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Monday, July 23, 2012

iskandarX Society SEO - The Holy Grail Of E-Commerce ROI



The world of Comparison Shopping Engines, or CSE, is a fairly unnoticed one when it comes to Search Marketing. Every client that I speak to about this has no idea of what it is and I always end up having to give my CSE data feeds 101 spiel. The fact that CSE data feeds are still such an untapped resource is really good for me and not so good for the hundreds of thousands of e-commerce merchants out there who still do not know how profitable of a marketing channel it is.




I have been a search marketing professional for many years now and have primarily focused on organic search engine optimization, or SEO (the acronyms will continue to fly!). But a few years back I stumbled across comparison shopping engines and since then have feverishly studied, researched, and used them to create hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for many small to medium sized e-commerce merchants. In fact I am about to make a VERY bold statement: CSE data feeds have been THE most successful online marketing solution that I have ever implemented, other than organic SEO of course. One important thing to note is the differences between SEO and CSE data feeds, but I will get to that later.

How It All Works

Comparison Shopping Engines are sites like Shopzilla, Shopping.com, NexTag, PriceGrabber, Google Product Search (formerly Froogle), Yahoo! Shopping, Pronto, etc. What they do is attract search traffic through either organic rankings or PPC. Once a visitor gets to the CSE they can compare products across many merchants. Once the visitor has clicked on a merchants listing for a product they are taken directly to the product detail page on that merchant’s site, where they can get more info on the product and make a purchase. Landing this visitor directly on the product detail page increases conversion rates because you circumvent the rest of the site. So even if the layout or navigation is on a site is terrible, that visitor will most likely not be exposed to that.

Meanwhile, in the background, what happens is that merchants send their product data including product names, descriptions, page URLs, and image URLS, to the shopping engine(s) (typically in an excel .csv format and via an ftp feed). The shopping sites then place the products in the proper categories based on the feed information given. The shopping sites then charge a flat rate cost-per-click (CPC) to merchants whenever someone clicks on one of their products. In essence, the merchant is paying for the traffic. The CPC is usually pretty low compared to PPC keyword prices and many of the CSE offer programs that allow you to enhance your listings by paying a premium CPC. Some of them will simply rank you higher in their index the higher you are willing to bid on the CPC. Depending on your margins and conversion rates bidding in the CSE can be an extremely effective strategy.

Why It Works

It is no secret that a majority of Internet users still use the Web to do research on products or services well before they make a purchase. This majority will either make a purchase in the store after performing the research or will purchase online, typically at a later date. This is the kind of traffic that organic listings and paid search listings typically attract. But the kind of user that is surfing a CSE site is usually further down the sales funnel and is ready to make a purchase. The fact that they are comparing merchants and products shows that they are close to buying. So the traffic received from shopping sites converts at a much higher rate!

CSE typically make their money from charging merchants a CPC and through advertising. They typically generate the bulk of their traffic through PPC ads. Then, that one visitor that they get from a PPC click will now typically click on many merchants’ products from within the CSE. Therefore, a visitor that cost the CSE maybe one dollar will click on five or more merchants’ products, generating $1.25+ profit for them. Multiply that across millions of visitors and thousands of merchants and you have a very successful business model! Although this is blatant arbitrage none of the big three, Google, Yahoo!, or MSN seem to care because they all profit from this as well.

Everyone Needs an Edge

Data feed optimization, analytics, and market knowledge are your weapons and comparison shopping sites are your battlefield. Let the games begin! So what differentiates you from the other Joe Schmoes out there sending product data feeds to the CSE? It’s all in your feed. Having a well optimized feed that describes your products in great detail, using all of the available attributes humanly possible is one of the most important things to have. Brian Smith, an industry expert and creator of LoveYourFeed.com and many other sites, will agree that utilizing every attribute possible to describe your products is fundamental. But many merchants do not even do this.

Tracking, tracking, tracking…. I cannot emphasize it enough. Online marketing allows for excellent tracking, so you should be taking advantage of that. I like to use Google Analytics and tag all of my URLs in the data feed so I can tell what engines are sending the sales and what engines are costing the most in clicks.

Having a grasp on industry trends is something that every business owner should have a handle on, no matter who you are. Knowing that during July you will need to promote beach wear instead of snowboarding clothing should be common knowledge. And your data feed has to reflect this seasonality because you will still get clicks on snowboarding clothes from looky loos, which is just wasted money. You need to tailor your feed to include the highest converting products depending on the time of the year.

CSE vs. SEO

The contrasts between SEO and CSE data feeds are generally similar to that between SEO and PPC. CSE offer fairly immediate results that can be easily quantified. Whereas SEO is a long term effort that will typically not provide an ROI for 6-12 month and sometimes even longer and even then it is hard to provide precise hard data on the returns. CSE also offer a very low cost barrier to entry, you can get up and running, with a budget, for a few thousand dollars. With SEO there is a significant cost incurred before you can see results. Even with PPC, you will typically need a significant budget to make an impact and will have to do a lot of testing and fine tuning.

So I like to use a CSE campaign as a way to make a merchant a good ROI right away, while their SEO is taking hold. This also really helps the client to maintain a certain level of trust and confidence in their online marketing because SEO is really a tough sell. Many people have a hard time trusting that SEO will work so providing an ROI within the first month or two with CSE data feeds really helps lessen the blow of SEO costs. I don’t care how many times you explain to a client that SEO is a long term strategy, and that it could take 6-12 months to see good results, they will still call you up angry that they do not have all of their rankings in month 3!

High Level Strategy

Now that you have a good understanding of what CSE data feeds are and how they work let’s talk about some higher level strategies. A new CSE data feed campaign will get better each month. This is because at first you want to throw all of your products into the feeds and you will want to send the feeds to as many CSE sites as possible. What you will find after that first month will be that some engines just send a boat load of traffic that simply does not convert, or that some sites send little traffic that does convert. You will want to weed out underperforming engines from your mix. The same goes for your products, some will attract a ton of clicks but will not convert, so you will have to remove underperforming products from you feeds as well. As I mentioned earlier you need to account for seasonality when deciding on what products to add to your feed. And during the Holiday season I always like to throw all of the products back into the mix because conversion rates go much higher at this time of year, but
so do the CPC rates at all of the CSE.

Oh yeah, and CSE like Google Product Search and The Find are FREE! So always submit your entire inventory to these guys. Heck, we all love free traffic! Another data feed optimization strategy is to resubmit your feed to each engine as much as possible. Some will allow you to resubmit your feed every day, some every few days, etc. Submitting fresh feeds will help you get your products listed higher in the CSE index. These are just a few strategies for data feed optimization (DFO), there are really many more things that you can do, you can really get down to a granular level with DFO because of the analytics and set pricing.

The Close

Utilizing the CSE is still a fairly untapped resource, so get in now! You are leaving thousands of dollars on the table by not taking advantage of this channel. But like any other form of marketing you need to take the time to learn the environment of CSE. Surprisingly it is still a very fragmented industry, with each engine requiring different specs from their feeds, and with very poor customer service for merchants. Things can get very frustrating and very expensive if you do not know what you are doing. Plus, creating data feeds using .csv files is very time consuming, boring, and monotonous work. This is why I suggest that merchants use a professional to handle their data feeds if possible. With the fairly low click costs and the highly targeted traffic, comparison shopping engines make it very easy to realize an ROI. So if you sell widgets online, you should be using the CSE to increase your sales.

iskandarX Society SEO - Web Analytics







Does Analytics Accuracy Matter?

