Google Puts Spotlight on Location with New Boost & Place Search

28 10 2010

This blog has certainly been no stranger to the importance of Google Places, its useful connection to AdWords, and the importance of building relevant citations to improve your local rankings.  Local search engine optimization is incredibly powerful for small businesses to increase their visibility online and foot-traffic to their brick and mortal locations.  Well Google just keeps on rolling, introducing two new features in the past two days that will place an even greater emphasis on Local SEO.

Place Search

Yesterday Google announced the release of Place Search, a new and easier way to find local businesses.  Before, searchers had to either look through the coveted 7-Pack above organic search results to find a Place listing, or click-through to Google Maps and compare listings along the left-hand side.  The new Place Search however, is a hybrid of the two:

  • The 7-pack is now gone and local results are now included in the main results section.
  • The results themselves are richer and include an image, description, address, phone number, Sitelinks, a brief review quote, and links to 3rd party review sites.
  • To the right of each listing is an average rating, number of reviews, and a link to its Place Page.
  • The results map is now displayed on the far right and floats along as you scroll up or down on the page.
  • Organic results are now pushed all the way to the bottom and only show 4-6 results instead.

Small Business Impact

These changes will most likely influence the way sites handle Local SEO.  Overall Place Search will make it even more important for small businesses to claim and fully optimize their Place Pages:

  • It is critical that you continue to seek reviews because these are highlighted the most on the new search results.  Get reviews not only for your Place Page, but 3rd party sites like Yelp and Citysearch as well.
  • Always be looking to build citations, especially relevant local websites in your area.
  • Ensure your site is optimized for your location and includes relevant keywords within the title tags, meta descriptions, and throughout content.
  • Because Sitelinks appear, be sure to access your site’s Google Webmaster Tools account and specify any pages you don’t want included (Google will generate Sitelinks automatically and exclude ones you specify).

Google Boost

On Monday, Google announced the testing of a new advertising solution specifically designed for Google Place Pages.  Boost is designed as a quick and easy way to create search ads right from their own Google Places account that will appear in the Sponsored Links section of either the main Google search page or Google Maps.  These ads can include the ever important NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number), average rating, and display the number of reviews you have received.  Boost ads will also be highlighted by a blue pin.

Google Boost

Boost ads will be easy to set up.  All you need is an ad description, a link to either your website or Place Page, relevant business categories, and a monthly budget.  Once the ad is complete, no ongoing management is required.  Google will optimize your budget for the most relevant keywords that can trigger the ad.  And just like AdWords, you only pay per click.  While this program is being tested only in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago, business owners can sign up to receive alerts of when it will be available in their area.

It is almost certain that Place Search will tie in with the new Boost solution, Google Tags for Place Pages, or even AdWords location extensions.  Put all these tools together and there is great potential for small businesses to reach out and find new customers.


PPC for the Holidays

22 10 2010

If you have already begun to implement the recommendations and holiday tips from John, in his SEO for the Holidays post, great work!  Because SEO and on-site optimization tactics have a longer timeframe before you can expect to see results (but it’s worth it, as in the end you’re not 100% reliant on paid clicks for your traffic and sales), it’s never too early to get started.  However, with the holiday season approaching, consider pairing your SEO strategy with a PPC one if you’re looking to gear up your holiday advertising presence more quickly.  PPC campaigns have a shorter ramp up cycle and can be created, launched and up and running in just a few hours.  Nevertheless, don’t let this fast track to results fool you, PPC campaigns need to be crafted just as strategically as SEO campaigns.  Especially, for the holidays.

While the holidays can be a huge source of income for retailers, you can never assume that consumers are more likely “pull the trigger” and buy because it’s the holiday season.  In fact, numerous studies including a 2010 Post-Holiday Consumer Study by Google, shows that the shopping cycle of average consumers is lengthening.  This means that your potential customers are doing a lot of research prior to purchase, even for lesser-priced items like cosmetics and pet supplies.

