Preview: iMedia Connection: Search
iMedia Connection: Search
New opportunities for improving search engine rankings
An SEO's job is to make sure that a site is accessible to search engine crawlers, optimize priority pages for targeted keywords, and think up clever ways to increase the number of inbound links to the site. But as search engines become more sophisticated, so does the SEO's job description. Successful SEOs will need to start paying attention to user experience and user behavior as these factors become more important in the eyes of search engines.
User data and rankingsMost SEOs don't put much thought toward improving usability or user engagement metrics. Factors like the amount of time someone spends on a page and number of pages a user sees per visit are traditionally the concerns of data analysis and usability experts. But recent algorithm changes and expert opinions have convinced the industry that this kind of user data has an effect on rankings. Here are three reasons why you should consider looking at user data in your SEO strategy:
1. Google's search team has made it clear that it's now focusing more on site quality with the recent Panda update. The factors that make a site "quality" are difficult to define, but user experience almost certainly plays a large part.
2. User data is available to the search engines and it's not hard to see how that data could be used to provide better search results. Data regarding click-through rates (CTRs) is already available to SEOs in the Google Webmaster Central account, which suggests that Google is taking it into consideration.
3. The smart guys are doing it. A recent survey shows that a majority of industry experts believe user data is becoming increasingly important.
Metrics to pay attention toThere's a lot of noise around this topic, which makes it difficult to keep up. As a starting point, take note of the following metrics:
CTR: measured as total clicks divided by total impressions
Bounce rate from search results page: the percentage of users that immediately returns to the search results page after clicking through to your site
Time spent away from the search results page: the amount of time the user was on your site before returning to the results page
Turning data into actionKnowing the above information alone won't help your rankings. The research should provide insight into how you can improve the metrics. Here are a few ways to make the data actionable:
1. Identify keyword opportunities by looking at terms that have positive usage metrics but aren't ranking well in the search results. Optimize page titles, header tags, and copy for the relevant keywords.
2. Look for pages that are ranking well for important keywords, but have a low CTR. Rewrite meta descriptions to include a strong call-to-action along with the targeted keywords and revise page titles as necessary.
3. Consider redesigning pages where there is a significant amount of traffic that tends to spend a short amount of time on the page before returning to the search results. This behavior is indicative of poor user experience.
For now, it's unclear how much search engines are relying on user data, but keep in mind that the goal of a search engine is to provide the most useful pages for a given search query. If user data can provide information about a page's relevance for a query, it's almost certain that it will be part of the equation for determining rankings.
Trung Ngo is an SEO specialist at Red Door Interactive.
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How to protect your company's branded search terms
Competitive brand-jacking occurs in many markets that have strong online sales and a complex web of channel and promotional partners. For example, according to new research of one sample industry, the U.S. hotel industry loses approximately $1.9 billion annually in online bookings because channel partners and affiliates compete with the hotels' direct channels by using branded search terms in paid search campaigns. Once a customer who is searching for a specific hotel brand has been attracted to the website of a hotel partner or affiliate, that customer often books a room at one of the competing properties displayed on these sites.
Stay informed. For more insights into the latest brand marketing strategies, attend the iMedia Brand Summit, Sept. 11-14. Request your invitation today.
The power of branded search terms is well known, especially at later stages of the sales cycle when searchers become purchasers. Search engines, in general, do not restrict the use of branded search terms to the brand itself, unless there is a clear case for bait and switch, piracy, or counterfeiting. In the case of the hotel industry, it's an advertising practice that adversely affects online bookings for the hotels and can also lead to paying unnecessary commissions and affiliate fees for traffic seeking the hotel's own booking site.
Brands that do not specify how their terms can be used in online search and promotion risk losing business that is searching for that very brand. Online advertising professionals hold the driver's seat view of how a company's search terms are referenced online. As the losses in the hotel industry illustrate, additional levels of sophistication in managing the use of branded terms is emerging as a must-do for pay-per-click (PPC) professionals.
How do you take the leadership role in protecting branded search term use by partners or affiliates?
Here's a recommended process that many brands are adopting:
Examine marketing partner and affiliate contracts and work with your legal team to include provisions that spell out how your company's brand terms can be used and what enforcement measures will be taken.
If you don't already have a database of your company's branded terms, now is the time to create one. You will want to share this database with your affiliates and channel partners so they will know which branded terms are off limits for their use. Of course, the database will be subject to updates as your company adds additional brands or changes existing brands.
Set up a formal online monitoring and enforcement process with the legal team to track misuse and take action according to the terms of your newly revised contracts. Proactive monitoring should track the offenders, the terms, geographical markets, and time of day when misuse occurs. There are a number of software applications available that automate this tracking process.
Bring your social media manager into the conversation to identify how your efforts to protect your brand can complement each other and add to the overall online standing for your brand. As Lisa Buyer noted in a recent Search Engine Watch article, marketers need to "control [their] branded search results before there is a problem."
Become familiar with the process for reporting brand search term misuse to the major search engines. The responsibility for informing the search engines on abusive practices rests with the brand itself. Your monitoring program will identify instances of abusive competitive practices that are actionable with the search engines.
At the end of the day, developing and enforcing clear policies for branded search term usage by partners and affiliates saves money from unnecessary commission and affiliate payments and ensures the business delivered by extended network partners is truly incremental. PPC professionals who drive their online marketing campaigns to the next level of sophistication by protecting their clickstreams and branded search terms will reap the benefits in increased revenue and customer engagement.
Why SEO predictions are a necessary evil
As sure as tax season, there will be SEO predictions at the beginning of each new year. Predictions are made every year in all facets of business and life, and SEO is no exception. While many SEO predictions are theoretically based, many more are somewhat wild guesses that are at best irrelevant, and at worst a liability. Understanding how and why you need to pay attention to predictions is part of maintaining a competitive advantage in SEO.
Search engines have a very clear mandate to provide the best search results for their customers -- this is what keeps search engines in business. The most successful SEOs (in the long-run) have been able to think like a Google engineer and anticipate the direction search is headed. The cutting-edge organizations position their sites to stay ahead of the algorithm, rather than chasing the algorithm, by recognizing which predictions to plan for, and which to ignore.
While predictions may not always be right, they do offer insight and ideas for where search may be headed (something you need to be predicting yourself, so that you can stay ahead). And yes, I make SEO predictions all the time, but normally do so privately (until now).
How bad SEO predictions happen
Hype used for online attention. Predictions happen both privately and publicly. Many predictions are made editorially by predictors with a goal of getting links and traffic to their own site. Some writers want to create controversy to help gain traction so they make predictions that are designed to drive the SEO community crazy with controversy. Even some predictions that may be well founded are exaggerated to make a stronger point.
Poor methodology. Some predictions may be bad simply because of the methodology used to infer a trend. For example, anytime data is referenced in a prediction to show a correlation that helps predict changes in the algorithm, there is an inherent risk that a person will mistake correlation for causation.
Predictions for a specific industry. Recognize that a given prediction may only apply to certain industries. Search engines treat different verticals differently, and strategies that are relevant in one industry may not be as important in another. Predictions can often be written with one industry in mind, and when taken out of context, become a pretty bad prediction.
Off-the-wall predictions. And then there are the die-hard SEO predictions like "SEO is dead." Of course, there have been enough articles on the nonsense of "SEO is dead" that we don't need to reiterate it here. But these shock tactics are frustrating because they can persuade people to dismiss SEO predictions altogether. The reality is that SEO is not dead. Some SEO tactics and strategies from the past are dead because the search engines' algorithms are newer and more robust, but that doesn't spell an end to SEO. Google claims to evaluate more than 200 elements in its ranking formula, and Bing claims it considers more than 1,000 elements in determining who will rank at the top. SEO is a different game with far more factors to consider. SEO is dead only in the sense that many of the old tactics that no longer worked do, and have given way to new approaches that span across even more disciplines than before -- for example, social media and website usability. Unfortunately, these new developments are not as sexy of a headline as claiming "SEO is dead."
Parsing the good, the bad, and the ugly
Don't get caught up in the hullabaloo. Predictions made by bloggers, writers, or other people in the public spotlight should be taken with a grain of salt. Editorial predictions may be made with the intent of stirring up controversy, chatter, and links.
The problem with many SEO predictions is the scale of the message. Some predictions lose sight of the scale of the impact a trend will have. For example, many predicted that Google Instant would kill the long-tail of search, but reality shows that Google Instant has impacted the long-tail of search on a much smaller scale than some were suggest[...]
The supercharged Google utility you need to check out
Late in the first quarter, Google rolled out Google Commerce Search (GCS) 3.0, a site search solution that online and multi-channel retailers can incorporate into their own websites. Perhaps making a play to take share from Microsoft FAST, Endeca, Attivio, and other well-established enterprise search providers, recent enhancements make GCS a compelling site search option for many retailers.
Generally speaking, retailers can use GCS to enhance the search experience they offer visitors to web and mobile sites, and some big brands have already embraced GCS, including L'Occitane and General Nutrition Company. Although GCS has no direct impact on most retailer search engine marketing campaigns, advanced marketers can leverage use of GCS to display both national and local inventory on their web and mobile sites and link this inventory into their AdWords campaigns through sophisticated, third-party, real-time campaign management technologies. Doing so enables these retailers to maximize the value of their national and local inventory feeds to drive highly qualified, ready-to-buy customers to their commerce sites.
What's new in GCS 3.0?GCS 3.0 brings with it some impressive new functionality. The "search as you type" feature -- similar to Google Instant -- can help customers find what they seek more quickly and cause them to consider other products they may not have realized they want or need. Another improvement is the product recommendation capability that can increase average order values by showing shoppers popular products that others have viewed or purchased. GCS 3.0 also comes with enhanced merchandising capabilities that enable retailers to display banners alongside search results to promote related offers and to drive potential customers to query-related landing pages.
Perhaps most importantly, GCS 3.0 enables multi-channel retailers to display local product inventory availability to site visitors. Consumers who search for a product on a retailer's website can see which local stores currently have the product in stock, thereby driving foot traffic and in-store sales, not only increasing conversions and revenue, but also relevance and customer loyalty. Overall, the enhancements seem to make GCS more compelling than ever as an option to consider as a replacement to other enterprise and site search systems.
Some other noteworthy benefits of GCS 3.0 include: easy setup, low overhead, high uptime reliability, the promise of future enhancements, and of course, the near instantaneous delivery of search results that consumers have come to enjoy and expect. Plus, retailers can diminish the fear of experiencing a site search meltdown scenario with Google's ability to handle unusual traffic spikes and heavy shopping seasons.
Take local to new heightsMarketers can put their local inventory feeds to work off-site too. In addition to using GCS to display local inventory results on their own web and mobile sites, retailers can also enable their local inventory to be displayed within the product search results on Google.com. By going a step further and linking their AdWords and Merchant Center accounts, marketers can leverage those inventory feeds for display in Google's sponsored results, within product listing ads and product extensions on standard AdWords text ads. The integration of local inventory is becoming ever more important -- even critical -- to the success of retailers. Shoppers are increasingly using mobile devices to conduct local product searches and use the web to research the purchases they plan to make in-store.
Most early adopters will position themselves advantageously for what lies ahead by incorporating local inventory sooner rather than later, not to mention helping potential customers answer the "where can I get it today?" question.
Pros and consGCS represents one of the latest moves in Google's larger effort to build a comprehensive merchandising system that spans advertising; product search; web, mobile, local, online, and offl[...]
Content best practices for 5 marketing channels
Both direct response and brand-focused marketers can benefit from developing informational or entertaining content that is based on strategic themes. Putting content at the center of your integrated digital marketing strategy can increase your traffic, improve your conversion rate, and build brand affinity and awareness. To achieve these results, marketers have to develop storylines that communicate, either directly or indirectly, the brand positioning and messaging, while creating dialogue with (and among) consumers.
Content themes As a starting point for your content strategy, it is important to assess how well your content aligns with the behaviors and attitudes of your target market. An audit of your key competitors' content is helpful as well. By conducting these reviews, you will be able to determine if any gaps exist between your current content and the ideal set of content needed to become a credible industry authority.
Stay connected. For more insights into the latest content marketing strategies, attend the iMedia Entertainment Summit, June 28. Request your invitation today.
Generally, the required content will fall under one of two categories: brand or non-brand. Once you've identified key content topics, you should group the topics into high-level themes within these two categories. These content themes act as a guideline for content development and serve as a reference point in forming an integrated digital marketing strategy. As marketing campaigns are developed, each of the channel experts (e.g., email specialist, SEO specialist, etc.) can reference the content themes and align their efforts with the other channels.
Obviously, the brand and products need to be covered comprehensively in your web content. This content should communicate the brand's value proposition, personality, and core values, ranging from the company's history to corporate programs of interest. Typically this content positions the brand as a responsible and innovative industry leader. It should also humanize the brand and weave in dialogue from brand advocates, influencers, and the broader consumer. Product- and service-specific messaging is also critical. In addition to current product overviews and reviews, content can be developed to support products launches as well.
To capture a broader audience and establish authority, non-brand informational and entertaining content that ties to brand goals must be developed. This type of content is extremely beneficial in driving organic traffic from search engines, as well as in gaining referring traffic through social media promotions. To gain credibility with your internet audience, you have to become an industry resource for valuable tips, checklists, and other information. This content might take the form of a blog post, interview, infographic, research article, image, video, or other content type.
Content marketing integration Generating and promoting quality content can have search engine optimization (SEO) benefits, enable your company to communicate brand and product stories, and drive brand impressions as the content is shared via email, social media, and third-party blogs. For maximum impact, content within each of these various channels should be aligned with the company's overall content strategy and the designated content themes.
