When The Hammer Falls – Analyzing Lyrics in the Google SERPs and Its Impact on Traffic [Case Study]

Summary: In the fall of 2014, both Bing and Google began surfacing song lyrics directly in the search engine results pages (SERPS). Since users could now find lyrics immediately in the SERPs, many wondered what would happen to lyrics websites that provided the same information, but required a click through to view the lyrics. This post provides findings from analyzing three large-scale lyrics web sites to determine the traffic impact of lyrics in the SERPs.

Song Lyrics Displayed In The Google Search Results

Article Contents and Quick Jumps:

In April of 2014, I picked up a major algorithm update that heavily impacted lyrics web sites. The drop in traffic to many key players in the niche was substantial, with some losing 60%+ of their Google organic traffic overnight. For those of you familiar with Panda or Penguin hits, you know what this looks like.

Lyrics Web Sites Hit By Google Algorithm Update in April of 2014

I ended up digging in heavily and analyzing the drop across the entire niche. I reviewed a number of lyrics sites across several countries that got hit and wrote a post covering my findings (linked to above). After writing that post, I had a number of lyrics sites reach out to me for more information. They wanted to know more about what I surfaced, what the problems could be, and if I could help rectify the situation. It was a fascinating algo hit to analyze and I absolutely wanted to take on the challenge of helping the sites recover. So I began helping several of the lyrics sites that were heavily impacted.

2014 – A Crazy Year for Lyrics Sites
I took on several of the lyrics sites as clients and began heavily analyzing and auditing the negative impact. That included performing a deep crawl analysis of each site, a heavy-duty technical SEO analysis, a thorough content analysis, while also using every tool in my arsenal to surface SEO-related problems.

I won’t sugarcoat my findings, there were many problems I surfaced, across content, technical SEO, and even links (in certain situations). It was hard to say if the specific update in April was Panda, a separate algo update that hammered lyrics sites, or something else. But I tackled the situation by covering as many bases as I could. Each remediation plan was extensive and covered many ways to tackle the problems I surfaced. As time went on, and many changes were implemented, the sites started to recover. Some recovered sooner than others, while other sites took many more months to surge back.

Lyrics Website Recovering During Panda Update

On that note, many of the large lyrics sites have ridden the Panda roller coaster for a long time. And that’s common for large-scale websites that haven’t focused on Panda-proofing their web sites. Over time, insidious thin content builds on the site like a giant layer of bamboo. And as the bamboo thickens, Panda smells dinner. And before you know it, boom, Panda hits the site (and for these sites, it hit them hard).

After recovering, each site would hold their collective breath while subsequent Panda updates rolled out. Based on the lyrics web sites I have assisted, only one has fallen again to Panda. The others have remained out of the gray area and are doing well traffic-wise. Unfortunately, one lyrics web site I was helping saw a temporary recovery after recovering relatively quickly (almost too quickly). Quick recoveries are rare when you’re dealing with Panda, so I did find that specific recovery odd. It typically takes months before you see a major surge after being pummeled by Panda. The site surged during the 9/5 update and then got hammered again during the cloaked 10/24 update. And Panda has not rolled out since 10/24/14, so we’re still waiting to see if the site comes back.

Lyrics Website Temporary Recovery from Panda

But enough about Panda for now. Actually, Google Panda could pale in comparison to what showed up in late fall 2014. We all knew it was possible, considering Google’s ambition to provide more and more data in the search engine results pages (SERPs). But it’s another story when you actually see it happen. I’m referring to the search engines adding lyrics directly in the SERPs. You know, when someone searches for song lyrics, and boom, the lyrics show up right in the desktop or mobile SERPs. No click through needed. I’ll cover how this unfolded next.

Lyrics Show Up in the SERPs
Bing was the first to add lyrics in the SERPs on October 7, 2014. That was the first bomb dropped on lyrics sites. It was a small bomb, considering it was only showing in Bing in the United States and Bing has approximately 19.7% market share (according to comScore Dec 2014 stats). Bing also drives Yahoo search (organic and paid), but lyrics are not showing in Yahoo yet.

Lyrics in Bing SERPs

But the writing was on the wall. Lyrics were coming to Google, and sooner than later. When lyrics hit Bing, I sent emails to all of my lyrics clients explaining the situation, providing screenshots, and sample searches. Not every song would yield lyrics in the SERPs, but this was still a major event for the lyrics industry.

Next up was the first move by Google. On October 24, 2014, if you searched for a specific song, Google began providing a YouTube video with some song and artist information at the top of the SERPs. And near the bottom of that unit was a line or two from the lyrics and then a link to Google Play for the full lyrics. Whoa, so Google was beginning their assault on lyrics by simply linking to Google Play to view the lyrics. Again, I immediately emailed my clients and explained the situation, knowing lyrics were coming to the main SERPs soon.

Lyrics in Google SERPs Linking To Google Play


December 19, 2014 – The Hammer Falls
And then this happened:

Lyrics in Google SERPs Finally Arrive on December 19, 2014

And here was my Google+ share, which ended up getting a lot of attention:

Google Plus Share of Lyrics in the Google SERPs


I shared this screenshot of Google including lyrics directly in the SERPs, and the G+ post got noticed, a lot. That share was mentioned on a number of prominent websites, including Search Engine Roundtable, TechCrunch, Billboard, and more.

To clarify what was happening search-wise, on December 19, 2014 Google began showing song lyrics for users in the United States, and only for certain songs. I’m assuming the limit on songs and geography was based on licensing, so this doesn’t impact every song available. I’ll cover more about the impact of those limitations soon when I dig into some stats, but it’s an important note.

For example, if you search for “bang bang lyrics” in the United States, you get this:

Bang Bang Lyrics in US Google SERPs

But if you search for “you shook me all night long lyrics”, you won’t see lyrics in the SERPs. Clearly Google doesn’t have the rights to present the lyrics to all AC/DC songs, but it does for “Bang Bang”.

You Shook Me All Night Long Without Lyrics in US Google SERPs

And by the way, that’s for the desktop search results. This is also happening in mobile search, in the United States, and for certain songs. Talk about dominating the mobile SERPs, check out the screenshot below. Where on desktop, you get the lyrics, but still see links to lyrics websites above the fold (typically), mobile is another story.

