Google May Finally Have Social Legs with Google+

30 06 2011

google plus

Tuesday was a big day for Google.  The long anticipated social network from Google, speculated and leaked for the past year on all the major tech blogs, finally made its debut.  Google+ is the latest effort by the search giant to gain a foothold in the space currently dominated by Facebook.  Google’s previous attempts with Wave (lots of potential but too buggy and slow) and Buzz (failed from the start with privacy concerns) were utter failures.  This time, there is an entire set of products within the service, each designed to bring social connections to Google in different ways:

  • Google+ Circles: At the heart of Google+ is Circles.  To counter the Facebook and Twitter philosophy of openness, Google+ users have to group their contacts into specific circles right from start.  Twitter does have Lists, but they’re optional, and Facebook makes grouping friends too complicated. Plus, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks Facebook users just don’t want to do that.  From initial accounts, Circles are easy to set up with drag-and-drop and attractive animations.
  • Google+ Stream: Your home base will be the Stream.  But it’s not much different from the Twitter feed or Facebook Newsfeed.
  • Google+ Sparks: Sparks is a topical search engine, where users can find content (blogs, videos, etc) on theirinterests in one central location.  Users can bookmark their favorite items, share with friends, and comment as well.
  • Google+ Hangouts: The first truly unique feature to Google+ that could really give it a leg up on competition is Hangouts.  It’s essentially an open-ended group video chat that friends in your Circle can join at anytime they see a Hangout happening.  Whoever is talking, Hangouts will automatically make their window the biggest.  Friends can also share content with each other during the chat.
  • Google+ Huddle: The other big feature that could help grow Google+ is Huddle, a group-messaging feature that spans Android, iOS, and SMS.  Blackberry’s BBM users are very familiar with group messaging and the latest version of iOS (5) will also have a similar messaging feature.
  • Instant Upload: Using the Google+ Android app, users can upload photos or videos quickly to their Google+ Stream.  But oddly enough, photos uploaded here are not uploaded to Picasa, the major Google photo service.
  • Location: Users can check-in to Places and geo-tag their updates.

Pretty much all the tech blogs got an early invite.  These first looks have included positive reactions, talk about ease of use, and eye-catching aesthetics.  People like this latest social effort and want to keep coming back.  However, Google is being very cautious right now, insisting on calling it a “project” and not a finished “product”.  It’s in a very limited test run, and invites are slowly rolling out.  Whether Google+ outlives Wave or Buzz is yet to be determined, but it looks like for now Google finally has a social product to build and nurture.  We’re certainly excited to test it out, but if you’ve have been lucky enough to get one, give us your take.  What do you think of Google+ ?





Small Businesses are Going Mobile

28 06 2011

There is so much talk about mobile these days, which is one topic I am particularly interested in.  Combine that with our client focus towards SMBs, this recent infographic stood out.  Titled “How Small Businesses Rely on Mobile“, it breaks down how SMBs are utilizing their phones from motivations, top markets, and more.

smb mobile use

One particular stat stood out to me because it’s a valid question we get from clients sometime.  As a SMB owner with daily operations to worry about, how do they find time to conduct social media marketing?  Where do they find the time to sit down at their computer to tweet, post videos, or interact with Facebook fans?  Well based off the stats above, the second most popular use of mobile phones by SMB owners is for social media.  It’s hard to find excuses these days for not participating in social media.  Use a team of employees, use the latest tools that allow a centralized dashboard of all your profiles (update from one location, schedule many updates in advance, etc), and use your phone.  Post while waiting in line somewhere or post while on public transportation.  With the continued rise of smart phones, I would expect that 26% to increase.





How To Discover If Your Website Content Has Been Stolen [Case Study]

18 05 2011

With the recent Google Panda/Farmer updates continuing to roll out, the focus for search engine marketing efforts is now to create unique content.  It’s not all about having sound code, the perfectly optimized title, and alt tags on your images (although those are still very important).  You also have to have great content that’s original and helps your visitors – content that will keep them coming back (hopefully buy whatever you’re selling) and even share it on major social media networks.