SEOIncreasing the exposure your content receives on Google and other search engines is an opportunity to connect with a large pool of target consumers. Optimizing the site content (text or otherwise) for search engine rankings requires keyword research to determine the most relevant high-volume terms that fall into your key content themes. Once the keywords are identified, changes should be made to ensure that keywords are placed in critical page elements.
EmailEmail subscriber acquisition and engagement provides a highly effective permission marketing channel to keep subscribers engaged with the brand and lead them to purchase over time. Op[...]
Ways to dominate search results with video
There's a reason video killed the radio star: Once your story comes alive onscreen, words alone just don't cut it.
Right now, there's a similar upheaval happening online. More than ever, companies are using on-site video to get out their messages, dominate search results, and pull in more leads.
Stay connected. For more insights into the latest video marketing strategies, attend the iMedia Entertainment Summit, June 28. Request your invitation today.
According to Forrester Research, video is roughly 50 times more likely to show up on the first page of a Google search than a text page from the same index. That's in part because there's less video content than text to compete against, but it's also because most people do a lousy job of optimizing their content for search engines.
So how can you harness the power of video to boost your organic rankings and build your business? We've got nine tips to take your content all the way to the top.
Get in the gameIf you're not doing video already, it's time. In a study of approximately 12,000 individual advertisers, WebVisible found that almost 30 percent of small businesses had used video on their landing pages in the third quarter of 2010, more than double the previous year.
As competitors ramp up their multimedia offerings, make sure you're ready. Make video a key component of your marketing strategy -- and be prepared to invest in it.
Be relevantHere's the kicker: You can shoot hours of video, but unless the content helps people in some way, no one will care. While "helping people" could mean just entertaining them -- there's a reason giggling babies and sneezing pandas go viral -- the "how-to" route is often your best bet when it comes to attracting customers.
According to a study from Pew Internet, nearly 60 percent of web users seek out advice and do-it-yourself information online. That includes everything from "how to plan a dream wedding" to "how to winterize my car."
Focus on your company's specialties. If you're a children's dentist, for example, you might feature a tutorial showing parents how to teach their kids to properly brush their teeth. If you're a contractor, you could showcase how to make sure a home's windows are ready for extreme temperatures. Whatever your subject, sharing know-how is a clever way to showcase your services -- and get people to think about the advantages of hiring a professional -- without being pushy.
Keep it professional While it's fine to play film director on your family vacation, your company's video content is no time for DIY experimentation. Today's consumers have a discerning eye and won't stand for low-budget, poorly produced content.
Consider hiring a professional or bartering your services in exchange for expert assistance. Remember, posting video might help you rise to the top of a Google search, but a sub-par segment won't take long to sink your efforts.
Keep it shortEver felt that heart-sinking feeling when you click on a video, only to discover it is 47 minutes long? Unless it's absolutely riveting -- and few videos are -- you're probably going to click off early.
That means you need to get your story out quickly. Think five minutes tops, preferably less. Draw in viewers with compelling content, hit them with your message, and then release them.
Ask people to do somethingAlways end your videos with a clear call to action. That could be a limited time trial offer, a refer-a-friend discount, or some other promotion. Ask viewers to follow you on Twitter, connect on Facebook, or email the video to a friend. Leave them with lots of ways to contact you -- website, phone number, social media sites, and any other place you live online.
Leverage keywords For every video that spreads like wildfire, there are hundreds languishing in the cyberspace graveyard. Use specific keywords in your title, subtitle, and tags to accurately represent your content and help search engines find you more ea[...]
Lessons from brands that were spanked by Google
The historic headlines exposing gray- or black-hat SEO practices have led many to reevaluate their own practices and partners to make sure there are not any skeletons in their closets. These horror stories remind us of two things: SEO is an extremely valuable digital marketing tactic, and search engines don't take kindly to those who attempt to work around their guidelines.
Tales about J.C. Penney and Overstock.com demonstrate that formidable brands are willing to push the SEO envelope to gain rankings. With only a finite number of rankings, there will never be a lull in competition for top spots. Marketers are then left developing strategies that will build a solid SEO foundation with few shortcuts, so their rankings will climb and plateau at the top.
Since it's best to learn from the mistakes of other marketers than to learn these lessons on our own, let's take a look at what we can glean from past black-hat scandals.
For more insights into the latest online marketing strategies, attend the iMedia Entertainment Summit, June 28. Request your invitation today
"Low quality" content won't get you too far
Google's Farmer (aka Panda) update affected sites that would not be considered spam by many SEOs. Sites like EzineArticles.com and WiseGeek.com are two examples of sites that were penalized by the update. Essentially deemed content farms or "of low quality," these sites were penalized for aggregating content that allegedly serves more to increase keyword relevance and rankings, or provide a platform for link embedding, than to help users.
Additionally, many e-commerce sites were also penalized for hosting large amounts of duplicate content and lack of unique, "valuable" content. This is a tough pill to swallow for many e-commerce providers since creating unique product content around thousands of product SKUs is a sizable undertaking. But in the long run, this effort will pay dividends, as valuable content overviews, reviews, and other unique content can help increase trust of and conversion from product detail pages. The new content focus will also create better pages for external sources to link to.
The Farmer update reminds us that content is paramount for a successful SEO campaign -- but it must serve a purpose beyond simply being fresh or marginally unique. The engines are looking to reward authority content on quality sites that provide a unique value within the SERPs. Marketers looking to enhance their SEO campaigns -- without black-hat tactics -- should take the Farmer update as a sign that search engines are looking beyond the sheer volume of pages or keywords on a site. Sites can and should create content that relates to targeted search queries, but this content strategy should not just be the mass accumulation of mediocre content for ranking's sake. Since content is still a critical factor in determining relevance, the bottom line is to be relevant in creative ways that are anything but mediocre -- especially from a user's perspective.
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A faster way to evaluate keywords
One of the biggest challenges with SEO is the lack of immediacy: Make a change in your PPC account and see results in the next hour. Adjust a piece of content, add a new keyword and see the results...well, hopefully soon. How do you know what's working without having to wait?
The answer is analytics.
Analytics help you make smart decisions about your SEO strategy quicker, in particular, your keywords. They can show you what's working, what's not, and what can be improved sooner rather than later.
Analytics and keywords are best friends forever You spent hours doing research to figure out the best keywords for your business/website. Now, you have the opportunity to see if they are actually working. What should you be looking at?
Conversions vs. traffic: Any good SEO company will tell you that while it's great to get traffic to the site, if no one is converting it doesn't really qualify as success. Within your analytics, take a look at which keywords are converting and which ones aren't. For the ones that aren't, ask yourself:
Do they match your site messaging?
Do they actually describe your product or service?
Is the page simply missing a call to action?
Compare the two side-by-side and you may realize that the keyword simply isn't right for your business.
The long tail: If you've ever ran a search query report in Adwords you realize how little you really know about how people search. Some of those searches are just bizarre! The upside is they sure can tell you a lot.
Here's an example of a long tail keyword from Grasshopper.com's analytics: "National association of realtors grasshopper gotvmail."
This is a really long keyword phrase but look how much info it's giving us:
Realtors use our product
People still search using our old brand name
They probably couldn't find the content they were looking for to start with
That's a lot of great information! We can now gear content, messaging, and marketing efforts to the realtor industry using this data.
Landing pages: Your keywords needed a home so you built them landing pages. Are those pages earning their keep?
The nice thing about analytics is it's able to show you where organic visitors landed by keyword:
Which landing pages are the most successful for each keyword?
Which are driving visits but no conversions?
Are your keywords driving traffic someplace other than where you intended?
Checking out where your visitors are going for a particular keyword can give you a lot of insight into what you need to do next. Perhaps you should adjust the messaging, add new content, or maybe there's a page in there you didn't even realize was doing so well (nice surprises are the best.)
Knowing which landing pages work for each keyword can also help you figure out where to drive links.
Location, location, location: Do you know where the majority of your customers are coming from? Where your purchases are coming from?
With local and personalized search becoming more and more prominent, geo-targeting is increasing in importance.
Analytics can tell you where customers are coming from, allowing you to focus your SEO strategy and your keywords where it matters. National company? Create landing pages for various cities, states, communities, etc.
Go forth and analyze!Analytics are a major factor in a successful SEO campaign. From keywords to content to link building, analytics will help you make quick and smart decisions.
Casie Gillette is the search marketing manager for Grasshopper Group.
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The secrets behind successful landing pages
Research shows that users are making decisions about the digital content they are looking at in less than the blink of an eye. This has massive implications for digital marketers working on any campaign, especially those tasked with the creation of Facebook landing pages and designing smart landing page campaigns.
To help improve conversion rates, there is some basic science digital marketers should know, as well as a few smart moves to make. The goal is to engage landing page visitors before they've had a chance to even consciously think about it, and shuttle them on to wherever they need to go. This article will discuss the immediate experience, the science that drives it, and how to design a landing page that will improve conversion rates.
The science of landing pages
Since 2006, it's been an accepted best practice to design a page to speak to users instantly. The University of Ontario published a study observing that users make determinations in less than the blink of an eye. When shown a glimpse of a page for less than a 50 microseconds, users were making decisions that correlated with the same sentiments when shown the page for a longer period of time. This means that within less time than someone can truly perceive what they are looking at, they are drawing conclusions that will impact the rest of their experience through the halo effect.
While the data is astounding, there is a logical reason posited for this. Humanity been conditioned for literally millions of years to respond instantaneously to external stimuli. About 100,000 years ago, a hunter on the Serengeti might spy a brown dot running at him. With only a split second to decide if that brown dot is dinner or vice versa, homo sapiens evolved mental skills to respond even before the thought had coalesced in their minds. These traits have not disappeared, and as such, we are making decisions about the web within literally less than half a second.
Landing pages, in particular, are an excellent example of how important this is, and how sophisticated solutions can be to boost conversion. Carefully scrutinized, easy to measure, and generally part of a more complicated chain of interactions, the very first impression is a lynchpin moment.
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5 more reasons to hate Google
It would be easy enough to cite 10 wonderful things about Google. As I mentioned in my first installment of this article, "5 things to hate about Google," the company develops amazing products that we all get to use for free. However, somewhere along the way, the company got lost and grew up too fast. Somehow the Googleplex became an island. Somewhere the magic that was Google got tainted by lots of little missteps. Like the banks, I fear Google has become too big to fail -- and I'd rather not have any companies that pose such a risk to the economy.
In this article, I'll examine five more company traits or practices that give marketers cause for concern over the path that our once-beloved Google has followed.
For more insights into the latest trends affecting the digital landscape, attend the iMedia Agency Summit, May 21-25. Request your invitation today
Session-based broad match clicks
Unless you know what you are doing in search, this will make no sense to you. But trust me, it sucks. The concept of session-based clicks has to do with "commercial intent." It's an attempt to try to predict whether a searcher is interested in a company that is listed in a search results page. In theory, this is great because it tries to match users with advertisers, and advertisers with keywords and consumers. In reality, it can be much more insidious. With hundreds of thousands of advertisers, session-based clicks artificially game the market and over-present advertisers on keywords for which there would normally be very few relevant advertisers, if any.
When Google runs session-based search advertising, advertisers get clicks they might not have wanted. In addition, based on observation, it most likely raises prices for all the other bidders in a keyword auction for a completely different keyword.
By introducing a session-based service, Google greatly expands the impressions of advertisers across the keyword universe, but attempting to predict "intent" really just results in a search universe in which more advertisers are getting more unwanted clicks on keywords they do not want.
The result? Google makes more money.
The issue? You can't disable it. I hate Google for that.
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5 reasons to hate Google
It is a company that is loved, and yet surprisingly hated -- if not despised -- by some. It is the friend whose little strange habits and quirks we once cherished. But now they annoy and grate on our nerves. It is a company that we have held up as a shining beacon of hope -- the giant killer. The company that could stand against Microsoft and the great evil empire.
But alas, the company is but the latest victim of the same pedestal on which we elevated Microsoft years before. Beware that pedestal, for it provides a perch that only looks downward. Sometimes when companies ascend to it, they start to believe they are separate, better versions of humans.
They start to believe their own hype; in that moment, they become lost.
For more insights into the latest trends affecting the digital landscape, attend the iMedia Agency Summit, May 21-25. Request your invitation today
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, between self-assuredness and hubris, and unfortunately Google is straddling that line. Why the perceptive shift in attitudes toward Google? What has the company done other than bring us fantastic tools? Tools, like Android, that have changed entire industries. Tools, like search, that have provided insight into the most remote corners of the world. Why is the simmering of discontent bubbling so intensely under the surface?
While researching this article, I was wholly surprised by the intensity with which people in the industry describe their dealings with the search giant. Where does it come from? Often, there is no single cause -- just an attitudinal shift that, when experienced en masse within a company, can have devastating effects on external perceptions. It could be something as simple as an arrogant statement heard in a bar: "I work for Google, asshole -- what do you do?" (I have heard several variations of this in San Francisco). Such a statement is designed to separate the speaker from others and infer inferiority on the listener. It's a sad reflection of someone whose bitterness from being picked on in high school is rearing its ugly head. Part of the attitudinal shift we're dealing with in this article comes from that separation -- and yet myriad other things as well.
But before I start listing reasons to hate Google, a note of temperance: Whatever personal story you have with Google -- be it good, bad, or indifferent -- let us all cut the company a break. It is but a precocious 12-year-old. And although many of the employees score off the charts on tests of mental intellect, many are emotionally inept. But their hearts are really in the right place. They are attempting to manage insane growth the best way they can, and "do no evil" really appears to be their intent. And intention is extremely important. It is at the core of separating evil from ignorance. Sometimes the company makes mistakes, and because of its size, those mistakes and decisions are amplified.
