Microsoft and Their Crying Game

In the spirit of competition, Google has pretty much always said bring it on as competition almost always leads to improvements and innovation. There hasn’t been an innovative search engine developed since Google took their spot at the top of the heap, and while the task is daunting to take on the giant, it isn’t the company itself that is the issue, it’s their index of the web. As simple a problem as it may sound, creating an index of the internet is becoming an exponentially larger task every year, and as a result Google retains their spot as top dog.

Microsoft has similarly deep pockets with which to develop technology, whether it be in search, software, or what ever they may deem worthy at the moment. Disappointingly however, instead of sinking time and money into developing their own product, they spent who knows how much of both, on both their Scroogled campaign, Bing it on campaign, and their battle in the EU, trying to revive their antitrust reviews against Google. Their latest salvo in the fight, trying to convince those in power in the EU that positioning on the search results pages is directly relative to how much search traffic you get to your website. Anyone who works in any style of marketing company will tell you that if you occupy the choice spot, you’ll receive a better response, that’s a no brainer. But again, there was Microsoft time, and money spent to determine something that was already known by everyone who has ever done business. From Microsoft’s blog post:

Moving the best result down just two positions (from first to third) reduced traffic to that site by half.
The diversion effect becomes much more pronounced as a site is moved further down the page. A site that is moved from the first position to the tenth position typically will lose about 85 percent of its traffic.

A site that is moved from the second position to the ninth loses about 75 percent of its traffic.

Well no kidding.

Dilbert-fakelinksWhy they’re making such a big deal about search ranking is a tad confusing, because if you follow the language they use in their post, then Bing search does has exactly the same flaws as Google search, and their manipulated results. With those things being equal, shouldn’t the EU also look into potential anti-competitive practices against them as well? It didn’t go so well for them the last time that happened as I recall. There’s no arguing that Google has a leg up in the search world, they came onto the scene like gang busters with their algorithm and has had the largest web index on the globe, but instead of competing with them and developing their own product Microsoft has decided to go with another temper tantrum. Hopefully one of these days they’ll pull up their socks and improve their own products and stop kicking sand around the sand box.

Search Engine Optimization Cookies

There are a handful of advertising options when you’ve gotten your business up and rolling, and each one has their own pros and cons. Television, radio and print advertising is generally seen as being an older, dated method of advertising that still sees a fair amount of use, especially among some of the larger companies out there. Because at a certain point, you need to use it, because your competitors are.

closelookAnd then 20 years or so ago, all of that got flipped onto it’s head with the rapid growth and use of the internet. It took a few years for an indexing service to come along, but Google worked out a way to wrangle the mess of the web, and give it some order, and allowed users to search the web for what they want. Fast forward to today, and it is again starting to become a tangled mess of advertising avenues. Having a website has become, for the most part, a no brainer, if you have a business, you need a website. Because just how old media advertising was perceived 60 years ago, if you’re not doing it and capitalizing on the advertising, your competitor will be. One of the biggest differences between the old advertising methods and their counterparts of today however, is that the online variants can be tracked and deliver you a definitive return on your investment. Search engine marketing, also known as pay per click advertising is great for immediate branding efforts and recognition, and helps you build your brand quicker than by just word of mouth. Think of PPC/SEM advertising as impulse adverts, like the gum and magazines you see in the check out isle at the grocery store.

The true benefits of online marketing really only become clear when you have the time and the budget to incorporate search engine optimization into your advertising portfolio. It is not to be taken lightly or done in a haphazard way. SEO is the chocolate chips in a chocolate chip cookie, you need to do it right, and it needs to be done in a proper balance otherwise you’ll end up with a poor product, and be met with the wrong side of the ranking algorithm on the search engines. There isn’t much to expand upon regarding search engine optimization, and in the spirit of following our own rule set of keeping it simple, if you don’t know how to properly perform SEO, don’t.

