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How to Avoid Mistaking Correlation for Causation in SEO

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Every so often the SEO community will erupt into an uproar at the publication of a new ranking factors study.

The usual cry – “correlation is not the same as causation!”

You may be familiar with the terms.

Correlation is the “mutual relation of two or more things” and causation is “the action of causing or producing.”

Essentially, is something genuinely the cause of a result, or does it just happen to change in line with the result?

To put it clearly, here is an unusual example of correlation.

Tyler Vigen - Mozzarella consumption civial engineering doctorates graph

According to the data gathered by Tylervigen.com from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation, there is a direct correlation between the number of Civil Engineering doctorates awarded in the U.S. and the per-person consumption of mozzarella cheese.

That’s right.

Want more civil engineers to graduate in the U.S.?

You’d better start eating more cheese.

We can all quickly identify that it’s likely being a coincidence rather than a causal link.

This is a good example of correlation not being the same as causation.

Why Are Correlation & Causation a Concern in SEO?

A lot of SEO activity is based on trial and error, experience, and statements from search engine representatives.

Due to this, there are often assertions made like “SEO activity X has a positive effect on your webpage rankings.”

For example: “links from authoritative websites will improve your website’s SERP rankings.”

Sometimes, these will be accurate – the stated activity will be what has caused the ranking increase.

Other times, it is purely coincidental.

The issue with this is that there can be substantial time and money invested in carrying out SEO activities that will never pay off.

For instance, what if there was an SEO study that suggested the number of JPEGs on a page was a ranking factor.

This hypothetical study suggested that the more JPEGs the higher you are likely to rank in Google.

This might cause SEO professionals to start adding images to their pages regardless of whether they would benefit the end-user.

And paying for photographs or a premium image service could be expensive.

No to mention the time taken to upload the images to every page could also be costly.

How to Avoid Mistaking Correlation for Causation

How then do you decide if Y is affected by X, or if changes are mere coincidences?

Consider the Claim

First of all, consider what is being claimed.

Sometimes a commonsense check of what is being discussed will be enough to determine whether the correlation is a coincidence.

The following two questions can go a long way to working this out:

  • How could the search engines measure this?
  • How would it benefit the end user and therefore the search engines?

This is not an exhaustive list.

The cynical us might ask, “would this financially benefit the search engine?”

Or you might wonder, “would this be the case for my industry?”

It might be that a supposed ranking factor would not make sense for the industry you are in.

For instance “your money or your life” (YMYL) pages, ecommerce, or entertainment sites might have been subject to different weightings for different ranking factors.

What Does Your Experience Say?

Have you experienced SEO results in a way that rings true with the causation statement made?

Your experience is just as valid as anyone else’s.

If you have seen the opposite happen – for instance, removing unnecessary JPEGs from a page caused your page’s ranking to increase – then that is reason enough to investigate the claim further.

Identify Other Factors

With the example given above, there might be other reasons why adding JPEGs to a page correlated with an increase in SERP rank for a page.

For instance, maybe the images included alt attributes and that was actually what made the difference in rank.

Perhaps the images were part of a page’s redesign and other elements like unique copy were also introduced at the same time.

It’s also hard with studies run by third parties to know the true methodology.

Perhaps there were other variables in play that the researchers did not account for.

That alone could call into question the validity of the experiment.

How Big Is the Sample?

When running statistical experiments a researcher will be looking for results that have reached a statistical significance.

That is, an assurance that the relationship between X and Y did not occur through chance.

In order to achieve a reliable level of statistical significance, your sample size has to be large enough.

If your sample size is not large enough your experiment may be subject to a sampling error.

A correlation may emerge that would simply not be there in a larger sample size.

In our example, what if only three websites were used as part of the study into how JPEGs affect rankings.

If two of them had seen ranking increases when adding JPEGs to a page and one of them did not then you could conclude that JPEGs have a positive effect on rankings.

However, what if you added a further seven websites to your study, and each of those did not show an increase in rankings when JPEGs were added to the page.

That would bring the result to two which showed rank increases and eight that did not.

What would happen to the results with another 10 websites?

Three is simply too small a sample size to make declarations about all the websites in the search engine index.

How Varied Is the Sample?

Similarly, if your sample is not a diverse enough representation of the entire data set then you risk sampling errors.

