Archive for September, 2010

When To Test: The Importance of Primary Conversion Goals

a/b testing, primary conversion goals, internet marketing campaignsOne of our HubSpot customers was in the process of updating their home page. And they were at an impasse between two different home pages. One stressed the type of product and the other stressed the value proposition. That’s not to say the value proposition was left out of the “product” page; it was just minimized. 

What to do?

I told them there’s only one thing to do – test. They replied, “Test what?” and I responded, “Good question.”

When testing landing or home pages perhaps the most important thing to do is determine your goals. What do you most want people to do when they land on your web page? Do you just want their email address or do you want them to sign up for a free trial? Are you looking for quantity of leads or leads that end up buying? These are important criteria that need to be agreed upon before you begin the testing phase.

Our friend Anne Holland from WhichTestWon? talks about Primary Conversion Goals. She says that most sites have multiple conversion goals. You can download a whitepaper, opt-in for a newsletter, or try a free trial – all on the same page. I’m sure you’ve seen many home pages that offer at least this much. Anne says that before you begin any tests, you need to reach agreement about what the primary goal is, as well as the secondary or tertiary goals. Without this agreement, your tests will fail because you won’t know what you’re optimizing for.

So what is your primary conversion goal for your home page? Look carefully at all of the opt-in boxes and follow their trail to see if they lead to what you really want or need. Then if you come to a consensus, take the next step and figure out what web pages are worth testing. We can help you with that with our live webinar and special report “What’s Worth A/B Testing.” Be sure to join Anne Holland and HubSpots’s Mike Volpe on September 30 as they discuss (using real-life tests) which pages are worth testing, what copy and design gets you high impact test results and how much traffic you need for conclusive test results.

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How to Turn Google Analytics Into Your Own Rank Tracker using Custom Variables

Posted by MikeCP

Today I want to talk about tracking organic ranking in Google Analytics. Previously, we were able to determine the page from which a Google organic click was coming from (detailed on the Distilled blog by Will Critchlow). This was nice because we could append this to the end of our keywords in Google Analytics for some interesting data (André Scholten’s post at Yoast.com has a step by step) as seen below.

Keyword Page Rankings
Image courtesy of Yoast.com

This solution provides limited utility, and if you’re like me, you implemented it, maybe checked it out once in a while, but never really turned this into actionable or otherwise meaningful data. I’m going to detail how rank tracking in Google Analytics can be made a lot more useful thanks to custom variables and a change in Google’s referring URLs. But first…

Some History

When Google began testing an AJAX search interface in early 2009 there was a flurry of concern that it could mean the end of traditional rank tracking, web analytics packages, and I’m sure someone said SEO was dead, too. The concern wasn’t without merit; Google was serving results in AJAX with the URL pattern as http://www.google.com/#q=keyword, and most analytics packages ignored the hash and everything after.

Fast forward to September 8th, when Google introduced Google Instant. The AJAX SERP usage had been steadily increasing over time, but shot up in usage when Instant was rolled out. Fortunately for Omniture, WebTrends, and other third party analytics packages, Google worked out a way to pass the referrer information from the SERPs, rank tracking still works, and I’m still working as an SEO in a living industry.

As it turns out, Google includes even more information in the AJAX SERPs than they previously did, including one really interesting parameter: "cd=". The cd= parameter contains the exact ranking position of the search listing, which makes for some really awesome possibilities, especially when paired with Google Analytics’ custom variables.

Why Custom Variables?

Custom variables are a bit of an enigma to even advanced Analytics users. I’ll admit that I never really made much use of them in the past. You’ll often see examples where custom variables are used to track logged in vs. unlogged in users, which is definitely a great use. Rob Ousbey’s 6 cool things YOU can do with custom variables is a good set of examples to get your feet wet.

In André Scholten’s example above we’re using Google Analytics user defined value, isn’t that just as good a custom variable? Well, the difference depends on how you intend on using your data. With custom variables, you’re granted much more flexibility within Google Analytics for slicing and dicing data. For instance, through the use of either custom reporting or advanced segments with custom variables, I can pretty easily track how much revenue a keyword has brought in when ranked in the 2nd position, as opposed to the 4th. While this may be possible with the user defined variable, it would require quite a bit of work after an excel data dump. 

