Your professional source for all the latest Search Engine Marketing news and events.

Is Mobile Finding its Place in Search? Google Seems to Think So

July 16th, 2009

Mobile AdSense

It is anything but a secret that today’s consumers rely heavily on the use of their smartphones to accomplish previously desktop dominated tasks. It can even be argued that the ease of use of mobile devices has overthrown its desktop counterpart as the weapon of choice for solving every day quandaries. The growing use of mobile smartphones has not been overlooked by Google and on Wednesday June 24th they made their search engine presence known once again with the beta release of Google AdSense for Mobile iPhone and Android Applications.

The release and refinement to come of this new and necessary form of reaching consumers impacts each party differently as well as provides new opportunities. Hitting users on the go with relative advertisements provides consumers with suggestions based on location and query while giving advertisers a healthy dose of impressions, if executed correctly.

A recent blog posting by Google VP of product management Susan Wojcicki reads, “[A]dvertisers are looking for ways to reach potential customers when they are engaged with mobile content, and application developers are looking for ways to show the best ads to their users,”

Advantages for Marketers:
At a glance, the benefits of being able to target consumers not only when they are at their home computers but also anytime they use their smartphones for web queries appear to be straight forward and quite simple. However, the benefits of this advancement provide advertisers with a snowball effect. Expanding an advertising campaign to full html smartphones gives advertisers an advantage that was previously unavailable, targeting their audience by keyword and geography while they are on the move.

Advertisers want to be able to reach consumers when they become engaged with mobile content. The growth of shops like iTunes app store, show an abundance of opportunities for qualified traffic since consumers are specifically searching for a subject matter. Providing advertisers with one more medium to reach consumers brings forth the potential to tap into more qualified leads. In turn, advertiser can experience increased click through rate and gain more impressions based on location.

Google’s Adsense for Mobile Marketers information page goes on to describe their own take on marketer benefits in which they focus on five main points:

  • Use the new platform, keep a familiar process
    Google’s AdSense for Mobile Applications offers marketers the familiar AdWords interface, goal tracking with Google Analytics, and the banner ad format.

  • Reach customers on the go to maximize your ROI
    Mobile Internet users are often close to the point of sale, and high-end device users are some of the most engaged targets.

  • Join the innovation of apps
    Ad placements are all above the fold, so advertisers have steady interactions with users in the apps they use every day.

  • Send traffic where you want
    Send traffic to mobile or web landing pages, or promote your own apps by sending clicks directly to the iTunes App Store or Android Market.

  • Deliver to your target audience
    Target specific applications, locations, categories, or keywords to reach your target audience.

…as well as Developers/Consumers:
Marketers are not the only party that is in line to benefit from Google’s new release. Developers and website owners are able to make a few easy bucks by merely putting Adsense on a marketer’s service. Additionally, consumers will benefit from seeing relevant advertisements based on their location and query much like they do at home.

Current Results:
Only two weeks have passed since the clearly beta release of Google has left me continually scratching my head. As described by Advertising Age, links with certain titles such as “University of Kentucky” directs users “to a Hewlett Packard page with information about student discounts for HP computers,” leaving users at pages that are not only irrelevant but also not mobile friendly OR flash enabled (neither iPhone or Google’s Android supports Flash).

Additionally, it appears as though many marketers are not aware that they are getting impressions via mobile devices. Google’s service is currently running in conjunction with PC web unless the marketer opts out of mobile advertising. As a result, some marketers are paying for double the clicks. According to Google spokesman Eric Obenzinger, marketers received a letter last year indicating the change and the ability to opt out.

Summation:
We are no strangers to Google’s constant efforts to be the first to develop new web advances. Although it has problems, I believe that AdSense Mobile will work out all of its kinks and target consumers as efficiently as its desktop counterpart once it is out of beta. The only problem with that is figuring out when Google will move past beta testing, whether it is five plus years (Gmail) or fourteen weeks (Chrome Browser).

To apply for beta programming visit
http://www.google.com/ads/mobileapps/

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The Ugly Side of Brand Management

July 16th, 2009

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that Lifestyle Lift, a cosmetic surgery company providing “facial-firming procedures,” will pay $300,000 in penalties and costs for publishing false reviews of the company and its procedures on the Internet. The company must also cease posting fake reviews and testimonials online and clearly disclose Internet content for which they are responsible.

