E-Trade Could Get Schooled by Online Trading Academy

Summer vacation may be just around the corner, but Market Brew’s Director of Solutions uncovers a real-world scenario showcasing how the established online trading firms E-Trade and Scottrade could get schooled by the Online Trading Academy before Labor Day.

Preface

In this modern information age, many industries are drastically changing the game-plan of business to keep pace with the ever changing technological landscape. When you consider that the largest growing demographic in the US workforce is the hyper-connected, tech-savvy Millennials (those born 1985-2000) who are expected to make up 50% of the US workforce by 2020, it’s no wonder that any business or industry which hopes to avoid being rendered totally obsolete is quickly adopting new tools, strategies, and business models to cater to this increasingly sophisticated and self-directed group of consumers. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis in which Millennials watched in horror as their parents life savings and 401Ks were drained overnight at the hands of unscrupulous businesses which were foolishly handed the reins of control, there couldn’t be an industry more primed to capitalize on this increasing desire of individuals to control their financial future than the very industry which precipitated the crash – trading brokerage firms and the investment banking industry.

With fears somewhat assuaged due to the perception of increased safety measures at the hands of new regulation, and buying into the confidence brought on by this bull market in the last couple years, Millennials are increasingly throwing their money into the markets, though this time not as passive investors with one of the “Big 4” wirehouse firms like Morgan Stanley, etc (as their parents did), but rather to try their hand as active investors with a low-cost online brokerage which is day by day producing new tools, software, and education to cater to the busy, “on-the-go” lifestyles of this new global youth. As a professional trader myself, I can tell you that there has never been a better time to take advantage of this change that is increasingly empowering everyone from the hobbyist trader who is learning to trade through a plethora of online trading education resources to those on the bleeding edge programming entire trading systems.

Of course, the financial industry already knows that you are coming to join the party once again, the only question is which company or firm is going to get your business? As one might expect, the race to capture these new Millennials as clients is going to be decided in much the same way that these firms are already competing in the markets on every trade right now… it will be decided by those who have the fastest and best information and are able to employ it before anyone else.

Unlike the big wirehouse firms, these low-cost online brokerages catering to retail traders rely all the more heavily on the location of their websites at the top of search engines to capture the attention of prospective investors and traders and steadily build their client base. And while some of these online brokerages like E-Trade have been around for a while and can afford to outspend their competition when it comes to ads, the coveted organic search spots at the top of search engines for high value keywords are becoming increasingly vulnerable to being snatched up by smaller or more recent companies with a knack for search marketing analytics and the determination to supplant these would-be mainstays. Of course any such attempt to seriously compete with the big boys in the SERPs for this highly lucrative ‘online trading’ space will either require more resources to more quickly and efficiently implement the reigning SEO “best practices” of the day, or it will require pivotal information that others simply do not have access to at a time when it pays to know it.


The Leading Indicator of Search Performance

In any industry where the potential for profit with every new client is as high as it is for the online trading world, you can bet that the hundreds of firms popping up all the time to cater to the growing Millennial base will be making SEO a major priority and thus will be making changes to their site (both from a content and architectural perspective) all the time to make sure they are optimized to the hilt. The major drawback with nearly all SEO tools these days is that their competitive intelligence is only able to report on things like traffic and keyword performance that have already happened (and furthermore not even giving you the specific changes to the sites that produced those results) – thus these tools really are only able to provide intel in a kind of “post-performance scorecard” fashion. Depending on the industry and the site in particular, the search engines may only crawl it every few days to upwards of a couple months or more. This means that most tools (including Google’s own analytics) are merely showing you the END RESULTS of changes that have happened within your competitive landscape after it’s too late to do anything about it! It would be like a trader blindly submitting trades while only having access to historical market data as recent as two months ago and expecting a positive result from these blind guesses. Everyone knows that’s ludicrous. And yet, SEOs have suffered with these long testing cycles and infrequent crawl times since the beginning which has been one of the major roadblocks to establishing immediately actionable data indicators.

But what if you had the X-ray vision of a search engine and were able to point them at any site you wanted, whenever you wanted, in order to see which site would outperform the other, and all of this weeks before Google sees it? Do you think that might give you an edge over your competition when it comes to dominating the SERPS? As any trader or financial analyst knows, to get an edge on the competition you need to be able to preempt the market, in essence, you need information that you can use as a true “leading indicator.” When you have something like this that can be proven to give a statistically positive result, then it’s lights out for the competition and the game will have changed forever. If there were a tool for SEO that could provide this kind of “insider information” that is sure to indicate a particular directional move in the market before it happens as there is in financial trading, don’t you think you would do everything you could to gain access to that kind of intel? Of course you would.

