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How Do Most Consumers Discover Products? Still Search!

ATG (a large commerce platform) just put out some interesting studies. 53% (of 1,002 total people) cited search engines as their key source for discovering new products.

Is this news? Not really. But I was interested to see how competitive email still is. I was also interested to see where social media (as a channel) resides. Social is under In-store displays and offline signs. Wow. Even though it’s fertile, this is a reminder that social still has a long road until full maturity.

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ATG - online shopping study

Check out Search Engine Land for more stats.


Top 10 Reasons You Need SEO (2010 edition)

Many business owners ask the common question, “Do I need SEO?”  When I’m asked, I’m likely to recite any of the following.

  1. Because the internet demands you sync it with other online/offline marketing initiatives. What are you missing if you spend $1m for a Super Bowl commercial about a monkey jumping out of a car trunk and beating up a thief if you can’t find “monkey super bowl commercial” in Google?
  2. Because the ROI of SEO is that you’ll be around in a year. Sound like hype? Well, you’re competitors who are heavily focusing on SEO hope you take it that way.
  3. Because what a user sees and what a spider sees can be very different. Google has a sixth grade education, and you may not be teaching them anything in a language they can understand.
  4. Because you’re only rock stars in your own mind.
  5. Because if I see your listing in the top 5, and it looks like cheap promotion to me, I’ll skip.
  6. Because your paid search quality score will likely improve. Maybe you could actually afford bidding on those non-brand terms and introducing your site to brand agnostic visitors. Remember advertising?
  7. Because Google owns your site, not you. This goes for even the biggest brands. Think about it – even if someone knows your URL, they’re still probably going to type it into Google to find you for the first time (check your analytics). It would be a damn shame if you didn’t show up.
  8. Because without SEO, you won’t know the missed opportunities. Search is a function of demand. With a little R&D, you’ll be able to not only develop functioning landing pages, but create products. Remember marketing?
  9. A fuller semantic web is the future of SEO, and I don’t mean just mean programmatically.  Semantic indexing!  I personally believe the hype, and I write for it.  I think it at least helps my readers, so that’s a good thing.
  10. Because SEO bloggers need something more substantial to write about over, and over, and over again.

In the meantime I’m working on a case study with a family member’s family law office in Reading, PA.  Should have some data soon to really show the before and after of a 6 month SEO campaign.  So far it’s pretty compelling.


4 Useful Google Search Tricks For SEO

Here are a few little tricks you can do to customize or filter Google results. These 4 are clutch tricks for me.  I end up using these more than most other tricks in my arsenal (oh, there are plenty…):

Enter -site: to remove sites from the SERPs: If you’re looking for competitors for a popular product, and keep seeing the big players, comparison shopping engines or affiliates, and would like to get a better feel for the other players in the landscape, this trick works well.To see this work, search for a key phrase like Wilson Official NCAA Football.  You may see sites like,, and Bizrate.Try the search again like this Wilson Official NCAA Football.  See the difference?  There are several ways you can use this iltering for your competitive education.

Discover related keywords: Google has the ability to show pages with keywords related to the actual keywords you searched.  They’ll do this when their algorithms suggest it’s a better result.  To get a feeling of what keywords variation Google is thinking about, at a tilda (~) to the query.  For example, Google ~sofa.  At the very least this can inspire your keyword research.

Find File Types in a site: Doing a quick audit and want to see if a site is using a particular file type (like Flash)?  This will give you some insight: filetype:swf

Figure out where those indented links really rank: Today a Google search (on my computer) for Frank Zappa will show you with an indented link for in the #2 position.  Indented links are pages from the same domain that can show up anywhere in the bracket of 10 results, except Google groups them together for user value.  In other words, although is ranked at #2, it’s not really the second result.  It could be the fifth, or the seventh, or the tenth.When working towards SERP domination, it’s important to know exactly where all the pages lie so you have a better idea of who you need to beat.  Add &num=x to the end of the Google search query URL, where “x” is a number less than 10 (remember – without using Advanced Search, there are only 10 true listings in natural results on any given SERP).  Keep experimenting with lower numbers for “x” until the indented link is gone.  Once it’s gone, you’ll be able to surmise where the actual position of the listing.


