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Google recently updated its algorithm and the result has seen Google take some heavy criticism. Labeled the ‘Farmer Update’, the update is reported to target content farms that are full of poor quality content. In the lead up to this update, much was said about Design Media, in particular it’s content site eHow. Reports to date suggest that eHow probably benefited more than it lost following the update.

At the same time, there are many sites crying poor because they copped a hit in search results. These are sites that are businesses and who have good reputations within the online community, certainly not ‘content farms’. The problem is, their sites have internal flaws which, to Google’s algorithm, look like content farms.

The problem with the algorithm change is a simple one. Just because you’re a content farm that doesn’t mean your content is poor. On the whole, eHow’s content is probably average to poor – but there are some very good articles mixed in with the good ones. And the same could be said for millions of ordinary websites, especially mom and dad style blogs.

For many website owners, especially those whose site is their business and their livelihood, the only way forward is to engage a professional to undertake an audit of their SEO strategies. Businesses tend to get caught up in these updates, often unintentionally, but the end results could cost them that business.

If you run an online business, particularly one that has hundreds or even thousands of pages, engage an independent SEO professional who can undertake that audit. Your website may be fine – but in ninety percent of cases, an SEO audit does pick up on errors. Who knows? Fix those little errors and you may climb even higher in the search rankings.

Google has made a number of minor tweaks to their Adwords pay-per-click advertising program. The aim is to increase clicks, thus driving more revenue to Google, while it is hoped it will also drive more revenue to advertisers. Whether or not it does is open to debate although one change, relating to site links for those that use them, should see improved CTR and with it improved sales.

Do you include site links in your Adwords campaign? It is certainly worth having a closer look if you don’t. Site links allow you add extra links to your Adwords ad unit – up to ten for a campaign. Google has, in the past, shown the top four links in any ad unit displayed. Google has now changed this and will automatically rotate these links based on historical performance. This is good news for website owners who have several pages they want to drive traffic to.

In other changes, Google will change the way that domain URLs are displayed. Over the next week Google will modify all ad units displayed in search results so that the domain URL is all in lower case. This is to match the way domain URLs are displayed in search results. According to Google:

In any given month, we experiment with hundreds of subtle variations of the Google search results page, testing everything from font sizes and colors to layouts and spacing, as well as dozens of other variables. Recently, we found that by standardizing the look of the URLs on the page, we were able to improve many of our user metrics, including ad clickthrough rates

I am not sure that a change in the display of URLs will make a huge difference in click through rates, but then, any improvement is bound to be welcome.

The final modification will be a welcome one for those who have drilled down to really fine tune their ads. Negative keywords, in other words keywords, or parts of keywords that your don’t want associated with your ads, had to be set campaign by campaign. Now you can create a set of negative keywords that can be used with multiple campaigns. That will make life a little easier for Adwords users.

Of course, there are many Adwords users that don’t use site links or negative keyword lists when they really should. This could be costing them a significant amount when it comes to wasted or lost clicks. If you don’t completely understand how to use them, then consider working with a team of pay-per-click management specialists to fine tune your Adwords campaign.

Despite popular opinion, search engine marketing is not purely about paid search. Rather, it is marketing through the search engines using both paid and organic search. One of the difficulties with organic search is determining your return on investment (ROI). That doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

Where businesses need to focus, especially new businesses, is on the balance between investing in paid and organic search. It is easy to determine the ROI when it comes to paid search. For this reason, you can target hundreds, sometimes thousands, of keywords. This, together with targeting features, means you can advertise your business to a much wider market.

Organic search can be slow. However, that can work in a new business’s favor. While paid search brings in the bulk of a website’s traffic, organic search can slowly build in the background, especially if you only target a precise set of keywords. As your organic traffic grows, you can start to diversify your keyword list; in the meantime, paid search is still delivering traffic. The overall effect is a slow but steady growth in the business.