For instance, what if the websites chosen for our hypothetical study were all ecommerce sites.

Would it be a reliable enough experiment to apply those findings to information only sites?

Could they be applied to YMYL sites?

What if the websites sampled were all built on WordPress?

Would it be a fair conclusion to assume that websites running on Magento would rank in a similar way?

A Caution on Third-Party Studies

It is very easy to see studies shared around the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn and assume the study is thorough.

Similarly, listening to a speaker share their case study at a conference may inspire confidence that their conclusions are valid.

You can’t be sure of this, however.

A third party study may have experimental flaws.

One case study is too small a sample size.

Conclusion

Whenever you hear a claim about what is or isn’t important in SEO and there is data used to back it up, make sure you bring yourself back to your school science experiments.

Was there a large enough sample used?

Were all the variables accounted for and controlled?

Would you get an “A” grade for that study?

If there is any doubt then make sure you do not take the conclusions as fact.

Instead, continue to experiment on your own.

Monitor the effect of any changes you make to your sites to see if they have the result you expected.

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Image Credits

Screenshot taken by author, October 2020

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Response to ChatGPT $20 Plan: Take My Money!

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Response to ChatGPT $20 Plan: Take My Money!

OpenAI announced a new subscription service to ChatGPT called ChatGPT Plus that offers several benefits over the free version. Fans of OpenAI were wildly enthusiastic about the prospect for a more reliable service.

Many users around the world were pleased to know that the free version will continue to be offered.

OpenAI ChatGPT

ChatGPT is a useful AI tool for writing-related tasks, as well as for obtaining general information.

The free version is used by millions of users. Although it is hosted on Microsoft data centers the service falters during periods of peak usage and becomes unavailable.

OpenAI benefits from the usage because the feedback is useful for training the machine to become better.

The new subscription model is intended to subsidize the free users.

OpenAI Subscription Model

The new subscription version, called ChatGPT Plus, will cost $20/month.

Initially, ChatGPT will be available to users in the United States and will expand to other countries and regions “soon.”

There is no estimate or indication of how soon the service will be available outside of the United States.

But the fact that there’s a waitlist for United States users to subscribe might be an indication.

The Public Is Enthusiastic

To say that potential customers are enthusiastic about ChatGPT Plus is an understatement.

The response on Twitter could be boiled down to one phrase: Shut up and take my money.

 

One person applauded OpenAI for keeping a free version available:

Multiple people asked about plans for non-profits and for students.

This tweet is representative of the requests for student plans:

Future of ChatGPT

ChatGPT will be launching a ChatGPT API waitlist soon, which will open up the service to new ways of interacting with it.

OpenAI also plans to learn more about user needs and how to best serve users during the course of the new subscription service.

Once they have more experience with it, OpenAI plans to offer additional plans, including lower cost versions.

They shared:

“…we are actively exploring options for lower-cost plans, business plans, and data packs for more availability.”

This could have been Google’s win.But OpenAI and Microsoft beat them with a useful product and have captured the fascination and admiration of users worldwide.

2023 is going to be an exciting year of AI driven innovation.

Featured image by Shutterstock/Max kegfire



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Email Marketing: An In-Depth Guide

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Email Marketing: An In-Depth Guide

Email has revolutionized the way people communicate. From facilitating remote work to monitoring bank balances, it has become an integral part of everyday life.

It has also become a powerful tool for marketers. It has changed the way brands and customers interact with each other, providing incredible opportunities to target audiences at each stage of the buyer’s journey.

In other words, when it comes to getting the most bang for your marketing buck, nothing matches the power of email.

Providing an average return on investment of $36 for every $1 spent, email marketing is one of the most profitable and effective ways of reaching your targets.

Globally used by more than 4 billion people, it has unparalleled reach and is perfect for every step of the buyer’s journey, from generating awareness to encouraging brand loyalty.

If you’re not currently using email marketing to promote your business, you should be.

But to reap the biggest benefits, you need to do more than just dash off a message and sending it out to your contacts. You need a strategy that will help you nurture relationships and initiate conversations.

In this piece, we’ll take an in-depth look at the world of marketing via email and give you a step-by-step guide you can use to launch your own campaigns.

What Is Email Marketing?

If you have an email address of your own – and it’s probably safe to assume that you do – you’re likely already at least somewhat familiar with the concept of email marketing.

