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Archive for the ‘Search Engine Optimization’ Category

Great article that I spotted from an associate on LinkedIn, and a really important reminder about how quality content is more important than ever in SEO.

The article (http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2164438/Google-Cracking-Down-on-Unnatural-Links-Deindexing-Blog-Networks?goback=%2Egde_102662_member_104140400) details how Google has once more fired a warning shot across the bows of what it considers are unethically optimized websites. In particular the focus here is upon automated link building practices.

Quick and the short of it – Google has started to “take down” placement value of several websites that it feels have employed any form of electronic or automatic (as they refer to it, “unnatural”) link building. As with most Google moves like this, it is reactive to what Google has decided in Google’s own world and it is up to the general public and Internet Marketers to de-engineer the cause of the raucous.

Automated link building has been used by thousands of businesses and web enterprises around the world for as long as the tools to perform that task have been available. Everyone who understands what is required to achieve great Google page ranking also understands that incoming links to a website are one of the more valuable assets. We also know that dozens and many times hundreds of links are nt going to achieve the level of rank increase desired; most times it takes thousands in a highly competitive market.

I’ve been selling the opportunity to build inbound links to my clients for years, and always with the caveat that the process we employ requires manual creation of the links, anchor text, and content. It is slow and, if considered for the level of links required competitively, sometimes quite expensive to build out enough links to add some real value for a client. It always pays off over time, but it is not quick, cheap, or easy. The advantage has always been that the quality of fewer well placed links far outweighs whatever value comes from quantities of poorly placed links, though now that “natural” advantage takes on new prominence.

In a world where headlines win out over material, instant beats out long-term, and quantity is more easily recognized than quality, it appears that Google is trying to take us all back to a more “refined” view of the written word. And while it might be a pain and somewhat annoyingly secretive how it is accomplished, the simple fact is that content remains king (or queen).

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The US Federal Trade Commission is trying to corner all of the good properties on the Monopoly board before Google can buy them up, metaphorically speaking.

Google’s latest expansion of its search algorithms to modify search results in favor of Google Plus tags is seen by many to be just one more step in guaranteeing that those who master Google’s own toolsets will be able to benefit most from Google search.

In a nutshell, the recent changes to Google rules with result in SERPS (search engine result pages) showing content based upon a combination of the searcher’s criteria and the activities of the social network (within Google’s world) of that searcher. If I have many friends and business associates related to me through Google+, and those social connections have preferences for particular entities or businesses relative to a search I am conducting on Google, those preferences will be a factor in my SERPS. You like funnypets.com (via a Google+ like), and you are in my Plus network, then funnypets.com becomes a more likely result for me in searches related to pets and fun.

This is all great in a world where the only type of searching you do is as part of a community. But how many of us really want to be influenced by others in what should be simple research? I mean, if my Google+ friend likes some really stupid websites, should those preferences play any role at all in my online search for related content? My friends on Google+ have their own preferences for many things that are part of my world; however, I can contact them directly if I want their input.

These Google+ influences on search bring us into a party-line mode of Internet search. For those of you who don’t know that reference, a party line used to be a situation whereby multiple people would have access to the same general circuit on the phone, thereby making it all too possible that someone else could accidentally or purposely listen in our your calls. I think most of us would agree that this is not a situation we would like to return as part of our phone networking, so why would we want to make it part of our online search?

As an Internet Marketer I have both this personal stake in what Google is doing and a very important business stake. How do I control the external influencers, the social networks, of my clients’ potential connections? Making yourself visible in a top position in Google search is hard enough. Trying to get a first page listing when you have this vast unknown of Google+ connections that are influencing the search results of people looking for your services or products will be many times harder.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not afraid of hard work. Don’t necessarily like it, but not afraid of it. Hard work will not overcome something over which I have no possible control. If Google decided that all SERPS would be presented in Russian by default, I could learn Russian and I could help my clients learn Russian no matter how difficult that might be (Это нет обвинительного акта русского языка!). Yet if Google decided that every time someone uses their search tool, Google would no longer pick the best public resources available for that search result but instead selected something only they could find, there is little I could do to control the results.

By the way, that is what they are doing.