Check out the search for “bang bang lyrics” on my smartphone:

Bang Bang Lyrics in the Mobile U.S. Google SERPs

Can you see the massive difference? It’s just lyrics, and nothing else. And to add insult to injury, the percentage of users searching for lyrics is heavily skewed mobile. And that makes sense. Those users are on the go, hear a song, want to know the lyrics, and simply search on their phones. Or, they are in a situation where their phone –is their computer– so their searches will always be mobile.

Mobile Heavy Queries for Lyrics Globally


Death to Lyrics Websites?
Based on what I’ve explained so far, you know that Panda loves taking a bite out of lyrics web sites and you also know that both Google and Bing are providing lyrics directly in the SERPs (in the US and for certain songs). And you might guess that all of this means absolute death for lyrics websites. But wait, does it? I wouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet. There are definitely nuances to this situation that require further analysis and exploration.

For example, how much of a hit have the lyrics sites taken based on lyrics in the SERPs? How much traffic dropped for each song that yields lyrics in the SERPs? Was there an impact just in the United States or around the world too? And what about the difference between desktop and mobile? All of these were great questions, and I was eager to find answers.

So, I reached out to several of my lyrics clients and asked if I could analyze the changes and document the data in this post (anonymously of course). The post isn’t meant to focus on the sites in particular, but instead, focus on the impact that “lyrics in the SERPs” have made to their traffic. The lyrics websites I’ve been helping generate revenue via advertising, so a massive drop in traffic means a massive drop in revenue. It’s pretty much that simple at this point. That’s why Panda strikes fear in every lyrics web site owner and why lyrics in the SERPs can strip away visits, pageviews, and ad dollars. It’s a new one-two punch from Google.

Analyzing Three Large-Scale Lyrics Websites
Three of my clients were nice enough to let me move forward with the analysis. And I greatly appreciate having clients that are awesome, and are willing to let me analyze and share that data. The three sites I analyzed for this post are large-scale lyrics sites. Combined, they drive more than 30 million visits from Google organic per month and have approximately 6 million lyrics pages indexed. And as I explained earlier, a lot of that traffic is from users on mobile devices. Approximately 40-50% of all Google organic traffic is from mobile devices (across all three sites).

My goal with the analysis was to understand the impact of lyrics in the SERPs from a click-through and traffic standpoint. I dug into search queries driving traffic over time to all three sites while also checking impressions and clicks in the SERPs (via Google Webmaster Tools, both desktop and mobile). Then I also checked Google Analytics to determine the change in traffic levels to song pages since the lyrics hit the SERPs.

For example, if a query saw a similar number of impressions since the launch of lyrics in the SERPs, but clicks dropped off a cliff, then I could dig in to analyze the SERPs for that query (both desktop and mobile). I found some interesting examples for sure, which I’ll cover below.

An example of stable or increasing impressions, but clicks dropping off a cliff: 

Google Webmaster Tools Impressions and Clicks for Lyrics Queries


My analysis measured the impact right after lyrics hit the SERPs (from December 19, 2014 through the end of January 2015). The holidays were mixed in, which I tried to account for the best I could. Some of the lyrics sites saw steady traffic during the holidays, while one dipped and then returned as the New Year approached. The songs I analyzed and documented were not holiday-focused songs. I made sure to try and isolate songs that would not be impacted by the holidays. Also, Google Webmaster Tools data was sometimes wonky. I’m sure that’s no surprise to many of you working heavily in SEO, but it’s worth noting. I tried my best to exclude songs where the data looked strange.

Google Webmaster Tools & Advanced Segmentation in GA
When I began my analysis, I quickly found out that the straight reporting in both Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics wouldn’t suffice. Overall Google organic traffic wouldn’t help, since lyrics only rolled out in the SERPs in the United States. When checking traffic since the rollout, you really couldn’t see much overall change. But the devil is in the details as they say. So I used the functionality available to me in both GWT and GA to slice and dice the data. And that greatly helped me understand the impact of lyrics in the SERPs.

In Google Webmaster Tools, the search queries reporting enables you to filter the results. This was incredibly helpful, as I was able to isolate traffic from the United States and also view web versus mobile traffic. But there was another nifty filter I used that really helped. You see, many people visit lyrics websites for the meaning of the lyrics, and not just to see the lyrics. For example, “take me to church meaning” or “meaning of hallelujah lyrics”.

The reason I wanted to weed those queries out is because as of now, Google does not provide the lyrics in the SERPs for “meaning” focused queries. And that’s good for my clients by the way. So by adding the filters per site, I would able to isolate songs that could be impacted.

Filtering GWT Search Queries by Search Property, Location, and Negative Query:

Google Webmaster Tools Filters for Property, Location, and Query

After setting the filters, I was able to search for queries that yielded relatively stable impressions, but saw a drop in clicks and click through rate. And I always kept an eye on average position to make sure it didn’t drop heavily.

From a Google Analytics standpoint, I ran into a similar problem. Top-level statistics wouldn’t cut it. I needed Google organic traffic from the United States only. And then I wanted both Desktop and Mobile Google organic traffic from the United States only (separated). That’s where the power of advanced segments come in.

I built segments for Desktop Google organic traffic from the United States and Mobile Google organic traffic from the United States. By activating these segments, my reporting isolated that traffic and enabled me identify trends and changes based on those segments alone. By the way, I wrote a tutorial for how to use segments to analyze Panda hits. You should check that out if you aren’t familiar with segments in GA. You’ll love them, believe me.

Filtering Google Organic Traffic from the United States in GA Using Segments:

Google Analytics Segments for U.S. Desktop Google Organic Traffic


So, with the right tools and filters in place, I began to dig in. It was fascinating to analyze the queries leading to all three sites now that lyrics hit the SERPs. I cover what I found next. By the way, this posts focuses on Google and not Bing. I might write up another post focused on Bing’s lyrics in the SERPs, but I wanted to focus on Google to start.