The New Sphinn? It’s Fine By Me. is dropping its voting (ala Digg) system for a new editor controlled model. Sounds like there has been lower engagement than in past years, likely leaving a larger percentage of the activity to spammers and voting mobs. It will be interesting to see if the full-on editor model will be better than the group voting model. I wouldn’t think it would be, but then again…

> Others complain that someone else seems to “win” all the time.

Although I don’t think I ever typed those words on the web, I have to agree. It’s why I bailed a year ago. I loved the idea that marketers would decide what is the most valuable content in our industry, but after seeing what constantly got voted up (opposed to routinely greater stuff that didn’t get any votes – yes, I was one of the people who went deeper into the site), I just stopped believing that it had the same value for me that I originally thought it had.

Note… I said, “for me.”  This is totally my opinion. But in the end, it just felt like anything a Sphinn rock star would submit would sky rocket. Even if there were dupe submissions. I’m all for the authority of a rock star Sphinner, but there’s no way the dupe submissions weren’t getting any traction if they were equally as good.  It just meant too many readers stuck to a tiny slipstream of submissions and embrace the whole site.

Readers will still be able to submit articles.  But editors (who actually always had the ability to control things anyway despite the votes – hey, sounds like American Idol!) will play a bigger role.  Sounds a lot like YouMoz, come to think of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very sad the “people” thing didn’t work.  I haven’t given up on social communities though… just maybe that one. But I’m definitely interested in giving Sphinn another look when its “under new management” so to speak.


Finally – Bing Now Powering Yahoo Natural Search Results

The deed is done – after many, many months, Bing is finally powering Yahoo’s natural search.  The results between the two engines are the same.  Take a look – click above.


SEO Might Be Doing More Than You Think

You know the Old Spice social media campaign that exploded in the end of July?  Lots of online views, and low ROI (well, according to the preliminary reports from outside of the Old Spice camp).  I’ve read enough articles calling this a failure for the low impact to revenue.  Whether true or not***, all I know is that Old Spice, which I always considered (for whatever reason) a low quality, old fashioned product, is now on my radar.  This is momentum, and this is a rare gem today.  A lot of marketing fails to gain any attention at all.  When you succeed, and cut through some noise, consider that a success.  Now, in 2010, you need to ‘level up’ on that success, or you might as well have not even tried.  Some success isn’t enough success.

SEO is marketing and branding, too.  Getting routine rankings for similar queries helps the searcher buy into your brand.  Your customers spend a lot of time in Google.  Typically more unique visitors come to your site from a Google search than any other medium.  Maybe you’re not getting the sales you’re hoping for from natural search, but you may be building your mindshare just by appearing frequently in the search engine result pages.  A lot of searchers trust Google.  If Google constantly shows your webpage to the same searcher, the perception may be that Google knows something you don’t know.  A lot of people actually think that Google ranks based on traffic and popularity.  Whatever the reason, that semi-conscious thought goes a long way in online marketing.  It could even influence offline foot traffic or sales through your other online marketing channels.  With good rankings comes good brand visibility.

My goal isn’t to convince you to ignore ROI in SEO (or any online marketing), but I do want to help you think about it differently if you’re one of the people who say, “my campaign failed because it didn’t turn a profit.”  I want you to remember that marketing is more than just immediate sales.  Sales is an important piece dependent on the components of your strategy.  Brands that concentrate on branding do so because they know the value.  Just because we’re online with amazing abilities to cookie and track, doesn’t mean we should forget the original definition of marketing and branding.

As a postscript, and as far as Old Spice goes, I was walking through the grocery store last week.  I did stop and pause at the deodorant.  I didn’t need any.  But I was semi-consciously influenced, and I this time I caught it.  If Old Spice keeps up their momentum, I might stop next and buy when I am in the market for deodorant.  If they don’t keep it up, that stop may have been it for me.

