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On the subject of Google

Google-Panda-and-Penguin-Updates-and-What-Works-Best-Now

Matt

October 31st, 2014.

Google, Penguins, and Unintended Consequences

Changes to the status quo will often have unexpected and far-reaching results; so said Robert K Merton in his Law of Unintended Consequences back in 1936.2_142

Changes that are made by governing bodies and organisers to complex structures are almost unavoidably likely to have an impact on uninvolved bystanders; such is the nature of any system.

Modern economists make frequent use of the law to explain how decisions at a governmental level have significant unintended consequences further down the food chain.

Examples of the law in practice include wind farms that actually harm the environment by killing birds. Laws used to promote green vehicles which with the help of an enterprising salesman resulted in free golf carts for businessmen, and the Australian law making cycle helmets mandatory that actually resulted in an increase in the risk of death and serious injury to cyclists.

So what does all of this have to do with Google?

In the search engine world, there’s little doubt about who makes the rules; and with its recent Penguin update, Google has left some innocent websites suffering in its campaign for good SEO practices.

Some Early Examples

Now of course there is some history here. There are many early examples of unintended consequences that have arisen from decisions and courses of action that Google have taken,

  • Using Pagerank to dictate that links had value resulted in the link economy, blog networks, comment and forum spam and a proliferation of low quality web directorie
  • Google AdSense for publishers led to an explosion in content scraping, copyright theft and MFA (Made For Adsense) sites.
  • The introduction of rel=nofollow led to Pagerank sculpting and siloing.

So Where Does The Penguin Update Fit In?

The Google Penguin update was introduced in April 2012 as a means of identifying and demoting websites that had previously benefitted from aggressive SEO techniques.

According to Matt Cutts (Head of Google’s WebSpam team), the update targeted ‘all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site.’

To put it bluntly, it was designed to demote websites that appeared to be benefitting from undeserved backlinks.

The principles behind Penguin meant that it was welcomed by most web users. It would ensure that websites that engaged in link-spamming and other underhanded black-hat techniques would drop down the rankings. Google speculated that the first update would only have an impact on 3.1% of English search queries and 3% on searches made in the German, Chinese, and Arabic languages.

The Reality?

The Penguin Update was largely successful, resulting in the demotion of a hundreds of thousands of websites that had been ranking unfairly. Unfortunately it also affected some sites that hadn’t knowingly engaged in shady link-building practices.

For example, the specialist WordPress site WPMU.org was crushed by the update, dropping from 8,580 daily visits to a paltry 1,527 after it was introduced.

Despite the site’s owner, John Farmer claiming that there had been no keyword stuffing, link schemes or had any problems regarding quality. Matt Cutts came forward with the claim that the site had been penalised due to a few bad links pointing to it.

Largely it was felt that due to the nature of the site (a WordPress resource); there were bound to be links to the site indicating authorship and design of blogs often of a lower quality – links that were keyword heavy and in footers, blogrolls and often sitewide.

Even so, the damage had been done and it was left for WPMU to rebuild their rankings.

One major unintended consequence of the Google Panda Update was the ‘bad-by-association’ approach to some sites. If one site was penalised, sites associated with that site were shown to be affected negatively. In an online discussion Michael Martinez of SEO Theory said, ‘what they are seeing is a Cascade Effect where the websites that link to them suddenly lose value. So the real problem lies 1 or 2 tiers back. These are not false positives, although they are collateral damage.’ However we define this problem, it is clear that some websites have experienced a drop in traffic and money-earning potential through no fault of their own.

The Target Changes…

Some leading SEO experts have revealed that some more aggressive (and less-ethical) SEOs have posed as their rivals and petitioned sites with fake requests for the removal of perfectly good links. Such tactics have been adopted as a means of reducing competitor’s website rankings. Thankfully as yet this problem doesn’t seem to be widespread.

When fake emails aren’t enough, there have also been some reports of unscrupulous webmasters building spammy links to rival websites hoping to see them penalised as a result.

Even examples of blackmail threats made to websites with the threat of black-hat SEO and possible penalties.

Members of the specialist SEO Forum Traffic Planet revealed how devastating this tactic could be by test-targeting two websites with ScrapeBox blasts. This involved the creation of thousands of anchor-text based backlinks and resulted in a substantial ranking drop for the sites targeted.

The Traffic Planet case study was just one way of outlining the effects of a wide reaching problem. Danny Sullivan, the Editor in Chief of Search Engine Land pointed out that, ‘As for not accepting there’s no negative SEO, I’ve repeatedly said that it is possible … perhaps it [is] more viable now because it’s cheaper now. That’s exactly the opposite or refusing to accept that links could be cheaply and trivially pointed at any site. What remains unclear is how serious a threat it is to the vast majority of sites out there.’

The cautionary message here appears to be: as much as Google’s addressing of black-hat SEO may make for a quality content-driven user-experience, it’s by no means flawless. When in doubt, leave it out and play it safe.

dominos-pizza-sitelinks-1

Matt

October 24th, 2014.

All You Need to Know About Google Sitelinks and Mini Sitelinks

For some time Google has shown a number of sitelinks under some of its search results. In 2009 they expanded on this system and introduced mini sitelinks, also known as one line sitelinks.

So what are sitelinks? And what is the difference between normal sitelinks and mini sitelinks?

