Category Archives: Google

Are You Being Used?

Every time we pick up a new client it is, for the most part, the same conversation back and forth as it has been since the beginning. Yes you need to be on page and no don’t worry about running banner advertisements on your website.

Not surprisingly a lot of people understand the need to be on page 1, but a point that doesn’t often get discussed is – you also want to be in the top 3 if at all possible. There are several reasons for this, the most obvious and important being if you’re at the top of the page the basic understanding is that you’re there on purpose. Your business knows what it’s about and is a leader in its field.

Banner ads are a bit of an odd one to discuss with site owners, especially with how outdated of an advertising model it really is. Don’t get me wrong they definitely had their place, and still do to a degree, but the use and focus of them needs to adapt in order to best capitalize on the real estate that they use on a website. They’re not frequently clicked for example, but that’s no reason to not make the content on them highly relevant or click bait worthy.

I felt it was a couple of points to discuss after reading an article that included handy heat mapped images. If you’re unsure what a heat map is, the simplest explanation is it’s a graphical view of what a user is focusing on the screen or clicking on with their mouse. There’s some interesting points to note in each image, and each image supports the discussions we’ve had with clients in regards to how people use the web and potential visitors may use their website.

searchOn the Google results page for example there are a couple of points to consider, the purple X markings are mouse activity, where the user has clicked on the page with their cursor; the red lines are approximate comparisons of monitor resolutions. Knowing those two pieces of information if it wasn’t readily apparent before then it should be entirely clear that being number 1, 2 or 3 is almost a mandatory result where the search results are concerned. We often get into a discussion with clients where we talk about being ‘below the fold’ that is the area of the screen where a user has to scoll in order to find them on the results page. Knowing that bit of information and using the red lines as approximate screen size and resolution it’s a clear cut example of being at the top of page 2 (if the visitor ends up there) is more beneficial than being at the bottom of page 1.

bannersThe second image with the banner ads highlighted in yellow are a clear demonstration that when users visit your website, banner ads just are used so infrequently that they hardly register on the heat mapped areas. That doesn’t mean however that they’re not completely useless, they can still absolutely be used for brand awareness and if you were to leverage your own banner areas to promote specials or sales on your website you would absolutely be able to take advantage of the real estate on your site.

Have a closer look at the heat mapped images attached, then have a look at your search results for your search terms and your website – how would your site stack up?

Spending Money To Make Money

growthWith organic search (the center of the page results) often the leading driver of website traffic, it’s vitally important to make sure that those visitors are performing the tasks that you want. This is where you need to think about your conversion rate optimization, where we sit down and break down for you what pages are working and which pages aren’t.

With the proper tools it’s fairly simple to determine what visitors are doing on your website and from there you can shape their experience when they arrive. If you’re looking for a product purchase for example and you notice that you have a sudden influx of visitors looking for mitts and toques landing on your internal pages, it would be a good idea to take a good hard look at those landing pages to make sure the message is being delivered correctly. After all it won’t do you any good if they’re wanting to buy winter wear and you’re not prominently displaying it on your outerwear pages or on your front page, it leads to an increasing bounce rate that can cause search engines to unduly scrutinize your website.

We’ve had experience occasionally as well with clients who are too eager to try and sell their products or services, so they create multiple pages and layouts trying to push the same points. Typically this is referred to in marketing of all mediums as split, or A/B testing and it’s an invaluable tool to determine what sells best on your website. You may find out that something as simple as making your SALE! banner orange instead of blue causes visitors to purchase more product, and with that type of information you can change some of your higher margin items to hopefully pull in more money for your business. A common mistake when working with this type of market testing though is you can be hit from the search engines with a bit of a penalty coming back at you related to duplicate content. And while all of the content is in fact yours and you’re merely trying to determine what works best, the search engines only see text on a page – not context. When you’re ready to learn how best to leverage this type of testing feel free to give us a call to help you grow your business.

