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.

Click for larger image:

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 Amazon.com, Nextag.com, and Bizrate.Try the search again like this -site:www.amazon.com -site:www.nextag.com -site:www.bizrate.com 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: site:www.nike.com filetype:swf

Figure out where those indented links really rank: Today a Google search (on my computer) for Frank Zappa will show you Zappa.com with an indented link for Zappa.com/whatsnew 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 Zappa.com/whatsnew 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.

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.

whisper

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.

Click cached link - screenshot

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

click text-only version - screenshot

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

cached results

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.

How Do You Trick Google?

Note: The title is not How To Trick Google.  I am not a spammer – not in the slightest.  It’s just not the side of the fence I reside in.  But, as someone who breathes SEO, I do get curious about understanding blackhat techniques from time to time.

I followed a thread on Webmaster World (via SERoundtable), where an SEO was requesting a direct answer on a tactic he uses.  His tactic uses Javascript for hiding affiliate links from Google.  His external .js file places the links and content into the webpage quickly after it loads.  But, he blocks the external file with robots.txt, so Google never sees the full final page with the inserted Javascript content.

With all the technology that makes up webpages, and incredibly smart techies working as SEOs, it’s interesting to see what clever things SEOs still come up with.  Obviously Google engineers eventually learn all these new tactics, but are they really able to defend against them?  They provide guidelines on their Google site, but these guidelines are usually written loosely.  They often raise more questions then they answer.  And per the tactic above, I’m pretty sure that’s why – loosely, Google is able to take the stance against this tactic, without addressing (or even knowing about) this tactic.

As a whitehat SEO, I talk to link building tactics that “are against Google’s guidelines”, or CSS tricks that “are against Google’s guidelines.”  Not because I think that Google is definitely able to catch them automatically, but because there’s a possibility.  There are humans behind Google’s rankings – they might hear about it.  A competitor might report you.  Google’s toolbar, that’s on one of your visitor’s browser, may report back a different experience than the Google spiders report back.

Even though I fall for the loose guidelines, it does sounds like a big if though.  If Googlet wants to thwart spammers, maybe it’s time to get more clear.  Spend the time specifying the guidelines.  Is it fear that specified guidelines will act as blueprints to spam techniques?  Maybe – but it also might thwart SEOs from walking in the gray.

Yahoo Now Testing Bing Search Results

It has begun.

If you didn’t hear, Bing and Yahoo have merged to a degree. Bing search will begin powering Yahoo.com’s search function. This merge also includes paid search (which is the real monetary motivator for this merger). The transition timelines are now out there.

Apparently it should be done between August and September.
U.S. and Canada Transition Phases

Read more at Search Engine Roundtable.

Real Time Search via Twitter… on Google?

Update: Since this post was written, many things have changed.  You don’t need this Greasemonkey script to see Tweets in Google’s search engine result pages.  It’s now baked in as a Google feature.  Here’s what Google’s Twitter powered real time search looks like.  Pretty smart move since Twitter is now the second largest search engine.

——–

Oh Twitter, I love thee more than bourbon for breakfast (what?!?!).  Thanks to a cool new Greasemonkey script, I love you even more.  What is Greasemonkey?  Only the coolest Firefox plugin ever built by human hands.

I always like talking about the value of vertical and social searches.  There’s also a concept of ‘real time search‘ that I really like.  Twitter is essentially that – information is available to find immediately after it’s been posted, and the usual Google delay is history.  Is Twitter going to show the same results as our trusted friend Google?  No, certainly not.  But with thousands and thousands of Tweeters out there, you’re sure to find something pretty cutting edge for many of your queries.

So this new script for Greasemonkey creates a block for Twitter results, and I couldn’t be happier.  Best of both worlds if you ask me.

Pick up the script at MT-Hacks.com.

Real Time Search via Twitter… on Google?

[…]

The Cheapness of the SEO Industry

Cheapness of the SEO industry

Frank Zappa wrote a song called “Cheepness” (released in 1974 on Roxy & Elsewhere… so good!  Great songs, great effects, humor, but I digress). It’s about old, outdated monster movies that are done so poorly that you can see the zippers on the monster costumes. Once upon a time these monster movies scared people. Now in 2009 audiences are mature, and it usually takes CGI to be effectively scary today (visually speaking).

I’m going to make a stretch comparison here…

Cheap SEOs are outdated too. What’s a cheap SEO? Well, they charge very little and, well, offer very little. They’re tactic of choice is often SPAM.Sometimes the cheap SEOs are those who are new to the industry (maybe they just haven’t matured yet), or know a little about SEO but are convinced they can consult on it.Typically cheap SEOs use old tactics on shoestring budgets. They haven’t grasped the concept of actionable reporting, analytics, or had enough experience yet to understand what strategies are feasible in the modern day. The truth is their zippers aren’t hard to find if you’re looking in the right places.The problem lies when potential clients don’t have enough insight to look for the zipper.

Valid SEOs compete against cheap SEOs, either with ego and attitude, or concern (personally I’m in the concern camp).The SEO space is ever-changing, but there still seems to be this monster lurking in our space.This cheap-suited, space helmet wearing, fur ridden creature from beyond, eager to devour our world.