Lifestyle Lift felt that negative online feedback had hurt its reputation, so the company launched an aggressive in-house brand management campaign. Employees were instructed to pose as satisfied customers on message boards and forums and to criticize or attempt to remove posts that were critical of Lifestyle Lift. The company also created several blogs and websites on which employees posted positive reviews. The sites did not disclose that they were run by Lifestyle Lift. (Examples of the reviews can be downloaded at http://www.oag.state.ny.us/bureaus/internet_bureau/pdfs/LifestyleLiftStories.pdf.)

The Lifestyle Lift settlement is the first case in the United States to address the issue of companies posing as consumers and posting false reviews of products or services, also known as “astroturfing.” This practice is an extreme tactic avoided by Apogee Search and (I hope) other reputable search marketers, but the Lifestyle Lift case has important implications for less aggressive brand management and search engine optimization campaigns.

  • Don’t forget advertising laws and regulations. Search marketing campaigns gone wrong can have consequences more dire and expensive than search engine penalties. Most companies are very aware that they must keep Federal Trade Commission, state, and local regulations in mind when advertising through traditional media, but some forget that advertising online is no different. Keep regulations in mind and be aware of what you can and cannot say when creating campaigns and messaging, particularly if your company does not have a legal department to review marketing materials.

    For more information, see “FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” and general information on “truth-in-advertising laws” at http://www.business.gov/business-law/advertising-law/truth-in-advertising/. Certain products and services, especially those related to health and medicine, may also be subject to additional regulations.

  • Be transparent. Concealing your affiliation with a company during online marketing efforts can lead to a damaged reputation, embarrassment, and legal penalties in extreme cases like the Lifestyle Lift settlement. Some websites, particularly Q&A sites like Yahoo! Answers, may also ban you and/or your IP address if you frequently endorse a product or service without disclosure.

    Always mention that you represent the company that you are endorsing when requesting links, commenting on blog posts, or posting in forums. This disclosure may cause some of your posts or comments to be taken down, but in the end, you will avoid potential fraud allegations and resentment from visitors who learn of the dishonesty. Disclosure is especially important on microsites and blogs; make it obvious that your company has a hand in the website.

  • Respond to negative feedback. Lifestyle Lift dealt with negative online feedback by trying to squash it. Instead, use negative feedback as an opportunity to communicate with your customers. Respond to negative posts on forums or blogs with apologies and attempts to rectify the situation (perhaps offer a gift card or advice for fixing a product). If these negative comments show up in search results, visitors will also see that your company cares enough to respond to dissatisfied customers. If your company has experienced a public relations nightmare and the Internet is flooded with negative comments, consider creating a microsite dedicated to telling your company’s side of the story (but remember to disclose that your company created the site!).

    Many companies are also using social media as an avenue for responding to negative feedback. Search Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets for negative comments about your company and respond directly to the posters with advice and/or offers of recompensation. Some companies have also setup Twitter accounts specifically for customer support questions. For examples of how some businesses are using Twitter to communicate with customers, see http://www.searchenginejournal.com/16-examples-of-huge-brands-using-twitter-for-business/7792/.

  • Create listings but not reviews on review sites. Listings on sites that allow users to leave reviews can generate traffic and word-of-mouth about your business. These sites are most effective for B2C establishments with physical locations. Some of the most popular review sites are Yelp, Yahoo! Local, Google Local, and Citysearch.

    It is perfectly acceptable to list your business locations on these sites, but leave the reviews to the users. These websites can use IP addresses to determine if your company is reviewing itself, and this can lead to you being banned from the site. Also, if users realize that your employees are reviewing the company, this can lead to more damaging press than a negative review.

  • Ensure that everyone knows what can and cannot be said. Make sure that employees who might post online about the company know the rules of your marketing message. Reinforce that everyone should disclose their affiliation with the company when posting comments online. Employees may even want to refrain from leaving comments on review sites to avoid potential problems.
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Nonprofit SEO Recommendations: Liberty Hill Foundation

July 14th, 2009

Liberty Hill Logo

In this week’s edition of SEO Odds & Ends, I’m shifting gears into the nonprofit SEO space. I came across Liberty Hill Foundation’s website and found their slogan to be impressive–”30 Years of Change, Not Charity.” As a fan of participating in change instead of throwing money at problems, this spoke to me and I thought I’d help out.

First off, there is a great resource online for any nonprofit out there–a charity version of SEO Book. With 25 chapters, I must admit I haven’t combed through it all, but if you have the time, it gives a lot of great SEO information tailored to nonprofits.