Read on to learn about five company practices that are currently pissing people off. Then tune in later this week for five more. As you'll see, you do not have to do evil to be a bit of a prick.
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7 tragic SEO oversights
By now, people know that their sites need to be optimized to rank well in organic listings. This awareness has been compounded by Google's recent algorithmic updates that are slowly eating away at organic real estate in favor of paid and local listings. This means that marketers must continue to advance their search engine optimization efforts to ensure that their revenue-driving pages earn and maintain high rankings. With every company vying for the same top rankings and competing against paid listings, every aspect of an SEO campaign must be close to flawless.
Tap into new digital knowledge.
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There are typical places were SEO initiatives begin. Title tags, content strategies, and link building are the obvious places to start, but there is more to SEO than these high impact elements. As best practices in SEO elements become widely implemented, the finer details can help make the difference over the life of a campaign.
I often view my campaigns from a lens of "all things being equal," and this helps me isolate those seemingly smaller, but sometimes extremely impactful tactics that can fine tune a campaign to success. Over the years, I have found that there are a few optimization areas that are oftentimes overlooked in a standard SEO engagement that can have significantly improve a site's SEO strategy.
Let's take a look at each of these areas.
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Search marketing's best and worst: 3 case studies
Search engine marketing (SEM) is a powerful thing. It defines what people will see when they look for your brand online -- if they find it at all. So whether you're a seasoned SEM expert or just getting started, there are three things that you should always keep in mind when working on your brand's search marketing to ensure that you get the best digital visibility.
An active brand starts with the consumerYou have to start with the consumer. It is an easy proposition, to be sure, but it is also something that countless campaigns overlook. First, think about the consumers and understand what they want, how they search for information, and how they consume content.
When problems arose with the iPhone 4's antenna, Apple stayed quiet for three weeks. That's a lot of time, especially on the internet. In addition to ongoing conversation on social networks, there was quite a bit of press speculating on the issue during that period, cultivating a significant search volume. If there was ever a time for iPhone customers to search for news online, it was then. Apple's competition jumped on the opportunity -- in the three weeks that Apple stayed silent, several of Apple's competitors bought all the major search keywords, including "iPhone 4 issue," "iPhone 4 antenna," and "iPhone problems."
Get connected. Want to meet up with the companies that are leading search into the future? Check out the exhibit hall at ad:tech San Francisco, April 11-13. Learn more.
It wasn't just the competition, either. Consumer Reports bought a lot of these keywords and used them to drive users to a report that recommended against buying the iPhone. Blackberry took it one step further and got very creative by launching the "no recalls required" ad. While Apple stayed quiet, Blackberry capitalized on consumer fears. Competitors used Apple's silence to steal the search traffic and perpetuate the issue.
Don't silo the search marketing -- or any one part of the marketingSuccessful search marketing needs to connect with the other elements of your marketing campaign -- television, print, digital, and so forth. Statistics show that 67 percent of consumers will search for a product online after they've been exposed to some sort of offline marketing (i.e., a television ad or a conversation with a friend). Yet, only 55 percent of search marketers integrate offline channels with their search marketing efforts. When a consumer sees a brand promotion on television and then can't find it online, it frustrates the consumer (most likely resulting in a loss of sale for the brand) and benefits the brand's competitors because that consumer is likely to search for the product elsewhere.
Even the most successful brands could lose millions in potential sales if it doesn't connect search marketing to a holistic marketing plan. An example is the "Twilight" franchise, undisputedly one of the most successful brands in recent history. "Twilight" had a huge number of fans across the major social networks -- Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. -- and spent a fortune on TV advertising. Unfortunately, the franchise neglected to spend adequate dollars on search. Initially, if a consumer searched "'Twilight' and 'Robert Pattinson,'" the official film website didn't come up first -- instead, it drew the fan sites. Even when searching for "Eclipse movie," the official site showed up further down the page. The marketers lost all of that search traffic in addition to what could have translated to more sales of DVDs, T-shirts, and other paraphernalia. The kicker? SEM would have been extremely cost effective -- about five cents per click -- in comparison to the millions spent on TV advertising.
That's not to say that spending on television is wrong. As I mentioned earlie[...]
5 traps that can sink your SEO ship
Recently my company undertook the laborious process of redesigning our website. After five years, it was not only time for a cosmetic face lift but also serious surgery. We met with several design firms to discuss how to best rebuild. Not surprisingly, the aesthetic discussion quickly turned to talk about search engine optimization (SEO). Re-tooling the website was a good time to reconsider our organic positioning within the Google and Bing search results. However, I was surprised to hear factually incorrect advice from a few of our design partners. Fortunately, I know enough about SEO to get myself into trouble.
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There is such confusion about SEO because it a rather esoteric topic. Relatively few people do it day-to-day. Moreover, website optimization is a multi-discipline sport involving HTML, design, link development, and social media, to name a few. No wonder Google's ranking process is such a mystery to most of planet earth! The situation is worsened by the web's ability to spread rumors and falsehoods at lightening speeds. This makes it incredibly hard for the layman to separate SEO fact from SEO fiction. But these five common SEO myths should help you start to clear the confusion.
Myth 1: Meta tags are crucial This is perhaps the oldest SEO miconception. Meta tags are descriptor words built into HTML pages. If you view the source code on most home pages, you will find a line of HTML code that says "meta" that lists a group of terms describing the website. Early on, Google's PageRank algorithm did consider meta tags when determining the search engine result pages (SERPs). Websites would create long lists of metatags to gain better positioning. At the time this seemed like a good idea. However it was easily manipulated, and companies soon abused the practice. Today Google does not look at meta tags when organizing SERPs. In fact, the normally secretive company outright said so:
This is not to say that meta descriptors don't serve any function. Indeed, they work in tandem with the title tag to entice click-through by highlighting the keywords in the displayed results. If a search term matches the meta and title tags, the term will appear in bold in the fragment of text beneath the underlined title result. Instead of meta tags, Google now considers how relevant words are used within the website's HTML code. Even then, that is but one of PageRank's many considerations.
Myth 2: Paid search influences SERPs Many people wrongly believe that search engines rank websites higher if they purchase terms as well. Sadly, I hear this one a lot from the uninitiated. It would make sense that a company would want to leverage product A to sell product B, but Google does not think that way. Neither Bing nor Google have ever used an ad spend to create their natural listings. In this regard, search engine marketing (SEM) is a completely autonomous area from SEO. The SEM sale teams have less say in how their companies are run than comparable salesmen at offline media. Google's relevance mantra is central to their view of the web, certainly far more important to them than anything else. In fact, because they adhere so strictly to that mantra, Google makes so much money. Lastly, given the widespread use of third-party redirects that advertisers use to internally track their clicks, the search engines don't necessarily know the destination URLs of every advertiser.
Myth 3: SEO is an OTO project Quite a few of the designers implied that they could transform our ranking simply by redesigning our website. They assured us that within a fe[...]
Rules for beating Google at SEO
Some people believe Google has 200 rules for ranking websites. If you knew all of them you would be No. 1 for any search term you wanted, and you'd get rich really fast and buy an island somewhere and retire. We'd all like that, so over the last few months, members of the LinkedIn discussion group, SearchEngineLand, have been working to compile this "Magic 200 List." So far they're up to Rule 300, but there are duplicates, and a few silly ones (some of us doubt if Google really cares who you vote for), so here are the best 173.
I've split the list into a positive and a negative group. Positive factors will improve your rank, while negative factors will decrease it (or get your site blacklisted). Both groups are further divided into five categories: code, copy, site, links, and behavior. Code factors relate to how the site is coded, plus some aspects of server admin and ancillary files such as XML sitemaps. Copy factors are about the visible copy people read, but the most important rule is merely this: relevant content and lots of it! Site factors relate to the domain and hosting arrangements. For example, just like buying a car, do you know what people did with that domain name before you bought it? Does it come with a reputation? Link factors are for the link-building fraternity (internal link structures are in the code section). Finally, behavior is about how people react to your site (including Google staff, who are people too). Yes -- Google is watching, and how people react to your site affects your listings.
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There is no way of knowing how many of these factors really do matter, or if there are others. Personally, I think most are correct, and all of them are worth serious consideration. If you're in the SEO business, you might want to test how many of these are in your toolkit. Some of these factors are simple, such as having search terms in the tag, whereas others are really only the heading of an entire chapter of skills, such as having search terms in prominent locations in your copy. Space prevents going into detail on any factor, but you should be able to research anything that isn't self-explanatory. You are unlikely to agree with all of these, but hopefully there are a few tricks you haven't thought of.
One clear lesson emerges from this list, which has been compiled by people from all over the world in a variety of fields, not just SEO. The lesson is this: If your SEO people aren't talking to your coders or your writers (or better still, supervising them), you're in trouble.
Factors that improve search engine results:
1) Search terms in the tag2) Search terms in or 3) Search term in anchor text in links to a page4) Search term in image names5) Search term in image ALTs6) Search terms the first or last words of the Title Tag7) Search terms in the page name URL (e.g. acme.co.uk/folder/searchterm.html)8) Use of hyphen ("-") or underscore ("_") in search terms in URL (for example, search-term.htm is better than searchterm.htm)9) Search terms in the page folder URL (e.g. acme.co.uk/search-term/page.html)10) Search terms in the first or last words in the H1 Tag 11) Search terms in other tags12) Search terms in the page's query parameters (e.g. acme.co.uk/page.html?searchterm)13) Search terms (and location) in the meta-description tag14) XML sitemap15) XML sitemap under 10k16) Accuracy of XML sitemap17) Sitemap folder geo-targeting18) Index/follow meta tags19) Robots.txt present20) URL length21) Title [...]
Why social media optimization is the new SEO
There is much discussion among marketers these days as they try to determine whether or not social media optimization (SMO) has replaced search engine optimization (SEO). While it's difficult to predict the absolute future of online marketing, one thing is clear: The online marketing mix is evolving continuously, and social media is now on the top of marketers' checklists.
Most of my colleagues, including myself, receive the majority of their news on Twitter or via posts on Facebook and LinkedIn before resorting to a Google search on any given topic. This metamorphosis of online marketing via mass viral communication has not only changed the ways in which we receive the information, but also the type of information we receive.
Stay informed. For more insights into the latest social media strategies, attend the iMedia Brand Summit, March 6-9. Request your invitation today.
Think about it. How many times have you seen an article posted on Facebook or Twitter that has either made you click on it, or urged you to suddenly search about the topic? It's a fascinating process. Suddenly, instead of searching for the answer to a specific question, we are exposed to interesting answers to questions that we had not thought of asking in the first place. Our curiosity is piqued, and suddenly we find ourselves wandering a road we'd never thought about traversing before.
We have officially entered the communication era of sharing good quality content. SEO dictates that information must be found with the help of keywords, links, and clever SEO strategy while SMO relies upon key audience personality traits. These days, it's not only about how the content is found, but more importantly, it's about the audience that reads it.
Since the marriage of Facebook and Bing, SMO has reached a whole new level in marketing opportunities. So much specific content is now available on personalized pages, which is more attractive to audiences that struggle to navigate a sea of information on Google. This personalized approach to matching the right audience with the most interesting content is changing the way information is placed on the web, and audiences like it.
Facebook is a personalized community of like-minded people; posting information for others with similar interests is a genuine and effective way to share content from a marketing perspective. Keeping in mind that SMO helps you rank well in search engines and achieve a long-term online presence through planned social media marketing community initiatives, here are some things to remember when planning SMO for clients:
Keep the strategy simpleChoose the right social media for the content and use them well. For example, building strategic fan pages will attract the right audience. Use Facebook's analytics to track post quality and learn how to encourage "likes," link sharing, and photo tagging. Over time, the fan base will grow, and the quality of your messaging on Facebook will continue to be shared virally. The ultimate goal will be not only exposure and visibility, but also a deeper understanding of your message that inspires a course of action.
SEO isn't dead, so don't ignore it completely SEO still has power. People will search online, and keywords still matter. Where a client appears on Google vs. Facebook shouldn't necessarily be a comparison; the two elements should complement one another. Simultaneously, with the Facebook-Bing marriage, searching has become much more social than before. Marketing on that level has positives and negatives, as your Facebook network can influence search results as well as audience response to what the crowd "likes" on Facebook. Learning to def[...]
Google Instant: How marketers can benefit
What is Google Instant? It's a new search enhancement that displays results as you type. Google says it's a faster and more predictive way to search the web. In other words, Google Instant anticipates what you are searching for as you type, providing search results instantly before you're done as Google Suggest flashes a list of possible search-intent terms you could click on before finishing your query.
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Here are a few details:
Google Instant works from the Google homepage.
If you are signed into Google, your results are personalized.
If you are searching on other domains, Google Instant is only available if you are logged into Google.
If you don't want to see results as you type, you can turn Google Instant off by clicking the link next to the search box on any search results page, or by visiting your preferences page (click More in top links across the Google homepage).
Google Instant is accessible to all U.S. desktop search users on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer 8.
Google Instant is available in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, and the U.K. to users who are signed in and have Google Instant-capable browsers.
Eventually, Google Instant will extend to all geographies and platforms.
A beta version of Google Instant is now available on most iPhone and Android mobile devices in the U.S.
Basic features of Google InstantIn September 2010, Marissa Mayer, Google VP of search products/user experience, posted the following basic features of Google Instant on the Google corporate blog. Here's a relevant summary:
Dynamic results: Google dynamically displays relevant search results as you type, so you can quickly interact and click through to the web content you need.