In November 2006 we began work on a study of web analytics called the “2007 Web Analytics Shootout”.  This work was prompted by a blog post by Rand Fishkin in November 2006, titled: ”Free Linkbait Idea” (http://www.seomoz.org/blog/free-linkbait-idea-on-web-analytics).

What we did with the study was we took 7 different analytics packages and ran them simultaneously across 4 different web sites.  We then analyzed the results in detail.  What we were looking for were any signs that the packages were counting basic traffic in different ways.

We were shocked when we realized just how different they are.  The different was dramatic.  This article will summarize our findings, and what it means for web site owners.

The Industry View

Many analytics industry experts will tell you that accuracy doesn’t matter.  For example, well known industry figure Avinash Kaushik tells us to “just get over it” (http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/2006/06/data-quality-sucks-lets-just-get-over-it.html).

There is an element of truth to this point of view, but it ends up not being so simple.  First and foremost, you need to have an appreciation of what the accuracy issues are because it teaches you a lot about how to get the most value out of your analytics tools.

In addition, if you don’t have an appreciation of the accuracy issues you may well use them in ways that simply don’t help, or even hurt your business.  This would be a waste of your investment in analytics tools, and people’s time to look at those tools, and that would be a shame.

What follows is a look at some of our data, and a summary of our key findings.

Summary of Data

As mentioned, we analyzed this data across 4 different sites.  On one of the sites, we also setup 2 different scenarios.  The sites that helped us with this study were:

• AdvancedMD (AMD) (http://www.advancedmd.com)
• City Town Info (CTI) (http://www.citytowninfo.com)
• Home Portfolio (HPort) (http://www.homeportfolio.com)
• Tool Parts Direct (TPD) (http://www.toolpartsdirect.com)

City Town Info is the site that we analyzed in 2 scenarios.  These are referred to as “CTI” and “CTI2” in the chart below.  We will talk a bit more about the difference in the 2 CTI related scenarios a bit more below.

Five of the vendors we tested actively participated in the study. This included their active support in setting up and configuring each of the web sites that ran their software. These were:

1. Clicktracks (http://www.clicktracks.com)
2. Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics)
3. IndexTools (http://www.indextools.com)
4. Unica Affinium NetInsight (http://www.UnicaWebAnalytics.com)
5. Visual Sciences’ HBX Analytics (http://www.Visual Sciences.com)

For Omniture and WebTrends, we were able to compare their results against other packages only on one site.

The following chart shows the total number of visitors reported by each analytics package.  The labels for each site are shown at the bottom, and the relative volume of visitors is shown on the left:

This next chart shows the total number of page views reported by each analytics package during the same time period.  Once again, the labels for each site are shown at the bottom, and the relative volume of visitors is shown on the left:

Key Findings

1. Notice that on the visitor stats chart that for Tool Parts Direct (TPD) the highest reporting package (Google Analytics) reports 50% more traffic than the lowest reporting package (HBX Analytics).  This is a huge difference!  Even the most tightly packed set of results (on CTI2) shows a different of 20% between the high reporting package and the low reporting package.

2. In comparison, the page view data does not have quite as large a range of variance in the results.  The largest variance appears to have occurred on “CTI” with the highest reporting package reporting about 25% more page view than the lowest reporting lowest reporting package.

3. In general, the many industry experts will tell us that the biggest source of error in analytics is implementation error.  We heartily agree.  However, during the course of the 2007 Web Analytics Shootout the analytics vendors themselves helped us with the implementation, so we believe that the implementation errors were not a factor.

4. After some additional tests, we believe that there one major factor that impacts accuracy is the placement of the analytics JavaScript on the site.  For example, if it is placed at the end of the page (e.g. just before the /BODY tag in the HTML) it will count fewer visitors than if it is placed at the top of the page (e.g. just after the BODY tag in the HTML).

We tested this on City Town Info.  What we found is that placement at the top of the HTML resulted in a traffic count about 2% higher than when the JavaScript was placed at the bottom of the HTML.  On City Town Info the pages tested loaded in about 1.4 seconds, which is a pretty fast load time.

The reason for this is that when the analytics JavaScript is further down the page some users leave the page before the analytics JavaScript can execute. Those users will not be included in your visitor count (the traffic is essentially lost).

This error is even larger for sites that have longer page load times.  While we have not tested this as yet, we would predict an error of 5% or more in the traffic counting on pages that take 3 seconds or so to load.  This error will get worse as page load time increases, because it provides more time for a user to click on a link and move on to another page.

Of course, if they leave the entry page to go to another page on your site, you may still end up tracking the visitor somewhat, but if the visitor came from a search engine, the keyword data would also be lost.  This is not a good thing for PPC campaigns.

5. Another major factor is simple that the packages are counting different things.  Even though they are all counting “visitors” in the chart above, that term means very different things to each of them.  Analytics packages use a concept called “sessions” to count the visitors and unique visitors to your site.

Each package makes a wide range of design decisions that affect how they count.  For example, the web delivers a lot of “murky data” to the analytics packages.  For example, AOL users may have their IP address change during a visit to your site, or proxy servers may strip off all referrer information, making it hard for the analytics packages to decide how to count a particular visitor.

Another large variance between the packages is the design of the sessionization algorithm.  The industry standard is to end a session after 30 minutes of inactivity by a user. What this means is if you go to a site visit a few pages, and then go to lunch and go to a few more pages, it is counted as two visits.

The reason for this is that analytics packages that use JavaScript tagging only know when you load a web page on the site.  They don’t know when you leave the site to go to another one by typing in a URL in the address bar of the browser.  They have no way to track that.  So the industry settled on 30 minutes as a standard.

However, not all packages use the standard.  Clicktracks, for example, defaults to 15 minutes.  In addition, Clicktracks also considers any time it sees a referrer of a search engine it will treat this as a new visit.  While this seems very sensible, not all analytics packages do this.

None of these factors are actually errors.  They are all source of variance, where variance really refers to a different way of counting (as opposed to counting inaccurately).

6. Our data showed that page views tended to have a smaller level of variance. The variance in ways an analytics package can count page views is much smaller.  The main reason for this is that counting page views does not rely on sessionization.  More precisely, all that is required to count a page view is that a page be loaded and that the analytics JavaScript runs.

The numbers of potentially different ways to count page views is much smaller than it is for counting visitors and unique visitors.

7. Based on our findings, it is basically a waste of time to compare traffic numbers between different analytics packages, except to get a sense of relative order of magnitude.

What do we do with these errors?

1. One of the most important things to learn from this is that you need to focus on the things that analytics packages are good at, and stay away from their weaknesses.  Absolute numbers mean little in the world of analytics.  What matters is the relative numbers that you can measure.