A mistake that many new businesses make is to throw 70% or more of their marketing budget at organic search and leave the crumbs for paid search, social media marketing, and perhaps other forms of advertising such as banners. Often, the balance should be reversed with paid search receiving the bulk of your marketing budget while organic search is left to slowly develop.

Every niche is different, of course, and some niches respond well to social media marketing rather than search. A little research and a lot of testing is the best approach. With search engine marketing, achieving a good balance between your paid and organic efforts can result in a profitable business from day one – and a business that will continue to grow over time.

Now I know most will argue that Yahoo! is now out of search, and in the traditional sense, they are. However, the time is ripe now to step out of your safe ‘traditional search’ shoes and to start thinking laterally. Yahoo! has made several major announcements, all related to local search, and much of it designed with the mobile user in mind.

Yahoo! have announced several apps that will make it easier for people to access information on the web.  For example, they can find restaurants close to where they are then book a table by way of OpenTable, the restaurant booking service. What should interest business owners is the launch of Local Offers. As the name suggests, users can click through to see what offers are currently available in their area. Some of the Yahoo! partnerships for this service inlcude:

  • Groupon,
  • LivingSocial,
  • Gilt City,
  • BloomSpot,
  • BuyWithMe,
  • DealOn,
  • Zozi,
  • CrowdSavings,
  • Lifebooker,
  • FreshGuide,
  • Scoop St,
  • Goldstar,
  • HomeRun,
  • Tippr,
  • Coupons.com, and
  • Valpak.

Users now can access their Yahoo! page where they can read the latest news, read what’s available at local business restaurants along with free offers from local businesses, all without having to enter a search term.  Google have been working away at making local search (now Google Places) as user friendly and relevant as possible. In fact, they have made one or two interesting changes to local search themselves this week.

Will this change local search in any way? It’s a hard call, and it will depend on how well Yahoo! can sell the feature, and how well it draws he crowds.

One of the big changes that we are likely to see into the future is that of vertical search. Vertical search is nothing more than a dedicated search portal for specific industries. The most popular examples are Trulia for real estate and Bing Shopping (formerly MSN Shopping) for product searches.

The down side to some vertical searches options is that, in reality, they are nothing more than paid directories. Rather than crawling the net and building their own database of pages, they rely on businesses like your own to provide the data. This doesn’t make them any less important, however, since consumers often access them in preference to organic search.

Can you optimize your business for vertical search? Optimize is probably the wrong term in this instance. Where vertical search options exist, business need to follow whatever processes are required to have their products or services listed. For example, Bing Shopping or Google Product search require an up-to-date product feed.

When thinking vertical search, don’t be limited to your niche. Vertical search covers a wide range of search options including blogs (blog search, Technorati), Social (Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed) and video and images to name a few. With this in mind, you may find that through the use of blogs, videos, social media and a product feed, your web site could appear in several different and unrelated vertical search channels.

Vertical search is important in some industries, however, it hasn’t quite taken off when it comes to mainstream internet use  – yet.  Like local search (another vertical), niche related vertical search engines may well become one of the big changes into the future. Mainstream search engines have added verticals (blog, news, image, video, local) over the years and, as their databases become bloated, increasing the number of verticals will become a necessity if they want to maintain quality in search results.

If there are vertical search options available to your business, make use of them. They may not have a major influence on your business today, but they may well do so in the future.

If you concentrate a lot on SEO and organic traffic then you should also be concentrating on the news that steadily flows out of the various search engines. There are those around at present who have little idea that Yahoo! search is now really Bing search or that Ask.com has now folded its search arms and will concentrate now on it’s traditional Q&A sector.

Search engines are constantly changing their approach to search rankings so keeping on top of where their thinking is can be very important. News can also affect your past, present and future actions. For example, with Yahoo! and Ask not determining search results, do you still need the factors that many sites relied on. The keywords meta tag is a primary example – it now appears to be redundant although I know some who use the tag to confuse competitors (how? – load the tag with keywords you’re not targeting).

