The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

sunday, April 25th, 2010

A Baker’s Dozen: A Quick Update on Kati’s Kupcakes, The Winner of The Search a Small Business Holiday Giveaway [PODCAST]


If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, then you probably remember the Search a Small Business Holiday Giveaway I launched this past December. The purpose of the contest was to give an ultra-small business in New Jersey a free online marketing audit, which would produce plan for enhancing the company’s digital strategies.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Exploring AdWords Geotargeting - 4 Points About Location Targeting in Google That Are Often Misunderstood


Why many new bloggers and Twitter users get frustrated and drop off the social media grid.I receive a lot of questions from local businesses about how to best geotarget their paid search ads in Google. AdWords actually provides some robust ways to target your ads by country, region, state, city, and there is also an option for choosing a custom location to target. For example, you could create a polygon on a map to choose a very specific area to target. But just because those options are available doesn’t mean that everyone using AdWords understands how location targeting actually works. I’m going to explain four points in this blog post that seem to confuse advertisers (plus one bonus topic). My goal is to arm you with the right information about geotargeting so you can understand the best ways to structure your campaigns and drive outstanding results.

Here are four points (plus a bonus topic at the end) about location targeting in AdWords that you might not realize are in effect while prospective customers are searching for your products or services.

Query Parsing
Some advertisers are confused when they geotarget a specific location and end up seeing visitors from outside that area. I hear questions about this often. Some advertisers believe that there must have been a glitch in AdWords that showed their ads to untargeted searchers. What’s actually happening is that Google uses query parsing to detect when a search is local in nature. So, if you are geotargeting New York City, but someone in Alabama searches for New York Hotels, Google might show them your ads targeted for New York. Again, that’s even if you are targeting people only in New York. You should keep this in mind if you plan to geotarget your campaigns, but also want to reach people outside that area for specific keywords.

Query Parsing in Action
(Click the image below to view a larger version:)
Query parsing in AdWords.

IP Address
If Google can determine your location via IP address, then you might see ads based on that location. So if your IP address shows you are from Princeton, New Jersey, and you search for bakeries, then you might see ads for bakeries in the Princeton area. Notice that the query bakeries did not have a local qualifier (such as a city or town). Google has continually refined the way that it handles queries that it deems local in nature. You might have noticed a big change in March of 2009, when the 10 pack of local listings (now 7 pack) was triggered via non-geo keywords. Prior to that, queries with geographic qualifiers would trigger local listings (such as bakeries in Princeton, NJ). Now they can be triggered via broad terms (if Google believes it’s a local search). Keep this in mind when building your keyword lists for geotargeted campaigns.

Local Ads Based on IP
(Click the image below to view a larger version:)
Local ads triggered via IP Address.

Google Country-Specific Search Engines
This point relates to the Google domain you are searching on (and Google has over 100 country-specific domains). When people are searching on Google, they will see ads based on the Google domain they are using, such as google.co.uk, google.ca, google.co.jp, etc. So, if you are located in Canada, but are using Google UK, ads will be UK-focused. If you are in Japan, but you are using Google.com (US), then your ads will be targeted for the US. This is important to understand if you will be targeting people in several countries. You would want to structure your campaigns so they are extremely targeted for the locations (and languages) you are focusing on.

Google Domain Driving Ads
(Click the image below to view a larger version:)
Ads displayed based on Google domain.

Location Targeting on the Content Network
If you are running campaigns on the content network, then geotargeting does work and come into play. This essentially means that your ads will show up on sites across the content network (or via specific placements) when visitors to those sites are within your targeted locations. So, if you are targeting Washington DC and your ads show up on about.com, then your ads should only show for visitors from the Washington DC area (or on pages that Google deems local in content). The latter point is similar to query parsing when keywords are involved. For example, if you are reading information about Princeton NJ, but you are outside of the Princeton area, you might still see geotargeted ads for Princeton. Since your ads are contextually targeted on the content network, queries are not part of the targeting process (because there is no query to target). For example, visitors aren’t searching to trigger your ads across the content network. Instead, Google is analyzing the page at hand and determining if your ad matches the content on that page. Note, there’s a difference between a query and a keyword. :)

Geotargeted Ads on the Content Network
Geotargeting on the Content Network.

Bonus: A Quick Note About Local Extensions (A Form of Ad Extensions)
Wouldn’t it be valuable to include your address in your text ad when it’s extremely relevant to the person searching? That’s a leading question, isn’t it? :) Location extensions enable you to do this and they are very easy to set up. If you are a business owner with a Google Local Business Center account, then you can attach your business address to your ads. Note, your listing must be validated in Google Local Business Center for your address to show up. When you use local extensions, your business address will show up below your traditional text ad as seen in the screenshot below. If you don’t have a local business center account, then you can manually enter up to nine addresses that can be used as local extensions. Check out the AdWords help center to learn more about local extensions.

Local Extensions in Action
Query parsing in AdWords.

Be Prepared to Target
I hope this post clarified some of the nuances of geotargeting in AdWords. As a paid search advertiser, it’s important to understand how Google uses location targeting so you can build your campaigns to maximize your results. From query parsing to Google domains to IP detection, there are several factors that can trigger your ads beyond the locations that you think you’re targeting. Now aim for the bullseye and target away. :)

GG

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Announcing The “Search a Small Business” Holiday Giveaway from G-Squared Interactive


The Search a Small Business Holiday Sweepstakes from G-Squared Interactive.The holidays are always a great time to reflect upon the past year in online marketing. Looking back at 2009, it’s interesting to analyze how various companies utilized new technologies and marketing channels to increase sales and engage prospective customers. I feel fortunate to be in a position where I get to speak with many marketers from a wide range of companies (both large and small) to learn which tactics they are using to grow their businesses. I think it's been an amazing year, with Search, Social Media, and Mobile attracting a lot of attention from a wide range of companies and organizations.