The Impact of Lyrics in the SERPs – The Data
With multiple computers up and running, two phones, and two tablets, I began to dig in. I wanted to find queries and songs that typically drove traffic to the three sites that now yielded lyrics in the SERPs. And then I wanted to see what happened once those lyrics hit the SERPs, the impact on clicks, traffic, etc. I have documented a number of examples below. By the way, there are many more examples, but I wanted to just provide a sampling below. Here we go…


Spill The Wine Lyrics by War
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 73%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 65%
GWT Clicks Down 56%


Sister Ray Lyrics by The Velvet Underground
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 73%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 56%
GWT Clicks Down 84%


Rude Lyrics by Magic!
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 41%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 32%
GWT Clicks Down 55%


Bang Bang Lyrics by Jesse J, Nicki Manaj and Ariana Grande
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 32%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 47%
GWT Clicks Down 66%


Fireproof Lyrics by One Direction
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 44%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 40%
GWT Clicks Down 29%


All of Me Lyrics by John Legend
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 39%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 14%
GWT Clicks Down 61%


Country Road Lyrics by John Denver
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 62%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 45%
GWT Clicks Down 36%


Come Sail Away Lyrics by Styx
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 43%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 27%
GWT Clicks Down 55%


Midnight Special Lyrics by Huddie William Ledbetter
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 53%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 85%
GWT Clicks Down 33%


Comfortably Numb Lyrics by Pink Floyd
Google Organic Desktop US Traffic Down 46%
Google Organic Mobile US Traffic Down 17%
GWT Clicks Down 43%


Yes, There’s A Serious Impact
As you can see from the statistics above, both desktop and mobile traffic to the song pages dropped significantly since lyrics hit the SERPs (for songs that yield lyrics in the SERPs). Again, these songs showed stable impressions during the timeframe, yet showed large drops in clicks from the SERPs, and subsequent traffic to the three lyrics sites I analyzed.

Some users were clearly getting what they wanted when searching for lyrics and finding that information in the SERPs. And in mobile search, the lyrics take up the entire results page. So it’s no surprise to see some mobile numbers absolutely plummet after lyrics hit the SERPs.

What Could Lyrics Sites Do?
Above, I provided a sampling of what I saw while analyzing the impact of lyrics in the U.S. Google SERPS. Clearly there’s a large impact. The good news for lyrics sites is that there are several core factors helping them right now.

  • This is only in the United States.
  • The lyrics only trigger when the query is structured in certain ways. For example, “magic rude lyrics” yields lyrics where “rude lyrics magic” does not. Also, if additional words are entered in the query, lyrics will not be shown (like “meaning” which I explained earlier.)
  • Not all songs are impacted (yet). I found many examples of songs that did not yield lyrics in the SERPs. Again, this is probably due to licensing issues.

If you look at the overall traffic numbers for the sites I analyzed (and the other sites I have access to), Google organic traffic overall has not been heavily impacted. Taking all global Google organic traffic into account, and across all songs, you clearly don’t see the huge drop like I showed you for the songs listed above. That said, this is still a grave situation for many lyrics sites. The content they have licensed and provided on their sites is now being surfaced directly in the SERPs. If this expands to more songs, more countries, and for additional queries, then it can have a massive impact on their businesses. Actually, it could very well end their businesses.

Moving forward, lyrics sites need to up their game from a functionality and value proposition standpoint. If Google can easily add lyrics to the SERPs, then lyrics sites need to keep driving forward with what Google can’t do (at least for now). They should develop new functionality, strengthen community engagement, provide member benefits, include more data and media for artists and songs, provide a killer mobile experience, etc.

Remember, there are many people searching for additional information related to songs. For example, people want to know the meaning of lyrics and seem to enjoy the community engagement about learning what each lyric means. And lyrics don’t trigger in the SERPs for those queries (yet).

And then you have the next generation of devices, social networks, messaging apps, gaming consoles, connected cars, etc. I would start thinking about how people are going to search for lyrics across new devices and in new environments. That’s a new frontier and it would be smart to begin building and testing lyrics applications that can work in those new environments. Mobile, wearables, voice search, cars, etc. provide a wealth of opportunity for business owners focused on music. It just takes the right ideas, time, resources, and of course, money.

But I’ll stop there. I think that topic can be an entire post and this one is getting too long already. :)


Summary – Moving Forward With (Expanding) Lyrics in the SERPs
In the short-term, it’s hard to say how this will expand. Google and Bing might drop the effort and keep things as-is, or they could keep expanding lyrics in the SERPs until every song and every country is covered.

Based on the current song and geography limits in Google and Bing, lyrics websites are still surviving, and especially for searches outside the United States. It will be interesting to watch this space over time, especially since I have several clients adapting to the new lyrics world as I write this post.

From an SEO standpoint, between Google Panda and content surfacing in the SERPs, lyrics web sites are fighting a battle on two fronts. If it’s not Panda attacking the site one night, it’s the Knowledge Graph pushing song lyrics front and center in the SERPs. And in this day and age, wars are won by technology, not brute strength. So lyrics sites need to up their engineering prowess, think two to three steps ahead of the industry, and then execute quickly and at a very high level.

That’s how they can survive and prosper in the coming years. Of course, that’s until we have a Google chip implanted in our brains that instantly provides the lyrics to every song ever written, from the around the world, since the beginning of time. Think about that for a second.



Panda Analysis Using Google Analytics Segments – How To Isolate Desktop, Mobile, and Tablet Traffic From Google

Segments in Google Analytics to Isolate Traffic

In previous posts about Panda analysis, I’ve mentioned the importance of understanding the content that users are visiting from Google organic. Since Google is measuring user engagement, hunting down those top landing pages can often reveal serious content quality problems.

In addition, I’ve written about understanding the devices being used to access your site from the search results. For example, what’s the breakdown of users by desktop, mobile, and tablets from Google organic? If 50% of your visits are from smartphones, then you absolutely need to analyze your site through that lens. If not, you can miss important problems that users are experiencing while visiting your website. And if left unfixed, those problems can lead to a boatload of horrible engagement signals being sent to Google. And that can lead to serious Panda problems.