Sitelinks

The older form of sitelink appears to be relatively rare nowadays – they have tended to be superseded by their little brother. The traditional sitelinks appear under a few search terms, mainly well-known brands, and they show additional links within that particular domain. They will only appear on the top ranking result in a search, will show up to eight specific links on a site, and will appear in two columns (and therefore up to four rows).

sitelinksAn example of a traditional sitelink occurs if you search for “BP” in Google.com. The top ranking result for that search is, not surprisingly, BP Global, at www.bp.com . At the bottom of this search result are four sitelinks (they are in the two-column style, so are clearly traditional sitelinks, not mini sitelinks) which are Careers / BP United Kingdom / BP Australia / BP America. These are clearly delineated sections of the BP website, and different people are likely to want to go to the different links.

Another example of a search term with traditional sitelinks is “BBC”.  The first result belongs to the homepage of the BBC itself – www.bbc.co.uk. At the bottom of this result there are six sitelinks: BBC News / BBC iPlayer / Sport / Football / Weather / Radio. These, presumably, are six of the most frequently visited sections of the BBC site, and it is probable that people visiting the site only choose the one area that they are really looking for.

As can be seen from the examples I have chosen these traditional sitelinks generally only appear to show when you search for particular brands. Sitelinks only tend to be triggered when there is one specific authorititive site that is relevant for a query – in the vast majority of cases this is a brand result for a brand query. A search for “BP Oil” does not bring up traditional sitelinks, nor does “BBC Television”. Indeed a search for some very well-known brands does not bring up a result with traditional sitelinks at all.

Although Google has kept its criteria for deciding on when to display sitelinks secret, it appears that it will only show traditional sitelinks when there is a clear and obvious first result in a search, and where there are sufficient different sections of a site that people would want to see, that match what people are likely to be searching for.

Mini Sitelinks

Mini sitelinks have now become much more common than the traditional variety. As their alternative name (one-line sitelinks) suggests these are all displayed on one line, and there are usually four of them. There can even be more than one set of them for a particular search term. Quite a number of search results that do not make it to number one in the search list still qualify to have a row of mini sitelinks placed on them.

The key differences between the two types of sitelinks are:

  • Sitelinks seem to be (generally) limited to branded searches, although the mini sitelinks are not
  • Sitelinks only appear beside the number one result in a search, but mini sitelinks can appear beside lower ranked results
  • Mini sitelinks can appear beside multiple search results for a term
  • It is even possible for a particular domain to appear more than once in a search of a specified term, and there can actually be different mini sitelinks on the different appearances of that site in the results. A particular domain can even show with traditional sitelinks at the top of a search, but with mini sitelinks further down the results.

The specific search term used is very important. A particular domain may appear in the results with traditional sitelinks, mini sitelinks or no sitelinks depending on what search term has been used. In particular there will be no sitelinks when rarely used search terms are used. If you search for “Starbucks” you will receive results with the Starbucks website in the number one position, showing traditional sitelinks. A search for “Starbucks brewed coffee” will still bring up the Starbucks website as the number one result, but is will show mini sitelinks. A search for “brewed coffee” will bring up the Starbucks site as the number two result, but neither it, nor any of the sites listed, have any sitelinks.

Google keeps its sitelinks’ algorithm very much under wraps. However, there do seem to be a few common features of sites that have triggered mini sitelinks. If you aim to get these links on your own site, you might want to consider the following:

  • Is your actual site content relevant to your overall site theme? Google rewards consistency and clarity
  • Does your site have credible content that is clearly unique? Google loves quality content on a site.
  • Can Google clearly understand your site’s structure? Again, the clearer it is, the better it is for Google
  • If you did have sitelinks, is it likely that your users would click on the links?
  • Do inner/hub/category pages on your site attract links?

Of course, much of this is basic SEO. So clearly a site needs more than just good SEO. It needs to also have good traffic, and that traffic needs to be going to clearly delineated sections of your site. There may well be an unidentified threshold traffic figure that Google uses in their decision making.

cocacolaApart from ensuring that you are big enough to attract a high front page ranking for well-targeted high-traffic keywords, there are a few other techniques which appear to help sites attract Google’s attention for their mini sitelinks. You need to have a very clear navigational path through your site. This needs to tie in with a simple site structure that matches clear HTML and XML sitemaps.

Some sites, however, attract sitelinks when they do not want them. Even some of the big sites have somewhat bizarre sitelinks attached to them. If you search for Coca Cola, the first thing you notice is that despite being a big brand there are no traditional sitelinks. The mini sitelinks that appear beneath the first result (for www.coca-cola.com) are Coca-Cola / Nigeria / Angola / Djibouti … a somewhat odd choice unless you were living in Africa.

This instance supports the view that navigation is an important factor in triggering sitelinks and which sitelinks are chosen.

If you feel your sitelinks are inappropriate, or would prefer not to have them at all, you can block them using your Google Webmaster Tools. There is a chance that, assuming you already meet the criteria to have sitelinks, you might be able to suggest to Google more appropriate links (again in your Google Webmaster Tools). However, ultimately it is up to Google to decide who will receive the links and what these will be.

GoogleTrusted-img

Matt

October 1st, 2014.

Google Trusted Stores Now Open In The UK

In 2012, Google launched its Trusted Stores program in the USA. Now, the search engine has opened the program to UK retailers, aimed at creating a better shopping experience for both consumers and eCommerce websites.

What is Google Trusted Stores?

