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On June 18, 2013, Google announced a new way to view restaurant results in Google. It’s called Google Local Carousel.

It’s an interesting way to see search results. Instead of blue links, you get a scroll bar across the top of your search results page with a visual element and some other information. The thing is, not everyone is even noticing it. Of the handful of searchers who do notice it, only a few seem to like it.

One of the big questions in the minds of searchers appears to be a lack of understanding in how the carousel is populated.

If users don’t understand how the carousel is populated – that is, what criteria Google uses to choose the restaurants included in the carousel – then it may not be useful. Another valid concern users raised was this: There appears to be no way to narrow the results in the carousel by restaurant type and cuisine preferences. Maybe such a change is forthcoming.

For local businesses, the big question is whether or not the carousel is useful for delivering more traffic to websites. I don’t see any evidence yet that this is taking place.

It’s likely that Google doesn’t want restaurants targeting inclusion into the carousel. Secrecy is their way of keeping the carousel – unlike organic search results – pure.

Remember when Twitter and Google partnered up for realtime search? It didn’t go so well. In 2011, they parted ways because they couldn’t reach an agreement that was acceptable to both parties. Now, Twitter has partnered with Yahoo! to show tweets in Yahoo!s search pages.

This is awkward for a number of reasons.

  • First, you may not think of Yahoo! as a search engine any more, but it is. That really is its core function. However, it is third in the search competitive space with only 5% of the market share on its best day.
  • Because Yahoo! has such a small portion of the search market, that’s not a big feather in the cap for Twitter.
  • It is a huge benefit to Yahoo!, however.
  • I wonder how it makes Google executives feel that they lost a valuable asset to Yahoo!?

Twitter is a valuable medium for any company to partner with. Still, it’s Yahoo! They aren’t exactly a force to be reckoned with any more. On the other hand, you can’t write them off completely.

For search marketers, this is still a good deal. It opens up Yahoo! as a potential new source of indirect traffic. If you are a Twitter user, it’s time to play around to see how your tweets are chosen for display on Yahoo!’s SERPs. There is a lesson in search engine marketing to be learned from this. I’m sure we’ll hear about it from the top pros soon.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what actually constitutes search engine optimization. Many companies are stuck on a five-year-old model of SEO. They’re still trying to build links and do on-page optimization by adding keywords to the meta tags and optimize their Title tags perfectly.

I’m not going to say those are worthless activities, though there isn’t much need for the keywords meta tag any more, but if you’re still hanging your SEO on the Title tag, then you’re missing the boat.

That’s not to say the Title tag isn’t important. It’s just not your golden egg.

Today, if you’re not approaching SEO as if it is synonymous with marketing – because it is – then you’re not doing it right. It should actually be called search engine marketing. The goal is to increase your company’s bottom line with conversions, not to see how many links you can acquire.

The only real purpose for links today is to increase your traffic. And you want that to be targeted traffic. When you attract targeted traffic to your website, then you’ll see an increase in conversions – if your landing pages are well written with strong calls to actions. A strong call to action closes the sale, but to get the prospect to that call to action you have to lead them there with great content.

Approach your content (on page and off site) as if it is marketing. If you focus too much on SEO, you’ll just start looking for links.

The key to getting strong search engine rankings is to first get your website indexed. In the old days of SEO the way to get your site indexed was to submit it to a few website directories. But that method is pretty much dead today – for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Google has made algorithm changes that have killed off a lot of website directories as spam sites. You don’t want to be associated with them.

The other reason website directories are dead is because of the rise of social media.

What hasn’t changed is the need for inbound links. Your site will never get indexed by any search engine unless there are inbound links that will allow the search engines to find it. The search bots crawl through the links to find new pages to index. No inbound links = no indexed web pages.

So how do you make that happen fast?

After you build your website, you should share your pages on the social networking sites you are a member of. I’d focus first and foremost on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest if your web pages have images (and they should).

Most of the time, if you save your web pages on Google+, then you’ll get ranked quickly. But I wouldn’t just do it in succession. I’d save one page per day on each social network. You should have your website indexed in less than a week if you don’t have any crawl issues.

Many small business owners new to search engine optimization and online marketing wonder why it takes so long to see results. There are a number of reasons why SEO takes time, but it’s not just SEO. PPC often requires several weeks, or months, as well. But why?