Predictions: One of the key technologies in Google Instant is that we predict the rest of your query (in light gray text) before you finish typing. See what you need? Stop typing, look down, and find what you're looking for.
Scroll to search: Scroll through predictions and see results instantly for each as you arrow down. These features make searching on Google more time efficient. Google estimates its new instant feature will save users two to five seconds per search, resulting in a time savings of 11 hours as each second passes.
Will Google Instant modify search behavior?In an interview on TechCrunch, Marissa Mayer stated she expected consumer search behavior to shift dramatically. "One of the things I've seen in my own personal usage," Mayer stated, "is that while each search is faster, I spend more time doing searches. Because I actually see the results coming in and out as I'm doing my searches... I learn things as I go. And after I've actually fulfilled my query, a lot of times I'll see interesting suggestions, so I'll scroll around and learn different things, and so I think ultimately, it may increase engagement of our users."
The way Google sees it, as searching becomes faster, consumers save time, they become more engaged, they end up searching more, and Google sells more ads.
Impact of Google Instant on impressionsWhile Google believes there should be no drastic changes in the techniques used by search engine marketers (SEMs) or for search engine optimization (SEO) in positioning websites in Google search results, Google Instant results appear to give more prominence to big brands. And, it affects impressions.
Google's Webmaster Central states, "With Google Instant, you may notice an incre[...]
How Google Instant can destroy your brand's reputation
Online reputation management -- the science of monitoring and protecting a brand's credibility and name in the online world -- just got more difficult. The introduction of Google Instant has brought many brands' reputation issues to the forefront of visibility.
Until Instant's introduction, it was relatively easy to sweep reputation issues under the digital rug by pushing them to a point of limited visibility -- "below the fold" of the search results page, or even back to the second page.
But, that has all changed. With Google Instant, search results and suggestions continually update as Google attempts to predict queries from the very first character entered into the search box. Regularly included in the list of suggested search variations are now keyword phrases that include terms like recall, scam, and fraud. As shown below, the dirty laundry of leading and emerging brands such as Slim Fast, BP, CheapTickets.com, and Magic Jack is now front and center for all to see.
In these instances, Google Instant is undoubtedly contributing to a negative brand impression and could substantially reduce click-through rates for the affected brands. In order to correct (or ideally prevent) this type of brand damage from occurring, there are a number of key activities that brand owners and marketers can undertake.
- Follow SEO best practices and ensure that site content, meta tags, page titles, and alt tags are all properly optimized to improve the messaging and search engine placement pages under the brand's control.
- Contact owners of related, brand-favorable search results to request slight onsite SEO modifications to help improve search engine performance and visibility (i.e., job sites, local directories, chambers of commerce, etc.)
- Begin aggressive link popularity development efforts to increase the number of high-quality incoming links that are directed to brand-controlled sites.
- Begin ongoing generation, promotion, and publicity universal search assets, including: news, press releases, images, video, local listings, and sponsored content (used in syndication and content barter).
- Identify any and all violations or unethical online behavior from "disgruntled sites" for review with representatives from the engines and in-linking sites as possible reasons for search engine penalties or black listings.
Paul Elliott is partner, consumer products & retail at Rosetta.
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2 key components for better search marketing
Proper leveraging and continual testing of ads in the pay-per-click marketplace are essential best practices for realizing improvements in ad positioning. While it is true that ongoing testing and optimization also drive coveted consumer engagement, online marketers understand that heightening a user's intent to act is largely dependent on delivering higher ad and keyword click-through rates and a higher website quality score. Understanding the role that best practices play in achieving better ad positioning by way of an improved quality score and increased CTRs will benefit your search strategies both in the short- and long-terms.
Quality scoreQuality score can influence the cost that an advertiser will pay for first page bids on keywords within its account. Also, it affects ad ranking and positioning on the search engine results pages and influences the actual cost of a given keyword. Best practices tied to quality score include improving landing page quality as well as measuring overall account performance. Building up quality score is partly contingent on advertisers writing better, more relevant ad and landing page text. To that end, ads and landing pages should be rich with keywords and relevant groupings of search terms. For example, a search marketer running a PPC campaign for a financial firm would incorporate keyword groups like "loan servicing," "retirement account," and "mortgage refinancing" into its content. Creative text should be continually tested and optimized to keep your site relevant and to drive the best results possible.
Additional best practices that directly raise quality score include establishing lower page load times, building trust by displaying website terms and conditions, and implementing a strategic link building plan to strengthen backlinks. Though these are certainly significant variables for increasing quality score, the most important and impactful metric to achieve a better quality score is the click-through rate. Higher click-through rates allow advertiser keywords to be priced at a lower cost-per-click (CPC) and enable their ads to appear in higher positions.
Click-through rate improvementsAs is the case with maximizing quality score, CTR best practices must also be adhered to in order to determine optimum ad performance and maintain cost-efficiency. Considering the complex, technical nature of CTR, it might come as a surprise to learn that one of the most important click-through rate best practices involves basic planning -- figuring out the goal of your campaign. Client objectives and spend will determine the appropriate click-through rate to drive results. This will also impact keyword bidding strategies to maximize cost-efficiency and conversions. Utilizing the right blend of short- and long-tail keywords will attract traffic and deliver more conversions. Long-tail keywords are especially effective for PPC programs because there is less bidding competition for them.
Coupled with a forward-thinking keyword bidding strategy, concise keyword targeting should be incorporated into your CTR improvement program. A combination of relevant keywords and ads is a winning formula for increasing higher quality click-through rates. Keywords and ads that share a pertinent relationship are more likely to draw users to click and convert on your ad. Let's borrow once again from the earlier finance client illustration. Finance clients looking to drive traffic to their sites would benefit from organizing keywords discussed in the earlier example within tightly themed ad groups appropriate to their busin[...]
A disruptive innovation in search marketing
Wouldn't it be great if we could read our customers' minds? We'd know exactly what products they want to buy -- not to mention when, why, and how they want to buy them.
The weird thing is, search marketing seems like the closest thing to mind-reading marketing that exists today. We are lucky enough to have potential customers typing their wants and needs into a search engine. All we need to do is have a compelling ad appear on the user's search results page.
Stay informed. For more insights into where the digital industry needs to be headed, attend the iMedia Agency Summit, Dec. 12-15. Request your invitation today.
If only it were that easy. Any search marketer knows that consumer queries are extremely diverse -- misspellings, slang, nicknames, and syntax variations fuel this diversity. The result? Any search marketer is working with a nearly infinite set of queries.
Even Google admits that 50 percent of search queries on any given day are completely unique. Expand that time frame to a month, and the same maxim holds true -- 50 percent of monthly queries are completely unique.
So even the best search marketers are required to be mind readers: "Given my product, what are prospective customers likely to type into a search engine?" Search marketers have historically tried to answer this question in one of two ways: broad match or keyword expansion.
Many SEMs simply ignore query diversity and employ broad match across their entire keyword portfolio to try to "read the most minds." Broad match essentially makes mind reading the search engine's problem. The SEM says, "Here's the type of customer I want. If you find someone similar to this profile, feel free to send them my way." The problem is that broad match is a sort of grab bag; sometimes advertisers get what they want, and sometimes they don't.
Other search marketers try to read their prospective customers' minds directly by greatly expanding their keyword portfolios. The trouble is, there are waaaaaaay too many potential queries, which creates an SEM nightmare.
Whenever an industry faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge, a disruptive innovation arrives on scene to completely change the game. In the case of paid search marketing, campaign managers need to focus on the underlying intent of a keyword, not the keyword itself.
Disruptive innovation is needed in order to enable search marketers to better discern the underlying intent of queries -- or, in other words, to do a better job of reading consumers' minds. The fundamental problem is that our industry has always treated keywords as independent, unique entities. No manual process can optimize and scale across thousands of keywords. That's why no commercial tools exist to help advertisers do this today.
The key to overcoming this challenge is to focus on searcher intent -- not keywords. Intents will become a new level of abstraction that enables marketers to draw relationships between similar keywords, reduce complexity, and increase both ad and landing page relevance (again, improving their mind-reading abilities).
Focusing on intents also significantly improves search marketing effectiveness in several ways:
Keywords could be grouped by similar intent.
Ad copy and landing pages could be highly targeted to specific intents or combinations of intents.
Bid management algorithms could borrow data across keywords with similar intents.
Performance reports could be based on searcher intent rather than keywords.
Keyword portfolio expansion could be based on productive intents -- not just productive k[...]
6 ways you're being scammed through search
According to several search industry research reports, search advertising and search engine optimization activity has grown more than 250 percent in the last five years and is slated to increase $16 billion by the end of this year. The budgets for search advertising and marketing are robust for the most part because these programs pay for themselves and are efficient and fully trackable.
However, the strong growth in search marketing is also feeding the growth of PPC advertising and SEO scams by counterfeiters and unscrupulous competitors. Based on analysis of data from Direct Magazine, 14 percent of branded searches never arrive at the brand's site. While some of the traffic arrives at the sites of legitimate resellers, a significant portion does not. For luxury products, these statistics get worse. A recent audit for five luxury brands found that traffic to sites selling suspected counterfeit goods amounted to more than 45 percent of the search traffic generated by the official brand sites.
As these statistics demonstrate, search marketers must be vigilant to ensure their search strategies are not marred by the activities of the ever-growing league of online scammers. The following article will discuss some of the leading search marketing scams that PPC advertising practitioners and their SEO counterparts should track. We'll also discuss how to combat these common schemes.
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6 often-abused paid search metrics
Over the years, I have come across several inefficient styles of paid search reporting that do not address client expectations, trending, or campaign goals. Most clients are looking for their agencies to provide high-level analysis and strategic recommendations that improve campaign performance. However, some reports are massive spreadsheets that jam too much information into one report; they do not put data into context, lack actionable insights, or fail to summarize trends, which can lead to clients' searching out insights and recommendations on their own. Others provide no data to support analysis and leave clients in the dark.
If someone is not intimately familiar with the ins and outs of paid search management, it is easy to misinterpret data when agencies report unnecessary information without much context. It makes it difficult to understand cause-and-effect optimizations and the true value of hiring an agency or expert.
Want to meet up with the companies that are leading paid search into the future? Check out the exhibit hall at ad:tech New York, Nov. 3-4. Learn more
To minimize confusion, it is essential for paid search professionals to sort through the performance data and provide a framework to summarize reports. This way, clients are not blindly reporting a sheet of numbers/metrics back to their organizations. They should have the data they need to address C-level executives and present a clear understanding of how their campaigns are performing. While clients do range in paid search knowledge, an agency should never assume that everyone can fill in the context around a paid search campaign and the implications of performance fluctuation.
On the flip side, providing an incomplete picture with too little data can raise a number of questions about the value of paid search and can create a scenario in which clients do not believe their agencies are providing proactive, strategic counsel. Common questions that surface are: What is happening to my campaign? What is my agency/paid search manager doing? Can we scale up efforts? What is being done to improve/optimize performance?
Without an actionable report and data analysis, clients can quickly make assumptions on campaign health and make recommendations based on partial information or incorrect analysis of too much data. In extreme cases, these assumptions lead to unimpressive results, missed optimization opportunities, or a misunderstanding of campaign performance.
The remainder of this article outlines a few reoccurring assumptions with paid search interpretations and how a lack of context or explanation can be detrimental to campaign success. Here are some examples of reoccurring misconceptions looking at both pre- and post-click metrics.
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The 30-minute-a-day link building plan
Link building requires an enormous investment of time and resources. Like any major investment, however, you can break the "payments" down into smaller, more manageable increments. Here's how to build links for your website in just 30 minutes a day (for the rest of your life).
Start your day each day with the following assignments, and work concertedly for a full 30 minutes. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Day 1: Linkable asset identificationWhat about your website or organization is "linkable?" Use your first day's 30 minutes to brainstorm a list, in a spreadsheet, of every tangible and intangible aspect of your organization and website that could make others interested in linking. Some common linkable assets include webinars, job listing pages, PDFs, blogs, forums, subject matter experts, deals, news, a community participant, contests, podcasts, and free tools.
Deliverable: Open your spread sheet and make a column for the asset, and then another column for the corresponding URL from your website, if applicable.
Day 2: Link opportunity prospectingOn your second day, begin prospecting for link opportunities. Because you only have 30 minutes, it's best to only focus on a single linkable asset. So pick one from your spreadsheet and then open up a new tab and name this new tab after the asset you're focusing on. Next, select a single keyword that best describes your market. For example, if your site is a golf equipment retailer, select golf. If you're a CRM consulting firm, go with CRM. Work this keyword through the following link building query generators:
SEOBook's Link Suggest Tool
Link Search Tool by SoloSEO
Ontolo's Link Building Query Generator
Deliverable: When you find a link prospect in the SERPs, copy and paste it into your new sheet. Be sure to record the queries that find you the most prospects in the top 10. Those will be worth coming back to later.
Day 3: Link prospect qualificationOpen your sheet back up and take a look at the URLs you recorded yesterday. Are the pages on credible websites that seem like solid contributors to your industry with real relevance to your company? If not, cut them out. If they do, then look for contact information. If you're done before 30 minutes are up, go back and do a bit more prospecting. It's typical during the qualification stage to gain new insights and ideas for queries.
Deliverable: A shortened, qualified list of link prospects along with contact information.
Day 4: Outreach and acquisitionDepending on your prospects, acquisition can be as simple as submitting PDFs to a directory or sending a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Spend a few minutes working on your outreach email, and keep it humble, formal, and to the point. Then start on your list.
Deliverable: Make a note in your spreadsheet after you've contacted each person on your list.