As with many nonprofits, marketing in general gets put on the back burner, because money could be better spent on making things happen rather than getting a shiny website, right? That seems to be the case with Liberty Hill, as well. Here are the top tips I’d start with for their site:

    • Create a specific page for each of the organization’s issues. 
      Liberty Hill Foundation sitemap          

    • Even if it seems that the issues cross over a lot, create each page to be as different as possible, and then link between similar pages. A well-optimized site involves giving the search engines a single page for each idea your organization (and website) represents.
    • For Liberty Hill, initiatives related to developing a green economy and promoting environmental justice are extremely important. There are multiple pages about this, including the 2009 Environmental Agenda “Turn Green to Gold”, a donor page explaining what Environmental Justice is, and finally, a grant seekers page describes the funds available.
    • To organize the site a bit more from a search engine perspective, first, organize the group’s initiatives into a category such as “Liberty Hill Issues,” then add specific pages with descriptive content for Environmental Justice, Gay/Lesbian Rights, etc., third, add links on the Environmental Justice page to the Donors, Grant Seekers, and Media/Press pages devoted to this topic.
  1. Pick keywords for each issue your organization represents, and optimize your tags for those terms. 
    • Using the Google Adwords keyword tool, you can find the approximate search volume for terms related to your organization’s issues.
    • For the Environmental Justice issue, there isn’t much search volume for many terms beyond “California Environmental Justice” and “Los Angeles Environmental Justice.” Therefore, creating a title tag using this code would probably be be the best option:
      <title>Environmental Justice | Los Angeles, California
      | Liberty Hill Foundation</title>
    • On the Liberty Hill Blog, there are several stories about undocumented students and the hardships they face–keywords such as “Scholarships For Undocumented Students” and “Undocumented Students in California” would be good options to target on the primary site.
  2. Use variations of your keywords within the content on each page of your site.
    • Often adding a city name plus the primary keywords for a page is a good start.
    • Within the content of the page, use variations of this broad term by starting with “Environmental Justice” and adding the following words: “solution(s),” “project(s),” “action,” “group.” Always focus on making the content readable and relevant to your readers, optimization is a second priority.
    • On the current site, the Environmental Justice Fund is introduced this way:

      Liberty Hill is pleased to announce our new grantmaking program, the Fund for Change…Liberty Hill will hold two webinars and four community workshops across Los Angeles to introduce our new grantmaking program. 

    • An optimized phrase from an SEO perspective would be:

      Liberty Hill is pleased to announce our new Environmental Justice project, the Fund for Change…Liberty Hill will hold two webinars and four community workshops in conjunction with various Los Angeles Environmental Justice groups to announce our new grantmaking program. 

  3. Ask for links from your donors and grant recipients!           
    • The single most valuable thing for a website to have in order to have better visibility in the search engines is links! Get more links! This, of course, can be an extremely time consuming process, hence its inclusion at the bottom of this list.
    • Request optimized links– include the keyword assigned to that issue in the text of the link. For example, “Thanks to Liberty Hill Foundation, and specifically their gay and lesbian rights grant initiatives, for supporting the Cara a Cara Latino AIDS Project,” or in the ALT attribute of an image link: “Liberty Hill Foundation Logo, great resource for environmental justice information in Los Angeles.”
    • When donors inquire about giving money or resources, mention to them that simply adding a link to the Liberty Hill Foundation from a donor company’s website, the donor’s personal blog, or even their Facebook page would help you out. Ask them to link to the particular issue on Liberty Hill’s website that is of interest to them, as oppposed to the homepage.
    • Require that recipients of grants mention the Liberty Hill Foundation website through a post or a link of some sort! If they’ve received $20,000, a link from their site to the grant site shouldn’t be a major effort for them.

    SEO is an ongoing process–do what you can when redesigning a website or when there are specks of free time, but don’t ignore it entirely! A little bit of effort each week (or month!) is better than none.

    If you have specific questions for your nonprofit, please ask them in the comments below.

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    The SEO Implications of Bing, Part I: Algorithm

    July 14th, 2009

    The release of Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine, was accompanied by much commotion among SEO specialists. The early public release shook up the day-to-day lives of search marketers – all of a sudden, one of the familiar “big three” got a facelift.

    Much of the uproar was focused on the marketing surrounding Bing, its share of the search market, or its new features. Very few authoritative sites made observations specifically about how the release would affect SEO. Microsoft’s own whitepaper Bing for Webmasters most directly addressed how to optimize for Bing by basically saying to optimize as one normally does:

    “Best of all, the type of SEO work and tasks webmasters need to perform to be successful in Bing haven’t changed—all of the skills and knowledge that webmasters have invested in previously applies fully today with Bing.”