In a word, it’s all about the competition. No matter what niche you are in, if you are just getting started, then you have an uphill climb.

There are likely other businesses who have established an online presence in your niche. For every keyword you are targeting in the search results, you should expect a handful of competitors to already have a head start. Add that to the expectations of the search engines regarding quality content and you have a recipe for success or disaster depending on your implementation.

Google favors sites with age. That means that your new website is at a distinct disadvantage where search engine rankings come into play. That’s not to say you can’t achieve respectable rankings. You just have to work harder.

Recent updates in search engine ranking factors also come into play. Now more than ever, the search engines are looking for high quality content. Businesses new to online marketing generally have a learning curve. Your first attempts at creating high quality content will likely not work in your favor – until you learn what “high quality” actually means for online content.

In a word, you have to pay your dues. It can often be a lot easier to achieve high rankings out of the gate by hiring a professional content service that has a track record in working with businesses like yours.

If you have a Facebook fan page for your brand, it can show up in the search engine results. But you should optimize it to give it an extra boost. Here are 5 Facebook fan page optimization tips, courtesy of SEOmoz.

  1. Get a vanity URL – Facebook allows you to get a vanity URL for your fan page after it has received 25 likes. Make sure you use a vanity URL that utilizes your primary keyword or brand name.
  2. Use a branded title for your page name – When you name your Facebook fan page, give it a name associated with your brand name. If you can’t do that, give it a keyword-based name. This will go a long way to making your fan page better optimized for search traffic.
  3. Include a phone number and address - This is very important for local businesses. This information will make your business more searchable in Google Local Search.
  4. Link back to your Facebook fan page – If you own a blog or you have a Google+ account, link to your Facebook fan page. Associating your fan page with your brand in all the places where you are recognized online will help that page to rank better in the search engines.
  5. Optimize your status updates – When you create a new status update on your Facebook fan page, use keywords. That will optimize the status update as well as the page overall. The first 18 characters of your post serve as your meta description, so be sure to front-load your keywords.

Optimizing your Facebook fan page is just one more thing you can do to boost your brand’s search chutzpah online. Don’t overlook it.

Should you be a guest blogger? There are a lot of people online right now telling you that guest blogging is the holy grail of Internet marketing. That’s debatable, but what’s not debatable is that guest blogging does have its benefits. What are they?

Here are 5 benefits to guest blogging that you should consider and chase. There’s nothing wrong with coveting your neighbor’s online reputation.

  1. Enhanced reputation management – If you guest blog on the right industry blogs within your niche, you will build a solid reputation for yourself. Merely being associated with highly valuable and recognized blogs will enhance your online reputation.
  2. Position yourself as an expert – By writing about industry topics and offering solutions to problems you can make yourself an overnight expert on your topic.
  3. Expand your audience – When you write posts on other blogs within your industry you’ll reach people who otherwise might never hear of you. You have the opportunity to expand your audience and tap into someone else’s reservoir.
  4. More traffic to your website – There’s hardly a benefit more important than more traffic to your website. This is an extension of your reputation, your perceived expertise, and your audience expansion efforts.
  5. Search engine optimization – You might as well go for the link while you’re there. You don’t want to appear as if the link is the most important thing to guest blogging, but since you’re there, you might as well take the link.

Focus on the benefits of guest blogging and take advantage of them. It will only help your business.

If you haven’t heard of AuthorRank yet, allow me to be the first to let you in on the secret. Google is planning some big changes in how website content is ranked. In fact, the plan is already underway. The key is your reputation as an author.

Five years ago, or even three years ago, Google didn’t have the resources available to be able to separate content according to who wrote it. Now they do. That big resource, which you’ve likely heard of by now, is Google+. If you want your author reputation to expand and grow, then you should join Google+ now.

Google+ is often billed as just another social network, but I assure you it’s not. This is Google’s flagship search engine marketing arm.

More and more, Google is ranking content by the reputation of the person who wrote it. That means more than simply having an article rank well for your name when someone Google’s your name. It also means that when someone Google’s a specific key phrase, if you’ve written about that topic and you have a credible reputation according to Google’s AuthorRank algorithm, then you’ll rank for that key phrase. This is the new search engine optimization.