Luckily for you, and for all those newer players in the online trading industry who already know the value of having technology that can put you a step ahead of the competition and enable you to compete where the pocket book alone cannot, there is a marketing analytics platform out there called Market Brew that does just that… getting you the intel you need about your website, your competitors websites, and the specific factors impacting your performance at every level within the search engine environment you are competing in…up to 60 days or more before they even get noticed by the likes of Google which of course only then gets passed on to the other merely descriptive analytics tools in the SEO space that rely on Google’s data to tell you what ALREADY happened on a competitors website weeks or possibly even months ago!

Brew’ing Your Future

A big advantage of the Market Brew analytics platform lies in the complementary power of its transparent search engine coupled with an optimization engine. In comparison to normal public facing search engines today, Market Brew’s search engine was designed to address some of the leading issues brands face in attempting to build their websites and content to please the search engines that they hope will send them loads of free traffic.

A few of the key benefits that arise out of this starkly different approach to search engine optimization are:

  1. Immediate Causality – Brands can take a baseline snapshot of their documents using the optimization engine interface. They can then make changes to their documents and instantly request that a new snapshot be taken, which includes a recrawling and re-scoring of their documents. Changes can be immediately attributed to specific outcomes, allowing brands to establish a set of cause and effect rules that improve accuracy and shorten the life cycle of the optimization process.
  2. Algorithm Atomicity – The optimization engine can provide access to any set of scoring processes in the search engine. Dynamic run-time algorithms like local and social can be removed and basic core algorithms can be isolated. Each specific algorithm can be tracked. Consequently, brands can attribute specific penalties or errors to a given algorithm, which allows targeted changes with intended results.
  3. Known Investment – Brands can now see exactly how far two documents are apart, given a base algorithmic score, as well as additional overlays such as keyword and query score. This allows brands to efficiently spend time and direct resources to the appropriate document. They can provide “just enough” resources for one document, and then use the remaining resources on additional documents in their network. A known investment is established up-front, allowing them to assess the given ROI before proceeding with implementation.
  4. Compressed Timeframes – With on-demand features, the optimization engine enables brands to have a well-defined schedule of activity. This puts brands in control of their business and removes any risk associated with deliverables.

When you have the ability to objectively and concretely see how any changes on your site as well as all of your competitor’s sites directly impact your revenue generating potential, this effectively means that SEO can finally be placed alongside SEM as a fully trackable, consistent, and predictable approach to marketing with ROI you can have confidence in.

You are now able to go beyond a mere isolated and thus non-contextualized picture of on-page and off-page factors for a domain (a limitation shared by nearly all SEO crawler tools out there) and finally begin to understand how these on-page and off-page factors are interconnected – very practically revealing the positive and negative downstream effects from any changes you or your competitors make (in terms of their impact on any number of metrics – including ranking and revenue potential).

It just so happens that the most valuable optimization I could focus on if I were working for the University of Phoenix is to improve my homepage’s performance for the keyword “online colleges.”


Market Brew allows you to visualize the butterfly effect that each optimization has on the others.

If you want to “Brew” a fresh new future for your business, then join in the fun and watch as I walk you through the Market Brew world of predictive analytics for search engine optimization, and see how just one of these benefits – that of the known investment – could help the online trading education franchise known as TradingAcademy.com get a major leg up on established trading firms like E-trade.com and Scottrade.com in the hyper competitive world of low-cost online trading.

The Competition at a Glance

We have covered some of the introductory steps to setting up a competitive market analysis inside the Market Brew system in other posts, so I won’t bother to reiterate that here, however it is worth mentioning that to kick off any analysis we must first input our list of keywords (this essentially defines the totality of the search market we are choosing to shine a light on) as well as the domains that we will be crawling and performing the analysis on.

For the sake of this case study example, I used the trusty Google Keyword Planner to find some relevant terms and checked their search volume, bid prices, and competition levels. The most relevant and highly competitive term I found that I thought would provide for adequate demonstration was “trading online”.


With a high competition score of .91 and a PPC suggested bid price of $16.54 along with a decent search volume, ‘trading online’ is certainly worthy of our optimization efforts.

Taking a quick glance on Google, we can see the current results of how the competition has played out so far for Trading Academy this term.


First page of Google results for ‘trading online’ reveals the top contenders.

Right away, disregarding the ads at the top of the page, we can see that the top 3 results are in fact the domains for three brands we will want to track (as opposed to articles or review sites, etc. that we wouldn’t bother to load into the engine). After loading in the keyword(s) and these 3 domains (and a couple others for posterity), I kicked off a crawl and waited for the analysis to finish (typically takes anywhere from 1-3hrs depending on the structure of the site). Since I already know which keyword market I am going to optimize for, I like to immediately jump into the Market Brew search results to see just how far apart these 3 competitors really are. Is it a 3-way race for first? Or is the leader already dominating and the race is for second? Let’s see…

The Transparent Search Engine Reveals a More Telling Story

We have covered some of the introductory steps to setting up a competitive market analysis inside the Market Brew system in other posts, so I won’t bother to reiterate that here, however it is worth mentioning that to kick off any analysis we must first input our list of keywords (this essentially defines the totality of the search market we are choosing to shine a light on) as well as the domains that we will be crawling and performing the analysis on.