Now, let’s get to business:

The How

Getting this properly set up was remarkably easy for me, and I have so very little programming knowledge, so I would imagine most wouldn’t have much issue. I used PHP, as I was working with a WordPress site, but I’m sure you crazy hackers can do the same in most any language.

Step One – Extract cd= Value from Referrer String

I used this snippet to do this.

<?php preg_match("/cd\=(\d+)/",$_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'], $matches);
$str = $matches[0];
preg_match("/(\d+)/",$str,$matches);
$rank = $matches[0] ?>

Please don’t make fun of my hacky coding

This assigns the cd= value to the $rank variable. We’ll reference this in…

Step 2 – Call cd= Value in our Google Analytics snippet

Now, we want to insert the custom variable call between the setAccount and trackPageview lines in our Analytics snippet (shown below using the asynchronous code):

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
  _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-XXXXXX-X']);
  _gaq.push(['_setCustomVar',1,'Google_Rank','$rank',2]);
  _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);"

We’ve set the custom variable slot to 1, and the scope to the session-level (the last argument, set as 2). If you are already making use of custom variables, be sure to not overwrite a previously occupied slot. For more information on how the custom variable is formatted, see Google’s help page on the topic.

Step 3 – Create an IF Statement so the CustomVar isn’t Called Every Time

We only want to include this line when we have a cd= value, otherwise every new click will overwrite the last value. To do this, I used the following IF statement, again coded in PHP. This is the final step, and the complete Google Analytics snippet:

<?php if ($rank != '' ) {
echo "<script type=\"text/javascript\">\n
  var _gaq = _gaq || [];
  _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-XXXXXX-X']);
  _gaq.push(['_setCustomVar',1,'Google_Rank','$rank',2]);
  _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);";
echo "\n";
  }
else {
echo "<script type=\"text/javascript\">\n

  var _gaq = _gaq || [];
  _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-XXXXXX-X']);
  _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);";
    }
echo "\n";
?>

  (function() {
    var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true;
    ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js';
    var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);
  })();

</script>

Here we’re checking if $rank has a value. If it does, we’ll include the custom variable call with that $rank value, if not, we’ll print the Google Analytics code as normal. Also included in the above are some line breaks (\n), so that the code formats correctly.

The Most Important Part – Analyzing Our Data

What’s the point of going through all this effort if it doesn’t provide you with any analytical insight? None, of course. But this rank tracking solution has some added benefits over the traditional rank tracking software that may be really useful to some SEOs. These include:

Rankings by City, Region, Country

Traditional rank tracking software suffers in that its ranking results are dependent on the location of the servers. With custom variable rank tracking and a little spreadsheet pivot table magic it’s pretty easy to get your site’s rank for any location.

Historical, Definite, Data

Once this is properly set up you’ve got access to definite rankings within your Analytics data from that point on. So as holiday season 2011 rolls around, its easy enough to review where your site ranked during the 2010 holidays, helping to set budgets, goals, and expectations.

Bounce Rate/eCommerce Data/etc. by Rank

Whatever your KPI, you can compare it against search ranking. Reporting the ROI of link building efforts or on site optimization becomes much easier when you’ve got rankings included in your dataset.

Some of the quick ideas I had around this include:

  • Average rank over time for top 50 keywords
  • Average rank over time for 4+ word keyphrases
  • Bounce rate for 2nd+ page clicks
  • Revenue % increase for Keyword X when ranking increases from 2 to 1

I should note that getting averages is a lot easier in Excel with a pivot table, as seen below:

Average rank pivot table
This can also be adjusted to show your minimum rank, as well

Creating Custom Reports and Advanced Segments

Custom variables aren’t included in the default reports for Google Analytics, so unless you do all your work in Excel, you’ll probably want to create some custom reports or advanced segmentation to work with the data directly in Analytics.

Advanced segmentation is great for this data. Below is the function one would use to track rankings between 11 and 15, which might be strong candidates for on-page optimization that could provide the boost onto the first page:

Advanced Segmentation
You can apply this particular advanced segment with this link.