Google Trusted Stores is a program that is beneficial to both consumers and eCommerce sites. With the Google Trusted Stores program, retailers that meet certain criteria get a Trusted Stores badge, which displays on their site, and on paid search engine results. This badge allows stores to show they offer fantastic customer service and consistent, on-time deliveries.

gts

 

Benefits to Consumers

The Trusted Stores Program benefits consumers in a number of ways. As online stores have to meet strict criteria to join the program, consumers are able to shop with more confidence. Online, there are thousands of stores for consumers to choose from, and often, consumers don’t know which ones are going to provide them with the best shopping experience.

When a consumer sees the trusted stores symbol on a store, it differentiates that site from others. It allows shoppers to more easily identify stores that offer a high quality shopping experience. Merchants with the badge will also offer free purchase protection from Google.

Benefits to Businesses

For retailers, the program can be highly beneficial. It provides merchants with the chance to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The Trusted Stores badge immediately makes a store stand out.

For example, a person searching for a floor lamp on Google will see an abundance of stores. However, if they see one store is displaying a badge, they are most likely to visit that particular store.  This increased level of visibility will attract more customers, and therefore, increase sales and conversion rates.

Most importantly, however, the objective data offered to consumers through the program can drastically increase a store’s customer base. When a consumer places an order with a site, they want to know that it offers a good shopping experience. The Trusted Stores Badge provides consumers with more objective information on a store’s quality level.

When a consumer hovers their mouse over the badge, they will see a report card. This card offers information on a store’s customer services and shipping reliability. Also, it will display overall data on the store, such as returns, delivery times, email response times and the overall shopping experience. This data is collected through an independent shopping evaluation company called StellaService. With this symbol, the consumer is given an objective review of the site, and will be more likely to purchase with that store.

Applying: Who should Apply and How to Apply

Stores can apply to the Google Trusted Stores program, only if they meet certain eligibility criteria.

  • Process a Certain Number of Orders: Your site must consistently process at least two- hundred orders, over twenty-eight days to be eligible.
  • Use Shipping Tracking Numbers: On the majority of the orders your site ships, you must use shipment tracking numbers. This is so Google is able to see how quickly your shipments were delivered, and how many were delivered.
  • Cannot Sell Restricted Items: If your website sells any restricted items, such as tobacco, weapons, and certain pharmaceuticals, it won’t be eligible for the Google Trusted Stores Program
  • Must Offer Reasons for CancellationsIf your site becomes part of the Trusted Stores program, it must provide reasons for cancellations. When an order status changes to cancelled, you will be taken to a pop-up screen. On this screen, you will have to state the reason for the cancellation. In order to keep your Google cancellation feed up to date, you have to enter this data.
  • Deal with Customer Escalations Promptly: If a customer is not happy with one of your employees, and wants to talk to someone in a higher position, this issue must be resolved within one working day.
  • Use a Custom Domain and Have an SSL Certificate: Your website must have its own custom domain, and have an SSL certificate to participate in the Google Trusted Stores program.

Launching in the UK, the Google Trusted Stores program is sure to have a big impact on eCommerce and paid search, and  may helpincrease conversion rates for many stores.

google-tax-1200x800

Matt

December 17th, 2013.

Good Guy Google – Nine Awesome Things Google Have Done That You Didn’t Even Know About

Love them or hate them, almost all of us these days use Google as our default search engine, and for increasingly other services beyond that, from email to analytics, document storage to translation. Some strange few even use their social media offerings.

But are Google ‘good’ as a company? There is plenty of deserved criticism surrounding privacy and tax avoidance amongst other things. supposedly Google still work on the simple premise of ‘Don’t be evil’, although many would claim that this ethos went out of the window a long time ago. Even Eric Schmidt has since come out and said that the claim was stupid.

However, Google do do a lot of ‘good’. Here are ten of the best examples of ‘good guy Google’, and of the search engine giant doing things that, while not driving their profits higher, help to benefit – potentially – all of mankind. And no, this isn’t a paid Google post..

Google.org

Google.org is perhaps the best example of Google doing good, as it exists purely to develop technology with a positive social impact.

Google-Flu-2013-France2Projects range from Google’s role in advertising and coordinating crisis response efforts, to heavily subsidised (or free) versions of Google’s commercial products for use by non-profit organisations.

Most impressive of all, however, are the Dengue and Flu Trends services, which detect the earliest indications of an outbreak of flu or dengue fever based on the number of people searching for symptoms and treatments.

These can predict epidemics even before doctors have noticed a significant increase in patients presenting with the relevant symptoms, allowing production of the right medicines and vaccines to be scaled up in preparation.

Googling ‘Suicide’

Search for ‘suicide‘ and you might expect the usual helplines and support services for your country or location to be among the top results anyway.

However, Google go further than that – in the UK, you’ll receive a specific message (which, admittedly, still appears below rather than above the sponsored links) telling you to call the Samaritans for help.

In the US, you’ll be presented with an equivalent message for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, while in either country, the organic and sponsored results alike are packed with organisations who can offer advice and support to those going through troubled times.

Breaking Boundaries

Perhaps more than any other big brand, Google work to open doors – figuratively speaking – in developing countries, in order to give people there access to information on as much a free a basis as possible.

The company itself is physically present in over 60 countries worldwide, and the majority of its search results are served to non-US customers.

Google Search itself is available in over 130 different languages, while Google Translate translations can be manually improved by international readers to give a better version of the text than is possible through automated translation.

This is helping to make every web page – regardless of its original language – accessible to web users worldwide, putting all countries and nationalities on a level footing in terms of their access to knowledge and information.

Google Doodles

google-steve-jobs-link-1317903191When Google’s homepage logo changed to a ‘Doodle’ – originally a stylised version of the logo that paid homage to a famous person born on that date, or some other such achievement – it used to be big news.