For example, if you measure an average of 10.000 visitors per day in July, and then measure 12,000 visitors per day in August, your real traffic has grown by about 20%.  This is amazingly powerful information to have.  There are many, many ways that this type of power can be used.  Here are some examples:

• A/B and multivariate testing – This is very powerful in landing page optimization, where you compare the performance of different versions of your pages to see which offers the highest conversion.
• Optimizing PPC Campaigns – Use analytics to find the poor performing keywords, and fix them or dump them, or use analytics to find the highest performing keywords, and figure out possible related keywords that may also do well.
• Optimizing Organic SEO Campaigns – Find out where your organic search traffic is coming from, and discover opportunities to improve your optimization to drive results even higher.
• Segmenting visitor traffic – See how different groups of visitors behave on your site.  Do past customers behave very differently than first time visitors?  How about visitors from the US versus visitors from Canada? Or, do PPC visitors behave differently than organic search visitors?  Discovering these things are all opportunities to dial up the performance of your site.

2. There are scenarios where you want to compare numbers between sites.  For example, you may be acquiring a third party web site, and you know that you can monetize your traffic at $0.25 per unique visitor (based on your analytics package).

If the web site you are acquiring has 10,000 unique visitors per day (based on their analytics package), you may quickly do the math and figure that you can count on $2500 per day in revenue from the acquired web site.

Well what happens if their analytics package counts 50% higher than yours?  When you get the site and put your analytics package on it, and the count looks more like 6,500 unique visitors per day, you are not going to be a happy camper.

You can easily avoid this problem by making sure that your sites and the site you are considering acquiring are running the same analytics.  If need be, you can always install a free package, such as Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics) on both sites during the due diligence period and get an apples to apples comparison.

3. For PPC campaigns you may want to consider placing the JavaScript higher on the page to reduce the counting error due to that factor.  Better still, if your page takes a long time to load, consider investing the time to trim down the pages and reduce this source of error.

The reason that this is very important is that for users who come to your site and leave the initial page (either by leaving the site or going to another page on your site) before the analytics Javascript executes, you will lose the referrer and keyword information.  Having this type of information is a critical component of optimizing PPC campaigns.

Summary

The critical lesson is that the tools are not accurate, and as Avinash Kaushik says, get over it.  However, there are scenarios where the inaccuracies of the analytics tools can really hurt you.  If you are new to analytics, make learning about the nature of their errors part of your agenda.  Knowing what they are good at, and knowing what they are not good at, will save you a lot of heartache.

In addition, focus on their relative measurement capabilities, because they are worth their weight in gold.

In other words if your analytics package tells you that Page A converts better than Page B, that’s money in the bank.  If the software tells you that certain keywords offer the highest conversion rates that is also money in the bank.  Or, if it says that European visitors buy more blue widgets than North American visitors – you got it – more money in the bank.

Web analytics, done right, is hard.  However, done right, web analytics can provide an outstanding ROI on the time and money you put into it, and doing it well provides you with a major advantage over your competitors who do it less well.

Eric Enge is well known in the SEO industry for a variety of reasons, including the content that he publishes on the Stone Temple blog (http://www.stonetemple.com/blog), the Stone Temple Article series (http://www.stonetemple.com/STC_Articles.shtml), and his columns on Search Engine Watch (http://www.searchenginewatch.com).

iskandarX Society SEO - 1+1=4: Search Engine Marketing And Email Team Up To Boost Revenue



Many search engine and email marketers misinform their clients by telling them search engine marketing (SEM) and email marketing is efficient for creating demand.  At the same time, the same emarketing professionals tend to throw traditional marketing (public relations, advertising, direct response, etc.) under the bus for being inefficient and lacking measurement.  This short-sighted philosophy creates as much danger, as it does opportunity, for emarketing vendors and clients alike.





The reality is that SEM and email actually fulfill demand created by traditional marketing methods (not to say search isn’t an effective awareness and branding vehicle).  Both work hand-in-hand to maximize the effectiveness and measurement of marketing efforts.  Now that we’ve cleared up that misconception, let’s make the assumption that traditional marketing has its place and that we can now focus on how SEM and email marketing team up to carry prospects through the customer lifecycle: awareness, interaction, conversion, retention and evangelism.

Awareness & Interaction

For this article, I’m defining SEM as a holistic mix including search engine optimization, pay-per-click, link development, online reputation management, etc.  Where traditional marketing typically drives awareness and preference, SEM is there to capture active searchers and bring them to relevant content on the target site.  The downside of SEM is the lack of ability to follow-through on promises.  Once the listing in search results generates a new site visitor, the site owner/developer is responsible for converting that visitor into a customer.

Any SEM professional worth their own salt will ensure that pages optimized for search contain calls to action that hopefully involve email capture.  This is based on the assumption that the target company/site has something of value to offer in exchange for that information.  Following best-practices is especially critical for PPC landing pages, which are judged by Google’s QualityScore.  If Google loses the keyword “scent” it’s very likely your prospects are as well.

Conversion

A good landing page contains messaging relevant to the search term and a call to action (anything requiring an email address).  Testing various elements of the landing page (headline, imagery, copy, etc.) greatly increases email signups.  Regardless of whether or not the visitor purchases or requests more information on the first visit, the email connection now enables the site owner to start a dialog with the visitor, enabling them to build a relationship leading to purchase.

SEM provides additional value at this stage, as many surfers are hesitant to provide any information (let alone an email address) unless they feel the benefit is clear.  As such, some of the site visitors will open another window to continue searching (or bookmark the landing page) to check out alternatives or conduct additional research on the company or product, before moving forward.  Strong visibility for relevant phrases in search results increases the likelihood prospects will continue on the path and provide personal information once their questions are addressed.

Most companies employing basic SEM & email programs to generate, qualify and convert leads typically fall short at this point.  Capturing emails isn’t the end of the campaign, it’s just the start.  What kind of information are you providing the prospect upon submission?  What about the following messages?  How are you leveraging email’s strengths to educate the prospect and enable them to make an informed buying decision?

Email has the distinct advantage of knowing subscribers as individuals (with or without personal information) and building profiles based on preferences and click behavior.  Through user profiling and list segmentation, companies are able to send personalized messages with relevant information and calls to action that aids in conversion.  White papers, product reviews, case studies and interactive tools on the site (or in emails), are examples of valuable content for this stage in the process.

Retention

Customer service and support should rely on email to communicate regularly with customers.  Streamlining and automating the process doesn’t mean it’s impersonal, so long as the information being provided is timely and relevant.  At this stage in the relationship, providing links to recent press releases, coverage, awards, product reviews and educational Webinars enhances the relationship.

Evangelism

If open communications is important in the retention stage, it’s absolutely mission critical in the evangelism stage.  The relatively small percentage of your customers that fall into the evangelist category require special attention.  In return, they are your most effective marketers.  Give them the tools to spread the word, and they will do it for you (just ask Seth Godin).

Now more than ever, it’s time for advanced SEM and email marketers to consider the next logical step in the prospect to evangelist journey.  From an analytics perspective, it’s critical to understand what keywords and engines are generating the most qualified leads and customers with the highest lifetime value.  This is an important step that is usually skipped because SEM and email marketing professionals do not typically talk, especially in larger companies lacking integrated CRM platforms.

In addition, SEM professionals can collaborate with the email marketing team to create messages and calls to action that in turn help boost organic search visibility.  Examples include encouraging your best customers to complete third party surveys (i.e. BizRate) and product ratings & reviews (i.e. ePinions).  Additionally, remind or reward your customers to spread the word via blogs and forums (which both do well in search results).

