7 SEM Trends for 2011

8 02 2011

After spending the last month reading list after list making SEM predictions for 2011 I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.  When you truly look at predicting anything, the best case scenario is you’re right and the worst case scenario, well at least you made an effort.  So, without further ado, here are my top 7 SEM predictions for 2011:

1.  Above the Fold Content Becomes Less Crucial

One of the biggest things to take away from the infographic craze is that users are willing to scroll if you have engaging content.  Virtually every mouse has a scroll feature; create amazing content so I want to use it.



2.  HTML5 and CSS3 Will Begin to Go Mainstream

The general population is afraid of change.  Most tech people are early adopters and embrace change.  Now we just need the people building sites for clients that are still using IE6 to let them do it the right way.  Listen to Smashing and start using HTML 5 and CSS3 today.

3.  The Death of Foursquare: As big players integrate location-based services better, the smaller pioneers will fade.

Let me start by saying I’ve never been into letting people know where I’m at so they can go to my house and kidnap my dog while I’m out drinking.  Therefore, I may not be the authority on any this issue.  However, I do hate having to juggle four different apps in order to let everyone know what I’m having for dinner, where I’m having it, that I just became the Mayor and that I checked in to save 20% on appetizers.

4.  Google’s Disdain for RSS Will Continue to Grow

With rumors already swirling about Google moving resources away from Google Reader, it’s likely that support for RSS will fade overall.  Personally, I used to be into RSS as it’s an excellent way to keep abreast to the latest news and industry blogs, however that all went away when Twitter became my professional social vehicle and Facebook became my personal social vehicle.  Using Twitter and using it right helps to filter out all the fluff and only read content that is valued by people who know more than I do.

5.   Blekko Will Become an Important FREE Tool for SEO Professionals

Blekko has already made efforts to supply SEO data to users.  I think the next step in the process is to allow the data to be exported and manipulated.  Stay Tuned…

6.  Local Search Will Drive More Customers to Brick & Mortar Stores

Yelp reported that in December of 2010 35% of all searches on Yelp.com came from a mobile app. Please take into account that this number doesn’t even include the people who go directly to the site through their mobile browser instead of using the app.  People are searching locally and on the go because they want to spend locally.  Looking at Google’s shift towards local content only reinforces the fact.

7.  Customer Reviews Will Take Center Stage

One of the biggest obstacles working with companies that are just now jumping on the local bandwagon is that it’s difficult to get an influx of reviews.  As local businesses begin to optimize for local search, expect to be asked to review a business more and more as you’re walking out the door with your lunch.

In the end, there were a million different predictions I could have thrown out there. Check back next year and we’ll see how I did.

 

What are your thoughts/predictions for 2011 and beyond?





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.





Is Groupon a Small Business Killer?

17 09 2010

I recently read a blog post from the owner of my favorite coffee shop, Posies Cafe in North Portland. It was a blog post explaining how Groupon nearly put them out of business. The owner explains the entire process, from the call with the Groupon rep, all the way to her experience of turning down a loyal customer’s Groupon. The owner had hesitations, but knew Groupon has been the Internet darling as its traffic, subscribers and revenue have skyrocketed over the past year. And the recent press it has received about the Gap deal has really put them on the map (if they weren’t already). So, I can see why a business owner would fall victim to the hype. Thanks for telling your story, I’m hoping it helps other small businesses not fall into the same trap.

So, is Groupon right for your business? That’s a tough question to answer, and one I’m not going to attempt for you. What I will do is provide thinking points for you. Ponder these. If you decide to use Groupon, make sure you’re prepared and understand what could happen, both good and bad.

The Pitfalls of Using Groupon

The downside to using Groupon (or any deal site for that matter) can be huge, per the above story or this story of a NYC smoothie shop owner’s experience. Let’s take a look at what these downfalls consist of:

  • Heavy Response – Groupon can drive tons of foot traffic to your store, which most small businesses are not prepared for. A sudden surge in customers waiting at your counter or banging down your door when you’re not prepared can only spell disaster. If you’re a business that takes appointments, you’ll feel the same effects through your phones. Both situations will inevitably lead to bad customer service.
  • Lack of Follow Up Opportunities – The only way Groupon can really work for a small business is to drive repeat customers. Businesses take such a hit (lose revenue, see next bullet point) when doing these deal sites that the only way to recoup the  loss is to get these customers back in the store (customers that most likely wouldn’t have ever visited your establishment without the Groupon). Amazingly, no, shockingly, Groupon does not provide any customer data of those that purchase the deal. Not a single email address. That makes it really difficult for stores to follow up to get these folks back in their business.
  • Economics Don’t Pan Out – Any way you slice and dice it, the economics just don’t pan out. Let’s do some simple math. If you sell a product for $100, and your margins are 50%, you make $50. If you do a Groupon deal and offer a 50% discount off of the $100 product, the customer is now getting a $100 product for $50. Your margins remain the same at $50, so you’re breaking even at this point. We’re not done though. Groupon will take 50% of the deal price, which would be $25. You keep $25. So, in this example you’re losing $25 on every Groupon that is redeemed. It just doesn’t pan out.

