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Online marketers are infatuated with an alleged war taking place between Google+ and Facebook. An article at LinkedIn claims that Google+ is sneaking up on Facebook, but this could only happen if the two are competing or at direct odds with each other.

The folks at Google+ have claimed that they are not competing with Facebook. In a sense, I think they’re right.

Google+ is a bit of a social network, but it’s not JUST a social network. It’s also a content organization platform. Google wants you to integrate Google+ into your total online experience. That includes being social.

However, in a real sense, it is Google that is competing with Facebook. Both properties are competing for your advertising dollars. Google+ doesn’t display advertising, so you can’t say it’s about Google+. Google displays ads on its search results pages. That’s where the real competition is taking place.

That said, it might be worth discussing how Google+ influences the SERPs.

I have noticed that they do influence brand searches. That is, your personal profile does rise higher in the search results when people search your name if you are active on Google+. Of course, you could say the same thing of Facebook, Quora, Twitter and other social networks. The more active you are the more your profiles will rise in the search results.

Google+ is making good improvements. I’m looking forward to seeing more. But as to whether they beat Facebook or Facebook beats them, does it really matter?

For years, Google has been assisting Internet marketers, search engine optimizers, and other members of the public with finding the right keywords for their online marketing targeting efforts with the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. In fact, if you search for “Google keyword research tool,” you’ll find it at the top of the SERP. Click the link, however, and it’s not there. It’s been replaced by the Keyword Planner.

This happened two days ago when we weren’t watching.

Judging from the response on Twitter, there are a lot of unhappy campers.

The biggest problem I see with the Keyword Planner is you have to be logged into your AdWords account. That means you have to have an AdWords account. With the external keyword research tool, you could find the best keywords for your SEO targeting efforts without needing an AdWords account. Now, if you want to do keyword research, then you need to be an advertiser – or at least have a Google AdWords advertiser account.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are free keyword research tools online that serve as a decent alternative to Google’s retired AdWords tool. I’m not ready to recommend them yet, but you can Google “free keyword research tool” and see what you find.

Here’s a question: Have you tried the new Keyword Planner tool? Will you give it a go? If not, why not?

Google has said that it needs to transition from a search engine to a “knowledge engine.” This is essentially the same thing Bing says it wants to do. I think Google is closer to the goal than Bing, but Google got a head start.

A knowledge engine implies a destination whereas a “search” engine implies a conduit, a place you pass through to get to your destination. That’s an important distinction.

So how does Google plan to transition itself into a knowledge engine? The key to that transition is what they are calling the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge Graph is essentially a set of semantic search protocols based on semantic markup. This semantic markup is code you can add to your website to communicate with Google and Bing on what specific types of information exists in each section of your website. But it goes beyond that even.

Where traditional search was based on keywords being matched to queries made by people searching for information, semantic search relies on matching synonyms and concepts with search queries.

Semantic search attempts to eliminate the guesswork by tossing out non-relevant queries with matching keywords. Instead, it tries to judge the searcher’s intent based on previous search data, current session clicks, and other information. Google, and Bing to some extent, have already started retrieving information on these bases. It’s just a matter of time before they perfect it.

Jeremy Page shares his insights into marketing on Instagram in only five minutes a day at Search Engine Journal. More interesting to me is that his strategy uses hashtags.

Hashtags have become a de facto social media organizing tool. They started on Twitter. You can even search Twitter hashtags at Hashtags.org.

Over the past year, hashtags have become regular use on Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.

While this doesn’t exactly spell ubiquity, it does say something about the growing popularity of hashtags. It’s entirely possible that hashtags could become the Internet’s social organizational tool and may even be indexed through a dedicated search channel in the search engines. Just as Google has search channels for News, Blogs, Videos, and other verticals, it’s possible that search engines could develop a vertical for hashtags.

I’m not saying that will happen, but it could. Hashtags are becoming, more and more, a way for people to catalog their information and a way for them to follow and find information that is important to a large cross-section of people with something in common.

How do you use hashtags? Are they important to you? Do you use the same hashtags across several social media platforms or do you create unique hashtags for each platform? What are your thoughts about the future of hashtags?

We’ve been saying it for over a year now. Google+ impacts search engine listings.