For the sake of this case study example, I used the trusty Google Keyword Planner to find some relevant terms and checked their search volume, bid prices, and competition levels. The most relevant and highly competitive term I found that I thought would provide for adequate demonstration was “trading online”.


The Market Brew Search Results reveal that the race is really for the second place spot.

As we can see here, Scottrade.com is also pulling up the top spot in the Market Brew search engine just as it is in Google, though with the search engine metrics revealed (one of the patented features of the Market Brew engine), we can now see that E-trade and The Trading Academy are not really all that close to the top spot but are instead in a nail-biting race for second. With such close query scores for both, it is likely that they often are exchanging spots in the SERPs depending on when you happen to search for it. With such a close race in hand, let’s see what we can find out that might give the nudge to the underdog and only non-brokerage in the group –TradingAcademy.com.

To get a better understanding of what these final aggregate query scores are being driven by, we can hover over the percentage scores and see the breakdown.


The Query Score Breakdowns reveal what categories a URL is outperforming or underperforming in contrast to the competition.

The query scores are the resulting combination of other categorical scores (Semantic & Net Total Link Flow) that measure the URLs performance from an on-page and off-page perspective. By looking at these query score breakdowns, we can readily identify whether a particular optimization needs to be made to boost the semantic score of the page relative to that keyword, or whether it is a more general problem of link flow that is diminishing the page’s potential ranking power. In this particular case, in comparing the two categorical scores for E-trade and Trading Academy we see that Trading Academy is doing great when it comes to optimizing its content for this keyword, however, it is unfortunately being hampered by a lack of link flow to this page (and likely to any other page that might be contextually relevant to this query).

While it is truly powerful to finally be able to see the distances between results and peer into the component scores for any particular search result like this (as well as being able to export the scores to excel for further analysis), if I wasn’t already determined to optimize for this keyword and wasn’t sure what my priorities for optimization should be, manually typing in searches and comparing scores to find the best opportunity for a high ROI advancement could be quite tedious and likely end in a less than optimal choice of what to optimize, further wasting my time! Luckily, I can turn to the Optimization Engine within the platform and let it cut through the mass of data for me and cherry pick the best opportunities I have to make some serious revenue gains for the least amount of work.

What Does an Optimization Engine Do?


The Top Optimization Simulations screen gives you immediate awareness of what the most valuable optimization tasks a digital marketing team should be working on, so that no time is being wasted by working on pages or keywords that are unlikely to drive as much incremental revenue into the business.

We call this screen the Top Optimization Simulations because that’s exactly what the engine is doing to produce these scores – it’s simulating the potential cost-benefit of every page within a site moving up to any other spot in the query rankings for all the keywords within the Analysis Group that you have chosen to track / analyze. To give you a better understanding of what that calculation looks like:


Market Brew simulates all ranking improvement scenarios from the current spot all the way to the top for every keyword and determines which keyword and page combination present the best low-hanging fruit to focus one’s resources on.

Since the Optimization Engine has already done the millions of calculations necessary to determine that, based upon the keywords I have entered into the engine, TradingAcademy.com would be wise to focus its efforts first and foremost on the keyword “trading online”, and that the most likely page to rank highest for that is the URL http://www.tradingacademy.com/power-trading-workshop.aspx because that combination of keywords and URL received the highest optimization score of 99.67. (Note: these optimization scores could change, and thus the top optimizations it would recommend, once we input overrides into the engine which help it to more precisely determine which keywords are historically driving the most revenue for a business as well as which pages tend to be more important from a conversion and revenue generation standpoint than others – both of which allow a brand to bring its own data to bear and hone the optimizations based upon their specific historical performance).

By clicking on the optimization score of 99.67 at the top of the list in the interface, we are taken to another screen that gives us a bit more information regarding this optimization.



Optimization detail pages give the user a high level view of the types of changes tat should be made and the relative value of the changes in helping to achieve an optimization result.

This details page tells me essentially the same thing as I uncovered earlier when I took a look at the Query Score Breakdowns, though in a much quicker and more readily identifiable manner, making it a no-brainer for SEO teams to stay on task and keep priorities in line. Rather than comparing query scores, I can immediately see from the pie chart that while TradingAcademy.com does stand to gain a little by further optimizing some of the semantic factors for this page, the real focus should be on increasing the Link Flow to this page.

Ok good to know, but how do I do that? Spend 3 months and XXX dollars on a link building campaign? I could… but as anyone in the SEO world knows… that is so much work and takes forever! Might there be some things I can do within the confines of my site itself to change the link flow scores on this page? In fact there is!