SEM and email may not create demand, but they are exceedingly effective at attracting, converting and retaining customers.  Of course an integrated SEM and email marketing strategy makes the most sense if your company and products have a good reputation.  Otherwise, you’ll have a great deal of trouble harvesting and harnessing the power of evangelists.  It’s never too late to get started.

iskandarX Society SEO - Are British Retailers Still Failing Online?



I have been studying for some years how British retailing brands handle their online footprint in search engines such as Google, how they perform in natural search results and how they offer their products to the searching population. Whilst doing this I have tracked a good number of leading British based companies including Sainsbury’s, Dixons, Currys, as well as brands such as Next for many years as they try to capture some market share on the Internet.





I have also looked at all the major catalogue and home shopping brands to see how they are targeting the millions of people who use Google and other search engines to do their shopping. This market especially has so much to gain from a good natural search profile.

I am still amazed by their lack of knowledge and understanding of the Internet, how to deliver their products to the searching consumer who is looking for a specific manufacturer, category and product. The way information is presented is woeful and many sites are not addressing even rudimentary principles that will let search engines such as Google do their job.

Brands such as Dixons and Sainsbury’s are in a really poor shape considering they have placed so many of their ‘eggs’ in the Internet basket and yet they seem inept at doing anything about it. Frankly, how can they fail to address the prolific sales channel of natural search in engines such as Google where people are actively looking for products and services in their millions every week?

In fact just carry out a search for a ‘Hotpoint Freezer’, which is not a particularly generic search and see who turns up in the natural search results. All the usual suspects will be conspicuous by their absence.

And its not just about visitors and sales these retailers spend millions on branding offline, every word, every colour and every design has to be signed off and yet on the Internet their brand is not controlled in the same way. For example what is the website address that people are supposed to remember when visiting Sainsbury’s?

You can go to Sainsburystoyou.co.uk, Sainsburystoyou.com, Sainsburys.co.uk, J-sainsbury.co.uk, Jsainsburys.co.uk, plus a whole host of other Sainsbury’s domain names aimed at market categories, try going to www.sainsburysentertainyou.co.uk how much did that ‘white elephant’ cost the company?

I only spent a few minutes looking but how many versions of Sainsbury’s can there really be?

Then you have Dixons, for three years the High Street retailer Dixons have struggled with their online platform, they have repeatedly been let down by their marketing directors, their web developers and their Internet experts.

On more than one occasion this painful journey has seen their site suppressed in search engine listings with whole sections of their e-commerce platform dumped out of the active search results thus preventing any measurable sales from natural search enquiries for products both in category and by type.

Many search engine ‘good practice’ guidelines were and are continually breached in an ongoing basis and poor quality pages are spawned to search engines such as Google to further undermine the brands Internet footprint. In fact at one point at a ‘Christmas Past’, the official statement for a drop in Internet sales was along the lines that there was a ‘downturn in consumer confidence and spending’, the real cause was the whole website bar the homepage had been dumped out of Google and so nobody searching for products could buy anything from Dixons website during this period.

Of course this is partly not the fault of Dixons, in the main they have been duped time and again by their suppliers of SEO expertise and the site developers who clearly have no understanding of what makes a site work for search engine spiders, how it should deliver information to both the visitor and the search engine.

However, there is significant blame in my opinion that should be placed at the head of the marketing department, getting it wrong once is perhaps excusable, after all the SEO industry is full of bad practitioners on the bandwagon and many web developers spew jargon with every breath. But getting it wrong time and again is perhaps less excusable, worse though is getting it wrong when the company decides to take itself out of the High Street and wholly online how can you make this decision without addressing the need for natural search positions.

This last point really shows how poorly led the marketing team must be, the management took the business wholly online without any understanding of how to tap into the most lucrative channel for sales, without a facility that could deliver a proper online sales profile and with even more bad expertise delivered from yet another ill informed SEO agency and steered by a marketing team that does not understand the environment of natural search.

Of course they are in great company; the absolute debacle of Sainsburystoyou.co.uk is an ongoing shameful series of blunders that is unforgivable for a company such as Sainsbury’s, especially when they are fighting for market share with Tesco. Where is the accountability I ask? In fact after contacting Sainsbury’s many months ago to try and give them some free advice I was told there was currently no marketing director to talk to.

Anyway it’s a year on since I last looked seriously at Dixons and the rest of the retailing world and I felt that in my summer lull I should again look for improvement and progress. I was hoping for a pleasant surprise and this time I thought I would approach it from a consumer perspective. So I went to Google and typed a search for the term ‘digital camera’ no sign of Dixons anywhere, another big seller was ‘Plasma TV’ again no sign, so I decided to make a far more focussed search. This time I searched for Kodak Digital Camera and again there was no sign of the brand that had taken its business out of the High Street and onto the Internet!

In fact there was little sign of any leading brand and as I cycled through an ever increasing number of searches I failed to find many of the leading names. I then went further a field and tried many searches for products and categories that should turn up the cream of British shopping, most of the High Street names are absent.

In fact unless you start to watch the paid search offerings such as Google Adwords the brands are invisible and a good look at paid search will show you who should be profiled in natural search as well. In fact the best blend is good natural listings dovetailed with a credible paid search strategy; most just rely on paid search.

I once again analysed the Dixons website and nothing has really changed, the site is still a mess for visiting search engine spiders, information and presentation that is vital to let a search engine understand the site and its products is absent!

Now I am not talking about manipulation or ‘playing the optimisation game’, I am talking about good ethical practice and meeting general compliancy standards that ensures a search engine can collect information in the way it is designed to collect it. I have no doubt that the overall cut in staff and High Street premises has enabled some major shift towards profitability but I wonder what an expert analysts prediction for lost sales on the Internet would be, especially factoring in the timeframe the website has been in such a poor state.

Of course there are many internet sales channels not just organic search traffic; there are price comparison sites, affiliates, Amazon, Kelkoo, Ebay, social networks and so on. But surely the Chairman is a brave man if he has decided to ignore the droves of consumers that are looking for his products every week using natural search in Google, MSN, Yahoo and the other leading engines, to me its seems inconceivable he would do this… but then again perhaps he just doesn’t know.

iskandarX Society SEO - Being Negative Has Never Been So Positive



For most Google AdWords advertisers, the true measure of success is conversions. After all, conversions often represent sales or, at the very least, new leads. So it’s no wonder why search marketers are constantly seeking out new ways and creative uses of online tools to improve conversions. The new Search Query Report from Google AdWords has the potential to dramatically improve conversions by helping advertisers find a wealth of negative keywords for their campaigns.




Using Broad Match? Beware of Expanded Keyword Matching

Many advertisers are unaware that use of broad match in Google AdWords automatically displays their ads for keyword searches that do not match their keywords, such as synonyms or misspellings of keywords. Termed “expanded keyword matching”, this feature is automatically applied to all broad match keywords. Expanded keyword matching is defined by Google:

“With broad match, the Google AdWords system automatically runs your ads on relevant variations of your keywords, even if these terms aren't in your keyword lists. Keyword variations can include synonyms, singular/plural forms, relevant variants of your keywords, and phrases containing your keywords.

