Thanks to the Memorial Day holiday, it’s been a little quiet around here. Well, that, and it’s just been quiet in general it seems. Yesterday, though, presented a couple of interesting things in the world of online marketing, mostly regarding Facebook (and no, I’m not talking about Facebook stock falling or the photos that surfaced of Zuckerberg’s honeymoon).
Apparently the social media giant has decided to roll out a couple of new features for pages, which opens up new possibilities for social media managers. The first is the introduction of Promoted Posts, which allow page managers to promote a post in order to extend that post’s reach. With a normal Facebook post by a brand on their brand page, your reach is limited and constrained by Facebook’s EdgeRank Algorithm, which somehow decides who gets to see your posts. A Promoted Post, however, will reach beyond the algorithm, but Facebook hasn’t said just how much further the post will reach. This is also a paid feature, which means marketers and social media managers will need to pick and choose carefully the posts they choose to promote (if any at all). Obviously, for those that have the budget, promoted posts could be a great way to extend the reach of posts that contain links to lead gen pages, Facebook offers, special fan only promotions, etc. The billing works much like the billing for Facebook ads does, in that you set your own price, and that price is good for the lifetime of the promoted post, which is three days. The screen shot below, courtesy and copyright Facebook, shows how to promote your post.
The other change Facebook made to its brand pages is the ability to set different permissions for different types of admins. Previously, everyone listed as an admin had the same rights, which could obviously cause some issues within organizations where multiple people have admin rights to their company’s Facebook page. The new admin levels are Manager, Content Creator, Moderator, Advertiser and Insights Analyst. As the primary admin for Apogee’s Facebook page, I like that I could give different people different permission levels if necessary, and I’m sure many other marketing managers and social media managers probably feel the same way. From the agency side, I can see how the Advertiser and Insights Analyst permissions could really apply to agencies who manage clients’ social media accounts, or at the very least their social paid media. Basically, an Advertiser can create ads and view insights, and an Insights Analyst can just view insights, allowing an agency to create ads and view the analytics without the manager having to hand over full admin rights. To me, that’s quite possibly a win-win. The other cool part about this change? Page managers can now also schedule posts ahead of time directly through Facebook rather than having to use a third party application such as Hootsuite.
In Google news, the search giant unveiled the “new” Google Places–which is now a part of Google+ and will be called Google+ Local. Earlier this year we had a blog talking about Google+ and how Google’s trying to swallow everything up and put certain things under the Google+ umbrella. Apparently Places wasn’t immune to that, and not surprisingly, the move is purely monetary. The other not surprising thing is that Google says this move was also motivated by an ever increasing amount of mobile searches. One cool thing about the move is the integration of Zagat reviews, which will replace Google’s five-star system. the not cool thing? Google’s obviously trying to herd all of us into the Google+ circle and force us to use a service that still hasn’t seen widespread adoption (170 million active users as compared to Facebook’s 845 million users).
And last but not least, in other search news, Yahoo!, once known as a search engine rather than a news aggregate, unveiled Yahoo! Axis, which is a desktop (or mobile) application that allows you to search the web through the app rather than a browser such as Firefox or IE. I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet, but if Axis catches on, it looks like SEOs might have one more thing to think about regarding search engine optimization and the way we search on the web.
Is the content on your site linkable? Does it need to be beefed up? Do you deserve to be ranked on the first page? No, yes, no? We’ll use Austin Restaurant Week to illustrate the idea behind creating sumptuous, linkable content to garner incoming links. Google is hungry and you need to feed it.
First, what is AustinRestaurantWeek? Between September 13th- 16th and September 20th – 23rd, those fortunate enough to be in Austin can visit a number of fine dining establishments to feast on a delicious menu set at an affordable fixed price, between $25 – $35. Call in a reservation to ensure you and your significant other a seat and eat up (if you’re looking for a date idea, I think this fits the bill perfectly)!
Second, how does this have anything to do with SEO and beefy content? Rewind to last night. I’m sitting in my living room nearly comatose from the pizza and football I’ve gorged myself on for the past few hours. Of course, my mind’s nose picks up the scent of Austin Restaurant Week and I head to the website. I click the links of two places I’ve not been to, Roaring Fork and Green Pastures Restaurant, and notice links to their respective menus:
Now, like I said, I’ve never been to the Roaring Fork and am making no assumptions about the quality of their dining. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard nothing but good things. When I mentioned this blog idea to a co-worker, she said, “Roaring Fork is one of my favs.”