Retain Your Message During Redesigns

One of the fastest growing terms or trends in building a website the last few months has got to be the rise of the responsive web design. If you’ve shopped for a new site in the last bit you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, and it really does make sense. A responsive site isn’t a new idea, it’s just picked up a name for itself that designers can identify with, and it makes sense to boot.

futureWhen a web designer or developer is discussing a responsive site with you, it basically means the website can adapt to what ever technology the user is on at the moment. Whether it’s a desktop, tablet, or a mobile phone, your website will change to suit the visitor. There are some unique challenges that you need to be aware of though when looking at this type of design, as you may lose out on customer interaction or conversions if you’re not diligent about how the site performs. A top issue that you need to consider is the content that is displayed above the fold, or to put it another way, what content is immediately visible to a visitor without them having to scroll. Having visitors land on your website as the result of a search or a referral from a friend should be a near guaranteed conversion. But too many site owners and designers think of “flash before cash” and instead of working their magic and trying to make a conversion they show off and the main message gets lost. Don’t take that to mean you can’t show off the capabilities of your site or it’s design, just make sure your message isn’t being lost by doing so, both are possible you just need to be aware as you build it to make it happen properly.

Another key aspect of a responsive design is it is usually on the lower side of the content spectrum, so the content that is there needs to cover two major bases off the hop. It needs to be relevant, and it needs to be engaging for the user. Contrary to the belief of some who call themselves SEO experts, your content can be highly relevant without being spam filled, it doesn’t have to look liek a robot spit out a paragraph of keywords.And on that same note, your content can engage the user as well as be relevant, it just takes some wordsmithing to do it right to make sure the message is delivered while keeping the point in focus.

A responsive site design is a great move forward online, it’s a great means to use to provide your message to online searchers across multiple formats. Just remember to not get lost in the bells and whistles, and keep it simple. There’s nothing worse than driving a company to the top of search, just to have them completely revamp a website and lose their conversion rate.

Save Money On Google Penguin

In the last year the Google has released some pretty heavy duty algorithms to try and clean up their search results pages, affectionately referred to as Penguin and Panda updates. It is usually fairly easy to pick up on when an update is going on, as the results pages shift fairly consistently over a few days, and during that time you can go from a top 3 position, to not found, to page 2, and so on.

SadPenguinThere are people in the blogging world who have some pretty close ties to the team at Google, and they were able to send off a quick email to find out if the gut feeling about an update was correct or not. Just last week however, it was announced that there would be no more direct confirmations from the search engine, about updates or shifts that are occurring. But don’t worry, it’s not that the communication is completely breaking down, it actually has more to do with the fact that the shifts shouldn’t be as abrupt or drastic anymore, perhaps it’s a sign that the results pages are getting closer to what the team at Google deems acceptable?

Of all of the things that we hate the most with the SEO business, there is always a short list of the few things that we try our hardest to stay away from. Some are unavoidable with client assistance, and some are completely unavoidable and regardless of how frustrating an experience it can be, we have to deal with it. As it goes with any endeavor, one of the biggest issues that can pull you apart is having too many cooks in the kitchen. There are all sorts of cliches you can use to this effect, but they all mean the same thing – too many people on the same project, and loss of information and procedure will occur. We try to minimize the impact of this by being able to directly work on a clients website, but there are sometimes cases where that isn’t a possibility, and so we deal with it. To a web developer two days to make a change may seem like an acceptable time frame, but to the internet and the search engines, it means all the difference in the world.

Another issue that sometimes crops up, and we sometimes receive phone calls for is for a quick solution, to a long running problem. Search engine optimization is not an apply duct tape here type of process, the minimum time frame we try to advise our clients of, both existing and prospective, is a 4 – 6 months window within which you might start to see consistent improvement. So the next time you’re considering using SEO to help bolster your site positions, just remember that if anyone tells you I can do it in two weeks for $300, you are potentially digging yourself a very deep hole at worst, at best you have spent money for no real lasting results.

