Posts Tagged ‘search engine optimization’

Get Ready for 2011 SEO

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

The new year is almost upon us and 2011 will mean some major shifts in SEOland. Of course every year brings major search optimization shifts. Google makes 550 algorithm changes in a given year according to Wired magazine.

A big shift in 2010 heralds some of the changes for 2011. The Yahoo Bing merger of search results has given Bing a 25% share of the search market. Google still retains their 70%+ and will battle to maintain position, while Bing attempts to grab more market share.

So far we who toil in the SEOland trenches know that speed will be a factor in 2011. Slow loading sites and pages will suffer in the rankings. If your site relies on a slow loading Flash splash page, or your designer didn’t properly compress your image heavy pages, you will see your position erode throughout 2011.

We also know that Social Media will play a larger part in ranking algorithms. Those indicators have been creeping into search toolbars often called “Social Media Index”. We know that being mentioned in Twitter, Facebook, Digg and Technorati is monitored by Google and Bing, we don’t always know how it is affecting rankings.

One of the biggest changes we will be seeing in 2011 is the ability of Google to look at user interaction with a website and rank that site accordingly. Bounce rates, time on site, number of page views will all be a part of ranking. The signals are loud and clear – you will be judged by your industry standards. You must have a site worthy of visitors, or Google will not place your site in a position to attract those visitors via search.

What do you need to do to make it in the next year of search? Be distinct. Have unique value. Engage with your community and if you don’t have a community – build one.

Keep these four factors in mind as you look at your site from a search perspective.

  • How many good inbound links do you you have?
  • How well are you represented in social media?
  • How well do your users interact with your site?
  • How does your site compare to others covering the same subjects?

As we get into the next year, we will be heading inexorably towards the new ear of search. We will need to spend more time, effort and money on becoming Search Engine Marketers. The old “flavor of the week” game the system techniques have become less effective than ever, and 2011 may mark their permanent demise.  Gaming the system may still work somewhat, but the strategic goals of the search engines are working against it. Remember – Google and Bing have obscene piles of money to accomplish their goals. Helping them achieve those goals is in your best interests.

To do that we must think more like traditional marketers. Offer items of value, produce good content, engage your visitors. The engines are watching. They will take note of how valuable your site is to your community. Value will be rewarded.

The beauty of a more traditional marketing approach is that it will be kind to you as the years go by. As search engines improve algorithms they will do a better recognizing sites that are seen as valuable by users. Search optimization is a never ending task. There are thousands of competitors who are spending time and money trying to take over your position.

You can retain your position and improve upon it by using a holistic approach to your online marketing efforts. Then, the changes at the search engines make are likely to favor you at the expense of your competitors who take a more short-term tactical approach.

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In SEO or Online Marketing Little Things Mean A Lot

Monday, December 6th, 2010

This past weekend I was buzzing around the net, checking on some SEO work and reading up on the never-ending changes in SEO Land. The normal arguments were going on in chat rooms, blog posts and comments. How much does Google want to see “this”? Is a three page checkout process one page too many? How badly does a lack of mobile ready pages hurt the bottom line?

As I rambled around the inter webz, I noticed there were over 400 MILLION pages competing for the key term I was checking. Seems like just last week there were a bare 100,000. An article caught my eye about mobile users hitting some astronomical figure by 2013. And I tried to buy something at a site that frustrated me with it’s multi page checkout process to the point of hitting the “cancel this transaction” button.

What do all these things have in common? Today, more than ever before, little things mean a lot. Competition is fierce, only 10 sites (or less in some cases) make it to the first page of Google for a keyterm. That’s 10 out of 400 million!

If you do get a customer to your checkout, you’ve won them from brick and mortar stores, online giants like Amazon and thousands of competitors. And they might have come to you from a smart phone – many sites are seeing mobile use in their stats that hit 10% or more of their monthly traffic.

Back in the early days when making money online was like picking up gold nuggets on a beach, details didn’t really matter all that much. The net was new, and customers would put up with poor checkout pages. They even went 3, 4 or more pages deep in a search session! Today, every detail counts.

No matter how well optimized a site, or how user friendly your purchase funnel may be, check these details or your competition will pull ahead of you.

Check the spelling – not only of your copy, but the all important meta title and description. I’ve seen keyterms misspelled in these areas which is great if you’re after a particular misspelling, but most folks aren’t. I even saw a site with the owner’s name spelled incorrectly throughout the pages!

