Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beyond PageRank: Graduating to actionable metrics

Webmaster level: Beginner

Like any curious netizen, I have a Google Alert set up to email me whenever my name is mentioned online. Usually I get a slow trickle of my forum posts, blog posts, and tweets. But by far the most popular topic of these alerts over the past couple years has been my off-handed mention that we removed PageRank distribution data from Webmaster Tools in one of our 2009 releases.

The fact that people are still writing about this almost two years later—usually in the context of “Startling news from Susan Moskwa: ...”—really drives home how much PageRank has become a go-to statistic for some webmasters. Even the most inexperienced site owners I talk with have often heard about, and want to know more about, PageRank (“PR”) and what it means for their site. However, as I said in my fateful forum post, the Webmaster Central team has been telling webmasters for years that they shouldn't focus so much on PageRank as a metric for representing the success of one’s website. Today I’d like to explain this position in more detail and give you some relevant, actionable options to fill your time once you stop tracking your PR!

Why PageRank?

In 2008 Udi Manber, VP of engineering at Google, wrote on the Official Google Blog:

“The most famous part of our ranking algorithm is PageRank, an algorithm developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google. PageRank is still in use today, but it is now a part of a much larger system.”
PageRank may have distinguished Google as a search engine when it was founded in 1998; but given the rate of change Manber describes—launching “about 9 [improvements] per week on the average”—we’ve had a lot of opportunity to augment and refine our ranking systems over the last decade. PageRank is no longer—if it ever was—the be-all and end-all of ranking.

If you look at Google’s Technology Overview, you’ll notice that it calls out relevance as one of the top ingredients in our search results. So why hasn’t as much ink been spilled over relevance as has been over PageRank? I believe it’s because PageRank comes in a number, and relevance doesn’t. Both relevance and PageRank include a lot of complex factors—context, searcher intent, popularity, reliability—but it’s easy to graph your PageRank over time and present it to your CEO in five minutes; not so with relevance. I believe the succinctness of PageRank is why it’s become such a go-to metric for webmasters over the years; but just because something is easy to track doesn’t mean it accurately represents what’s going on on your website.

What do we really want?

I posit that none of us truly care about PageRank as an end goal. PageRank is just a stand-in for what we really want: for our websites to make more money, attract more readers, generate more leads, more newsletter sign-ups, etc. The focus on PageRank as a success metric only works if you assume that a higher PageRank results in better ranking, then assume that that will drive more traffic to your site, then assume that that will lead to more people doing-whatever-you-want-them-to-do on your site. On top of these assumptions, remember that we only update the PageRank displayed on the Google Toolbar a few times a year, and we may lower the PageRank displayed for some sites if we believe they’re engaging in spammy practices. So the PR you see publicly is different from the number our algorithm actually uses for ranking. Why bother with a number that’s at best three steps removed from your actual goal, when you could instead directly measure what you want to achieve? Finding metrics that are directly related to your business goals allows you to spend your time furthering those goals.

If I don’t track my PageRank, what should I be tracking?

Take a look at metrics that correspond directly to meaningful gains for your website or business, rather than just focusing on ranking signals. Also consider metrics that are updated daily or weekly, rather than numbers (like PageRank) that only change a few times a year; the latter is far too slow for you to reliably understand which of your changes resulted in the number going up or down (assuming you update your site more than a few times a year). Here are three suggestions to get you started, all of which you can track using services like Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools:

  1. Conversion rate

  2. Bounce rate

  3. Clickthrough rate (CTR)

Conversion rate

A “conversion” is when a visitor does what you want them to do on your website. A conversion might be completing a purchase, signing up for a mailing list, or downloading a white paper. Your conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to your site who convert (perform a conversion). This is a perfect example of a metric that, unlike PageRank, is directly tied to your business goals. When users convert they’re doing something that directly benefits your organization in a measurable way! Whereas your PageRank is both difficult to measure accurately (see above), and can go up or down without having any direct effect on your business.

Bounce rate

A “bounce” is when someone comes to your website and then leaves without visiting any other pages on your site. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits to your site where the visitor bounces. A high bounce rate may indicate that users don’t find your site compelling, because they come, take a look, and leave directly. Looking at the bounce rates of different pages across your site can help you identify content that’s underperforming and point you to areas of your site that may need work. After all, it doesn’t matter how well your site ranks if most searchers are bouncing off of it as soon as they visit.

