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SEM SEO Expert by Nima Asrar Haghighi - Toronto SEO, SEM, SMO, Web Analytics Consultant .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

SEM SEO Expert by Nima Asrar Haghighi

SEM SEO Expert” is a blog written by Nima Asrar Haghighi. Nima is an Internet Marketing Specialist with expertise in SEM (PPC Advertising), Organic SEO, RSS, Social Media and Web Analytics (Google Analytics IQ Certified). Nima holds an MBA in marketing, B.Eng. in Electrical Engineering, Project Management Certification, and CIW (Certified Internet Webmaster) in E-commerce. Contact: nima @ sem seo expert.com.

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Welcome to Nima Asrar Haghighi's blog covering Internet marketing topics such as search engine optimization, search engine marketing, Web Analytics, RSS and online marketing industry as a whole.


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Friday, September 11, 2009

Google Analytics Tracking Cookies

Cookies are small text data given to a web browser by a web server. The data is stored on a website visitors’ hard drive and is returned to the specific web server each time the browser requests a page from that server.

Cookies are used by web servers to remember information from page to page and visit to visit, and can contain information such as user preferences, shopping cart contents, the identifier for session Ids, and can know whether users have logged in and do not need to authenticate again as they navigate through the site.

Google Analytics uses cookies to differentiate one user from another and to pass information from page to page during a single user's web session. The cookies help GA collect data about a given browser, along with the information requested and sent by the visitor. Cookies do not identify people, but rather they are defined themselves by a combination of a computer, a user account, and a browser.

Google Analytics Tracking Cookies

Google Analytics uses only first-party cookies as opposed to third-party cookies. This means that all cookies set by Google Analytics for your website domain send data only to your server. This means that the data cannot be altered or retrieved by any third party server.
Google Analytics uses cookies to obtain the following data in order to generate reports on your website traffic.

• Determining Visitor Session
• Identifying Unique Visitors
• Tracking Traffic Sources
• Customizing Tracking
• Utilizing Google Website Optimizer

Google Analytics' JavaScript code is compatible with your website's existing cookie usage. All Google Analytics cookie names begin with _utm to prevent any naming conflicts between their cookies and your web server’s. Google Analytics sets a combination of persistent and temporary (__utmc) cookies on visitors’ machines.

__utma, This cookie lasts for 2 years from setup/update and is typically written to the browser upon the first visit to your site from that web browser. The purpose of this cookie is to determine unique visitors to your site and it is updated with each page view.

__utmb, This cookie lasts for 30 minutes from setup/update and is used to establish and continue a user session with your site.

__utmc, This cookie operates in conjunction with the __utmb cookie to determine whether to establish a new session for the user or not. This cookie does not have an expiration date. It expires as soon as the user exits the browser.

__utmz, This cookie lasts 180 days from setup/update and stores the type of referral used by the visitor to reach your website. This cookie is used to identify whether the visitor has reached the site via a direct method, a referring site, a search engine, or a campaign such as a text ad, banner ad or an email campaign. A __utmz cookie contains domain hash, timestamp, session number, campaign numbercould look like: utmz=181178431.1117767825.1.2.
utmcsr=google|utmccn=(organic)|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=seo

__utmv
, This cookie lasts for 2 years from setup/update and is used to create a custom user segment (e.g., paid vs. non-paid visitors). This cookie is optional and will be set only if the setVar method is called.

__utmx
, This cookie lasts for 2 years from setup/update and is used by Website Optimizer and only set when the Google Website Optimizer (GWO) tracking code is installed.

Understanding how Google Analytics uses cookies helps with setting up more customized and advanced settings.

Related Articles: Are cookies treated fairly?

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Google Analytics – a Consultant Needed?

I have previously written some articles on Web Analytics on topics such as Web Analytics & Cookies, Introduction of Google Analytics, improvement of website usability utilizing Web Analytics, SEO KPIs, Branding KPIs, and benefits of Web Analytics.