And then there is one of the biggest issues of all and it isn’t one that is tied only to conversion marketing. We often assist clients in creating an updated website for themselves and train them in how to properly use the site if they’re so inclined, every now and then we see them creating more issues for themselves than they should – usually by changing content they’ve had us optimize for search or conversions. Or at the worst entirely removing that page from the website entirely. Now sometimes removing pages can be a positive step to conversion optimization, it can stream line the process for example where a sign up or a check out page is concerned, but if you’re too aggressive with your removals you can end up tanking your website and it’s conversion pages down the results pages if you’re not careful with how you instruct the search engines of your changes and updates.

There’s no real magic with how to properly take care of these issues, but it does require a distinct set of skills, one that seems to elude some of the shops that claim to sell SEO services to the masses. It is a rather disturbing thought to realize that there are still to this day companies out there trying to sell themselves as search experts who don’t even understand all of the basics of the industry.

Do You Need To Forget

Due to the way that the search engines deliver their information to users there has been a standing debate about who is actually responsible for those results. Some say it’s the search engines themselves that control the results pages and the response from Google and Bing for example is that they don’t control the results, they merely display them.

closelookLast month the EU put forth a rule that everyone has the right to be forgotten, a method which users can submit to have urls removed from the results pages that they feel are unacceptable. It opened the doorway to the SERPs being hand curated by it’s users and the end goal being the removal of defamatory information from specific searches. It’s not something that you can just request willy nilly, you need to be either the person who is directly affected by the term, or be the authorized representative of said person.

The form requires submission of a photo ID of the individual the request is for. So even if a third-party is doing the submission for someone else, they need that person’s photo ID as a way to prove they have some type of approval by them. This implementation is only available currently in the EU however, and as of just a couple of days it was unknown if the trend would follow over to the US side of Google. As it turns out, the right to be forgotten form will remain an EU only feature of search, and it doesn’t completely remove web addresses from the index it merely removes them from the EU results pages.

But as the saying is for every door that closes another one opens, it seems that Bing as they were affected by the decision as well, has decided to try and work the system in across the board. At last count Google was taking in around 10,000 requests per day from the form process, so it’s clearly going to take some time for the SERPs to reflect all of the proposed and accepted changes, there hasn’t been any mention how Bing is faring in the requests department.

Is Paid Advertising Worthless

Just a short time ago one of the largest sites on the entire web was hit with what looked like a manual penalty from Google. This week it sounds like they’re firing back with a little tongue in cheek report stating “there is no measurable benefit” to paid ads – aka Adwords.

MythsIt’s an interesting read as eBay is one of the largest ecommerce sites on the web and they would definitely have the budget and manpower to really determine how much paying for a service like Adwords really benefits them. For a quick review of just what Adwords are to search, they’re the paid advertisements that appear on the top, bottom or to the side of the search results page. They’re like the chocolate bar isle in the grocery store as when you click them you’re brought to exactly where you would expect to. Search for ‘buy cars winnipeg’ for example and you’ll see ads from companies like Ford and Hyundai at the top or side of the page, having paid to appear for that term. eBay contends that using paid advertising is ineffective and that in the majority of the cases they researched the leads generated were people already loyal customers of the company whose ad they clicked.

They did however admit that when using generic terms like a brand name search there may still be a benefit attached to spending on those ads.

Unlike branded search, where a firm’s website is usually in the top organic search slot, organic placement for non-branded terms vary widely

As a search marketer however there is a handful additional uses that Adwords can be used for. We can use paid ads as a test bed of sorts, just to gauge the interest of a set of terms in a specific location for example, over a very specific length of time; instead of investing man hours and effort optimizing for a set of terms that have no traction. Paying for a campaign also allows us to receive important keyword data, doubly important now that Google encrypts all of their searches coming through the results pages, this keyword data can allow us to adjust content based on interest quickly, and accurately.

For eBay to come out and say that paying for advertising isn’t worth the cost is a little short sighted, perhaps they’re just feeling a tad left out after being on the wrong side of the search engines wrath this past week.