For example, if you're currently running ads on the broad-matched keyword web hosting, your ads may show for the search queries web hosting company or webhost. The keyword variations that are allowed to trigger your ads will change over time, as the AdWords system continually monitors your keyword quality and performance factors. Your ads will only continue showing on the highest-performing and most relevant keyword variations.”
 -- Google AdWords Help

Until recently, advertisers did not have any insight into which expanded match keywords were displaying their ads. In May, Google released a new reporting tool – the Search Query Report – which shows actual queries that searchers used to find your advertisements. The three main types of expanded match concerns for advertisers are: 1) competitors brand names as synonyms, 2) foreign languages as synonyms, and 3) non-related synonyms.

Example 1: Competitors' Brand Names as Synonyms

My team recently ran the search query report for a major automobile manufacturer client. Because conversion occurs offline for a business selling large goods such as cars, our measurement in this case was not necessarily online sales as conversions, but rather key performance indicators (KPIs) on the manufacturer's website.
When we ran the search query report for this client, we found that Google had served this client's ads for queries on competitors' names, even though we specifically had chosen against using competitor brand names as keywords. In other words, it would be similar to a search for the term "Coke" displaying an ad for "Pepsi", even though Coke might not be purchasing the keyword "Pepsi" for its advertising.

Example 2: Foreign Languages as Synonyms

With this same automobile manufacturer client, we also found that queries for the client's own brand name in other languages displayed the client's ads, even though we specifically chose to advertise only in English for these campaigns. We found searches for the client's name in Hebrew, Japanese and Spanish.

Example 3: Non-Related Synonyms

Further, we found several queries that somewhat stretched the concept of synonyms. For example, one keyword in this campaign is "small cars" – a common search for those shopping for compact cars. However, Google's expanded keyword matching considered the term "small" synonymous with terms such as "miniature". While "small" and "miniature" are somewhat similar, their similarity is completely dependent on the context in which they are being used. In our example, for instance, a search for the term "small cars" is more likely to be relevant for compact vehicles while a search for the term "miniature cars" is more likely to be relevant for small car toys.

Irrelevant Synonyms Reduce Conversions

Some advertisers might review the previous three examples and consider expanded keyword matching a positive benefit to their ad campaigns. However, the main problem with these is that advertisers cannot adequately target ad copy or landing pages to ad respondents from these queries because they are not completely relevant to the advertiser’s offering.

To illustrate this point, consider the example of foreign language synonyms. If a searcher is using a foreign language in a search query, chances are that the searcher does not expect to find ads and websites in English, but rather that particular language. If an advertiser instead purposefully chose foreign language keywords, the advertiser would likely also create ads in foreign languages and websites or landing pages in foreign languages to improve our conversion potential.

When we ran the search query report for other advertisers, in the case of one advertiser, over 6% of the queries were clearly not relevant – not an insignificant amount. This statistic reaffirms the importance of reducing the irrelevant keyword queries, allowing advertisers to refocus budget on better performing terms.

Stopping Irrelevant Synonyms and Queries

While expanded keyword matching may seem very frustrating, how does an advertiser opt-out of expanded keyword matching and stop the irrelevancy madness? There are two options:

1.Use Only Phrase or Exact Keyword Match Options
Unlike broad match, phrase and exact match do not incorporate the expanded keyword matching option. However, by excluding broad match, advertisers risk missing out on highly relevant traffic, for instance, that might misspell a keyword or use additional keywords that the advertiser has not accounted for.

2.Couple Your Broad Match with Extensive Negative Keyword Selections
Of these two options, coupling negative keywords with your broad match campaigns is likely the more optimal choice. By disallowing irrelevant queries through the use of negative keywords, advertisers allow themselves maximum keyword flexibility while also reducing irrelevant impressions and clicks.

The Negative Becomes Positive: Using the Search Query Report to Find Negative Keywords

By using the search query report to find these strange synonym and keyword variations, advertisers will find a wealth of negative keyword possibilities. Using the search query report to find and add negatives to their campaigns, our automobile manufacturer nearly doubled its KPI rates from Google AdWords in less than one week.

How to Run the Search Query Report

The search query report can be found in the Report Center of the Google AdWords interface. To create a search query report, follow these simple steps:

1.Click on the “Create Report” link in the Report Center to create a new search query report.

2.Select the “Search Query Performance Report’ for Report Type.

3.In the Settings, choose “Account” for level of detail and “Summary” for the view. If this is your first search query report and your account and campaigns were running before May 2, 2007, select a start date of May 2, 2007, the first day which search query report data is available. Otherwise, if your account and campaigns were started after May 2, 2007, you may select the ‘All Time” option, which will provide data from your account’s start date until present.

4.Under Advanced Settings and Add or Remove Columns, there are three essential   columns of data that you’ll need to make informed decisions about which keywords from these queries should become negative keywords.

First, you’ll need the actual “Search Query” itself to see the keywords used in the queries. Next, the “Cost” column is helpful to see how much of your budget is being spent on these specific keyword queries. And lastly, the “Conversion Rate” will help you identify which queries are bringing the most qualified traffic to your site.

5.Once the report is complete, review the search query column to see specific queries used to trigger your ad. Determine which of these keywords is relevant to your campaigns, and create negative keywords for those that are irrelevant.

While the expanded keyword matching option can be frustrating as advertisers realize the possibly numerous irrelevant queries that triggered their ads, the search query report provides an excellent way to target these disadvantageous queries while still allowing maximum keyword flexibility through broad match.

iskandarX Society SEO - Business-To-Business Marketing Using Natural Search Engine Optimization



Even those familiar with search engine marketing have common misconceptions about the value of so-called “natural” SEO in business-to-business marketing. I often encounter prospects who understand that achieving high rankings on a search engine is a valuable marketing tool that can have a positive impact on the bottom line of a business, but they don’t really understand the difference between a natural search engine ranking and a “sponsored” or “paid” one.  What’s more, they think they need to actually sell something online to see a true bottom-line benefit. This is a common and unfortunate misconception.





While e-commerce companies can and do benefit tremendously from search engine optimization as a marketing tool, there are many factors in the discipline that actually favor B2B companies in terms of overall ROI. Also, many would be surprised to find there are many factors which favor small to mid-sized B2B companies over the larger B2B corporations.

Natural Search Results vs. Sponsored Search Results

For those who aren’t quite clear what the term means, “natural” search describes the “editorial” search results on any particular engine.  These results are purported to be completely non-biased - meaning that the engine will not accept any amount of money to influence the rankings of individual sites.  This method is quite different from the paid advertising that appears in the “sponsored” or “featured” results, where higher positions are rewarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor.

Natural search is important to any company with a website because studies show that savvy searchers who understand the difference between paid and natural results are more likely to hold the natural results in a higher regard, much like a person reading a magazine would probably be more positively influenced by an article about a particular company than by a paid advertisement from the company. Natural SEO can also be more cost effective over the long run: your company will reap the rewards of a natural search investment for years to come rather than losing all of your rankings whenever you stop paying, as you do in pay-per-click search marketing.

SEO: B2B vs. E-commerce

B2B companies typically have a higher average dollar sale than e-commerce websites, which makes it much easier to justify the cost of a natural search engine optimization campaign.  While a visitor to an e-commerce site might garner $12 in revenue from the purchase of a coffee mug, a visitor to a high-end B2B website is potentially worth millions.  It does not take Alan Greenspan to crunch the numbers—the higher the average dollar sale, the fewer visitors you need to actually justify the cost of SEO as a business to business marketing tool (provided, of course, that a certain number of visitors actually lead to a sale).