Panda Help Via Segments in Google Analytics
So, if you want to analyze your content by desktop, mobile, and tablet users through a Panda lens, what’s the best way to achieve that? Well, there’s an incredibly powerful feature in Google Analytics that I find many webmasters simply don’t use. It’s called segmentation and enables you slice and dice your traffic based on a number of dimensions or metrics.

Segments are non-destructive, meaning that you can apply them to your data and not affect the source of the data. Yes, that means you can’t screw up your reporting. :) In addition, you can apply new segments to previous traffic (they are backwards compatible). So you can build a new segment today and apply it to traffic from six months ago, or longer.

For our purposes today, I’m going to walk you through how to quickly build three new segments. The segments will isolate Google organic traffic from desktop users, mobile users, and tablet users. Then I’ll explain how to use the new segments while analyzing Panda hits.


How To Create Segments in Google Analytics
When you fire up Google Analytics, the “All Sessions” segment is automatically applied to your reporting. So yes, you’ve already been using segments without even knowing it. If you click the “All Sessions” segment, you’ll see a list of additional segments you can choose.

Google Analytics All Sessions Segment

You might be surprised to see a number of segments have been built for you already. They are located in the “System” category (accessed via the left side links). For example, “Direct Traffic”, “AdWords”, “Organic Traffic”, and more.

Google Analytics System Segments


We are going to build custom segments by copying three system segments and then adding more dimensions. We’ll start by creating a custom segment for mobile traffic from Google organic.

1. Access the system segments by clicking “All Sessions” and then clicking the link labeled “System” (located on the left side of the UI).


Google Analytics System Segments


2. Scroll down and find the “Mobile Traffic” segment. To the far right, click the “Actions” dropdown. Then choose “Copy” from the list.


Copying a System Segment in Google Analytics


3. The segment already has “Device Category”, “exactly matches”, and “mobile” as the condition. We are going to add one more condition to the list, which is Google organic traffic. Click the “And” button on the far right. Then choose “Acquisition” and the “Source/Medium” from the dimensions list. Then choose “exactly matches” and select “google/organic” from the list. Note, autocomplete will list the top sources of traffic once you place your cursor in the text box.


Creating a Segment by Adding Conditions


4. Name your segment “Mobile Google Organic” by using the text box labeled “Segment Name” at the top of the window. It’s easy to miss.


Name a Custom Segment in Google Analytics


5. Then click “Save” at the bottom of the create segment window.


Save a Custom Segment in Google Analytics


Congratulations! You just created a custom segment.


Create The Tablet Traffic Segment
Now repeat the process listed above to create a custom segment for tablet traffic from Google organic.  You will begin with the system segment for “Tablet Traffic” and then copy it. Then you will add a condition for Google organic as the source and medium.


Desktop Traffic (Not a default system segment.)
I held off on explaining the “Desktop Traffic” segment, since there’s an additional step in creating one. For whatever reason, there’s not a system segment for isolating desktop traffic. So, you need to create this segment differently. Don’t worry, it’s still easy to do.

We’ll start with the “Mobile Traffic” segment in the “System” list, copy it, and then refine the condition.

1. Click “All Sessions” and the find “Mobile Traffic” in the “System” list. Click “Actions” to the far right and then click “Copy”.


Copying a System Segment in Google Analytics


2. The current condition is set for “Device Category” exactly matching “mobile”. We’ll simply change mobile to “desktop”. Delete “mobile” and start typing “desktop”. Then just select the word “desktop” as it shows up.

Creating a Desktop Segment in Google Analytics


3. Since we want Desktop traffic from Google Organic, we need to add another condition. You can do this by clicking “And” to the far right, selecting “Acquisition”, and then “Source/Medium” from the dropdown. Then select “exactly matches” and enter “Google/Organic” in the text box. Remember, autocomplete will list the top sources of traffic as you start to type.


Creating a Google Organic Desktop Segment in Google Analytics


4. Name your segment “Desktop Google Organic” and then click “Save” at the bottom of the segment window to save your new custom segment.


Quickly Check Your Segments
OK, at this point you should have three new segments for Google organic traffic from desktop, mobile, and tablets. To ensure you have these segments available, click “All Sessions” at the top of your reporting, and click the “Custom” link on the left. Scroll down and make sure you have all three new segments. Remember, you named them “Desktop Google Organic”, “Mobile Google Organic”, and “Tablet Google Organic”.

If you have them, then you’re good to go. If you don’t, read through the instructions again and create all three segments.


Run Panda Reports by Segment
In the past, I’ve explained the importance of running a Panda report in Google Analytics for identifying problematic content. A Panda report isolates landing pages from Google organic that have dropped substantially after a Panda hit. Well, now that you have segments for desktop, mobile, and tablet traffic from Google organic, you can run Panda reports by segment.

For example, click “All Sessions” at the top of your reporting and select “Mobile Google Organic” from the “All” or “Custom” categories. Then visit your “Landing Pages” report under “Behavior” and “Site Content” in the left side menu in GA. Since you have a specific segment active in Google Analytics, the reporting you see will be directly tied to that segment (and filter out any other traffic).

Creating a Google Panda Report Using Custom Segments


Then follow the directions in my previous post to run and export the Panda report. You’ll end up with an Excel spreadsheet highlighting top landing pages from mobile devices that dropped significantly after the Panda hit. Then you can dig deeper to better understand the content quality (or engagement) problems impacting those pages.

Combine with Adjusted Bounce Rate (ABR)
User engagement matters for Panda. I’ve documented that point many times in my previous posts about Panda analysis, remediation, and recovery. The more poor engagement signals you send Google, the more bamboo you are building up. And it’s only a matter of time before Panda comes knocking.

So, when analyzing user engagement, many people jump to the almighty Bounce Rate metric to see what’s going on. But here’s the problem. Standard Bounce Rate is flawed. Someone could spend five minutes reading a webpage on your site, leave, and it’s considered a bounce. But that’s not how Google sees it. That would be considered a “long click” to Google and would be absolutely fine.

