Additional Ways to Use Chrome Developer Tools for SEO

I recently read Aleyda’s excellent post about using Chrome Developer Tools for SEO, and as I’m also a big fan of DevTools, I am going to share my own use cases.

Misplaced SEO tags

If you are reviewing correct SEO tag implementations by only using View Source, or running an SEO spider, you might be overlooking an important and interesting issue.

I call this issue misplaced DOM tags, and here is one example http://www.homedepot.com/p/Kidde-Intelligent-Battery-Operated-Combination-Smoke-and-CO-Alarm-Voice-Warning-3-Pack-per-Case-KN-COSM-XTR-BA/202480909

If you check this page using View Source in Chrome or any other browser, you would see the canonical tag correctly placed inside the <HEAD> HTML element.

Similarly, if you check this page using your favorite SEO spider, you’d arrive at the same conclusion. The canonical tag is inside the <HEAD> HTML element, where it should be.

Now, let’s check again using the Chrome Developer Tools Elements tab.

Wait! What?? Surprisingly, the canonical tag appears inside the <BODY> HTML element. This is incorrect, and if this is what Googlebot sees, the canonical tag on this page is effectively useless. Then we go blaming the poor tag saying that it doesn’t work.

Is this a bug in Google Chrome Developer Tools? Let’s review the same page with Firefox and Safari Developer Tools.

You can see the same issue is visible in Firefox and Safari too, so we can safely conclude that it is not a problem with Developer Tools. It is very unlikely all of them would have the same bug. So why is this happening? Does The Home Depot need to fix this?

Let’s first look at how to fix this to understand why it happens.

We are going to save a local copy of this page using the popular command line tool curl. I will explain why it is better to use this tool than to save directly from Chrome.

Once we download the web page, open it in any of the browsers to confirm the problem is still visible in the DevTools. In my case, I didn’t see the issue in Chrome, but saw it in Safari. I’ll revisit why the discrepancy when we discuss why this happens.

Next, in order to correct the issue we will move the SEO meta tags so they are the first tags right after the opening <HEAD> HTML tag.

Now, let’s reload the page in Safari to see if the canonical still shows up inside the <BODY> HTML tag.

Bingo! We have the canonical correctly placed, and visible inside the HTML <HEAD>.

In order to understand why this addresses the issue, we need to understand a key difference between checking pages with View Source, and inside the Elements tab in the web browsers’ DevTools.

The Elements feature has a handy feature that allows you to expand and collapse parent and child elements in the DOM tree of the page. In order for this feature to work, the web browser needs to parse the page and build the tree that will represent the DOM. A common issue with HTML is that it often contains markup errors or invalid tags placed in the wrong places.

For example, if we check the page using https://validator.w3.org/nu/?doc=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.homedepot.com%2Fp%2FKidde-Intelligent-Battery-Operated-Combination-Smoke-and-CO-Alarm-Voice-Warning-3-Pack-per-Case-KN-COSM-XTR-BA%2F202480909

You can see this page “only” has 61 HTML coding errors and warnings.

Fortunately, web browsers expect errors and automatically compensate for them using a process called HTML linting or tidying. A popular tool that does this is https://infohound.net/tidy/ by Dave Raggett at W3C.

The tidying process works by adding missing closing tags, reordering tags, etc. This works flawlessly most of the time, but it can often fail and tags end up in the wrong places. This is precisely what is happening here.

Understanding this allowed me to come up with the lazy trick to move the SEO tags to the beginning of the head, because this essentially bypasses any problems introduced by other tags. 🙂

A more “professional” solution is to at least fix all the errors reported between the HTML <HEAD> tags.

Can we tell if this is affecting Googlebot or not?

It is fair to assume that as Google is now able to execute JavaScript, that Google’s indexing systems need to build DOM trees just like the main browsers do. So, I’d not ignore or overlook this issue.

A simple litmus test to see if the misplaced canonicals are being ignored is to check whether the target page is reporting duplicate titles and/or duplicate meta descriptions in Google Search Console, or not. If it is reporting duplicates, correct the issue as I explained here, use Fetch as Googlebot, and re-submit the page to the index. Then wait and see if the duplicates clear.

 

Following redirect chains

Another useful use case is reviewing automatic redirects from desktop to mobile optimized websites, or from http to https or viceversa directly in your browser.