Alt tags on images – do they count? A little. But if you and your competitor have sites of equal value doesn’t it make sense to do everything YOU can to tip the scales in your favor? Including making good use of the tags most site designers ignore?

Keywords in file names. Another little thing that most site designers and developers ignore are the names they assign images and page files. Do these count? A little. But hey – little things mean a lot! And instead of a bland “contact.html” or “logo1.jpg” it’s not hard to use “mykeytag.html” or “keyterm1.jpg”.

Go through your own checkout process. Are you standing in the way of a sale? Are you asking too much info from your customer? Are you using a dreaded captcha on a secure checkout page? That’s overkill and I can guarantee you will lose customers if they can’t read it and enter it right the first time.

Is your checkout process returning the right icon on the browser bar? In other words is it on a secure page with a properly updated SSL certificate? Nothing will stop the hand on the wallet faster than an error message popping up during checkout that says “this site may not be secure”.

Do you give the customer a clear message that their order has been received and is being processed?

Speaking of pages, do you have a custom “page not found” page? Do you politely inform your customer that they have reached a non existent page and give them a link back to your main page or a category page?

Does your site search work? I mean does it REALLY work? Does it come up with alternate spellings of a term or make suggestions? Does it politely or humorously let the customer know that term is not present in your site? Or is it a bare “search term not found” sort of page?

These are all little things, minor details, often overlooked. But with as competitive as the market has become, these little things can be the difference between being found and making a sale, or languishing in the middle of the pack of pages that are your online market.

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Tis The Season For Internet Marketing

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

It’s here. It’s been creeping up. It’s been whispering sweet nothings in the ears of millions of shoppers. Yes it’s the time of the year to turn the bottom line from red to black – Black Friday!

Are you ready? Are your customer service lines staffed with friendly, knowledgeable people? Are your warehouses jammed with product? Is your site being found in the search engines for the right keyterms. Is it in the local directories? Is it mobile friendly?

Can users navigate to the products they want, filling their carts and then checking out with confidence that their details are safe? This is the time to turn the bad economy and lackluster sales around.

If you’re like many retailers and ecommerce companies your sales this year are vital to the continuation of your business. Whether you’re in a mall or on Amazon, the next 29 days can decide the future of your business.

With the season upon us, it’s too late to make any major changes now. But if you’re a brick and mortar store just thinking about coming online, maybe this factoid will help you embark on an online venture in January.

Recent studies published in The Real Cost of the Digital Divide state “being online adds up to almost $8,000 a year in savings– and that’s after taking the cost of being connected into account. While online shoppers may save more by being connected, online bargain hunters may still spend more money.

Who can blame online shoppers for handling Black Friday events from the comfort of their favorite living room chair? I know I do everything I can to avoid the crowded mall parking lots, wishing for a personal urban tank of my very own if I have to venture anywhere near them.

With the convenience of easy price comparisons, shipping guarantees, and no hassle checkout, it’s no wonder the internet has become the largest shopping mall ever imagined.

But if you are a retailer and you’re not online, you are missing out on those sales that could put the black into Black Friday. If you’re already online and not being found in the right places, not being sure your site is a part of the mobile explosion, and not using internet marketing techniques effectively, you could be wondering what all the fuss is about.

In the coming weeks you, dear reader, may get tired of hearing me say four words – social marketing and mobile friendly. But I and other internet SEO and marketing experts know that those two phrases are vital to your online success in 2011.

If your site is not mobile friendly you are ignoring the 100 million people who use Smart Phones. Let me give you a real world example that happened over the weekend. I was having lunch with my son’s fiancée and her sister and brother in law. All 20 somethings, they all had their iPhones and Droids handy. The girls were strategizing their Friday shopping, hitting  web sites for price comparisons, coupons, and deals. They had a list – broken into two columns. One side was “hit the mall” the other was “hit Amazon”.

They pulled up the mall map and marked the stores each would check, and detailed how and when they would stay in touch via phone to maximize their bargain hunting efforts. Fast forward to next year and the bar code readers that work within smart phones will be linked to the comparison sites. Perhaps even feeding the all important customer reviews into that screen as well as other relevant information like warranty limits or recall notices.

