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Get Your RegEx On

A Not-So Regular Expression

Nearly every single SEO/SEM knows that using analytics is an absolute essential, but when you’re not measuring and uncovering the most valuable data, either through analytics reporting or traffic segments, you’re not using the tool to your advantage.

Regular Expressions (RegEx) are one of the most powerful and least used in an analytics tool belt.  It certainly walks the line of SEM geek-craft, but there will come a time when you need to pull out the pocket protector and thick, taped glasses to get the data you need. Here’s what Google defines a regular expression as:

Regular Expressions are a set of characters you can use match one or more strings of text. Regular Expressions is that they support wildcard matching, letting you capture a lot of variations (in URLs for example) using a single string of characters.

The Basics of RegEx Characters: A Quick Guide

If you are familiar with or write advanced query operators for Google, Yahoo, or Bing, writing RegEx for analytics is along the same vein. Below are the most common characters I use when writing regular expressions in analytics reports to refine the data.

  1. ” ^ ” (caret): using the caret before letter or keyword at the start of the string will match position rather than a character
    • Example: (^keyword) or (^www)
  2. ” $ ” (dollar sign): using the dollar sign at the end of the letter or keyword will match a position rather than a character
    • Example: (y$)
  3. ” | ” (pipe delimiter): used to string together multiple items into a series of options
    • Example: (keyword|keyword1|keyword2|etc.)
  4. ” + ” (plus sign): will match as many items as possible
    • Example: (keyword+)

Geeky student child wearing glassesWhy You Should Be Using Regular Expressions in Your Analytics

As an SEO/SEM you need to get granular. While Google does a good job of getting you high-level data in their standard reporting, it is a bit harder to dig deep if you don’t have your handy-dandy RegEx operators. Beyond that, there are times when the sites you work with will require RegEx in order to track goals properly. It’s an essential tool in your toolkit for measuring correctly, tracking SEO strategy progress, and measuring ROI.

Using Regular Expressions to Filter Keywords in GA

The keywords report is one of those live and die by reports in GA. Google is kind enough to let you segment by paid and organic, but if you want to get to the meat of your efforts, you’ll need a regular expression.

Keywords Before RegEx

Your initial keyword list will more than likely have the majority of those keywords being branded. Either through user typing in the website into Google (yes, that still happens) or querying the corporation’s name or brand.  It’s not very helpful if you need to find out if your SEO/SEM strategy is actually working. For instance, have the onsite tweaks you made generated more traffic, or the link building efforts you started on “Keyword X” started boosting traffic and conversions?

The initial list you’re presented with from GA isn’t going to help you prove any of that. Using a RegEx made up of the caret (^), pipe delimiter (|), and possibly the dollar sign ($), you can create a filter that will get you to the heart of your organic traffic.

Regular Expressions to Track Dynamic Goals

On occasion it can’t be avoided; websites have dynamic URLs generated on the “Thank You” page. When this happens you can’t simply just add-in the thank you page URL. You have to write a regular expression to capture the all the goals.

Let’s say you have a “Thank You” URL that looks something like this: http://%5Bprimary domain]/thank-you/contact-us?sid=259.  Using a RegEX to amend the URL (/thank-you/contact-us+), we’ve effectively take the dynamic element out of the goal conversion and are now able to track as accurately as possible. If the URL structure is more segmented and delineates more definitive sections, then you can create multiple goals still using the (+) to combat the dynamic session id associated.

If you’re concerned that dynamic portions of the URL helped to designate what section or what particular form, you can use “Reverse Goal Path” for each goal to see the exact path a user took through the site and completed the conversion. It will take more front-loaded leg work, but the piece of mind you’ll create for your client is worth the extra hour or two.

The Power to Slice Your Data Deeper

Those are two very common examples that regular expressions can be used for within your analytic reporting. With RegEx, you can’t be afraid to fail because you will. The trick is to keep testing your expressions until you get exactly the data you need.

