Browsing "search marketing"
The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a warning to the major search engines requesting that they more clearly distinguish between the organic results and paid ads. This applies not only to traditional search engines, but also social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as mobile apps.
The FTC’s warning to search engines should be a wake-up call to the search marketing industry. The days of playing fast and loose with mixed paid and organic search results on search engine results pages (SERPs) appears to be coming to an end. In its place will be more stringent oversight of how search engines display paid search results and, as a result, more cumbersome and potentially onerous restrictions on what search marketing can and cannot do with their campaigns.
What are the potential implications for marketers of this new guidance? What do search marketers need to do now to begin adjusting for these changes?
It is unclear at this point the extent that each search engine will address this request, but it is expected that minor changes to the way paid ads are identified will ensue to avoid possible FTC action.
These changes, however, can impact the efforts of search engine marketers, as they will potentially need to make more drastic modifications to their search engine marketing efforts.
Here are some potential effects that the FTC’s warning will have on marketers:
Further Real-Estate Limitations
Clarifying the difference between paid and organic search listings can potentially limit the space available to both organic and paid listings. This means that either fewer results will be able to display “above the fold” without scrolling, or the character limits within each result will be reduced.
If the number of results above the fold is decreased, achieving an above-the-fold listing will be even more competitive. Businesses will be competing heavily for top placement and more of an investment will be needed to generate current levels of volume.
In the case of character limits being reduced within each result, businesses will need to update their online messaging to get their point across in less space. Paid ad titles and ad copy will likely have to be updated to fit within new limits and titles, and meta descriptions of organic mobile pages will need to be shortened to avoid being truncated when listed.
More Strategic Mobile Targeting
Paid search targeted to mobile devices is one of the fastest-growing digital marketing channels and is playing a bigger role in how consumers find products and services. The implications of the FTC warning on mobile paid search could have a big impact on how these ads are displayed. Mobile search real estate, because of the size of mobile browsers, is already very limited.
What marketers will need to pay close attention to is how they segment their mobile targeting by device type. For example, the difference in the amount of SERP real estate between tablets and smartphones is likely to increase. Targeting and bidding strategies will need to vary per device to be most efficient.
Changes to Voice-Activated Search Services
Another implication specific to mobile search is brought on by the request relating to voice-activated search results. The FTC’s warning extends to services such as Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S-Voice. The FTC has requested that when a voice search is executed, an audio disclosure should be made to identify paid advertising. This could potentially deter users from those paid ads, making the organic listings more valuable.
Marketers must keep a close eye on search engine results and take note of any changes that occur. When used correctly and responsibly, paid search marketing can provide a tremendous benefit to brands’ online marketing and customer acquisition strategies. But in light of the FTC’s letter, the days of deceptive paid search tactics are coming to an end. That will benefit both consumers and marketers in the long run.
It’s reassuring, that even though some businesses out there are slow to improve their websites or their online marketing toolset, the trend is slowly but surely shifting. While still only a fraction of the marketing dollars spent out there, the numbers are showing that around 17% of most businesses marketing budgests are being spent on online marketing. Any positive growth is good for everyone involved.
A great graphic depicting some of these changes has been put together, which outlines some of the changes coming about in the marketing world. In the US, 70% of the businesses out there have indicated that they will be increasing spending on social media advertising (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) and 64% also chimed in to add their budget is increasing for SEO as well. With consumers spending more and more time searching online for their next purchase, it’s much more advantageous to get into the game now, as opposed to later. The longer you wait, the greater your costs are going to be. Surprisingly however, it came back that 17% of businesses out there planned on increasing their marketing budgets on print media, which is much like buying stock in Yahoo these days. I kid, I kid, all jokes aside however, almost anyone out there who has a job has access to the internet. It should be no surprise that on average people spend 3+ hours browsing the internet. 84% of people who use the internet, spend their time searching for information on what has caught their interest, there are billions of searches per day.
