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

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 11, 2008

LiveHttpHeaders and SEO, How to Check Your HTTP Response Headers for Red Flags


Using LiveHttpHeaders to Check Your HTTP Response Codes for SEODoes your website throw a 302 when it should throw a 301? Does it throw a 200 when it should be a 404? Are there 500’s thrown on your site that look like 404’s? Do you think I’m insane yet? Hear me out…

Whether you understand the introduction above or don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s still something extremely important for you in this post. Every time you load a webpage, your browser REQUESTS a file and then the server provides a RESPONE to that request (also called a Response Header). Response headers can help you identify critical issues on your site (especially from an SEO standpoint). Now, you probably have a few key questions.

1) How do I check my response headers?
2) What should I be looking for?

Although I can’t cover everything about response headers in this post, I will answer the two questions listed above and provide some examples along the way.

Let me start by answering the first question since it’s the easiest… I highly recommend using LiveHttpHeaders, an add-on for Firefox that displays http headers in real time (as you browse webpages). This tool can save you a lot of time and possibly help you diagnose some serious SEO-related issues. I will answer the second question later in the post.

Install LiveHttpHeaders Now:
First, visit the LiveHttpHeaders project website and install the add-on. You will need to restart Firefox after installing LiveHttpHeaders. Once restarted, you can trigger LiveHttpHeaders in two ways. You can click Tools, LiveHttpHeaders, which will trigger a new window where you can view header responses in real time as your browse the web. You can also click View, Sidebar, LiveHttpHeaders to view response headers in a sidebar within Firefox. I prefer the new window, since I have dual monitors and it doesn’t take up any browser space. :-) Either way works fine.

To quickly test it out before we go any further, go and visit Google with LiveHttpHeaders running. When you hit the homepage of Google, you will see a bunch of information scroll by in LiveHttpHeaders. For our purposes, let’s look at the top of the window (the first piece of information sent back to you). I have stripped out some of the information you don’t need to focus on for this example.

http://www.google.com/

GET / HTTP/1.1
Host: www.google.com
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.11) Gecko/20071127 Firefox/2.0.0.11
Keep-Alive: 300
Connection: keep-alive

HTTP/1.x 200 OK
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8
Content-Length: 2547


I have bolded the response code, which shows 200 (or ok). 200 is a good thing... and now I can explain more about response headers and codes. By the way, where you see 200 in the window is where you would also see other response codes like 301, 302, 404, etc.

Back to our two questions for a minute. The second question was “What should I be looking for?” In a nutshell, you should be looking for the file requested and the response code sent by the server. Let’s start with a definition of a response header and identify some core http response codes.

As I mentioned earlier, when you load a webpage, two things happen. There is an http request (by your browser) and then an http response is sent (by the server). There is a response code returned as part of the http response. Some of the following codes might be familiar to you, and others aren’t. If you focus on SEO, then get to know them…they can really help you diagnose problems on your website.

Some of the most common http response codes are:

200 – ok (the webpage was returned ok)
301 – Permanent redirect (seo friendly) J
302 – Temporary redirect (don’t use this unless you absolutely have to!)
400 – Bad request (uh, not good)
401 – Unauthorized (you need to be authenticated)
403 – Forbidden (doesn’t matter who you are, it’s forbidden)
404 – Not found (not necessarily a bad thing…I’ll explain more later.)
500 – Internal server error (something went very wrong processing the webpage…)
502 – Bad gateway (also not a good thing)

Why are http response codes important? One of your goals as an SEO is to enable the bots to easily index your site. You don’t want them to get caught up in any way, shape or form. For example, 302 redirects are not the SEO-friendly way to tell Google where a page you removed now resides (you should use a 301 redirect instead). So constantly providing 302’s would be a very bad thing to do. Or how about throwing a 200 (ok) when you really should be throwing a 404. For example, the page isn’t there, but you just told Google that it is. Again, not a good thing to do. Therefore, finding 302’s, 404’s, 403’s, 500’s, etc. is critical to creating a clean path for the bots, which means you can have more of your content indexed and at a solid frequency. Let’s take a look at how LiveHttpHeaders can help you out.

Checking Your Response Headers:
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation. One morning you wake up and decide that you want to increase your natural search rankings. You launch an SEO initiative and get moving quickly. The first thing you want to do is to audit your current site structure (since you know that without a sound and clean structure, you’re dead in the water). So as part of your audit, you want to ensure your response headers and response codes look ok.