The Bigger They Are

no-pandaA recent update to Panda has rolled out over the last little while and while everyone likes to cry foul that the search engines play favorites, but as the signals from the last few days become clearer it looks like one of the giants on the web has been targeted with a penalty or two.
This recent update to the Panda portion of the search algorithm has been a true update, not just a typical refresh of the data that happens on a monthly basis. The short version of what they’ve done is that Panda can now interpret different languages easier than they could before, laying the ground work for future updates and additions if needed. So how did this affect a site as large and influential as eBay you might ask? Well it actually has more to do with the people behind the scenes at Google rather than just the algorithm itself.

While it looks like eBay was perhaps affected by the algorithm update a tad, it looks more and more like it has had a manual penalty levied against it for some of it’s urls on the site. Doing a thorough dig through of the urls that were penalized on the eBay site it seems targeted at urls that have “bhp” in them – which is why it looks like a manual penalty instead of terms being caught up in an update.

So what is there to take away from this example? That no matter how big you are you can still be caught running on the wrong side of the search engines and their algorithms. As with previous large companies being caught up though, like BMW and Teleflora for example, I wouldn’t expect eBay to be on the wrong side of the SERPs for long.

How Not To SEO

When you’ve finally gotten your website online there are a million steps that you need to take in order to be ranked at the top of your niche market on the results pages. Instead of trying to explain each point, we’ll take a different tack this time around, how about a list of things of what not to do on your website.

right-toolIf you’re not managing your site yourself, hopefully the person or agency you have contracted is on the ball and has a clue about how not to run afoul of the rules. If your site gets hit by a spam penalty, whether by the algorithm automatically or if you’ve been flagged manually, it isn’t the end of the world it can be fixed. But let’s get started so you can have a cheat sheet for yourself to check on your agencies efforts where your website is concerned. A note just before we get into things, these are not hard and fast rules, the internet isn’t even remotely a black and white entity, so take everything you read below with a grain of salt.

Misspelling words is an every day thing, everyone does it billions of times per day. But one way that you can run on the wrong side of the web spam team is if you happen to register a domain name with a misspelled version of a highly notable brand name in your niche with the idea to try and generate traffic off of the misspelled term. This is a good example of the web not being black and white, anyone can register any domain name so long as it’s available – but that doesn’t mean that the search engines don’t have a say in where it’ll place it in the results pages.

Having a meta refresh in your homepage, effectively locking visitors into your website by messing with their browser control. It’s not uncommon that when you arrive at the wrong website you hit the back button or the backspace key to return to the page you were at. But using a method like a meta refresh in the header of your websites home page removes that option to a visitor to your site. The basic sequence of events with this type of refresh is when a visitor lands on your page, it refreshes itself a time or two so that when they press the back button, they don’t actually leave the site. Instead they’ve just refreshed the page again and they’re back where they don’t want to be. It’s a frustrating experience in general for users, and a no-no with the search engines.

Having your website encoded entirely in Flash, Java and even some versions of Ajax or Silverlight which require specific browser plugins to function correctly. While this isn’t a negative with the search engines specifically, using entirely visual only coding effectively hides your website from the search engines. Being that Google, Bing and other engines look for text on a website, the text on a Flash and even sometimes Java scripts isn’t readable by them so they assume it’s a blank page. They are getting better at digging the text out, but they’re not all the way there yet so keep that in mind when a designer approaches you with a flashy visual display that has no real text elements. Along the same line of thinking but this time where users are concerned, more and more people are accessing the web with tablets and phones. iPads and iPhones take up a sizable share of the mobile marketplace and they can not display any Flash and some Java, your site would literally be invisible and unusable to an iPad user if you had an entirely Flash built website.

Finally Some Search Upgrades

closelookWhen you think of search results you often think of the biggest names in the game, Google being the biggest of them all. Bing sometimes shows up of course and they’re upping their game lately which is a very good thing for the internet as a whole.