The people that run large e-commerce sites such as Amazon know that almost all of the products that they sell online are highly commoditized.  This is why they devote so much effort toward enhancing the visitor experience on their websites with tools like personalization and one-click shopping.  They are trying to develop lifetime buyers.  B2B companies don’t have this problem.  By utilizing a successful business-to-business marketing campaign, any one visitor you attract to your site with natural SEO marketing could be more valuable over a lifetime than thousands of e-commerce buyers.

When a new customer finds your site organically at the top of the natural search engine results, the customer feels more proactive in the relationship, having found you, as opposed to having your web site “pushed” onto them via a sponsored search engine result, which some studies have demonstrated that a majority of searchers regard as untrustworthy. Establishing such a relationship at the outset is incredibly valuable. Offline sales require offline relationships, and personal relationships are easier to maintain, no matter how many bells and whistles an e-commerce company might add to its site.

When it comes to building business-to-business sales, marketing is crucial. In a world where prices are rarely listed online, a B2B company almost always has the opportunity to differentiate itself on its own terms after the initial contact is made. With the right marketing tool, such as an effective natural SEO campaign, a B2B company can easily stand out from the crowd.

B2B SEO – Smaller Can Be Better

Believe it or not, smaller to mid-sized companies actually have the upper hand in a lot of ways when it comes to using natural SEO, especially when outsourcing to an expert SEO company. While a good SEO firm will spend more time on the marketing aspects of a B2B campaign (the overall goals of the initiative and the keyphrases that will bring the right kind of visitors to the site), the actual implementation of the elements necessary for SEO success is much simpler for these smaller companies because they have less red tape to deal with when making changes to their respective websites.

Also, larger companies are less likely to outsource this specialized service to someone with proven experience because they feel an obligation to utilize the in-house resources at their disposal, regardless of their level of expertise.  Very often, search engine optimization is dumped on an IT person who has too much to do already and will approach the problem from a purely technical, rather than marketing, standpoint.  Newcomers to organic search engine optimization frequently make fundamental mistakes that do not generate results, or worse, put sites at risk of penalization.
Conclusion

E-commerce companies are more readily embracing search marketing as a business-to-business marketing tool because they are technologically savvy, because they often have the financial resources to afford a firm to garner them high search engine rankings, and because their businesses depend on the Internet to survive.

However, e-commerce companies only make up a small fraction of the number of companies that actually maintain a presence on the Web, many of which specialize in areas with narrow but deep sales channels.  There are many B2B industries where there is currently little or no competition on the search engines, and the ones to move first and use natural SEO as a key marketing tool will reap the greatest rewards.  The ability of smaller B2B companies to more quickly embrace the channel and to implement an organic SEO campaign can give them a distinct advantage.

iskandarX Society SEO - Educate Your Way To Links



Search engine marketers understand phrases such as black hat cloaking and deep crawl bot, but trying to explain these terms to someone unfamiliar with search can be difficult.

While it’s not always an easy task, it’s an important one because a client’s understanding can increase his or her level of trust.  And, when your business relationship is built on trust, the relationship has a better chance to deepen and prosper.





A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Out of a desire to help clients quickly understand the complexities of search marketing, Elliance, Inc. developed SEO Infographics.  A combination of cartoon-like characters, arrows, charts and other graphics are used to break each tactic into easy-to-understand chunks of information.

The infographic for link baiting, for example, features a web page dangling from a fish hook with smaller web pages surrounded by the more popular social bookmarking sites such as digg, Del.icio.us, Techonrati and Stumbleupon.  Arrows from the smaller web pages point to the large web page and three short sentences support the graphics. It’s quick.  It’s easy.  It’s understood. Sometimes a few sentences accompany the graphics to explain a step-by-step process.

The SEO Infographic illustrates Universal Search by showing a direct comparison between the elements Google previously used in a Web search and the elements that are currently included. Sound confusing? Not when the concept is depicted visually.  Instead of spending 20 minutes talking through a tactic, universal search is explained with one glance, thanks to the Infographic.

Search Infographics Fill Many Voids

More than twenty SEO Infographics have been created and more are in development.  The SEO Infographics by no means enable a person to head their own search-marketing department, but they provide the background necessary to converse on the subject.

We believe this information is valuable for clients when they are trying to decide which search firm to hire.  Later, a deeper understanding can be beneficial when clients need to determine how much of their overall marketing budget should be devoted to search.

As we mentioned earlier, the SEO Infographics began as a form of sales support.  We quickly realized they could be used in two other roles.

First, since the nature of the SEO world is to share information, we could use them to give back to the community at large.  If our clients found them beneficial, surely other people would, too.

Second, by adding a new Infographic to our new SEO microsite each week, we’d always have steady supply of fresh content.  Valuable, one-of-a-kind content is a mantra for SEO professionals.  It’s much easier to get quality links if you provide something new instead of the common ‘me too’ approach to content.

Link Building with SEO Infographics

Last May, Elliance partnered with Search Engine Land, to contribute a weekly SEO Infographic to their new column, Search Illustrated. Search Engine Land is a hub for news and information about search engine marketing, optimization and how search engines operate. This site is overseen by Danny Sullivan, the leading “search engine guru” who began covering search engines in 1995.

For Elliance, contributing to Search Illustrated fit nicely into their creative link building strategy. Since the SEO Infographics are educational, people see value in passing them along to their colleagues.  At times, some members in the SEO community have questioned an Infographic.  This has started a conversation as people pass them along to get other people’s opinions, which resulted in the SEO Infographics being spread around blogs and online communities.

SEO Infographics Bring Results

In just three months, traffic to seo.elliance.com doubled. The original intent of the Infographics was to explain search marketing, and from the number of blogs and portals (including SEOmoz and Twitter) that have picked up the SEO Infographics, it’s evident that there are many people craving this type of information.

The SEO Infographics have been well-received by clients and our sales staff has found them to be an easy way to answer questions and concerns.

Applying This Concept to Your Client:

1. Think visual.  With image search really taking off, now is the time to think of ways to add more images to your sites.

2. Commit resources.  The SEO Infographics would not have been successful without being created in a consistent fashion.  Before you decide to add any type of new element like this, make sure you have the manpower to follow-through.

3. Don’t be creative just to be creative.  A fish hook on a link baiting Infographic is clever and intelligent.   Be ready to say no to a graphic designer who has an idea that’s clever but strays off the mark.

4. Stay current.  The SEO Infographics are successful because they are new.  Research what has already been done in a particular field to avoid being a copy-cat.  New, fresh content always grabs the market first.

5. Think social.  Make it easy for people to spread your content by letting them sign up for RSS feeds and add your page to StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, My Yahoo, Reddit, Technorati, etc.

6. Prepare for the long haul.  As with any type of link building, you won’t get results overnight.  Remember, the amount of time you spend to get a program off the ground will be worth it in the end.

The SEO Infographics were born from a need to have clients understand what they were paying for.  These internal assets have now become a part of the SEO world that others can use to help them understand how the world of rankings and search engines work. Take a look around your office or workspace – there’s bound to be some interesting or cool event that takes place that you are taking for granted, assuming everyone you talk to understands it in the same way.

These are the areas of expertise that you can share with the world and in turn create a plethora of ways to market yourself and demonstrate your ability to communicate your expertise in your given industry.

iskandarX Society SEO - Link Growth: The Sleeping Giant



There’s an old saying out there that “content is king”, and I agree that good content is the primary foundation for every website. Everyone who’s in the know understands that link popularity is far and away the primary driver of top search engine rankings.