There are plenty of reports around the web today about Matt Cutts’ talk about Google and the directions of search. If a video of the talk raises its head then it will pay to actually watch it. You will find there are a lot of gems buried away in his talk including an admission that exact domain matches rank higher than they probably should.

Keeping up with the latest news is important when deciding the areas you need to target. This post probably appears to contradict yesterday’s post about avoiding too much information. However, it’s all relative to what you are attempting. If social media marketing is your game then concentrating on that material is important, not SEO. You also need to be able to filter the drivel away from what is important news. Of course, the bottom line is what you actually do with that information – but that’s your call.

Every now and then I read an article that claims that keywords are obsolete and that search engines now rely entirely on semantic language indexing. The truth is, that’s all wrong. Let’s deal with a few facts.

  • Semantic language indexing is not new. Google has been doing it for years. They’ve gotten better at it, of course, and other search engines have started to incorporate it as well. But none of them have abandoned keywords.
  • Type a search query into any search engine and see what comes up. Your first results will almost all incorporate the exact keyword phrase that you typed into the search engine’s search box. That’s evidence itself that keywords are still important.
  • Keyword densities, the process of counting keywords and ensuring that you have the right mix of keywords in your content compared to the number of overall words, are not important. In fact, for about five or six years now, they haven’t been. This fact could be the reason for the myth that keywords themselves are not important.
  • How many keywords you have in your content is not important. Where those keywords are located within the content is much more important.
  • Most search engines these days rely on both keywords and semantic language indexing to some degree.

The advent of semantic language indexing has not made keywords obsolete. It does mean that keywords for the sake of keywords are not important. It makes keyword stuffing much more difficult. Besides that, keywords are still important and I wouldn’t throw them out of my search engine marketing efforts completely.

Do you know the difference between SEO and SEM? They seem to be synonymous terms, don’t they? Actually, there is a difference.

    SEO = Search Engine Optimization;
    SEM = Search Engine Marketing

There’s where the similarity ends – or begins, I might say. Now let’s move on to definitions.

Search engine optimization is the practice of using keywords, links, and other on-page and off-page factors to rank a web page in the search engines.

So what is search engine marketing? Well, it’s a bit broader term. It can encompass SEO, but it also encompasses pay per click marketing and any other form of marketing that directly relates to marketing through the search engines.

The key to marketing online is to get your search engine marketing to collaborate with your other marketing initiatives. Your PPC, SEO, social media marketing, display advertising, affiliate marketing, and any other marketing you do online should work together to brand your company and lead to more effective search engine positioning all around. If you do that well then you’ll go a long way to achieving a high impact reputation enhancing marketing drive. That’s what you want, isn’t it?

Online marketing is just another channel for your business. It’s not the only channel, but it’s an important. It will behoove you to learn the principles and then work them to your, and your customers’, advantage.

It seems that Google Places has moved in on Yelp’s turf. And Yelp isn’t happy about it.

Specifically, Google’s strong moves into local with their new Places push seem to be going right at Yelp’s core. Sure’s it’s potentially about more than just local venue reviews, but that’s a huge part of it. And that’s what Yelp is all about.

So, Google and Yelp had a deal. Then Yelp pulled out of it. It seems that Google thinks it doesn’t need a deal after all. Perhaps that is why they introduced Google Places. Perhaps Google feels it can do local reviews better than Yelp. But it’s using Yelp content to draw in searchers. Is it sending traffic back to Yelp?

I can’t imagine that Yelp isn’t getting any new traffic from Google Places. It may not be as much new traffic as they’d like to get, but Google has far more users than Yelp has and not everyone who searches for local businesses knows about Yelp. That equates to a good thing. So I’m not sure what this is about really.

Is it just me or is Yelp over reacting? Perhaps they just need to focus on quality search engine optimization.

Many search engine marketers spend most of their time chasing the elusive search engine ranking, hoping that if they just SEO their website enough then it will magically appear in the No. 1 spot on Google for their target search term. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way.