Clickthrough rate (CTR)

In the context of organic search results, your clickthrough rate is how often people click on your site out of all the times your site gets shown in search results. A low CTR means that, no matter how well your site is ranking, users aren’t clicking through to it. This may indicate that they don’t think your site will meet their needs, or that some other site looks better. One way to improve your CTR is to look at your site’s titles and snippets in our search results: are they compelling? Do they accurately represent the content of each URL? Do they give searchers a reason to click on them? Here’s some advice for improving your snippets; the HTML suggestions section of Webmaster Tools can also point you to pages that may need help. Again, remember that it doesn’t matter how well your site ranks if searchers don’t want to click on it.

Entire blogs and books have been dedicated to explaining and exploring web metrics, so you’ll excuse me if my explanations just scrape the surface; analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik’s site is a great place to start if you want to dig deeper into these topics. But hopefully I’ve at least convinced you that there are more direct, effective and controllable ways to measure your site’s success than PageRank.

One final note: Some site owners are interested in their site’s PR because people won’t buy links from their site unless they have a high PageRank. Buying or selling links for the purpose of passing PageRank violates our Webmaster Guidelines and is very likely to have negative consequences for your website, so a) I strongly recommend against it, and b) don’t be surprised if we aren’t interested in helping you raise your PageRank or improve your website when this is your stated goal.

We’d love to hear what metrics you’ve found useful and actionable for your website! Feel free to share your success stories with us in the comments here or in our Webmaster Help Forum.

Best Actor 1957

And the Nominees Were:

Anthony Franciosa in A Hatful of Rain

Anthony Quinn in Wild is the Wind

Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai 

Marlon Brando in Sayonara

Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution

Fashion Design Sketches

Fashion design sketches
Fashion design sketches

Best Actor 1973: Results

5. Robert Redford in The Sting- Redford doesn't do anything special in this film, but he does not really do anything bad either. He is just okay throughout.
4. Al Pacino in Serpico- Al Pacino's performance here always failed to impress me with his rather repetitive routine of quietly discouraged, than suddenly really loud and angry over his problems. He never is bad, but I always wanted more from this performance than I got.
3. Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris- Brando supposedly admitted to not understanding this film, and I do think that comes through in his performance a bit, since I never fully was able to understand what the deal was with his character, but despite this Brando still is interesting to watch with all of his various scenes of soul bearing acting.
2. Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail- Nicholson is terrific in this film, in a very interesting way. He fully develops a fascinating character who is very much reactive to another character in the film. Through his reactions though he creates fascinating original character, and just to add tot hat he is has some great classic 70's Nicholson moments.
1. Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger- This one was rather difficult for me to choose between the two but in the end I must choose one so I am going with Lemmon. Lemmon although in a complete Oscar baiting role never turns it into a Oscar baiting performance. He amazingly always stays realistic, and completely embedded in his character. It is strong powerful work that frankly overcame the material.
Deserving Performances:
Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets
Paul Newman in The Sting

Best Actor 1973: Robert Redford in The Sting

Robert Redford received his only acting nomination for portraying Johnny Hooker in The Sting.

The Sting is about con men doing a con in the thirties against an Irish mobster.

Robert Redford's only Oscar nominated performance is one of those oddities, since one usually says Robert Redford was only nominated once, and for this film. It is most certianly a lightweight role, and not really the traditional type of role that one really is usually Oscar nominated for. Just due to the fact there is not bearing of soul to be founded here, but rather just a leading man going through a plot.

That does not exactly mean his performance is bad though, since if someone is a great leading man, they deserve all the praise they can get, I can't really say Redford is a great leading man in this film though, not a bad though either. His performance just is not really all that charismatic just, or entertaining to watch, and frankly the show really is stolen right out from under him.

It is not that he is not fine as Johnny Hooker, he is charming enough, and easy enough to follow through the plot, but really he never does more than enough. The problem really is that I feel the likes of Robert Shaw as the villain Lonnegan, and Paul Newman as the more experienced conman Henry Gondorff give far more interesting and effective performances with less overall screen time.