There are great tools out there will allow you to test your RegEX to make sure it works prior to implementing on live analytics; Epik One’s Regular Expression Filter Tester is a perfect for this task. It’s specific for Urchin 5 and Google Analytics. RegEx can help you slice your data anyway you want, you just have to know the questions you want to ask.


The Instant Google Went Instant

Thought the SEO Sky was Falling Again?Everyone said everything is dead. Again.

Steve “SEO is Dead” Rubel led it off only minutes after the official announcement. (And, no, he does not get link for it) From there we were subjected to various other types of “dead”: paid search, analytics, long-tail keywords, short-tail keywords, etc.

It’s the status quo with the SEM community; if it’s new and foreign from a way of doing things, then the immediate reaction from the community is: IT’S ALL DEAD, MAN!  GOOGLE JUST KILLED IT ALL!

Those of us who know the score sat back and watched the house catch fire. People were screaming out for Matt Cutts to set the record straight on this (again, per usual).

So let’s set the record straight: it’s not dead. It won’t be dead. SEO will never die. If Google ever discounts site content and links, then, and only then, will SEO die. Since that isn’t happening, we’re all fine. Everyone ok on that? Great.

What Every Major Google Hub is Saying About Instant

Yes, that’s right, beyond Matt having to shush the SEO Chicken Little’s out there, Google’s 3 major hubs and Google itself put out official posts on how Google Instant will affect the resource.

1) Google on Instant

2) Google Analytics on Instant

3) Google Webmaster Central on Instant

4) Google AdWords on Instant

Can We Please Stop This NonsenseThis in No Way Kills SEO

Sorry. That’s the facts. If you step back for a moment, all GI (Google Instant) has really done is allow people to search faster and offer suggestions, or as The GOOG put it, “mind read”.

Fact #1: There was heavy personalization BEFORE this update

Yes, indeed. Google was helping you, and still is, by honing in your IP address and by search history. Not much has changed there.

Fact #2: Google Suggestions have been around as early as 2008

Again, nothing changed. Those suggestions that still appear below your query, Google helping you refine your thoughts before you hit enter, they’re still there. What has changed is that GOOG is tacking them in your actual query string now, guessing/mind-reading at what you might be looking for.

Fact #3: SERPs Are Still SERPs

Yes, I think the instant update also came attached with some algorithm tweaks. Anecdotal searches I’ve performed thus far tell they’ve tweaked some things; yes, I’ve seen upward and downward movement in my sites’ positions for business-centric keywords. That said, the SERP is still being constructed based on your site’s content, authority, relevance to the query at hand, and off-site SEO.

Why would GI want to mess with a good thing? This update just allows them to serve those SERPs faster.

What’s Going to be Different for SEOs?

A few things are going to change. Keyword research is a premium now. If you were lethargic and lazy about your keyword research prior to this update, you’re in for a real treat. It seems that the GI update, again only from anecdotal searches conducted thus far, that the long tail is much more of a priority and seems to be pushing users in that direction.

What that means? It means that a lot more users are going to be engaging in long-tail search terms. It means this update, is essentially teaching run-of-the-mill searchers how write better search queries to find their information. What I am not saying is that one and two-term keyword phrases are useless, I personally don’t think these will be as much of a traffic force in the coming months. Hence, if you’re an SEO, you better get your keyword data-sloshing boots on, cause’ it’s going to get thick.

The solid SEOs/SEMs out there are already doing this. The hacks will have to play catch up: actually have to consider the content they are putting on the page. Consider dropping in long-tail terms within pages, being strategic with content.

Keep Moving Forward.

Yes, I did. I stole this quote from Meet the Robinsons. The past is the past; let’s all take a moment to reflect on it. [Reflecting]

There. That was great. Now move forward. Google is always going to be innovating, for better or worse, well-thought out or not, and always for the next big payday. If our profession didn’t change, not many would stick around. We’re a dynamic bunch of people; we institute change for others, we strategize how to create dramatic change in conversions and profit online for clients, and change happens to us both professionally and personally.

Stop buying into this ridiculous rhetoric that “SEO is dead”, that the game is so radically different now. It’s not. Put your game face on, buckle down, and get to work.


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