These days, Google Doodles appear much more often, and are much more complex, often involving some kind of game or other interaction.

However, they also serve to raise awareness of scientific achievements, independence days and cultural celebrations, helping to unite people all over the world every time they make a search.

In rare instances, Google will also add a text message below the main search box on their homepage – they did this, for example, as a mark of respect to Apple innovator Steve Jobs upon his death – and this is a further means by which they can raise awareness, as well as showing a little of their human side on what is otherwise a sleek corporate homepage.

The Return of Authorship

It’s worth taking a moment to look at some of the more recent ‘good things’ Google have done specifically for the way the web works.

For instance, since introducing their own Google+ social network, Google have made it possible for authors to effectively connect their work directly with their Google+ profile.

This in turn allows seasoned professionals to be given added significance in the search results by placing their author image alongside their work.

Supporting Journalism

The web has often been portrayed as the enemy of traditional journalism, with print news publications finding it difficult to compete with real-time ‘news’ via social networks, and to maintain editorial standards in the face of bloggers who are often not subjected to the same levels of scrutiny on grammar and spelling.

In February 2013 though, Google took the first plainly visible steps towards overcoming that (outside of simply carefully selecting the sources of content that are included in the Google News search index).

A total of eight students from 2,300 applicants were selected for fellowships at seven different organisations with links to journalism, from research centres and training facilities, to action groups that aim to protect investigative journalists while they carry out real-world research.

The response to the scheme was so great, Google had to extend the application review period by a full week, and received an application every two minutes on the last day of the deadline; the chosen students will also spend a week working at Google, and learn about how the worlds of journalism and technology can overlap in the years to come.

Safer Internet Day

Each year, on Safer Internet Day, Google make efforts to raise public awareness of online security – particularly among those users who might not be so experienced at using computers or searching from smartphone handsets.

The brand’s commitment to security is built into its products – Google Chrome automatically updates to apply any new security patches, while both Google Search and Gmail transmit data only via encrypted connections.

But its public awareness efforts go beyond automation, encouraging best practices among human users of its services, and of the kinds of technology on which those services are delivered.

In 2013, for instance, the Safer Internet Day campaign from Google focused on issues like locking and password-protecting PCs, laptops and mobile phones, to prevent unauthorised access.

Scrolls and Santa

In December 2012, Google made two announcements with close links to Christmas – one of which was a frivolous bit of fun, while the other was a major archaeological advance.

Google-Santa-Tracker-4-600x358Once again, the search engine ran its annual ‘Santa Tracker’ service, giving people worldwide the ability to “see where Santa’s headed next” on services like Google Earth, and on devices ranging from PCs and laptops with the Chrome browser installed, to Android-powered mobile devices.

Around the same time, Google unveiled the further digitisation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, putting 5,000 images of the scrolls online, and with detailed information for 900 individual manuscripts.

Google provided the storage for the data – which includes colour images at 1,215 dpi resolution, along with infrared scans – and added supporting information through Google Maps, their own imaging technologies, and even YouTube integration.

Whatever your religious beliefs (and that extends to non-religious beliefs like atheism too), Google strive to cater for cultures and communities of all kinds through these kinds of projects, whether they are academic in nature, or simply a fun way to celebrate an important date on the calendar.

Google Goats

goats2In 2009, Google stopped using noisy, air-polluting lawnmowers to clear the grass and brush from the hills around their Mountain View headquarters (a necessary task to reduce the risk of a grass fire close to the building).

They instead hired a herd of goats to come and eat their way across the hillside, clearing vegetation as they went.

‘Mowing’ using goats takes the company about a week each summer, and has the dual benefits of reducing carbon emissions while also naturally fertilising the land – and for approximately the same cost as using petrol-powered industrial mowers.

Martina Martina

August 11th, 2011.

[Infographic] – Which search engine holds the most weight?

Google, Google, Google…it’s all we talk about, it’s (possibly) all we care about in terms of SEO ranking and PPC ads, and some might say they even live in fear of it (you know, since the big bad Panda updates).

One thing we can’t argue with however, is its resourcefulness; it has “everything” one could need, making it so much more than just a search engine. It’s a machine.

Now that isn’t to say that Google can’t be annoying sometimes (infact an earlier post of mine focuses on just that *shakes fist* :x ) and familiarity breeds contempt after all, right?

Perhaps it’s because of its ‘one size fits all’ approach or perhaps it’s because of it’s dominance of the entire internet that causes people to look elsewhere for a search engine that fits their particular needs and that feels slightly more personal…in any case, I came up with this helpful infographic to help you decide:

Click image for the full HQ infographic

Use the following code to post the full infographic to your blog:
<a href=”http://picturepush.com/public/6293344″><img src=”http://www1.picturepush.com/photo/a/6293344/img/6293344.jpg” border=”0″ alt=”Image Hosted by PicturePush – Photo Sharing” /></a>

Matt

July 12th, 2011.

Why Google Plus will fail

Google+ launched a couple of weeks ago, and now the dust has started to settle on what is Google’s most important project to date outside of search.

So how will + be received and what are the chances of long-term success? Launching a social network is always going to be tough, even tougher when your aim is to replace Facebook, however Google have done themselves no favours with their launch strategy.