    Some bloggers noticed variations between Google’s SERPs and Bing’s SERPs and used that to guess about algorithmic differences between the two sites. While these initial studies were pseudo-scientific at best, they at least noted a difference and tried to identify which ranking factors were more important for a given search engine.

    The purpose of this post is to examine these initial observations in the light of current Bing discussion. Some of these factors have been confirmed or at least affirmed by outside sources; others were either wrong to begin with, or had such little significance that they were unnoticed by other SEO specialists.

    Probable Algo Differences

    1. Keywords in URL
      This factor has often been discussed as a difference between Yahoo! and Google ranking algorithms. But sound research that compares SERPs on a large scale found that including keywords in the URL is almost definitely a bigger factor for Bing than it is for Google, returning more pages with the search term in the URL 92% of the time.
    2. Domain Age
      This factor was found by the oft-cited initial post to be the most glaring difference between Bing and Google’s organic results. More scientific tests by Tim at SEOwizz affirmed that, at least among the three search terms he tested, the age of the site was a more important ranking factor for Bing than it is for Google.
    3. Textual Content
      This factor is almost definitely more important for Bing than Google because the Bing for Webmasters whitepaper says that Bing scrapes information from Flash only if there is no other content to show for the description. Unlike Google, it seems that Bing does not consider the contents of Flash files when ranking sites – it is only to find a description if no other content is available. Thus, it is important for Flash-heavy sites to write textual content in both meta tags and body content so users will get a description (and a summary, if using Bing’s Quick Preview function).

    Commonly Cited (but not confirmed) Algo Differences
    The contents of this blog post have been repeated without attribution, creating a sort of false knowledge that these factors are different for Bing than they are for Google. The problem is that even the original post lacks any sources or verifiable research. Without verifiable research or at least similar observations by other search professionals, these commonly cited algorithmic differences are much less likely to be true than the ones above:

    1. Outbound Links
      According to the original post at Vedainformatics.com, even Google places importance on links out to other websites – if Site A links to a reputable site, Google will consider Site A more reputable than before. It is actually a very hotly debated topic, with no conclusive evidence of outbound links having an effect on rankings. With this in mind, I find it hard to believe when this post explains that Bing’s algorithm considers this factor even more than Google’s.
    2. Title Tag
      Vedainformatics.com also said that the title tag was of higher importance for Bing, but the SEOwizz studies concluded that there is little difference – in fact, Google seemed to weight title tags more than Bing in those examples.
    3. Title Tags of Other Pages
      The site also says that Bing places more importance on the title tags of inbound and outbound links than Google. Again, the unequivocal declaration that outbound links are important to search engine reduces this statement’s credibility. Like the other statements, this one is not backed by any research and has not been mentioned by any other sources.

    Keep in mind that Bing is constantly updating minor features of the site. Bing program manager Brett Yount stated on the community forums:

    “We are making some fairly large changes to quite a bit of our backend — most of which I cannot go into right now. But stay tuned for a better experience.”

    Also, Apogee Search’s contacts at Microsoft have hinted at a series of changes soon to come but remained quiet about the details. Any adjustment of Bing’s algorithm could occur in the next few weeks.

    Look for Part II of this series, which will focus on Bing’s new features (rather than the algorithm) and their effect on search engine optimization.

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    Increasing My Conversion Rate–Where Do I Start?

    July 13th, 2009

    Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Alissa Ruehl, Manager of Website Effectiveness Consulting at Apogee Search, to discuss the best strategies for increasing conversion rates.

    SEO and PPC efforts can drive qualified traffic to your website, but in order to justify the time, effort, and expense, the site must be able to convert that traffic into either a lead or a sale. Alissa explains that different websites experience different obstacles, such as building trust, brand recognition, or simply experiencing high abandonment rates, and therefore require different solutions for improving conversion rates.

    The best place to start analyzing your conversion rate is to look at entry pages with the highest traffic, such as home pages or high ranking landing pages. Alissa believes that these pages are extremely important in forming the right first impression with any visitor or potential customer to your site. If visitors are only spending a brief amount of time on these pages and you are experiencing a high bounce rate, consider using bullet points, bolded text, and more compelling headlines that grab every visitors’ attention and gets your message across in a clear and concise manner. If an individual is spending a great deal of time on your website then leaves without completing any sort of action, consider adding more calls to action to guide them into the conversion process.

