Alexa's CEO, Niall O'Driscoll, once said to me "If you want to know how good a search engine optimization company is, type 'search engine optimization' into Google and see who comes up first." The logic is infallible. The same logic applies to Dentists and Barbers... if you walk into a barbershop and the barber has awful hair, walk out.
So I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at three of the leading Search Engine Optimization sites out there, seochat.com, seobook.com and seomoz.org, and see what they do and how well they practice what they preach.
As a point of comparison, and to make sure this test is somewhat fair, each of the sites have similar traffic, with 3 month Alexa Ranks between 3500 and 2500, and daily visits between an average of 75K to 120K.
Test 1: Who ranks best for "search engine optimization"
Try it yourself. Search for "search engine optimization" on Google and see which of the three sites comes up first. Seochat comes up as the third result on the page, behind wikipedia and behind a Google article on search engine optimization. Seobook.com and seomoz.org are farther down the rankings. The graph below confirms it, seochat gets a much larger percent of their traffic from search engines than its competitors:
Surprisingly, to me anyway, seochat.com also wins this contest if you search for "seo".
Test 1 Winner: seochat.com
Test 2: Who has the most "high quality" links?
If you want traffic from Google you are going to have to work on more than your keywords. You are going to have to get a lot of high quality links pointing to your site. That, in short, is how Google will know whether your site is important or not, and it is how Google decides which site with the "right" keywords appears at the top of the results. So how did our sites do?
Let me give you a little help reading this graph. I have broken links into three types, ranging from most important (Links in Top 1,000) at the top, to least important (Links in Top 100,000) at the bottom. Starting at the top, you can see the seomoz.org wins the most links from sites that are in the Top 1,000. Seomoz.org also has the most links overall, giving it an important edge in search engine rankings.
Test 2 Winner: seomoz.org
Test 3: Which site has the most appeal?
Sometimes we can get so wrapped up talking about "keyword optimization" and "link building strategies" that we can forget about perhaps the most important factor of all. Appeal -- that certain "something" that keeps people on your page and keeps them coming back. How else are you going to get links to your site and get more traffic if your site lacks appeal?
But how do you measure appeal? I like to measure appeal with Bounce Rate (do people "bounce" away after visiting) and Time on Site. How did our sites do? Let's start with bounce rate:
With bounce rate a lower number is better, indicating that few people "bounce". It looks like all of these sites have a relatively high bounce rate, at 50% or above, with seobook.com with the largest bounce rate, at 70%. Before being too hard on seobook.com, their bounce rate is no doubt due to the "hard sell" interstitial sales technique that they use on their site. The first time I saw that form I was inclined to hit the back button, and if others do the same it will cause seobook.com's bounce rate to rise. But what is unknown to me, and perhaps more important than a good bounce rate, is how well seobook.com converts visitors to leads via this method.
One of the consequences of search engine optimization is that as you get really good at it your bounce rate is likely to go up. It might take a second for that to sink in. Your bounce rate will go up because you will be getting more and more traffic from search, and it will be less targeted traffic. All of these new visitors to your site are less likely to stick around and become customers.
Next up on our measure of appeal is Time on Site. How did our sites do?
With "Time on Site" you want to have a larger number, indicating that people are sticking around, making pageturns and hopefully becoming customers. What stands out here is that seobook.com has the lowest time on site, by a long shot. Again, this is likely due to their aggressive interstitial. The winner of the Time on Site category is seomoz.org with over 4.5 minutes on average.
Appeal is what I would call a leading indicator. If you score well in these areas you are likely to garner more links and have a shot at the top of the rankings. It is where people should start first when looking at their Internet Marketing efforts... building a site with content that people want to link to and come back to.
Test 3 winner: seomoz.org
So who is the overall winner? The site with the most traffic wins, and that site is:
Despite losing each of our three tests, seobook.com gets more traffic than seochat.com and seomoz.org. But how do they do it? Loyalty. Despite getting less traffic from search engines, and despite having fewer links than seomoz, and despite scaring away potential customers with aggressive marketing, seobook is doing quite well. They are converting visitors to customers, and turning those customers into regular visitors.
The take-away lesson is that good SEO is important, but it can't compete with a loyal and engaged user-base. Seobook.com is a perfect case in point.