Holiday Tip: Keep the lengthening shopping cycle and consumer buying habits in mind, and ensure that your PPC strategy includes broad and specific keyword variations that your potential customer would use throughout their research and buying process.  This includes general keywords, long-tail keywords and branded or product specific keywords.

Research and Review before Getting Started

Before you launch your PPC campaign for the holidays, you should review holiday campaigns from the previous season to see what keywords, ads and landing pages performed the best.  This will give you a good baseline for creating a high performing campaign this year.  If you did not run a holiday campaign last year, don’t worry.  Do some competitive research and see what your competitors, similar retailers and stores are running successfully this year.  Then, use similar tactics when targeting keywords and writing ad text.

Holiday Tip: Don’t forget to schedule your launch dates and advertising messaging around nationwide sales days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas Day.  Online shoppers are out in droves, looking for deals and are ready to buy.

Create Ad Text that Speaks to your Customers

Use calls to action!  Don’t assume that your customers will do what you want them to do once they hit your site.  You will likely miss an opportunity to convert an undecided visitor into a sale.  It’s imperative that you give your potential customers a purpose and a reason to buy from you.  This includes highlighting your holiday specials, promotions and product value propositions for them.  And, based on your research, make sure that your ad headlines and copy include keywords that users are searching on, as these terms will be bolded in the search results and help draw a user’s eye to your ad.

Take a look at the ads below, the ad on the left is compelling a user to shop, and giving them a good reason to do so (i.e. Huge Sale and Free Shipping).  The ad on the left has done a good job at utilizing appropriate keywords, but does not include a call to action, enticing the user to click on their ad versus the competitors’ ad.  While first impressions can gain or lose potential shoppers, to generate a successful holiday PPC campaign it’s important for your ad to stand out from the crowd.


Holiday Tip: To get your ads to stand out from the crowd even further, consider adding convenience features such as Google Checkout or utilizing AdWords Sitelinks or AdWords Product Extensions through Google Merchant Center to display eye-catching imagery along with your sponsored text ad.  And, don’t forget to test your ads!

Use Targeted Landing Pages

Once you’ve captured your potential customer’s click, what’s next?  Your messaging has done its job, but the user experience has just begun.  To improve your chances of converting your visitor, their experience upon landing on your site must align with their expectations and provide them with the tools and content needed for them to buy.  Now, it’s up to your landing page strategy and conversion funnel to close the deal.

The content on your landing pages should align with the promotions and keywords in your ads and ad groups.  Prominent “Buy Now” or “Shop Now” buttons should be used to grab the visitor’s attention immediately.  Simplify their navigation options on the page and make their path to conversion easy.  And, don’t forget to include relevant imagery that aligns with what the user was expecting to find by clicking on your ad.


Holiday Tip: Use your landing pages as an opportunity to merchandise by recommending other items that pair well with the product they’re considering buying.  This improves the potential to increase the final order value and drive additional revenue for related items.  FInally, don’t forget to test your landing pages!

For an immediate online presence during the holidays, PPC advertising can extend your visibility quickly through targeted keywords and strategic holiday messaging throughout your potential customer’s research and buying process (helping them choose to buy from you versus a competitor).  However, before you throw budget at a PPC campaign for the holidays, make sure you’re planning ahead and have time to optimize key elements properly, to ensure that you generate the sales revenue you’re seeking.  By utilizing the PPC best practices outlined above, you will be well on your way towards getting in front of your target audience when they’re looking for what you offer and converting them into holiday sales.  Cha-ching!

Add Visual Context with Google’s New In-Page Analytics View

15 10 2010

Google has just released a new feature in beta that provides better visual context to your site’s analytics – appropriately named In-Page Analytics.  With this new features, you will be able to see a bubble over every link on your site.  Each bubble shows the percentage of clicks that each link receives when visitors view any given page, but hover your cursor over each bubble and you’ll get even more statistics.