The Downsides

The most obvious downside is that you’re only receiving a ranking when a listing is being clicked on, so for very small sites there may be limited utility. Ranking data will be spotty past the 2nd page, as well.

Additionally, the AJAX SERPs are not being served to all users in all locations. Small sample size warning here, but I’m seeing about 40% of organic Google traffic coming from the AJAX SERPs (done through a simple calculation of visits with our custom variable divided by total Google organic visits over the same time period). Michael Whitaker is seeing this number over 50% in his data. This number is likely going to increase as Instant is rolled out further.

The #-pack local listings can really throw things off, too. If a particular query gets one of these to start the SERP, the cd= continues after:

cd= rankings

Lastly, there does exist the possibility that Google discontinues its use of the cd= variable for whatever reason.

Go Analyze

I hope some of you can make some good use out of this functionality. I’ve only had it installed on my sites for a short time, but I’ve definitely found it interesting to play around with. If you don’t already have Excellent Analytics installed in your Excel I would highly recommend doing so, even if you don’t implement this tracking, and especially if you do.

I’d like to thank Michael Whitaker of Monitus for his help. He’s been installing this setup for his clients for a bit now. Monitus offers proper eCommerce Google Analytics installation for Yahoo! stores, which is surprisingly difficult without Monitus.

If you’ve got any other ideas for working with this data, sound off in the comments or let me know on Twitter @MikeCP. Personally, I’m really excited to have this data rolling in and the possibilities are nearly endless. I’ll be sure to report any interesting ways to manipulate the data in future blog posts. Cheers!

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5 Steps to Reduce the Pain of Starting a Business Blog

blogger, start bloggingBlogging can be intimidating for someone who hasn’t done it in the past or grown up in the age where everyone has a personal blog.  It is, however, critical that business owners and marketers ‘blog for business.’  Putting pen to paper or more appropriately, putting fingers to your keyboard is the biggest challenge for most people.  So let’s talk about how to get started.

1. If you’re hesitant to put your voice out there for fear of being critiqued, start small.  Go to blogs in your industry and start reading.  Reading is the easiest way to get started.  See what others are talking about, review the comments.  Place a few relevant comments on other blogs to get a feel for what it’s like to be out in the blogosphere.

2. Blogging doesn’t have to be technical.  Setting up a blog for your business is as easy as setting up a sub-domain or a sub-directory of your main website.  If you have an IT team, this will take them a matter of minutes.  If not, it’s still a relatively easy exercise.  Depending upon where you host the site (i.e. Network Solutions, GoDaddy), their support department should have detailed instructions on how to set-up a sub-domain.  There are also inbound marketing software packages that have blog software included.

3. Determine who your audience is going to be and why you are blogging.  Think about what you are trying to accomplish with a blog.  Is your objective to entertain, educate or just drive visibility to your company/industry?  Write these personas down.  You may think you’ve thought of everything, but you haven’t.  If you had to give a 30 second pitch on all of the people you were writing for, could you?  Craft your articles based on the personas you have outlined.  This will help you target your audience and solid blog content.

4. Figuring out what to write about when getting started is a snap.  Review old email to find common questions that leads or customers have asked about.  Chances are you already have quite a bit of content in your email.  Drop it into your blog and do a little editing based on how you’ve defined your audience and BOOM… you have your first article.  Do this until you feel comfortable drafting new content.  If you don’t have information like this available, go to other blogs and take your own spin on controversial or interesting posts.

5. Post!  Seth Godin is one of those rare big thinkers and he has produced several best selling books.  One of the most interesting points he makes is that you cannot wait for every piece of something to be perfect.  You must produce work.  Produce it.  Get feedback.  Tinker with it and then produce more work.  If you wait for the perfect topic, the perfect title, the perfect content, you will never get anything out the door.  If you never get anything out the door, you’ll never get any better at blogging.  Don’t put something on your blog with spelling and grammar mistakes, but just start writing and posting.  It’s the fastest way to get better, become a thought-leader in your space, drive traffic and ultimately inbound links.