The Positives

There can be some positive aspects that come from using Groupon. As a small business owner though, you must still be careful of the pitfalls I mentioned above.

  • “Affordable” Advertising – Groupon has over 13 million subscribers, and with all of the recent press they’ve received for the Gap deal they’re bound to obtain even more. With that many eyeballs, and the “free” advertising a business receives (you don’t pay to have Groupon promote your deal on their site) you can gain excellent visibility and generate awareness to folks who may have never found you.
  • Effective Sales Generation – If a business is prepared, Groupon can be an effective sales machine. The deals can drive hundreds, if not thousands, of new customers, and if you have the appropriate systems (staff, lead capture, etc) set up, Groupon can be a goldmine.

The way I see it, there aren’t that many positives for a business. The customers are the ones winning with these deals, and they don’t always win either (due to poor service, waiting weeks to get an appt, etc). If you do decide to use Groupon, I want to leave you with some tips in the hopes that your deal works for you. I want to make sure you think about how this could destroy your business before you make your choice. Don’t be put out of business because of a bad decision, and an apparently aggressive sales team that’s not thinking about the businesses themselves (see the Posies story above).

  • Do the Math – make sure you do the math to see if running a deal on Groupon will work for you. You know your margins, overhead, etc, make sure you look at all of this and understand what you can afford, and what you can’t. You have to at least break even in order for this to make any sense at all.
  • Staff Up – You must ensure you have the appropriate staff available to answer questions, take orders, serve, etc. When your business is suddenly hit by a swarm of hungry customers, you need to have a plan in place to deal with them. If you don’t, many customers will leave angry. A customer with a bad experience will tell 10x the amount of people than a person with a positive experience.
  • Customer Retention – It is imperative, for Groupon to work for you, that you capture email addresses so you can use remarketing tactics on these customers at a later date. More than likely, these are one-time customers (maybe 1 out 5 will return, maybe), unless you are able to follow up with additional messaging to get them back into the store. These customers need to come back several times just to make up for the loss you incurred on their Groupon deal alone.

OK, so there you have it. I’ve laid out many pitfalls, some positives and now tips for determining if Groupon is right for your business. In the end you’re trying to grow your business, not drive it into the ground. Don’t jump on the bandwagon just because deal services are the internet darlings of today.

Has your small business used Groupon or any other deal site? If so, I’d love to hear your experience.





Latest Version of AdWords Editor Released

3 09 2010

As discussed last week in the post on AdWords’ latest update to their location extensions, I mentioned that regrettably, AdWords Editor did not yet support location extensions (but hinted they would be upgrading shortly).  To manage location extensions, advertisers still needed to configure and update them through the AdWords interface.  Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long.  Google has just announced their release of the latest version of Editor 8.0.1, which supports location extensions.  Fabulous!

Other nifty new features include (read more from Google):

  • Collapsible and expandable panels
  • Progress bars for lengthy tasks
  • Easier linkage to My Client Center (MCC) accounts
  • Support for campaigns using target CPA and enhanced CPC bidding
  • More helpful error messages

If you’re not already using AdWords Editor to manage and configure your accounts, download it here!  Otherwise, the next time you login, you will be automatically prompted to upgrade to the newest version.





AdWords Location Extensions Get a Makeover for Multiple Locations

25 08 2010

Google recently introduced its newest upgrade to the location extensions feature, in a makeover that allows advertisers to showcase multiple business locations beneath their sponsored listing, within a relevant area.  For local businesses running paid search campaigns, this feature extends the capability of a sponsored listing to include up to four nearby business locations shown on a Google map alongside their PPC ad and gives searchers the ability to search for the location nearest to their address (within that paid ad).  This upgrade comes as an improvement to last year’s debut of the first generation location extension feature, which allowed advertisers to dynamically attach just a single business address to their paid ads using location extensions (note: location extensions replaced the previous “local business ads”).