In-Page Analytics View

This type of visual context within Google Analytics is nothing new but the previous product, Site Overlay, was limited in its capabilities.  Now, webmaster have a much easier way to see how users are navigating about the site.  It can be a great way to find under-performing links and test new strategies to generate more attention there, like a new call-to-action for example.   Google is hoping to expand In-Page Analytics in the future and continue to make Analytics a powerful platform for any website owner.  In-Page Analytics can be accessed from the Content section of your account and Google offers a great walk through video on its official blog.

Formic Media Seminar Series: Social Media Fundamentals

15 10 2010
We all are well aware how much social media has grown over the past several years. Facebook is now reporting over 400 million users, Twitter has said there are 50 million tweets per day, which breaks down to roughly 600 per second; sites like Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and Loopt are hitting the scene in terms of location-based social media platforms. Everywhere we look we see social media playing a role. Maybe it’s a TV ad for Best Buy showing Facebook and Twitter icons, or a local restaurant offering a deal to the Mayor on Foursquare. If you’re online, you can’t escape social media. So, as a business, how are you taking advantage of these tools to help extend your brand and messaging? Attend Formic Media’s Free Seminar Series to learn how these tools and platforms can help transcend your business. The Formic team will discuss individual social media sites, tools, SEO benefits and more. Come join us.

Join us for this must attend event. Visit our website for more details, and sign up now as space is limited.

When: November 10th, 2010

Time: 5:30 – 7pm

Cost: FREE

Where: 300 NE Failing St., Portland, OR, 97212


SEO for the Holidays

14 10 2010

The holidays are coming. Scary thought, huh? If you’re an online retailer you should be looking forward to this time of year. For many businesses it represents up to 70%, or even 80% or 90% of their yearly sales. If you’re scared, that might mean you’re not entirely prepared. Well, I’d like to help ensure you are prepared, at least from a search engine optimization perspective.

Whether you’re an online retailer or a small brick & mortar shop down the street, your online presence is vital to your business success both during the holidays, as well as during non-peak times. Follow these tactics and you’ll give yourself a good base (keep in mind, there are other tactics, like link development, that play an even larger role in organic rankings than optimizing your website).

Let’s start with what a user sees first. Before they even hit your site they’ll most likely do a search for a specific keyword or phrase, which will return a set of search results. The user will see a website’s title tag and meta description before they even interact with your site/brand. Another thing to keep in mind is the keyword they search for; this generally depends on where they are at in their buying cycle. If they use a very broad keyword, like say, “digital camera”, they are in a very different place than someone who searches for “nikon d3000 digital slr camera”. You need to try to capture the user at any and all stages of the buying cycle. By optimizing for keywords throughout the buying cycle, it will help ensure the user lands on the most appropriate webpage if they click on your search result.

Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

Here are examples of a title/meta tag for the two keyword phrase examples I provided above. The top example is the very broad “digital camera” search, while the bottom is the more specific, product search.

The strategy above is to optimize your category level pages for the broader keywords, and the more specific product keyword phrases should be used at the product level pages. This follows the natural hierarchy of a site too. A website’s content should start out somewhat general, then get more focused as a user digs deeper into the site.

Holiday Tip: Be sure to update your title and meta tags to highlight special offers/deals. Remember though, you still need to incorporate the targeted keywords into the title and meta tags in order to rank.

SEO-Friendly URLs

URLs are a very good indicator as to what type of content is on a webpage. Utilizing keyword-rich URLs will go along way in helping your site, or a specific page, rank. Updating your URLs isn’t the simplest task, but if you’re willing to put in the hours to make it happen, it can pay off immensely. If you do update your URLs, make sure you utilize the 301 redirect to make sure all of your old, indexed URLs are redirecting to the new URLs. I would also recommend updating your XML sitemap and submitting to Google Webmaster Tools as well.

Here is an example of a good vs. bad URL.

The bottom example’s URL is being pulled from a database, which is why you see “?Item=N82E16830113222”. This URL tells the search engine absolutely nothing about what’s on the page, where as the top example contains multiple keywords within the URL.