You fire up LiveHttpHeaders and visit your website:

* You hit the Homepage, 200 returned,
* You visit a Top Level Product Category, 200 returned,
* Then you try and visit a product detail page and you hit a 302 redirect. Hold on… You find that all links to your product detail page go through a 302 redirect. This was implemented as part of a recent code change. This is something you would want to change ASAP. The content on your product detail page is obviously important so you wouldn’t want to be throwing 302’s prior to the bots hitting those pages…
* But it doesn’t stop there. You know that you changed dozens of older product pages recently and created new URL’s. You check out the old URL’s and find 302 redirects to the new product pages. You would want to change that too… and provide a 301 redirect from the old page to the new page, safely passing link power from the old page to the new one.
* Then you check out some product categories on your site that have been removed completely (you won’t be selling those products anymore), but you find 200’s instead of 404’s. A 404 (page not found) is the proper response code to throw in this situation, as it will tell the engines that the page has been removed and that it should be de-indexed. You don’t want the page to be indexed if it’s not actually there, right?
* Last you check some newly added pages and find they are not displaying correctly. It looks like they aren’t on the site, which means you should see a 404. But…the server returns a 500 (or internal server error). Again, not a good thing as the bots traverse your website content and this is something invisible to the naked eye as you test your website. You would need to be checking response codes to find this issue…

OK, I think you get the picture! Keep in mind that a full SEO assessment covers much more than just checking response codes, but it’s an important part to revealing SEO-related issues. And you know what? Sometimes it’s darn easy to find a serious issue that can be resolved fairly quickly. For example, providing a 302 redirect right on your homepage! Or throwing 200’s for any page that’s been removed from your site.

Think Like a Bot:
I’ll end this post with an analogy. Imagine you needed to check every room in a 10 story hotel to document the type of TV that’s in each room. But the elevators don’t work properly, some of the staircase entrances are locked, and every now and then the room numbers change on you. Would you have an easy time completing your task? Would you keep trying to come back to “index” each room? Or would you stop a few rooms in and say, “Hey look, Lost is on.” And then sit back and watch the show….and forget about the TV’s (or your content). ;-)

GG

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Using SWFObject 2.0 to Embed Flash While Providing SEO Friendly Alternative Content


Providing Alt Content for Flash Using SWFObject 2.0
Or is it friendly? More on that later... While mapping out and building your website content, chances are you have come across a situation where you really want to utilize flash versus html content (for some functionality). Although flash can provide an extraordinary level of interactivity, the problem (SEO-wise), is that flash content cannot be indexed by the search engines (at least for now). So, you might find yourself wanting to use flash for a given task, but you might also be struggling with the lack of search engine friendly content. I have been developing with flash for over 10 years and I also work extensively on Natural Search projects, so believe me, I feel your pain. :-) I wanted to write this post to introduce and explain SWFObject 2.0, the latest and greatest version of the popular flash replacement library.

A Quick SWFObject Disclaimer:
Unfortunately, I (or anyone else for that matter) cannot tell you that using SWFObject is entirely search engine safe. In a perfect world, providing an accurate, alternative html version of your flash content is extremely beneficial. I’m sure that Google and the other engines would have no problem with developers using it that way. But…and it’s an important but, there will always be those who exploit something like SWFObject for cloaking.

Let’s define cloaking: Providing one version of your content to the search engines while providing a different version of content to visitors. i.e. Altered content meant to trick the search engines.

You can easily see why this could be problematic for the search engines… There has been much debate about whether SWFObject is search engine safe or not, and I cannot give you the answer. That said, I think if you utilize SWFObject to provide alternative content that directly reflects your flash content, then you should be fine. I will show you how to do this later in the post.

SWFObject 2.0 Versus SWFObject 1.5
So what’s the difference between SWFObject 2.0 and SWFObject 1.5? Well, 2.0 is the latest version of the package (thank you Captain Obvious), which enables you to provide alt html content for your flash content using standards compliant markup. Version 2.0 will replace 1.5 and other forms of flash replacement like the flash player detection kit and UFO. That said, SWFObject 1.5 is still a great solution and you may choose to keep using 1.5 until you feel comfortable using 2.0. However, you will probably want to use version 2.0 based the benefits of the new process. :)

Static Versus Dynamic Publishing
There are 2 ways to use SWFObject 2.0, providing alt content using standards compliant markup (called static publishing) and inserting alt content using unobtrusive JavaScript (called dynamic publishing). Using dynamic publishing with SWFObject 2.0 is very similar to using SWFObject 1.5, where using static publishing is the new process. In this post, I will cover the standards compliant way (static) to use SWFObject 2.0 to embed flash content in your webpage. Let’s get started.