But sometimes website owners are too busy to create that content themselves and end up using copy writers and free lancers for help.  While this is perfectly fine, you still want to ensure that your content is original.  Many of the websites negatively affected just scraped content from other sites and republished it.  In one of our first tool reviews ever, we’re taking a look at one tool that can help you verify how original content is - Un.Co.Ver.  This free desktop tool from TextBroker allows you to check for content and copyright infringement on a single URL, entire website, or manually entered text:


After you’ve entered in your source, Uncover checks that content against millions of websites for duplications.  In return, you’ll see a percentage of words that matches your source – the higher the number the more your content has been copied:

uncover tool results

In our testing, this tool worked so well we actually discovered someone stealing 54.4% of the Formic Media website.  Take a look at the first result in the screenshot above…a jemcintosh.com has 204 copied words and a 54.4% match. We found that quite extreme, given that we knew the other sites in the list were okay.  Already a little concerned, we took a closer look at Mr. James E. McIntosh’s site and discovered something even worse:

Notice a resemblance?

Now let’s see just where exactly we’ve been aggrieved:

  • Aside from the glaringly similar design (changing everything to blue doesn’t make it unique), the image slider at the top rotates in pieces exactly like ours,
  • The text under “Social Media Marketing” and “Website Design” actually links to our Website Design page,
  • The icons, which our designer worked tirelessly to create, still show a little of our orange behind the blue,
  • And on his “Social Media Marketing” page, he forgot to remove our name completely.

If you’re going to copy our site, at least do it well.  It appears as if all they did was copy our source code (which explains the links still pointing to our site).  The image slider loads way off-center, there are a lot of broken links, and the social media icons at the top link to brand new profiles that don’t have any content. Now our initial reaction was to broadcast to the whole world about getting ripped off, but we contacted Mr. McIntosh first and asked him to take down the current version or pay a licensing fee because of the copyright.  With no answer after a follow-up email and 6 full days, there is still a nearly duplicate site live (it now appears that the site has been taken down). The website is now up again, this time with his own name misspelled.

We shared Uncover with you in hopes that others might discover similar rip offs and take appropriate action.  We’re still waiting the hear from Mr. McIntosh, so in the meantime we would love to see if this has happened to anyone else.  Have you ever had your site or content stolen?





Yahoo Launches Google Instant Competitor – Search Direct

24 03 2011

Yesterday, Yahoo launched a new product called Search Direct – their answer to Google’s Instant Search.  Start typing at search.yahoo.com and a small widget-like box slides down, providing you with “search results as fast as a person types, character by character, and presents those results dynamically, generating a fast, simple search experience that goes beyond a list of blue links.”  And that’s the distinction Yahoo is trying to make with Search Direct, that they can provide “answers” and not an overwhelming blue links.

Just for the sake of argument, I tested Search Direct versus Google Instant Search.  Not surprising, Google came out ahead.  Using the same browser and not logged in to any accounts, it took me the full search for “weather 97212″ to pull up today’s weather near our office here in Portland, Oregon.  Over at Google, all it took was a simple “w”.  Yahoo may try to spin it as a confusing mess of blue links, but Google has continually evolved rich results to include weather, local sports scores, and more.

yahoo search direct

Yahoo Search Direct

Versus

 

google instant search

Google Instant Search

Now that’s not to say Yahoo Search Direct won’t be a useful product.  First, the Search Direct box is the only thing that updates versus an entire page on Google.  So in theory results can be shown faster.  And currently, Yahoo is displaying results for about 15 different categories including sports, music, celebrities, shopping and local.  Yahoo also revealed that they are considering monetizing the Search Direct box by allowing advertisers to display images or videos on the right-hand side of the search box.

If you are a small business owner that falls within one of those categories (the Local category would be an obvious choice!), it’s another reason to make sure your site is optimized and even enhanced for elements like Rich Snippets. One example would be to format your brick-and-motor’s address in hCard so search engines can easily find your location.  Yahoo Search Direct also gives you another tool for keyword research.  You’ll be able to see some of the most popular results and identify new keywords to target in SEO or PPC.

How do you think Yahoo Search Direct will stack up against Google Instant Search?  Has your site appeared in the results?  Drop a comment and let us know!





Google Social Search Evolves Again

17 02 2011

The days where everyone using Google sees the same 10 search results for a particular keyword have slowly passed us by.  Google has managed to integrate video, image, and product information in the search engine results page (SERP) over the past few years. Local search results through Google Places and products like Google Boost have had a huge influence for our clients.  And in 2009, Google introduced Social Search to the world.  If you were logged in to your Google account and scrolled down to the bottom of the SERP, you would see how your social connections related to that search query, whether it be a shared link or blog post of theirs.