However, looking back on my conversations and projects over the past year, it’s hard to ignore the lack of resources available to ultra small businesses. These small businesses unfortunately don’t have the time or budgets to tackle online marketing the way larger companies can. They also happen to be a critical component of our economy, so it just doesn’t seem right.

Ultra-Small Businesses & Online Marketing
To me, ultra small businesses are companies run by one or two individuals, employ less than ten people, generate under $500K per year in revenue, and move at light speed to keep their businesses moving. Ultra small businesses are critically important for our economy, but tend to be overshadowed by news from larger brands and companies. As article after article is written about multi-billion dollar powerhouses, the small business owner remains somewhat anonymous. Yet, those very business owners in aggregate employ millions of people and are an important part of the framework of commerce in the United States.

This got me thinking. What could I do this holiday season to help a small business start 2010 the right way? Let’s face it, many small businesses don't have the time to learn about the latest in online marketing and how to leverage those tactics to increase sales. But, just because they don’t have huge budgets and big brand names doesn’t mean they have to be left out in the cold!

The “Search a Small Business” Holiday Giveaway
So in the spirit of the holidays, I decided to launch The “Search a Small Business” Holiday Giveaway here at G-Squared Interactive. Over the next week, small businesses that meet the requirements listed below can simply send us an email to enter the contest. The winning business will receive a free online marketing audit, which includes an analysis of how their current website is performing. And more importantly, the analysis will provide recommendations for improving the website and various online marketing efforts. Insights from the analysis could include recommendations for improving Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Paid Search (SEM), Social Media Marketing, Website Optimization, and Web Analytics. The goal is to help the winning company quickly understand changes that can impact its business. The analysis will be performed by myself and Matt Leonard, an incredibly smart online marketer and good friend of mine that has agreed to help. For those of you on Twitter, Matt is @mjleonard and you should follow him now if you aren’t already. Together, we plan to arm a small business with key information for improving its online marketing efforts.

Please review the following requirements before entering the contest to make sure your business is eligible.

In order to be eligible, you must:
* Have less than 10 employees.
* Already have a website. Since this is an online marketing analysis, we need something to analyze. :)
* Be located less than 60 miles from Princeton, NJ and be a NJ business. This is because Matt and I will present the results to you in person at your office. I recommend you check Google Maps to see if you are eligible.
* Be willing to let us write follow-up blog posts about the giveaway and project. We would like to provide updates about how the winner is using the information provided in our analysis.
* Be willing to make changes! The analysis can only go so far. You will need to act on the recommendations in order to see an impact.

To read the official rules and regulations, please click here.

So let us help your business start off 2010 with the right online marketing strategies in place! Enter now by emailing us at smallbizmarketing@gsqinteractive.com. Be sure to include all of your contact information so we know how to get in touch with you, including your full name, business name, business address, number of employees, phone number, and website URL. We will be accepting emails for the contest from Monday, December 7th, 2009 through Monday, December 14th, 2009. We will announce the winner on December 15th on this blog (and directly contact the winner via the information they provide when entering the contest).

Happy Holidays!

Glenn Gabe and Matt Leonard

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Invalid Clicks and Click Fraud in Local Search Marketing (SEM) - Giving a Whole New Meaning to the Term HyperLocal


The Impact of Click Fraud on Local AdvertisersI’m currently helping several businesses focused on local advertising with both SEO and SEM (Paid Search, PPC). Depending on the industry and market, Local PPC can be both extremely competitive and pricey. Of course, the upside is capturing those highly targeted clicks and turning them into paying customers, which could yield hundreds or thousands of dollars per conversion. When the difference between page one and page two could be significant amounts of revenue, the companies vying to gain those clicks can become hyper-competitive (and that’s an understatement). I’ve heard stories about some companies incorporating clicking through competitor ads as part of their morning routine… That’s not cool, but very real for the industry and market they are located in.

Based on what I just explained above about, the dark side of paid search ends up rearing its ugly head for some local businesses. In highly competitive industries, and in highly competitive markets, click fraud can run rampant. The thought process is simple (and unethical). Eat up your competitor’s budget so you have more of an opportunity to catch highly targeted clicks. As mentioned above, those highly targeted clicks could yield thousands of dollars per day from new customers (depending on the industry).

I think a lot of people have heard about click fraud, but few have actually explored the problem and how it’s affecting their campaigns. For many local businesses attempting to land the ultra-targeted, “ready to buy” customer, click fraud can be a real click, I mean thorn, in their side. That's not good for anyone involved (including Google and the other search engines).

How Big of a Problem is Click Fraud?
So how much of a problem is click fraud for local businesses? It depends on the industry and market, but I’ve seen click fraud rates as high as 35%. Click Forensics publishes the Click Fraud Index and found that the industry average for Q3 2009 was 14.1%. That’s definitely high, but the abnormally high click fraud rates for local search give a whole new meaning to the term hyperlocal. :) Click fraud rates that high can make a serious dent in your budget, put a strain on ROI for your paid search campaigns, and can end up intensifying the overall click fraud problem (increasing the amount of click fraud as some business owners retaliate). So yes, click fraud is a big problem (and can be especially fierce in local advertising).

Defining Click Fraud:
For those of you not that familiar with click fraud, I’ll provide a quick rundown. There are actually several types of click fraud (and reasons for committing it), but I’ll focus on the act of attempting to deplete a competitor’s paid search budget by clicking on their paid search advertisements. And of course there is no intention of taking action on the competitor’s website once clicking through. In a nutshell, it’s Business A clicking on Business B’s ads in order to deplete Business B’s daily budget. Also note that it doesn’t have to be in the form of repetitive clicks from one location. Business A might hire other people or companies to help click on competitor ads (which can be accomplished via click farms, bots, etc.) You can read more about click fraud in Google’s Ad Traffic Quality Resource Center.

Google and Invalid Clicks
Many local businesses running paid search have no idea that Google actually provides statistics on the “invalid clicks” they catch. And by the way, “invalid” is a nice way of saying “click fraud.” :) Google provides some great reporting functionality as part of AdWords and I think too many companies (especially small businesses that are moving at light speed) never tap into the reporting to track campaign performance.