No big conspiracy theories here. I hope the FTC can “guide” Google back to open search with a little prodding. Whether Google’s move is malicious or not, the end result is a more self-centered, niche world of search. People spend enough time now narrowing their filters on things they do, read, watch, listen to, or research; taking away the last opportunity for people to accidentally stumble upon someone else’s world view on the Internet may make us more comfortable in our own little cubicles, but it does nothing for expansiveness of thought.

The promise of the Internet has always been the free and unfettered access to information. If I want someone else’s opinion about what I want, I’ll ask them for it. Right now it’s more like that old saying: If I wanted your opinion, I’d give it to you.

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Let’s be honest with ourselves as businesspeople: are those Facebookers really your “friends” and to they really “like” your company? Are they following you on Twitter because you are the smartest and best of breed in your industry?

Hopefully the answer to those questions is a resounding YES! But like I suggested at the start – let’s be honest. You probably gave something away on Facebook that was liked, and the opportunity to get more stuff for free is why so many might be following you.

You tell your kids that they are great when they sometimes are simply mediocre at sports. Was your wife really beautiful that night at the party, or was that a little white lie to make her feel good? Were you really happy that your customer called, or was that closing “So glad we spoke” simply a way to put an upbeat ending to an otherwise painful conversation?

We run our businesses as well as we can, and if we are good we put extra effort into making sure our products or services are better than most. When we excel it is usually because we have kept our eyes on the ball and made sure our customers are not dissatisfied. As I have heard it said so perfectly before, we strive to suck less than our competitors.

That’s not a low bar I am setting. Rather it is simply a matter of truth in advertising. We are selected and kept by our customers because they find in us a value that goes beyond what we sell or do. You can’t really believe that you are the only one who could do what you do, nor should you be delusional in thinking that you are the very best in the entire world at doing it. You succeed because you convince your customers that you are the only one FOR THEM to do what you do, and you are the best FOR THEM at doing it.

The social lies you tell are not dishonest; they are comforting. In the world of Internet Marketing, we optimize for our clients on the basis of what searchers want to hear (okay, see really, unless we are talking video, but let’s not digress). If they want the “best garage door repair service” possible, then that is what you are when you optimize for the web. When someone is looking for “great French food”, it is the only food your restaurant serves on the Internet.

Those Facebook likes you want are going to come from something you offer that a user likes. Don’t be depressed because they really don’t like you or your business; it’s all going to be fine because you’re going to tell that “liker” that you think they are the best friend ever!

A social lie, but it’s okay.

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As of October 17th Google has put in place an interesting restriction to its Analytics tracking. When implemented, the folks at Google deemed it something of a protective feature to secure your rights as a Google searcher.

In a nutshell, if you have a Google account and you are logged into that account when you perform Google searches, Google will not “inform” on your search habits. The keywords you use in your search will be hidden from anyone using Google analytics, and the search term used will be captured as part of the overall group of “(not provided)”.

This is all part of the secure server processing (https) upgrade to Google. This restriction is only in place for organic search; Google still provides the details of keywords used for all paid searches, even if you are logged into your Google account when searching. That is pretty much a contradiction in security in and of itself, but more importantly other factors are troubling about this “feature”.

Google in its announcement of this new restriction touted it as something that would affect “only a minority of your traffic”. Call me an alarmist, but even with the limited number of accounts that I handle and analyze each month, several are already showing percentages higher than 8% of (not provided) keyword search. That is only in the span of a little more than a month since implementation of this code, and shows no signs of reducing itself as a percentage of organic searches in the future. I am almost always logged into my Google account at my office and home, so 100% of my searches are being logged as (not provided). How many more of “me” are there out there?

Next you have to ask yourself what kind of security is being provided. Security from research by others? Well, as I pointed out we can still find out about the paid side of keyword search. In addition, just because I am logged into my Google account (for access to Analytics for one thing!) does not mean I have opted to not reveal my search criteria. Finally, since there is no transparency available to the general public between keywords tracked and searchers who used them anyway, just what are they hiding and from who?

Search is a two-way street; there are the searchers and there are the searched. The searchers are trying to tie a keyword phrase to a product, service, event, or something that they want to find on the Internet. The searched are basically everyone who shows up as a result of those searches. Someone asked for you to show up and you did. Is there really an element of that process that needs to be undiscoverable?

I’m not talking about discovery of the searcher and searcher’s home and phone number here, simply the actual act of the search process itself. Even if I’m looking for porno and don’t want anyone to know it, it will never hurt for me to be accumulated as a statistical digit for the pornographer’s research.

