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.





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!





Developing a Long-Term, Forward-Thinking SEO Strategy

21 03 2011

Many people look at SEO as a one time consultancy that’s a set it and forget it technique for driving increased leads/sales/traffic to their site.  But, taking a look at something as basic as a keyword research for your optimization efforts can tell a completely different story.  In addition, it’s vital that you hire an SEO firm that understands your industry and can demonstrate that knowledge before a contract is ever put in place.  You must be forward-thinking for a long-term strategy.  The best way to understand what’s going to happen in the future is to look at the past.

A Look Into the Past

A backward-thinking strategy is amazing if your industry is extremely cyclical.  For example, the automotive industry:

If you aren’t familiar with Google Insights for Search and are completely confused at this point – from Google: “The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0-100. Each point on the graph is divided by the highest point, or 100.”

In the graph above, you can see the comparison of four search terms: “2009 BMW,” “2010 BMW,” “2011 BMW” and “New BMW.”  The graph spans the time from January of 2009 until March of 2011.  The data is extremely telling.  Your first thought might be that if you’re optimizing a page for new BMWs then the keyword “New BMW” would be a given.  Diving into the historical data you can see that, just like the auto industry, the search terms are extremely cyclical in nature.  Due to the fact that the auto industry announces new models at the same time every year, you can see that traffic for the current model year is always higher than the search traffic for “New BMW” until around October when the next model year takes over.  Not to say “New BMW” shouldn’t be part of your overall keyword strategy, but you might want to reconsider a primary focus.

Thus, knowing the industry and having an ongoing, forward-thinking SEO strategy is of utmost importance.  Any on-site changes must be implemented at the proper time in order to capture the flip in search traffic for the next model year.

What industries have you seen the same type of trends?  Leave me a comment and let me 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.





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?





Keywords, the Tiny Building Blocks of Search

4 02 2011

I’d like to revisit one of the single most important aspects of search engine optimization (SEO), keyword research. Many of you, I’m sure, are aware that keyword research must be done, but are you doing it correctly? It’s not necessarily about optimizing your website for your industry terms or choosing the most popular keyword; when doing keyword research you need to take a number of things into consideration. I’ll start with these two.

  • The popularity of keyword phrases as compared to similar/relevant phrases
  • The competitiveness of a given keyword

The goal is to better understand which keywords have the highest potential to drive traffic (i.e. people are actually searching them), but have the least amount of competition. To find out the above metrics, utilize Google’s free keyword tool. Here’s an example of what the tool looks like.

For this particular example, I’m examining whether or not “search engine optimization” or “seo” would be a more valuable term to target as a primary keyword (remember, you should only choose one primary keyword that would go in your title tag & header tags). Based on the above data I’d most likely choose “seo” as it shows there are more monthly searches, and less competition. If you’re trying to decide between a few different keywords, this tool can be really beneficial. There are other tools available that can be helpful as well, such as KeywordSpy, Wordtracker, your own Google Analytics/AdWords data and your competition (see what keywords they are targeting in their title/meta/headers/body copy). There are many other tools out there, both paid and free.

Some other things to remember when doing keyword research:

  • Use both singular and plural versions. I tend to lean towards using the plural version as it already contains the singular version within the keyword, so you’re really optimizing for both versions.
  • Don’t forget to include misspellings. If you have a brand name/product that is frequently misspelled, include the misspellings in your meta keywords tag. I know, I know, the meta keywords tag is virtually invisible. It certainly can’t hurt to do this since you don’t want to include the misspellings in your body copy as that would hurt your credibility and make you look sloppy.
  • If you are a localized businesses operating in a specific market, make sure to use geo-modified keywords throughout your site. If someone were searching for a local Portland restaurant, there is a high probably that they will use ‘Portland” in their search query.
  • I mentioned before that you should target one primary keyword per page, but what I didn’t mention is that you should also have supporting keywords. Supporting keywords would be other keywords relevant to the primary, such as a synonym or acronym or maybe the singular version. In the example above, if I chose “SEO” as my primary keyword, I’d want to use “search engine optimization” as a supporting keyword throughout my copy. This will help strengthen the overall theme of the page, and can help it rank for both “SEO” and “search engine optimization”.
  • Be sure you aren’t optimizing your site for internal keywords. This happens a lot with B2B companies. They seem to have their own internal speak that not everyone, especially their customers, can understand. If you’re a B2B company, make sure you are optimizing your site for specific problems as this is how your customers will be searching. The have a problem, which they’ll be seeking the answer to. You have the solution. Optimize your site for the problem, then introduce them to the solution. For example, a search query from a potential customer might be “data recovery assistance”. You should be optimizing your site for “data recovery” related terms so you rank for that term. Once you get the user to your site, then you drive them down a funnel talking about your services or solution that can help them recover their lost data.

As I mentioned before (I’ll state it again as it’s worth repeating), keyword research is the most important aspect of SEO. If you don’t understand what your customers are searching for, or how to find keywords to optimize your site, you’re dead in the water. The above tips and tools should give you a great start for optimizing your site.

I’d love to hear how others go about researching keywords. What’s your process? What’s worked, and what hasn’t?








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