To access the reporting interface in AdWords, you can click the Reporting Tab, and then Reports. Then you can Create a New Report and choose to run a Campaign Performance Report. As part of setting up this report, you can click Add or Remove Columns to customize the report. Then you can click the checkboxes for Invalid Clicks and Invalid Click Rate to view the statistics at an account or campaign level. Depending on your line of business and where you are located, you might be surprised at how many invalid clicks were recorded for your campaigns…

Accessing AdWords Reporting Functionality:
Creating a new report in Google AdWords

Running An Invalid Clicks Report:
Running an invalid clicks report in Google AdWords


What is an Invalid Click?
Google’s system is continually analyzing clicks and looking for patterns that may be fraudulent. For example, clicks from the same IP address, duplicate clicks, clicks from “known sources of invalid activity”, etc. You can read more about how Google calculates invalid clicks in AdWords help. The system is essentially looking for any type of suspicious activity.

Local Showing a Higher Rate of Click Fraud:
Based on running invalid click reports for a wide range of clients, I typically see a much higher percentage of invalid clicks for companies focused on local search. How much higher? Well, comparing invalid click rates across industries, I’ve seen local-centric clients receive 4X to 5X the percentage of invalid clicks. That’s a lot of clicks, and more importantly, a lot of potential money at risk. Now you might be asking, “Glenn, if Google catches the invalid clicks, then the companies shouldn’t get charged, right?” True, but that’s only for what Google catches… Their system isn’t flawless (especially because well-crafted click fraud is nearly impossible to identify). That’s just an unfortunate reality. So, if you see a 20% invalid click rate, it just might be 30-35%.

The Impact on Budget
Let’s add a monetary value to the click fraud problem I mentioned above. In some industries, local businesses are paying $20-$30 per click (yes, you read that correctly). For argument’s sake, let’s say you receive 100 clicks per day at $20 per click. If Google picks up a 20% invalid click rate, and we estimate that it’s really 30% (just for this example), then there is 10% still getting past Google’s filters. So, the 100 clicks coming through are “actual clicks” according to Google (since it won’t charge you for the invalid clicks, or the 20% it caught). Out of the 100 actual clicks that you are being charged for, the 10% of invalid clicks that slip through equate to 10 clicks at $20 per click (or $200 per day). Over a month, that’s over $6000 per month potentially wasted. For many small businesses, that may be too much to overcome. And that’s exactly what the people committing click fraud want to happen. They want to push competitors to the point of quitting AdWords (and paid search in general), which leaves the fraudsters in control of the paid listings. Needless to say, this isn’t good for the paid search industry, the local businesses getting hit by fraud, and of course Google (since Google makes a majority of its money from paid search).

What Can Local Businesses Do About It?
Although click fraud is a big problem, and one that’s hard to overcome, there are some things you can do to stay on top of the problem. I’ve provided a list of recommendations below to help you stay informed, track your clicks, and potentially fight click fraud. The more you understand what’s going on, the more you can develop a strategy for documenting and combating the problem.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Run invalid click reports on a regular basis. This will help you understand how many invalid clicks are occurring, if they spike during certain times, and which campaigns they are impacting. You can also speak with your Google rep (or any rep at AdWords) about the problem, based on the data you collect.

2. Break up your campaigns logically. You can run invalid click reports on an account or campaign level (but not ad group). If you lump all of your ad groups into one campaign, you won’t get as clear of a picture of the click fraud problem impacting your business.

3. Analyze your log files to determine problematic IP’s. Unfortunately, Google isn’t going to provide details about the invalid clicks they find. They will just show you a total number and not reveal who is committing the click fraud. I think that’s unfortunate, but it’s just the way it is right now. But, you can get in touch with your hosting provider (or your IT department) to analyze your server logs. If you competitor is clicking from a specific IP (like their office down the block from you), you might be able to pick it up. Then work with Google and your lawyer on next steps.

4. There are third party solutions that can help you track and identify click fraud. If you believe that your business is the victim of severe click fraud, you might want to go down this path. For example, Click Forensics (which also publishes The Click Fraud Index mentioned earlier) provides services for ad networks, publishers, agencies, and advertisers. There are also several other solutions for tracking fraudulent clicks that are relatively easy to set up. Do some research and demo the various solutions. They could end up saving you a lot of money.

5. Get familiar with Google’s Ad Traffic Quality Resource Center. There’s some good information about click fraud in the center, including an overview of the problem, key definitions, a help center, ways to contact Google’s quality team, etc.

6. Don’t participate in click fraud. Although it should be obvious, contributing to the overall click fraud problem isn’t going to help anything. You should focus your time and attention on running ethical and ROI-driven paid search campaigns and then deal with click fraud legally. Work with Google, your IT staff, your hosting provider, third party solutions for tracking click fraud, and your lawyer in determining the best path to take.

Not All Clicks Are Created Equal
Is click fraud a problem for local businesses? You bet. But you don’t have to sit there in the dark as your competitors click your ads. You should educate yourself about click fraud, stay vigilant, remain white hat (ethical), and analyze the situation to the best of your ability.

As mentioned earlier, Click Forensics says the industry click fraud rate was 14.1% in Q3 of 2009. As a business owner focused on local advertising, you need to decide if you’re ok with that number... Is click fraud just part of doing business in Local PPC or should you fight to save your budget (and the potential customers that would come from that budget?) Like I said earlier, local click fraud gives a whole new meaning to the term Hyperlocal.

GG

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Your Google Local Business Center Dashboard, Analyzing and Refining Your Google Maps Listing Based on Analytics


Google Local Business Center DashboardMore and more small businesses are realizing the importance of advertising online, including how to maximize their presence in Search. As local businesses get more involved in online marketing, they begin to understand how prospective customers research products and services. Needless to say, many are searching for information online. And, if you offer a product or service they are looking for, it’s obviously important for you to show up for targeted searches. If you don’t rank highly for target keywords, other businesses are...and they are the ones receiving calls (or visits in person).