And this is where Adjusted Bounce Rate shines. If you aren’t familiar with ABR, then read my post about it (including how to implement it). Basically, Adjusted Bounce Rate takes time on page into account and can give you a much stronger view of actual bounce rate. Once you implement ABR, you can check bounce rates for each of the segments you created earlier (and by landing page). Then you can find high ABR pages by segment (desktop, mobile, and tablet traffic).

Combining Adjusted Bounce Rate with Custom Segments


Check Devices By Segment (Smartphones and Tablets)
In addition to running a Panda report, you can also check the top devices being used by people searching Google and visiting your website. Then you can analyze that data to see if there are specific problems per device. And if it’s a device that’s heavily used by people visiting your site from Google organic, then you could uncover serious problems that might lie undetected by typical audits.

GA’s mobile reporting is great, but the default reporting is not by traffic source. But using your new segments, you could identify top devices by mobile and tablet traffic from Google organic. And that’s exactly what you need to see when analyzing Panda hits.

Analyzing Devices with Custom Segments in Google Analytics

For example, imagine you saw very high bounce rates (or adjusted bounce rates) for ipad users visiting from Google organic. Or maybe your mobile segment reveals very low engagement from Galaxy S5 users. You could then test your site via those specific devices to uncover rendering problems, usability problems, etc.


Summary – Isolate SEO Problems Via Google Analytics Segments
After reading this post, I hope you are ready to jump into Google Analytics to create segments for desktop, mobile, and tablet traffic from Google organic. Once you do, you can analyze all of your reporting through the lens of each segment. And that can enable you to identify potential problems impacting your site from a Panda standpoint. I recommend setting up those segments today and digging into your reporting. You might just find some amazing nuggets of information. Good luck.



How To Check If Google Analytics Is Firing On Android Devices Using Remote Debugging With Chrome [Tutorial]

How To Debug Google Analytics on Mobile Devices

We all know that having a strong analytics setup is important. Marketing without measurement is a risky proposition for sure. But in a multi-device world, it’s not as easy to make sure your setup is accurately tracking what you need – or tracking at all. And if your analytics code isn’t firing properly across smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers, your data will be messy, incomplete, and inaccurate. And there’s nothing that drives a marketer crazier than flawed data.

A few weeks ago, Annie Cushing tweeted a quick question to her followers asking how everyone was testing their Google Analytics setup via mobile devices. This is something many digital marketers grapple with, especially when you are trying to track down problems. For example, I do a lot of algorithm update work and often dig into the analytics setup for a site to ensure we are seeing the full drop in traffic, conversion, revenue, etc.

My knee-jerk response was to check real-time reporting in Google Analytics while accessing specific pages to ensure those visits were being tracked, in addition to events. That could work, but it’s not as granular or isolated as you would want. I also mentioned to Annie that using a chrome extension like User Agent Switcher could help. That wouldn’t document the firing of analytics code, but would let you see the source code when accessing a webpage via a specific type of smartphone or tablet. But again, you couldn’t see the actual firing of the code or the events being tracked. And that’s obviously an important aspect to debugging analytics problems.

A Solution – Remote Debugging on Android with Chrome
So I did what I typically do when I run into a tricky situation. I find a solution! And for Android devices, I found a solid one. Many of you might be familiar with Chrome Developer Tools (on your desktop computer). It holds some outstanding functionality for debugging websites and web applications. But although it’s extremely helpful for debugging desktop webpages, it didn’t really address the problem at hand (out of the box), since we want to debug mobile devices.

So I started to research the issue and that’s when I came across a nifty technique which would allow you to connect your Android device to your desktop computer and then debug the Chrome tabs running on your mobile device from your desktop computer. And since I could use Chrome Developer Tools to debug the tabs on my desktop computer, I could check to see if Google Analytics was indeed firing when accessing webpages via my Android device. Awesome.

So, I spent some time testing this out and it does work. Sure, I had to jump through some hoops to get it to run properly, but it finally did work. Below I’ll cover what you’ll need to test this out for yourself and how to overcome some of the problems I encountered. Let’s get started.


What You’ll Need
In order to debug GA code running on your mobile device, you’ll need the proper setup both on your desktop computer and on your Android device. In its simplest form, you’ll need:

  • Chrome installed on your desktop (version 32 or later).
  • Android 4.0 or later.
  • A USB Cable to connect your device to your computer.
  • Android SDK {this will not be required for some of you, but others might need to install it. More on that situation below}.

If you run into the problems I ran into, you’ll need the Android SDK installed. I already had it installed since I’ve been testing various Android functionality and code, so it wasn’t a big deal. But you might need to install it on your own. I wouldn’t run to do that just yet, though. If the straight setup works for you, then run with it. If not, then you might need to install the Android SDK.

If you are confident you have the necessary setup listed above, then you can move to the tutorial listed below. I’ll walk you through how to debug Chrome tabs running on your mobile device via Chrome on your desktop computer. And yes, we’ll be isolating Google Analytics code firing on our Android devices to ensure you are tracking what you need.

How To Debug Google Analytics on Your Android Device – Step-By-Step Instructions

  1. Enable USB Debugging on Your Android Device
    Access your settings on your Android device and click Developer Options. On my device, that was located in the more “More” grouping of my settings and under System Manager. If you don’t see Developer Options, then you need to enable it.You can do that by accessing Settings, tapping About Phone or About Device and tapping Build Number seven times. Yes, that sounds extremely cryptic, but that’s what you need to do. Once you do, Developer Options will show up in under System Manager in your phone’s settings.

    Enable USB Debugging on Android Device

    Then you can check the box to enable USB Debugging on your device. You will need to do this in order to debug Google Analytics in Chrome on your device.

  2. Enable USB Discovery in Chrome (on your desktop)
    Next, type chrome:inspect in a new tab in Chrome on your desktop. Ensure “Discover USB devices” is checked on this screen.

    Enable USB Discovery in Chrome Desktop
  3. Connect Your Phone To Your Computer via USB
  4. Allow USB Debugging
    When you connect your phone to your computer, you should see a dialog box on your phone that asks you if you want to allow USB debugging. Click OK. Note, if you don’t see this dialog box, debugging your mobile device from Chrome on your desktop will not work. I provide instructions for getting around this problem later in the tutorial. If you are experiencing this problem, hop down to that section now.