Some of their decisions were even made by browsing the company website. Laughter exploded as they looked at some stone age sites – “Ewww look at this thing. Would you EVER want to buy from a site that looks like that?”. “Oh good grief when will these guys stop doing things in Flash. I can’t see a single product pic. I’ll have to go to the store and hope they still have one.”

Mobile is big – it’s getting  bigger every day. It is a part of the shopping experience for many, and will become a mainstay of that experience in the years to come.

I know that Amazon is huge. I know this from my beloved stats. I know the net is made up of real people doing real things online. But to watch two real people bypass every website except Amazon while planning their shopping trip, was enlightening. If you aren’t on Amazon, get there – today. There is still time if you burn some midnight oil to become a part of this behemoth.

And seeing these young ladies checking Facebook pages for customer reviews and company interaction was also enlightening. A major retail chain which will remain nameless was a turnoff to these shoppers because of how they mismanaged a customer post.  Presence matters, but engagement matters more.

My wish for you, Mr. or Ms. Retailer, is that you have a stellar Christmas selling season so we can continue our conversation on engaging netizens and turning them into customers far into next year.

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Site Design DOES Matter

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

There is one area of internet marketing that is often overlooked. Site Design. While good navigation and a pleasing, easy to read page is conducive to converting lookers to buyers, recent changes at Google have made site design an even more important element of search engine optimization.

Google has always cared about the proper use of HTML and CSS code, page load times and other “backend” design elements, but with a recent test by Google, site design is about to become even more important to search results.

In the past couple of weeks Google has been experimenting with “page preview”. Enter a search term and click the magnifying glass next to a result to turn this feature on. Now scroll over the results and you’ll see something like the image below.

The keyword you entered will be highlighted on the page preview.

What effect will this new feature have on your online marketing efforts? Let’s look at two examples of a page preview.

Notice the broken Flash video image? The rest of this page isn’t bad, and it still could attract visitors. BUT the keyterms I entered to find this page are not highlighted within this preview. It won’t take long for visitors to start bypassing pages and sites that don’t have their key term prominently displayed and highlighted in the Google Page Preview.

Let’s look at another preview page.

I went to this page to find out why it was displaying so much white space. Java popups, old style html code and lack of CSS contributed to hide content from the page preview. This site – according to a quick look at it’s source code – is using site design style from the 1990’s. Do you think this page preview will result in visitors? Ummm probably not.

Most sites I review from an SEO perspective need some help. Titles, descriptions, code rewrites and other elements frequently need to be updated and redone. Most sites I see online are not “mobile friendly”. Many are confusing to visitors with poor navigation and overall site layout. But now the stakes have been raised. Now poor site design will be evident to everyone before they ever click your link in Google search results.

Make a New Years resolution to check your site and update as needed.

  • Check it in Google’s Site Preview
  • Use the index card or business card  test – how much of your site can be seen in a 3″ x 5″ or smaller area? That’s what a mobile device sees.
  • Dump Flash. Even if Apple were supporting it, it’s old, it’s tired, it’s a security risk and there are better, quicker, well supported alternatives to a Flash video.
  • Think “cross browser” and “cross platform” compatible. Be SURE your site can be seen on IE, FireFox, Safari and Chrome. Be SURE it’s Smart Phone and iPad ready.

And be SURE it looks inviting to the Page Preview browser! (HINT – Bing is also going the Page Preview route.) Spending the time to get a good ranking in Google and then losing the visitor to bad site design will mean your Christmas stocking will be full of coal next year.

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Is Your Brand New Site Already Old?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

I love marketing. It’s a constantly changing landscape powered by masses of real people, buying real products that change how they do business and run their lives.  When it comes to the net, predicting what will be “big” and what won’t is not usually very easy. I mean be honest here – did you actually think that little blue bird or Farmville would be the stuff fortunes are made of?

But other technology use can be a strong indication of things you should or should not do to capture the hearts and eyeballs of your visitors. I was in a large shopping mall the other day and began grumbling to myself about the Christmas promotions that were already in full swing. But then I started watching the people. Barnes and Noble had a throng of shoppers around their eReader while the rest of the store counters had few, if any, shoppers.

In the concourse, groups of people were gathered around the various cell phone kiosks. No trip to the mall is complete for me without a visit to the shrine of the fruit – The Apple Store. Here, the iPad displays had knots of people 5 deep waiting for their turn to play with that sleek addition to the Apple line.