There’s a great deal more information which can be gleaned from the stats, have a look and take a moment to conisder your marketing plans. Are you on the side of innovation and forward thinking? Or trying to cling to an outdated, unmeasurable stand by. Just remember that the longer you wait, the more difficult the game becomes.
There are a lot of tips out there online about search engine optimization and the methods you can put to use to rank higher in the Google/Bing/Yahoo SERPs. You can find some of the same type of posts on our blog here as well. You’ll find discussion of white hat techniques, black hat techniques, the common steps known as well as some of the not so obvious ones.
What you don’t find very often however, are posts about what not to do, or what to look out for when you’re looking at contracting a company to perform SEO on your website. While the search engines are somewhat flexible in what you’re allowed to do, there are most definately some tricks which can get you black marked, all the way to completely kicked from the SERPs.
So, when you’re looking for a company to perform optimization on your site, keep your ears open for any of the below terms. If there is mention of using any of these practices, it’s time to run for the hills.
Using Cloaked content
This is one of the most common, and most likely to get your company banned, practices out there. For the most part, when you create content for your site you’re telling the search engines what your site is for. Google/Bing/Yahoo then lists the website under the titles and keywords that is found in that content. Cloaking content is when a company shows Google content, and then shows viewers different content such as ads or links to malware infected sites. This is what is cloaking and will get a site removed from Google in very short order.
A lot of blogs talk about how the meta data for keywords and description are defunct, but Google often looks to these as indicators of keywords that make up a site. For example a site about water softeners will often contain content relevant to that industry. Some companies, however, try to gain new content by what is known as “keyword stuffing”. Mainly this involves hiding keywords with single pixel sized font or camouflaging text the same as the background color to try and get listed more often, for more terms. It may seem to work short term, but it will get a site removed from the SERPs.
Duplicate content Websites
Some novice SEOs and SEO companies try to increase rankings by putting the exact same content on different pages on multiple sites. Typically they also use a scraper tool to gather quality content from websites for their own. Search engines have gotten adept at catching this and will happily penalize, a website that has too much duplicate content.
Auto Generating Content
Another poor technique is to use a program to write content for your website. This is exactly as it sounds, taking one article and then having a program rewrite the article by changing a few sentences and keywords over and over again.
Those are only a few of the terms you need to be aware of when speaking with an SEO company. Absolutely stressing the point that if any of the above techniques are mentioned as a tool they use, avoid them at all costs. There is no shortcut to success in online marketing, real SEO takes time and the more time and effort you can put into it, the bigger return on investment you can expect.
The most recent effort to introduce a bill aimed at placing the responsibility of policing the internet, of sorts, and it’s content has been blocked by Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.
The PROTECT IP Act was layed out and written in such a fashion that it would fall to internet service providers and search engines to essentially censor the internet. The proposed aim was to reduce the flow of business to websites selling counterfit name brand products. And while the goal is a noble one, the powers granted to the government over the ISPs and search engines if they didn’t comply with their directives was too far reaching. Basically any business could rat out another to the government, who would then turn around and say “Block this website” to the search engines and service providers. If they didn’t comply, they’d be subject to the whims of the body put in place to oversee their actions.
The largest issue with the bill and the way it was written, the burden of proof was placed on the accused, not the accuser. In essence, if you wanted to stop a competitor from advertising on the web and placing within the SERPs, all you would need to do is accuse them of infringing on your copyrights. The burden of proof would then be placed on the accused and they would be basically blacklisted to the corners of the internet.
A strong advocate of the bill had his own take on the necessity of the bill:
“American consumers are too often deceived into thinking the products they are purchasing at these websites are legitimate because they are easily accessed through their home’s Internet service provider, found through well known search engines, and are complete with corporate advertising, credit card acceptance, and advertising links that make them appear legitimate”- Senator Patrick Leahy
It’s easy enough to debate his comment however with just the simple statement, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re looking to buy a Rolex and you stumble upon that “hidden” gem online where you can buy one for a 10th of the retail cost, I would bet you’re buying a counterfit. Big business has a problem with the counterfitters namely because they’re almost entirely fly by night. They’ll engage in ruthless cut throat, black hat SEO tactics to continually rank above them in the SERPs to gain the visibility. The most consistent way to “win” the counterfit war is to simply rank above the gamers of the system. Investing in your website, investing in organic SEO and most importantly, investing in your brands online visibility.