AuthorRank is a big deal. If you want to learn more about it, give us a ring. The future begins now.

If you hear an SEO firm promise you permanent search engine rankings, you’d better run. Fast. And not look back. It’s impossible to achieve permanent search engine rankings.

Why is that?

First, because search engines don’t promise anyone a ranking. They certainly don’t promise good rankings. You must earn them.

Secondly, no one else can guarantee you a top spot in the search engines. SEOs can give their best effort to get your site ranked, but they can’t guarantee you a position because they don’t control the search engines.

Thirdly, ALL search engine rankings are temporary. The truth is, search engine rankings change constantly. You could be No. 1 this morning and drop to No. 9 this afternoon for the same search query. You might be No. 1 for a particular search query right now in Minnesota and be on page 2 for the same search query right now in California.

Not only can you rank differently in different places at the same time, or in the same place at different times, but you could also rank differently for different searchers at the same time – even if those searchers are in the same city.

Search engine optimization is no longer about achieving the highest rankings possible for the keywords you are targeting. It’s about maximizing your traffic from the search engines, and that requires more than throwing keywords at algorithms.

We’ve known for a while now that Bing and Facebook were in good with each. They’ve developed a pretty cozy relationship over the last few years. Last year, Twitter and Google were playing nice until Twitter ended their relationship with Google abruptly. Now I know why.

Bing made them a better offer.

Both Facebook and Twitter have toyed with the idea of developing a competing search engine. But no one has ever developed a search engine that even came close to the powerful Google. Until Bing.

Google has wanted its own social network. Until now all their attempts have been failed attempts. Then someone came up with the idea of Google+. Bingo! Huge sucess. Well, OK, it’s been a success.

Google+ is Google’s search engine plus social networking. Not everyone is buying it, but the people who are buying it are really buying it. On June 1, Bing announced something similar, only they don’t have their own social network so they’ve partnered with Facebook and Twitter.

Along with the new features in its search engine, Bing has redesigned its search results pages. They’ve added a third column.

The cool feature about the new Bing-Facebook relationship is that you can now query the search engine and then tag your Facebook friends on the search to get their feedback and have them answer your question. Beyond that, Bing will also notify you of experts in that area and you can ask the recommended experts. Pretty cool. But let’s take it a step further. If someone does have the answer to your question they can answer you on either Facebook or Bing.

Isn’t that nice?

I haven’t played around with the new Bing much, but this excites me. I think it can be a big boon to businesses trying to market themselves online. Your search engine marketing now has even greater potential.

What is the difference between SEO and SEM? Does it matter?

It might not matter to some people, but there is a subtle difference. SEO stands for search engine optimization and usually refers to the process of writing web page content so that it stands a better chance of ranking in the search engines. If your web pages rank in the search engines, then that’s free traffic for your website. You don’t pay for that traffic.

Search engine marketing, or SEM, refers to any form of search engine marketing and that includes the aforementioned SEO. But it doesn’t stop with SEO.

Search engine marketing most often refers to organic search (SEO) and paid search (PPC). But it could also include other forms of search engine marketing including display advertising, paid placement services, link building, search query sponsorships, or other services depending on the search engine. But most Internet marketers use the term SEM to refer to SEO and PPC.

Typically, a search engine marketing campaign consists of a combination of SEO and paid search strategies. A search engine marketer may find himself managing a pay-per-click campaign simultaneously with a link building campaign. And that may include guest blogging, article marketing, and even some on-site content management.

Most of these terms overlap in some way, but it helps to understand what your search optimization team is saying when they communicate with you. I hope this helps clarify things a bit.

You don’t think you’re a spammer. You’re just doing what all the other Internet marketers out there are doing. You’ve read all the popular SEO blogs and you write your content to their specifications. You’re one of the good guys. Right?

Maybe not. Your content could have some spam in it.

I’m not trying to jerk your chain. Really, I’m not. I’m simply pointing out a fatal flaw in the thinking of some Internet marketers. Here’s the flaw:

Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s not spam.

Get it?

Stop Following The Spam Crowd

Stop following the crowd. The search engines want you to publish useful, natural, original content. They don’t want you producing unnatural, canned, recycled content just so you can get a link from that cool new website with lots of promise. I hope you can see the difference.