The invites scheme sucks

While an invite scheme works really well at generating launch buzz around non-social products such as GMail for instance, for social networks restrictions on sign ups can be a major contribution to their failure. Exclusivity obviously restricts the number of people that are able to sign up in the early stages. When Google+ was first announced they benefited from a tremendous amount of mainstream media coverage, since then while industry chatter has grown, the mainstream coverage has tailed-off. This may be have been an unmissable opportunity to get mainstream sign ups on the site.

Google are terrible at social

Google actually have a terrible record of ‘doing’ social media, a long list of failures lie in their wake – Google Wave, Buzz, Voice, Orkut, etc. Getting people to talk about Google products has never been an issue, getting them to use them has.

Critical mass

For a social network to succeed in the long-term they have to reach a critical mass of users. It’s not easy to persuade people to join a social network, and it’s even less easy to persuade them to move networks. People aren’t likely to move over to Google+ while their friends are still on Facebook.

Wrong choice of early adopters

When MySpace launched it did so with a sprinkling of cool bands and music promos. Facebook grew exclusively off of the back of college students in the US. Who did Google choose to be their path-finding early adopters? Geekerati and Internet marketers. Hmmm

Too easy for Facebook to counter?

While the Google+ circles are a great idea and is touted as being Googles game-changer, I love the concept of being able to share certain content with certain groups of users, but plus is not exactly groundbreaking elsewhere in terms of features and functionality, I was actually pretty disappointed at the lack of new ideas and features when I first signed-up. Facebook lists already exist, and I’m fairly sure that Facebook are already looking at extending the sharing functionality around these.

Martina Martina

May 13th, 2011.

Does anyone else find Google this annoying?

Did you mean…/search instead for…?

YES, of course I meant that! – And If I left a vowel or a connective out because unlike you I am not a robot & I like to use computer-speak, then so be it. The bottom line is you knew what I meant – so did you have to be as condescending as that and point out the mistake I made?

 

Google Instant


Really Google? Finishing the search before I have written it? I mean c’mon – it’s one thing that you’re arrogant enough that you feel you need to tell me the speed in which you gathered my results, now you’re finishing my sentences for me like we’re in a marriage?

 

Personalised results


I’m at work, I’m signed into Google. I search a keyword phrase I’m using in Google Adwords & bingo – I’m ranking number 3 on the 1st page! That’s weird, yesterday I was on the 5th page, I haven’t upped the bids in-fact – I haven’t made any changes, but I’m not complaining at all, instead I sit & wait for the money to roll in. I get home from work and quickly carry out a query and sit back waiting to see my site turn up on the first page for that particular keyword and… hold on, it’s not there? I click to the next page and nothing. I carry on until get to page 5 and there my ad is. I find and ask an SEO expert why this has happened & I’m told that when I’m signed into Google, the results differ from when I am signed out. I feel as though I’ve been living in the Matrix. *sigh*

 

Google seasonal/holiday/anniversary/event themes


I know its Christmas when the streets are paved with sleet and debris and every shop I go into leaves me that little less well off than I was before I walked in. I know its May-Day when I get that extra day off of work, I know its election day when people lie to me about which policy I ought to be interested in because the amount of tax I pay will go down. Nevertheless, Google wants in on the reminders too. I guess its okay, but sometimes I just don’t want to care. I’m sorry.

 

Google Chrome’s Sloth


Look. I want a *extremely mild expletive* homepage button on the interface without having to go into the settings and put one there! Is that too much to ask? – Surely not if Firefox and IE understood it.

 

Sorry, we own YouTube so you can’t sign in without us knowing


Now, they may say a change is as good as a rest but I beg to differ. I’ve been signing in with the same username & password since I opened a YouTube account but Google wants more of a direct approach. Now you cannot access your settings unless you sign in via your Gmail account, which is reasonable enough – but what if you have multiple Gmail accounts? I don’t really have a problem with this one, but imagine if Google started buying up everything on the internet enforcing this same sign in rule or else no access. While it may not be that bad, it’s the principle…

…Oh well, as Google grows stronger by the query, I’m sure there will be more to add to this list soon!

Martina Martina

March 11th, 2011.

Slightly immoral and unethical ways companies might use Google Adwords to generate business…

In July 2010, ‘Goldtrail holidays‘ a British tour operator, collapsed leaving thousands of holidaymakers abroad when it went into administration.

It took no time at all for fellow tour operators to see this as a great way to generate business. ‘EasyJet’, ‘Fly Thomas Cook’ and ‘Sunwings’ were but some of a few who cottoned onto this and broke a fundamental rule – bidding on a brand-name term that isn’t your own.

Nevertheless, a search query using the term “Goldtrail” or “Goldtrail holidays” returned adverts for cheap holidays abroad and the like. Of course Google would have had to allow this, and probably didn’t act on it because at that point, technically, Goldtrail was no longer an actual legal entity.

The recent Earthquake disaster in Japan, hitting 8.9 on the Richter-scale and sparking off several Tsunamis’, is all over the news and the internet today. It isn’t a brand name, but could this idea be adapted and used as a possible gateway for business? For example, charities pushing sponsorship in the third-world for instance, might post adverts asking for financial help in countries where natural disasters are common by using the words “Japan disaster” “Japan” “Tsunami” “Japan earthquake” “Japan Tsunami” etc, as a broad match – or any keywords that are relevant to this recent tragic disaster.

Click the thumbnails below to see some search terms that are fairly popular at the moment due to current events, and have little competition:


If ads are tactically written so that technically they are not breaching any rules or regulations – like the Goldtrail example above – and instead are tugging at peoples heart strings, this might work.