    Alissa states that lead form optimization is also an effective way to increase conversion rates on your website. In order to increase the amount of lead forms that are submitted with complete and accurate information and avoid abandonment, it is important to ensure that your forms are simple to complete, establish more trust with individuals, and only ask for information that is necessary and beneficial in obtaining a lead. Improving the conversion rate for eCommerce lead forms is slightly more involved. The amount of steps required in an eCommerce website can make conversion optimization seem daunting. Alissa separates problems with eCommerce purchases into three buckets:

    1. Customer’s ability to find the product they want
    2. Process of adding products to the cart
    3. Process of purchasing the product once in the cart

    Web analytics data can help you identify which of these steps is causing problems. These common problems can be resolved by working the individual into a pipeline, increasing the persuasion on the pages, inserting more calls to action, and discarding unnecessary requests for information that may deter an individual from completing the process.

    In general, analytics tools like Google Analytics can help you pinpoint problems, while usability analyses, best practices lists, and case studies can help you identify possible solutions. However, replicating a method that may have worked for someone else is not guaranteed to work for you. Testing different solution ideas is crucial for ensuring an improvement in conversion rates.

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    Link Love Monday Edition – Happy Fourth!

    July 6th, 2009

    Link Love Friday

    Is anyone else dragging from copious amounts of sunshine, fireworks and Dr. Pepper? I hope your 4th treated you well, and that you encountered plenty of hot dogs, burgers, 7-layer dips, double decker boats, wakeboards, and sunscreen, of course. Now, to the links we go!

    Link: Traffic Drops and Site Architecture Issues

    Love: myth busters. Google covers a couple important myths here: duplicate content and affiliate programs causing traffic drops. From my experience, duplicate content seems to be one of those issues that is brought up frequently by both clients and potential clients. I think it’s one of those issues that is easy to latch onto since it’s a simple concept to grasp upfront, unlike, say, tossing out the words canonical, static and dynamic. One area where duplicate content can easily reek havoc, though, is in title tags–if you target the same keywords across mulitple title tags (everything else being equal), you will likely see your site drifting in and out of prime ranking real estate.

    Link: 5 Common Information Retrieval Myths

    Love: myth busters, again (I’m doing my best Joseph Campbell impersonation). Also, getting into the nitty-gritty, academic side of search. Search is information retrieval and infromation extraction. It’s, “let’s crawl the Internet’s billions of documents” and, “let’s rudimentarlity extract information (I know you have to refine your searches still, I see you) from these documents and provide relevant results.” And, like the article says, search is linguistics, cognitive psychology, information architecture, statistics and more. Motto: Something academic nearly always undergirds what’s happening in front of the masses–go be academic, read the “boring” stuff, find out where your field is heading and how you can help yourself and clients get there first. Or, more simply, “there are smarter people than me behind this, what do they have to say about it?”

    Link: Social IDs Go Shopping: Kmart and Sears Implement OpenID

    Love: OpenID and the ability to skip out on registering for another website. As we have covered previously on this blog, people don’t like having to register and constantly log in to website after website after website. Well, the big boys are finally starting to get it and are slowly adopting the OpenID platform, or some type of single sign-in protocol, with Kmart and Sears the latest mainstream companies to join the OpenID party.

    Link: Future of Social Media: The Walls Come Crumbling Down

    Love: openness; as in, “Facebook, tear down this wall!” Your social media platform may be an island, but this user isn’t! </rant> Currently, most of the information contained in social media sites is walled off from the rest of the World Wide Web. As the article states, Facebook Connect does allow users to connect and share their information with other sites, but it’s only a fraction of the Internet. Will users continue to silo their information?

    Link: The Idea of Free is Radical–So People Are Going to Freak Out

    Love: free? How do you survive as a business that creates content, whether video, text, images, et cetera, in the age of the Internet where free is very easy to find? Check out the conversation between Chris Anderson, Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin on how free plays and will play a role in business. I tend to agree with Seth Godin–free is already here and businesses need to figure out how to provide enough free content to entice users to pay for the rest.

    Link: Achieve High Rankings by Using Your Existing PageRank as Leverage

    Love: leverage what you’ve already got for SEO benefit–that goes for anything, take all of that offline information and put it online in the form of a blog, how-to articles, videos, answers on Q&A sites, images and more. It can all be spun. In this case, use the PageRank your website already has to provide valuable internal links. Don’t insert that keyword into the content all willy-nilly–make sure it’s relevant and appropriate. Also, an important principle to take away from this article is that it’s okay, not to mention extremely beneficial, to make edits to the content of your site. Updated content informs the search engines that you’re likely providing even more relevant information about your industry.