In order to complete the next steps, you need to customize DevTools a little bit.

  1. Tick the checkbox that says “Preserve Log” in the Network tab so the log entries don’t get cleared up by the redirects
  2. Right-click on the headers of the Network tab, and select these additional headers: Scheme, Vary, and optionally Protocol to see if the resources are using the newer HTTP/2 protocol

In this example, we opened https://www.macys.com, and you can see we are 301 redirected to http://www1.macys.com, from secure to non-secure, and we can also see that the page provides a Vary header with the value User-Agent. Google recommends the use of this header with this value to tell Googlebot to try refetching the page but with a mobile user agent. We are going to do just that, but within Chrome using the mobile emulation feature.

Before we do that, it is a good idea to clear the site cookies because some sites set “desktop sticky” cookies that prevent the mobile emulation from working after you have opened the site as a desktop user.

Let’s clear the network activity log and get ready to refresh as a mobile user. Remember that we will open the desktop URL to see the redirection.

In this case you can see that Macys correctly 302 redirects to the mobile site at http://m.macys.com, which is consistent with Google’s recommendation.

 

Sneaky affiliate backlinks

As Aleyda mentioned in her post, we can use DevTools to find hidden text, and some really sneaky spam. Let me share with you a super clever link building trick I discovered a while ago while auditing the links of a client’s competitor. I used our free Chrome DevTools extension as it eliminates most of the manual checks. You can get it from here.  

To most of you, and to most Googlers, this looks like a regular backlink and it doesn’t raise any red flags. The anchor text is “here”, and it is directly in the editorial content like most editorial links. However, coming from an affiliate marketing background, I see the extra tracking parameters can be effectively used to track any sales that come from that link.

I’m not saying they are doing this, but it is relatively easy to convince many unsophisticated bloggers to write about your product, and place affiliate links like this back to your site to get compensated for sales they generated. Sales you would track directly in Google Analytics, and maybe even provide reporting by pulling stats via the GA API.

Now, the clever part is this one: they are likely setting up these tracking parameters in Google Search Console so Googlebot ignores them completely, and it is normal to expect utm_ parameters to be ignored. This trick effectively turns these affiliate links into SEO endorsement links. This is one of the stealthiest affiliate + SEO backlink tricks I’ve seen in many years reviewing backlink profiles!

 

Troubleshooting page speed issues

Let’s switch gears a bit, and discuss pagespeed from an implementation review perspective.

Let’s review another example to learn how well the website server software or CDN handles caching page resources. Caching page resources in the client browser or CDN layer offers an obvious way to improve page load time. However, web server software needs to be properly configured to handle this correctly.

If a page has been visited before, and the page resources are cached, Chrome sends conditional web requests to avoid refetching them each time.

You can see page resources already cached by looking for ones with the status code 304, which means that they haven’t changed on the server. The web server only sends headers in this case, saving valuable bandwidth and page load time.

The conditional requests are controlled by the IF-Modified-Since request header. When you tick the option in DevTools to disable the cache, Chrome doesn’t send this extra header, and you won’t see any 304 status code in the responses.

This is particularly handy to help troubleshoot page resource changes that users report are not visible.

Finally, it is generally hard to reproduce individual users’ performance problems because there are way too many factors that impact page load time outside of just the coding of the web page.

One way to easily reproduce performance problems is to have users preserve the network log and export the entries in the log as an HAR file. You can learn more about this in this video from Google Developers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmsLJHikRf8.

Google provides a web tool you can use to review HAR files you receive from users here https://toolbox.googleapps.com/apps/har_analyzer/. Make sure to warn users about saving potentially sensitive information in this file.

Bonus: Find mixed http and https content quickly

Aleyda mentioned using DevTools to check for mixed http and https content raising warnings in your browser. Here is a shortcut to identify the problematic resources quickly.

You can type “mixed-content:displayed” in the filter to get the resources without https.

If you are not actively using DevTools in your SEO audits, these extra tips encourage you to get started. And, if you are, please feel free to share any cool tips you might have discovered yourself.

How to Get Googlebot to “Teach You” Advanced SEO

I recently worked on an enterprise-level client’s non-SEO related project where the goal was to confirm or deny that their new product:

1)  Was not doing anything that could be considered black hat.

2)  Was providing any SEO benefit for their clients.