It seems fine until you consider how this could be misused, for example by charities who take most of what is donated to them and use it to pay “administration fees” and “business costs” before any of it makes it overseas to those in actual need.

You never know…

Martina Martina

February 2nd, 2011.

What to do with organic search results

Firstly, what are ‘organic’ search results?

Organic search results found in search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, are those that are not strictly altered by anyone and are not paid for. They are results that appear centre-left on the screen after you put in a search term.

Doesn’t organic mean ‘pure’?

Yes, it does. This term is ideal because unlike the many paid/sponsored results, the purity of the organic result means that they are free from blatant advertisements pushing a product or service.

Search engines such as Google are great at separating the two. The paid adverts are usually columned off to the right.

So just how important are organic search results?

Very important! In fact 83% of commercial purchases come from them in comparison to paid results. So that’s 5/6’s of all potential business. Whilst PPC is a competitive and additionally important SEO element, if it only accounts for 1/6 of your overall success then organic results must be made priority.

Okay, so now I know about organic results and PPC results – but I’ve heard about sponsored or ‘paid inclusion’ results – what are those?

Paid inclusion is a search engine marketing tool where search engine companies charges fees for the inclusion of particular websites in their search index. These websites are then known as sponsored listings.

This sounds surprisingly similar to PPC…isn’t it the same thing?

Well, the line between PPC and paid inclusion is a thin one. Some believe that any paid listings are advertisements (which is essentially what PPC is), while others insist they are not because unlike ads, webmasters do not control the listings content, it’s ranking, or even whether it is shown to any users.

Okay to sum this all up, what are the differences between all three?

1. Organic traffic: includes the free-of charge results off to the left side of the page.

2. PPC listings: are the ads typically at the right side of the page. Occasionally they will appear at the top & bottom of pages too. When PPC ads appear above or below organic results in most search engines, they are in a coloured box which helps make it that little bit clearer.

3. Paid inclusion results: are mixed in with regular organic listings however paid inclusion is known to have no effect on relevancy. They are simply blended into the search results anywhere and cannot be easily distinguished from the other search results.
However, some search engines such as Google, feel as though paid inclusion is a conflict of interest with relevancy, this is why they have never had a paid inclusion program.

Okay so back to organic results…how do I improve them?

  • Be an expert on your site. Literally know everything you need to know about it – it is extremely likely there will be competition, so that little bit of extra information is what will help you to stand out.
  • Research the competition to see how competitive the keywords you are using are.
  • After you have found the most effective and unique keywords make sure you include them in your meta-tags, your page title and everywhere you can on the page.
  • Submit your site to as many directories as you can find (that are relevant your location) If your services go as far as the South East of London and you are submitting to American directories, you may be found in the USA – but then ignored.
  • Each page should have a specific focus – whatever you mention on one page should stay there, no need to keep backtracking, it’s repetitive and ideally you want to be found for different things in search engines rather than just the one service/product.
  • Search for spam in your keywords and report any you find – you may be able to them removed.
  • Build links. This is the most effective element of SEO that exists. If you aren’t building links, start!
  • Remember that content quality matters much more than quantity. Don’t waste any time putting a site together  with tonnes of useless or badly planned out information when you haven’t got any strategy on what to do with it.

Martina Martina

January 12th, 2011.

Some tips on using Google Adwords effectively

Google Adwords is a fantastic way of advertising your business online. However, the key to success with this tool is to properly optimise your advertisements so that they reach the intended audience – and you don’t end up paying over the odds.

There are some obvious ways to do this and some tips you may not have come across before, this post will outline both:

Effective keyword matching: With Adwords you can specify how closely you want your keyword to match the users query on the search pages by selecting either “Broad match” “Phrase match” or “Exact match” – Avoid broad match. Why you ask? Simply because under a broad match, if a user searches for a specific term such as “woolly hat”, your advert will appear whenever a search for “woolly” or “hat” is made in any order and even alongside other terms (such as woolly mammoth).

Trying dynamic titles: ‘Dynamic titles’ are an efficient way to improve your CTR and conversion rates. They work by causing the phrase that the user is searching for in Google (for example woolly mammoth), to become the title of your advert when it appears. This of course means that your ad is more targeted.

Landing pages are important: This is the first page a person will see when they click onto your advert and come to your website. You can make this any page you wish, however you should probably avoid using your homepage if your product isn’t being pushed there. Whatever page you do use, it is a good idea to optimise it with information about your product.

Quality control: Do – work on the quality of your advert and rely on its CTR to get you into the top spot. Don’t – on the other hand get into a bidding war with a competitor vying to pay whatever it takes to remain in or get into the number one spot. This is never a good idea because it is actually the quality of the ad that will shine through meaning regardless of the position your ad appears in, you can still gain the top spot if you get more clicks over time. The best thing about doing it this way is that you will still be paying the lesser amount of being second place, even when you climb to first place.

Keeping track of everything: High CTR do not necessarily mean success. Try not to fall under the illusion that because the CTR is high, you are making money. You could in fact be losing money. Using Google’s conversion tracking codes to link Adwords with Analytics is a good idea and will help you to understand how each keyword is performing so that you can optimise your campaigns buy getting rid of any that do not work well, and putting more time and effort into the ones that do.

Use the direct approach: Keywords such as “Bargain” “You” “Free” and “Deal” all speak directly to a user and sound enticing. Use these. This also works with ‘call to’ actions which are phrases that provoke an action from the user. Some examples include “Buy Now”, “Free Delivery” and “For a Limited Time Only” etc. Such keywords cause a sense of urgency and give the impression that the user must act quickly or lose out. There are many other direct ways you can talk to a user including the use of questions to engage them. This could work particularly well if you ask questions that aren’t particularly clear or answerable, for example “woolly hats or woolly mammoths?”