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    SEO Odds & Ends Wednesday: Fire up Some Local Search for the 4th of July!

    July 1st, 2009

    For this week’s installation of SEO odds & ends, I really had to dig–fireworks companies around Austin don’t have a great presence in the search engines. I’m basing these comments on my personal searches for “austin fireworks” in Google, Yahoo, and Bing. A few factors are causing the lack of individual fireworks shops/stands in search engine results, from what I can tell: first, the incredibly high seasonality impact might lead to less investment and/or focus on year-round marketing; also, this industry has competition from fire departments and several large directories that dominate search results, which aren’t quite what I’m looking for when I’m searching for fireworks in Austin.

    Mr. W Fireworks -- Austin, TX

    Eventually I found Mr. W Fireworks, and have a few tips that may increase their search engine presence:

    1. Claim your listing in Google Local

      • In Google Local Business Center, small businesses (or large ones!) can claim their business name and address in just a matter of minutes. Many small businesses can scoop up hundreds of visits to their site just by listing themselves in the “10-pack.” Mr. W can claim all of their locations that have a mailing address on Google Local Business, which could take awhile but could drive some serious traffic!
      • Submit your company name plus a descriptive keyword–for Mr. W, a good option may be “Mr. W Austin Fireworks Stand.” Tip: Using the keyword within the name of your company will help search engines associate your company with your industry, as well as keep your potential visitors informed as to what your business does.It is also possible to type in your own related “category.”
      • Encourage customers to submit reviews, upload your own videos and images, and list as much information as you can in the overview section. Finally, in this tricky economy, uploading coupons never hurts!
    2. Create specific pages for each location served
      • Since Mr. W has locations in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, creating pages on the site that describe the locations they serve could also greatly increase traffic. By using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, you can find approximate local and global search volume for a large selection of terms. I have found that major cities like Austin, Dallas, and Oklahoma City have the largest search volume, so creating those pages would be a great start.
      • For other Local Search Optimization tips, see our video blog post on the topic from one of Apogee’s search experts!
    3. Add more content to the Fun Stuff & Safety sections
      • Search engines want to rank sites with lots of content that they hope will be valuable to users. Mr. W’s website has a couple of great pages to include that crawlable content on, including “Fireworks Fun Stuff” and “Fireworks Safety.” Building these pages out over time will help improve the site in the eyes of the search engine algorithms!
      • Request videos of client fireworks displays and embed them on the “Fun Stuff” page. We have talked about the basics of video submission and optimization for video sharing sites, which can be extremely valuable, as well.

    I hope this has been another helpful edition of SEO Odds & Edds, and that everyone has a happy Fourth of July!!

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    Real-Time Search, New Engines by the Second

    June 29th, 2009

    Old Twitter

    2009 has thus far been the year of innovation in regards to search engine marketing. The ever growing popularity of Twitter and its newly introduced Twitter Search has since opened the flood gates of what is now referred to as “Real-Time Search.” The demand for instant, relevant results has spawned a slew of real-time search engines such as Cuil, Wolfram Alpha, and the popular Bing. Google’s Larry Page has even said, “I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real-time search,” two of the newest real-time search engines, Collecta and Crowd Eye, have done just that. Essentially, the functionality of these two new real-time search engines beg the question, how and why are they different from traditional search engines?

    Collecta

    On June 18th 2009, the world was introduced to a no frills all results, first true real-time search engine, Collecta. Breaching the search engine market, Collecta draws information from blogs using wordpress; news services such as Fox, CNN, and Reuters; social networking sites like Twitter, Jaiku and Identica; and even images from Flickr as described on their homepage. The result of Collecta’s efforts is a simple user interface (UI) that displays real-time results on the left column and a preview on the right.

    As described by TechCrunch, Collecta’s advantage over typical search engines rests in the use of a Web standard called Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). Using XMPP over the traditional HTTP Web standard allows for data to travel from one individual to another substantially quicker, therefore allowing Collecta to render true real-time results to the public.

    Attempting to use the service on launch day was less than thrilling. I proceeded to make several searches and (after waiting an average of six minutes for a result) my questions were yet to be answered. It seemed as though on launch date Collecta’s severs were not ready to handle the influx of users hungry for a taste of real-time results and they made it known via Twitter. Using the search engine a few days later, I have noticed an almost instant return for my search but I still have a few reservations.