In addition, there are searches that Google and the other engines deem as “local” in nature. For example, bakery in Princeton, NJ and florist in Miami, FL. Google may provide a 10 pack of local results for searches like this, and it’s important to make sure you show up. Even further, Google recently changed the way it processes requests that it deems local. For example, you often don’t need to put a location to trigger the 10 pack. Google knows your location and provides tailored local results for you. How nice. :)

To learn more about local listings in Google, you can read a previous post of mine about how to set up a Google maps listing in Google Local Business Center. In the post I walk you through what it is and how to set one up. By the way, once you take a hard look at Google’s 10 pack of local listings, it should be no surprise that it attracts a lot of attention. The 10 pack, which sometimes shows less than 10 listings, contains a map with markers showing the location of each business. It’s pretty hard to ignore this on the results page… The 10 pack also pushes down the organic results, which can potentially move your organic listing down the page.

Why Continual Analysis Can Provide Serious Benefits
I've found that many local businesses either don't have a listing or they set one up and check it off their list, never to return to analyze and refine the listing. But hold on a second… businesses should really be asking themselves, “How is that local listing working for me?” I recently had a client make some relatively minor changes based on reporting. These changes ended up having a significant impact on their local rankings and subsequent visits and calls from prospective customers. That’s pretty powerful considering the reporting they analyzed cost them nothing. Yes, $0. I helped my client use data provided to them in their Google Local Business Center Dashboard. You might have heard about this recently, as Google launched it in June of this year. That said, I’m sure some of you reading this post have no idea what it is. That’s ok, since this post is here to provide a thorough overview of your local dashboard, while also giving you some ideas for how to best use the data to attract prospective customers.

The Google Local Business Center Dashboard, Free Analytics for Local Businesses
OK, let’s assume you read my post about setting up your Google maps listing and you are showing up for some targeted searches. That’s great, but do you really know how well that listing is working for your business? Until recently (June 2009), you really didn’t have a lot of insight into the performance of your local listing. Sure, you probably had Google Analytics or another analytics package set up, but that doesn’t specifically give you data about your local listing. Thankfully, Google understood this and did something about it. They rolled out a Local Business Center Dashboard that is basically a scaled down Google Analytics report for your local listing. It provides some important data about how your listing is being triggered, viewed, and accessed. Let’s explore the features below.

The Features of Your Local Dashboard
First, log into Google Local Business Center. You will see your business information, status, and a label for “Statistics”. Under the heading for statistics, you will see a quick view of impressions and actions. Impressions include the number of times your local listing was triggered and viewed as a result of a search on Google or Google Maps. Actions include when someone viewing your listing actually interacted with it. More on this shortly. Click the “View Report” link to access your dashboard.

Accessing the dashboard from Google Local Business Center
Google Analytics-like Graphs for Impressions and Actions
The first thing you will see is a timeline at the top of the page showing activity for your listing. The chart breaks down impressions and actions visually by day, over the time period you selected. The default timeframe is the past 30 days, but you can easily change that by using date range selector in the upper right corner and then clicking apply. Right below the timeline, you will see the number of impressions, which again is the number of times your listing is viewed as a result of a search on Google or on Google Maps. Underneath impressions, you will see a breakdown of actions, which is the number of times a user took “action” with your listing. Possible actions include clicks for more information on Google Maps, clicks for driving directions, and clicks to your website. Actions are aggregated in the graph, but actually broken down underneath the graph. Providing this reporting enables you to get a quick snapshot of the performance of your local listing.

Viewing impressions and actions in Your Google Local Business Center Dashboard
What to look for:
You might notice spikes in impressions and actions based on advertising campaigns you have launched. You can identify the most active days of the week or periods of time based on activity. For example, are many people searching for your services on weekends or during the week, right before holidays, or heavily during a specific season? You can also test the effectiveness of the details of your listing. Google provides the ability to edit the details of your local listing, so my recommendation is to test various ways to communicate your business and then view the impact on impressions and actions. For example you can refine your description, specialties, and categories served to determine the optimal combination of elements. Don’t just throw up a local listing without revisiting its performance on a regular basis.

Top Search Queries
Below the breakdown of actions, you will find top search queries that triggered your local listing, along with the number of impressions. Although this isn't a robust list of keywords like you would see in Google Analytics or another analytics package, it still provides important data for you to review. You probably have an idea about the types of keywords that trigger your listing, however, I’ll bet some of the keywords in the list surprise you. It’s just like when I talk about performing keyword research, you should find what people are actually searching for versus what you think they are searching for. Trust data, and not necessarily opinion.

Click the image below to view a larger version:
Viewing top search queries in Your Google Local Business Center Dashboard

Are there keywords you never thought about targeting that people are actually searching for? Analyzing even this simple keyword report can help you target the right people locally, based on what they are really looking for. For example, let's say you are a florist focused on wedding arrangements and none of the keywords triggering your listing seem targeted for that niche. You find that most people are searching for gifts or flowers versus a specific type of arrangement. Or, you might find the opposite is true and that people are searching for very specific types of arrangements. Again, you never know until you look. Then you can determine the best path to take with regard to your local listing.

Based on what you find, you should start to think about why your listing is showing up for those searches. Is that because of the type of search being conducted or the information contained in your actual listing? It’s a good question and it is definitely worth analyzing... For example, did you let Google know that you provide organic food at your restaurant? Take the time to analyze the data and make changes to your listing. Don’t miss out on customers. In addition, the data can help you craft new marketing messages, and even possibly how you explain your business in person or via other forms of advertising. Using the example above, are you using the word organic in your advertising, whether that’s on TV, in mailers, at shows or festivals, and when you speak with people in your community. If they are searching for it, you might want to start including it. :)

Know Where Your Customers Are Coming From (Literally)
Underneath top search queries, you will find a list of zip codes, based on where driving direction requests are coming from. To clarify, this is when someone clicks “Directions” or “Get Directions” from your local listing. This data would mean more to a business with a physical location serving local customers and can provide some interesting data. For example, you can see the impact of offline marketing, you can see which areas provide high demand for your products or services, and can help you craft future advertising campaigns. For example, I know some local businesses like to attend town festivals, which enable you to set up a booth. Let’s say you planned to attend four festivals in the fall (at $750 per booth). Your knee jerk reaction might be to set up at festivals that are in close proximity to your business, maybe the four closest towns to your business. However, you might change that strategy based on data you view in your dashboard. Maybe more requests are coming from locations 10-15 minutes away versus 5 minutes away. You actually might pass on the festivals right around your town and target ones that are two or three towns over. Again, you don’t know until you review the data. If you don’t, you could miss opportunities to get in front of more targeted groups of people. This is why I always recommend continual analysis and refinement based on data. It has become a motto here at G-Squared Interactive.

Click the image below to view a larger version:
Viewing where direction requests are coming from in Your Google Local Business Center Dashboard

Go Check Your Local Dashboard Now
So there you have it, an overview of your Local Business Center Dashboard, or what I like to call a scaled down Google Analytics report for your local listing. I would love to see the ability to access more data, but this is still better than flying blind (which is what many businesses were doing beforehand).

Here are some key points to think about after reading this post:
* First, do you have a local listing and are you effectively managing that listing?
* Second, are you reviewing reporting for your listing and making changes based on the data?

Remember, you don’t want to miss an opportunity that’s right around the corner…literally. :)

GG

Related Posts:
How to Set Up Your Google Maps Listing
How to Perform Keyword Research for SEO
The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Whuil? Why Cuil Has A Long Way To Go Before It Can Compete With Google


Cuil versus Google, Which search engine is better?.With all of the hype about the "Google Killer" Cuil over the past few weeks, I definitely wanted to give it a little time before officially commenting. When I heard a rival to Google was launching, I was absolutely intrigued, to say the least. I love Google, but I’m not sure any company should have 70% market share in any industry! :) That said, I never thought Cuil could hit the scene and pose a serious threat to Google, but my hope was that it could be a solid alternative to the search giant. The problem for Cuil, or any Google competitor for that matter, is that gaining users doesn’t entirely have to do with the quality of search results (although that is an important factor). Google is so ingrained in our society that it’s going to be hard for any search engine to stroll in and make a dent in big G. I’m neck deep in search engine marketing, including both SEO and SEM, so you bet I’ll try it out. But ask my mother if she knows of another engine… I’ll save you the time, she doesn’t. And let’s face it, Google does an incredible job with Search. It’s not like they provide horrible results with no variety. People wouldn’t use it if it did! More on that later.

Data Typically Doesn’t Lie
So what do I think of Cuil? I’m actually going to let the data do the talking. I tested out both Google and Cuil using the same search terms with the goal of viewing the relevance, quality, and variety of search results. Of course, I’ll add my own commentary to help give you a better picture of what I saw along the way. This is by no means a final test, but I think it gives us a good feel for how Cuil compares to Google right now. Let’s hop in.

DVD’s and e-Commerce
Let’s hit the web to buy one of my all time favorite movies… Jerry Maguire. A search on both Cuil and Google for Jerry Maguire DVD Prices yielded:

Google: Great listings leading me to Amazon.com and other e-commerce websites. Google also provided shopping one box results for the DVD, linking to various ecommerce websites. In addition, you can always click the shopping tab in Google to see a listing of Jerry Maguire DVD’s with their associated pricing. Google had me at hello. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. ;-)

Cuil: This was easy, Cuil returned NO RESULTS. Are you kidding me Cuil? We’re talking about Jerry Maguire here!

Learning something new and defining terms:
How about a search to define a term? Mobile technology is ridiculously hot now, so let’s define Bluetooth. I entered Define Bluetooth and found:

Both Google and Cuil returned good results, although I would argue that Google did a better job of providing more variety (giving you the ability to search news, blogs, etc.) I won’t knock Cuil too badly for this one. Let’s call it a slight advantage to Google.

Local Search
I recently looked for a plumber in our area, so let’s try both Google and Cuil for plumbers in Princeton, NJ:

Google: Outstanding results. Google's local results provided 10 local plumbers with the ability to read reviews, print coupons, watch videos, etc. In addition, Paid Search provided some interesting results too. I like the variety and the local search results. Nice.

Cuil: Unfortunately, Cuil returned misc. plumber sites, no reviews, a few weird, off-topic results like Foreign Affairs Author Page (what??). Winner, Google by a mile!

Maps and Directions
I recently played Lederach Golf Club in Pennsylvania, so let’s search by address in both engines. I entered 900 Clubhouse Drive Harleysville, PA and found:

Google: Displayed a Google Maps one box listing at the top, with a link to the full Google Maps listing. There I had the ability to get directions and find the best route. Excellent.

Cuil: Decent results, but if I'm entering an address, you can probably guess I'm looking for directions and a map. There were also some results for places to visit and stay in the general area (nice, but not really what I was looking for). Winner: Google hit a 300 yard drive and Cuil ended up in the fairway bunker. Both have a shot for par, but Google has the easier path. :)

Shopping and Coupon Codes
comScore recently reported that coupon sites have seen a surge in visitors. This makes sense, given the economy, so let’s start searching. I entered Coupon Codes Lands End and found:

Google: Solid results. Great coupon code websites, with retailmenot.com at the top of the list (one of my favorites). Paid Search also provided some good coupon code websites.

Cuil: Not so good. Although there were a few coupon code websites listed, there was one listed over and over again (allinonecoupons.com). I wasn’t thrilled with Cuil’s results and found myself wanting to see Google’s results again.
Winner: Enter “Google Wins” during checkout to receive a 20% discount! ;-)

Images and Photos
Let's search for some photos. I searched for Statue of Liberty Images and found:

Google: Image one box results with a link to Google Image Search. Needless to say, I found exactly what I was looking for in mere seconds in Google. There were also stock photography sites listed.

Cuil: Random weirdness with almost no images listed. Come on Cuil…it’s the Statue of Liberty! I know images aren’t what you do well, but if you are going to rival Google, images have to be part of the equation.

Obama versus Mccain
No need to explain why I’m searching for this one given our election in a few months! A search for Obama versus Mccain yielded:

Google: Google News one box results listed at the top of the page with one click to the latest news about Obama and Mccain. In addition, major news websites were listed like businessweek.com, The Washington post, newsweek.com, etc. This is hard to beat…

Cuil: I found some 404’s, random blogs, and overall average information. I wasn’t impressed.
The State of the Union? Google wins the election in a landslide.

Cuil as a Google Killer? Not yet…
So there’s my test and the subsequent results. You tell me, which search engine seems better to you? Would you stop using Google and use Cuil instead? I wouldn’t…at least not yet. I do hope Cuil improves and gains in popularity, but it’s not going to be easy. Cuil has a long way to go before the masses move to a new engine.

Google simply offers higher quality results that are more relevant, along with a wider variety of content. And, you can further target your results by selecting one of the major tabs Google provides (like news, blogs, finance, images, video, etc.) That’s hard to beat.

If I were the founders of Cuil, I would work hard to at least return high quality and relevant search results and then move on from there. If they can’t at least match Google's search results, then they are dead in the water. Actually, I believe that any new search engine trying to beat Google will have to bring a unique model to the table…much different than just showing search results. It’s hard enough to change people’s behavior, and that's especially true if you show no results for Jerry Maguire! Rod Tidwell would not be happy. :)

GG

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Video SEO, How to Optimize Your Video Clips for Organic Search


Video SEO, How to Optimize Video for Universal SearchI've received a lot of questions recently about optimizing video for Natural Search. This is primarily due to the surge in Universal Search, which is where the search engines are mixing in various types of content into the search results. For example, news, images, video, etc. Now, there's no shortage of blog posts and articles out there about video SEO and the point of my post isn't to cover every aspect of optimizing video for search. I just wanted to cover some core best practices, based on my experience. If you want to check out some additional resources after reading this post, ReelSEO provides some outstanding video SEO information, blinkx has a whitepaper on video SEO, and most recently, Brightcove released its 2008 video SEO playbook. I recommend checking out all of these resources and determining the best way to move forward for your given project.

Let's move on. Optimizing your video clips for natural search gives you one more way to get your content ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs). In my conversations about video SEO, I’ve found a lot of misconceptions about how to best optimize video for search, so I’ve compiled this list of best practices so you can get off on the right foot.

Without further ado, here are some best practices for optimizing video for natural search:

1. Create a separate page for each video clip.
In order to optimize the core html elements for the video clip in question, you should provide a separate html page for each of your video clips. In e-commerce terms, you can think of this page as a product detail page for each video clip. More about optimizing the core html elements of this page below.

2. Optimize the filename and URL.
Create a descriptive URL structure and filename for your video clip. For example, if you were a golf instructor and created a video clip for how to hit sand shots, your URL and filename might look like the following:

http://www.yourgolfwebsite.com/training-videos/hit-golf-sand-shots.htm

And, your video clip might have the following filename:
http://www.yourgolfwebsite.com/training-videos/golf-sand-shots.flv

3. Optimize the HTML elements on your page.
I mentioned this earlier and it’s actually not unique to video… When you create a unique page for each video clip, you definitely want to optimize the title tag, meta description, H1, H2 (if applicable), and content (copy, images, etc.) surrounding your video clip. In order to properly optimize these elements, your text content should be based on keyword research. If you don’t know what I am referring to, check out my post about using Keyword Discovery and WordTracker for finding the keywords that people actually search for on the web versus what you think they search for. For example, the keyword "golf lessons" is searched for 3.7x more than "golf training".

4. Use descriptive anchor text when linking to your video page:
Don’t underestimate the power of using descriptive links. Using our golf example from earlier, don’t link to the page holding your video clip with non-descript text like “View Video” or “Play Video”. You should use descriptive anchor text like “Learn how to hit a golf sand shot.” or “Golf Lessons, Hitting Sand Shots.” Again, base your anchor text on keyword research (the text you place in your link).

5. Use SWFObject to provide search engine friendly alt content.
{If you want to provide crawlable, alternative html content in place of your flash movie.}
Earlier in the year, I wrote a post about how to use SWFObject 2.0 to provide search engine friendly alt content for your flash movies. If you are using flash video on your website, and I’m sure many of you are, then SWFObject is a great way to provide crawlable html content in place of your flash movie. One piece of advice (and it’s mentioned heavily in my post about using SWFObject), don’t overdo it when providing your alt html content. You should only provide content that is also in the video clip. For many, it’s tempting to provide too much content (or content that’s not present in the video clip). Don’t do this…it can end up hurting you. It’s technically cloaking, which is providing a different version of your content to the search engines versus people visiting your site. I recommend providing an optimized H1, H2, thumbnail, along with an optimized summary of what is contained in the video clip. You can also provide a video transcript if you have that available. Mix this content with the other html elements we optimized earlier and you’ve got it covered.

6. Provide a video sitemap.
You can provide an xml sitemap containing your video clip information (for all of your video clips on your website). Video sitemaps are an extension to the sitemap protocol and are similar to the xml sitemaps you already provide to Google and the other engines. If you aren't providing xml sitemap files to the search engines, then I’ll have to cover what they are and how to create them in another post! ;-) As you can probably guess, video sitemaps are tailored for video content. The sitemap contains additional information about your video clips, such as video location, duration, thumbnail image, etc. You can learn more about a video sitemap on Google’s website, but needless to say, it’s a smart way to go.

7. Provide an MRSS feed.
You probably already know of RSS (Really Simple Syndication), but what about MRSS? Well, it’s an extension of the RSS standard specifically created for describing media content. In a nutshell, it’s RSS for multimedia. The spec contains elements for describing your video content like file size, description, thumbnail, content, etc. Video search engines like Blinkx let you submit your MRSS feeds in order to show up in their search results. I highly recommend using MRSS.

8. Submit to video sharing websites like YouTube and optimize the listing:
You should upload your videos to sharing sites like YouTube and then optimize the listings in your account. That includes optimizing the title, description, tags, providing links back to your site, etc. Just like earlier, you should base this content on keyword research for your specific video content. Note, the YouTube versions of your video clips might very well rank above your own site clips. It’s up to you how you want to proceed, and it’s worth testing out with some of your clips to see how the search engines handle both your YouTube clips and your own site clips. I definitely recommend testing this, as it gives you an opportunity for another listing in the SERPs, but your ultimate decision might be based on your specific business model.

Break a leg!
OK, I bet you’re chomping at the bit to run off and optimize your video content. With Universal Search results increasing and the number of people watching video on the web also increasing significantly, you should definitely take the time to optimize your video clips for Organic Search. Now, if you don’t already have video content, make sure you read my post about how to create a YouTube video. It can definitely get you moving in the right direction. Then, following the best practices listed in this post and you can hopefully create killer videos and also get killer rankings to boot. Nice.

GG

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Setting Up Your Google Maps Listing, Make Sure Your Business Shows Up In Google Local Search


Google Local Business Center, Google Maps ListingI don’t know about you, but I often find myself helping people with web marketing when I least expect it. This past Sunday was a good example. We went to buy my daughter a new mattress at a store located a few miles from our house. During the process of collecting my contact information, the salesperson (an older gentlemen), explained that they really want to advertise more in local neighborhoods, especially in a down economy. At this point, my wife knew a mini consulting session was going to take place. :-) So I told him what I do for a living and quickly explained some ideas for local marketing. One of the items that really piqued his curiosity was a Google Maps listing (using Google Local Business Center). Based on how excited he was to set that up and how many small business owners are confused with what a local listing actually is, I thought it would be a valuable blog post to tackle. And, here it is!

What is a Google Local Business Listing (or Google Maps Listing)?
When you search for a local business, Google may return a one box result listing up 10 local businesses along with a map. The title of that one box will read, “Local business results for {your search term} near {the location you entered}.” Please see the screenshot below based on a search for movers in Princeton, NJ. The 10 businesses you see listed were either entered by the business owners themselves or provided from external sources like various yellow page listings. You can click through to their websites or click the link for “more” or for “reviews” to access additional information about each business. When you click through to more information, you are actually taken to the Google Maps listing. Here, you can read reviews (if there are any), view an overview of the business, print a coupon (if the business set up any), view photos and video (more on this later), and view webpages associated with the business. And of course since you are in Google Maps, you can view a detailed map of the business location and get directions (just like you normally would in Google Maps.)

Google Local One Box Results

So you probably have one big question now…how do I get one of those listings? You’ll be happy to know that it’s both easy and free. Can you beat that?

Setting Up Your Google Local Business Center Account:
First, go to the Google Local Business Center and log in with a Google account. You will obviously want to add your first listing at this point by entering all of the required information. There are 5 tabs of information that Google will collect at this point. I highly recommend being as thorough as possible…this can only help you. A preview of your listing can be seen on the right side of the page. Note, if you have multiple locations and don’t want to add each by hand, then you can use a bulk upload to add all of your locations via a spreadsheet. This is a great way to go and can save you a lot of time. Now back to adding your first listing.

The 5 tabs are:

1. Required Information
This is your basic company information, including address, phone numbers, email addresses, website URL, and company description. Make sure you provide a detailed description.

2. Category
You can enter various categories that your business falls under. It’s important to target these categories as much as possible. Try and find categories that directly fit what you do. I know that sounds obvious, but I think people can rush through this step and not accurately tell Google what they do, which can affect their relevance to targeted searches.

3. Hours and Payment
Depending on your specific business, this may or may not be important. If you run a local business that has a storefront, then you can enter your hours Mon-Sun. Then you can enter the payment types you accept at your business.

4. Photos and Video
Let’s start with photos. Google Maps enables you to upload up to 10 photos for your business. As a small business owner, this is a great way to show off your storefront, yourself, and your employees. Think about it…many people searching for local businesses might ultimately have you come out to see them (plumbers, carpenters, landscapers, etc.) This is a great way to put them at ease… You can also provide up to 5 YouTube videos for your business. This is phenomenal way to speak directly to your prospective customers, show them what you do, provide customer testimonials, etc. Again, removing doubt from the minds of your potential customers. I highly recommend using both photos and video.

5. Custom Attributes
Google enables you to add custom attributes for information that doesn’t fall into one of the other tabs. For example, you can add “Areas Served”, “In Business Since”, “Specialties”, etc. You can also create your own attributes to fit your specific business.

Entering your business information in Google Local Business Center

Provide a Coupon
You can provide coupons in your Google Maps listing that customers can print out and bring to your business. Depending on your line of business, coupons are another great way to attract more customers. Google provides a form that you can fill out with the details of your offer and the coupon will show up within your local listing under the tab for “Coupons”. Easy enough!

Providing a coupon in your Google Maps listing.

Reviews and Ratings
Google aggregates content from a number of sources and you will find reviews from several websites. My recommendation is to reach out to your customer base and ask them to review your business. Google also enables customers to review a business right from your local listing. If you click the tab for “Reviews”, you will see a link for “Write a Review”. You can provide a title, a rating, and then your review. But like I said earlier, Google will also provide reviews from a number of third party websites. For example, I’m looking at a review from CitySearch now for a local pizza restaurant in my area.