But just to avoid any potential confusion, let’s start with a definition: Email marketing is a type of direct marketing that uses customized emails to inform customers and potential customers about your product or services.

Why Should You Use Email Marketing?

If the eye-popping $36:1 ROI stat wasn’t enough to convince you to take the plunge, here are some other key reasons you should use email marketing to promote your business:

  • Email marketing drives traffic to your website, blog, social media account, or anywhere else you direct it.
  • It allows you to build a stronger relationship with your targets via personalization and auto-triggered campaigns.
  • You can segment your audience to target highly specific demographics, so you’re sending messages to the people they will resonate with most.
  • Email marketing is one of the easiest platforms to version test on, so you can determine exactly what subject lines and calls-to-action (CTAs) work best.

Even better, you own your email campaigns entirely.

With email, you own your marketing list and you can target your leads however you like (so long as you stay compliant with CAN-SPAM laws).

There is no question that you should be using email marketing as part of your overall marketing outreach strategy.

Now let’s look at some of the different ways you can do that.

What Are The Types Of Email Marketing?

For every stage of the sales funnel, there’s a corresponding type of email marketing. Here are some of the different types you can use to engage your audience and generate results.

Promotional Emails

When you think about email marketing, these types of messages are probably what you think of.

Used to promote sales, special offers, product releases, events, and more, these are usually one of the least personalized types of emails and tend to go out to a large list.

Usually, promotional campaigns consist of anywhere from 3 to 10 emails sent over a specified time frame. They have a clear CTA that encourages the recipient to take the next step of visiting your site, booking an appointment, or making a purchase.

Informational Emails

This type of email includes company announcements as well as weekly/monthly/quarterly newsletters.

They may include information about new products, company achievements, customer reviews, or blog posts.

The CTA is usually to visit your website or blog to learn more about what’s happening.

Welcome Emails

Sent to new customers or people who have filled out a form on your website, welcome emails encourage recipients to learn more about your company or offering.

These commonly include trial offers, requests to book a demo, or other offerings a new customer will find valuable.

Nurturing Emails

Any salesperson will tell you the importance of creating multiple touchpoints with potential customers.

Lead nurturing emails focus on building interest in people who are drawn to a particular offering.

The goal of these messages is to push them to the consideration stage of the buying journey.

Re-engagement Emails

Nurturing emails’ slightly more aggressive brother, re-engagement emails are used to warm up customers who haven’t been active lately.

These tend to be more personalized, as you’ll want to show the subscriber that you know and understand the challenges they’re facing.

Survey/Review Emails

User generated content (UGC) lends your brand an authenticity you simply can’t achieve on your own.

One of the best ways to generate this is via emails soliciting feedback from your customers.

This type of email also gives you insights into your brand’s relative strengths and weaknesses, so you can improve your offerings.

There are a number of other types of emails you can use as part of your marketing efforts, including seasonal emails designed to capitalize on holidays or events, confirmation emails to reassure recipients their purchase was completed or their information received, and co-marketing emails that are sent with a partner company.

In fact, it’s email marketing’s sheer versatility that makes it the cornerstone of any successful marketing strategy. You merely need to decide what you hope to accomplish, then create your campaign around it.

Now, let’s take a closer look at creating and managing your own email marketing.

How Do You Perform Email Marketing?

Step 1: Establish Your Goals

The section above should have made it clear that the type of email campaign you’ll run will depend on what you’re hoping to accomplish. Trying to do everything with one email will lead to confused recipients and a watered-down CTA.

Set one goal for your campaign, and make sure every email in the series works toward it.

Step 2: Build Your List

Now it’s time to determine who will be on the receiving end of your campaign. You do this by building your email marketing list – a process you can approach from several directions.

The most basic way to build an email list is by simply importing a list of your contacts into your chosen email marketing platform (more on that later).

One caveat: Before you add anyone to your list, make sure they have opted into receiving emails from you – otherwise you’ll run afoul of the CAN-SPAM Act guidelines mentioned above.

Other options for building a list from scratch via a lead generation campaign: provide potential customers with discounts, compelling content, or something else of value and make it easy for them to subscribe and you’ll generate high-quality leads.

Some marketers buy or rent email lists, but in general, this isn’t an effective way to perform email marketing.