In short, location extensions enhance a typical PPC text ad beyond the traditional two lines of ad copy and headline.  Here are the key features that benefit local businesses tremendously:

  • Enhances a text ad with relevant and nearby location information (business address, phone number, option to get directions).
  • Grabs additional top-of-the-page real estate (adds a Google map and multiple locations below the text ad, which is fantastic if the current Google Place Page is not ranking in the local 7-pack).
  • Business location results update dynamically when a user searches for locations near their specific address.
    • For larger companies with a high volume of locations, be cognizant when utilizing location extensions (currently limited to the four most relevant locations) as it may result in an uneven display of store locations.
    • Potential to improve CTR (click through rate), based on additional, eye-grabbing location information.
    • In certain instances, location extension ads can be displayed on the Search Network, Display Network and on Google Maps.

Take the search query “seattle moving company” for example, which returns the following result, shown in figure 1.  By searching for locations closest to a specific address, the paid listing dynamically updates to also show the nearby Tacoma location (with the ability to show up to four locations, if a local business has that many).  There is no additional fee, and an advertiser only pays for the click, based on the typical CPC bidding through AdWords.

Figure 1: AdWords Location Extensions for Multiple Locations

AdWords location extensions for multiple=

AdWords location extensions for multiple locations

And, if your ad is not capturing the first position, don’t worry.  By utilizing location extensions your ad can still look like figure 2, where the most relevant business address is dynamically attached to the bottom of your text ad.

Figure 2: AdWords Location Extensions for an ad not in the #1 position

AdWords location extensions

AdWords location extensions

How to Implement Location Extensions in your AdWords Account:

AdWords gives local advertisers the option to automatically (business owners only) or manually include business locations in ads.  To automatically include information, you must be a business owner.  This allows you to link your existing Google Places account to your AdWords account to populate your local extensions.  If you are not a business owner, you have the option to manually enter business location information for your location extensions through the AdWords interface.  Follow these easy steps from Google (shown below) to implement location extensions in your AdWords account:

  • Sign in to your AdWords account.
  • Click the campaign you want to edit.
  • Click the Settings tab for that campaign.
  • Under Ad extensions > Locations, select one of the following options:
    • Business owners – Use addresses from Google Places: Select this option to link an existing Google Places account to your campaign. Eligible addresses from your Google Places account may be shown with your ad when relevant.
    • Non-business owners – Use manually entered addresses: You can manually enter up to 9 business addresses. Again, the address may be shown with your ad when relevant.
  • Click Save settings.

And finally, Google has hinted that they will soon be adding a feature to AdWords Editor to support location extensions.  However, for now advertisers have to stick with editing and managing location extensions through the new AdWords interface.





Facebook Places, the Growing Check-In Culture, and Small Business

23 08 2010

Last week, Facebook debuted its newest and highly anticipated location-based product – Facebook Places.  Much like Foursquare, Yelp and others, Facebook Places allows users to “check-in” to various businesses and locations, and share with everyone in their network where they are or what they’re doing.  They have even produced a fancy video to explain all about it.  However, a recent study has shown that still only 4% of the Internet population uses any of these location-based programs, and even less use it more than once per week.  If that’s the case, it might not matter if Facebook joined the check-in party late because it could be the service that finally makes location-based social networks main-stream.  Here’s why:

  1. User base – Over 500 million people use Facebook worldwide.  This is a staggering number of potential users, and coupled with the growing use of smartphones we’ll definitely see the rise in check-ins across the globe.
  2. Simplicity – Facebook has kept Places simple and easy to use from the start, focusing on three essential ideas: sharing with your friends where you are, connecting with your friends nearby, and discovering new places.  And they included what makes personal connections happen on the site – tagging.  Much like the photos you upload to your profile, Places allows you to tag your friends as you are checking in.
  3. Partners – Facebook didn’t throw everything into this new product hoping to compete with all the various services already out there.  Instead, they partnered with them.  Foursquare, Yelp and a couple of others were included in the press conference and revealed how they would be integrating with Places.  At least for now, you won’t earn badges using Places.  You will still have to use Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, etc. to get those.  Facebook wants to concentrate on personal connections and memories people form, and their partners will hope to grow their user bases from the increased exposure being on all those Newsfeeds.
  4. Privacy –  Facebook wanted to make sure they didn’t receive the backlash they’ve gotten for past changes.  Users can opt-out of friends tagging them, set exactly who will see their check-ins and much more.  If these setting are good enough for users, adoption could be high.

So with all this potential, what’s a small business to do?  First, join the coming land-grab and claim the Places Page for your business.  Search for your business in the search box at the top.  If it exists, look for the simple question “Is this your business?”.  Click the link and follow the instructions which include phone verification and uploading a certificate or licence.  If your business is not listed yet, add it yourself on either the iPhone app or touch.facebook.com.  While it might seem confusing now to have both Fan Pages and Places Pages, the two pages will eventually merge once the Places Page has been claimed.  And Facebook also hints that business with multiple locations and Pages might be merged together as well in the future.








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