However, looking at these twomenus, which one has you salivating? Which one has beefier content? Which menu would you rather link to? Which menu provides the most information about their offerings? I think the information provided in the Green Pastures Restaurant menu makes their food sound much more enticing – they didn’t even dress up the language with adjectives – and I’d be more inclined to link to their menu.
If I or a search engine only had the information provided by the menus, and could look at the popularity of each by way of incoming links, to determine the most relevant menu for a search term such as “austin fine dining” or “austin restaurants,” then who would likely rank in first position?
The same idea should drive your analysis of the content on your own site: if someone came across my site, would the information I’m providing them about “Software Development Life Cycle” be enough for them to link back to my site? If I visit a competitor’s website and notice they’re providing beefier content that likely attracts incoming links, then why should I be ranked ahead of them?
To summarize, be honest about the quality and/or quantity of the content on your site: Is it informative? Should more be added? But not simply added to attain a mythical keyword density. Is it linkable? Smoked salmon or The Upland Game Plate: Quail, Quail and Some More Quail? Serve your visitors with healthy portions of information.
And, in case you’re wondering, I’ll be making a trip to The Melting Pot tonight.
Brands influence purchases; there is really no argument about that. The art of advertising has paired a brand with a single adjective since the ads moved beyond basic product descriptions. For example: Coca-Cola=Classic, Gatorade=Quench, and Volvo=Safety. In today’s market, Google=Search and Bing=Decide. What would happen if brands were to disappear and only the bare bones, no glitz or glamour services and products were left behind? Michael Kordahi has provided the public with just that, a way to compare search results without the big three’s branding.
What is BlindSearch?
Kordahi has taken the famous Coke v Pepsi blind taste test and applied it to modern day technology. The introduction of BlindSearch has given Internet users the ability to search for results from Google, Bing, and Yahoo! without any branding or layout.
BlindSearch provides the results in three side by side columns with a voting button at the top of each. Each column represents results from Google, Bing, and Yahoo! The user is able to vote on the column which most closely matches their desired results. After voting, the buttons are replaced with the search engine logos to reveal which search engine’s results most closely matched your search. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t anything brand new. There are other search engine comparison sites out there. However, I found this one to be particularly blog worthy since the results are listed side by side rather than tabbed as in Zuula (not to mention a fun little test).
Why I’m writing about it
BlindSearch isn’t really a big deal per say. It is just a fun, quick way to see what search engine may be better for you without having a hundred experts telling you which one you should use. On the plus side, BlindSearch helps in beating out some lazy tendencies when doing deeper web research. Additionally, even if at a base level, it may be a helpful nudge to some users in considering other search alternatives in their every day routines.
In no way is BlindSearch a statistical tool that will be the end all be all of the search engine supremacy argument. Even if it was 100% effective, it could render the same results as the Coke v Pepsi test, in which Pepsi was more generally liked but Coke was still the dominating force in sales.
The first to clarify BlindSearch’s discrepancies is Kordahi with a clear disclaimer on the BlindSearch homepage.
“The system has many flaws that I know about already, the primary one of interest is the lack of localisation. So, all searches are going through the US as US searches. The other deficiency worth noting is that there is much missing from the actual experience of using these search engines eg, image thumbnails, suggestions, refine queries, etc.”
There are other arguments that can be made against the accuracy, relevancy, and even importance of this experiment.
First, it could be that modern search engines are already too much alike in terms of results. Search engines have begun to emulate the leaders, taking what is effective and applying it to their own engines.
A simple comparison could be described with handbags. Designer handbags are extremely popular, high end stores carry these high end bags. In order to provide an alternative, lower end stores emulate the designs, colors, and patterns and sell similar bags for a cheaper price. After a bit of time, knockoff purses are released that are identical to the high end originals and if done correctly, can rarely be told apart. Basically, the best was emulated, and now, even the competitors have a similar product.