Day 5: Regroup, respond, repeatDay five is for responding to any emails and requests you got from your outreach. Once you're caught up with your correspondence, you need to pick your next step: Either look for more opportunities for this particular asset, or move on to another on your list.
Deliverable: Make notes of all the responses you receive and add any links acquired to a new list. Be sure to track these links in analytics to see how much traffic they send, and whether or not there are any conversions. Finally, know which asset you're starting on at the beginning of next week.
The most i[...]
Simple tips for improving your website's links
A link from a reputable website is like a good job referral. It's someone recommending you for a given role, and it acts as a good old-fashioned stamp of approval. Receiving a poor referral -- or none at all -- can be detrimental to achieving a goal, whether the aim is a new job or top search engine ranking.
Wouldn't it be nice to know what your links are saying about you? The answers might explain a ranking plateau or ranking decline.
Are you someone who has it all together, with highly relevant and natural anchor text in links from quality, relevant websites? Are you all over the map with a mix of quality and irrelevant links from questionable domains? The quality of links referencing your website is an integral component of SERP algorithms.
Ultimately, links indicate the quality of your website, and in the case of search engines, you definitely want to make a good impression. Follow these guidelines to ensure your link-building strategy is a sound one.
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How search can boost your social media campaigns
The ways that consumers initiate their digital experiences and engage with brands are evolving. For the last 10 years, search engines reigned supreme as the way users navigated their online travels. But social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are encroaching on the search engines' dominance as an entryway to the internet and brands.
As technology advances and consumers continue to evolve digitally, their online behavior changes -- it's up to marketers to follow suit if they want to reach and engage with their desired consumer base. Marketers must look at ways to integrate and optimize their digital marketing and media mix to reach and engage with consumers while supporting their business goals. This article will explore ways in which the social and search channels can work together to optimize both conversion performance and consumer engagement with your brand.
Social media and SEO: Finding common groundSocial media and search engine optimization (SEO) have competing goals. One aims to pull users to a designated website, while the other enables and encourages conversations and interactions on third-party properties. To unite these two goals, marketers need to find the common ground between the two, which is the content created and shared between marketers and consumers.
Using social media marketing and search engine optimization together enables marketers to capitalize on instances in which social interactions become search queries. In this era of real-time search results, the ability to capture this intersection point is of growing importance. Consider the use of Twitter. Users who follow more than a handful of people (and brands) will likely have difficulty recalling a message or sponsored tweet. In search of information, consumers typically turn to search engines. If you don't have a search engine marketing plan in place to capture the users exposed to your social media efforts, you're missing valuable opportunities.
The beauty of social media is that it inherently creates sound bites and memorable slogans; for example, if you're running a promotion via a social platform, you want to anticipate the keywords consumers are going to use in their queries and build the appropriate website content needed to stay relevant for those search terms.
SEO and SEM: Enhancing synergiesThe connections between SEO and paid search are solid. Beyond their proximity in search engine results pages, the two work together to build relevancy for consumer queries. For example, if a consumer is searching for "Brand X Widget Y" and they see both paid and unpaid results, they are reassured that those links relate to their query and will lead them to the most relevant page.
When the two strategies work together, they also provide marketers the opportunity to direct users in a highly targeted manner. Depending on the product or service query, it might make more sense to lead consumers through a higher funnel process page (such as a homepage). In other instances, it might make more sense to send users to a page that enables a deeper product or service experience. Using both paid and organic search strategies together enables marketers to cover all the bases by supporting various approaches in information seeking and/or purchase decisions differently while serving as way to build their SEO reputation in the process.
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4 steps for auditing your search campaign
Marketers generally don't audit their search campaigns, but when they do, it's usually when the project is not going as well as expected. So typically what they do is put their work up for tender in the hope that a new agency will get them back on track. However, instead of waiting until things have gotten so bad that a switch is considered or that you have to ask your agency to come up with new ideas, why don't you ask a neutral party to audit things? Call it a fine-tune up.
Here's what digital marketers should focus on as they evaluate their search campaigns.
Why audit in the first place?It's simple: to check that what you're doing is working and if it's resonating with your target audiences. Search is an accountable and efficient medium, but often there are lots of hidden inefficiencies. An audit can dig into the granular details, uncover the inefficiencies, and show you where and how you can get the most out of your search. There is always room for improvement, regardless of how bad or good things seem.
Reducing wasteWhen agencies manage search campaigns, marketers are often unaware of the complex, behind-the-scenes work taking place on their campaigns. And unfortunately these activities can cause a lot of wastage that is generally hidden by agencies. A third-party audit helps highlight this wastage and helps put the steps in place to lessen them in the future.
Uncovering hidden problemsTraditionally, there are very few people who truly understand how search engines like Google work. What the audit does is look at the search campaign's data at a granular level -- from a "Google perspective" -- highlighting discrepancies in how people are managing and using their keyword data.
For example, an audit highlights issues with some of the basic elements responsible for campaign success, such as how well query data are being interpreted and matched with advertisements, and how broad and exact match phrases are doing.
However, one of the main challenges with carrying out such a granular audit is that there are so many data points that are gathered. The problem with this is that there are very few people who are suitably qualified to analyze, interpret, and make recommendations on data.
Therefore, it is crucial that whoever has been tasked to lead the audit has the necessary skills to make the exercise worthwhile. This is, arguably, the gem that will help you take your campaign to that next level.
Only once all these factors have been taken into account can marketers and their agencies take the next steps required to improve their search campaigns.
There are four steps to an audit. They are as follows:
1. Clean your data and get them into a format that will give you insight down the line. Before any data can be extracted and interpreted, the data need to be cleansed, and all the unnecessary information needs to be removed. This is critical, as it will influence the outcome of the audit.
2. Extract the data using a proven data extraction methodology. If extraction is done properly, it will make life a lot easier in the next step of analyzing and interpreting the data.
3. Analyze the data. This step speaks for itself. At this stage, the audit interprets any key trends, highlighting where waste might be occurring or where problems might exist.
4. Optimize, optimize, optimize. Now that the data have been interpreted, you can [...]
4 ways to capitalize on Google's real-time search results
In December, Google began including real-time search results from popular social networking sites in with its regular results. In much the same way as it includes image, video, blog, and news results in a "Universal Search" result, tweets, notices, and status posts from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other sites are now streaming alongside Google's regular search results almost immediately after they are posted.
Being that this real-time search capability is a first among the big three search engines, Google's announcement caused an instant sensation. Google envisions real-time results as displaying not only breaking news but also local information such as traffic alerts, the latest movie reviews, or any other topic that is deemed to be "hot" with social media users. But, it has much larger implications for search marketers because it is likely to affect search results even in sectors not traditionally associated with "breaking news." For example, it is especially relevant to brands that have a social presence because a search of a company's brand name will now likely turn up the last tweet or posting about that company as the No. 1 organic result. That means online reputation management has become especially important these days.
At the same time, fears that the new real-time results will drive regular search results further down the page (having an obvious impact on SEO efforts) so far appear to be unwarranted; based on preliminary tests, it looks like real-time results would only appear in the top spot in a minority of cases in which they are maximally relevant for the search query.
In any case, marketers should not look at this change to the SEO landscape as a complete negative. Instead, they should embrace it as an opportunity to attract new traffic -- particularly for sites that specialize in content that is likely to appear as a trending topic. To be sure, in the past promoting content on social networking sites reached only the users on these sites. It now has a greatly expanded audience, as any Google user can now see this content without being a member of Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site.
To take advantage of the new real-time search results -- and minimize any potential negatives -- here are four fundamental steps for marketers:
Keep positive messages about your brand or products alive in the online news media. Issue frequent press releases with positive news about your company and create positive viral content related to your brand or product that has the potential to be mentioned frequently on popular social networking sites and even featured in news stories.
Be active on sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku, and Identi.ca. Create positive messages about your brand or products in the online social media sites likely to appear in Google results. Promote positive news stories published on mainstream news sites that result from your press releases or viral content promotions, as well as positive viral content that you created yourself.
Maintain an active presence in social networking and microblogging sites. Cultivate relationships and interact with influential users to enlist their help in spreading your positive message. In addition, be responsive to both positive and negative mentions of your brand or product to mitigate any negative press t[...]
SEO: Why a client loved a 10% drop in search traffic
Yesterday, the SEO team and I were reviewing our ongoing projects. "Up 15 percent, up 18 percent, up 27 percent, etc."
Everything looked great until we started discussing what I'll call ABC Company. "ABC search referrals are down 10 percent from last month. They couldn't be happier!"
For a brief moment, it appeared that the team had gone nuts. We have some charming people on the team, but I couldn't contemplate a scenario where a drop in traffic was going to make anyone happy. Something was off, but as my team explained the situation, it all began to make sense.
ABC is a company in a highly seasonal industry where search traffic rises and falls dramatically. In this case, the season was ending, and consequently the searches for this industry had dropped. For the client, a drop of 10 percent in traffic was fantastic because, as a whole, the overall industry's searches were down 50 percent.
Additionally, comparing the same time period from last year, traffic was way up. This year the client saw a number of good leads come in, whereas last year there had been none. The program had been a massive success, but without comparing numbers to industry search volume or last year's numbers, you would have never known.
The story was a good reminder that while you want to constantly measure success, you have to be careful about how you measure it. Numbers don't happen in a vacuum. To demonstrate, consider the below four industries examined using Google Trends:
Intuitively, these businesses know when the bulk of their sales happen, but it might not dawn on them when they see a perceived tanking of their search results. It makes sense that people are looking for movers in spring, ski resorts during winter, landscaping firms during spring, and baking products in the run up to the holidays.
If you sell cookie cutters, you shouldn't get incredibly excited at huge results in November, just as you shouldn't be devastated at falling traffic in January. Let the numbers guide you and place value in year-over-year results.
In very much the same way as seasonality, you'll also want to track overall health of the industry. You can do a search of manufacturing to see how that industry is doing. Luxury purchases like sail boats and yachts have decreased due to hard economic times.
Yet on the flip side, there are a number of industries growing. If you happen to be in the business of selling coconut water or producing augmented reality marketing campaigns, you should be seeing big traffic spikes. Don't attribute that all to your SEO strategy.
The point? You have to look at all the outside data. Even your year-over-year numbers might be misleading if you don't consider what's happening with overall industry search.
So next time you lament that search is down 10 percent, consider what's happening within the industry. You might be pleasantly surprised if you are beating the market overall. Or you might find out that you missed a major opportunity.
You can think of this in the same way that financial planners measure success against the S&P 500. That's the baseline. There's going to be a correlation with the market in that your funds should be up when the market is up and will also fall when the market falls. The goal is to outperform that baseline so that when the market is up 10 percent, [...]
How to use search to shield your brand from negativity
Most marketers understand the reputation management in the context of traditional marketing and public relations. Every day we see companies distributing releases and executives giving press conferences to address a crisis or negative issue that affects their brand. But as more and more consumers turn to the internet for news, information and product research, marketers must ask themselves: What is online brand reputation management, and why is it important to our brand?
We know that consumers use search engines and visit brand websites throughout the purchase process; their blogs and websites discuss products; and they trust consumer reviews and opinions about brands. In fact, Opinion Research notes 84 percent of Americans are influenced by online customer reviews. According to a new study from Performics and ROI Research, consumers are also very willing to engage with and discuss brands on social networking sites. Forty-six percent of people say they are likely to talk about a product on Facebook; 44 percent say the same about Twitter.
A critical part of managing your brand's reputation is monitoring for negative publicity that can be easily found on the web. This concept extends beyond basic alignment of online tactics and messaging with traditional, or "offline," reputation management strategies. Furthermore, it is not just about the brand name itself, it's also product names, the domain name, the industry, competitors, and publicly known figures associated with the brand (e.g., Bill Gates to Microsoft; Richard Branson to Virgin).
How should marketers establish a brand reputation management strategy? Before developing a plan of attack, consider the goals of online reputation management efforts and create a strategy that complements existing offline plans.
Online reputation management consists of three key strategies:
Search engine optimization (SEO): Provides cost effective, long-term benefits that enable positive online content and messages
Paid search (SEM, PPC): Addresses immediate communication needs and counteracts negative messages
Social media: Acts as a viral, message distribution, and brand engagement channel
In this column, I'll tackle the art and science of SEO and paid search reputation management strategies, while my next column will address reputation management using social media, as well as tactics for monitoring and measuring online reputation management.
Long-term benefits of SEOLike any SEO effort, protecting a brand's online reputation takes time; but the rewards can be more than worth the wait. Although SEO efforts won't take care of immediate issues a marketer faces when combating a reputation crisis, a sustainable yet adaptable SEO program is a marketer's best proactive strategy for nurturing their brand online on an ongoing basis.
Start by perusing the existing sarch engine results page (SERP) for brand queries and make a list of the positive, neutral, and negative listings. Now create links from a relevant section of your site to each of the positive listings. These links will help boost the positive listings higher in the SERP thus forcing less positive listings down the page. Read the content behind all the negative listings and develop a strategy to respond to each criticism and attack. This should be done[...]
How to optimize your site for Google in 2010
It's well known to industry experts that the combination of organic and paid search engine results page (SERP) listings not only gives you brand lift; it results in higher click-through rates. Search Engine Land reported that paid and organic listings equal a 15 percent click-through rate, reviewing the findings of a recent study conducted at Penn State. Any marketer would love to get a 15 percent lift in site visitors, right?
However, many marketers depend heavily on paid listings, partly because of immediate results and the ability to fine-tune campaigns on the fly while controlling costs. When it comes to SEO, the initial cost of a campaign is perceived to be high, despite the fact that SEO is very cost effective over time. Another obstacle is that SEO results can take months to materialize. While many marketers tend to favor paid search, they ignore SEO at their peril.