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So You Call Yourself an Analyst? Part 2: Analysis Redefined

Posted by JoannaLord

Well here we go, you ready to jump into analytics, part deux? Just a heads, up this is the second post of a three post series. The first post, "So You Call Yourself an Analyst, Part 1: Asking the Right Questions, walked through ways in which you could reevaluate the questions steering your analytical efforts.

The tough love truth is that most marketers are not analyzing the right data. We have so many tools to help us "analyze," that most of us are sitting in front of our dual monitor set-ups, staring at reports, excel grids, and pivot tables wondering what the hell we are supposed to be seeing. This is analysis paralysis, and I am here to help talk you back to a place of insight and action.

#1 Anomolies take precedence

I get asked a lot, "where should I start?" Simply put — start with the data that looks strange. The majority of your time should be spent on things that surprise you, things that concern you, and things that shift the momentum of your website’s performance.

For example, last week at SEOmoz, I was pulling our weekly stats and saw this:

I saw that our Rank Tracker tool traffic fell of a cliff. #awesome. You can bet this was prioritized, and we spent the next hour poking around the data before realizing the tracking code had been implemented wrong during a site update. {facepalm} So how do you research these anomalies?

Analytics Intelligence is one of the more obvious places to start if you are using GA. It is under the "Intelligence" tab  and allows you to set alerts for when your data goes "off pattern." It notifies you when numbers fall below or peak above user-set parameters. These notifications are controlled by a sensitivity gauge that you control, and when an alert is triggered you are notified by email.

The "Compare to" feature is another great way to see issues quickly. In GA you can compare two date ranges and see how they measure up, which is a great way to see discrepancies in otherwise stable datasets. You can compare the vital stats of any section of your site from one date range to another. I use this all the time.

Compare to GA feature

 

        (Example of "Compare to" feature, making drops in data, week over week, obvious)
 

There are a number of other ways to isolate out changes in your site’s data, most of them involving things like manual benchmarking or daily monitoring. I know not everyone uses GA, but the two features above are a great way to see anomalies as they are happening, not after the fact. 

#2 Align your analysis with your company’s current goal(s)

Next up, you should turn your attention to stats that directly match up or feed into your company’s goals. It should be noted that some analysts would prioritize this data to the top of your list, but I personally think that stable data is just that…stable. For that reason, I think only after you have problem data isolated out and understood should you turn your attention to "other data."

When I say "other data" I mean– the data that will let your company know if its hitting its goals. It is up to you to know the roadmap for your company and isolate out data insights that help keep you on track. Once or twice a month I go in and "explore" but analysis, for the most part, should not be exploratory. So what are some specific features that can help you analyze key data?

Advanced segmentation is one of my favorite GA features. It enables you to quickly cross reference different metrics, dimensions, user types, and variables. You can save segments and apply them across multiple profiles, so if you have a key metric the whole company is watching and working on, they can easily log in and check progress with a saved segment. Here is a video on advanced segmentation if you are looking to get started.

Visualization of metrics is too often overlooked in my opinion. There is a number of visualization options in GA that allow you to see the data differently. I am a firm believer in viewing the same data set in a variety of ways, because in my experience it forces your brain to revisit relationships, trends, etc.

Visualization in Google Analytics

     
(Visualization options in GA, I particularly love bar graphs for gauging relationships)

Lastly, I do want to mention the weighted sort feature in GA, since it is so new, and a lot of people probably still aren’t using it. After months of asking for it, GA gave us the ability to take a metric in list view and "freeze" it so we can apply a second filter. If you don’t have GA, Dr. Pete shows us how to create your own here. This helps us analyze only data with the greatest impact.

#3 Not all data is good data, know when to move on

This is a tough one for a lot of analysts. It can be a "data-head high" to get into the numbers and spend hours trying to prove a hunch, but it is important you know when to walk away. Yup, that’s right…I am telling you to give up, throw in the towel, wave the analytical white flag. You can’t change the numbers. You just can’t. Sometimes the analytic Gods will win, and sometimes you will, let it be and move on.

What are you left with?

The data that matters. The hardest part about analytic packages like GA, Omniture, and others is that there literally is an unlimited supply of data. By using company goals to prioritize your analysis and using all of the features at your disposal, you begin to see that pile of data take shape.