The problems you face with projects like this is that Google doesn’t provide enough information, and you cannot post corner-case questions like this in public Webmaster forums. To do so would violate your NDA, and potentially reveal your client’s intellectual property. So, what option do you have left? Well, you set up a honeypot!

A honeypot is a term that comes from the information security industry. Honeypots are a set of files that, to an automated program, appear like regular files, but they allow for the monitoring and “capturing” of specific viruses, e-mail harvesters, etc. In our case, we set up a honeypot with the purpose of detecting and tracking search engine bot behavior in specific circumstances. We also wanted to track the outcome (positive, neutral or negative) in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Let me walk you trough a few ways you can learn advanced SEO by using a honeypot. Read more

Are You Ready To Join The Evolution Of Affiliate Marketing?

Last December, while speaking at an affiliate convention in LA, I had the opportunity to share a panel with Dush Ramachandran, the vice president of sales, marketing, and business development for ClickBank. We talked about some of the challenges facing his organization. One of those challenges is the fact that after years of success, many affiliates lose their excitement for ClickBank, often feeling that they need to “graduate” to more challenging platforms.

I did not get started as an affiliate marketer by promoting information products on Clickbank, but I’m pretty sure the vast majority of affiliates got started this way. Clickbank accepts almost anybody, and their system is the simplest and most straight forward there is. When you notice that many of the “guru” affiliates who are teaching everyone how to get rich online often promote Clickbank products, you can see how so many people become Clickbank affiliates.

The more experience and success you get, the more sophisticated your marketing becomes. Your need for more powerful tools, more intelligence data, and more control grows as your business grows.

While sophisticated affiliate networks like MediaTrust, NeverBlue, and Clickbooth all provide advanced tools that can help you run very complex campaigns, their barrier to entry is very high.  CPA networks won’t accept you unless you are a proven and ethical marketer. They don’t have time for newbies. I believe CPA networks are where most experienced affiliates go once they learn the ropes on sites like ClickBank and Commission Junction.

But there is a new alternative for experienced affiliates. I was lucky enough to be invited to see it in person, and I can confidently say it is the next step in the evolution of affiliate marketing. It is the new and highly innovative network known as TrendRevenue.

The People Behind Trend Revenue Are The Reason It Is So Unique And Exciting!

I worked with many TrendRevenue members back in my glorious pharmacy days. We made a LOT of money, money we didn’t even think it was possible to make (I talked about it in more detail in this interview). In fact, back in the day, they flew me and my beautiful wife to Maui for a week with all expenses paid just to convince me to drop my current affiliate relationship and work with them. They did a great job persuading me, and I am really glad I made the switch.

I managed to get top rankings in Google not only for hot pharmaceutical products, but also for other industries like mortgages, and life insurance. They all paid decently, but only the pharmacy marketing made a huge amount of money. Now that I think about it, the real reason for this is blatantly obvious. Read more

Here is Why Now Is The Best Time To Be In The SEO Business

It seems like every time I check up on blogs someone is decrying the bygone days of search engine optimization as if it has been dead for years. This strikes me as more than strange. Granted, many of the old black hat techniques are certainly no longer viable. Google continues to create better and better algorithms to stop search engine spammers from ruining the web, and because of continual failure, many old school SEOs (myself included :-)) have hung up those black hats and decided to pursue something else.

But here is the reality. SEO is thriving! I might even go so far as to say it is in its prime. A number of key factors have come together very recently to cause a dramatic uptick in demand for SEO services. Among them are the following:

  • Paid search is becoming more and more popular and very expensive as an advertising method
  • Google is no longer shunning most SEO as black hat. The company is embracing it with guides, videos, and search engineers who now act as SEO evangelists
  • The complexity of paid search is almost on par with SEO
  • Serious investors are getting involved in SEO

 

Paid search is becoming more and more popular and very expensive as an advertising method Read more

Recording of the Inaugural RankSense SEO Webinar Now Available

On Friday, we organized the very first RankSense SEO webinar entitled Searching for Results. If you missed the webinar you can access a recording of the live event here

During this inaugural webinar, Hamlet covered several key SEO topics including:

  • Solutions to Common SEO Problems
  • Creating successful content
  • How to attract successful traffic
  • How to use the “Brand Hijacker” technique to attract visitors
  • A look at the concept of link opportunity
  • Viral Link Building
  • How to scale your SEO efforts
  • Hamlet’s SEO mind map

Read more

Am I an SEO Geek?