The importance of organic links Historically, Google users have indicated they prefer organic listings over paid listings at the rate of 70 percent to 30 percent. Regardless of user preference, recent research by Google and Enquiro reveals that purchase intent increases with a presence in both top organic and top sponsored listings, even for branded queries.
To be competitive in 2010, marketers need both organic and paid links in the SERPs. Your most important organic presence is in Google, since it owns 76 percent of the U.S. search market.
Google has been testing its new Caffeine algorithm since last fall. It's been rumored for months that Caffeine will be launched any day, but Search Engine Land reported recently that Google Caffeine is months away. We know from reports of user testing that Caffeine will focus on the following areas: higher keyword density, faster site speed, fresher results, real-time search content, social media link bait, video listings, and keywords in the domain name. So, why wait? You can start optimizing for Google today. Below are four areas you can work on for more visibility in Google.
1. Ensure your site is up to speedLate last year, Google's Matt Cutts confirmed on his blog that speed will become a ranking factor on Google. Search engine speed is important to users. It's been reported Google Caffeine clocks at two times its normal speed. That gives Google more of an edge than it has already -- unless others can catch up.
In addition to being faster, Caffeine will provide more results in less time. A new crawling technology allows Caffeine to index more websites, thus providing users with more results on each results page. With all the emphasis on speed delighting users, what do you think will happen when visitors get to your site and find it slow to load? So job one is to ensure that users can navigate your site quickly and easily. Test for speed with multiple browsers.
2. Create real-time contentLast year, Google started serving Twitter real-time search results in its SERPs and started implementing Facebook updates in February, streaming real-time content from across the web. That means users view live updates from social media sites, headlines from news articles, and blog posts published in real-time for relevant searches. Google also added "hot topics" to Google Trends, which shows the most common topics people a[...]
The key to defeating Google
The link-up between Microsoft and Yahoo has been a long time coming. The 10-year agreement, which was first announced last summer but only recently approved, has been an arduous process, which started when Microsoft failed in its attempt to buy Yahoo for $44 billion two years ago.
Investigation by the European Commission showed that the deal was expected to "increase competition in internet search and search advertising by allowing Microsoft to become a stronger competitor to Google." Microsoft is similarly bullish, saying the agreement will provide the scale necessary to compete with Google whilst attracting more users and advertisers.
It will be interesting to see what impact this added competition from Microsoft and Yahoo will have. Certainly, the announcement is crucial for the industry, because it offers agencies and companies using search as a consolidated platform to work from. However, there are still a number of factors to consider.
Firstly, the impact of the agreement isn't likely to be immediate. As it stands, running global campaigns on Yahoo is challenging, as agencies are required to deal directly with the local Yahoo groups and consequently manage several isolated accounts. All dealings with Microsoft's ad center are conducted through one centralized management platform. Merging these management approaches will take time -- it could easily take up to two years to fully implement the technology and business relationship as a coherent strategy.
One must also consider that although Microsoft's interface -- which Yahoo will adopt in the aftermath of the deal -- is much better than Yahoo's, it is still a long way behind Google's offering. Nevertheless, this move will make life easier for agencies. By moving from managing campaigns in three interfaces to two, we can create more time to understand the Microsoft interface.
An interesting aspect to the agreement is how well Microsoft and Yahoo will combine their respective selling points. Traditionally, Microsoft has converted click-through at a much higher rate, but is hindered by its inability to achieve significant traffic. The quality of traffic on Yahoo is somewhat unpredictable, so it will certainly be interesting to see how this combined demographic will work. In an ideal world the industry would keep Bing's conversion rates with Yahoo's traffic. Here's hoping at least.
Whether the Microsoft/Yahoo link-up will provide serious and lasting competition to Google's dominance will depend largely on how easy it is for the industry to use. For brands, this link-up represents an ultimately more cost-effective opportunity to engage with consumers through paid search via Yahoo and Microsoft's sites than previously existed. If Microhoo's platform is accessible and actually facilitates campaigns, then advertisers will be far more inclined to use it, thus increasing the joint entity's revenue stream.
Consumers are certain to benefit from the deal. It will undoubtedly provide stronger competition for Google and will give improved search results. The partnership is such that Microsoft will provide Yahoo with the same search result listings available through Bing, combining that with Yahoo's search expertise. This will offer enhanced listing[...]
5 can't-miss SEO trends
Search is what you want right now. Search is watching, listening, and talking. Search isn't just for text anymore; keeping an eye on the latest trends in this ever-changing field (and truly understanding those trends) is your key to the intent-driving kingdom.
The demand nature of search is giving way to the instant gratification that crowd sourcing provides. Blended search means thinking about every connected digital asset during the optimization process. Real-time search means that you will ultimately have less control over what appears for your chosen devices.
In spite of the dramatic shifts we have seen in the search-and-find category, the basics still apply as well. Confused yet? Don't be. As with all things in the connected marketing world, a little preparation and sound strategy, followed closely by smart tactics, will help keep your collected heads above water.
Let's take a look at five search trends to watch.
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A viral strategy for using paid search
Paid search has, and continues to be, one of the most effective ways of driving online sales. What you may not know is that paid search may actually be much more effective at driving in-store sales than it ever has been for ecommerce.
Co-author Jonathan Treiber is CEO and co-founder of RevTrax.
Data from a comScore and Yahoo study (PDF) actually suggest that consumers exposed to only search spent $16 in store for every $1 they spent online. Analysis of cross-channel conversion data by RevTrax has yielded the same conclusion -- that each paid search click for a multi-channel merchant is far more valuable for in-store revenue than it is for online revenue.
Given this data, it's no surprise that marketers are looking more and more to paid search as an incredibly cost-effective tool to drive in-store sales via use of a printable coupon. By combining paid search with consumer-initiated social media and email to facilitate virality, marketers can set the stage to make a big impact at a low cost in a way that is impossible with other marketing strategies -- especially print.
Here are five tips to help you use paid search to make your coupons go viral:
Dig deep. Give a high value offer. A coupon that's no better than your competitors' coupons or your standard everyday coupon isn't going to go viral. If you want to go viral, you're going to need to push your limits and create an extraordinary offer.
Search + social media + email = viral. Each time a consumer prints your coupon, you'll want to prompt him or her to either A) share the coupon via social media, B) email friends, or C) both. A social media interaction that's generated by a consumer recommending your coupon to friends is far more valuable than anything marketers can do on their own. You can easily accomplish this by adding a social media widget on the page where consumers print your coupon.
Offers should expire quickly. Add a sense of urgency to your campaign by having a short-term expiration date on your coupon. If consumers know that your coupon expires in several days, they'll engage more quickly than if it was outstanding for a month before expiring.
Measure thoroughly, optimize frequently, and repeat. You should know which keywords are generating the greatest numbers of clicks, prints and, ultimately, sales. The same keywords that generate the heaviest click volume aren't necessarily the ones that generate the most coupons printed and in-store sales. There are technologies available to help you measure the full conversion funnel from paid search ads to in-store sales for each individual keyword to optimize your bidding. Also, the more frequently you measure the data (i.e., daily versus weekly), the quicker you can optimize bid-management and drive better results.
Geo-target. Run campaigns with a tight radius around each store. You probably have a good sense for how far consumers will travel. Optimize your campaigns by setting a geographic radius around each store if possible. If you have too many stores or this is not possible, at least make sure that you exclude regions where you do not have a physical presence.
In addition to the[...]
4 tips for higher rankings through better links
Among the variables that help a web page or site rank well for a given search query, the links, in particular, have a very powerful impact. Why? Because Google, Yahoo Search, and Bing all believe that links to your site from other sites indicate that others believe your site has value. And when the search engines see that your site links to others that you believe have value? You get points for that, too.
Some call it link juice. We prefer the term link love.
Simply building a good website that highlights your business, goods, or services won't suddenly result in traffic and sales. The basic concept of doing business online is simple: It's all about link love. Many folks approach the concept of link love quite casually. They do so, however, at their own peril.
Link love is a lot like when love is expressed between two people; to actually mean something, it has to be the real deal. It's one thing to toss off the words "I love you" to a casual acquaintance and to seal the deal with a peck on the cheek. It's quite another to look into someone's eyes and say "I love you" like you really mean it. In other words, it's easy to link to lots of websites -- to say "I love you" to every poor slob who walks by -- but it's harder to link to specific portions of a site that lend real context to your own content.
We are in the throws of a burgeoning link economy. Links have become as valuable as content -- perhaps they always were. Mastering the art of link love can seem confusing -- daunting, even -- but you'll see real rewards for putting in the effort to get it right.
The following four laws of good link love should help you get on your way to better page rank in the major search engines.
Law 1: Give link love, get link loveIf you have credible, completely original, or authoritative content on your own website, others will find it compelling and they'll link to that content, conferring their own link love on your site. For instance, if you sell curbside mailboxes -- and you're absolutely passionate about the interesting, inventive, totally creative mailboxes you feature -- make sure you're adequately expressing that passion through great writing, terrific photos, and compelling videos. Over time, folks from other sites will take notice of that passion and link to it for one reason or another. And those links will begin to add up. As Jeff Jarvis, an early blogger, internet enthusiast, and journalism professor, cleverly puts it: "Link unto others' good stuff as you would have them link unto your good stuff."
Law 2: Be honest and sincereCarefully considering how and when you link out means that you naturally limit your outbound links to those sites that really do mean something to you. The search engine crawlers pay attention to these nuances. Indiscriminately toss out the "I love you" to any old site, and you'll get the wrong kind of notice. If you make your link love mean something, you earn respect. Make your link love the real deal.
Law 3: Build a solid foundationAll you need is love. Well -- almost. Virtually every website on the web is "crawled" by Google, Yahoo Search, Bing, and others so that web pages can be indexed[...]
8 tips for optimizing in-house PPC campaigns
The decision to bring a pay-per-click campaign in-house can be a daunting one. Many small- to medium-sized companies may not be able to justify the expense of hiring someone to do it. Or maybe an agency just "doesn't get" your company, your customers, and your processes.
On the other hand, you may need that expertise and knowledge to make a PPC campaign work and deliver a reasonable ROI, right? That's the situation I faced when I made the decision to bring my company's campaign back in-house after working with two different agencies. It has been two years, and in that time, our sales are up an average of 25 percent per year for 2008 and 2009. Certainly there are other forces at work here, but an effective in-house PPC campaign is a major factor.
Our embroidered logo apparel company is currently managing campaigns on Google, Bing, and Business.com totaling more than 1,400 keywords. For the top 20 percent of our keywords (the ones driving the most conversions) our click-through rate (CTR) averages 14 percent and our conversion rate averages 17 percent. So how have we arrived here?
Success in the PPC arena starts with having a solid marketing skill set. Good marketing, not good technology, drives PPC success and ROI, and once you have a solid marketing foundation, success in PPC is much easier. The fundamentals of marketing include 1) knowing your customer and 2) knowing your value proposition or your unique selling proposition. PPC advertising is just a vehicle for you to deliver that message to your target market or customer.
If you or your organization has a strong marketing skill set, managing the campaign in-house and delivering a strong ROI can work for you. If you do not, managing a PPC campaign in-house might not be a good fit for your company.
The PPC learning curve is steep, but not impossible to climb as long as you concentrate on the fundamentals. There are more than enough resources available in the marketplace to teach you the mechanics of creating and managing a PPC campaign. Here are eight tips to help you get started:
1. Learn the ropes One of the books I started with was "AdWords for Dummies" by Howie Jacobson. I am generally not a fan of the "for Dummies" series, but this author does a really good job laying out the fundamental techniques for PPC.
I also recommend attending a PPC conference. I have attended three in the past four years and I learn something new each time. My personal favorite is PPC Summit, but there are others available across the county. When choosing a conference to attend, look for one that is specific to PPC. A more general search marketing conference with a PPC component might not give you enough "in-the-weeds" information.
As with most things, you have to stay on top of it. The learning is continuous. I attended a PPC Summit this fall and was amazed at what I learned even though I have been doing this for some time. As with most things related to the internet, change is constant.
2. Stay focusedIf your company offers a wide variety of products, it would be really easy for a PPC campaign to get out of control. The narrower your product or serv[...]
The secrets of real-time search success
In December, both Google and Bing announced partnerships with Twitter to include tweets in their search results, and tweets began popping up in results on both search engines by the middle of the same month. While there has not been much discussion about Bing's use of Twitter, Google has captured a lot of attention because its Twitter feed is included prominently alongside other search results.
Real-time search has been a hot topic for discussion in the search engine optimization (SEO) world since Twitter started catching fire in 2009, although I think many SEOs thought the reality of real-time search was farther off.
Defining real-time searchLet's start by taking a look at what is included in real-time search results and where these results will be shown. Real-time search results are an extension of Google's Universal Search Results, and are triggered algorithmically based on query volume. When a topic or keyword reaches a predefined frequency, then Google's algorithm automatically begins using the real-time search page.
Real-time search results include news headlines, blog headlines, and a scrolling widget with social media comments along with Google's regular results. Time stamps are included with all of these additional pieces of data so that users can choose the timeliest results. Social media comments currently come from Twitter, FriendFeed, Jaiku, MySpace, and Identi.ca through API data feeds. News and blog headlines are based on fetched results found through Google's normal crawling cycles. Blogs and news sites that publish regularly are normally crawled many times per day due to the frequency of new content added.