Well just this morning Google announced they are pushing the search results envelope even further.  Now, social search results will be mixed in the main organic section based on relevance.  These social results don’t just appear when you friend on Twitter coincidentally shared the same article that’s in the #1 spot.  According to Google’s Product Management Director of Search Mike Cassidy, these social connections may actually influence the rankings you see in Google.

Google Social Search

The other major difference was that with the old version of Social Search, you only saw results from your social network only when they created or shared something through their Google profile.  Now Google can match up information from your friends on Twitter, Flickr, Quora and potentially even more in the future.  This creates an even greater potentially for each and every Google user to have their own unique SERP.  Facebook is the one major platform that is not included in this announcement and Cassidy was a little more vague on. However, Facebook is Bing’s territory and search results there can be influenced by your Facebook friends.

So where does this leave small business and site owners?  We’ve always believed that social networks like Twitter and Facebook can be valuable tools when you listen to your audience and create genuine relationships, not spammy sales pitches every hour. Providing valuable content and interactions with your audience now have the greater potential to affect their search results.  Plus, it sounds like Google has algorithms for these search results to weed out overtly spam content too.  The news today reminds us that you shouldn’t obsess over being #1 for all your relevant keywords, as we all now know everyone’s search results can be drastically different.  Instead, try to focus on your bottom line – driving qualified traffic that will interact with your site and convert well.

Do you like what Google is doing with Social Search?  Tell us your thoughts below.





Lessons From JC Penney’s Black Hat Controversy

14 02 2011

The New York Times on Saturday published an in-depth investigative report about retail company J.C. Penney’s seemingly amazing organic search results. For a wide variety of product category keywords, JC Penney was appearing number 1 in the organic results area.  It was even besting some websites of product manufacturers.  And all of this was happening during the holiday season, which is one of the most important times for online retailers.

Unfortunately, not all was as it seemed.  With the help of a SEO firm, the Times discovered that the Penney website was benefiting from a black-hat paid link scheme.  Many of the links were coming from unrelated, “spammy” sites with just the perfect anchor text.   Penney is denying they had any knowledge and has since fired their SEO firm SearchDex, and some of the links appeared to have been created through a site called TNX.net.  The scheme is probably more complex than what the Times discovered, but it’s a great reminder for small business website owners to be more proactive and diligent in their online efforts:

  • If you’re completely new the concept of SEO, read through Google’s own beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimization.  It contains all the basics including how to promote your site the right way.
  • Conduct white-hat link development methods including valuable content creation (so people will naturally want to link to it), niche directory submission, press release optimization, or article marketing.
  • Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools.  Use it to track how search engines are viewing your site and see inbound links pointing to your site.  Bing also offers a similar product, and both are essential in proactive site management.
  • If a SEO agency handles your optimization efforts or are looking for one, be sure that they are credible and transparent with their link building efforts.  If it’s true that JC Penney didn’t know SearchDex was participating in black-hat efforts, then they didn’t do their due diligence.

Another reason to stay pro-active in your site and monitoring inbound links, is that it’s plausible that your competitors could sign up for these spam link schemes and send the links directly to your site.  If your site is caught and penalized like JC Penney, your competitors come out on top.  According to the article, on Feb. 1 JC Penney has an average organic ranking of 1.3.  On February 8 it was down to average position 4, and just 2 days later it was 52 (6 pages deep in Google’s search results!).  Large, multi-national companies have other revenue streams that could make up for penalized search results for a while.  But for small businesses owners, oversights like that could lead to huge ramifications.





Google Boost Gets Its Launch

25 01 2011

Back in October we took a look at announcements about Place Search and Google Boost, and the impact they could potentially have on small businesses.  While it was initially rolled out to a few select cities, Google has just revealed today that Boost ads will now appear in search results across all U.S. cities to select businesses.  By logging in to your Google Places account, you can see if you are eligible.

Once you log-in, there is a very simple process to creating your ads – you write the ad description, destination page, select which categories you would like to appear, and set a budget.  If you already have an AdWords account, Google can find billing information already on file.  Here is what a sample ad looks like:

Google Boost

Image from Google.

Boost ads will appear in Google and Google Maps search results, and can access important performance data in the same Places dashboard you currently have.  Also revealed today was that Google Boost ads will show up in mobile searches for iPhone and Android phones, greatly expanding your potential reach.








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