Am I an SEO Geek picture

Apparently Adam Audette from AudetteMedia thinks so. Thanks for the recognition, Adam! 🙂

Delayed Gratification: The key to untold riches down the line

You have probably heard about the two most important metrics for the success of a website: traffic and conversions. No one will dispute that the more traffic you receive, and the better that traffic converts, the more sales/profits you are going to make. Entire professions are dedicated to driving traffic to your website and to improving your landing pages’ conversion rates. The general wisdom is that these two important fields need to be treated separately. But in this post I am going to explain why the two are more tightly related than they initially seem.

Going Back to the Source

Certainly you can do all sorts of things to your site to “improve” the likelihood that the visitor will stay around longer and perhaps take action eventually. But I think that too much effort and thought is put into driving traffic from as many sources and keywords as possible and in trying to optimize everything that can be optimized on a website. Yet little thought is put into something as obvious as trying to understand clearly what each visitor is expecting when they see your landing page.

Think about it. Visitors land on your website all the time, but the path of clicks they followed to get there, and their expectations once they arrive, are often completely different from visitor to visitor. One visitor may arrive after reading a favorable review of your services from a reputable blog site or online magazine. Another may arrive directly from your Google AdWords ad that promised a discount on purchases “today only.” This is what I call the visitor’s frame of mind. It is a very important concept for conversion: the source of your traffic preconditions your visitor to take (or not to take) action on your content.

Read more

Us and Them: Why Smart SEOs Should Guarantee Results

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while—especially after following the contentious discussion in the comments of my last post. Rand Fishkin talks about why SEO firms should not guarantee rankings, and for the most part I agree with everything he says. But I am going to come down on the other side of the fence on this because it concerns a more profound issue that I feel most of us have been sweeping under the rug.

The problem is scammers who claim to be SEOs and who disrepute all of us with what they do. Wherever we draw the line between who is and who isn’t a “real SEO” is not important. There is no central authority or watchdog group that validates which SEO claims are true and which are false. But—and this is a big but—there is one way we can turn the tables. You guessed it: unlike scammers, we can guarantee our results.

Read more

Keep your eyes OFF the search engine rankings

There’s been an interesting debate on WebmasterWorld, Search Engine Roundtable, Sphinn, SitePoint and Search Engine Watch about Google’s recent block of popular rank-checking tools like WebPosition Gold and WebCEO. It appears that clients are very used to tracking their SEO consultants’ efforts and gauging their success by looking at the regular rankings report. But querying search engines is not the only way you can use to check rankings. Let me tell you a better way…

A better way to check search rankings

I definitely feel the pain of those that need to rely on tools that are constantly getting blocked by Google. But there is no need to get Google mad at you and block your IP. I learned early in life that there are always many different ways to achieve the same goals. You can get far more information about your rankings, for instance, directly from your traffic log files. You can determine all the keywords that you are ranking for, their relative positions, the number of visits each keyword is sending, and, with the IP address, you can also determine the physical locations where searchers are coming from. We’ve had this functionality built in to RankSense since we started developing it four years ago! Plus, you don’t need to query Google to get this information. (BTW, the new 2.0 version of RankSense is coming out, and the Discover Rankings tool can now detect conversions as well. That way, you’ll be ranking first for the keywords that actually bring in the money!)

The problem with fixation on ranking reports

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The SEO feasibility report: When SEO is a good idea and when it isn't

This is a guest post by Paul Burani from Clicksharp Marketing, a very sharp search marketer I met in NY

In the search engine world, it’s easy to think in terms of black and white.  Some traffic you pay for, some you don’t.  There’s page one, and there’s everything else.  And of course we use the terms “black hat” and “white hat” SEO to differentiate the practices which push (or exceed) the limits of what is deemed acceptable by each search engine’s terms of service.

This view often creates a temptation to pursue Search Engine Optimization at all costs, when in fact it may be an ill-advised strategy.  What would lead a CEO, marketing manager, publisher or webmaster to make a dubious investment in SEO?  In many cases, this is based on the simplistic notion that clicks from Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising come at a significant price, whereas in organic search, they cost nothing.

The idea that SEO is free is patently false. Read more