Many other stores boasted staff members but no shoppers. I have a feeling smart phones, iPad devices and Kindle type readers are going to be under quite a few Christmas trees this year.

To date, 85 million iPhone and iPod touch devices have been sold to which you can add a predicted 7 million for iPads in its first year alone, according to iSuppli and Apple Insider. Simple math means that there are close to 100 million people using these devices. That number is sure to climb in the coming months.

But is your website ready for these visitors who may be giving up their laptop to browse the web via handhelds?

A recent study by Nielsen showed that by 2014, nearly 60 percent of the 142.1 million U.S. mobile population will access the Internet using mobile browsers. So, how does your site look to the 85.5 million mobile users who will see it from their mobile device?

Have you checked it across multiple platforms? Does it load quickly enough for a mobile user to see your content quickly? Does it pass the “business card” test? Hold a normal business card up to the screen – how much of your content will fit into that area?

Do you have a mobile friendly version of your site? Is it configured correctly so it “sniffs” out mobile visitors and serves that version of your site to them?

Apple iPad and iPhone users don’t see Flash. For about a year I’ve been preaching that Flash is on the way out. Videos and web site elements should not be done in venerable Flash. It has security flaws almost as bad as Microsoft, it isn’t seen by over 100 million users and there are better alternatives like HTML 5.0 and CSS 3.

Was your website written in HTML 5.0? Are your videos available in mobile surfing size?

Are your pages heavily laden with hundreds of lines of text? Mobile surfers browse – and they aren’t going to stick around for long if that page scrolls on forever in small, hard to read lines of text. Get to the point of the page and send them to another page if you have more info. Break your pages up into easily digested chunks of info – this is better for your SEO efforts and better for your mobile visitor.

Keep your copy short. It is true – nobody reads anymore, at least not a web site. Tests have shown that only 30% of the words on your page are actually read. Make sure that 30% are the most important words for your product or service.

CHECK YOUR ANALYTICS. Please check your stats. See where your visitors are coming from, what operating system they are using, what screen resolution they are surfing in. Mobile device use on your site stats will jump out at you, believe me.

Smart phones and tablet devices aren’t going to go away. But if your site isn’t ready for their use, your business just might.

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Don’t Let SEO Ruin Your Content

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

When it comes to keyword research, every person who has ever looked at keyword suggestions knows that there’s a million ways people search for the same thing.  There are regional differences – here in the U.S. some regions called canned soft drinks “pop” others call them “soda”.  And still others call them by a brand name, while some segments use the term “soft drink”.

If you check your server stats or other analytics, you can see what people use to find you. It’s eye opening and mind boggling. I always end up saying “huh I never would have thought of that ONE” when I see what real people use to find a particular site or product.

Most of the phrases are similar, and often highly competitive. Check out rental cars versus car rental for example. So the problem search optimization experts have is organizing and optimizing content for similar, yet different keyterms without making content pages read like a forced exercise in keyword research.

Ideally you would have one page that focuses on just one or maybe two keyterms. But when they are as similar as car rental and rental cars, that’s hard to do. You could take an existing page for car rental and change every instance of that term to rental car, but then you’d loose your ranking for rental car.

The best way to look at similar keyterms is to group them into “themes”. For example, let’s take a typical car rental (or rental car) location. Their themes could be discounts, locations, amenities, etc. Within each theme set up groups. Let’s take discounts. How many types of discounts are there? Each one and each way of saying that term becomes a key phrase.

Develop a page for each theme. Sprinkle the keyterms from that theme throughout the page. Be sure to add a few to other pages as well. Here’s how I do it.

  1. Set up the themes for the site
  2. Add the theme keywords, listed from best to worst according to traffic
  3. Add the #1 keyterm from each theme to the front page
  4. Use the #1 keyterm in the title and description for the theme page – trying to get the #2 and #3 in there also
  5. Use all of the keyterms for that theme on the theme’s page

Add the #2 or #3 term to other pages as appropriate

Your lower ranked keyterms will probably not have as much traffic as your top theme words. But they also probably won’t have as much competition either. Thus you get those other words into your site, but the spiders always know which theme words are #1 because of where they are placed – on the first page and in the title and descript of the theme page.

This method means you won’t be trying to shoehorn in phrases that don’t really match the page content. You will be writing for the Search Spiders but also writing for people – the most important element of search.