Given the growing importance of web measurement and the fact that the aforementioned articles seem to be some of the most popular posts on my blog, I decided to focus on writing some more tactical posts on setting up and implementing Google Analytics.

If you have a small and static website, setting up Google Analytics can be very easy and straight forward and you may not need a Web Analytics consultant especially if you are relatively tech savvy. A little bit of training on GA and you are good to go. However, if your site is complex, dynamic, offers e-commerce transactions or you need to measure traffic across multiple domains, sub-domains or third party shopping carts, you might need the help from a Google Analytics consultant.

Setting up Google Analytics - GA Consultant Toronto

Before you choose Google Analytics as your Web Analytics application of choice, you may consider some of the features GA has to offer:

Language – Google Analytics interface currently supports over 24 languages.

Scalability – Google Analytics can support both small and large sites. However, there are some limitations in terms of number of goals you can set (currently limited to 4 goals per profile). In addition, in cases of high traffic websites, some of GA stats are shown based on data sampling.

Even though Google Analytics has made web analytics affordable for small businesses, GA also offers some sophisticated features helpful to enterprise level websites.

Integration with Google AdWords – in just few steps you can easily integrate your Google AdWords PPC campaign with your Google Analytics and start measuring your AdWords pay-per-click campaign performance without the need to tag every single keyword, ad copy, ad group an campaign.

Campaign Reporting – whether you would like to measure your Google AdWords performance, your PPC campaign on Yahoo or MSN adCenter, e-mail marketing, web advertising, your social media initiative or offline marketing campaigns, Google Analytics can.

Funnel Visualization – if your audience need to path a funnel to become a lead or customer, you need to monitor and optimize your funnel on an ongoing basis to increase your conversion rate. GA’s funnel visualization report just does that.

Customizable Dashboard – if you need a quick overview of some of the most important key performance indicators, you can set your dashboard up so that you can have a bird’s eye view of your site performance in a glance.

Cross-Segmentation – Google Analytics allows you segment your traffic by different criteria and compare the performance of different segments.

Measuring PDFs and Virtual Page Views – Google Analytics allows you to measure how many times your PDF files are being downloaded by creating virtual pageview and track back the downloads to the contributing campaigns.

Event Tracking – In some cases, you may need to track certain events and actions to see how your audience interact with your interactive elements of your site such as videos and flash files. GA makes this easy for you through its event tracking feature.

Internal Site Search Reporting – this is one of the most useful yet least utilized feature of Google Analytics. Internal site search reports give you insight into the mind of your audience and can help you optimize your website usability and product offerings.

Automated Reporting – Too busy to remember to login and check your website performance? Set up, schedule and share reports automatically.

I will try to cover some of these features as well as some more advanced Google Analytics set up techniques in the feature posts.

Nima Asrar Haghighi – Google Analytics Consultant, Toronto

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SMX Search Analytics – Toronto

After Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman departed from Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference and expo series, initiated SMX Search Marketing Expo. SMX brings together some of the sharpest minds in the search engine marketing industry.

Earlier in April, I attended Toronto SMX Search Analytics Conference and Expo. The purpose of Search Analytics is to provide marketers with insight into their visitors, customers and those who bounced away. The promise of the event is to equip advanced search marketers with tools, tactics and strategies that can maximize the effectiveness of their search engine marketing campaigns.

Toronto SMX Search Analytics conference kicked off by keynote speaker, Venessa Fox and covered topics such as:

  • Analyzing & Converting Organic Search Traffic – Covering SEO KPIs
  • Analyzing & Converting Paid Search Traffic – Utilizing Web Analytics to measure PPC campaigns
  • Up Close with Google Analytics – Measuring traffic utilizing GA
  • Top Ten Customized Search Analytics Reports – Creating Custom Executive Dashboards
  • Successful Testing for Improved Search Marketing ROI – A/B and Multivariate Testing
  • Traffic Segmentation & Why It Matters – segmenting organic and paid search traffic by location, demographic and psychographics to improve ROI
  • Search Analytics & Competitive Intelligence – Analyzing competitors’ strategies and bit them at their own game
  • Creating a Data-Driven Culture – Building an Analytics and data driven culture in the organization
The two-day Toronto SMX Search Analytics program was jam-pack of information. While SES Toronto is a great source of information for marketers interested in Search Engine Marketing, SMX series are more suitable for more seasoned search marketers.





Nima Asrar Haghighi, SEM & SEO Expert

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Friday, January 25, 2008

KPIs for Measuring SEO Success

Measuring the success of Search Engine Optimization process for a website beyond the ranking reports is a must. SEO experts do their best to optimize sites for high rankings for keywords with high effectiveness index. However, with the new developments in search personalization, relying only on ranking reports to evaluate the effects of organic search optimization is not enough.

That is why web marketers should think of other metrics and indicators that help them evaluate the performance of SEO initiatives. That is where Web Analytics comes to rescue.

Mike and I are working on a project together and we came up with some possible "Key Performance Indicators" for measuring natural optimization for websites. Mike has written a great article called “The KPI of SEO” on this topic.

For those who have not yet clicked through to Mike’s blog, here are the SEO KPIs:

• Change in Visits/Visitors from Organic Search
• Change in Number of Organic Search Keywords
• Change in the Number of Entry Pages
• Change in the Number of Branded Keywords

Of course depending on the objectives of a site (selling advertising, e-commerce, lead generation, technical support) we can define other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to compliment these metrics.

By Nima - Toronto SEM SEO Expert
Similar articles at: http://www.semseoexpert.com/search-engine-optimization and Similar articles at: http://www.semseoexpert.com/web-analytics
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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Benefits of Web Analytics

In my previous post on Web Analytics (Back to the Future), I mentioned that more companies are embracing Web Analytics. Web Analytics involves TQM, testing and incremental improvements. Whether you are a Web Analytics Company in Toronto or you are an in-house Web Analytics Manager, you will need to work with so many stakeholders in order to successfully implement and manage a WA project.

Marketing Department
Marketing department can benefit Web Analytics as it helps track the marketing campaigns, customers, measure conversions and return on investment. Web Analytics can help improve segmentation, increase conversions, measure and maximize ROI.

IT Department
The data that Web Analytics can offer the IT team (e.g., 404 pages, resolutions, browsers, type of connection) can help them improve the website performance.

Online Merchandising
There is always room for improving a site, its merchandising and processes. Together with usability and WA teams and with running multi-variable tests, online merchandising team can improve the merchandising efforts to maximize the conversion rate.

Customer Service
The site design and marketing campaigns can have a huge impact on the customer service and call center. Web Analytics can help improve customer service and call center efficiency while providing feedback to web design and marketing teams.

Nima

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Back to the Future

Recently, I went to visit my family back home. It was a great trip and I enjoyed the time I spent with my family and the friends some of whom I had not seen for over 8 years. This trip had another advantage. It reminded me of where I started and how I got to the field of Internet Marketing.

The very first site I seriously worked on was an e-commerce site (with the tag line of the first online shopping mall in the region). The site belonged to a large trading company with a forward thinking leader. He had seen the importance of the Internet and launched the site. However, the site was not generating much traffic or sales.

I did an interview with people in charge. They had done some banner exchange and some off line advertising. However, they were not sure where they were getting the traffic from or what people were doing on the site. I requested to see the web logs to get a better picture. That was my fist step to the world of Web Analytics.

Surely, the technology has come a long way from the early days of log files and the Web Analytics applications now provide much more robust and user friendly reports. However, something has stayed intact and that is the need for informed decision making.

This is nothing but putting Total Quality Management (TQM) into action by turning the Deming Wheel, having the continuous improvement as the ultimate goal. This principle is true in customer service, production as well as marketing.

Search engine marketing and optimization are not exceptions to the rules. That is why for any SEM and SEO project, it is important to set the objective,
  • Plan in advance by defining the right KPIs,
  • Act to reach the objective,
  • Check the performance by measuring the KPIs, and
  • Do as needed to continuously improve.

Thanks to the efforts of WAA and UBC more and more search engine marketers and SEO/SEM tool developers are embracing the importance of Web Analytics. As a member of WAA, I would like to welcome the new passengers to the train I call Prosperity.

Nima

Similar articles at: http://www.semseoexpert.com/search-engine-optimization and Similar articles at: http://www.semseoexpert.com/search-engine-marketing

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

To Brand or To Measure: That is the Question, or Is It?

As I mentioned in my earlier post (Interactive Marketing Speaking Engagement), I had a presentation on the topic of search engine marketing in Canada. The event topics were more targeted toward direct marketing and direct response. However, among attendees there were some very sharp people with branding background.

Not surprisingly, a debate was going on about weather the Internet is a reliable medium to build and reinforce brand names. Some believed that online brand marketing should be an integral part of corporate branding strategy while others were skeptical about the role of Internet in their brand marketing strategy as there was less control over the message online.

Interestingly enough, both groups were united in their opinion that direct marketing and branding do not necessarily mix and match. Of course they had compelling arguments. The whole debate intrigued me to write this article.

In my opinion, Marketing is not black and white. It is possible to practice branding and yet measure the results. The results might not be as tangible as selling a product online and calculating ROI. However, there is always a way to set a goal and measure the success against it. It is just a matter of finding the right KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

When a company runs a website, it has to have a clear objective not only for the site but also for each and every single page on the web site. To make it easier to manage, site owners can segment their sites into categories based on where the visitors are in the sales cycle. Visitors’ mindsets can generally be categorized as follows:

* Information Gathering
* Evaluation and Comparison
* Buying and/or Decision Making

Then based on these categories they can develop customized contents to satisfy their visitors and meet their objectives. However, the key to success here is to choose the right KPIs. Some of metrics to consider are:

* Direct Visitor Traffic – If your traffic from direct visitors (people who enter your URL directly or have your site bookmarked) increases over time, it can be an indication of improved brand awareness.

* Depth of Visit – In addition to good navigation and rich content, depth of visit can also represent the level of visitors’ engagement with your brand.

* Repeat Customers – An increase in number of repeat customers can be an indication of customer satisfaction which could lead to brand reinforcement.

* Branded Search Terms – even the search terms visitors use to find your site can be an indication of how your brand is performing. An increase in the number of branded search terms can be a good news.

By not letting "branding" be a convenient excuse for them not to define other site performance metrics, companies can incorporate Internet marketing and search engine marketing into their corporate branding strategy.

Nima - SEM SEO Expert

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Web Site Usability: To Blink or To Think, That is the Question!

I don’t know if you have ever read the book entitled “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. It is another master piece from the author of “The Tipping Point.” One can extend Gladwell’s books to sociology, business, marketing or even one’s personal life. Gladwell, in his book Blink, implies that the people make a decision in a blink of an eye. He goes even further suggesting even after getting all the details, people tend to make the same decisions they made in a flash. They just treat the details as supporting elements for their impulse decision.

Interesting enough, recently, I was reading an article (for details visit here) that supports Mr. Gladwell’s idea in the web environment. The study shows that the brain can make flash judgments almost as fast as a blink of an eye, in about 50 milliseconds. This shows that we, as marketers, do not have much time to impress our visitors. So, it is very important that the site design be appealing enough to grab the attention of the visitors right away. The headlines, features and call to actions on the site should also be prominent and relevant enough to help visitors find what they are looking for and know what steps to take next in a blink.

As a response to Blink, Michael LeGault, wrote a book entitled “Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t be Made in a Blink of an Eye.” He also has a point here! If we want to put his ideas in work in the web environment, we can conclude that in case of products and services that need higher level of commitment from visitors, it is important to provide them with enough information to help them decide the product/service fits their needs.

So, from the website usability point of view, it is important that visitors understand the web page’s objectives and are given clear trails to follow. Trails that lead visitors to their needs and the business to its objectives.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Google Analytics - Is Google Changing the name of the game?

Google just recently rebranded the Urchin Web Analytics Service as Google Analytics. Even
better they now offer it for free. But what this revolutionary move means? The launch of Google Analytics affects small-businesses and enterprise marketers, Web Analytics Companies, other search engines (Yahoo, MSN, Kanoodle), and definitely Google's bottom line and future.

Small-business Marketers now have access to a decent application to monitor and measure the success of their Internet marketing initiatives. This free web analytics (or better to say Google Analytics) tool could positively contribute to the bottom line of small businesses.

Enterprise level marketers who have highly invested in a web analytics application might now feel disappointed at how much they have spent on the solution and infrastructure in place. Though they could reassure themselves that they have made the right decision by being early adopters and having access to higher quality tool.

Web Analytics Companies probably have a poker face. Now they have to think their marketing strategies and messaging over and come up with innovative solutions to compete with Google's marketing might. Google Analytics is definitely imposes the most danger to the very existence of low end analytics solutions.

With Google being the early to market with its analytics tool, they could lure away Yahoo Search Marketing and MSN AdCenter market share. GA offers added value to AdWords marketers by helping them improve their conversion rate and ROI.

The timing of Google Analytics is also important as AdWords was facing pressure from Yahoo Content Network and GEO targeting capabilities of MSN AdCenter. Now they could convince marketers to spend their advertising budget on Google as they could get a full, end-to-end package that helps them maximize their return on investment.

Above all, Google will get access to a sea of aggregated information where they could see the trends and improve their services accordingly. However, the danger is they would know which keywords are converting and what the cost per conversion for them. This will allow them to increase the minimum bid price for those keywords!

Google Analytics definitely changes the name and rules of the game. We have to see how things unfold and how Google's competitors, Web Analytics Association, and public react to the recent developments.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Are Cookies treated fairly?

Are cookies treated fairly? That is the question we need to ask ourselves. Nearly 40 percent of respondents to recent study on cookies conducted by JupiterResearch in April said they trash cookies monthly. This number is big enough to make Web analytics, Internet marketing and affiliate marketing industries worried. It means that the measurements on metrics such as number of unique visitors and number of conversions generated through an affiliate are not quite accurate.

The real question here is why an increasing number of people are deleting their cookies. I personally started deleting my cookies the very first year I started using the Internet in 1999. It was mainly due to the fact that I was not sure what cookies do and what sort of information they gather about me. Then the anti-spy-ware software programs fed my cookie-deleting obsession with indirectly suggesting cookies are not privacy friendly.

After few years of working in the industry, now I have a different view of cookies. Now, I don’t have a fear of unknown and I see the value proposition of cookies and know them to carry no code or viruses. Cookies offer Internet surfers with better experience through customized and easy to use websites and relevant ads. Even though cookies may carry information on where users have gone on the web, most of it is anonymously tracked and that is why I think cookies are treated unfairly.

In my opinion, one of the reasons why people started deleting cookies was the abuse of technology by some marketers as they bombarded Internet surfers with pop ups. To get rid of the pop ups, people started downloading anti-spy-ware software programs. This intensified the competition over market share among anti-spy-ware companies. To offer more to customers they started offering tracking and removing cookies in addition to spy-wares which in turns fed to the misconception that all cookies are harmful among average Internet users.

In addition majority of people could not distinguish between first-party, third-party, tracking cookies and with lack of education, and sometimes misinformation, see all cookies as harmful and start deleting them. While they do not mind providing more personal information to get discount cards or cable companies monitoring which channels they watch, their fear of unknown makes them wary of cookies even though they collect less personal information.

Of course there is always the danger of getting exposed to “Cookie Poisoning Attack”. I see this as a risk of using a new technology to thrive in such a fast paced life we have.

In my opinion, there is a need for collaboration between all web site owners, web analytic experts, Internet marketers and spy-ware companies to educate users. This could be in the form of coming up with a good list of sites with trusty reputation as initiated by Safecount.org or as simple as offering a brief introduction to cookies and how they are used on our websites.

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