The primary reason you don’t want to do this is because of lead quality. You’re not going after people who are interested in your brand but instead are blindly targeting leads of questionable quality with emails they haven’t opted in to.

In addition to violating consent laws, which could potentially hurt your IP reputation and email deliverability, you risk annoying your targets instead of encouraging them to try your offering.

Step 3: Create Your Email Campaign

Now that you know who you’re targeting and what you’re hoping to achieve, it’s time to build your campaign.

Email marketing tools like HubSpot, Constant Contact, and Mailchimp include drag-and-drop templates you can employ to create well-designed and effective email campaigns.

We’ll dive deeper into these platforms a bit later, but now, let’s talk about some fundamentals and best practices to help you get the best results:

  • Make your emails easy to read – No one wants to read a long wall of text. Structure your emails using strategically placed headers and bulleted lists for easy scanning.
  • Use images – Ideally, you want your emails to capture the reader’s eye and attention. Visuals are a great way to do this.
  • Write a compelling subject line – The best-written email in the world is useless if no one opens it. That makes a compelling, intriguing subject line paramount. Don’t be afraid to try different iterations, just be sure to keep it short.
  • Add personalization – Emails that are targeted to a specific person, including addressing them by name, are more likely to generate responses. Your email marketing platform should allow you to do this with relative ease.
  • Make conversion easy – If you want click-throughs, you need to make it easy for readers. Make sure your CTA is prominent and clear.
  • Consider your timing – As with most types of marketing, email campaigns tend to perform better when they’re properly timed. This could mean a specific time of day that generates more opens, a time of the week when purchases are more likely, or even a time of year when your content is most relevant. This will probably require some experimentation.

Step 4: Measure Your Results

You’re not going to get your email campaigns right the first time. Or the second. Or the fifth. In fact, there’s really no endpoint; even the best campaigns can be optimized to generate better results.

To track how yours are performing, you’ll want to use the reports section of your email marketing platform. This will help you understand how people are interacting with your campaigns.

Use A/B testing to drill down into what’s working best.

Generally, you’ll want to look at key metrics like:

  • Open rate and unique opens.
  • Click-through rate.
  • Shares.
  • Unsubscribe rate.
  • Spam complaints.
  • Bounces (the number of addresses your email couldn’t be delivered to).

Choosing An Email Marketing Platform

Manually sending out emails is fine if you’re only targeting three or four people. But if you’re trying to communicate with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of targets, you’re going to need some help.

But there are currently hundreds of email marketing platform on the market. How do you choose the right one for your unique needs?

Should you just go with one of the big names like HubSpot,  Klaviyo, or Mailjet? How do you know which one is right for you?

While it may initially feel overwhelming, by answering a few questions you can narrow down your options considerably.

The very first thing you need to determine is your budget. If you’re running a small business, the amount you’re willing to spend on an email service platform is probably considerably less than an enterprise-level company.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll probably find that a lower-priced version of a platform like Sendinblue or Constant Contact provides you with all the functionality you need.

Larger companies with bigger marketing budgets may wish to go with an email marketing platform that provides higher levels of automation, more in-depth data analysis and is easier to use. In this case, you may prefer to go with a platform like Mailchimp or Salesforce’s Pardot.

The good thing is that most of these email service providers offered tiered pricing, so smaller businesses can opt for more inexpensive (or even free) versions that offer less functionality at a lower price.

The next thing to consider is the type of email you want to send.

If your primary send will be newsletters, a platform like SubStack is a great choice. If you’re planning on sending transactional emails, you may want to check out Netcore Email API or GetResponse.

For those of you planning on sending a variety of marketing emails, your best choice may be an option that covers multiple email types like ConvertKit or an omnichannel marketing tool like Iterable.

You can narrow down your options by determining your must-have features and internal capabilities.

Some things you’ll want to consider include:

  • The size of your lists.
  • Your technical skill level.
  • Your HTML editing requirements.
  • Template variety.
  • Your need for responses/workflows.
  • A/B testing needs.
  • Industry-specific features.

While there is significant overlap in functionality between email marketing platforms, each has some variation in capabilities.

Ideally, you want something that will integrate with your other marketing tools to help take the guesswork out of the equation.

You should request demos and trials of your finalists to find which is best for your needs. If you’re working with a team, be sure to loop them in and get their feedback.

Tips For Maximizing Your Results

Email marketing is a powerful tool for any business. But there’s both science and art to it.

Here are some additional tips to help you get the most from your campaigns:

  • Avoid being marked as spam – According to HubSpot, there are 394 words and phrases that can identify your email as junk mail. These include “free,” “lowest price,” “no catch” and “all new.” You should avoid these whenever possible. To be doubly safe, have your recipients add you to their safe senders list.
  • Run integrated campaigns – Email marketing serves to amplify the power of other marketing channels. If you’re running sales or promotions, you should include an email aspect.
  • Clean up your list regularly – Keep your email database up to date to ensure deliverability and higher engagement. If a subscriber hasn’t responded to your re-engagement efforts after six months, it’s probably safe to scrub them from your list.
  • Harness the power of automation – Autoresponders are a great way to follow up with customers and subscribers, or strategically target someone after a certain event or action. Learn how to set this up on your email marketing platform and it will save you lots of time while boosting returns.

Email Marketing Is A Powerful Tool

There’s a reason why email marketing is prevalent in the modern world – it works.

And that means you should be using it to promote your brand and drive sales.

Hopefully, by this point, you have a good idea of not only what email marketing can do for you, but how it works, and how to create and optimize your own campaigns.

There’s really no better way to connect with our audience and convey the value of your brand.

Now get to work – you have customers to attract.

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Featured Image: Africa Studio/Shutterstock



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Twitter Will Share Ad Revenue With Twitter Blue Verified Creators

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Twitter Will Share Ad Revenue With Twitter Blue Verified Creators

Elon Musk, owner and CEO of Twitter, announced that starting today, Twitter will share ad revenue with creators. The new policy applies only to ads that appear in a creator’s reply threads.

The move comes on the heels of YouTube launching ad revenue sharing for creators through the YouTube Partner Program in a bid to become the most rewarding social platform for creators.

Social networks like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat have similar monetization options for creators who publish reels and video content. For example, Instagram’s Reels Play Bonus Program offers eligible creators up to $1,200 for Reel views.

The catch? Unlike other social platforms, creators on Twitter must have an active subscription to Twitter Blue and meet the eligibility requirements for the Blue Verified checkmark.

The following is an example of a Twitter ad in a reply thread (Promoted by @ASUBootcamps). It should generate revenue for the Twitter Blue Verified creator (@rowancheung), who created the thread.

Screenshot from Twitter, January 2023

To receive the ad revenue share, creators would have to pay $8 per month (or more) to maintain an active Twitter Blue subscription. Twitter Blue pricing varies based on location and is available in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

Eligibility for the Twitter Blue Verified checkmark includes having an active Twitter Blue subscription and meeting the following criteria.

  • Your account must have a display name, profile photo, and confirmed phone number.
  • Your account has to be older than 90 days and active within the last 30 days.
  • Recent changes to your account’s username, display name, or profile photo can affect eligibility. Modifications to those after verification can also result in a temporary loss of the blue checkmark until Twitter reviews your updated information.
  • Your account cannot appear to mislead or deceive.
  • Your account cannot spam or otherwise try to manipulate the platform for engagement or follows.

Did you receive a Blue Verified checkmark before the Twitter Blue subscription? That will not help creators who want a share of the ad revenue. The legacy Blue Verified checkmark does not make a creator account eligible for ad revenue sharing.

When asked about accounts with a legacy and Twitter Blue Verified checkmark, Musk tweeted that the legacy Blue Verified is “deeply corrupted” and will sunset in just a few months.

Regardless of how you gained your checkmark, it’s important to note that Twitter can remove a checkmark without notice.

In addition to ad revenue sharing for Twitter Blue Verified creators, Twitter Dev announced that the Twitter API would no longer be free in an ongoing effort to reduce the number of bots on the platform.

While speculation looms about a loss in Twitter ad revenue, the Wall Street Journal reported a “fire-sale” Super Bowl offer from Musk to win back advertisers.

The latest data from DataReportal shows a positive trend for Twitter advertisers. Ad reach has increased from 436.4 million users in January 2022 to 556 million in January 2023.

Twitter is also the third most popular social network based on monthly unique visitors and page views globally, according to SimilarWeb data through December 2022.


Featured Image: Ascannio/Shutterstock



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