The very best way to make search friendly, customer ready, themed keyword rich pages is to blog. I love blogs – although for the record I”m not a fan of Word Press but that’s my techy side grumbling. If I see that people are finding me with some weird new combination of words I hadn’t thought of – no site rewrite required – I just start dropping those terms into my blog posts. If they are really good, I add them as categories.  And of course I get them into titles and tags.

Don’t put your blog somewhere else. Make it a part of your site. It will help your site in the rankings and it can’t do that if it is somewhere else in the web universe.

So there you have it – theme your keyterms, make pages for those themes and don’t try to jack in too many dis-similar words on a page. Your content will flow better, your rankings will improve, and both your customers and your banker will be happy.

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How Brick and Mortar Transfers to the Net

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Many business owners from the brick and mortar world come to the internet and feel that that it is alien territory, bearing no resemblance to anything they have handled in their previous brick and mortar world. Yet there are more similarities between online internet marketing and a store on Main Street than you might suppose.

Some business owners come to the online world thinking that like Jack, they have found a magic bean that will grow them an instant money tree. While in some rare cases this may happen, sales will grow over time online, just as they do on Main Street.

The net is not a replacement for a brick and mortar operation, at least not in the beginning. It is an enhancement. Old school brick and mortar techniques are still useful online.  The basics of marketing and advertising are still the same. The goal of attracting new customers and retaining and building old ones is still the goal of online marketing. The only difference is the marketing method.

Here are more similarities between the two:

Location. Your business location on Main Street is vital to foot traffic, your brand, your very presence in the area. Online your ranking – where you appear on the search page results is just as vital. Just like your brick and mortar location, your internet location needs to be easily found by the right target  audience. You would never open your storefront in a back alley. You never want your site to be relegated to the back pages of the search engines.

In the B&M world you can change your location by renting new space. You can’t do that online. You need to have a search engine expert help you rank on page one for the keyterms that your target audience is using to find your products – whether they’re trying to find you or a competitor selling the same or similar items.

Demographics. In the brick and mortar world, you chose your location based on research. You want to be close to your target audience. You don’t want to be miles away in a strip mall when the people buying your products and services are visiting the Mall of the Americas.

This demographic research needs to be done online, too. If you don’t  know who your target audience is, how can you sell to them? How will you write copy that will appeal to them? How will you know where they hang out? How will you know how to talk with them, how to engage them?

In the world of internet marketing, this research has an added element. Keyword research. Too often business owners (and even some search engine experts) look at only two factors – how many people are searching for that word and how many competitors are going after that word. This information is only one small part of  keyword research.  Using keywords that come from that research without digging deeper and finding the “right” keyterms is not going to result in good sales numbers.

If you’re selling ladies coats, and you insist on ranking for “coats” you will get more traffic. But you will also have a lower ROI due to the number of visitors who are NOT ladies and thus are not finding the product they are looking for. Don’t make the mistake of having “pet” keyword phrases. Let your market be your guide. They use their own pet terms to find you, and their language and terminology should be what you use to attract them.

Marketing. The same marketing you use in the brick and mortar world can be used in online marketing. Yellow Page adverts? List and/or advertise in the Yellow Pages online directories – there are about a dozen of them that reach world wide.

Weekly circulars? Set up an email campaign that is targeted to your buyers, your prospective clients or special interests.  Online coupons are just as effective as print coupons. An opt-in box on your site with a good giveaway can entice prospects to trade their email address for the special free offer to grow that mail list quickly.

Phone solicitation? Use social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Squidoo like sites. Used wisely and well these social sites will bring the customer to you – rather than cold calling and phone hangup frustration.

TV ads? One word – YouTube. Video is even more powerful as an online marketing tool than a 30 second spot on a late night cable show. And in actual fact you can use Google TV ads to make your own ad for commercial TV.

The best way to create an effective internet marketing campaign and successfully bring your business online is to remember the lessons of brick and mortar marketing. They compliment online marketing, they don’t compete with it. As a successful brick and mortar business, you are one step ahead of competitors who only know the online world. Use that hard won knowledge to carve out your online niche.

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Web Design – Navigation Mistakes

Friday, November 5th, 2010

We’ve talked about several web design problems, but the one area that will affect your visitors and impact your sales the most is how they get around your site. Navigation – clear, easy-to-follow navigation needs to be built into every design. The rule is simple – tell your visitor exactly where they are going to go and then take them there.

