, 2016. Daft Punk fans will deal with another similar hoax next year?

Originally published at www.stateofdigital.com on November 25, 2016.


How a hoax Daft Punk website earned 300 links in 10 days was originally published in pelogia.it • Digital Marketing on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

State of Digital

7 SEO Audit Steps for Bloggers Using Free Tools

7 SEO Audit Steps for Bloggers Using Free Tools

Due my journalism and blogger background, long before I had heard of SEO, I was involved and knew many people in this industry. Those who know the area of where I work, quite often have questions or want to hire me. But sometimes they just need a simple answer and won’t really need a consultant. For those who can’t afford or don’t know if they actually need a specialist to undertake SEO for them, here are some basic steps to understand a bit of the marketing and technical sides of it.

If you find a couple of problems, I will show you some options and easy, visual steps to overcome them. If you are still struggling with an issue or have come across a number of problems, that can’t easily be fixed, then you should consider hiring a specialist.

All of the following are are free tools. This post aims to help people to to undertake some simple steps of an SEO audit and take action to improve organic traffic. It is also useful in case you just hired someone and would like to understand better what they are talking about or doing to your website.

Without further ado, here are my favourite free SEO tools for bloggers and screenshots to know where to click and how it can improve your website.

1. Search Console

This is the main communication channel between Google and your website. There are many things you can do here, but some of it are very technical. Here is where to start:

1.1 Links to your website

If you were to look at only one thing in your SEO, it should be links. It’s still the main factor for Google to decide which pages to rank. So in a very, very broad sense, a lot of links from blogs in your niche and trustable media outlets (websites from newspapers, radio and TV stations) will push you up.

Here is where you can find a good set of websites linking to you. If you are blogging for a while, you will recognize some and be surprised finding other blogs you didn’t know that mentioned and linked to your website. You also have access to the most linked pages, which is a good thermometer to know what to do to attract more.

1.2 Search Analytics

Would you like to know what people type into Google when they found your blog? What I have to say is disappointing: Google only gives you a tiny set of these queries these days. But still, can help you a bit. You can also see the number of impressions (how many times people saw a result page and you were on the list), clicks and average position you appeared.

It’s good to understand how people find you and to uncover new topics. For instance, you might rank for a query that you just mentioned in a blog post, but you could write a complete piece on that topic to satisfy readers in the future or eventually use in an anchor text to leverage related results in Google. This is valuable information and I will show you how to track it.

Also good to remember: Google Webmaster Tools or Search Analytics are the same. The name has changed, but the URL is still google.com/webmasters, so people use both terms.

2. PageSpeed Insights

This tool grades websites on performance (speed) and provides feedback in where to improve a website. Although some aspects are technical, I frequently find two aspect affecting blogs that can be fixed without technical knowledge to quickly improve your score.

2.1 Images

It’s very common for bloggers to upload images on the size and format they were taken. So often readers are downloading images heavier than the necessary. This makes a website slower, request more data from a smartphone (which can cost more money) and in general, will make a website score lower in Google eyes. Simple solution: resize images on the size you need before publishing. Usually, you don’t need an image bigger than 800px.

2.2 Minify CSS and JavaScript

“Minify” is to remove unnecessary parts of a code, including comments written for a developer, block delimiters and extra spaces. I recommend two WordPress plugins that will do this for you (“Better WordPress Minify” and “Check and Enable GZIP compression“) just in a few clicks. Another tip here is to try one at the time and take a look if everything is loading properly in your website. If doesn’t, simply deactivate and remove the plugin.

3. TalkWalker

Remember that links are very important to rank on Google? If you knew when another website mention your blog or your name, you could just drop then a message and ask for a link, couldn’t you? TalkWalker can inform you automatically via e-mail when this happens. It’s like a Google Alerts, but in my experience works faster and finds more relevant information.

4. Yoast SEO

If you would follow just one piece of advice in this list, you should install Yoast SEO in your WordPress blog. It gives you a nice introduction to on-page factors, such as Title, Description, URL and a few others. This plugin will read every post and provide a healthy checklist.