We want the experience of Internet search to be simple, fast, and effective. Google claims to want the same thing for us, and yet here they have muddied the process itself by obscuring the very information businesses need to make decisions about how to help people in that search!

Google has made some blunders before and will in the future. So have all of the search engines and for that matter every business in existence. On balance this change will not destroy the search process nor end Google’s dominance in search. However, it is either an indication of a lack of research by Google in projecting the impact and/or usefulness of this change [read that as “stupid”], or it is something diabolical. Why stupid or diabolical? Well as with most large businesses, when a decision is made to do something that is totally anti-consumer despite intuitive analysis, it is usually one or the other (anyone remember bank debit card fees recently?).

I’m counting for stupid because I don’t like to try and imagine what this will cost us all if it is not.

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So here’s a question to ponder: how many times does a clock strike 12 each day?

Sometimes things so obvious to us as business owners. You’re in the business of selling children’s clothing, so your audience needs to have or know children, and needs to want to buy clothing for those children. Your company handles investment management? Obviously you want to talk to anyone who has some discretionary funds. Beauty Salon? Well, you need to speak to people who need their makeup or hair taken care of, right?

That at least is the business model that works in the brick and mortar world. Who’s walking into a children’s clothing store that has no connection to children? What kind of person goes to speak with an investment manager when they have no money to invest? Do women really go into a beauty salon when they are not ready for some personal attention?

Hey, but I don’t operate in the brick and mortar world. Search Engine Marketing by its very nature either exists entirely in the ether of the web, or integrates hard advertising into the Internet. While the purpose of Digital Marketing in many cases is to drive an audience towards a brick and mortar location, it is not confined to the physical rules of that location. And when you separate language from physical confines, you open the door to very significant changes in perception.

Which brings me back to my original question: How many times a day does a clock strike 12? The answers are 2, 24, and 26.

For an audience that thinks in analog, there is only one “12” on the face of a clock. Within 24 hours, the big hand of a clock sweeps to that number 24 times; once each for the striking of every hour, AM and PM. A purist (or an engineer) might argue that both the big hand and the little hand sweep past that “12” twice within the 24 hours of the day, hence the also-correct answer 26.

For those living in the digital world, the answers are also 24 and 26, but for a slightly different reason than for analog thinking. On a digital clock, the number 12 appears 26 times during a 24-hour period; twice at midnight and noon, and once for every hour of the day at 12 minutes past the hour.

So why 2? Simply put, the language of the question begs a unique thought process. We are trained to think of “the clock striking” as the time of a particular time of day. If we say “Meet me when the clock strikes 12”, no reasonable speaker of the English language would ever think to ask beyond the most basic “AM or PM?” As far as we all are concerned, based upon that phrasing of the question the clock only strikes 12 twice a day.

By that same thinking, our business owner examples might want to seriously consider the implications of search questions like “skiing outfit on sale”, or “inexpensive sports car”, or “halloween party supplies”. Try and put yourselves in the mindset of the audience that is searching, and imagine if perhaps as a children’s clothing store you might want to catch the eye of someone going on a skiing trip, especially if they have children who need warm clothes while on that trip. What if the person looking for an inexpensive sports car could be shown how to finance that car and save some money by a sharp investment manager? Does the Halloween partier want the makeup expertise of your beauty salon for an extra-special Halloween face?

It’s not really thinking out of the box. It’s more about making sure that you do not say “no” to a potential customer simply by not being visible in their search space. If you know your audience, then you will know their range of needs for your products or services. And then you will not no them.

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It might be what Miyagi (of Karate Kid fame) would say about online coupon success. From a recent study conducted by Cooper Murphy, the level of dissatisfaction with Groupon results is so high as to warrant an examination of the online coupon premise.

Groupon dissatisfaction graph
Who Loves You, Groupon?

With nearly 82% of all respondents to Cooper Murphy’s survey stating that they were not happy with their Groupon activity, it brings up the obvious question of “What gives?”