You can rank No. 1 for any search term if you work hard enough. But will you make any money from that ranking? Bottom line: If your web page does rank No. 1 for an important keyword or search term but doesn’t convert any visitors to traffic then you aren’t any better off than if your web page doesn’t rank anywhere at all. You’re still making no money.

Quite frankly, you’re better off with a Page 5 search result that converts at 50% than you are a No. 1 search result that converts at 0%.

You might want to read that sentence again.

Let’s put it into raw numbers. Let’s say your No. 1 search result delivers you 5,000 unique visitors per month but none of those visitors convert to customers. Either you’ve targeted the wrong keyword or your landing page isn’t written for conversions. That’s a problem.

On the other hand, let’s say your Page 5 search result sends you only 10 unique visitors per month but converts 50% of those visitors. Now you’re getting 5 new customers per month. Isn’t 5 better than 0?

Even if your No. 1 search result converts 1 percent of its traffic, 5 new customers from 5,000 visitors is nothing to get excited about. You’re still only converting 1% of your traffic, compared to 50% from the lower ranking page. It’s all in the numbers, man.

Instead of focusing on search results, you should be focusing on building landing pages that convert well. Optimize them for search traffic, sure. But if you are focused heavily on building links and optimizing for keywords and you forget to optimize for conversions then you’ve wasted a lot of time. And money.

When you survey the field of search engine marketing (SEM) it’s easy to get lost. There are so many different ways to get to the end goal. Sometimes you can achieve the same results using different strategies. Which one is right for you depends a lot on preference and style. There may not be a right way and a wrong way.

Search engine marketing has expanded a lot in recent years. There are many ways to go about conducting a search engine marketing campaign. Here are some of the ways you can use search engine marketing to boost your business’s performance in the search engines.

  • Search engine optimization – Yes, good old-fashioned SEO still works as a search engine marketing tool.
  • Pay per click marketing – PPC falls into the category of paid search and it’s one of the fastest ways to achieve great results through SEM.
  • Blog marketing – Blogging has become so popular in recent years that everyone knows what it is and you’d think the blog marketing arena is so saturated there’s not any room for more. But there is. And there’s always room for a better one in your niche.
  • Content marketing – Commonly called article marketing, content marketing is a little bit broader of a term that also includes marketing with articles. Effective content marketing includes using your network of like-minded website owners to market your content through their sites as well as your own.
  • Social bookmarking – Save your best pages on sites like Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit and watch your traffic, and your links, soar.
  • Link building – Building links is one of those things that everyone should be doing on an ongoing basis.
  • Social networking – Just because it’s social doesn’t mean there aren’t search engine marketing benefits. Add a well-optimized Facebook page to your online portfolio and you’ll know what I mean.
  • Video marketing – Marketing through videos is just now reaching the beginning of its run, but it will soon be one of the most important search engine marketing channels available.
  • Viral marketing – Not so much a channel as a strategy, viral marketing is much misunderstood. But it’s still a great search engine marketing strategy.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are literally hundreds of search engine marketing strategies you can try: Squidoo lenses, HubPages, Knol pages, Blogger blogs (and not just as blogs), customized search engines, Google Apps, etc.

The key take away here is to pick your poison and use it to boost your search engine rankings. Stay away from risky maneuvers and focus on the tried and true.

MSN is determined to take over Google’s dominance of the search wars. And its latest weapon in the battle is the newly minted Bingbot. Honestly, though, it’s just a new name, not a new bot.

Bing has changed the name of its bot from MSNbot to Bingbot. But that name change is not all that has changed. The bot is also more adept at crawling non-optimized websites, so Bing says. Take that for all its worth. I wouldn’t purposely fail to optimize my website in hopes that the Bingbot would find room for me in in Bing’s search rankings. That would be foolhardy.

The bright side for webmasters is that you don’t have to change anything in your robots.txt. Bingbot will still respond to calls for MSNbot. In other words, when you look in your log files and see “Bingbot” you can just consider it the same as “MSNbot”. In fact, because that’s what it is under a new name.