Repeat after me friends: "I will only spend time on data that will return the love."

Next week I will finish up the series with the third post focused on applying value to this key data and using those values to help decide on action steps. I will also wrap up the series with some examples of how an analyst can better present all of this data to those that need to see it. I will try to keep it shorter than this week’s post, but no pinky swears on that one.

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3 Search Engine Optimization Mistakes That You Are Making

eggMany website and marketing managers think that SEO is a very hard struggle that requires very specialized knowledge and software to get started with. That is a myth though – There are many common SEO problems that can be corrected with only a little knowledge and work, and no fancy software or tools required.  It doesn’t need to be so much difficulty if you take away a few powerful lessons on search engine optimization, such as these three common mistakes.

1. Trying To Optimize A Page For More Than One Keyword

Optimizing a page for more than keyword is a simple and common mistake to make. Once you have your list of keywords that you want to rank for, you may have started sprinkling them liberally all over your website. That’s the wrong way to go though – You end up in a world where all of your pages are competing with each other in the search engine’s eyes to be the most important page on your site for that keyword. Usually in that situation, none of them win and you still won’t rank. Search rankings aren’t just about a website doing well, it’s about a specific page ranking well for a keyword, and that page being a good destination for people interested in that keyword phrase.

For a simple exercise on this front, sit back and look at your page, and ask yourself honestly, “What keyword is this page good for? How good is it compared to other pages on that keyword?” Your keyword strategy will reveal itself from there. If there’s more than one keyword phrase revealed, you may be looking at two different pages that were mashed into one.

Remember: One page, one keyword phrase.

2. Sloppy Anchor Text Disguising Your Good Links

On the above aspect of keyword placement, there is another clear signal to search engines of what keyword a particular page should be ranking for­. The anchor text of the links pointing to a page is a critical factor in determining what keywords are important to that page. Make sure that the anchor text of the links pointing in to each page on your site matches the keyword that you’re optimizing for on that page.

Hint: If your link text on any of your links is “Click Here”, you’ve made a mistake. Take a look at who ranks for click here, and then adjust your links to your new philosophy of keyword consistency. You don’t want to compete with Adobe for “click here”, you’re about to be competing for valuable territory on the search engine results page.

3. Images Turning Your Website Into Goliath

Having very heavy, large images on a page is another frequent mistake in search optimization. Think about the last time you visited a slow website. Was it your website? Did you have a page that took more than two seconds to fully load? Fast sites vs slow sites is the new David vs Goliath.

If so, you might be guilty of image bloat. Putting lots of sharp and snazzy images on a website is a great move to make you look good, but think about how large those images are and what they’ll do to folks on slower internet connections – especially mobile users. You can tell how big the images are on your site by right-clicking on them and selecting “Properties” in Internet Explorer, or by going to Page Info -> Media in Firefox. Chrome unfortunately does not make this easy to determine. If you have any single image on your page that is larger than 50 Kilobytes, (~50,000 bytes) or your total page has over 100 KB of images, evaluate how important those images are to your page. Are they adding flavor or are they crucial content to the page?

In general, images should be adding flavor and enriching content, and not being the content themselves. There are obviously exceptions, but it’s a good guideline for content pages to have them loading quickly and smoothly for all of your site visitors. We all hate slow websites, so don’t be guilty of that crime yourself. In addition to the human factor, search engines will respond better to sites that are faster by ranking them higher and indexing more of their pages.

If you keep these three basic tips in mind when on your website, you can distinguish yourself as a well-optimized site that is very usable for visitors and search engines alike.

Photo Credit: dfinnecy

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Google Instant: Major Changes for SEO

Google Instant promises faster searches, smarter predictions and instant results. But what does Google Instant mean for your business and your search strategy?

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Replace Yahoo Linkdomain with Google Custom Search Engine

Posted by Justin Briggs

Hey everyone! My name is Justin Briggs, and I’m an SEO consultant at Distilled. A few weeks ago, I packed up and moved across the country to come to Seattle. Some of you might know me better as "seozombie" on Twitter. This is my first post on SEOmoz, but you can expect to see more from me here and on our blog at Distilled.