    First and foremost, the results are not organized. Rather than seeing results based on relevancy, I am only seeing the latest blurb in regards to my query. This tightens the vice on top companies to not only be the first to gain valuable information on a subject, but also be the first to Tweet or distribute it via a social media outlet and continue to post updates to ensure their presence on the results page. Secondly, finding answers to less popular questions is nearly impossible since the success of the query is measured by its current relevancy of the news. Collecta appears to be a great option for breaking news, sports, and current comments on products or brands as described by Collecta’s CEO Gerry Campbell. At this point, it is the initial impression of users that will determine if Collecta’s juice is worth the squeeze.

    CrowdEye

    Sharing Collecta’s June 18, 2009 launch date is CrowdEye, an alternative real-time search engine. Similar to Collecta, CrowdEye scours the Web for real-time information through Twitter and provides up to date results on the newest topics.

    So what is so different about CrowdEye? First and foremost, after more carefully reviewing CrowdEyes FAQ, you will realize that “real-time” does not necessarily mean every Tweet as it happens. Instead, CrowdEye is only able to index “a large subset of tweets.” The disadvantage of this approach comes in form of not being able to produce second-by-second results as Collecta does.

    Despite this small disadvantage, I find CrowdEye to be substantially more user friendly. CrowdEye divides results by Popular Links and Tweets allowing for natural search results to appear as well as real-time social media results. The page also includes a graph of Tweet volume over time; this allows the user to see the recent history of specific trends. Additionally, CrowdEye includes common words that you can click and create a filter in order to refine your search. Using CrowdEye for a broad range of searches answered my questions with relevant results using a nice mix of traditional and real-time search.

    Summation

    Constant developments by Facebook, Google, and other Web powerhouses ensures that the refinement of real-time search is far from over. In order to maximize the exposure a company must implement traditional search engine optimization, integrate social media tactics and now, with the introduction of real-time search, continually post relevant information within seconds of obtaining it.

    It seems as though Collecta and CrowdEye have laid a solid foundation from which future search engines can learn, adapt, and tweak to bring us exactly what we want from our Web queries. As with everything Web related, the market for real-time search will continue to evolve and we as consumers, owners and contributors must continue to stay afloat.

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    Link Love Friday with Cory B.

    June 19th, 2009

    Link Love Friday

    Link: Best Practices for Product Search

    Love: optimizing your universal search presence.  The natural search results aren’t the only results that deserve optimization attention.  Universal search requires a holistic approach to SEO where you need to also focus on optimizing for local, blogs, videos, images, and if you have an e-commerce website, product search which makes an appearance in the search results as shopping results.  Check out the Product Search for Webmasters video from Google on how you can go about optimizing for shopping results.  Also, you’ll need a Google Base account in order to get started with the optimization.

    Link: Pagerank Sculpting

    Love: focusing your efforts on more important things…I kid (sort of), the news from Google that Pagerank sculpting does not work as SEO’ers thought is important.  The Google man himself Matt Cutts explains it on his blog.  The basics:

    • Your page has a Pagerank score of 8
    • It has 4 outgoing links
    • Left as is, each link passes along 2 points of Pagerank, 8 divided by 4
    • Previously, if 2 of those links pointed at less important pages, “Contact Us” and “About Us” for example, some SEOs would nofollow those links
    • In doing so, it was believed this allowed the other 2 links to pass along 4 points of Pagerank rather than 2
    • Pagerank sculpted
    • Now, nofollowing those important links does not pass Pagerank points in this simple way and requires Pagerank sculpting using a number of other techniques

    Here is a SEOmoz post of the topic that also provides pros and cons from the SEO perspective.

    Link: SocialMention

    Love: simple and reliable tools that allow you to track your company and its keywords across multiple channels – blogs, microblogs (Twitter, FriendFeed), social bookmarks, comments (blog, forum or otherwise), news, video and more.  It’s extremely easy to get bogged down with tools just as it is with too much data.  Personally, I tend to stick with those that are simple, efficient and reliable and do not often switch unless the tools will allow me to provide even more actionable insight – Occam wins.  SocialMention is simple and reliable.  Not only are you provided with links to blogs, blog comments, Q&A sites, social bookmarks, and more, that mention your company or keywords, but SocialMention also provides data on sentiment (positive to negative mentions), reach (number of unique authors mentioning the entered keyword) and other metrics.