After all, link popularity acts much like a “search engine credit score.” When you first start out, you can have the best looking website in the world, with incredible content and an amazing business model, but until you’ve established some trust, tenure, and responsibility, you simply won’t get any “credit” with the search engines. You’ve probably also heard about the very cliché “Google Sandbox.” Google representatives themselves have admitted the synergies behind the Google Sandbox theory, and the actual algorithmic logic that runs the Google search results.

The Google Sandbox however isn’t necessarily something that Google is intentionally inflicting upon new websites (Yahoo! has a similar policy). Understanding that Google and Yahoo! live and die on the relevancy of their search results, we must conclude that serving up websites with no established credibility, no tenure online, and zero trust would be a really bad idea.

So, I guess the question really becomes, “What is the best way to establish credibility with Google, Yahoo!, and MSN, and how can this be done in the fastest way possible?”

The answer to this question is simple and complex all at the same time. Essentially, building new inbound links to your website establishes credibility. The problem is that building these links properly needs to be addressed early on -- having a strong game plan is crucial for obtaining optimal results.

The three components of link building are:

1) Link Quality

2) Link Growth

3) Link Volume
The industry has adopted link quality and link volume as the primary ingredients for link building juice. The only problem is that link growth is still rarely addressed, and long term link growth strategies are scarcely mentioned in tight SEO circles, even among the most experienced.
Well, what do we know about link growth? Let’s recap:

1) Link growth is not a new concept.
In May 2005, Google made public the contents of their United States Patent Application. Just search “May 2005 google patent” in Google to read up. Basically, this patent paints a picture that Google may be looking at a lot more than meets the eye. The patent discusses how they may be recording the date on which new inbound links are gained, the frequency with which new links are gained, the total number of days new links are maintained, and much more.

2) Link growth can act as a “sandbox” expeditor.
As previously mentioned, link growth is kind of like a natural credibility builder. Imagine link popularity like a high school popularity contest. If you can create new friends every single day, than you can exponentially better your reputation in a very short period of time.

3) Link growth is more powerful than fresh content.
People always talk about fresh content. Fresh content!?! Forget fresh content! A monkey can update an HTML page. Fresh content is great, but at the end of the day it plays a small role in the rankings process. Link growth cannibalized fresh content a long time ago. To be safe you should employ both strategies, but if you’ve got time on your hands invest it into getting new links first and foremost – assuming you’ve got at least decent content!

4) Link growth types matter.
There are a number of different classifications of link types. Links from bloggers can be classified as “social media links,” while links from newspapers and online publications can be classified as “news links and article links.” Links from top industry websites can be classified as “authority vertical links.” Each link type is important, and each link type should be expanded upon all the time.

5) Link growth consistency – the primary driver of rankings in the future?
Link growth consistency is one of the tell-tail signs of top performing sites. Why do Amazon, Google, and eBay all have millions of backlinks? They built them feverishly day in and day out naturally over many years. This link growth consistency will forever mark them as the titans within their respective categories. Every category on the Internet is different, and making sure that you are building the best links all the time is the secret sauce to Search. Start now, as this will continue to be one of the primary drivers for top rankings over the next several years.

With all that said, I challenge the person who said “content is king.” If content is king, than link growth is god. Without link growth, you can take your content and flush it down the toilet. Don’t know how to get links? Consult an expert!

iskandarX Society Review - Causes of Panic Attacks


The short and obvious answer: panic attacks are caused by high anxiety. But, what exactly is anxiety? Understanding how anxiety crops up will help you defeat panic attacks.







One of the biggest myths surrounding anxiety is that it is harmful and can lead to a number of various life-threatening conditions.


Definition of Anxiety


Anxiety is defined as a state of apprehension or fear resulting from the anticipation of a real or imagined threat, event, or situation. It is one of the most common human emotions experienced by people at some point in their lives.


However, most people who have never experienced a panic attack, or extreme anxiety, fail to realize the terrifying nature of the experience. Extreme dizziness, blurred vision, tingling and feelings of breathlessness—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!


When these sensations occur and people do not understand why, they feel they have contracted an illness, or a serious mental condition. The threat of losing complete control seems very real and naturally very terrifying.


Fight/Flight Response: One of the root causes of panic attacks?


I am sure most of you have heard of the fight/flight response as an explanation for one of the root causes of panic attacks. Have you made the connection between this response and the unusual sensations you experience during and after a panic attack episode?


Anxiety is a response to a danger or threat. It is so named because all of its effects are aimed toward either fighting or fleeing from the danger. Thus, the sole purpose of anxiety is to protect the individual from harm. This may seem ironic given that you no doubt feel your anxiety is actually causing you great harm…perhaps the most significant of all the causes of panic attacks.


However, the anxiety that the fight/flight response created was vital in the daily survival of our ancient ancestors—when faced with some danger, an automatic response would take over that propelled them to take immediate action such as attack or run. Even in today’s hectic world, this is still a necessary mechanism. It comes in useful when you must respond to a real threat within a split second.


Anxiety is a built-in mechanism to protect us from danger. Interestingly, it is a mechanism that protects but does not harm—an important point that will be elaborated upon later.


The Physical Manifestations of a Panic Attack: Other pieces of the puzzle to understand the causes of panic attacks. Nervousness and Chemical Effects…


When confronted with danger, the brain sends signals to a section of the nervous system. It is this system that is responsible for gearing the body up for action and also calms the body down and restores equilibrium. To carry out these two vital functions, the autonomic nervous system has two subsections, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.


Although I don’t want to become too “scientific,” having a basic understanding of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system will help you understand the causes of panic attacks.


The sympathetic nervous system is the one we tend to know all too much about because it primes our body for action, readies us for the “fight or flight” response, while the parasympathetic nervous system is the one we love dearly as it serves as our restoring system, which returns the body to its normal state.


When either of these systems is activated, they stimulate the whole body, which has an “all or nothing” effect. This explains why when a panic attack occurs, the individual often feels a number of different sensations throughout the body.


The sympathetic system is responsible for releasing the adrenaline from the adrenal glands on the kidneys. These are small glands located just above the kidneys. Less known, however, is that the adrenal glands also release adrenaline, which functions as the body’s chemical messengers to keep the activity going. When a panic attack begins, it does not switch off as easily as it is turned on. There is always a period of what would seem increased or continued anxiety, as these messengers travel throughout the body. Think of them as one of the physiological causes of panic attacks, if you will.


After a period of time, the parasympathetic nervous system gets called into action. Its role is to return the body to normal functioning once the perceived danger is gone. The parasympathetic system is the system we all know and love, because it returns us to a calm relaxed state.


When we engage in a coping strategy that we have learned, for example, a relaxation technique, we are in fact willing the parasympathetic nervous system into action. A good thing to remember is that this system will be brought into action at some stage whether we will it or not. The body cannot continue in an ever-increasing spiral of anxiety. It reaches a point where it simply must kick in, relaxing the body. This is one of the many built-in protection systems our bodies have for survival.