Search in the 21st Century

A lot of poor information often gets circulated around the internet about everything really, but the real bone of contention that we have here at Fresh is with the people and businesses that spread bad advice or information about the web. The internet doesn’t seem like a terribly difficult tool to use, but it is one of those tools that if you don’t use it correctly, it can come back to bite you.

right-toolA big buzz word for the last few years was search engine optimization, and while it is still as powerful a tool as ever, it seems that some of the uninitiated “experts” have been culled from selling their services online with the Panda and Penguin updates. The very recent buzz phrase this time around is surrounding social media. Facebook, Twitter, blogging, so on and so forth, if you don’t have a social page you’re going to disappear on search etcetera. Facebook is the largest social media player on the web, no one can contest that fact, and within the last couple of weeks they came right out and said they have no intentions of offering a full search service, they are only concerned with Facebook Graph search. So very simple, and very plainly, search and social are two different things. The user base of the internet leverages both technologies to make a decision these days, so to ignore the social side of the web is a bad decision, but if for some reason you do, it won’t affect any SEO campaigns you may have implemented.

Three or so years ago when it became the big thing to sell search engine optimization services, a lot of the same old mantra began to be repeated that you could find on old blogs and forums. Methods like article submissions, link exchanges and ranking reports and their definitions were used to sell a number of businesses poor to terrible SEO campaigns. The bigger issue surrounding these terms isn’t really that they’re old tactics, it is if they are used incorrectly they can get you and your website into trouble with the search engine powers that be. Using article submission as a tactic now a days is a good way to get scooped up by Panda, especially if a post or a blog gets scraped and passed around the web on thousands of sites. Links exchange ala the early 2000’s where you pull the “I’ll give you one for one” is a sketchy tactic at best, and at its worst, there’s no way to follow if that link gets pointed all over the web at any given time. And as for ranking reports, that’s just a phrase that old marketing companies use to try and wrangle your business in as they can show you a report where they help you rank for a long tail (9+ terms) search that no one really performs.

Some of the business owners here in Winnipeg really need to give their websites a good long look, and step forward into the 21st century. Using only newspapers, radio and television is high cost, low ROI, and virtually untrackable where visitors are concerned. A real search engine optimization campaign can correct all of those issues, and we can even right side up a sinking website, all it takes is a little time, and a whole lot of experience.

Design Your Site While Thinking of The Future

There are a lot of steps to consider when you have a website built for your business, there is no doubt about that, but there are a lot of pitfalls that you can run into if you’re not careful with your planning stage, hopefully with the help of this short blog post you can avoid some of the big ones. Your website is much more than just an online version of your business, it is your introduction to the world, and if done right your highest return on investment you can make in marketing.

websiteupgradeYour first major priority when coming up with a website is its design and its function. You should follow a clear, consistent theme ideally showcasing your services and view it as the beginning of building your online brand. Where the web is concerned, everyone has to start at the bottom, so if you truly want to make a mark for yourself, you need to be clear with who you are and what you offer. The function of your website is an important factor to remember, it boils down into two major usability points of your website. The first is the navigation of your website, it should be simple and easy to understand in how to use it. If your visitors can not discern how to find their way through your site, then you can expect your conversions to be low as well.

The second aspect you need to remember regarding the function of your website is the point of your site. Regardless of what you want your site to do now, you need to have some foresight into what your goals are as your user base increases. A major sticking point which can quickly increase your costs of having a site, is to turn a blind eye to the potential future of your business. If you offer a product for sale as an example, it would be in your best interest to offer online payments for your products. At this stage of the internet there is really no reason to not offer a payment or a shopping option for your products and services.

Just because you may have no present ideas to make sales online doesn’t mean that you should leave the functionality from building or improving your website. If you prefer, you can think of it as a cost incurred today, is saved in the future.

As an unrelated point, I should remember to push publish when I’m finished my blogs. :)

The Dark Future of Facebook Search

In the last few months Facebook has come out in the open about their own search offering, and if you are interested in trying it you can sign up for it. It’s an intriguing idea Graph search, but as numerous blogs and articles on the web quickly discovered, the results which are returned can be a little on the flaky side at times. You can even go so far as to somewhat toy with the search interface, and come up with some very unusual search settings as an example.