The latest improvement that Bing is working on is actively leveraging the power of other search providers as well. The preliminary shots of how this is playing out is turning out to be handy to find local results and help you make a decision quicker than having only a single list of results in front of you. As an example, you may be looking for an dinner option for the evening, and if you use Bing for your search now you have the option of seeing additional results from sites like Yelp. Having more options in your search results page may seem counter intuitive but for everyone involved it’s an improvement. This follows somewhat in suit with how Google has had to open up their results page in the EU anti-trust settlement.

As a user, more options to make a decision is always a good thing. Not only does it allow you to possibly read some reviews and see personal experiences from other patrons, but you may get a handful of different results as well with which to base your decision.

As a business owner, having your name out there for even more potential terms than you’ve originally targeted can help grow your customer base. Making sure you have positive reviews and experiences will help your reputation with the other sites like Yelp or OpenTable, and also helps to reinforce your position in the organic results as well while growing your local customer loyalty.

Change is a great thing to be happening with the search engines and hopefully the inclusion of the other forms of providers only increases the quality of results as a whole.

Staunching The Heartbleed Flow

It’s been a busy week working on the web with all of the heart attacks going on across the web. In case you were living under a rock for the last 5 days I’ll go through a quick recap for you.

The issue that popped up this weekend affected a absolutely massive portion of the web, some reports saying as much as 65% of all websites had the potential to be affected. When you’re talking about billions of websites and trillions of pages, it’s a huge amount of the web. Just to be clear about the issue, the Heartbeat bug affected sites that were using a specific security certificate from OpenSSL – the community driven option to paying for a security certificate for your website.

Without going into too much technical jargon and being confusing, the best description I found regarding the bug was this description of events.

heartbleed_descriptionThe top portion of the exchange is how a secure connection works, it’s a very simplified version of events between your computer and the webserver you’ve connected to. The Heartbleed version of events that comprises the bottom portion of the image is where the exploit got it’s name. The process is the same, but via what’s called an overflow error a malicious user can request a longer string of information back related to your security code, called an overflow error.

The issue was found, corrected and there are multiple steps you can take if you feel that your personal web security was in question. CNet has a running list of sites which have been patched against the Heartbleed bug and if you should potentially change your passwords on those services. Have a look through their list and follow the proposed directions to minimize any potential security issues you may have in the future.

 

 

 

image credit : vox.com

Step 2 – Follow The Rules of The Game

Time for a little bit of free advice for you and your website, especially if you happen to be an affiliate or a licensed dealer for a larger company.

taoofseoThere are definitely some positive aspects when you work as a dealer or an affiliate for a larger business or brand. You gain the instant recognition and the branding power built by the advertising dollars that have already been spent. You also usually have access to their marketing teams and some of their infrastructure in order to help develop and grow a web presence for yourself. Oodles of content, images, videos and more marketing materials than you would likely know what to realistically do with. Usually the conversation with the branding team consists of them telling you that as you build your site and use their assets, consists of being advised to just go ahead and copy what they’ve written and if you have any issues just link people back to their website.

Please, if you’re an affiliate or a dealer for a brand don’t do this.

Having all of their promotional materials, text content and images is an amazing start to your website and being able to promote their product but the last thing you want to do is follow that type of marketing advice. Instead what you want to do is use their text content as a guide and recreate it in a way that benefits your business and it’s location instead of copying it word for word. The images are less of a concern, as you can’t really edit them without losing the quality that some branding companies put into their photos. When you copy and paste your dealers content you’re basically telling the search engines that you’re selling their product – see my content is the same and I have the affiliate links and everything! And the search engines will promptly drop you down the page for that branding term as well, for precisely those points. Regardless of who you are, how large your brand is or how much money you make, if you try and skimp on the rules of the search game then you’re going to lose. Just ask BMW, Teleflora or JC Penny, they all had their own problems of course, but they’re multi-billion dollar brands and the search engines had no qualms about doling out penalties when they were necessary. Remember that with your small business when you’re ready to bring your site online, take the time to rewrite the content to make it relevant for you and your business. Cheat at your own peril.