Spell things wrong: With Google’s “did you mean” feature it’s pretty easy to get away with the odd typo in a search and still successfully get where it is you want to go. The bottom line is, people spell things wrong, often. Take advantage of that by doing the same.

Stand out: Capitalising each word (not the entire word just the first letter) will help you to stand out. With competitors going after the same customers as you, this is almost essential.

Leave your number: This is beneficial for two main reasons. If your ad is seen, appears to have everything the user is looking for and has a telephone number, it could lead to a conversion if the user calls you up and completes a transaction. Also, you’d save on some money as you would have avoided the click! Bonus!

Matt

September 22nd, 2008.

The Definitive Guide To Website Geo-Location In Search Engines

Being based in the UK I find that SEOs on this side of the pond have to get very familiar with website geo-location factors. It’s an unfortunate quirk of search engines that one of the main criteria that search engines use to determine a websites location is the location of its webhost.

If you’re looking to target a specific locality, then it’s vital that your site is recognised by search engines as being from that territory. Local websites are featured more prominently in local versions of the search engines, there are also surfers are given the option to see only pages from their location excluding foreign based sites.

Up until fairly recently UK hosting tended to be fairly expensive in comparison to our US cousins. For this reason many UK based sites found themselves running into problems when they tried to save costs by hosting their sites in the USA.

Don’t take it for granted that by hosting with a UK based company that their servers will also be based in the UK. Many UK hosting companies locate their servers overseas including one very well known host that bases their servers in Germany. I’m sure this is the case the world over. When signing up for hosting contracts, if location is an issue for you, always check that the servers are located geographically where you would expect them to be.

There are several factors that are theorised that effect the location of a site in terms of search engines. This list tends to include,

  • The top level domain extension (.co.uk, .fr, .de)
  • The location (IP address) of the website host
  • The geographic location of the domain registrar
  • The language that the site is written in
  • The location of incoming links
  • On page factors (addresses, telephone numbers)
  • Registering with Google Local

Obviously some of these factors hold more importance than others, some I theorise are used marginally, others I believe not at all, or their effect is too minimal to test.

Using The Correct TLD (Top Level Domain)
This is your best case scenario. You have a site that you’re targeting to UK consumers, holding a .co.uk site will pretty much guarantee that you’ll be found in the UK search results, even if you choose to host out of the country. For example the server for whois.co.uk is based in the US, but the site is still returned in the UK only version of a Google search.

Website Host Location
There are of course many instances of websites that are targeted to a specific country but are using a generic top level domain such as a .com or .net. In these cases simply ensuring that your hosts servers are geographically located in your marketplace should ensure that the site is recognised as being local. The Datadial site for example is using a .net TLD, but as its host is located in the UK is still appears for UK only queries. ASP.net which is located in the US does not appear for the equivalent query.

Geographic Location Of The Domain Registrar
I feel this is a factor that is sometimes overlooked by many webmasters, but as Google has access to the geographic location such as the location of the domain registrar it would make sense for them to make use of this as well. This along with other registrar information such as Whois data could well be used as a ‘tie-breaker’ when country-specific TLDs are hosted elsewhere. For example many country specific TLDs such as .fm, .cc, and .tv are now being used because of the brandability of the domain extension. In cases such as these where the TLD extension is indicating one location and the hosting location indicating another then it would be a logical step to make use of the information available from the domain registrar.

Site Language
Obviously as well as it making sense to make sure your site is written in the language of the search visitors that you’re looking for, it may well be one of the factors that a search engine may use to help determine the location of a site. It certainly isn’t a defining factor though as it’s relatively easy to find foreign language sites within the UK only search results.

Location Of Incoming Links
As above, the idea is that a search engine can use the location of incoming links to determine the site location. Again, I’m sceptical if this is any more than of marginal importance. I have seen lots of sites with low quality link profiles that consist of largely overseas located links and of course news sites with very few links seem to have little problem get geographically placed before backlinks have had a chance to develop.

Site Addresses/Telephone Numbers
Again, it’s just good practice to have local contact details for local markets. There is also speculation that this may be used to place a sites location. Again this is difficult to test but I’m doubtful if this is would be anything more than of marginal importance.

Registering With Google Local
Again, hard to test, but it would make sense for Google to make as much use of all the information that was made available to them. Yahoo and MSN also have similar local services.

Going back to our original list I would place the factors in the following order of importance,

  1. TLD extension
  2. Hosting location
  3. Domain registrar
  4. Google local registration
  5. Incoming links
  6. Site language
  7. On page addresses/phone numbers

Of course, many of these factors are very difficult to test on their own as it’s difficult to isolate individual factors on their own. Certainly the first three seem to influence the outcome the most.

Site Targeting In Google Webmaster Tools
Last year Google added an option in Webmaster Tools to define a geographic location for a website. Unfortunately this is only an option if you site is already on a non-specific TLD.  Vanessa Fox wrote on SearchEngineland,

If your domain is a location-specific TLD (such as the .fr example above), Google will show you the country that your site is associated with but won’t let you specify something different. However, if your domain is not country specific (such as a .com or .net), you can indicate the location of the site…

You can provide information at a more granular level than country. For example, if your site is for a pizza restaurant in Seattle, you can specify up to the street address (although you can input any granularity that makes sense for your business such as city or state).