In fact, if you read the article, it says that search results for brand names increased by 10% for Google+ users during the period between January 2012 and May 2013.

The study conducted by Conductor.com dealt only with technology writers, but I’m willing to bet that it applies to any type of writer. I’d be willing to bet that it’s true of any type of content producer – whether you be a writer, a CEO, a middle manager, or a small business owner.

You can compare Google+ to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter all you want, but the one benefit that Google+ offers that none of the others do is that regular usage increases the search mojo for your brand.

It’s important to note that this is relative to personal brand searches, not generic keyword searches. You should understand the difference.

The importance of Google+ as a personal branding element and a social search tool cannot be overstated. When you use Google+, you are affecting your online brand powerfully. Take advantage of the Google Authorship markup tools available to you and use Google+ for your personal branding efforts. The two go hand in hand.

Did you know you can research local keywords using Google Trends? It’s true, and it’s easier than you think.

Go to Google Trends and click on “Explore.” You’ll see a dropdown box on the left side of your screen. The first label is “Search terms.” Click on the dropdown arrow and you’ll see “Locations” and “Time ranges.” You can enter up to five search terms for comparison purposes. After you enter your search terms, go to Locations.

The cool thing about Locations is you can narrow it down to your local area – within reason.

For instance, you can search for “attorneys” in the United States, or you can narrow your search to a specific state. Within each state you can also narrow it down to specific metropolitan areas. For instance, in Pennsylvania, there is a local area defined as Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York, which is a fairly broad area.

Local search is a big deal. It’s growing more and more important everyday. And since you can’t really perform a local keyword search through Google’s AdWords Keyword Research Tool, you have to get a little more creative. Google Trends is a good opportunity for you.

If you are a local search marketer or local small business, use Google Trends for local keyword research.

For years, many of us relied on Google Reader to deliver our daily news. That included business news in our favorite niches. But yesterday was Google Reader’s last day alive. Google pulled the plug.

What’s that mean for you and me?

For one thing, if you used Google Reader to subscribe to blogs, then you can’t do that any more. You’ll have to find another way to subscribe to your favorite blogs. I recommend Feedly. On the other hand, if you are a business blogger and you know that some of your subscribers were Google Reader users, then you’ve got to find a way to attract those bloggers again. You can’t assume that they knew beforehand that Google Reader was going to die.

If you use Feedburner, or another RSS metric tool, to track your subscribers, then you should be looking today to see how many subscribers you’ve lost.

You should also consider adding an e-mail subscription button to your blog. Many people today still rely on e-mail for catching up on life. Many people still aren’t aware of what an RSS news aggregator is, so they won’t miss Google Reader.

There’s no doubt you have to work harder to get subscribers to your blog, but the death of Google Reader isn’t the end of your blog marketing world. It could be just the beginning.

Jill Whalen has a great article at SiteProNews about why Google may not trust your blog or website. While all the points she makes are good, I want to address the question of expertise with regard to your content.

Google is looking for authoritative content. What does “authoritative” mean? It means you are a subject matter expert. If that’s true, then how should you act? As the expert content provider for your blog, what should you do to prove yourself the able expert? I suggest you should do at least these five things:

  1. Research – Don’t just scratch the surface of your knowledge. Do in-depth research and write at least one or two long blog posts per week (or as often as you can). Experts go deep.
  2. Associate your name with the content – Don’t be anonymous. If you are an expert, then use your name. Add a bio to your website and link each blog post or in-depth article to your expert bio. List all the credentials that make you an expert.
  3. Use Google Authorship – Get a Google+ account. Link to your blog and website from your Google+ profile. Use the rel=author tag and Google Authorship markup.
  4. Proofread - Don’t write sloppy content. Read your own writing and clean it up. You’d be surprised at how much more attention Google will pay your blog posts if the grammar and spelling are good.
  5. Cite your sources – Experts cite their sources. Never plagiarize. If you borrow someone else’s ideas, give them credit. Attribute your sources with a link and be a good Net citizen.

Being an expert is a privilege. Act like an expert and demonstrate your knowledge like an expert. If you do that, then Google will treat you like an expert.