Holiday Tip: It’s a little more difficult to get holiday specific with your URLs, unless you create content around things like: gift ideas, holiday bestsellers, etc., which is a great strategy.

Optimize Product Descriptions

Ranking for broad keywords, when a user is in the research phase is important, however, these keywords don’t generally convert. The keywords that really convert are the product-level keywords. The phrases people are searching for after they’ve done their research and itching to pull the trigger and make the purchase. It’s your job as an online retailer to help them do that. You need to make sure your product descriptions are properly optimized.

Notice the headline in this particular example. It’s extremely specific and will most likely rank for a number of variations of keyword phrases. You can see, I’ve highlighted all of the instances of the specific key words in the description. Notice they don’t go overboard using the same phrase over and over. That’s a misnomer of SEO. The engines are smart enough to understand what a page is about as long as you utilize the individual keywords throughout the copy. You only need to use the actual phrase once or twice on the page itself (remember, you’re using them in the title/meta, which users don’t see when on a page).

Holiday Tip: Update your product descriptions to include promotional offers, reviews, strong calls to action. When users hit these pages, they may just be ready to pull the trigger and purchase. Make sure you give them every opportunity to do so.

Optimize Product Images

Google’s universal search has had a huge impact on how images play a role in optimization. It’s now more important than ever to ensure your images are properly optimized, especially for your products. Take a look at how to properly optimize an image.

First you need to make sure your the image file name contains keywords, as this is yet another signal to Google. The top example includes specific product keywords in the file name, whereas the bottom example contains numbers that give the engines zero information.

Another aspect of an image you must pay attention to is the Alt text. Alt text is the phrase or description that pops up as you mouse over an image. Search engines can read this text, and including keywords in the Alt text can help the images rank.

Notice the lack of messaging or keywords in the top example? The bottom example provides a plethora of information about the product, which may help this particular image rank in Google’s Universal Search and drive additional visitors directly to the product page.

Holiday Tip: Make sure to get all of your products into shopping feeds (i.e. Google Merchant, Shopzilla, etc) as the images may appear in the right column, along with the PPC/Sponsored ads.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, optimizing your site really only half the batter. Once your site is optimized, a strong link development campaign is necessary. That, my friends, is a post for another day. If you have any questions or comments regarding the above tips, please do so in the comments. I know it’s early to start thinking about the holidays, but online retailers can’t afford to wait.

5 simple fixes to Optimize your website

1 10 2010

Search Engine Optimization can be a long process that can take quite a bit of time and effort from professionals to accomplish meaningful results. That said, there are a few ways for you to gain results with minimal time and knowledge. Here’s a list of 5 simple and quick fixes that can help you boost your search rankings.

  • Optimize your Title Tags
    • By Inserting specific keywords in your page title tags, you can instantly rank higher.  If you are in a field or profession where these keywords are oversaturated, this will be just one of many things you should be doing.
    • To do this you simply need to place them within your code between the <title> tags.
  • Include your address on your site
    • By doing this you can help boost your rankings in Google Maps.
  • Insert keyword specific anchor text
    • Google takes anchor text into consideration when ranking search results.  These will not make or break your site like title tags can, but they can put you over the top if you are in a market with other well optimized sites.
    • To do this simply find a keyword you want to optimize, ie. Search Engine Optimization.  In your code you would wrap this with <a href=”THE URL YOU WANT IT TO GO TO”>Search Engine Optimization</a>
  • Write Good Content…often
    • Search Engines love dynamic content.  An active blog or news page that hosts compelling content is a great way to draw in visitors and ultimately boost your search results.  Submitting these articles to sites like digg, sphinn, reddit, etc. can further your cause.
  • Build  Up quality links
    • This isn’t necessarily “Quick”, but it can be painless if you pace yourself.  Linking building equates to 70% of SEO efforts.  By building quality links over time you can dramatically influence your search rankings.

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