While Google does not publish the algorithm for how it determines the ranking of this real-time content, the company has made some broad statements on how the algorithm works. Google publicly stated that social media profiles are scored based on the quality of profile, following a similar methodology to what the search engine does with links. Basically, the more friends or followers, the more trusted the profile. Those with more trusted profiles have a better chance of having their comments included within the social media widget.
A search for "Kurt Warner" on Jan. 29, the day he announced his retirement from the National Football League, produces the real-time search results seen below.
At the top of the page are news results from one hour before the search, with a link to 1,167 additional news articles for those who would prefer to specifically read news articles.
The next three results are typical search results, with a Wikipedia result, Warner's official site, and his NFL.com page.
In the fourth position on the page is the social media widget. The widget contains a running list of social media mentions of Warner's retirement. The remainder of the page is a mixture of news, informational, and memorabilia sites relating to Warner.
These real-time results will likely stay in place for a few days, but once the online chatter dies down, the page will likely return to the regular search results. A search for "Kurt W[...]
3 reasons why your site search isn't working
Coming from consumer search experiences on the web with the likes of Google and Yahoo, it's no wonder online marketers question why they can't provide better search results to people browsing on their own websites. It's a recipe for a common complaint: "The search on our site sucks!"
Fair enough. In order to fix search, you first have to understand what is going wrong.
Site search isn't working for many companies, and there are three key principles to really understand what is going wrong. Once we understand what's wrong, we can arrive at some fundamental conclusions on how to make site search better and, therefore, how you can make your site search a cut above the rest.
1. The critical information is not in the document All full-text search technologies basically work the same way: They look for a match between the words in a user's query and the words in the text of the documents searched. Whether those documents are web pages, PDFs, or Word docs, the fundamental assumption is that the engine can figure out what content best meets a user's needs.
Unfortunately, this is where the very concepts of full-text searching miss the mark, and here's why:
While processing documents is a good start, the words within a document do not necessarily match the way a user understands the topic and phrases the question.
For instance, a user might come to an online appliance retailer looking for a "stove," but the search yields only "stove-top safe" kettles and pots, not stoves. Why? Because instead of referring to a generic term like "stove" on the website, the retailer instead uses a manufacturer's terminology of "cooktops" and "ranges."
It sounds like a simple fix, where all you need to do is set up a synonym so that "stove" is the same thing as a "range," right? But what about all the long-tail terms and content associated with niche products that could number in the thousands?
Let's go out on a limb and say the words do exist in the document. There may be thousands of documents that contain the search terms, but which documents are the best? A traditional search engine will assume that the one with the most occurrences of the keywords is the most valuable, but this is very often not the case.
For example, if we look at a work by Shakespeare -- or any great work of literature -- the meaning cannot be identified simply by looking at the words within it. It's synthesized in the reader's mind, and different readers may derive different meanings based on their own unique makeup and experiences.
The common work-around for this principle is to have experts manually tune and tweak search, but that can lead to major time delays in getting problems fixed. Not to mention this approach lacks scalability and is incredibly labor-intensive. Companies focus on the most popular content, and miss out on highly profitable long-tail content and products.
If the information to improve search isn't in the document and it's simply not practical to manually tune search, what's a marketer to[...]
The benefits of sticking with your search agency
One tenet taught at most business schools and exemplified by successful corporations such as Wal-Mart is "to gain efficiencies, eliminate the middle man." Your paid search agency is a true middle man between you and search engine media providers, so are there benefits going straight to the proverbial well? With the need for efficiencies in online marketing, should you outsource campaign management directly to major media players such as Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft?
Over the years, I've seen clients leave agencies to be managed by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, and I've also personally taken over clients who had previously been managed by Google and the others. Is publisher-managed media a smart move? Is it worth the cost savings? Is this a future trend threatening the agency world? Clearly, being from the SEM agency side, I'm a bit biased, but I think the true costs of going publisher-direct far outweigh the dollars saved.
As I see it, the pros and cons in this debate can be grouped into four categories:
Data privacy and integration
Conflicts of interest
CostLet's start with the major benefit of working directly with a publisher: You don't have to pay agency fees. Yes, if you are large enough, Google and others will manage your campaign(s) with their vertical or regional teams for free. That's a 10 to 15 percent instant savings. However, I'd argue that the overall ROI from working with an agency will be higher, even after factoring in management fees. Now this is not the case with just any agency, but the good ones will find ways to add value through campaign optimizations and insights to fuel other marketing activities that, when measured and aggregated, well exceed the cost of their services.
Data privacy and integrationThere is major concern in Washington, D.C., these days about online data collection practices and general search engine data privacy. At the same time, there's also a belief that integrating data (and the models placed on top of data) is the future of marketing. I suspect Google is working to build an integration portal into Google Analytics that includes a central repository to meet client needs and potentially provide media mix modeling and improved attribution, but it's not available yet. Further, with Google venturing into other advertising media (TV, mobile, ad exchanges), it will have a direct pipeline to feed other forms of media into a data warehouse.
Between media companies or agencies, who do you trust with performance data such as product margins, low performing markets, and future marketing plans? Who can share cross-media performance (i.e., high performing natural search keywords to add to the paid search stable, or DMAs where radio has a high ROI on offline sales)? If you were a media company and knew the value of a commercial or keyword placement was worth double to the advertiser, would you be tempted to raise the price? When a company makes more money with increased competition, can "diamond in the rough" keywords be kept [...]
How to make your paid search ads pop
Paid search is now an integral part of online media campaigns and has come to rival display in terms of online media spending. Paid search enjoys this preeminence for a variety of reasons, but perhaps none is more important than search marketing's perceived high ROI and the fact that a marketer only pays when a user clicks.
Because the "last click" before a purchase often comes from a search query (even if simply navigational in nature), the search engine gets 100 percent of the credit for the sale. This of course likely understates the impact of other marketing messages, but it is a convenient fiction for the big search engines, and one that they are happy to perpetuate.
Co-author Bob Heyman is the founder/CEO of Digital Engagement Group.
Most of us use search engines as we once did the old, thick Yellow Pages books: it is everyone's "go to" resource to find what we need. But more importantly, search engines have become everyone's "go to" research resource to find out about what we need.
For most consumers, the traditional consideration phase in the sales cycle takes place, more and more, through online search engine research. They use search to get to information sites like Wikipedia, WebMD, Consumer Reports, and other sources of information about a product they are considering. They also use search to inform themselves about what kind of services they may need to address a concern or solve a particular problem.
Once consumers are comfortable with the information, they then use search engines to navigate toward a purchase from a particular vendor. In this post-research process, they are often importantly influenced by their pre-conceived notions of brand and brand value.
Readily available metrics have tracked the "click trails" leading to the final click. According to sources like Atlas, DoubleClick, Eyeblaster, and others, paid search needs to share credit for the sale with display ads and the consumer's informational research, which make critical contributions to the purchase path leading to the final sale.
There is a vital inflection point, after the consumer's consideration phase is over and their purchase intent has been formed, when the customer is most susceptible to marketing messages delivered by paid search advertising. However, absent a compelling, interesting, or engaging prompt from paid search ads, we believe that in most cases the consumer's attention falls like a pachinko ball, bouncing harmlessly off dull and non-engaging paid advertisements toward a name that they already trust or recognize.
This trust, or brand recognition, has no doubt been formed, over time, by personal experience or exposure to advertising in other media channels that is more creative than what is likely to be found in the paid search section of any search page.
If you are a company with a new product or service, and you have not yet had the opportunity or the financial resources to build brand trust and awareness through multi-channel media display campai[...]
5 marketing implications of Google Caffeine
Anyone who knows me knows that I am mildly obsessed with coffee. I savor it, gulp it, glory in it. But really, it is all about the caffeine. Caffeine makes me feel alive. Caffeine makes me engaged. Caffeine makes my heart purr along at 600 beats per minute. Caffeine is essential.
Google shares my love for the caffeinated lifestyle. The company is obsessed with speed. It wants its servers chugging along like they've spent the afternoon with 400 of their favorite baristas. Google is ready to rock Caffeine, its new internal search architecture, which is set to roll out after the holidays.
What does Google Caffeine mean to marketers?Fundamentally, it doesn't change your current search positions a lot. The essential algorithm that Google uses to determine which sites are relevant for particular terms won't change much in the near term. (But look out -- big changes are coming. You'll hear more on that before Christmas.)
In the near term, here are the nuances that are becoming evident:
1. IndexingCaffeine is all about indexing speed for Google. How many more pages can Google add to its index, and how quickly? Caffeine represents a significant change in Google's housekeeping. This is good for Google. It is speeding up the indexing because the web is exploding in its growth. (See "Here Comes The Flood" for more info on the whats, whys, and wheres of the explosions.)
Google needs to get faster so that it can keep up with the deluge of new information and links. The takeaway for marketers is that you can expect to see your newer pages show up in the index (but not necessarily well-ranked) sooner. Speed of indexation is good, but a bigger index means that you have even more work to do to keep yourself visible. You will likely have to do less work to become seen by Google, but more work to be visible to searchers.
2. FilteringGoogle has become really aggressive about filtering duplicate content. As it speeds the indexing, it needs to step up the filtering process to ensure that it doesn't have 6,500 versions of the same URL in the index. So, if you have duplicate content, or have pages that are "modestly unique," like two shirts that are the same except in color, you can be sure that Google will be more aggressive about filtering out one of those shirts. This can be a very disconcerting issue for marketers, especially retailers. Make sure that you are giving search engines every possible opportunity to find all of your URLs through HTML site maps, XML site maps, RSS feeds, Google product feeds, etc.
3. Content frequency If this update is all about indexing and speed, then it makes sense that the marketer ought to adapt to an even faster-moving world. There are tons of ways to make your brand more visible when high frequency is essential. Try blogging, social media, contests, press releases, interviews, editorial content, opinion pieces, giveaways, customer profiles, and free advice (and I just came up with all of those in the last seven seconds --[...]
3 ways search can boost display
From new technologies to old methodologies, your display and search campaigns interact in myriad ways (whether you like it or not). How should marketers best take advantage of these synergies?
I'll offer just a few answers to that question here.
Buy display traffic like search trafficDisplay ad platforms are increasingly behaving like search ad platforms. That's largely a byproduct of the fact that display ad networks such as Google's DoubleClick Exchange and Yahoo's Right Media are using automated bidding to sell display ads. Given the success of automated bidding in search, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the display networks (especially those owned by search-heavy companies) would try to repeat search marketing's success with automated ad buying.
Non-engine players are entering the field as well. My own company is one example: Didit took its search advertising platform, which constantly roves the major search engines for the best search ad buying opportunities, and applied the same principles to its new display advertising platform, which constantly roves the major display exchanges for the best display ad buying opportunities. MediaMath, another advertising technology firm, is doing some great stuff in this space as well.
In effect, search network technology is driving display network technology, which is driving display technology on the advertiser side. The moral here for advertisers is that if you want to stay ahead of the competition in search or display, you'll really need to have a firm hand on the cutting edge of both channels.
Buy display traffic with search trafficAs far back as 2005, usability expert Jakob Nielsen wrote about the "slow tail" -- the substantial group of site visitors who arrive at a site but don't make a final purchase on the site for days or even weeks. (I'd guess that the slow tail is particularly slow for high-ticket items, and just about anything dealing with B2B.)
The slow tail means there's a set of site visitors who ought to be converting now, but aren't. Before these people return to your site, they could easily be poached by your competitors. They could also simply forget to ever return. Add to the slow tail the group of site visitors who came close to deciding to buy but decided against it at the last moment, and you're looking at rather large pay-per-click costs spent on visitors who ought to be converting but are instead slipping away.
Enter search-based behavioral retargeting. Advertisers put cookies on the PCs of people who have come to their websites via a search, which lets them follow these same people across the internet with display ads to draw them back to the website. Once these former visitors return to the advertiser's site, there's a good chance they'll reconsider the initial abandonment, and they'll finally convert.
Targeting users based on search visits makes particularly good sense, because people who click on your search ad have identified themsel[...]
Creating link bait: 7 tips for social media
For years now, people have been buzzing about social media and the opportunity it provides to marketers to drive tons of traffic, brand awareness, conversions, and -- most importantly -- links. Even Matt Cutts, Google's head of Webspam, has gone on record numerous times praising social media as a great opportunity to get links in a pure and natural way.
It's no secret that so-called "link bait" gets a lot of natural quality inbound links, and that social media has the ability to garner massive visibility for your brand and its content. But just knowing that doesn't mean it is easy to succeed with any link bait you create.
Creating a piece of link bait that will succeed in social media and score lots of links from authoritative sites takes a lot of work and experience. Following these seven tips will help you get started. Before you know it, you'll be creating kick-ass pieces of link bait that will improve your chances at succeeding in social media, while garnering tons of high-quality, natural links.
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10 tips for adapting SEO for any situation
The holiday shopping season is upon us, but the real rush begins the day after Thanksgiving with Black Friday, when many shoppers hit the web. Although successful SEO strategies should be practiced year-round, there are things you can do today which will dramatically affect your bottom line for this holiday season. There's no black magic involved, and you can report real results quickly.
How do I know? From experience; I've run many highly successful SEO campaigns for businesses, both big and small. More than once, I've worked on websites with less than 25,000 daily organic search referrals and transformed them into sites with more than 750,000 unique daily search referrals within days, not weeks, all via white-hat SEO.
Many retailers can do the same and should optimize their websites for seasonal sales. Following the 10 tips below will make a difference in your site's performance and overall marketing ROI.
1. Define your goalsThis is basic business 101, but it's a step most companies skip in their SEO planning. Do you know which items your purchasing department has, and in what quantities, as well as the latest weekly sales forecast and current inventory position? You may not want to spend too much time on the hot-selling item that you're already kicking out the door, but focus instead on products that are either slower-selling or have year-round appeal.
