Google Search Heads Social

30 03 2011

Google has just released a new feature called Google +1.  This new feature gives users the ability to +1(Like) or add a tally to search results, which in turn will help add a socially shared relevancy measurement for search results.  Developers will also have the ability to add the +1 buttons to website pages which in turn will feed your pages overall tally.  Currently users will only be able to see the +1 tally’s from their contacts within their Gmail (or Google Talk) chat list, “My Contacts” group in Google Contacts and People they’re following in Google Reader and Google Buzz.

Google has hinted that they will monitor participation with +1, which in turn could affect its involvement in future search algorithm changes(Think Hotpot for organic).  This feature is being rolled out as I write this, so you will have to opt-in through Google Labs/Experiments if you currently aren’t seeing it.


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.

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 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 Instant Preview: What does this mean?

16 11 2010

Google has recently rolled out an update for their search results that includes a magnifying glass that when clicked will serve a small screenshot of the homepage with the site associated.  They are calling it “Google Instant Preview” and similar to the double rainbow…we have no idea what this means(in terms of search).

A few things we do know about this new addition; In terms of search significance, it will not impact your actual queries or positioning…yet.  There’s also no tracking available at the moment in analytics or webmaster tools, so the immediate impact of Instant Preview is uncertain.

What I can tell you are two things:

  • Flash websites do not currently work in Google Instant preview. That said, once tracking is established for Instant Preview and if we are finding this as an effective method of use by users, Adobe may take another large hit in terms of the viability of Flash on the web.
  • Your website design is now even more important for search. Having a well branded, clean, trustworthy site could potentially gain you traffic.  As people may be gauging whether to visit your website more on the look of your site rather than title tags, meta descriptions, etc.

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.

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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