Webmasters, SEOs, and Internet marketers have been conditioned to think a certain way about marketing online, but the truth is there isn’t just one way to do it. There are thousands of ways to market yourself online. The best way is to use a plan that is unique to your business. And that involves the creation of unique content.

Unique content is content that only you can produce. If it looks too much like your competition’s content, then it isn’t unique. It needs to change.

If your content could have been written by anyone, then it’s likely spam. At best, it’s just plain bad content. Good content is content that only you can write. It’s content that is recognizable as your content. No one else could have produced it. To publish that kind of content requires skill. You can’t kick it out in ten minutes.

If you are new to search engine marketing and you’re wondering just what a search engine marketing company does, go no further. I’ll give you the nitty gritty, and the down and dirty, right here.

There are several Internet marketing strategies a search engine marketing company can perform for you. Let’s start with web design.

A good search engine marketing company doesn’t just design your website. They help you plan it. What language does it need to be coded in? Would ASP best suit your website? How about PHP? What kind of server should it be on? Windows or Linux? What is the best way to incorporate the social media experience into your website? These are some of the questions a good web development firm can help you answer as you make your mark on the web.

Beyond web design, your search engine marketing company should help you determine the best promotional strategies for driving traffic to your new website. Some of those methods include:

  • Pay per click advertising
  • Article marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Display advertising
  • Link building
  • Social media marketing
  • Directory submissions
  • Blog marketing
  • Video marketing
  • Forum marketing

And that’s just to name a few. The methods for driving traffic to your website could be quite different than the methods used for another website. Since every web business is different, every online marketing strategy should be different. A search engine marketing firm knows that.

Social signals are becoming more and more important in search, and I mean beyond Google simply counting and weighing the importance, relevance, and authority of links.

For instance, if you are logged into Facebook, you can go to Bing and see what your Facebook friends like. On YouTube, or anywhere.

Google, in an attempt to face off with Bing, created its own social network called Google+. When you conduct a Google search, beside each search result you’ll see a +1 button. If you +1 an item and you set your preferences on Google+ just right, then your friends will be able to see what you plussed on your Google+ profile page, and you they.

But Google takes it another step further than that even. On the search results page, you can see what items your friends have shared on Google+ and you can see other items they have shared on any social network – including Facebook.

Are these social signals exhaustive? Not by any means. In fact, they are just the beginning.

Social search is in its infant stage. I believe social signals in search will become much more important and we are only getting started. It will be exciting to see where the search engines of the future will take us. I can hardly wait to get there.

There is nothing about marketing online that is as much a lie as the idea that you can purchase off-the-shelf search engine marketing plans that anyone can use. Yet, many online marketers will try to sell you one of these solutions with no thought about the type of business you are running. Call it “online marketing in a box.” It doesn’t work.

The only truly effective way to go about search engine marketing is to create a custom plan. What works for one website or business may not work for another.

For instance, not everyone needs video marketing. Some Web businesses, however, couldn’t do without it. And that’s just one example.

Is social media marketing right for you? Maybe. But even if it is, the social media marketing plan you finalize for your business will look very different than the plan for another business. That’s because you have a different product, a different clientele, and therefore require a different strategy. Your social media marketing strategy should be tailored to your business.

Every search engine marketing plan rises and falls on its own merits. Just like every website and every business. You cannot take a generic online marketing plan and make it fit your unique business.

Custom search engine marketing is the strategic implementation of a plan based on careful study and market research. Don’t buy into the hype of off-the-shelf marketing products in a box.

So you’ve decided to start a blog to promote your business. That’s a good move. But how often should you update your blog?

That’s a good question. The answer is, It depends.

How much traffic would you like your blog to receive? How serious are you about search engine marketing? Do you want the search engines to crawl your blog often and update their search engine listings accordingly? Are you doing it for fun or for profit?

Blog marketing is not a hit-and-miss proposition. It is a commitment. The more often you do it, the more likely you are to see positive results. That’s how it is with just about anything. Right?

The search engines view each of your blog posts as a single web page. But they also pay attention to your entire website. Every time yo update your site, they send their spiders back to crawl it. Update it every day and you’ll get crawled every day. That means each blog post you write has the potential to achieve high search engine rankings in addition to your site as a whole achieving those rankings.