One of the most useful things about this tool is that it lets you specify different locations for each subdomain. This can be extremely helpful for large corporates which could save them from having to purchase domains and/or source hosting in many different localities.

Geo-Detection Tool

The SEOMoz Geo-detection tool is is a useful way of checking how well a website is targeted to a specific country or market.

More resources
Get Elastic – Location Targeting In Google
Webmaster Central Blog – Better Geographic Choices For Webmasters
Search Engine Journal – On Site Geotargeting And SEO
Search Engine Land – SEO And SEM Outside The US

Matt

June 24th, 2008.

Google Is More Than A Search Engine 10 Tools You Should Know

As well as being the United Kingdoms most used search engine with almost a 90% search share, Google also spend a considerable amount of time developing and making available free tools that will help a small business owner to develop and market their website. Below is a rundown of the more useful tools, an overview of how they work, and links to more in-depth tutorials and analysis.

Google Sitemaps (Webmaster Tools)
What is it? Google Sitemaps, recently renamed to Google Webmaster Tools is a control panel that enables you to access a multitude of information about your site and how it performs in the search engines. You are able to check when Google has visited your site, if there were any errors found while trying to index your pages, you are also able to submit a sitemap, download lists of internal and external links pointing at your pages, view search queries that people used to find your content, set a geographic location and a preferred domain. Signing up to this really is a must considering the extra data and functionality that it gives you access to.
Key Benefits: Quickly diagnose indexing problems with the site, add a sitemap.
Further Reading:
Google Webmaster Tools – A Quick Start Guide
Google Webmaster Tools – A Comprehensive Guide

Google Trends
What is it? A good way to comparatively track keyword search volume over time. Not sure which keywords people search for more? Just enter them into here and you’ll know within seconds. Data is also given about the geographic regions that search for terms the most and also how often they appear in Google news.
Key Benefits: A quick check to ensure that you’re targeting the correct keywords.
Further Reading:
Using Google Trends For Search Engine Optimisation
Using Google Trends To Help Guide Your SEO
Using Google Trends To Research Your Brand

Google Trends For Sites
What is it? A very similar tool to Google Trends, though this can be used as a competitive analysis tool. You can check to see traffic levels for sites as well as some basic visitor data such as geographic location, top searches and additional visited sites.
Key Benefits: Competitive analysis
Further Reading:
Google Trends For Websites
A New Layer To Google Trends
Google Trends Comes To Websites

Google AdWords Traffic Estimator
What is it? Another good way of seeing how much traffic certain keywords can potentially send. Although this is aimed at people using the Google PPC service, you can also use it to estimate how many visitors you will receive from the natural results.
Key Benefits: Access to Google keyword search data
Further Reading:
The Traffic Estimator
Google AdWords Traffic Estimator Explained

Google Analytics
What is it? A free web traffic analytics package. By adding a short snippet of code to your page Google will track important visitor data including metric such as visitor numbers by date and time, referring sites, keyword data, geographic location and content analysis amongst others. In terms of gathering important marketing data about your site getting this installed is a must.
Key Benefits: Access to important visitor metrics
Further Reading:
Google Analytics Setup Guide
Google Analytics Video Tutorials
Advanced Use Of Google Analytics
Google Analytics Relaunched

Google Alerts
What is it? Google alerts monitors the web for mentions of a keyword that you define, and then sends you an email when it picks up on mentions of this keyword. Where this comes into it’s own for a business is you can define your business name, products, brand names and key staff as keywords and then monitor your companies reputation online and take action if there is any negative publicity, or simply monitor what people are saying about you. How about also monitoring your competitors to see what they’re up to?
Key Benefits: Instant notification of brand mentions
Further Reading:
Using Google Alerts For Intelligence Gathering
Google Alerts Tutorial To Help You Stay Ahead Of The Curve
8 Unique Ways To Use Google Alerts To Capture New Customers

Google Maps
What is it? As well as being an ingenious way of finding your way around, getting directions and spying on the neighbours, Google Maps can also be used to find local business and therefore have people find you. Go here to assign a geographic location for your business. These also show up in the main Google search results.
Key Benefits: Have people find your website while doing geographic location searches.
Further Reading:
How Do I Add My Business To Google Maps?
Google Maps – A Primer For Small Business

Google Reader
What is it? Don’t use RSS feeds to keep up-to-date with your industry news? Then you’re missing a trick. RSS feeds provide a great way of saving time by having news come directly to you rather than having to go to websites to read it yourself. Most websites these days offer RSS feeds, simply copy the RSS feed URL, add it to Google reader and every time a website is updated you’ll know about it instantly.
Key Benefits: Industry news sent directly to you as it happens.
Further Reading:
How To Get Started With Google Reader
A Beginners Guide To RSS And Google Reader
Get More From Google Reader

Feedburner
What is it? Acquired by Google last year, Feedburner is a tool that enables you to track subscriptions to your RSS feed – if you publish one on your website. It also offers some nice stats and good ways of promoting your feed.
Key Benefits: Understand more about your feed subscribers
Further Reading:
Feedburner Help Centre
What Is Feedburner And Why Should I Use It?
The Beginners Guide To Using And Building Traffic With Feedburner

Google Website Optimiser
What is it? This gives you the ability to fine-tune your website, comparing the performance of different content and pages, A/B testing these page versions and then offering results and reporting.
Key Benefits: Ensuring that your pages are generating the highest possible conversion rates
Further Reading:
Quick Start Guide
A First Look A Google Website Optimiser

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