2. Quantify potential demandIt's a tough job, but you absolutely need to forecast how many people will search for any given product by type and category. Thankfully, technology has been developed to complete this task easily, but you can still do it by hand too. Remember: you need to quantify not just how many people search for the root term of a given product (e.g., "stocking," "sweater," "blender"), but also all the varied and long-tail terms they use to search for the identical product (e.g., "mixer," "mix-master," "countertop appliances," etc.).
3. Identify long-tail opportunitiesThere will be hundreds, often thousands, of long-tail terms that searchers will use to find what they're looking for. Determining which ones to target for your SEO campaign is one of the most critical decisions in the entire process and also one of the most difficult. It's not always the terms with the greatest number of referrals, but the quality of the traffic each term drives to your website. Which terms have low bounce rates? Which referrals result in more page views or more time spent on the site? These metrics inform which terms are most effective in attracting qualified traffic that leads to more transactions, all while minimizing acquisition cost.
With the holiday season specifically, try using various holiday terms (i.e., Christmas, New Year's, etc.,) in the phrases and replace for other holidays.
4. Do the mathYour long-tail analysis identified promising candidate terms for the campaign. Now, analyze those te[...]
10 tips for combining SEO and paid search
While search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search are often seen as independent processes by digital marketers, the consumer sees a search results page as a single experience, and research shows that paid and natural search do impact eachother. Savvy marketers can leverage search results pages as holistic marketing vehicles, planning and measuring their SEO and PPC efforts together to bring the separate sciences of paid and natural into harmony.
As we head into the critical holiday season for retailers, here's a look at 10 key force-multipliers that leverage search results pages to maximize the impact of both your PPC and SEO efforts.
Stay informed! To learn more about optimization strategies and targeting your audience, attend the iMedia Agency Summit. Dec. 6-9. Learn more about the iMedia Agency Summit.
1. Follow proven SEO best practices There are many standard SEO best practices, but avoiding duplicate content is a vital SEO rule for retailers. Duplicate content is a term used in the field of search engine optimization to describe content that appears on more than one webpage. Retailers plagued with duplicate content can see thousands or hundreds of thousands of their detail pages become excluded from the search indexes because a search engine has determined that these URLs already exist in their web index.
Here are few examples of duplicate URLs situations:Product pages:
Embracing the "canonical tag" is an elegant solution for avoiding duplicate content. Back in February of this year, Google, Yahoo, and Bing announced their support for this new tag, which was designed to eliminate duplicate URLs for a given website in search engine results. The tag marks a select URL as "canonical," which means that it is the predominant URL for a page, even if there are two or more similar URLs leading to that same page. Canonical, by definition, describes the master copy of something.
With the canonical tag, search engine marketers can more effectively control the URL returned in their search results. More importantly, the page will do better in search results because the master URL will consolidate all of the authority that was previously distributed and diluted between multiple URL versions of the same content.
2. Evaluate your paid search campaign structure against your own site architectureFollowing your site's architecture when setting up your campaigns and ad groups can help reveal untapped opportunities for your paid search efforts. Do you have[...]
Tips for changing your campaign with the season
It's that time of the year again, and the chaotic shopping season is upon us. For ecommerce sites, the holiday season is a make or break event. Although online sales transactions rapidly increased in years past, last year's holiday sales declined 3 percent from 2007, and the outlook for the 2009 season is still unclear. Extraneous factors like the struggling economy and distrust in online transaction safety influenced the disappointing trend in 2008.
What does this mean for PPC advertisers gearing up for the holiday season? Although online sales decreased from 2007 to 2008, the online sector still managed to rake in more than $25.5 billion in sales during the holiday rush. Now, more than ever, holiday PPC campaigns need to be effective enough to attract the frugal online shopper of today. If you've been struggling all year, this could be your last opportunity to earn some much needed revenue.
PPC holiday guidelines Launching a holiday campaign can be as complicated as launching a traditional campaign, if not more so. You have to keep your end goals in mind, while also branching out into uncharted territory. A targeted holiday campaign can seem daunting; however, a successful campaign can be broken down into three major components: keywords, ad copy, and landing pages.
Below, I'll discuss how you can use each of these factors to increase the performance of your 2009 holiday campaign. For the purpose of this article, I'll be using TeaFlection as an example of how a well-run seasonal campaign could make your holiday magical.
Keyword strategy Including holiday-themed keywords in your campaign is extremely important. Not only should you add generic keywords such as "holiday gifts" and "holiday specials on green tea," but also specific holiday keywords like "hot tea for Christmas" or "peppermint tea for Hanukkah." Covering a variety of religious preferences will help extend your marketing reach to a larger group of shoppers.
When you're adding holiday-themed keywords, be sure to avoid any awkward keyword phrases. For example, consumers may interpret "teas for holidays" differently than "holiday teas." The first keyword describes a variety of teas as gifts for the holidays, while the latter sounds like tea with holiday spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. That's fine if you have cinnamon and nutmeg-spiced teas, but if you don't, you're leading your customer to an empty click and no conversion. Walk in your customer's shoes for a second and imagine what they see; by making your keywords transparent, you will facilitate quality leads.
You also need to make sure you don't wait too long to start running holiday keywords. In 2008, the keyword "holiday gift" saw a rise in searches as early as August and experienced a 58 percent increase by the end of November. Getting a headstart on running holid[...]
4 tools for measuring your keyword strength
Recently, Grant Simmons shared some tips and tools for measuring the strength of your SEO efforts. As a follow-up, I'd like to talk about some tools and techniques you can use to gauge your keyword strength.
Keywords are the basic building blocks of search engine optimization. Grant wrote, "The goal behind SEO is to attract new, targeted customers to websites via the search engines' natural or organic (as opposed to sponsored) results." While there are many variables that affect how high your site ranks in those results for any given search, the fact remains that you won't get very far if there's no relationship between the user's search query and a page on your site.
That's why it's so important to do proper keyword research, as well as to analyze and update your keywords on an ongoing basis. This entails making sure the keywords you're focusing on are relevant to your business interests, and not so broad and competitive as to limit their ability to bring in qualified traffic. Optimized keyword research goes a long way toward helping you optimize your site for organic search engine rankings.
Below are a handful of tools I use to check the viability and value of my keywords. I recommend adding these keyword tools into your regular rotation.
Google Webmaster Tools This is a free service you can use through a Google account. Webmaster Tools provides a lot of very useful SEO information. Specific to keywords, you can see a list of your top referring keyword searches, your position in the Google SERPs for each keyword, and the click-through rate (CTR) for many of them. CTR is a good indication of how well you're targeting your intended audience with your keywords. The more relevant and specific a keyword is to your website and business, the higher your click-through rate tends to be. You can also use the tool to see a list of the most common keywords Google finds when crawling your site.
Drawbacks of Webmaster Tools include the fact that you can't see the CTR for every keyword; also, analytics information is somewhat limited in this interface, so you need to toggle between this and your analytics application to get the full picture.
Rank Checker This tool comes free with an SEO Book account. You basically enter your domain name and a keyword (or multiple keywords), and the extension tells you your ranking for each keyword in Google, Yahoo, and Bing. This is a great, quick way to stay on top of your keyword rankings without having to manually search through SERPs. Rank Checker also tells you if you're not in the top 200 results, which is a strong indication that it's either not a good keyword for you or you need to do some optimization work.
Beyond this basic functionality there are some advanced features; for example, in the options, you can select international ve[...]
Bing vs. Google: What's better for advertisers?
Microsoft launched Bing a few months ago with the obvious, but unspoken, aim of breaking Google's dominance of the search engine market -- and the astronomical advertising income that goes with it. I'm not interested in whether Bing is a better search engine than Google -- if you want to compare search performance, there's a very nice system from Blackdog. Instead, this article will look at whether Bing is a better search engine for advertisers.
The fight for market shareCrunchBase has an informative set of video interviews with Stefan Weitz, director of Bing. In these, Weitz states that the key difference between the Bing and Google is not the search results -- he implies Bing doesn't need to be a better search engine than Google; it only needs to be as good, which is almost a given with today's technical knowledge. What differentiates the two, according to Weitz, is the presentation of that material:
"What makes Bing unique is organization of results... and tools for insight which help you make key decisions," Weitz says. "We are adapting the interface based on the intent of the user. Engines should be smart enough to take the question and adapt the way we display the results to the consumer in a way which is actually logical for that task."
Weitz doesn't expect people to switch from Google to Bing quickly. According to Weitz, Microsoft conducted extensive studies into how people used search engines, and what would make them switch, before it even started to design Bing. In other words, Bing was specifically designed to encourage people to switch. The challenge for Microsoft is that its research revealed that the choice of which search engine to use is subconscious. So even though studies show people might prefer Bing, most would stay with what they're used to.
Weitz states that the key to Microsoft's strategy lies in OEM deals. What he means by this is that when people buy new computers, Bing will be the default search engine on that computer, just as it is with Internet Explorer 8. Thus, Microsoft is relying on the fact that people won't change search engines. They'll simply put Bing in front of them first, knowing that -- as long as Bing is at least as good as Google -- most people won't make the effort to shift back to Google.
And it's working.
Bing has gained around 1 percent market share each month since launch -- that's roughly about the same rate of growth as Internet Explorer 8. This share is coming mainly from Google -- which is losing market share at the same rate as Bing is growing, while the other search engines like Yahoo are holding steady.Bing is also growing faster than Google did. According to TechCrunch, in August, Bing grew faster than Google for the first time, with a 31.9 p[...]
How to get the most out of your SEO budget
For large advertisers -- companies with more than $100 million in annual revenue -- the opportunities presented by search engine optimization (SEO) continue to be significant and largely unexploited. Since the economies in the U.S. and Europe began to slow down in the third quarter of 2008, the majority of surveys conducted with senior marketers regarding their focus in 2009 and 2010 reveal that:
Large companies are focused intently on lead generation, which means concepts like branding are moving down the list of priorities.
SEO is considered the leading program by which to drive these results.
The reason SEO is gaining traction in the downturn is that some marketers think SEO is "free" due to the fact that, unlike display or paid search, there is no impression or click-based transaction cost (i.e., it doesn't hit the media budget, which is getting cut by 10 to 30 percent in most companies year-over-year).
For large advertisers, however, there are a series of strong internal barriers that need to be overcome, making SEO anything but free. In conversations with literally hundreds of companies, here are the top barriers to driving results in SEO:
The changes necessary to drive SEO -- particularly technology changes to the templates for the site -- cannot be executed by the IT department in a timely fashion.
Getting financing for SEO is difficult. Many organizations think SEO is free, and there is insensitivity to the investment necessary, as well as the continuity of the investment required to develop and maintain SEO leads.
Ensuring that the web analytics system is configured to provide information on how effective SEO is performing is complex. Most organizations under-invest in their analytics systems, depriving marketing of key data necessary to optimize the driving of leads.
Getting FTEs (full-time equivalent employees) to do SEO work is difficult in the "Age of the Hiring Freeze." Talented SEO people are available on the market in increasing numbers; however, the justification for bringing them in-house continues to be a challenge.
And last, but most important: Hiring freezes drive organizations to rely more heavily on their agencies to drive SEO. The majority of agencies lag in the usage of technology to build scalable SEO programs, making their pricing models increase linearly with the number of site sections or sites being optimized. It takes five people to optimize one site, and 10 to optimize two sites, etc.
Forrester Research recently conducted a study that found 45 percent of all companies rely on their agencies to do SEO, and the percentage increased to more than 60 percent of larger organizations. It is this last point th[...]
Why vertical search builds better buyer-seller connections
Searching on the GYM -- Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft -- has become more of a workout than ever before. The billions of cached pages, pictures, videos, local results, and social network content being indexed in search engine results pages (SERPs) have resulted in more complexity than ever before for business users seeking information.
Google enjoys a 65 to 74 percent market share of conducted searches in the U.S., according to comScore and Hitwise, respectively. These numbers peaked last year and have been dropping gradually, and some of this traffic is going to industry verticals, as business professionals begin to realize the advantages of vertical search over Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
It's been well known since 2006 that business users have trouble finding relevant information on general search engines. The Outsell study reported general search engines failed business professionals on relevance more than 30 percent of the time. The Convera study reported only four out of 10 professionals were satisfied with general search engines. Respondents to the Convera 2009 VSE-B2B report found the major benefits of vertical search to be "quicker to find desired information" (67 percent), "top results more relevant" (65 percent), and "focused on specific business interests and workflow" (64 percent).
Verticals are highly focusedVertical search engines are focused on specific content, which can be industry-based or topic-based. Industry-based sites include Ebuild for construction and home improvement products, FindLaw for attorney practice-specific legal information, and GlobalSpec for engineering procurement. Topic-based verticals include WebMD for health information and The Internet Movie Database for information about movies and actors. A complete review of vertical search can be found in "The Emerging Opportunity in Vertical Search" (PDF) from SearchChannel and Slack Barshinger.
Why B2B marketers need vertical searchToday's users are faced with search overload, which is good news for consumers but bad news for business folks. Engineers will sift through myriad results looking for a credible supplier on Google, but not on GlobalSpec. Retail buyers sourcing merchandise for back-to-school shoppers can go to an industry vertical to compare sellers and merchandise, or research for credible sellers.
It's hard for business pros to source on GYM, because these engines were not designed for commercial use. Archie and Gopher were created for academia and then morphed into the commercial web as WebCrawler, Yahoo, and Google. The major difference between general and vertical engines is the algorithm. General search relies heavily on popularity, rewarding s[...]