    Allow USB Debugging on Android Device
  5. Fire up Chrome On Your Mobile Device
    Start Chrome on your Android device and access a webpage (any webpage you want to debug).
  6. Inspect With Chrome on your Desktop
    Once you open a webpage in Chrome on your mobile device, access Chrome on your desktop and visit chrome:inspect. Once you do, you should see your device listed and the various tabs that are open in Chrome on your Android device.

    Inspect Chrome Tabs on Desktop Computer
  7. Click Inspect To Debug The Mobile Tab
    When you click “inspect”, you can use Chrome Developer Tools on your desktop to debug the mobile web view. You can use all of the functionality in Chrome Developer Tools to debug the webpage open on your mobile device.
  8. Click the Network Tab in Chrome Developer Tools
    By accessing the Network Tab, you can view all network activity based on the webpage you have loaded in Chrome on your mobile device. That includes any resources that are requested by the webpage. Then reload the webpage on your mobile device to ensure you are seeing all resources.
  9. First Check for GA.js
    When you load a webpage on your mobile device, many resources will be listed in the network tab. But you should look for ga.js to see if the Google Analytics snippet is being loaded.Tip: You can use the search box and enter “ga.js” to filter all resources by that string. It’s an easy way to isolate what you are looking for.

    Check for ga.js in Network Tab in Developer Tools
  10. Next Check for utm.gif
    After checking for ga.js, you should look for the tracking pixel that’s sent to GA named utm.gif. If that is listed in the network panel, then your mobile webpage is tracking properly (at least basic tracking). Again, you can use the search box to filter by utm.gif.

    Check for utm.gif in Network Tab in Developer Tools
  11. Bonus: Advanced Tracking
    If you are firing events from mobile webpages, then you can see them listed here as well. For example, you can see an event being fired when a user stays on the page for more than 30 seconds below. So for this situation, we know that pageviews are accurately being tracked and the time on page event is being tracked via mobile. Nice.

    Check event tracking in Chrome for Android


A Note About Troubleshooting
I mentioned earlier that if you don’t see the “Allow USB Debugging” dialog on your mobile device when you connect your phone to your computer, then this setup won’t work for you. It didn’t initially work for me. After doing some digging around, I found the legacy workflow for remote debugging on Android.

By following the steps listed below, I finally got the prompt to show up on my mobile device. Then I was able to debug open Chrome tabs on my Android device.


  1. Install the Android SDK (if you don’t already have it installed)
    You can learn more about the SDK here and download the necessary files.
  2. Kill the ADB Server
    Use a command prompt to access the “platform-tools” folder in the SDK directory and then issue the following command: adb kill-server. Note, you should use the cd command to change directory to the folder containing adb. That’s the platform-tools folder in your Android SDK directory.

    Kill ADB Server
  3. Revoke USB Debugging on Your Android Device
    Disconnect your phone from your computer. Then go back to Developer Options on your Android phone and tap Revoke USB debugging authorization.

    Revoke USB Debugging
  4. Start the ADB Server
    Now you must restart the adb server. Use a command prompt, access the platform-tools folder again, and enter the following command: adb start-server.

    Start ADB Server
  5. Reconnect Your Device To Your Computer
    Once you reconnect your device, you should see the “Allow USB Debugging” dialog box. Click “OK” and you should be good to go. This will enable you to debug Chrome tabs running on your mobile device via Chrome running on your desktop.
  6. Open Chrome on Your Android Device
    Go ahead and open a webpage that you want to debug in Chrome on your Android phone. Once it’s loaded in Chrome in Android, you can follow the instructions listed earlier for using the network panel to debug the GA setup.


Summary – Know When Google Analytics is Firing on Mobile Devices
So there you have it. There is a way to debug the actual firing of GA code on your Android devices and it works well. Sure, you may need to go the extra mile, use the legacy workflow, and install the Android SDK, but you should be able to get it working. And once you do, you’ll never have to guess if GA is really working on Android devices. You’ll know if it is by debugging your Chrome tabs on Android via Chrome running on your desktop. Good luck.




How To Remarket 70+ Ways Using Segments and Conditions in Google Analytics

Remarketing in Google Analytics Using Conditions and Segments

I know what you’re thinking. Can you really remarket more than 70 different ways using segments in Google Analytics?  Yes, you can!  Actually, when you combine the methods I’ll cover today, there are many more types of Remarketing lists you can build!  So the total number is much greater than 70.

My post today is meant to introduce you to segments in Google Analytics (GA), explain how you can use them to remarket to people who already visited your site, and provide important Remarketing tips along the way.  I hope once you read this post, you’re ready to kick off some Remarketing campaigns to drive more sales, leads, phone calls, etc.

What Are Segments in Google Analytics?
Many digital marketers know about Remarketing already.  That’s where you can reach people that already visited your website via advertising as they browse the web.  For example, if John visited Roku’s website, browsed various products, and left, then Roku could use Remarketing to advertise to John as he browses the Google Display Network (GDN).  The Google Display Network is a massive network of sites that run Google advertising, and includes Google-owned properties like YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, etc.  According to Google, the GDN reaches 90% of internet users worldwide.

Remarketing via The Google Display Network (GDN)

By the way, if you’ve ever visited a website and then saw ads from that website as you browsed the web, then you’ve been remarketed to.  As you can guess, this can be an incredibly powerful way to drive more sales, leads, etc.  It can also be extremely frustrating and/or shocking to users.  So be careful when crafting your Remarketing strategy!

When Remarketing first rolled out, you could only set up Remarketing lists in the AdWords interface.  That was ok, but didn’t provide a massive amount of flexibility.  That’s when Google enabled marketers to set up Remarketing lists via Google Analytics.  That opened up an incredible amount of opportunity to slice and dice visitors to create advanced-level Remarketing lists.  For example, you could create Remarketing lists based on users who visited a certain section of your website, or lists based on users completing a certain conversion goal, etc.  Needless to say, tying Google Analytics to Remarketing was an awesome addition.