It’s fine that SEOs charge a wide range of prices for their services. The more established, experienced, or ‘rock star’ the SEO, the more they charge an hour. I’ve seen rates of $200 to $300/hr. A wide gamut is normal in any service.  In my case, I typically work with big brand clients. But there’s a part of me that really enjoys focusing on the smaller companies who need to compete with the big dogs. That’s a great challenge!  That’s also where I started my SEO career, and I’ve always have a soft spot for the little guy. When potentially pitching a small client I might charge 80-90% less. Not quite to the aforementioned “cheepness” line, but balancing integrity, value and money on that line. My own war against cheapness maybe?  In part.

This post was inspired by a company I was speaking with recently.  They were looking for SEO on a dynamically driven site targeting domestic regions.The site was pretty thin and though it did rank for some good head terms, really could use some SEO for the long-tail.In most cases that’s where the magic happens.  There was a long road ahead of this site.

The proposal I sent was the same I’d send a large client, but at a tenth of my usual price. Like any proposal, it’s a starting point, and I offered flexibility. The final response to the proposal was ‘not interested’.  No problem – as a consultant you factor in more declines than acceptances.  However, the reply went on to say “unless (I) could offer something substantial at a reasonable price” he wasn’t interested. In reading that line, I quickly decided this would not work for me, and was thankful it didn’t get any further. A consultant/client relationship really needs to be tight and focused on the same goals with the same belief in the SEO strategies and tactics. If there’s already a disconnect on the value of the offering (both monetarily and in terms of effectiveness), it really isn’t worth pursuing when it’s already at a blowout price. In sales you balance trust and desire, but pushing for the wrong accounts has burned me before. Eventually a consultant grows a sixth sense about such things.  You really need to weigh the value of educating the potential client vs. the amount of work involved vs. the portfolio you already have vs. the net income.

Though any reputable agency wouldn’t touch this small fish, there are plenty of independent SEOs out there that will take this work. Unfortunately, it seems that many SEOs on this level have mastered the sales and not the skills (my opinion). Clearly there are SEO services that hit and run, and have really ruined the landscape not just for the SEOs, but more so for the clients. I feel bad for any client that is going to leave a noble, valiant offering for a cheap trap. But where is that line? How much time does a real SEO spend defending this space against the imperfects? Is it really an SEOs battle to defend marketing – let alone SEO marketing – to a business’ “bottom line”? If you’re ethical, how much of your world is fixing the zippers showing in the monster suits, exposing those zippers, or promoting over them?  It’s a tough call, but it is the SEO landscape today.

[…]

Firefox Makes Googling (and SEO) Easier

Update (12-10-2010) – So today I’m not the Firefox fanboy I used to be.  I’ve moved into Chrome.  Check out Chrome Extensions That Make SEO Easier.

The Firefox browser is an amazing, innovative browser.  It’s fun watching IE copy its features (well, as many as its architecture can allow, which isn’t many – MS doesn’t rebuild, so Firefox should be enjoying their notoriety for a long time to come).  I was an early adopter, but it’s pretty amazing how many people use this browser now – it’s not just advanced web surfers anymore.  I was helping my 60 year old mother install a webcam and saw the Firefox browser.  Impressed, I asked her how she heard about it.  She said, “well, I don’t want Spyware.”  Wow.

For those who still don’t use Firefox, here’s some reasons you should take the plunge.  If you’re a traditional IE user, believe me, learning this browser is a piece of cake.

  1. Download Manager makes controlling and revisiting your downloads easier
  2. Faster – uses less computer resources
  3. Smart Location Bar – this makes entering URLs easier
  4. Great privacy controls
  5. Security!!!!!!!!! <- reason enough to choose Firefox over IE
  6. Better webpage rendering
  7. Zoom in on text and images (cntrl +/-)
  8. HUGELY customizable

That last one is a big one (and the reason for this post).  With hundreds of homemade Firefox extensions on the web, you can customize your browser to make your internet life easier.  If you’re a web developer, there are extensions to help you locate and analyze code, view pages in cross-browser emulation, disable style codes or JavaScript, and a lot more.  If you are a social media fanatic, there are extensions that make your browser interact with your favorite sites more naturally.  It’s pretty addictive to search for these extensions, especially if you’re a tinkerer like me.  Here’s a bunch including ad blockers, tab controllers, image viewers, and cool ways to save pages for easier use later (I haven’t used my browsers bookmark function in a while thanks to some of these plugins).

How does Firefox help Googling?

Greasemonkey is a Firefox Extension that allows for sub-extensions (called scripts, also found by Googling ‘greasemonkey scripts’ or something similiar).  Search Engine Journal just posted 14 Essential Greasemonkey Scripts for Google Searching, and had a few I didn’t know about.  Some of these scripts are useful to the average searcher.  They do a great job of summarizing each script, so take a look.

To use these scripts, you just have to install the Greasmonkey extension first, then go to the script pages and click INSTALL.  That couldn’t be easier.

How does Firefox help SEO?

There are plenty of Firefox extensions for search engine optimization, allowing for quick site audits, spider emulation, NoFollow checkers, user-agent switchers (view a site as Google), and code viewers.

Again, these sites do a great job describing and sending you to the tools.  Tackle these after lunch for an hour, and I guarantee the web will look a lot better.  Enjoy –

http://seo2.0.onreact.com/top-10-firefox-extensions-for-search-website-optimization-and-seo-i-use

http://tips.webdesign10.com/firefox-seo-extensions

http://www.automaticable.com/2008-04-29/the-top-12-seo-firefox-extensions/

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