A second argument is shown when viewing the top ten results. The list shows a fairly generic breath of search. None of the ten results show any type of long tail searches and therefore do not really replicate normal search. This could be in part to lazy testing and a desire to get a result as quickly as possible to “test” a user’s search engine preference. It could also be in part to the limited amount of data, only 600,000 queries to date.
Lastly, BlindSearch is a sort of site where users would try to get off the wall results and test the boundaries/parameters. The site is small and the audience is certainly a select sample.
Kordahi released the following results with roughly 8 weeks of data:
Google: 41%, Bing: 31%, Yahoo: 28%
Although an employee of Microsoft, Kordahi makes it abundantly clear that this project is not initiated by or affiliated with Microsoft.
The dust has begun to settle in the Microsoft/Yahoo! deal that took place last week. Now we can finally begin to see what it really means… or can we? This specific topic can be broken down and analyzed in a million different ways. The implications on SEO, ad space, search engine market share, user interface changes, budget constraints, layoffs, and the list goes on and on. For my sake, and for your sake, let us cut through the fat and see what this new deal means at a foundational level, cut and dry.
So… What just happened?
On July 29th, 4:55am Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo!, posted on the Yahoo! blog that they had just signed a major search deal with Microsoft. The deal entailed that Yahoo! will be giving up their search technology, paid listings and organic listings, and lease Microsoft’s as of 2010. If everything goes as planned, a full transition will happen by 2012. Yahoo! will continue running their Premium Search throughout this new deal.
Running search technology is costly, and rather than own it, Yahoo! felt it was an economical decision to lease Microsoft’s and concentrate on what they do best, be a portal. Essentially, by leasing search, Yahoo! is able to optimize what Bartz refers to as “properties” such as news, sports, finance, email, and messaging.
This approach has already caused some confusion. It is important to realize that although Bing will be running the back end of search for Yahoo!, the results will still be dressed up as Yahoo’s results. The only real difference is that the bottom of the results will say “Powered by Bing” or something along the same lines. It will be interesting to see how this is going to affect local search since both Yahoo! and Bing have their own Local pages.
Microsoft’s massive attack on Google really launched with the release of Bing. As mentioned in previous blog posts, I believe that Bing will be gnawing away at smaller search engine’s market share but will have a tough time taking on Google. The lease of their search technology to Yahoo! is yet another strategy to gain some ground, hence, Coopetition (Cooperation + Competition). Although Yahoo! and Bing are technically competing, they are joining forces to take on the powerhouse we know as Google. Think of it as a David v. Goliath situation where Yahoo! is the rock that Microsoft is throwing. As Bartz put it, the new deal will lead to better competition “Competition equals innovation. But with one player dominating 70% of search, that field has been pretty lopsided. This transaction will create a healthy competitor that’ll keep everyone on their toes.” It is certain that both Microsoft and Yahoo! believe that if they hope to succeed, they must work together.
Make no mistake of it, although Google has not radically changed their user interface or rubbed new features in our faces, they are still making headway. Just like Yahoo!, they offer applications that simplify every day life and constantly improve them through the use of Google Labs. Just recently, they removed the Beta label from their AdWords service, improved their “Show More Results” link, and launched a traditional advertising campaign to promote their apps. The latter of the three is a blatant response to Microsoft’s Bing campaign. Although we are not used to seeing Google use traditional forms of advertising, this clearly shows that Google is willing to adapt and mix it up to keep what is theirs.
Microsoft is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Google. In Microsoft’s defense, they are actually making some headway. However, overthrowing a competitor who holds 70% of the market share is no simple task, especially when that competitor is continually evolving in subtle but effective fashion. We can eternally dwell into the depth of this new deal and analyze every aspect of it. The bottom line is that Microsoft is following an aggressive attack plan on Google. As the two companies already established on Wednesday, they have “options” which means that many details are still to be determined. It truly is an unpredictable outcome. There are speculations and heavily weighted odds but one should never rule out any outcome. The tortoise has beaten the hare, the mouse has scared the elephant, and it’s possible that Bing could defeat Google.
Yesterday Yahoo! announced that they will now be including videos, images and custom search boxes in their paid listings to create what they are calling “Rich Ads in Search.”