Don’t freak out much if the keyword field doesn’t match with other points and leaves a red point. For instance, people are more used to search for “holiday tips Berlin”, but you would write “holiday tips in Berlin”, Yoast will trigger a non-match, but Google is smart enough to understand the match. The fact all points are green on Yoast won’t make your post rank, it’s really just a way to check.

Always check when writing your titles and meta descriptions, so they are both “clean” in terms of search demand and keywords and fit the appropriate size. If not, the text will become red and alert you to amend.

5. Google Browser Operators

5.1 Cache

Wondering if Google already knows about the new blog post you wrote or an update you have made? Just type cache:domain.com/blog-post on Google. Normally a new page is found in a matter of hours (thats if your website has existed for a while and has at least a few links), but it could take longer to update the cache version. If it’s taking too long to re-crawl (it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks), you might be pushing too many pages to search engines.

5.2 Site

Sometimes developers and non-developers block search engines to visit a page or a certain area of a website. Do you want to know which pages of your website Googlebot can find? Just visit Google and type site site:domain.com.

Try checking your own blog. It’s possible that you will get surprised about the number of pages Google has found on your blog. For instance, often you will find many ‘tag’ pages which don’t need to be ranking. In this case, Yoast has a quick solution for you: just take a look at the right menu and ‘Titles & Metas’.

I have seen many cases where users just block pages, a section or an entire website by mistake. It’s a frequent mistake in case a page was a test environment previously.

Also, you can use this to visit pages which were deleted or changed recently if it was live long enough to be found by Google.

6. Google Analytics

I won’t go into many of the things you can do because Google Analytics has several functions. But from an SEO point of view, there are two basic tabs that can tell a lot about your audience. Both are under Acquisition in the left menu. On Channels, you can see how people found your website (Search Engine, Direct, Social Media) and on Medium you have this data specified by specific source (Facebook, Google, Bing).

No huge secrets here, but it’s just good to know which channels are more important for you. Maybe those hundreds of likes aren’t reflecting in people going to your website or maybe (potentially) you are heavily dependent on Google.

7. Keyword Tracking

Maybe you found a few keywords that are very important for you while checking data from Search Console (point number 1 in this post). If you are curious, often you check how your page is doing on Google for this keyword. But when you have many keywords, that’s not possible.

In this case, a keyword tracking would come handy, automating your manual work. There are many similar tools in the market, but two of them also provides free tracking if you only need to track a few keyword. RankScanner offers 5 free keywords per month, updated daily. Allorank gives 100 free credits per month, which could be converted to 3 keywords updated daily.

Set up once and come whenever you have the time to check if things are in place or big changes happened.

Conclusion

It’s not an easy task to explain a lot about SEO (or pretty much anything else in the world) in one blog post, but you can always build up your knowledge step by step. These steps are part of my activities as an SEO and starting with free tools is always a way to learn without pressure and validate if you actually need more complexity.

If you still have questions about how to use any of those tools or other tools to suggest, leave a comment below and I will help you to advance and boost your audience!

Originally published at www.stateofdigital.com on October 19, 2016.


7 SEO Audit Steps for Bloggers Using Free Tools was originally published in pelogia.it • Digital Marketing on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

State of Digital

Building a network: taking offline connections online

Building a network: taking offline connections online

The basic idea of social networking is to interact people who have similar interests to you. It can be just to meet interesting people, to catch up, to ask or provide help later, to make business together. As in many professional fields, knowing people can help open doors and also a create a shortcut.

Especially on certain areas of digital marketing, where many different scenarios can happen and there is little formal studies, the right people can give you a hand to solve problems. It’s not always an easy activity to leave your comfort zone. But in order to get the benefits of social networking, you have to. I did recently and the tips presented in this article help me do my good job.

As everything else in life, the first time can always be a bit confusing, but we always learn something to make things easier for future experiences, until the moment you can’t believe a certain activity used to be complicated one day. I’m sure you’ve been there.