1. Forgetting that your visitor doesn’t know your website as well as you do. What might be easy for you to find could be very difficult for someone coming to your site for the first time. If you force them to do things like mouse over a navigation link to see where it might take them, you’ll find them taking themselves to another site.

Don’t hide your links. Don’t make them look so much a part of the page that they stop looking like what they are – a map to the rest of your site.

2. Forgetting to check your navigation links. Once your visitor has found your links, they will expect that you are true to your word and when they click that link it will take them where you said they were going to go. If they wind up on a page for cat supplies when they think they are going to a page for dog supplies, you’ll lose the sale.

If they wind up on an ugly error page telling them the cat supply page doesn’t exist, they’ll probably leave and not come back.

No one will trust a site that can’t send them where they expect to go with hard earned dollars.

3. Forgetting the visitors need come first. Organizing your navigational links in the order that fits your needs and not theirs is a sure way to lose business. Think like a visitor – what would they likely want to see first? Then where would they want to go next?

Use a menu tree to group your navigation links into logical categories. But don’t make each branch too laden with twigs. In other words, don’t have a menu structure on the first page that is so full of links it becomes confusing. It’s ok to just have category links on the first page and then more links on that category page.

If you’re finding that your menu tree is running to three or more sub categories, your menu is too overwhelming.

Always remember to give the visitor a way home. While ruby slippers may not be appropriate, a “home” link on every page is a must.

4. Forgetting that not everyone is flash or java enabled. There are millions of cute little java or flash menu and navigation scriptlets out there. And it’s really tempting to grab some of them and use them on your site.

Before you do, be sure they are simple and leave a small footprint on your page.

Be sure they can be “externalized” so every page can call them in from the same place as needed.

Be sure they are not cluttering up the code on your page making the poor, overworked search spiders go through 200 lines of menu code to get to the good stuff.

And always remember that not everyone has Flash or JavaScript enabled on their browser. Nothing is worse than having your menu NOT work at all for some visitors.

Navigation must be able to answer these questions:

  • Where am I?
  • Where have I been?
  • Where can I go next?
  • Where’s the Home Page?
  • Where’s the Home Home Page? (This is NOT a typo!)

Navigation must be simple and consistent.

Have a category Home page if needed and have a Home Home page as well.

A good, clear road map of your site will lead to customer satisfaction, increased trust, and more sales.

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SEO and Viral Content

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Have you ever looked at a video on YouTube and seen views over 1 million, or even over 2 or 3 million? If you’re a red blooded marketing person you probably drooled as your eyes turned glassy dreaming about that many visitors.

You will hear internet marketers promoting software or programs or techniques that will give you viral content. But you will NEVER see numbers even close to 10,000 by using any of these “tricks”.  You see, these techniques forget a very important fact about content.  The content has to be something someone actually wants to watch/read/listen to.

One of the masters of the viral content game is OK Go.  Their latest video features a choreographed dance with dogs. More than 6.5 million people have watched it on YouTube.

According to Ok Go’s lead singer Damian Kulash, “Content succeeds online,” he said, “because it brings people joy, it makes them smile — it’s interesting enough to be passed along to friends and family members. That’s no stunt,” he said, “it’s just a matter of making something that’s genuine and interesting.”

There’s no amount of savvy or gaming the system that is going to make people like things that are not likable.

We can expand that last statement  (which completely explains why all those programs and techniques won’t work) to read “There’s no amount of savvy or gaming the system that is going to make people like things that are not likable or useful.

Here’s the thing about the net – it’s built around people. Long ago the page rank of a site was an indicator of how many other sites found the content likable and useful. But guess what? Things have changed. Now actual real people “like” content and share it with friends, colleagues, and family. Social has overtaken the net and people, not sites, determine who has the best content. (Which is why page rank doesn’t matter nearly as much as it once did.)

Take a good hard look at your content. Does it talk about you? How great and good and wonderful you are? Be objective – is that content anyone wants to spread to their circle of people? Probably not, unless you have one of those foot long gold statues that are given out at awards ceremonies in Hollywood.

What is your content doing for your visitors? Is it educating them? Is it answering questions for them? Is it making their lives easier? Is it entertaining them?

Are you providing a place for lively discussion of ideas on your Facebook page, your blog, or your forum? Have you built into your site or your social media efforts an engine that will allow more and more content to be built up over time? A repository of useful information in your field?