Now, I started using Google Analytics Remarketing functionality immediately to help clients build advanced Remarketing lists, but I had a feeling that Google was going to make it even more powerful.  And they did.

Along Came Segments… Remarketing Options Galore
You might already be familiar with segments in Google Analytics, which was originally named “Advanced Segmentation”.  In July of 2013, Google released a new version in Google Analytics and simply called it “Segments”.  But don’t get fooled by the simpler name.  Segments enable marketers to slice and dice their users and traffic to view reporting at a granular level.  For example, I often set up a number of segments for clients, based on their specific goals. Doing so enables me to quickly view granular reporting by removing a lot of the noise residing in standard reports.

Using Segments to Create Remarketing Lists in Google Analytics

But starting in January of 2014, Google rolled out an update that enabled marketers to use those segments to create Remarketing lists.  Yes, now marketers had an incredible number of options available when creating Remarketing lists.  In addition, you could easily import segments you are already using! This means you could leverage the hard work you’ve already put in when creating segments in Google Analytics.

Although I thought I had a lot of flexibility in creating Remarketing lists leading up to that point, the ability to use segments opened the targeting flood gates.  I remember checking out the list of options when segments for Remarketing first launched, and I was blown away.

For example, using segments you could create Remarketing lists based on:

  • Demographics like age, gender, language, location, and more.
  • Technology options like operating system, browser, device category, mobile device model or branding, and more.
  • Behavior like the number of sessions per user, days since last session, transactions, and session duration.
  • “Date of First Session” where you could create lists based on the initial session date or a range (sessions that started between two dates).
  • Traffic Sources based on campaign, medium, source, or keyword.
  • Ecommerce options like transaction id, revenue, days to transaction, product purchased, or product category.
  • And you can combine any of these options to create even more advanced Remarketing lists.


Now, the options listed above are based on the major categories of segments in Google Analytics.  But you can also set Remarketing lists based on conditions.  Using conditions, you could leverage many of the dimensions or metrics available in Google Analytics to build advanced Remarketing lists.  Actually, there are so many options via “conditions” that I can’t even list them all here in this post.

For example, there are eight major categories of dimensions and metrics you could choose from, including Acquisition, Advertising, Behavior, Custom Variables, Ecommerce, Time, Users, and Other.  And each category has a number of dimensions or metrics you can select to help craft your Remarketing lists.

Using Conditions to Create Remarketing Lists in Google Analytics

Note, it can definitely be overwhelming to review the list of options when you first check this out.  Don’t worry, I provide some tips for getting started later in this post.  For now, just understand that you can use segments and conditions in Google Analytics to craft Remarketing lists based on a number of factors (or a combination of factors).  Basically, you have the power to remarket however you like.  And that’s awesome.

Examples of What You Can Do
Enough with the introduction.  Let’s get specific.  I’m sure you are wondering how segments in Google Analytics can be used in the real-world.  I’ll provide a few examples below of Remarketing lists you can build to get back in front of people who already visited your website.  Note, the lists you build should be based on your specific business and website.  I’m just covering a few options below so you can see the power of using segments to build Remarketing lists.

Example 1: Remarket to users who came from a specific referral path (page).
Imagine you knew that certain referring webpages drove a lot of high-quality traffic on a regular basis.  Based on the quality of traffic coming through those referring pages, you decide that you would love to remarket to those users as they browse the web (since you have a strong feel for the type of user they are based on the content at hand).

Using segments, you could create a Remarketing list based on the original referral path (i.e. the referring pages).  And once that list reaches 100 members, then you can start getting targeted ads in front of those users and driving them to your preferred landing page (whether that’s current content, campaign landing pages, etc.)

Using Referring Path to Create Remarketing Lists

And if you find several referring pages that target similar categories of content, then you could use Boolean operators to combine those pages from across different websites.  For example, {referring path A} AND {referring path B}.  For example, if three referring pages are all about Category A, then you could combine them to create a Remarketing list.  You can also use regular expressions to match certain criteria.  Yes, the sky’s the limit.

Using Boolean Operators to Create Advanced Remarketing Lists

Example 2: Reach a certain demographic that has visited your website.
Let’s say you just launched a new product targeting 18-25 year olds and wanted to remarket to users who already visited your website that fit into this category.  You know they showed some interest in your company and products already (since they already visited your site), so you want to reach them via display advertising as they browse the web.

Using segments, you could create a Remarketing list based on age using the Demographics category.  Simply click the checkbox next to the age category you want to target.

Creating Remarketing Lists Based on Demographics

Or to get even more targeted, you could combine age with gender to test various messaging or visuals in your ads.  Going even further, you could add location as another selection to target users based on age, gender, and geographic location (down to the city level if you wanted).

Combining Demographics to Create Advanced Remarketing Lists

Example 3: Target users of specific campaigns, ad groups, or keywords.
Let’s say you are already using AdWords to drive targeted users to your website.  Using segments in Google Analytics, you could build a Remarketing list based on specific campaigns, ad groups, or keywords.  For example, if you have an ad group targeting a specific category or product, then you could create a list containing the users that already searched Google and clicked through your ads related to that category.  It’s a great way to get back in front of a targeted audience.

Creating Remarketing Lists Based on Previous Campaigns

And by combining the targeting listed above with ecommerce conditions like the number of transactions or amount of revenue generated, you could create advanced Remarketing lists targeting very specific types of users.

Creating Remarketing Lists Based on Revenue

Example 4: Pages or Page Titles
If you have been building a lot of new content and want to reach those visitors as they browse the web, then you could create a Remarketing list based Pages or Page Titles.  For example, let’s say you have 25 blog posts about a certain category of content.  They rank very well, have built up a nice amount of referral traffic, etc.  You could build a Remarketing list by select a grouping of pages via urls or via page titles. Then you could reach those users as they browse the web and drive them to a targeted landing pages, knowing they were interested in a certain post (or group of posts) about a certain subject.

Creating Remarketing Lists Based on Page Titles

And you can combine those pages with conversion goals to add users to a list that completed some type of important action on the site.  For example, users that signed up for your email newsletter, users that triggered an event, downloaded a study, etc.