So will Bingbot help Bing overtake Google as the No. 1 search engine? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, learn more about how you can sing a song the Bingbot will enjoy.

You bet it has. In fact, it changes in a major way about every two or three years. The most recent change has been with Google’s update Caffeine.

Caffeine has made some significant changes to the search engine marketing game. In fact, some of those changes may yet to be manifested. But one thing is more clear: The competition is a lot stiffer.

Since Google is now indexing more web pages than ever and they are getting indexed faster than ever, you can say that the Web just moved into hyperdrive. Create a web page and it gets into the index within a couple of hours. But will it rank?

Universal search has been around for a couple of years now, but now that we have Caffeine it just got a bit more robust. Google is returning images, videos, blogs, news, real-time information and whatever it can find for just about any search query now. and it’s happening lightening fast. Which means that if you perform a search now for a specific keyword phrase then perform the same search two hours from now, you may very well see different results.

They won’t be drastically different. But they could be significantly different. Maybe that video that was in the No. 3 position dropped down to No. 9 and was replaced by a press release while positions 1 and 2 and 4 moved around, putting 4 on top, 1 at 2 and 2 at 4.

These kinds of changes have been going on for some time now, but not at the same speed. And I think that search engine marketing is about to become a different game altogether. The next couple of years should be super exciting for Internet marketers.

Local search is becoming more and more important all the time. As more small businesses come online and try to compete at the local level, local search will grow in importance.

Several Internet marketers answered a poll and discussed which local search criteria are the most important. Interestingly, most of them agreed on the most important criteria. After that, there was more disagreement but, again, you’ll find a large number of the marketers agreeing on the most harmful local search factors as well.

The top 3 most important local search criteria, according to the poll numbers are:

  • Claiming your Place page
  • Your business address listed in the city of the search being conducted
  • Picking the proper categories for your Place page

Another positive local search factor that is worth mentioning is the number of Internet Yellow Pages and directory listings you have. Many of the marketers in the poll seemed to think that was important.

Regarding negative factors, the following negative factors were chosen as important to stay away from:

  • Multiple Place Pages with the same phone number
  • Not showing your address on your Place page
  • Multiple Place Pages with the same address
  • Listing a PO Box on your website without a physical address
  • Multiple Place Pages with the same business title

Interestingly, many of the marketers involved in the poll thought customer reviews were important as well. It could be that negative reviews might have an influence in your rankings, but that is subject to debate.

If you’d like to see the results for yourself, you can see them here. It’s quite a read.

There is a florist in New Zealand performing community penance for hijacking the Google Local listings of her competitors. I rather think she should get jail time, but that’s an aside.

If you have a local small business and you want to start marketing your business online but don’t know where to start, Google Local is the perfect place. You don’t even need a website. But if you don’t claim your business on Google Local then someone else just may do it for you and take any traffic or business that you might have received had you done it.

While this is considered criminal, consider that it could happen from someone in another country hijacking your business listing. If that happens then you may never see justice.

It’s best to prevent it from happening before you see your business in a compromised situation. Claim your business on Google Local, Yahoo!, Bing and Ask.com. It’s free and it will save you a ton of headaches.

Search engine marketing has as many definitions as there are marketers, and most of them are right. But what hardly gets talked about among search engine marketers is that SEM is more than just selling your stuff for a profit. You’ve got to do more than attract audiences with keywords. You are selling benefits.

No one cares about your product. No one cares about your company. No one cares about you. They want to know what you can do for them.

The question is, how can you do that with search engine marketing?

First, the two arms of SEM:

  • Pay per click advertising
  • Search engine optimization (organic search)

So how do you sell benefits through these two primary channels?

With PPC you’ve got to sell your benefits to get a click. Your goal is to get people to your landing page and then sell the benefits of your product there.