Search Engine Optimization, we’re in the business of driving your website to the top of the search results relevant to your industry. A lot of the time, it sounds too good to be true, that when reaching this position you can literally count yourself as a leader. So you sit back, relax and watch as the visitors pour in. And then you start to notice something you didn’t prepare yourself for, your visitors start dropping off.
Where you once were receiving hundreds of qualified visitors to your site, you’ve watched it drop off to a trickle of where you were at your peak. So what happened? Did your SEO expert fail you? Possibly, we do make mistakes from time to time. But the first rule of SEO is KISS it; Keep It Simple Stupid. With that in mind, grab your pencils and paper and let’s take a look at what are the contributing factors to dropped traffic.
First and foremost, check your content. Have you been creating fresh and compelling content for your site? Have you allowed your SEO to read it before you upload it to your site or did you just toss up what ever jargon you happened to jot down in a hurry? The search engines have always proclaimed that content is king and when your content doesn’t measure up anymore, you’re going to lose your crown. That means when you’re being creative, you need to bear in mind your visitor base. Do they understand industry terms? Or do you need to use generic terms. Will they be able to handle acronyms and specific statements about your products and services? Being hasty in the creation process can be a huge contributor to losing traffic to your site. Properly spelled, grammatically correct and most of all relevant to your site content, can drive you to the top of the mountain and keep you there like an anchor.
Another avenue to explore for you, have you done any massive changes to your website either functionality or design? If you’ve changed the way your navigation works on your site and didn’t properly relay that information to the search engines, you’ll likely slip off of search until the spiders find all of your content again.
Have you kept an open and consistent dialogue with your SEO expert? When a change is requested that needs to be completed, you need to bear in mind that the internet doesn’t stop. It doesn’t sleep, rest, eat or use the washroom. The bots are always out there, always searching, parsing and indexing. A requested change needs to happen as soon as possible. Lost time when making changes can make a huge impact on your search position.
The marketing game has changed significantly in the last 10 years with the growth of the search engines. Gone are the days of dumping a quarter of a million dollars into an ad campaign and waiting for the kick back from it. International marketing superstardom can be had with a well coded website with strong quality content created by one person sitting behind a keyboard.
What is the greatest guessing game you ask? It’s the game which has made Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, as well as other search engine start ups and even failures, piles of money just by mention of the word. Search, is the greatest guessing game.
What happened when Google took the game and applied it’s own rules, was dominate the online community as it propelled itself forward, clawing and fighting for all of the infomation it could find. There are various illustrations of the web which come to mind when it’s pictured. Firstly as a web of course, of interconnecting websites and pages, all of which the search bots, spiders naturally, navigate their way around and build up this interconnectability between them. I’ve seen pictures of the internet visualized as planets in galaxies and solar systems, as continents on a map and even as a DNA strand at one point. The best visualization I can come up with is that of an ocean, and all of the websites and pages of the internet are just kind of floating around. People are like little fish, darting around from point to point, sometimes finding what they want, sometimes not. But it’s a fluid environment, never the same from day to day and always on the move.
An article written about which search engine is better at delivering relevant results was the inspiration for today. It tried to demonstrate that by using identical results in different search engines, that one could clearly deliver better and more relevant results than the other. The reality is I believe, much murkier than that. Google is absolutely a brand name, and used extensively in all walks of life. Bing is working hard on branding itself as a decision engine and not a search engine, but in the end both algorithms do primarily the same thing. They guess at what you’re looking for, they guess that they’re delivering you what you want to see and they guess mostly correct only because you’ve already told them what you want to see. Whether it’s via your search history, cookies saved on your computer or even your directly typed search query. Search is still just a game, and for now Google still plays it best. The internet and online technology being what it is, we’ll revisit the topic in a year and everything may be upside down.