Creating Remarketing Lists Based on Page Titles and Conversion

Remarketing Tips

Based on the examples listed above, I hope you see the power in using segments and conditions to craft Remarketing lists.  But as I said earlier, it can quickly become overwhelming (especially for marketers new to Remarketing).  Below, I’ve listed several important tips to keep in mind while crafting your campaigns.

  1. Remarketing Lists Require 100 Members
    A list requires at least 100 members before you can start showing ads to users.  Keep this in mind when building lists to ensure you can reach that number.  If not, you will never get back in front of those users.
  2. Start Simple, Then Increase in Complexity
    Based on the 100 member requirement, start with simpler Remarketing lists and increase your targeting as you get more comfortable with Remarketing.  Don’t start with the most granular targeting possible, only to have a list of 3 people.
  3. Refine Your Tracking Snippet
    Google requires that you refine your Google Analytics tracking code in order take advantage of Remarketing.  Review the documentation to ensure you have the proper technical setup.
  4. Craft a Strategy First, and Your Lists Should Support Your Strategy
    Don’t create lists for the sake of creating lists. Always start by mapping out a strong Remarketing strategy before jumping into list creation. Your strategy should dictate your Remarketing lists, and not the other way around.  Spend time up front mapping out who you want to target, and why.  And once you have a solid plan mapped out, you can easily build your lists via Google Analytics segments and conditions.
  5. Use Display Advertising In Addition to Text Ads
    Remarketing enables you to use both image ads and text ads.  Definitely use both when crafting your campaigns.  There are a number of sizes and formats you can use.  I recommend hiring a designer to build your ads unless you have in-house staff that is capable of designing high-quality ads.  Use image ads where possible to grab the user’s attention and provide text ads as a backup when a site doesn’t support image ads.  You don’t have to choose one or the other.
  6. Measure Your Results! Don’t “Set It and Forget It”.
    Remarketing is advertising.  And advertising campaigns should have a goal.  Don’t simply set up Remarketing without knowing the intended action you want users to take.  Instead, make sure you set up conversion goals to track how those users convert.  Do not set up the campaign and let it run without analyzing the results.  Understand the ROI of the campaign.  That’s the only way you’ll know if it worked, if the campaign should keep running, and if you should base other campaigns on the original.


Summary – New and Powerful Ways to Remarket
After reading this post, I hope you see the power in using segments and conditions for creating Remarketing lists.  In my opinion, too many marketers keep going after new eyeballs and easily forget about the eyeballs that already showed an interest in their company, products, or services.  I believe that’s a mistake.  Instead, marketers can craft advanced Remarketing lists to get back in front of a targeted audience.  Doing so provides another chance at converting them.

Remember, a warm lead is always more powerful than a cold call.  Good luck.



I’m Speaking at the Weber Shandwick Data Salon on April 24th – Learn About Google Algorithm Updates, Manual Penalties, and More

Weber Shandwick Data Salon on April 24, 2014

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at the Weber Shandwick Data Salon on Thursday, April 24th in New York City (from 6:00PM to 7:30PM).  Each month, Weber Shandwick invites leaders from various areas of digital marketing to speak, to spark conversation, and to share ideas.  I’m thrilled to be presenting next week to speak about the latest in SEO.

My presentation will cover some extremely important topics that I’m neck deep in on a regular basis, including Google algorithm updates, manual penalties, and the war for organic search traffic that’s going on each day.  I’ll be introducing various algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin, explain what manual actions are, and provide case studies along the way.  I’ll also introduce the approach that Google is using to fight webspam algorithmically, while also covering how manual penalties work, how to recover from them, and how to ensure websites stay out of the danger zone.

My goal is to get the audience thinking about content quality, webspam, unnatural links, and webmaster guidelines now before any risky tactics being employed can get them in trouble.  Unfortunately, I’ve spoken with hundreds of companies over the past few years that were blindsided by algo updates or manual actions simply because they never thought about the repercussions of their tactics, didn’t understand Google’s stance on webspam, or the various algorithm updates it was crafting.  Many of them learned too late the dangers of pushing the envelope SEO-wise.

So join me next Thursday, April 24th at 6PM for a deep dive on algorithm updates, manual penalties, and more from the dynamic world of SEO.  You can register today via the following link:

Register for Weber Shandwick’s Data Salon on April 24th:

Below I have provided the session overview.  I hope to see you there!

Weber Shandwick Data Salon #3
April 24, 2014 from 6:00PM to 7:30PM
Speaker: Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Interactive
Moderator: Kareem Harper of Weber Shandwick
909 Third Avenue, 5th Floor
*Refreshments will be available starting at 6:00pm

Front Lines of SEO

The Frontlines of SEO – Google Algorithm Updates, Penalties, and the Implications for Marketers
Explore Google’s war on webspam, learn about key changes and updates occurring in Search right now, and fully understand the implications for digital marketers.

There’s a battle going on every day in Search that many people aren’t aware of.  With millions of dollars in revenue on the line, some businesses are pushing the limits of what’s acceptable from an SEO perspective.  In other words, gaming Google’s algorithm to gain an advantage in the search results.

Google, with its dominant place in Search, is waging war against tactics that attempt to manipulate its algorithm.  From crafting specific algorithm updates that target webspam to applying manual actions to websites, Google has the ability to impact the bottom line of many businesses across the world.  And that includes companies ranging from large brands to small local businesses.  This session will introduce the various methods Google is using to address webspam in order to keep its search results as pure as possible. Specific examples will be presented, including case studies of companies that have dealt with algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin.  Manual penalties will be discussed as well.

Beyond battling webspam, the major search engines have been innovating at an extremely rapid pace.  The smartphone and tablet boom has impacted how consumers search for data (and how companies can be found).  And now the wearable revolution has begun, which will add yet another challenge for marketers looking to reach targeted audiences.   Glenn will introduce several of the key changes taking place and explain how marketers can adapt.  Glenn is also a Glass Explorer and will provide key insights into how Google Glass and other wearables could impact marketing and advertising.

Register today to learn more about Google’s war on webspam, to better understand the future of Search, and to prepare your business for what’s coming next.

You can register online by clicking the following link: