Posts Tagged ‘SEO’

Search Engines Are A Conduit, Not A Source

Let’s get this out of the way: Search engines are a key part of communications nowadays. Take a look at your website analytics and it’ll be clear – there’s no avoiding it. Search engines usually drive a significant proportion – if not the majority – of traffic to companies’ websites.

However, I’m tired of seeing “studies” showing that “search engines” are a source of information for consumers.

Search engines are a conduit – a step along the path – not a source.

Think about it – when you look for information on something, you go to Google (or Bing, or Ask.com, or whoever…) and type in your query. The vast majority of the time, you don’t sit and look at the results page – you click through to a result. You do that because the results pages have the information, not the search engine.

Yes, there are exceptions – Google News, for example – and sometimes you’ll find the information you need in the title or description shown in the search results, but the majority of the time you pass straight through the search engine and on to your destination. Search engines understand this – Google optimizes its page to get you off its site as quickly as possible.

Why does this matter, and am I just being pedantic?

Because the nodding and agreement that comes from headlines about search engines as an information source interferes with the push to answer more important questions:

  • Do consumers in my market niche, rather than generic consumers,  use search engines to research their products?
  • Once my consumers have searched (or not), where do they go?
    • Do they go to product review sites to check out other peoples’ reviews?
    • Do they go to corporate sites to read-up on specs and options?
    • Do they go to news sites to see what’s going on with the company or the product?
    • Do they go to blogs to check out discussions there?

This is the sort of information that’s useful. This is the sort of information that lets my team figure out where to prioritize its efforts in order to drive search engine optimization (driving consumer reviews; publishing product-focused content; driving earned media coverage, etc).

Also, there’s a big difference between customers of different industries - preferences along these lines are what we should be digging into (note: this is another report that cites “search results” as an influential channel). We need to be thinking more closely about that.

I get it. Search is important. Companies need to pay attention to search (and invest more in optimizing both organic results and the paid media around those results). Etc etc. And yes, some companies aren’t paying attention.

For the rest of us, though – those of us trying to do the best we can, and who really want to optimize based on useful insights – let’s move beyond the “search results are an important information source” nonsense and get down to the business of finding useful insights that can fuel our communication strategy.

Fair?

When Search Can Make Or Break You

It’s hard to argue nowadays that search isn’t important. It’s not often, though, that you see a real-world product completely base its advertising around it.

Check out these ads for the movie 2012, being launched on November 13:

Transit ad for 2012 movie

Billboard ad for 2012 movie

No website on either of them – just an instruction to “Search: 2012.”

If the website for this movie didn’t make it onto the top few pages of search results, through either organic or paid search. The movie would be in trouble, as the URL isn’t obvious either (whowillsurvive2012.com).

Fortunately for the studio, the movie tops the organic results (especially fortunate given there’s no sign of paid search):

2012 search results

Would you be confident enough in your website’s SEO to leave your URL out of your ads?

ReviewMyWeb: Free SEO Competitiveness Tool

ReviewMyWebAlmost a year ago, I took a spin through HubSpot’s Website Grader – a free online tool that rates your website against a whole raft of search engine optimization (SEO)-related factors. Since then, it has stood as one of the better free tools around for analyzing your website.

The other day I received an email from Sam Babal asking me to take a look at his new tool, ReviewMyWeb. I have to say, I’m quite impressed.

ReviewMyWeb lets you plug in your website’s URL, along with up to two others, and emails you a report looking at factors including traffic, backlinks, metadata and keyword data, and indexed pages.

To give the tool a test run, I plugged-in my site along with two other popular Canadian PR blogs, Joseph Thornley’s ProPR and Dave Jones’ PR Works. I won’t run through all of the results in general here, but I will focus on a few that are worth mentioning.

Overall Results

ReviewMyWeb Competitiveness Rating

 

The first thing ReviewMyWeb does is give you a big-picture assessment of how your site is doing. In my case, I’m losing-out on backlinks and blog coverage (aka number of indexed pages). Neither of these surprise me – those two guys have been blogging for way longer than me so that’s understandable. It’s also handy – you can see at a glance how you’re doing and where you’re falling down.

Traffic Comparison

ReviewMyWeb Traffic Rank Comparison

The traffic rank comparison is one area that I found confusing until I got my head around it. It seems that lower scores are better, but no-where does it explain that to you. I’m guessing the site uses Alexa Rankings to generate its traffic report, which would generate the screwy ‘high is bad’ numbers. The graph, though, flips things around again – high is once again good. An explanation of the meanings of these two metrics would be helpful.

Inbound Links

ReviewMyWeb Backlinks Comparison

Backlinks is one of the two areas where I’m getting toasted according to this analysis, so it’s worth examining. The difference in the three search engines used is very interesting – for one thing, Yahoo finds more than 10 times as many links as Google does, while Ask.com puts my site way out in front. As with most things online nowadays though, “in Google we trust,” right?

Indexed Pages

ReviewMyWeb Coverage Comparison

The interesting thing to note here is that, once again, each of the search engines is showing drastically different results (although I have the same number of pages according to Google and Yahoo!). It really does raise the question, which one should you trust?

Final Analysis

There are plenty of other metrics there in graphical format; the final analysis, though, is the most useful part of a ReviewMyWeb report. This section summarizes your strengths and weaknesses, and provides pointers towards improving each of them.

According to this analysis, ReviewMyWeb Summary:

  • This site ranks above the others under Google’s PageRank formula;
  • I’m slightly underperforming the others in terms of backlinks;
  • I’m outperforming the other sites in terms of indexed pages;
  • My site uses keywords well within its code;
  • I’m generating “less buzz in various web communities” in comparison to the other sites.

Conclusion

Overall, ReviewMyWeb is a useful tool, and it can help to shine a light on where you’re doing well and where you aren’t. Unfortunately, though, it is let down at the moment by two flaws:

  • Lack of explanation of how some of the metrics are calculated (traffic and web community buzz being good examples – it doesn’t name these communities).
  • Lack of real, practical tips for improving on your weaknesses.

The main difference between Website Grader and ReviewMyWeb is its practical focus. HubSpot‘s tool digs deep on the content on your site, and gives some useful recommendations. ReviewMyWeb simply tells you to get more links from other sites (for example). Still, ReviewMyWeb has the edge I like being able to benchmark myself against similar sites, I find the tool easy to use and,

Despite the points I’ve highlighted here, I do find this to be a useful tool. There’s room for improvement but ReviewMyWeb is still worth checking out. Let’s face it, the price is right.

Take a look and let me know, what do you think? Useful? Not? What could be improved?

SearchWiki: Six Implications For Public Relations Professionals

Google recently announced SearchWiki, a way for people to customize their search results by promoting, deleting, adding and commenting on search results. I see six implications of this change for digital public relations and marketing professionals if this becomes a popular feature:

  1. Another place to monitor
  2. Increased customer interaction
  3. Control by the customer
  4. Advantage goes to the existing players
  5. More expensive Adwords
  6. (Unconfirmed) SEO potential

First, though, a few basics for those of you that haven’t heard much about this yet…

What is Google SearchWiki?

giggle Essentially, Google SearchWiki represents the “diggification” of Google that has been discussed on sites like Googlified and Valleywag for a long time now. This, in its own way, turns Google search results into a wiki, where people can promote, relegate and comment on search results for every search term.

At a practical level, SearchWiki means that when you’re logged-in to Google you’ll see three new buttons alongside each of your search results:

  • Promote – moves the item to the top of the list of results
  • Remove – does exactly what it says
  • Comment – lets you leave a public comment about the result

There are also links at the bottom that let people add new sites to the results page, and allow people to see the notes that other people have made about their search results.

Why are they doing this?

I see a couple of reasons why Google has done this (and no, altruism isn’t one of them). Both of them relate to advertising:

  1. People are likely to spend more time on Google now – in the past, success for them was people finding what they were looking for and leaving Google quickly;
  2. People may come to Google (even) more as they can tailor the results for their commonly-used search terms
  3. People will increasingly see their own preferred sites in the search results, making Google Adwords an increasingly important way of getting noticed

Why should PR professionals care?

First, a caveat: I don’t know what proportion of Google users have (and use) a Google account. I suspect it may not be that high, but that’s just a suspicion. If the numbers are low, relatively few people will have access to these features so their impact may be limited.

Should Google SearchWiki take off, it has several important implications for public relations and digital marketing professionals:

  • Another place to monitor – The comments on search results represent another place where people can publicly comment on your brand
  • Increased customer interaction – For companies going beyond simply monitoring online conversations the comments on search results for your brand are yet another place to engage your existing and potential customers.
  • Control by the customer – Assuming SearchWiki becomes popular, it has some important implications for search engine marketers. For those working in good faith to legitimately optimize sites, they may see an increased return on their efforts. However, black-hat SEO people beware – if you somehow manage to ‘game’ the system but your site isn’t relevant, people will be able to simply remove the site from their future results. What’s more, while Google won’t currently use peoples’ voting when determining search results, there also remains the possibility that they will begin to in the future. Given Google’s data-driven nature, I’d be astonished if they don’t eventually do something with that data.
  • Advantage goes to the existing players – As people increasingly tailor their search results, the companies that are already in the game have an increasing advantage. The more results that people promote in their list, the harder it will become to break through into the first page of results.
  • More expensive Adwords – This directly relates to the previous point. The harder that it becomes for companies to break through into the first page of results, the higher demand will be for Google’s ads on those results, and the more expensive the ads for those pages will become.
  • (Unconfirmed) SEO potential: This may open up a whole new aspect to SEO – trying to optimize your SearchWiki comment results. There are just rumours and rumblings about this, though.