The acronym gTLD stands for generic top-level domain. You are likely familiar with Web URL extensions .com, .net, and .org. These are gTLDs. In 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) began taking applications for new gTLDs. As a result, there have been 1,903 applications filed for new gTLDs since June 13, 2012.

The addition of these new domain name extensions has some serious implications for search. For instance, each gTLD could have its own search engine to allow searchers the ability to find information on that specific gTLD. If you type search.jobs into your Internet browser, you’ll be redirected to jobs.jobs, which is a search engine for the .jobs gTLD. Search.travel allows you to search .travel gTLDs, and I’m sure you can guess what you’ll be looking for if you search search.xxx.

Currently, there are 23 gTLDs. There will soon be hundreds. As the number of domain extensions grows, the need for more sophisticated search tactics will grow.

Google also allows you to search for information by domain extension. You have to use the Advanced Search features, which few people know about but are available nonetheless. When there are several hundred domain extensions to search through and each one has thousands of domain names vying for attention, you can bet that demand for domain-specific search will be a lot higher than it is today. It would not surprise me to see Google set up domain search verticals at each of the gLTDs as they are rolled out. Bing and Yahoo! too.

While domain-specific SEO is not something you should worry about right now, know that in five or ten years it will be.

Reading two articles about semantic search and conversational search, I had to ask the question, “Will keywords be necessary in five years?”

I’ve heard it argued that they’re not necessary now, which is only partially true, I think. As semantic search becomes more the norm, then I expect keywords to become less important. They are certainly a lot less important in conversational search, as demonstrated by Danny Sullivan.

The big question is, When will Google take the semantic aspects of conversational search and apply them to organic text-based search? I figure it could happen within the next five years – probably sooner.

Of course, that won’t immediately kill the need for keywords. I suspect that keywords will always be a part of search but in a more diminished way as search becomes increasingly more sophisticated. Personalization was one step in that direction. Google+ is another step. Conversational search is a big leap.

Keywords are still necessary because they are a good way for search optimizers, searchers, and the search engines to communicate on common ground. What Google is increasingly trying to do is make search more like natural conversations.

So the big question on the table is, How long will it be before Google succeeds at making search entirely conversational, completely semantic? You want to take a stab at that? Will it be within the next five years?

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.

If you’re not on Google+ yet, you are likely well behind the eight ball. If you’re not on Google+ by the end of next year, then you may not exist. Products like Google+ Dashboard are the reason why.

The Dashboard was just introduced yesterday, but the features are incredible. I would say they fall into the “must-have” category.

  • The ability to update all of your business’s contact information (website URLs, store hours, phone numbers, etc.) across Maps, Search and Google+ – all from one central location called Overview Tab.
  • One place to monitor Google+ notifications, assign page managers, share photos and videos, and start Hangouts with followers.
  • At-a-glance access to AdWords Express and Offers campaigns for local businesses.
  • Awesome analytics data such as top searches for your business, top locations requesting driving directions, and performance data for your Google+ posts.

It looks like Google is trying to push businesses to use Google+ more, which is a good thing. If you aren’t using it already, you should. I can see a day where your business will be invisible if it doesn’t have a Google+ presence, and that day may not be far off.

Do your business a favor and join Google+ today. Improve your visibility online.

Google announced this week that they rolled out Penguin 2.0. The Internet is a-buzz with analyses ranging from OMG! to zzzzzz.

Our take? Wake up and go back to sleep.

Algorithm changes are serious business if you have an SEO problem. Or, to put it more succinctly, if you’re running afoul of the search engine guidelines, then you have cause for worry. That doesn’t apply to most of us.

There are certain industries, however, that should be on red alert. Porn, real estate, Viagra, and anything that is typically associated with spam. That doesn’t mean that if you work in these industries you’ll experience a drop in search engine rankings. It does mean that if you work in these industries and you do experience a drop in rankings, you’ll likely find Penguin 2.0 to be the culprit.

Here’s a simple solution for algorithm changes: Don’t sweat them unless you have a reason to.

Sometimes, websites lose rankings when there is no just cause. But keep in mind also that algorithm changes move things around temporarily. You may lose rankings for a short while before popping back up. If you do lose ground and you don’t see your sites rising again after a couple of weeks, then you should be alarmed. Right now, don’t panic.