With the transition of Yahoo! to Microsoft’s Bing backend, webmasters have lost the ability to perform advanced searches using the link: and linkdomain: parameters. Rand Fishkin wrote a post about replacing the Yahoo! linkdomain: data with other data sources. Although Linkscape and Open Site Explorer provide a great data source, there is some functionality that Yahoo! had that isn’t present in other tools yet. The primary functionality I missed was the ability to perform searches against page content; not just page title, URL, and anchor text.

These link searches can help you identify link opportunities from other websites’ (such as competitors) backlinks.

Searching Content of Backlinks

To solve this problem, I setup a Google Custom Search Engine using data from Open Site Explorer. There are two exports of data you can use, which are links and linking domains. I’ll briefly go over the pros and cons of each as a data source in GCSE.

Linking URLs

Pros

  • Only search content that has links
  • Less noise

Cons

  • Limited to top links
  • Limited to 25 URLs per domain
  • Multiple links per domain reduces domain diversity
  • Limited content (5,000 annotations = 5,000 URLS)

Linking Domains

Pros

  • Search all indexed content on a linking domain
  • Find linking sources not included in OSE export
  • Greater domain diversity
  • More content (5,000 annotations = 5,000 domains of content)

Cons

  • More noise
  • Large linking domains like WordPress.com and Blogger.com have subdomains (lots of noise)
  • Results that don’t have link

Setup of Custom Search Engine

Setup of your custom search engine is very easy. For this example, I’m going to use linking domains from OSE.

1) Perform search in Open Site Explorer

Search Open Site Explorer

2) Pull linking domains for all pages on the root domain,  export to CSV

Link Domains in OSE

3) Get list from Excel

Domains in Excel

I used Find & Replace to add a * to the end of all URLs, for matching. You can sort by DA or linking domains. Google Custom Search Engine only allows 5,000 annotations, so only copy up to 5,000 domains.

4) Create Custom Search Engine

Go to Google Custom Search Engine.

How to Create Google Custom Search Engine

5) Perform your searches

So here are the pages on domains that link to distilled.co.uk, that include “link building” in the content and “resources” in the title.

Replace Yahoo linkdomain with GCSE

This solution gives you a new way to mine for backlinks opportunities using your competitor’s backlinks. You can also include linking domains from multiple competitors at the same time. However, you can only include up to 5,000 annotations at a time, so you might want to use some Excel filters to remove noise and duplicate entries.

Tips

Here are a few quick tips to speed things up.

  • Remove massive domains – Large domains like wordpress.com and blogspot.com can produce a lot of noise.
  • Use the –site:  search to reduce noise – If a particular domain is creating a lot of noise in your search, use a negative site search to remove it.
  • Search brand mentions – A search for the brand can help find the linking pages on these domains.
  • Search top anchors from OSE – Find the pages that include the anchors the site is targeting.

Example Queries

"powered by wordpress" "distilled"

Find pages that mention the brand “Distilled” and include “Powered by WordPress”. This is an easy way to find the blogs linking to Distilled.

“guest blogger” OR “guest post” OR “guest article” OR “guest column” -site:blogspot.com -site:wordpress.com -wordpress.org

Find guest blogging opportunities, but filter out domains that may create a significant amount of noise.

"powered by vbulletin" AND seo

Find vBulletin powered forums mentioning SEO.

“link building” intitle:resources

Find link building resource pages.

Give it a Try & Search SEOmoz’s Backlinks

A few queries to try:
"top seo tools"
“link building” intitle:resources
"open site explorer" "powered by wordpress"
allinurl:seomoz

Go ahead, try it, you know you want to!

Loading

I removed linking domains with a DA greater than 90, just to remove some noise from larger domains. (Selecting this value to filter by was completely arbitrary and is just to make the example easier to use.)

Need More Queries?

Long List of Link Searches (SEOmoz)

21 Link Builders Share Advanced Link Building Queries

74 B2B Link Building Queries

106 Sponsorship-Based Link Building Queries

I hope this helps everyone replace some of the functionality of the Yahoo! linkdomain command. If you’ve got more link searches or ideas to add, please share.

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