With organic search marketing, you use your landing page optimization to get rank your web page, build links to it, drive traffic to it and sell your benefits to your visitors to close the sale.

Search engine marketing really follows the principles of traditional marketing – sell the benefits. You just do it with modern technology.

Twitter has announced that it will start introducing ads called Promoted Tweets, except that these ads will be organic tweets with one exception. They’ll be labeled Promoted Tweets.

And there is one other difference as well:

There is one big difference between a Promoted Tweet and a regular Tweet. Promoted Tweets must meet a higher bar—they must resonate with users.

The plan is this …

Promoted Tweets will be added to users’ Twitter streams according to relevance. If Twitter users don’t reply to or retweet the Promoted Tweets then they’ll disappear. They won’t be shown any more. My question is, Will the advertiser be reimbursed for any unpublished tweets or is the risk a part of the deal? Do advertisers pay a flat rate and take a risk on the tweet not resonating?

This certainly looks interesting and if the first phase of advertisers manage to pull off ads that resonate then I’m guessing that other advertisers will be given an opportunity as well. Will Promoted Tweets become another potential advertising stream for search engine marketers who want to reach their target audiences? Will it fly?

Does your website load slowly? If so then you need to figure out how to get it to load faster because Google has now made page load speed a ranking factor.

This is very significant. If you do any pay per click advertising then page load speed has already been a factor for your quality score. But yesterday Google announced that site speed will now be considered as a ranking factor.

This actually makes a lot of sense. Users don’t like to land on a page and have to wait for it to load. It could mean the difference between them staying on your site or visiting your competition. So why should Google be concerned about that?

Truth is, they’re not. They don’t care if you make any money or not. But they do care if they make money and they do care if searchers have a good experience on any site that Google sends them to. If your site is an AdSense site and it loads slowly then Google will make less revenue. If you advertise your site using pay per click advertising and it loads slowly then you’ll likely have fewer clicks and Google will make less money. See how it works now?

Fix your site load speed or you might start seeing your pages fall in the rankings.

Now that Facebook is the most trafficked website online, is it good search engine marketing?

It depends on what you mean by search engine marketing. If you expect that every message you post on Facebook is going to end up in the search engine results, don’t count on it. But if you mean that some aspects of Facebook have a good chance of ending up in the search results then yes, it is good search engine marketing.

Facebook profiles have been indexed for some time now. If you have a Facebook profile and you are active on Facebook then your profile has a good chance of ranking well for your name. At the very least it makes for good reputation management. But profile pages are not the only pages that have the potential to be indexed in the search engines.

Fan pages, too, can get indexed and rank for key terms. Since businesses can start a fan page without having a Facebook profile, it makes for a great opportunity to target a keyword and get a search engine ranking.

Another way that Facebook could be good search engine marketing is through real-time search. Some of the search engines, like Bing and Google, are beginning to index Twitter, Facebook and other other social networks in their real-time indexing and that could mean great search engine marketing.

So what do you think? Will you be using Facebook more?

It’s called Universal Search. Google has been doing it for a couple of years now. Including videos in the organic search results for certain key phrases. Where do you think those videos are hosted? Most of them are on YouTube.

Most of them, not all of them. But YouTube is the most trafficked video site online and the second most popular search engine. That means that video content found at YouTube is highly valuable to the search engines. You can get your YouTube videos to appear online for search queries and have those videos rank reasonably well for the key search terms you are targeting.

The first step, of course, is to produce a really good video that people want to watch and share with their friends. Secondly, upload it to YouTube.

Beyond that, how do you optimize for the search results page?

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you optimize your video content on YouTube for the search engines:

  • Use your video title as an opportunity to target the right key phrase.
  • In the text portion of your video upload, describe your video accurately using the proper keywords.
  • Establish a YouTube channel with your keyword in it.
  • If you include links in your YouTube video, make sure they point to a relevant page on your website.

Video optimization is just now getting its start, but you can be sure that YouTube videos will have as high a chance to appear in the SERPs as any content can.