Conclusion

If SearchWiki becomes popular, it has some pretty important implications for digital PR and marketing.

I’ve outlined the six areas that I see implications for; what else do you see?

Why Your Small Business Needs To Get Online

No matter how small your business is, if you don’t have an online presence you’re missing a huge opportunity.

I’m currently helping to organize an outdoor event in Southwest Ontario for a client. I needed to find a company from whom we could rent a large tent for the event.

Where to start?

Google, naturally.

To my amazement, I couldn’t find any search results for tent rental companies in that area. I tried several combinations of keywords; nothing useful or still in business. I got a few results for the rest of the province and a few defunct companies, but nothing useful.

This isn’t to say there weren’t any companies out there. Soon enough, through a little leg-work, I found a company. By that point, though, every other company in the area had missed the boat.

One simple website, optimized for appropriate search terms (like “tent rental” and the town name), would have owned those search results and won the business for its owner (or, at least, won the chance to pitch us their services to me). Instead, all of these companies missed their chance.

Even if you’re a sole proprietorship, you’re missing out if your company is not online. It doesn’t take much:

  • Buy your domain name ([YourCompany].com, .ca, .org etc.) and establish your site (or pay someone else to set it up)
  • Add your business to Google’s Local Business Centre

I would also consider numerous social media activities depending on the situation and the business (blogging, social networking sites, community engagement, etc.), but two things above are an absolute minimum for even the smallest business.

Nowadays, if you don’t exist online you might as well not exist.

Update: Mitch Joel talked about this very topic – getting started online – in a recent episode of Six Pixels of Separation.

Could SEO Devalue News Releases Even More?

On a recent episode of Marketing Over Coffee, Christopher Penn and John Wall mentioned something that made me stop and think – the idea of people issuing news releases for the Google juice.

Too much jargon

Beware of jargon That idea worried me. To be more specific, the possibility of too much search engine optimization (SEO) in news releases further devaluing the tactic worried me.

The problem: I often hear that we should be inserting keywords into our news releases so that they rank highly in search engines for those keywords.

That sounds great in principle, right?

Right up front: I like the concept of the social media release. I’ve issued them, I worked on moving government news releases towards that format, and I’m a member of the Social Media Release Working Group (although that seems to have gone quiet recently… Bueller?).

SEO sheep

My problem with this, as with many SEO principles in general, is that people will take it to an extreme. They’ll follow the advice like sheep and will force inappropriate keywords (read: jargon) into their writing, and their products (and clients) will suffer.

Sure, these releases may rank highly for some words but so what? People arrive, see a poorly written release or page, fail to find what they want and leave. It’s a cheap tactic – one that’s no better than spamming people with emails. That’s why I heard a well-known marketing personality refer to a recent  SEO conference as “the underbelly of marketing.”

Just write well

Why not just make sure that your release is relevant, well-written and on-topic? A well written release will have plenty of the important words in there as a natural result. With a little extra attention you can optimize your release without compromising its quality.

I don’t want to read a news release front-loaded with every possible keyword under the sun. I want to read about the news.

The problem is bad enough for regular websites, but it’s doubly serious for news releases. News releases as a tactic already have a bad rap after years of abuse by poorly trained or lazy public relations practitioners. We don’t need yet another reason for people to hate them.

Too cynical?

Am I being overly cynical in thinking that people will jump on the extreme SEO bandwagon with news releases? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Look at the trends:

I don’t see the trend changing. As online news releases take off (even more likely given the recent SEC decision), I expect to see even more releases full of jargon. I expect those of us working at more enlightened firms to watch in dismay as the trend continues.

Are SEO-optimized releases a bad thing? No. Of course not. You want people to find your announcements. That’s half of the benefit of online news releases. I appreciate the benefits of genuine, well implemented SEO.

My fear is that, as in the past, poorly trained or careless people will take a good idea way too far. We’ll see even more releases loaded-up with popular keywords and we’ll all get dragged through the muck as a result.

The only solution I see (apart from the trend reversing, of course) is for agencies and corporations to train their PR people well so they don’t think this is a good idea. Will that happen? Again, history shows mixed results.

What do you think?

14 Plugins To Improve Your WordPress Blog

Plug WordPress is one of, if not the, leading blogging platform at the moment. It’s also an Open Source project. This means that anyone can contribute to its development. There are thousands of WordPress plugins available, to do almost anything you can imagine. However, this can get a little daunting.

Here are 14 plugins I currently use on DaveFleet.com and why you might want to consider using them.

Akismet

Akismet is the standard for preventing comment spam on WordPress blogs. There are other spam plugins available, but I’ve found Akismet to be more than up to the job.

Akismet comes packaged with your WordPress installation and it’s 100% worth the minimal effort required to activate it.

All in One SEO Pack

The All in One SEO Pack gives you a whole bunch of ways to easily improve the search engine optimization for your blog.

This plugin lets you quickly add meta data for your title, description and keyword fields, modify page titles and so on for your entire site, all from one place. It also lets you dig down and edit the meta data for each individual post. Another simple but useful plugin.

FeedBurner FeedSmith

If you’re not already using FeedBurner, I highly recommend you investigate it. It gives you easy access to some useful stats about your readers, while also providing some great tools for promoting your content.

FeedBurner FeedSmith automatically detects all the ways to access your site’s RSS feed and redirects them to your FeedBurner feed instead. It also offers an option to forward your comments feed, too. If you’re not sure about the quality of the plugin, FeedBurner recommends it.

Google XML Sitemaps

The Google XML Sitemaps plugin generates a “XML-compliant sitemap of your WordPress blog.” The major search engines all support this way of feeding them the pages you want to include in their indexes. Another useful tool; it has the additional benefit of stopping Google Webmaster Tools from whining at me about the lack of a sitemap whenever I click through its reports.

Login Lockdown

Login Lockdown adds some extra security to WordPress by restricting the rate at which failed logins can be re-attempted from a given IP range. Gives me a little extra peace of mind, which I appreciate.

Recent Posts

The Recent Posts plugin displays a highly configurable list of your most recent posts for your sidebar. Simple and effective.

This plugin comes packaged with a Recent Comments plugin. Both require the (simple) installation of the Post-Plugin Library in order to work.

Redirection

Redirection lets you easily manage 301 redirects, 404 errors and a whole bunch of other things without needing to mess around with your .htaccess file. Great for non-technically-minded people. Me? I just like its simplicity.

Subscribe to Comments

The Subscribe to Comments plugin allows your readers to receive notifications of new comments that are posted to an entry. I love this feature on other sites as I rarely check back once I’ve commented normally. I was thrilled to find an easy way to implement this on my site.

Twitter Tools

Ok, fine, I’m lazy. I don’t want to type in the one line of text to let my Twitter followers know I’ve published a new post. The Twitter Tools plugin does it for me. It also lets you post directly to Twitter yourself if you like (not that I ever have) and pull your “tweets” (Twitter messages) into your blog.

This one is a love-it-or-hate it plugin. Some people detest the idea of this; others appreciate it. One warning – be careful when you’re re-categorizing posts – Twitter Tools will post notifications of those posts as if they’re new. If you’re doing any work around page names, tags or re-categorizing posts, be sure to de-activate this plugin first.

WordPress.com Stats

The WordPress.com Stats plugin is one of the most useful tools I’ve found. Alongside Google Analytics, this lets me dig down and see what’s going on on my site. It tracks total views, post/page views, referrers (very useful) and clicks. I love it.

WordPress PDA & iPhone

WordPress PDA & iPhone is a wonderfully simple plugin. It takes the long, unwieldy and user-unfriendly homepage people would normally view on a mobile device and re-formats it to show post summaries instead. With a very simple installation process, this is a great way to optimize your site for people on the go.

WordPress Reports

I discovered the WordPress Reports plugin very recently.

WordPress Report complements the WordPress.com Stats plugin nicely, pulling data from FeedBurner and Google Analytics and formatting it clearly so you can easily see what’s going on on your site. While WordPress.com Stats focuses on today and yesterday, WordPress Reports gives you a seven-day trend on key information including “rising” and “falling” posts, popular content, pages per visit and so on.

WP-Print

WP-Print helps you link to a printable version of your posts. Alongside fitting them neatly onto the page, this plugin also creates a list of the URLs you’ve linked at the bottom of the post so hard-copy readers, who would otherwise miss out on them, can benefit from those pages too. Just install the plugin, paste one line of code into your template and you’re up and running.

Zemanta

Zemanta lets WordPress help you write your posts. It examines the content of your posts and suggests pictures, links and tags for you to add. I just discovered this one recently and haven’t had a chance to test-drive it fully yet but I’ve noticed a few other people, Jason Falls for example, using it already.


There you have it – 14 plugins that I use and which might help to make your blogging life easier.

Do you use any of these? If you do, what do you think of them? What are your favourite plugins?

(hat tip to Chris Brogan for sparking the idea for this post. Photo credit: ChrisB in SEA)

Update: For some reason I’ve been getting an obscene number of spam comments to this post, so I’ve closed the post comments.