Redford is believable in the part as the young con man learning the ropes, and trying to pull off the big con, he realistic enough in his reactions to the various situations he finds himself in at the different phases of the con. Although he is never amazing or all that interesting, nor is he really ever boring or wooden either.

This really is not a bad performance by any means, yes he could have been the scene stealer but he just wasn't. The film works fine really with the other characters around him being more entertaining and interesting frankly. I think he did not really need to be nominated though, especially since really if they wanted to nominate a performance from the film there were two much better choices than he. Its not great its not bad, its fine in the context of the film.

Hollywood Tattoo Design

Hollywood Tattoo Design

the number one spot in which tattoos are given throughout the world on the human anatomy. The different types of arm tattoo designs are as different and unique as there are arms in the tattoo parlors everywhere. There are many factors that must be taken into consideration before anyone decides to get inked-up on their arm. There is certainly the primary factor of personal choice as well as occupational field and other sociological factors.

............. Hollywood Tattoo Design ..............


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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Best Actor 1973: Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger

Jack Lemmon won his second Oscar from his fifth nomination for portraying Harry Stoner in Save the Tiger.

Save the Tiger is not much of a film, more of just a display of Lemmon's acting talents as a businessman who is basically on the end of his rope.

This is an acting showcase for Lemmon, and it does seem that it was tailored made to give him that chance at his lead Oscar. I think you can sort of tell this by his jubilation at hearing his name called when he won this year, clearing wanting to win a whole lot. This though even though is Oscar bait, his performance luckily does not feel like it even though it seems like it should, because Lemmon really does indeed invest in his character.

I have been a little mixed on Lemmon's past dramatic performances, I loved him in the Days of Wine and Roses, but I really hated him in Tribute. What were the major differences between these performances, well a lot of things, but most importantly the obviousness of the performance. In Tribute Lemmon never stopped his Lemmonisms, and his overacting, where in Days he stayed on the mark and realistic, even in the sanatorium scenes luckily for Lemmon his performance here is far more like his Days performance than his one in Tribute.

Harry Stoner is a businessman who really is just barely getting through life clearly always having a hard struggle to make it through the day. Lemmon is quite effective early on in presenting the sheer horrible state of the character. After all his performance starts with him screaming with pain in bed, over what the film does not say, but I think one could easily say it is over his entire life. Lemmon is good because he does not overplay the state of his character as he easily could, but is better showing the persuading pain in Stoner in a realistic fashion.

Lemmon is interesting in that he does show that Harry goes through a whole manner of facades through his day, at rather different levels. He tries to to act like a competent businessman, around his workers, he tired to act happy, and be high energy, but Lemmon carefully shows the overarching dread that is always prevalent in some way in his character even when he is pretending to be happy, even though he is not at all.

Lemmon's performance is manic, and covers a lot of different emotional ground in his performances, whether it is regret, hatred, exhaustion, and desperation but Lemmon always stays consistent in his portrayal. It is always part of Harry Stoner. Stoner never really stops moving which works extremely well for his performance. He tries anything to make his businesses work, or his life work, and Lemmon is perfect in showing how painful his struggle and desperation is because he never seems off which is what makes his performance effective.

This performance really honestly works which I find is amazing especially since there are scenes that are most certainly pure Oscar baiting scenes. One in particular is his speech at the beginning of a fashion show of his companies where he breaks out thinking of the dead men of war. This scene seems to come almost of nowhere, but Lemmon sells it anyways because he absoultely invests his heart and soul into the scene, to make it completely of Harry Stoner, and completely heartbreaking.

The same goes for many of his other Oscary moments as well, surprising as it is. When it slowly focuses on him an he talks to himself, I felt that was authentic and interesting because it showed into the rapid fire mind of Stoner, and how his mind refuses to stop, and really how on edge he is, or as well his looks and the way he walks in the film. As obvious of an actor thing it could have been, it again honestly intensely portrays the detrimental state of Stoner. 

This is really a fascinating performance because despite being in a purely Oscar baiting film, Lemmon manages a honest and effective performance. He never overacts in a performance that could have been only overacting. Lemmon is always makes every scene, no matter how strange or possibly over dramatic still part of the whole of desperation and isolation that is Harry Stoner.