I’m surprised that the number of small business owners who see value in Google is so low. But I think Frank Reed’s analysis is pretty sound. This is likely based on most small businesses having no clue what Google+ is.

Sadly though it goes even deeper because most don’t even have the knowledge of what Google+ is and why it can be valuable. Simply knowing what they are missing is the first step.

I disagree that Google+ is more valuable to large businesses than small businesses. That may not be what Frank Reed is saying, but it appears to be the case. This:

I would posit that Google+ is truly valuable to larger businesses. Why? Because they have the resources to take advantage of what Google+ offers a business in terms of its SEO efforts.

coupled with this:

But optimizing your Google+ presence requires the usual resources that most SMB’s struggle with which is people, time and money. SMB’s often don’t do what many see as what is best for them in marketing because they simply don’t have these resources.

is what I’m basing that on.

I do agree that Google needs to target agencies like Reciprocal Consulting. These agencies are the conduit between the small business owner and Google as search engine and Web portal. Google+ is a social network, but it is more than a social network. It isn’t Facebook or LinkedIn. There is an additional element of search that I think is lost on most small business owners.

So what’s that mean? I think it means that agencies also need to help small business owners understand the benefits of Google+. Those benefits are something akin to social + search. Even then, I’m not sure that gets to the heart of it.

Google is no stranger to search tools. While we’ve been talking about Yahoo! lately, Google rolled out another search tool called Google Trends Top Charts.

Top Charts is a sort of monthly Zeitgeist. You can search the latest search trends by month and by region.

For instance, the top actor searched for in the United States in April 2013 was Selena Gomez. The top athlete for the same period in the U.S. was Michael Jordan. The top author was William Shakespeare.

If you change the month and year, you’ll see the top searches that month in the U.S. were for Ryan Dunn, LeBron James, and William Shakespeare, respectively.

Let’s go back to December 2004. The top searches in the three aforementioned categories were Lindsey Lohan, Michael Jordan, and, again, William Shakespeare. That Shakespeare guy is one popular fellow!

The list of categories on Top Charts is pretty long. Currently, you can search in the following categories: Actors, Animals, Athletes, Authors, Baseball Players, Baseball Teams, Basketball Players, Basketball Teams, Books, Business People, Car Companies, Cars, Chemical Elements, Cities, Cocktails, Colleges & Universities, Countries & Regions, DJs, Dog Breeds, Drinks, Energy Companies, Financial Brands, Financial Companies, Foods, Games, Government Bodies, Kids’ TV, Medications, Movies, Musical Artists, People, Politicians, Quick Service Restaurants, Reality Shows, Retail Companies, Scientists, Soccer Players, Soccer Teams, Software Technologies, Songs, Space Objects, Sports Cars, Sports Teams, TV Shows, Teen Pop Artists, US Governors, and Whiskeys.

Top Charts goes all the way back to January 2004. Currently, you can only search in the U.S., but other countries are on the way.

If you are running a business in any of these niches, or related niches, then Top Charts is a great search tool. You can use it to write relevant blog topics on current events or run your other promotions.

Are you using Google+? If you are, then you might be excited to learn that Google is planning 41 new features to Google+. Most of these you probably will have no interest in, but some of them do seem exciting.

WebProNews mentioned four of them:

  1. A multi-column desktop format
  2. Related hashtags
  3. A new Hangouts app
  4. A photo-editing feature with multiple components, one of which is dubbed “auto-awesome”

I presume the Hangouts app is going to be an Android app.

The WebProNews article came out yesterday and says, “Most of these new features will be rolling out to Google+ this afternoon.”

I haven’t seen them yet, but maybe they were talking about the other 37 features.

It’s nice to see Google improving Google+. As long as these improvements keep coming, I don’t think the service is in any danger of being killed (like Google is doing with Google Reader this summer). A product that is in continuous improvement mode is not likely to go away. To me, that means you should probably be using it, especially since the implications for search rolled into the product are very high.

Are you using Google+? Will you be using it in the future? Why or why not?

Google’s Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team, posted a YouTube video about upcoming algorithm changes. This is something Google rarely does, but Matt thought it was important he posted on Twitter that “Pretty much every SEO should watch this video:”

I’m going to post the video for you to watch, but before I do, here’s a summary of what you’ll hear:

  1. There will be a major Penguin update
  2. Google will address advertorial spam
  3. Spammy queries will be looked at
  4. He doesn’t say what, specifically, Google will do in this regard, but Matt does say they plan to “go upstream” to address link spam
  5. More sophisticated link analysis (Matt seems really excited about this one even though his language is tentative)
  6. Improvements on how Google handles hacked websites
  7. Algorithm tweaks to boost “authority” as a ranking factor
  8. Google will attempt to soften the blow of Panda for sites in the “gray area”
  9. This one actually makes a lot of sense and it’s surprising Google didn’t think of it sooner, but they will diminish the number of times a domain cluster appears in the SERPs for the same domain, addressing specifically subsequent SERP pages
  10. Improvements to webmaster communication

Much of this has to do with addressing blackhat SEO techniques, so most of us don’t have anything to worry about. The changes that will affect us whitehat guys are mostly positive. Should we be worried, or do you see any of this as good for webmasters?

Watch the video before you answer:

Every once in a while someone jumps up and asks the question, “Are Bing and Yahoo! still relevant?” The short answer is, yes, of course they are still relevant. The long answer is a little more involved, but it goes something like this.

Google enjoys a huge share of the search market. More than 60%. The rest is divided among Bing, Yahoo!, and the various search engines below that (Ask, Mahalo, and even YouTube). While it’s important to make sure your website meets Google’s guidelines so you can rank your website well in its index, it’s equally important to ensure that you diversify your traffic sources.

Those of you who have been around for five years or more may remember MySpace. At one time, it was the No. 1 social network. Now, hardly anyone thinks about it.

Why is MySpace important? Because it should serve as a lesson. Obscurity is just one competitor away no matter who you are – even Google.

Google may be top dog in search today, but that doesn’t mean that Web users won’t find something to replace them next year. It could be Facebook or it could be something else. If you rely entirely on Google and Google starts sending you less traffic (even if they don’t fade into obscurity), then your business is shot. Traffic diversity is one of the most important things for anyone running a business online.

For that reason, Bing and Yahoo! are still relevant. Diversify your website traffic.

Mike Blumenthal recently experienced a face brownout with Google. Ouch! How painful.

Don’t worry. Even though it could happen to you, it’s only virtually painful. No physical pain.

What happened is, Google didn’t like his author photo. So he changed it.

The thing that strikes me about this is, Google is able to identify an author by their photo, which is pretty amazing. And another thing, Google arbitrarily decides it doesn’t like certain photos and that becomes your problem. Welcome to the world of Google.

If you find your photo not showing up in Google search results alongside your articles, especially when it did before, then do as Mike Blumenthal did and change your photo. If that new photo starts showing up in search results, then you know the problem was the photo. If it doesn’t, then it’s a problem you can’t fix, evidently.

Here’s a little advice about author photos. When possible, use full face photos. I think Google likes those better.

At any rate, don’t use photos where your image is obscured or where only half of your face shows (I know, Seth Godin does it – but, he’s been doing it for forever and a day).

You want to make it easy for Google to associate your name with your image. That’s the main thing. And there’s even a fancy name it – FaceRank.

We’ve talked about Google+ Hangouts before, and we’ve talked about YouTube marketing too. But did you know you can integrate these two features to make them both more powerful?

Google+ Hangouts is like Skype. You can host a web conference with up to 10 people (with Skype, it’s 25). However, Google+ Hangouts has some additional features that Skype can’t touch.

For instance, you can share documents with the other webinar participants in real time for free. You can share your computer screen and use Google Drive to share your documents. You can also click the “ON-AIR” button once your Google+ Hangout is underway and record your Hangout live. Let’s see you do that with Skype!

But it doesn’t stop there. You can easily share your Google+ Hangout with all your friends on YouTube. That makes your webinar available to your YouTube channel’s followers and the billions of YouTube users who search for videos on a daily basis.

Once your web conference on Google+ Hangouts is shared on YouTube, you can then share it on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other social media site you are a member of.

Google+ Hangouts is a free feature that is a part of Google+. It’s a powerful business tool for video marketing.