The service is still in its infancy, it has a lot of learning and lot of growing to do. One of the main complaints that has come up however, that has been consistent across all articles is the web search feature provided by Graph search is lacking. In fact, it’s lacking enough that it may as well be non-existent, so there were writers out there who had hoped that the service would improve over time. It seems that their prayers will go unanswered, for the time being at least, as Grady Burnett, VP of Global Marketing for Facebook said, in no uncertain terms there will be no external search engine. The actual quote from SMX West:

GB: I don’t see that happening. We called it “Graph Search” because we’re focused on letting people search the Facebook graph. So my answer would be no.

internetmapThere is going to be a handful of different responses to this message from the company, some will be cheering, others will be jeering of course, but those in the search industry who truly understand, won’t be surprised at all. When you consider all aspects of the internet, not just search and social, a picture will begin to form. This map obviously isn’t an exact replication of what the internet looks like, or how it’s divided, but it makes it easier to understand, and see why Zuckerberg, who built the largest social network in existence, isn’t worried about external search at the moment. There is so much more out there that isn’t Google or Bing or Yahoo to worry about, they’re only a fraction of what makes the web so massive.

Ever Lasting Search Battles

Search engines catch a lot of flack for various things, some of the items which top the list are privacy concerns, spam issues, and irrelevant search results. The laundry list of complaints and concerns that users come up with about the engines is as varied as the user, and can sometimes border on the silly; like the recent court case Google won.

WebsitegoalsAll things being even though, the complaints do have some merit as there are lingering issues with search and the results pages. There are some unscrupulous users out there that try and ruin it for the rest of us by gaming the search engines. Cloaking pages, hidden links, scraping genuinely great content and sometimes even just running a content generator that spits out nonsense. At a recent event, Matt Cutts came out and discussed some of the top issues that Google actively works on keeping from their search results. Some of the ones that you would expect are in the list, spam content that was auto generated, this usually reads like nonsense and is stuff to the brim with keywords. Not surprisingly, keyword stuffing also made that short list of immediate no-no’s, where SEO is concerned this is even a basic of the basics, you just don’t do it. As it should be expected, pages that are full of nonsense text for no reason at all, it isn’t too difficult to find unfortunately, as you can just run a search for “Lorem ipsum” and you’ll be able to find too many poor businesses out there who have no idea they’re being swindled.

One of the methods that was discussed which is still an issue online, is full on hacking of websites. It started when the web was born, and will likely always exist in some form or another. There are many different levels of hacking, and not all of them are malicious, web developers have been having to deal with Internet Explorer for years with some of these methods. But there are still malicious hackers out there, who will attempt to seize your website and use it to their advantage. You can deter most attempts however just by following safe web practices and ensuring your website software is up to date, and by taking the time to actually look at your own website from time to time. If something looks wrong, investigate and fix it before it becomes an issue.

Search engines and the internet are still very young technologies if you really break down the numbers, they have a lot of evolving to go through in their lifetime. There is clearly some massive potential for growth in all sectors, search, websites, and information sharing, etc, and for as many innovations we make there will be users who try to take advantage. Be aware of your website and it’s content, and try to keep in touch with your website admin and your SEO provider, you’ll be thankful you did.

Search Context Matters

A quick pop quiz for you, what do these terms all have in common: cheap, cost effective, reduced cost, low price, reduced price? If your first response is that they all are basically the same thing, then I could say that you’re correct. Wouldn’t you know it however, that the search engines, and the internet, don’t see things quite the same way?
synSearch engines like Bing, Google and Yahoo are great at the basics of figuring out what it is that you’re trying to find online. Using the above terms as an example, if you searched for a “cheap washing machine” you would expect to get ads for refurbished machines, maybe some Kajiji ads or even Craigslist offers. The problem with the way that search engines determine what you’re looking for though, really becomes apparent when you search for “low price washing machines”. They are the same terms, and mean the same to a person, but to a search engine bot they’re completely separate values, you could just as well be searching for washing machines in one instance and a space shuttle the next.

The bearing this has on you, as a website owner and online storefront, is you need to be clear in your message you present, and your website needs to support your message. If you are in the business of repairing and reselling washing machines, then you need to be clear that yours are both cheap, and low price. Search engines, for as amazing as they are for what they do, has no idea of context, and as a result you need to relay that information to them. You do this both with your content, and with your optimization efforts. When you’re ready to finally be known for all of your business services, the online branding experts are here to help.