Or is your site like the millions of others on the net –

  • page one – welcome to my site
  • pages two through 1000 – here are my great products with a one line description and a fuzzy, out of focus product image
  • page three – all about me
  • page four – contact me

This yawner formula is certain to make you a part of the thundering herd of similar sites and prevent you from ever “going viral”.

You see what works on YouTube – the basics – entertain, impart USEFUL knowledge, provide LIKABLE content, works with search engines as well as with people. The more likable content you have, the more the engines will visit and the higher you will climb in the rankings, bringing more and more visitors to your site. Those visitors are asked a ton of questions every single day that begin with “Where do I find…”

This is what viral truly means. When the answer to that question is YOUR site, and YOUR URL gets passed around in FaceBook, Twitter, eMail, and Smart Phone conversations – you’ve GONE VIRAL.

Your site will never achieve the Holy Grail of Viralizm unless you have that likable content in place.

How do you create likable content? Stay tuned and tomorrow I’ll go into the nuts and bolts of how to create that likable content.

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Search Engine Marketing = Location, Location, Location

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Realtors have always stressed the importance of location and property sales. Google seems to have paid rapt attention to these lessons. In an effort to further personalize the search experience, local returns are now taking even more precedence over other search results.

In a change implemented early this week, Google has at last added a location setting that makes my geeky SEO expert’s heart sing. They have added a setting in the left sidebar that allows me to change my detected location.

Why does this make me happy? You see, if I’m looking for a Chinese takeout around the corner, I like Google showing me a neat little map of my neighborhood and a synopsis of the local joints. If I’m trying to research keywords or find a client’s rankings, localization tends to backfire. If they’re located in Canada, I had to jump through a few online hoops to get relevant results that weren’t centered in the heartland of the US.

Based on where your computer is plugged into the net changes SEO results dramatically, even if geo-targeting is not important to your business. There are two areas of concern that you, as a site owner, need to be aware of.

Let’s look at the Chinese takeout example first. If you sell takeout boxes for Chinese food, you could be shoved far down the results page due to localization. You may have checked your rankings this morning to find that your hard won page one position has dropped to page two or worse!

Not every keyterm will return local results. You may have to revisit your SEO efforts and research some new terms that won’t be butting heads with local results to continue to attract your desired audience.

You may also hear your SEO experts celebrating a new page one ranking, while you’re looking at results that still show you in position 24. Their location may not have the local competition that your location is experiencing.

From Google’s standpoint localization means returning more relevant results. Google’s thinking that Wiki articles on the history of Chinese food is probably secondary to local restaurants is correct. But for those of us who make our living from the engines, this thinking adds another layer of complexity to our optimization efforts and raises the stakes in the game of Search Engine Marketing.

The second area of concern is WHAT is shown for those local results. Again, using my Chinese takeout experiment, the number ranked eatery began with a customer review. And it was NOT a good review! By this time I was truly in the mood for Chinese food and believe me I skipped right over the result that began with “There was NOTHING about my experience that was good and I would never recommend…”

WHY did this review show front and center? This poor site owner had never optimized his Google Places listing. Nor had he gone even further and checked out the other directories that appear in those results and made sure he had a proper profile setup in those.

You will never make 100%  of your customers happy. And it’s a fact of life that an unhappy customer will be more likely to write a bad review than a happy customer. Trying to remove bad reviews is a bad practice. But you can mitigate those bad reviews. You can answer them in a calm, respectful manner, apologizing for any errors or omissions. How you answer a bad review carries weight with other potential customers. No one expects that all reviews will be glowing. As netizens we’ve all seen our share of the impossible-to-please review writer.

If there are ten glowing reviews, two so-so reviews and one review trashing the service, that one bad review won’t carry much, if any, weight with a prospect.  But if that one review is a part of your first page description – ah then that’s totally different!

What can you do? Do your homework. Optimize your Google Places listing. Find the other directories and all reviews of your company. Institute a campaign to get MORE reviews. Fresh reviews will drive that older bad one down the list.

Last, but not least, listen. If you are getting similar reviews that point to a problem – handle that problem. Acknowledge it, fix it, and then reply to the reviews letting your current and prospective customers know that you ARE listening to them and you ARE taking appropriate action.

As Martha Stewart would say – “Localization and reviews are a GOOOOD thing” and adding a local setting to the sidebar is a great move from Google.

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