This new ad format, which has been in testing for the past year, is aimed at increasing not only brand exposure, but click-through rates and conversion rates. Advertisers in the pilot test have experimented with adding logos and videos in an effort to increase brand messaging, placing deep links to more targeted pages to increase conversion rates, utilizing zip code search boxes to give accurate price quotes, and more. Adding to the credibility of this initiative, test clients are major brands from multiple industries including Pepsi, Home Depot, Pedigree, Esurance, and ad agency Razorfish.
These ads are like bringing Google’s Universal Search concept to paid search listings, and due to the control factor of paid search, the possibilities are endless. However, it must be noted that both Google and Microsoft have experimented with a similar concept in the past. Will Yahoo! excel where Google has yet to? Only time will tell. Currently, this program is invite only, but plans to have this opportunity more widely available to advertisers seem to be on the way.
At the beginning of the year, this post on the Apogee Search Marketing Blog made some predictions about search marketing in 2008. Before we try to make any predictions about 2009, let’s take a minute to review 2008’s search predictions compared to what actually occurred over the last 12 months.
Apogee’s 2008 search predictions were as follows:
Management tools become the cost of having a seat at the paid search table, rather than a competitive advantage. PPC management tools were certainly abundant in 2008. And, yes, they were almost necessary to a campaign’s success. Whether these tools were internal or external, focused on automated bid management, analyzing data or testing campaign variables, management tools freed up paid search managers’ time so they could focus on new opportunities, expansion and overall strategy.
Business/marketing acumen becomes more important to paid search management than technical prowess. While tools are great, tools just do what we tell them to do. Ultimately paid search managers have to set appropriate goals for marketers and outline the necessary steps to reach those goals. This year ad copy and landing page testing have gained popularity as marketers focus on increasing conversion rates. With new tools such as Google Website Optimizer (GWO), these tests are becoming easier to implement.
Search engines continue to provide better bid management functionality. Most tools vendors don’t react. Search engines have made many improvements in an effort to provide better bid management functionality in 2008, but despite all of the changes made this year, there is still a long way to go in providing reliable bid management functionality.
Google announced a new quality score method this year that determines CPC in “real-time,” as opposed to its tried and true static quality scores. It also allows for marketers to see first page bids rather than minimum bids.
AdWords Editor now allows users to download performance statistics so that analysis and adjustments can easily be made in the same interface. In addition, the newest 7.0 version, allows users to see quality scores and first page bid estimates for keywords.
Yahoo! now allows marketers to view average rankings when in the bid editing page.
MSN Live Search released a desktop beta tool that is essentially an AdWords Editor for Microsoft.
Bid management tools are also still a bit behind the curve. While their automation saves paid search managers time by adjusting bids, they are slow to react to changes made by search engines. Adjusting bids manually within the search engine’s interface is often more complicated than just using the free tools offered by search engines. As for full blown campaign management, we’re still not seeing many tools with the ability to handle that functionality yet.
Google extends its lead in the paid search market, either a little or a lot, depending upon how you measure the industry. Without a doubt, Google continues to be the leader in the paid search realm. ComScore recently released that in October 2008 Google Sites held 63.1% of all searches, as compared to58.5% in October of 2007. Google’s revenue also increased 31% from third quarter 2007 to third quarter 2008, raking in $5.54 billion in Q3 2008.As for service offerings, Google rolled out tool after tool after tool aimed at helping paid search marketers in 2008. All of these tools successfully assist marketers in optimizing and expanding their paid search campaigns, allowing for Google to maintain and grow its steady cash flow.
Local search continues to grow, but still has a difficult time providing substantive traffic in most markets. This year businesses flocked to Google Local Business Center. It has become “the” thing to do. As Universal Search rolled out throughout the year, local search optimization became even more visible and critical. In most industries and major cities, a business with a service that is location-specific and not on Google Local, will basically be behind by the end of this year.Furthermore, Google’s Local Business Ads (LBAs), a version of paid ads that appear mostly on Google Maps, contributed heavily to local search’s growth in 2008.
Google rolls Click-To-Call in with its local search service, and still no one cares.Not much word about Click-to-Call this year; still no one cares. What has gained recognition in 2008 is phone call tracking for paid search campaigns. Companies such as ClickPath, provide the ability to track calls to the keyword level.