    Link: 10 Ways to Make Your Site Accessible Using Web Standards

    Love: making your website not only able to be found, but actually accessible to everyone. Think of the user.  Remain outwardly focused (just like phenomenal non-profits). Not everyone uses the same setup for surfing the internet, so you should ensure nearly all users are able to actually find information on your site once they’ve found you on the search engines.  There are a few pointers in this post that play a role in SEO:

    • Supply proper meta tags – small piece of the pie, but a piece of the pie nonetheless
    • Use accesible navigation – descriptive title and header tags provide keyword relevancy and help structure your site, which can help improve the ability of Google to provide Site InLinks
    • Supply alternative content for images

    Link: Bing Whitepaper for Webmasters and Publishers

    Love: when you get information about search from the mouths of the leviathans.  This whiteapaper, distributed by Microsoft, details features of Bing, the layout of the search results page, the structure and details of the search results page and much more information.

    BONUS Link Love Laughter Section: The Year The Media Died

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    SEO Odds & Ends Thursday: The Stepping Stone School

    June 18th, 2009

    For the second edition of my blog series, I came across a local Austin site that is a prime example of how marketing efforts combined with a great industry presence can achieve adequate search engine presence. The Stepping Stone School is a highly recognized preschool, established in 1979, currently with 17 locations around Austin, TX. Their partnerships, accreditations, and other marketing and community efforts have given them a good presence within search engine results pages and likely a good flow of traffic from search engines. With a few tweaks, they could probably increase their site traffic, and therefore extend their reach, by at least 20%.

    These are a few steps I would recommend to optimize their site more fully:

    1. Optimize title tags with relevant terms (keywords)

    As always, this is my first stop when giving recommendations :) It’s the easiest and most important step in optimization. All of the title tags currently read “Stepping Stone School – The Smart Choice!” By being more descriptive of the pages within the title tags, this site could alert the search engines to the content of the pages.

    • Page 1: Homepage 
      • Potential Title Tag:
        Austin Preschool and Child Care | Austin, Texas | Stepping Stone School
      • Potential Value:
        Up to 10,000 visitors/month for keywords “Austin Preschool”, “Austin Child Care”, “Texas Childcare”.  
    • Page 2: Why We’re the Best
      • Potential Title Tag:
        Childcare Accreditation | Austin, Texas | Stepping Stone School
      • Potential Value:
        Up to 1,600 visitors/month.

     

    2. Request more descriptive links from partners and other sources
    If you are reading this blog, you know that (to the search engines) links to a site are more important than the content on that site. For some sites, building new links is the most important initiative; however, if you have an active marketing department or are a contributor to your community in other ways, you may want to put your efforts into tapping into the partnerships you have and improving links that exist already. Stepping Stone School is a good example of this because they have sponsored various events over the years. See the two links below for opportunities to increase their search engine benefit to Stepping Stone School.

    As a sponsor of the local Austin Thundercloud Turkey Trot last year, Stepping Stone likely received a link on the event website as part of the promotion package. This is a great opportunity to use a more descriptive word in the anchor text, and usually sponsorships of this sort are flexible in what they will list, if you ask.

    • Potential Link Request: Replace the phrase “Stepping Stone School” with “Stepping Stone Childcare Center” or “Austin Stepping Stone Preschool” on the event page.

    Stepping Stone School also is an existing sponsor of this after school organization in Central Texas, and has again received a link–this time an image link–back to the site. Both text links and image links can be optimized; image links can be optimized by altering the alt attribute of the image to include a descriptive phrase of the site the image is linking to. This text is readable to the search engines, and is also used when the image cannot be viewed. For the Stepping Stone School logo, a descriptive alt attribute could be “Austin Stepping Stone Preschool logo” or “Childcare Center, Stepping Stone Preschool logo, located in Austin, Texas”.

    • Potential Link Request: Add an ALT attribute to the linked logo image, with code such as this:
      <a href="http://www.steppingstoneschool.com">
      <img src="steppingstone.jpg" alt="Austin Stepping Stone Preschool" />
      </a>

     

    3. Create a YouTube Channel
    Finally, sites such as Stepping Stone’s can absolutely benefit from the branding as well as additional opportunity to rank in Google’s Universal Search results by further promoting their existing videos. I would recommend Stepping Stone School create a YouTube channel, and upload any promotional and informational videos available. For example, Stepping Stone School has Enrichment programs that parents may benefit from seeing before they contact the school–I would be interested in seeing a few minutes of a Computer Technology class for 3-5 year olds! Beyond text testimonials, video testimonials add credibility and another opportunity for visibility online.

    Of course, any online promotion of an organization such as this would have to consider the safety of the students above all else. These are a few tips that should be applicable to a variety of sites, organizations, or companies. If you would like to submit your site for consideration for a future Odds & Ends Wednesday feature, please email me at: king at apogee-search dot com.

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