When I went to Friends of Search in 2016, my first marketing conference ever, I was excited and also a bit confused. I definitively learned from speakers. But during the breaks, I wondered: “do all these people knew each other already?”. I had a couple of chats but honestly didn’t make many good connections until the beer time started. At this point, I realised that many people didn’t know other and most people were open to chat and exchange ideas.

Thinking about the experience after the Friends of Search, I could process the advice I got from the very first person who talked to me there. It now helps me in other events I have attended.

Attending conferences or other events: talk to strangers!

What Maurits Van Der Does from NewPeople told me is true: don’t be shy, talk to everyone. Say hi, present yourself and shake hands with strangers. Two of the main reasons people attend conferences are: learn from speakers and to meet new people. I’ve even heard from a speaker that during conferences he is more interested in networking than what he actually learns from speakers. Think about the basic subjects surrounding every marketer world:

  • What do you do and for which company do you work for?
  • Did you like [speaker] presentation?
  • Do you often come to events like this?
  • Who else are you interested in seeing today?

This is a basic conversation that could lead to many other interesting topics. You might already find a personal bond in a couple of minutes. You probably will find this person again later in the day or in other events and meet more interesting people through them.

From offline to online: make a quick connection

After meeting a large group of people, it’s also easy to forget about some of them. Creating an online connection right away will help you making the best of this connection. Twitter and LinkedIn are two of the most interesting and professional ways to start. It pays off to have a good internet connection to make this first contact easier, so don’t trust just the Wi-Fi as in some conferences, its not the best.

You can also predict a potential real world connection about to happen, starting from online to offline. Start following the event hashtag prior and during to the event to have a chance to meet people who are or will be just next to you. Laura Crimmons published a post about 8 tips to get the best out of conferences and I follow almost all of them. I must admit, there is one I always forget: to bring a charger or to have a power bank to keep my phone alive while I’m interacting with other attendees.

I have another offline tip to complement Laura’s list. It’s definitely the least important but still an effective way to break the ice or make yourself a bit more likeable: offer a small treat. I used to live in The Netherlands and I handed out many of the Dutch traditional stroopwafels in events. Keep in mind this is just a nice gesture, nothing more, but can be a tiny extra social point for you.

Ways to keep in touch after the first meeting

After an event, I like to have the basic information about who I met in a spreadsheet: name, country, niche, LinkedIn, Twitter and if I connected and contacted them after the event.

For each event or group, I have a private Twitter list where I can filter tweets just from them. It’s a good way to not let the initial bond get cold and also help you to better follow trends and important news in your expertise fields since there is a common interest among you and them.

Another way to make this approach interesting for your contacts is to publish a blog post about the event. This is a win-win: on one side you have a good reason to get in touch and on the other, you’re providing content that these people are very interested in. You potentially will have this content amplified by them. It’s a great way to save this valuable information for yourself.

If for any reason you can’t publish, keep it simple: just thank them for the time spent together or share something valuable (a book, a blog, a podcast, etc.) about the conversations you had. This is how I discovered Nathalie Nahai, “The Web Psychologist”, podcast series, the weekly #SEMRushchat on Twitter and the following edition of Learn Inbound, which I’m attending for the second time this year in October.

You’ll most likely meet many of these people in future events and they can potentially be starting points to connect you with new people and vice-versa. Prior to the next event, you can already start creating buzz, building excitement and know who you’re going to meet again. These interactions can be as simple as a Tweet or more complex as scheduling a meeting, working on a project together, sharing secrets in an area of mutual interest, etc.

So, to wrap it up my to-do list when attending an event:

  • Talk to strangers
  • Create an online connection quickly
  • Be friendly and follow-up based on topics interesting for them
  • Keep in touch both on a personal and professional level

There are still many marketing events happening this year in many cities around USA, France, Germany, The Netherlands, UK and Ireland. If you want to test my suggestions above, check our list of events and go networking!

Originally published at www.stateofdigital.com on September 14, 2016.


Building a network: taking offline connections online was originally published in pelogia.it • Digital Marketing on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

gus[at]pelogia.it | @pelogia
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