Once You Submit Your Google Maps Listing…
You will need to verify that you are the owner of the business. You can do this in 2 ways (in the US). Google can either mail out a postcard to your business address or you can verify via phone. When I signed up a few years ago, I don’t believe that phone verification was available, but I would obviously choose that due to speed… The postcard will have a PIN that you will need to enter in your account to complete the verification process. There is also an SMS verification system, but at this point, it’s for non-US businesses. Once you are verified, your listing will be submitted and it will take a few weeks to show up in Google Local results. Note, Google says it can take up to 48 hours to show up after verification, but I don’t believe that I’ve seen it happen that fast. After your listing is live, any updates to your information can take 4-6 weeks (for example, if you needed to update any of the tabs in your listing).

How are the results ranked in Google Local?
First, Google isn’t going to give you the exact formula, but the listings are ranked by a combination of relevance to the search terms entered and proximity to the location searched for. Google’s algorithm determines which businesses rank highly for local searches (in their one box results and in Google Maps), so it’s not as simple as distance from the location searched for. For example, Google may rank a business higher that’s further away from the geo searched for if it finds that it’s more relevant to the search terms. Test it out…I’m sure you’ll find some interesting results. :-)

In closing,
I highly recommend you take control of your local listing in Google Maps. It’s free, can show up for targeted local searches, and enables you to provide a wealth of information about your business to prospective customers. With the ability to add photos and video, you’ve got a virtual salesperson working 24/7. Does anyone have a Google Local success story? I’d love to hear how a Google Maps listing has worked for your business.

GG

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Google Voice Local Search - Is Mobile Search Optimization Necessary?


Google Voice Local Search and Mobile Search Optimization
I've been at SES in NYC this week and decided that I would attend a diverse set of sessions versus taking one track. I hit sessions on SEO, SEM, SMO, Multimedia Optimization, and Mobile Search Optimization. This post is about Mobile Search and how Google is making it a lot easier for local businesses to be found while searching on a mobile device. More on this in a minute. With over 143 million mobile phones sold the United States in 2006, you can see why this is an important topic... Mobile search is still in its infant stages, but many companies want to catch the wave now versus playing catchup a year from now.

What is Mobile Search Optimization?
In a nutshell, Mobile Search Optimization is the process by which you ensure your site content can be accessed on a mobile device. There are several paths you can take to accomplish this, but it could involve recoding portions of your site, employing redirection based on identifying specific devices, or creating a separate site just for mobile users. Needless to say, most people in charge of web marketing for their companies cringe when thinking about doing this... especially given the small amount of traffic that is currently coming from mobile web users. As part of the session at SES, Greg Markel presented second in line. He followed a great presentation by Cindy Krum (her bio wasn't listed on the ses site) that explained best practices for optimizing your site for mobile search (how to make changes to your site in order for it to be properly viewed on a mobile device.) I took a look at the audience near the end of her presentation and I saw some confused looks... It was obvious that many of session attendees didn't want to have to change their sites nor did they fully understand what they needed to do... So, Greg steps up to the podium and his point was concise and clear. "You might not have to change anything on your site to be found on mobile search." And for those in the crowd (like myself) that have used Google Local Voice Search, I agree! I mean, who likes texting searches into their mobile device and then waiting for it to load, then scrolling, and trying to find what you need...it's darn frustrating. For those of you who search on your mobile devices, you know what I'm talking about!

Google Local Voice Search
So, what is this new service by Google, also called Goog-411? By calling 1-800-Goog-411 (1-800-466-4411), you reach Google's automated system that enables you to say what you are looking for along with a location, and Google presents you with audio listings from Google Local Search (the same listings that you access on the web). Once you find the listing you need, Google will connect you to the business free of charge. But Google didn't stop there... They know this service will be used by mobile users, so you can say "text message" and they will text the information to your mobile device. Now compare this to searching on your mobile phone... Access your browser, find either your provider's search functionality or Google (for those of you that know you can get past the provider's deck!) Then text in your search, wait for the results, browse the results, visit a few sites, try and find a phone number, jot down the phone number with your other hand, and hope you don't lose your connection during the process. Needless to say, this is a phenomenal service that I hope takes off...

How Do You Get Listed on Google Voice Local Search?
It's easy to get listed. Just visit the Google Local Business Center and set up your business listing. This is the same information used in Google Maps, so for those of you who are small business owners, you need to be listed here... It's free and local search is booming. Don't hesitate...get listed now. I won't go into all of the information you can provide while signing up, but you can provide a wealth of information about your business. Note, the process does take some time since Google wants to make sure you are who you say you are. You actually receive a postcard mailer with a code you need to enter and then you need to wait for the next Google update. That said, you should be ok with this since it will cut down on some sneaky ways for your competition to take advantage of the system...

A Quick Example:
1. Call 1-800-466-4411.
2. You are greeted by Goog 411. Say the location like "Pennington, New Jersey".
3. Next, they ask for either the business name or the category. Say, "Party Supplies".
4. You will be presented with the top 8 listings from Google Local Search. For this search, Party and More is number 1. When you find the listing you want, which for me was the first listing, just say "Number 1".
5. Goog 411 now provides you with several options. You can have Goog 411 connect you for free, you can say "Details" to hear information about the business or you can say "text message" and Google will text you with the details.

It's that simple and intuitive. I have used this service several times already and I can tell you, it crushes having to text a search into your mobile phone... It's not even a comparison. Go ahead and try it out...I'm sure you will agree.

Back to Greg's presentation for a minute. If you had the choice of revamping your site for mobile search (no simple task) or get listed in Google Local Search, which one would you choose? Now keep in mind that Goog 411 is new and we have no idea if it will take off. That said, I think it will. It makes complete sense... It's easy, intuitive, and is based on Google's listings for local search. It's way more powerful than trying to navigate the mobile web... at least for now.

You Can Help Goog 411 Take Off!
I guess we'll see how it goes, but you have the power to help. Yes you, sitting in your office right now reading this post. Tell your coworkers, friends, family, and random people on the street about Goog 411. Let's collectively save the fingers of millions of people while also helping fight high blood pressure! ;-)

GG

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