Google Pay Per Action gains traction with B2C advertisers, struggles with B2B advertisers. Google launched Pay Per Action beta globally in June 2007, but phased it out in 2008, citingthe DoubleClick/Performics acquisition as the reasoning.
Google Product Search (previously Froogle) celebrates its sixth birthday, remains in beta. Yes, Google Product Search is still in Beta. During 2008, this product caught up with other comparison shopping engines by showing groups of similar products when a search is performed. This change caughtsome bloggers’eyes when it first rolled out, but ironically, later in the year Google Product Search made it on the list of search engines you’ve never heard of. An option that many companies have not yet tapped into is submitting services just as you would submit products.
Google continues to rail against paid links. The paid linking industry adjusts and continues to provide SEO benefit to its clients. SocialSpark was launched byPayPerPost in mid-2008, and the head of Google’s webspam team Matt Cuttssays he actually likes IZEA’s new service. SocialSpark provides advertisers an opportunity to pay bloggers for a review but requires a nofollow link to the advertiser.Another paid link vendor, Text Link Ads (TLA) launched InLinks publicly in November. Throughout 2008, Google has commented and posted extensivelythat paid links are in violation of the FTC’s Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. SEO bloggers have been debating about the impact of these changes as recently as the last few weeks.For whatever reason, Yahoo! and MSN haven’t been quite as vocal against paid linking in 2008. Yahoo! isn’t worried about the payment as much as the likelihood that a paid link usually doesn’t give as much value as a non-paid link.
SEO becomes more metrics driven as companies learn to measure their SEO performance. Absolutely. Tracking SEO leads and sales provides ROI that is critical to include in a company’s overall marketing expenditure analysis. The tricky part here is if the company knows what the value of a lead is to them or if they can track natural search visitors all the way through to a sale. During 2008, fewer companies were concerned about rankings as they were forced to look more at the bottom line.
Rumors swirl about an imminent merger between Yahoo! and Microsoft triggering a deluge of blog posts and nothing else. Yes, definitely. Talks between Yahoo! and Microsoft surfaced again early in the year but have fizzled quickly. Mid-2008 Google stole Yahoo! from Microsoft and became the attention of all, but that too died out by the end of the year. Although Google and Yahoo! gave it a shot with a trial period during the spring, antitrust scrutiny and regulatory concerns ultimatelycaused Google to call it quits with Yahoo.
The line between Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Marketing blurs further, except among those that actually know how to perform SEO and/or SMM. SEO and SMM definitely continue to be blurred in some circles (i.e. many marketers think creating a Facebook page will greatly help their search engine efforts). While creation of the company’s profile in these outlets is a fairly straightforward process, actually promoting them becomes much trickier and requires a completely different set of goals and strategies. Tracking offline inquiries becomes an important consideration but is not yet mastered in most campaigns.
After a grueling four month review from regulators, Google has decided to end its agreement with Yahoo!
The Yahoo!-Google advertising agreement was announced in June 2008 and was meant to be a non-exclusive agreement to provide Yahoo! with access to Google’s AdSense programs on their US and Canadian web properties. Google provides three main facts about the agreement:
The deal was created to help strengthen Yahoo!
Ad prices would have continued to be set by competitive auction
The deal was structured as a win-win for consumers, advertisers and publishers because it would potentially lead to more and better ads on Yahoo!
Google announced today on the Official Google Blog that the agreement is now over with Yahoo! It has been made clear that government regulators and advertisers continue to have concerns about the deal, and that moving ahead would have risked too much, such as damaged relationships with partners, in addition to dealing with a lengthy legal battle.
Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division put out a statement saying:
“The companies’ decision to abandon their agreement eliminates the competitive concerns identified during our investigation and eliminates the need to file an enforcement action. The arrangement likely would have denied consumers the benefits of competition — lower prices, better service and greater innovation.”
Yahoo! Sponsored Search advertisers can now geo-target ads at the country, city or ZIP code level, according to an announcement yesterday on the Yahoo! Search Marketing Blog.
Yahoo! joins Ask.com as the only major search engine to offer specific ZIP code-based targeting to advertisers. Google AdWords currently allows advertisers to use ZIP codes as a basis for ad targeting (for example, “ads will show 20 miles around 78759″) and also allows advertisers to draw custom target areas to show their ads, but it does not offer exact ZIP code targeting.