***Update – Per the beginning of this article, it looks like the reports I was reading of low ROI for the Old Spice campaign have been, well, wrong.  Hard stats are in.  According to BrandWeek, Old Spice’s sales increased 107% over last month and 55% over the course of the past 3 months.  Nice.


Is Your Website Whispering To Search Engines?

Today I was asked to look at a site and explain why it’s not ranking.  The answer… the site was whispering.

If you don’t have content, Google won’t know what your site is about.  But I don’t mean any old content.  I mean HTML text.

Oh… you say you have HTML content?  Let’s see if Google can hear it.

1. Perform a search in Google to get your page to show up.
2. Click the ‘cached’ link.

3. Click the ‘text-only version’ link.

4. Find a sixth grader and ask them to explain what this page is about.

I once heard that Google has a reading comprehension of a sixth grader.  If that’s true, then you need to speak to Google like a sixth grader.  Give simple context, but be specific.  Speak up!  Promote your message, hammer it home.  Don’t mumble (and spam your pages with junk content).

Granted there are a several ways you can add contextual relevance to a site, it doesn’t need to just be in the body.  Tags and links still play a big part, sure.  But why be shy in the body of your website?  Is it that “text is ugly?”  Is it that “people don’t read online?”  All untrue.  You read this post, and frankly, I think it looks rather beautiful.

Form vs. function, my friends.  Form vs. function.


Google’s Still Playing With AdWords Column

I often see new features, or hear rumors about other experiments going on in the sidebar (including some social or real time things coming – shhh…), but I really wonder why Google wants to use this property.  This long block is where Google makes a good chunk of change. Will new features bring more eyeballs to it, or dilute their click throughs?

I understand maybe using it when there are no ads to place – which they do – but why give other clickable options that take away ad share?  Maybe Google’s last redesign was still too traditional after all?  Maybe they just don’t have enough space in this format to try everything they want.

Take a look at this search for Technorati.  See?  No ad – but there was one!  I just didn’t get a screen grab, and now can’t recreate it.  I hate that. So even if they were only testing something, I don’t understand the logic on this one.  I know as an AdWords advertiser, it makes me a little grumpy to have to compete with more noise in this column.

click for larger view

Keep your eyes open. Maybe they’ll go the route after all?


The Second Largest Search Engine Is Twitter (and you still don’t get it?)

Twitter Search Queries Up 33%, 24 Billion Searches Per Month (SearchEngineLand) – that’s pretty huge!  Just a few months ago they were up to 11 billion.  What a leap.  Why?  Well because Twitter isn’t going away; Google’s bringing it a lot more visibility, and it’s so easy when you give it a chance.  It’s a human run search engine.  Whether you go to, or search through any one of Twitter API powered apps or sites, you’re going to quickly find fresh results.

Last week at a friend’s party, a drunkard mumbled, “Twitter is for idiots.  Nobody cares what you’re doing!”  Well, I don’t get offended that easily.  But I wasn’t about to bother explaining – he clearly enjoyed his obstinance.  But what I could have told him is Twitter is only what you make of it.  It’s a connecting tool between friends (like a status update on Facebook), or a news aggregator (follow those who post nothing but up to the minute news).  Maybe it’s an entertainment tool?  I know I like to follow people that make me laugh every day.  Maybe it’s a customer service tool (@ComcastCares).  I practically IM my coworkers with DMs using ChromeBird.

Granted, the 24 billion searches are probably from Twitter power users, of which I am one.   I routinely search for content and links via Twitter.  I think Twitter is one of the most useful social properties on the web, hands down.  You get used to the 120 (oops – 140… thanks Jack… I was asleep at the wheel there) characters, I promise.  Besides, we all have short attention spans anyway.

Are you a power user too?  Follow me @bill_sebald

So the word now is that these searches are inflated.  Apparently sporadic API calls from all the apps (like my ChromeBird) that ping the search command are included in this announced total.  Well, yeah… technically that’s a search, but really Twitter?  A little deceptive to put the number out there without that caveat.  You still have an incredible achievement to be proud of.

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