What makes this number so important is that the same survey indicated that only 35% of the Groupon users did not make money from the deal. That’s a full 65% of businesses who used a service that made them money with the vast majority of them stating that they were not happy with that same service!
The level of dissatisfaction can be traced almost entirely to the lack of sufficient repeat business from coupon users. The coupons bring them in, but in most cases that is the only reason the customers came at all. As a business owner you sell your service or products at sometimes severely discounted prices to attract customers, and end up with a business model that essentially sets your bottom line to 75% or less of your standard retail sales. You have successfully undersold your business.
This probably is not news to any business owner who has gone through tough times before anyone thought to turn to the Internet. There is a reason that you very seldom receive store coupons in the mail that offer discounts for all products with unlimited access – that model has proven over time to do what online coupons appear to be doing now; setting a permanent lower pricing model in the minds of the coupon users. If they were never a customer of yours before and the only reason they are trying you now is the lowered price, there needs to be some other incentive to bring them back.
Our economy has been stagnant for several years now. Because of this, a large number of consumers are reacting to the severe price slashing and continued discounting by businesses the way Pavlov’s dogs reacted to conditioning; we salivate only to the sound of a coupon. Groupon aids and extends this conditioning in ways that make it almost too easy for consumers to upset the buy/sell relationship. Having consumers with immediate access to multiple competitor discounts forces the hands of most businesses; either join or die.
This is not to say Groupon is bad, wrong, or a detriment to US economic growth. Far from it – Groupon is simply a result of the business need to gain customers quickly. It satisfies that need and when properly managed, certainly can be a very effective tool in that lead generation. But like any marketing tool, it needs to be a part of a grander scheme and not the only tool in the toolbox.
Repeat business is and has always been the result of consumer need and satisfaction. If you are selling the most desired product, there is little or no need to have discounts (think Apple). However, if you are like 99% of all other businesses you have regular and sometimes aggressive competition. You need to sort out what you can bring to the table for your customers that your competitors cannot, or at least convince those customers that this is the case.
The Internet has made life a lot easier in so many ways, but it does not improve common business sense by itself. By all means use the Internet to push those coupons and discounts and sales. Just do the math FIRST and make sure where the cutoff point is before you find yourself operating at a consistent loss due to a large growth in discount business.
Sell your expertise and support at a higher premium than your products and service. There can never be a coupon for that, and it is what will keep those first-time customers coming back once the sales are done.

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It’s lonely at the top and more and more businesses like it that way. According to a new study by the SEO company Slingshot, more than 43% of organic click-throughs come from the top 5 listings of organic results. While these results slightly conflict with those of other research over the past year, all studies of this click-through relationship seem to agree on one fact – a very high percentage of Internet searchers are using the websites they find on the first page of search results, and of those on the first page, a majority are primarily clicking through the first and second listings.

Statistically the largest number of Internet searchers use organic results over paid advertising (or PPC, sponsored search); that number is most often found to be about 80% to 85% of viewers. So what this comes down to is a probability of somewhere around 3 to 4 of every 10 Internet searchers who click through to a website are going to click to the top 5 results on a search page.

The study does not attempt to draw conclusions as to why the drop-off is so large after the top 5 (a mere 9% of click-throughs occur from the first page positions 6-10), nor why there is still significant traffic (about 48%) coming from page 2-3 results. It might be as simple as the laziness of using Next or Continue rather than scrolling down, so that the “above the fold” top 5 of each page is viewed rather than all 10 of each page – look at your smart phones!

Content-driven search results (what top organic results are most based upon) hold the key to obtaining these top organic positions; what this study also revealed was that the keyword phrases that had this type of high-ranking also provide additional leverage to long-tailed keyword phrases. If the keyword “ABC” ranks in the first page of Google results for your company, the phrase “ABC brown loafers” will score substantially better in search results than if “ABC” did not rank well.

Most of this information is intuitively obvious, at least to anyone who pays attention to search results at all. Higher placement in search results not only provides a direct link to you from searchers to their search phrase, it also builds out your brand reputation. When people are more likely to click on your link for those top 5 organic results, imagine how much psychological value it has to your company as you appear in those rankings for more and more terms. Your online reputation scores subliminally higher with each viewing of your company brand, and those top listings are getting the vast majority of those viewings.

Not to say there is no value in the lower page one rankings, or even page two – they account for most of that remaining 56%+ of those organic click-throughs after all. It’s simply a matter of ROI. Even that 15% of first page PPC results is a decent piece of the potential action.

If you want to have more traffic faster, the obvious way to achieve that is to dominate positioning in search results.  It always comes down to the simple questions of “How much is enough?” and “How soon is soon enough?”.

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