With the rapid advancement of the web, the technologies that control it and the methods that people interact with it, it makes me wonder sometimes what’s going to happen by 2020.
*cue time warp*
Your morning might be something like while getting ready for work, you’re receiving all of your local newsfeeds directly to your 3D/Holo television already sorted and delivered relevant to your interests. News snippets, weather announcements followed by sports results all fully controllable should you desire more information. The commute to work, in a hands free car navigating itself to your meetings. No one works in offices anymore, the instant web and cloud offices makes physical locations a throwback to the previous centuries way of doing business.
With cloud computing being fully integrated into mainstream business, social and common use, communication has never been simpler, or faster. Terabit internet in the sprawling cities ensures that there’s always enough bandwidth. And for those with pockets full of money, neural interactivity direct to a focusing lens you wear like glasses; providing a vast, interactive surface with which to work and play.
Online search, commerce and social activities will most likely be completely merged; think of a mega company the likes of a Google and Facebook merger. We’ll call it GoogleBook. A complete portal, with news, social feeds from friends and family, shopping via search and instant messaging for friends, family and clients. Micro-blogging sites like Twitter, would be absorbed and added to the already potent offerings provided by such a massive company. The idea of privacy online has matured and changed with the baby boomer generation gone offline to relax in peace, and the tech savvy information generation coming into it’s prime as the dominant work force population.
The web will be faster, cleaner and more relevant to each individual as the Google algorithm, Facebook social algorithm, and the Amazon shopping algorithm all become written together into a do it all super algorithm. With signing in online, it will deliver the content you’re interested in, show you what your friends have been doing the last few days and find the local best deals for the new television you were thinking of buying.
*end time warp*
It’s going to be an exciting time to be online, even in the next few years let alone in the next 10. The web and it’s technologies are growing at an exponential rate, what we’ve learned and discovered over the last 25 years online, will be doubled in the next 3-4 years; and then that time will be cut again and again. Until discoveries are coming at such a rate, that it’ll be expected to have new tech every week, instead of every couple of months.
You could also subscibe to the theory that it’s game over in December 2012 as well. No one knos what’s to come in the next few days, let alone years. Here’s hoping the web continues to grow, mature and evolve as quickly as it has been.
At what lengths do you go, to save yourself or your business some cash? Where do you decide to trim your budget. Production? Acquisition? Marketing? Development? Depending on your niche and business model there are many more to add to the list I’d wager. So when it comes right down to it and you need to find some money, where do you trim, all too often the budget cuts fall on the marketing angle. And the first place that gets the shaft, is online marketing more than not.
The argument usually heard is that it’s not tangible, you can’t track any results or gains with it. The internet is a virtual world of switches, capacitors and electrical connections, so in a touchable tangible sense it’s not “real”. The numbers however, the web is full of numbers which are very easily countable. That machine you use on your desk at the office and at home everyday is, at it’s core, an overgrown calculator. Traffic, sales, visitors and unique first time viewers are all metrics easily tracked by the software that expert SEOs use to demonstrate to clients that what we do works like gang busters.
And a question that we are asked time and time again is: “Why should I retain you on a contract if the guy down the street says he can do the same for me for only $300?” And since people keep asking, the simplest and honest to god answer is maintenance. See, the internet never sleeps, never rests and is always changing. Google, the king of search and search marketing is the same. Always changing the algorithm, making it faster, smarter and it can throw the entire results page into disarray when they make a number of changes at once. Retaining your position on the SERPs in the midst of these changes is why we’re the best. And it’s why we can command the costs required for the care we give to your online marketplace. Now, if you’re still unsatisfied that this is the case, a simple analogy for you in easy to understand terms.