You can do your best with worrying thoughts, keeping the sympathetic nervous system going, but eventually it stops. In time, it becomes a little smarter than us, and realizes that there really is no danger. Our bodies are incredibly intelligent—modern science is always discovering amazing patterns of intelligence that run throughout the cells of our body. Our body seems to have infinite ways of dealing with the most complicated array of functions we take for granted. Rest assured that your body’s primary goal is to keep you alive and well.


Not so convinced?


Try holding your breath for as long as you can. No matter how strong your mental will is, it can never override the will of the body. This is good news—no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that you are gong to die from a panic attack, you won’t. Your body will override that fear and search for a state of balance. There has never been a reported incident of someone dying from a panic attack.


Remember this next time you have a panic attack; he causes of panic attacks cannot do you any physical harm. Your mind may make the sensations continue longer than the body intended, but eventually everything will return to a state of balance. In fact, balance (homeostasis) is what our body continually strives for.


The interference for your body is nothing more than the sensations of doing rigorous exercise. Our body is not alarmed by these symptoms. Why should it be? It knows its own capability. It’s our thinking minds that panic, which overreact and scream in sheer terror! We tend to fear the worst and exaggerate our own sensations. A quickened heart beat becomes a heart attack. An overactive mind seems like a close shave with schizophrenia. Is it our fault? Not really—we are simply diagnosing from poor information.


Cardiovascular Effects Activity in the sympathetic nervous system increases our heartbeat rate, speeds up the blood flow throughout the body, ensures all areas are well supplied with oxygen and that waste products are removed. This happens in order to prime the body for action.


A fascinating feature of the “fight or flight” mechanism is that blood (which is channelled from areas where it is currently not needed by a tightening of the blood vessels) is brought to areas where it is urgently needed.


For example, should there be a physical attack, blood drains from the skin, fingers, and toes so that less blood is lost, and is moved to “active areas” such as the thighs and biceps to help the body prepare for action.


This is why many feel numbness and tingling during a panic attack-often misinterpreted as some serious health risk-such as the precursor to a heart attack. Interestingly, most people who suffer from anxiety often feel they have heart problems. If you are really worried that such is the case with your situation, visit your doctor and have it checked out. At least then you can put your mind at rest.


Respiratory Effects


One of the scariest effects of a panic attack is the fear of suffocating or smothering. It is very common during a panic attack to feel tightness in the chest and throat. I’m sure everyone can relate to some fear of losing control of your breathing. From personal experience, anxiety grows from the fear that your breathing itself would cease and you would be unable to recover. Can a panic attack stop our breathing? No.


A panic attack is associated with an increase in the speed and depth of breathing. This has obvious importance for the defense of the body since the tissues need to get more oxygen to prepare for action. The feelings produced by this increase in breathing, however, can include breathlessness, hyperventilation, sensations of choking or smothering, and even pains or tightness in the chest. The real problem is that these sensations are alien to us, and they feel unnatural.


Having experienced extreme panic attacks myself, I remember that on many occasions, I would have this feeling that I couldn’t trust my body to do the breathing for me, so I would have to manually take over and tell myself when to breathe in and when to breathe out. Of course, this didn’t suit my body’s requirement of oxygen and so the sensations would intensify—along with the anxiety. It was only when I employed the technique I will describe for you later, did I let the body continue doing what it does best—running the whole show.


Importantly, a side-effect of increased breathing, (especially if no actual activity occurs) is that the blood supply to the head is actually decreased. While such a decrease is only a small amount and is not at all dangerous, it produces a variety of unpleasant but harmless symptoms that include dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, sense of unreality, and hot flushes.


Other Physical Effects of Panic Attacks:


Now that we’ve discussed some of the primary physiological causes of panic attacks, there are a number of other effects that are produced by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, none of which are in any way harmful.


For example, the pupils widen to let in more light, which may result in blurred vision, or “seeing” stars, etc. There is a decrease in salivation, resulting in dry mouth. There is decreased activity in the digestive system, which often produces nausea, a heavy feeling in the stomach, and even constipation. Finally, many of the muscle groups tense up in preparation for “fight or flight” and this results in subjective feelings of tension, sometimes extending to actual aches and pains, as well as trembling and shaking.


Overall, the fight/flight response results in a general activation of the whole bodily metabolism. Thus, one often feels hot and flushed and, because this process takes a lot of energy, the person generally feels tired and drained.


Mental Manifestations: Are the causes of panic attacks all in my head? is a question many people wonder to themselves.


The goal of the fight/flight response is making the individual aware of the potential danger that may be present. Therefore, when activated, the mental priority is placed upon searching the surroundings for potential threats. In this state one is highly-strung, so to speak. It is very difficult to concentrate on any one activity, as the mind has been trained to seek all potential threats and not to give up until the threat has been identified. As soon as the panic hits, many people look for the quick and easiest exit from their current surroundings, such as by simply leaving the bank queue and walking outside. Sometimes the anxiety can heighten, if we perceive that leaving will cause some sort of social embarrassment.


If you have a panic attack while at the workplace but feel you must press on with whatever task it is you are doing, it is quite understandable that you would find it very hard to concentrate. It is quite common to become agitated and generally restless in such a situation. Many individuals I have worked with who have suffered from panic attacks over the years indicated that artificial light—such as that which comes from computer monitors and televisions screens—can can be one of the causes of panic attacks by triggering them or worsen a panic attack, particularly if the person is feeling tired or run down.


This is worth bearing in mind if you work for long periods of time on a computer. Regular break reminders should be set up on your computer to remind you to get up from the desk and get some fresh air when possible.


In other situations, when during a panic attack an outside threat cannot normally be found, the mind turns inwards and begins to contemplate the possible illness the body or mind could be suffering from. This ranges from thinking it might have been something you ate at lunch, to the possibility of an oncoming cardiac arrest.


The burning question is: Why is the fight/flight response activated during a panic attack even when there is apparently nothing to be frightened of?


Upon closer examination of the causes of panic attacks, it would appear that what we are afraid of are the sensations themselves—we are afraid of the body losing control. These unexpected physical symptoms create the fear or panic that something is terribly wrong. Why do you experience the physical symptoms of the fight/flight response if you are not frightened to begin with? There are many ways these symptoms can manifest themselves, not just through fear.


For example, it may be that you have become generally stressed for some reason in your life, and this stress results in an increase in the production of adrenaline and other chemicals, which from time to time, would produce symptoms….and which you perceive as the causes of panic attacks.


This increased adrenaline can be maintained chemically in the body, even after the stress has long gone. Another possibility is diet, which directly affects our level of stress. Excess caffeine, alcohol, or sugar is known for causing stress in the body, and is believed to be one of the contributing factors of the causes of panic attacks (Chapter 5 gives a full discussion on diet and its importance).


Unresolved emotions are often pointed to as possible trigger of panic attacks, but it is important to point out that eliminating panic attacks from your life does not necessarily mean analyzing your psyche and digging into your subconscious. The “One Move” technique will teach you to deal with the present moment and defuse the attack along with removing the underlying anxiety that sparks the initial anxiety.


Barry McDonagh is an international panic disorder coach. His informative site on all issues related to panic and anxiety attacks can be found here: 

-Learn how to be empowered and gain confidence by engaging a simple technique to defuse any panic attack.
-The four most powerful approaches to creating an enduring anxiety buffer zone (particularly useful for those who experience GAD).<
-Learn to avoid making the one mistake almost everyone makes during a panic attack episode.
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