The Magic of Link Flow Distribution

If you will notice in the optimization details snapshot above, the engine has identified 2 options for on-site changes that could help to boost that link flow score:

  1. Eliminating the Algorithmic Penalties
  2. Reallocating link flow to the page using the Link Flow Distribution tool

Though the engine tells me precisely how much I can increase my link flow score if I were to completely eliminate the algorithmic penalties occurring on that URL, I am going to focus on the second option here, Link Flow Distribution, because while eliminating penalties is often fairly straightforward thanks to the Market Brew’s tracking of numerous families of important algorithms that nearly all modern search engines take into account, the improvement to my score would merely be fractional at best (since these penalties suppress my gross score by a fractional percentage) whereas with a reallocation of link flow I can boost the gross amount of link flow to the page effectively achieving a boost to the link flow score oftentimes by a factor of 4 or more. As a first step, Link Flow Distribution is the clear choice as a first priority here.

Similar to the way Google and other search engines calculate a metric like PageRank, the Market Brew Link Flow Distribution tool runs a recursive calculation that could theoretically be run indefinitely (as the longer it runs it acquires a marginal increase in the precision of the calculations) to determine where link flow is divvied up once it hits any page on the domain, regardless of which page is receiving link flow from an external source. This means that the tool is able to disregard the external incoming link flow to the pages, and instead determine how the internal linking architecture actually divides up the link flow points. This is incredibly useful in identifying any major structural and linking issues that are impractically promoting internal pages that are likely not even intended to be landing pages for organic search traffic and therefore don’t need that link flow promoting them and can be redirected to the pages which are instead in a position to leapfrog a competitor in the SERPs and bring additional revenue to the company.


The top ten most internally promoted pages on TradingAcademy.com based on the sites current linking architecture.

Take notice of where the homepage is in this list, denoted by the single “/” in the path. Not only is it not at the top where one might expect, but it’s not even in the top 5 – instead crawling its way into the 8th spot. Anything you might notice is the absence of the power trading workshop page from this list. Although it is one of the key landing pages and does receive some decent link flow from its inbound links from other domains, when it comes to how the site deals with that link flow once it flows in, it clearly is choosing to send that ranking power elsewhere and diluting this landing page’s ability to rank as high as it should.


The page we want to optimize is currently only receiving .18% of the total Link Flow available within the site making it the 164th highest page in terms of its Link Flow Distribution.

After scrolling down a ways, I see the page in question pulling up the 164th spot with a paltry amount of link flow being allocated. Clicking on the URL hyperlink takes me to the URL specific metrics within the system so that I can begin the process of digging into what might be causing this misallocation of link flow.


The Link Listing tool gives an exhaustive and detailed list of the link relationships for this URL ordered by the amount of link flow shared by the link (in this case we are looking at the top internal incoming links for the power trading workshop page.

Browsing through this list I can quickly see that aside from a powerful image link in the main content of the homepage and a couple text links on the education page, the amount of link flow being shared with the power trading workshop page is nowhere near the amount it is sending out to other pages in the site (see below).


The Link Listing tool showing specific amounts of link flow share distributed by each link.

The reality --> The net outflow of link flow for this page is far greater than the net inflow = major Link Flow deficit and a page vastly underperforming in the SERPs!

With a simple and straightforward reallocation or addition of inbound links and changing of link factors to sculpt the amount of Net Link Flow Share that is flowing through links that can’t be redirected, Online Trading Academy could easily get a 10x boost in its link flow score for this page and easily surpass E-Trade in the rankings and possibly even Scottrade as well. These are somewhat quick and easy changes that don’t require time consuming and costly link building campaigns. Considering the search volume of this keyword, its bid range, and the historical click thru rates for the top 10 spots in the SERPS, just jumping from the 3rd spot into 2nd could be worth at least an incremental $10K worth of PPC clicks every month! And that’s just the boost that would be realized from one keyword. When you add to it the fact that this link flow boost would categorically improve this page’s chance of ranking higher across ALL queries, then you really begin to see the power of what focused and informed action can do in the SEO world.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, for a few hours’ worth of work and with the help of an integrated search engine and analytics platform like Market Brew, TradingAcademcy.com could move the needle enough to account for the salaries of a whole team of digital marketers… now that’s what I call ROI!

About The Author


Giordan heads up the solutions engineering team at Market Brew. He is an honors graduate in Computer Science and Information Technology from Purdue University where he was a multiple NCAA Academic and Athletic All-American as a captain of the swim team. As a professional athlete on the USA National Swim Team, Giordan was a member of the silver medal winning relay at the 2006 World Championships in Shanghai, China and a finalist at the 2008 Olympic Trials. For more information about Market Brew, visit www.MarketBrew.com.