Every blog post is a new opportunity. The more opportunities you have, the better your marketing. So how often do you think you should be blogging?

If you haven’t heard of Google Panda, then I’d say you’ve been hiding out under a rock. Or maybe you don’t pay much attention to the search engines and their algorithmic changes. A recent change at Google, which everyone is calling Panda, has forced certain websites – like HubPages, for instance – to take a harder look at their user-generated content.

Some of the changes that HubPages has been forced to make include:

  • A ratio of words in content to product being promoted
  • No more pixelated images
  • No affiliate links
  • Higher quality standards on over-saturated topics
  • No duplicate content

I’m surprised that HubPages ever allowed duplicate content at all, but they did. And that’s one of the reasons that Google slapped them hard, killing them along with hundreds of other “content farms.”

Whether you agree with that decision or not, I think it will lead to higher quality articles on HubPages and it will benefit article marketers who use HubPages. It should benefit the entire ecosystem of online article marketing.

When it comes to article marketing, and any Internet marketing really, you can’t sacrifice quality. Your reputation is at stake with every article you publish. Don’t take the easy way in hopes that you’ll win on a short term gain. Your business is your livelihood and that’s a lifetime achievement.

You are likely familiar with the old 80/20 rule. 80% of your production comes from 20% of your employees, or money investments, or whatever. Well, online, there’s another 80/20 rule. It says that 80% of your website’s traffic comes from the search engines. The other 20% comes from other sources (direct, social media, etc.).

The actual number is more like 85/15, but let’s not count pennies. The point is, if most of your traffic is coming from search engines, then the majority of your budget should be in search engine marketing.

If you have $1,000 to spend on Internet marketing, you don’t want $800 of that going into social media when most of your traffic is going to come from the search engines. Instead, you should allocate 80% of that ($800) to pay-per-click advertising, blogging, and content creation. The remaining $200 can go into video marketing, social media, and other non-SEM activities.

This isn’t a matter of effectiveness. You can always test the waters and see if you get better results from video marketing, social media, or non-SEM marketing initiatives. If so, then by all means put more money into those channels. But you need to start with a base. That base is 80% search engine marketing and 20% other.

When you have a solid base from which to start your Internet marketing initiatives, it’s easier to track your results. You can set better goals and you can allocate your marketing budget appropriately.

The Law of Reciprocity states that if you do something nice for someone, they will feel obligated to do something nice for you, and they will.

Imagine being a business owner in your local hometown and discovering a new restaurant. You tell your friends how wonderful it is through a service called Hotspot, which, by the way, has recently been rolled into Google Places.

Later, let’s say, you discover the owner of that restaurant is a big user of Google Places and Hotspot. So you friend him. He friends back and notices that you liked your restaurant. He comes to your bookstore to thank you and then saves your bookstore as a favorite place.

That’s The Law of Reciprocity in action.

There’s no better place to practice The Law of Reciprocity than in your own back yard. That is, in your own hometown where you can become friends with other small business owners that are local to you. You patronize their business and they patronize yours. Now, you can let all your friends know about your local connections and personalize your local search experience as well.

Google Places seems to be getting better and better. It’s certainly good for local small businesses.

All the search engines have a place for local businesses to claim a local listing. Google Places, Bing, and Yahoo! Local are all tied to the Maps feature at the search engines and each one has a way for customers to write reviews of the business. All the reviews – positive and negative – have the potential to help your business rank in the search engines.

You’ve heard the expression “content is king.” What that means is any content has the potential to help your site, or your business, rank.

Let’s say, for instance, that your business listing at Google Places has 50 reviews. Forty five of them are positive reviews and five are not. Even those five negative reviews are helping your local business listing rank at the top of the search results for searches related to your niche.

But your website can benefit from negative reviews too. Add a reviews page to your website and allow your customers to write reviews on your website. The more reviews you get, the more likely you are to have that page rank in the search engines for searches related to your business.

While negative reviews can help, you can encourage positive reviews by providing excellent customer service and by asking your good customers to write reviews. If you add your Google Places listing and your website’s reviews page URL to your business cards, brochures, and shopping bag inserts, you’ll encourage customers to write reviews of your business. Provide them good service in the process and they’ll be good reviews.