Geo-targeting by ZIP code allows advertisers the opportunity for more relevant clicks on their ads, which means more conversions.”Keep in mind the more you target, the fewer users your ads may reach. Generally, you’re trading relevancy for volume,” as stated on the Yahoo! Search Marketing Blog. Yahoo! recommends that advertisers select a minimum of 10 ZIP codes to broaden the scope of their ads in order to avoid a situation in which your ad is too targeted and receives limited clicks.
Screenshot of Yahoo!’s new geo-targeting feature.
This new feature is still in beta and perfect accuracy is not guaranteed, as with any geo-targeted marketing. Advertisers are free to opt-out of this feature that “is designed to help you hit the bullseye with your ads every time!” but Yahoo! explains that accuracy of geo-targeting “may vary depending on the level of targeting selected, as well as other factors.”
During the last day of panel discussions at SMX East, search engineers from Google, Yahoo!, and MSN were asked questions from the audience. The panel was moderated by Danny Sullivan and provided several important and valuable information that every SEM professional should know.
The representatives were Nathan Buggia, Live Search Webmaster Central, Lead Program Manager, Microsoft; Aaron D’Souza, Software Engineer, Search Quality, Google Inc.; and Sean Suchter, VP of Engineering, Yahoo!.
Affiliate Links: When the panel was asked about the use of affiliate links, Sean Suchter of Yahoo! stated that if the affiliate links came from reliable, valuable and relevant sources, they should be counted in link algorithms. The representatives from Google and MSN agreed, and added that they thought that marking these affiliate links with a nofollow or any other method of blocking link values.
Mistaken Spam: Though it’s rare, there are some instances where there are false positives in spam. Aaron D’Souza stated that he is committed to working to eliminate spam and duplicate content. In cases where spam is a mistake, webmasters are encouraged to send feedback through Google: Webmaster Central; Microsoft: Webmaster Tools; Yahoo!: Site Explorer Suggestions forum.
The Importance of Links: The panel was asked if links were considered the main source for determining search engine rankings and all three generally agreed that it is. And though it might not be the most important signal in determining rankings, it is more important that a webpage’s title tags. No one indicated that the importance and impact of link building would fade away in the near future.
Pay Attention to Sitemaps: Sean Suchter from Yahoo! stated that websites should always submit their sitemaps, either in .txt or .xml format because it will help with inclusion. He also stressed that it is important to make sure that a sitemap is working correctly. Some examples of why sitemaps are important were discussed, including Yahoo!’s method of determining which pages are important on a site. Sean Suchter’s advice was to include only the important pages on a sitemap, not every page on a site. Nathan Buggia stated that URL structures on a Sitemap are crucial. All three members of the panel agreed that websites with sitemaps experience higher traffic than sites who do not have a sitemap in place.
The Use (or Overuse) of Session IDs: Typically, putting session id’s in a URL is strongly discouraged. Yahoo!, Google, and MSN all mentioned that they have measures in place that will de-dupe session id’s in URLs. The panel however did not clarify whether or not links that point to these URLs with session ids would be counted as part of an original page. To air on the side of caution, SEOs should not include session ids in URLs and use the 301 redirects to ensure and improve link equity.
Test Page Rank Sculpting: The panelists all agreed that Page Rank Sculpting, or “PR Sculpting” should be tested because some sites will receive value, but most will not. It’s generally not considered near the top of an SEO priority list when optimizing a website.
In the end, this panel discussion was extremely beneficial in answering some very important SEO questions.
On Monday, ComputerWorld reported that Google is partnering up with click-fraud detection firm Click Forensics in order to aid in the detection and reporting of search ad click fraud.
Also, Google has stated that it will now accept submissions from Factr, a product of Click Forensics that was created with the help of Yahoo, that gathers and submits click-quality reports. Through this reporting process, Google is hoping to help advertisers receive refunds for click frauds.
As a side note, Yahoo has previously paired with Click Forensics back in March, and was the first engine to allow a 3rd party to obtain additional feedback for the purposes of improving advertiser satisfaction and ROI