Your website is a car and Google is it’s engine. The internet are the roads you travel endlessly. Knowing you need a tune up (SEO) you look for a mechanic to tend to your car, and decide to settle for the budget variety to save a few dollars and settle in for a rest. Waking up, you find out that your Google engine has decided that it doesn’t like unleaded fuel anymore and instead wants diesel. So back to your mechanic who tells you ‘Sorry, I don’t know what I need to do to work with diesel’. And instead of driving your way to the top, you’re stuck, stranded on the side of the road with a stalled site (car), and work done on your engine that no longer works.
If you need to save some budget dollars and decide to focus on marketing, then trim your budget in the old, untraceable metrics like television, radio, newspapers and billboards. Playing catch up on the web is an exponentially more difficult game the longer you wait Winnipeg, time to get a move on.
According to the leaked Google document the biggest buyers of AdWords in June 2010 included AT&T Mobility, Amazon, eBay and BP.
BP was a newcomer to the list, spending $3.59 million on search ads in the wake of the gulf oil spill (compared to just $57,000 in the two months prior).
The Top Spenders List
The top spender in June, AT&T Mobility, spent $8.08 million on search ads to coincide with the release of the iPhone 4. According to Ad Age, AT&T’s the third-largest U.S. advertiser overall, so its Google spending is not a big surprise.
Other companies that made up the top 10 include:
Apollo Group – You know them as The University of Phoenix and they spent $6.67 million in June 2010
Expedia – $5.95 million
Amazon – $5.85 million
eBay – $4.25 million
Hotels.com – $3.30 million
JC Penney – $2.46 million
Living Social – $2.29 million
ADT Security – $2.19 million
The data obtained by Ad Age includes huge brands such as GM, Walt Disney, Eastman Kodak and BMW, which appear to have spent less than $500,000 in June. Tech rival Apple spent just under $1 million on search during the month, as did chip maker Intel.
Among Google’s biggest spenders are businesses that depend on search traffic, including those that resell AdWords or simply buy Google traffic to resell to their own advertisers, including Hungry Machine, which does business under the name Living Social, which spent $2.4 million in June, and Yellowpages.com, which spent $1.2 million.
As with any industry, and any news source, there’s always a degree of fluff and grandeur applied to stories. It’s not different in the search world, although at times there are headlines which just strike as odd.
Take for instance the headline stating “Bing overtakes Yahoo for number 2 in search”. If you’re new to the game, that might seem like a pretty big deal, considering search engines generate cash in one way, by having users. If however, you haven’t had your head buried in sand for the last few months, you knew this was happening. Technically, Yahoo doesn’t exist as a search engine anymore, it’s just a name. Yahoo search is powered by Bing now, so the idea that Bing has overtaken them, isn’t entirely true; it’s more like they consumed them.
It follows the same line of surprise as when we have an inquiry call, and they utter a comment like “The last company I spoke to said they could have me on page 1 within a week”. It takes a minute to collect the thoughts, and re-itterate to them that SEO and SEM are not the same marketing strategies. They have some fundamental principles in common, how ever, they work differently. Driving a persons website to page 1 within a week is not SEO, if anything it’s SEM and AdWords promotion. Maybe if you owned the 1 website on the internet which serviced the niche market there’s a slim possibility it could happen. And by slim, I mean take the number of online pages in your niche (blogs, forums, picture repositories etc), double it at least, and that’s your chances of landing page 1 in a week. It’s almost always after saying something along the lines of “SEO isn’t the same as SEM” that callers make the statement “Oh, they never told me there was a difference” And that’s when the light is turned on, and the truth is realized, they’ve been sold snake oil.
The first right step was made, they called the experts. We’ll dispel the myths, we’ll uncover the truths, and we’ll tell you how it is. If we can help you, and you want our help, give us a call. If you’d rather continue on paying for AdWords campaigns, more power too you. Just remember, Google has shaken the search tree with adding Instant into the mix. Relevant, organic page 1 results are going to be returning as the creme de la creme of online marketing. This is only just the beginning.