Download SWFObject 2.0
First, visit the Google Code Project for SWFObject 2.0 and download the zipfile containing the files you need. (FYI, you should download swfobject_2_0_rc2.zip). You can also download the official documentation and always have it handy. Extract the files to your hard drive and then copy the contents to your working directory. That way, you always have the original as a backup….good lesson from my programming days. :) View the screenshot below to see which files and folders your swobject2 directory should contain.

Folder Contents for SWFObject 2.0

SWFObject and Static Publishing
Let’s implement the standards compliant version of the package to replace your flash content with alternative html content. The alt content should directly reflect the content contained in your flash movie.

1. In your swfobject2 directory, open the index.htm file, which uses the static version of swfobject 2.0. Use this file as the template for your own implementation.
2. Look at the source code to follow along. In the head of the document, you will notice the following line of code:

Adding the SWFObject JavaScript Library to Your HTML Document

3. This line of code adds the SWFObject JavaScript library in your document. Including this code is a necessary component for the package to work properly.
4. Next, let’s hop down to the html portion of the document. Note, I have changed the code below to reflect my own flash movie and alt content. You can still easily follow along, though:

Click the image below to view a larger version:
The Nested Object Tags When Using the SWFObject Static Method

5. The code above includes a series of nested object tags, which enables the SWFObject package to provide cross-browser support. When adding your own content, you will need to replace a few items:

a. Replace “swfobject2-exampleb.swf” with the name of your actual flash movie. Note, the swfobject download includes a file named “test.swf”, so if you want to run the page using that flash movie, you should be good to go.

b. Change the width and height to match your actual flash movie’s width and height. My flash movie is 400x300.

6. About half way down the page, you will find a div tag for your alternate content. This is where you will provide alternate html content that directly reflects your flash movie's content. Feel free to use any html tags here to provide your alternative content. As you can see in the image below, I described my flash movie content in HTML.

Click the image below to view a larger version:
Providing Alternative HTML Content for Your Flash Movie

7. Let’s move back to the head of your html document for a second. You will need to register your flash movie with the swfobject library. Note, my page uses "exampleID" for the outer object tag id. You can use whatever you like or just keep the current id. You will see the following lines of code:

Register Your Flash Movie with SWFObject

8. The three parameters contain:

a.The id of the outermost object tag (myID). Note, you can change the id of the outermost object tag, but it must match what you enter in the JavaScript code when you register your flash movie. So, if you entered “flashID” instead, then you would need to enter “flashID” when you register your flash movie in the code above. Again, I used "exampleID".

b. The version of the flash plugin you are targeting (9.0.0), and

c. The name of the express install flash movie (if you wish to use one). Note, express install will display a standard dialog box that will enable your visitors without the required plugin version to download the flash plugin. I have noticed some buggy behavior with the express install functionality, so I just provide my own link to the flash plugin. Therefore, I enter false as the third parameter.

SWFObject 2.0 Code Generator
That’s all you need to do in order to use the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0. I know that opening the hood and working with code directly can be tough for non-programmers, so the creators of SWFObject have been nice enough to create a code generator for you. I didn’t want to mention it until after you went through the code so you can get a good feel for how this works. :-) I know…tough love! You can download the generator from the Google Code Project. The generator presents a form where you can enter the necessary information about your projects and then it generates the right code for you. I actually find it easier to drill into the code, but that’s what I’m used to!

A Working Example
Here is a simple example of using the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0. After viewing the flash content, you can click View, and then Source in your browser to see the alt content in the html. I also uploaded a webpage where I am forcing the browser to show you the alt content. This is what visitors would see if they didn't have the required version of the flash plugin. In addition, the static version of SWFObject 2.0 doesn’t rely on JavaScript to provide your flash content, so your visitors will see your flash content even if they have JavaScript turned off. A nice benefit. When you look at the source code, you can see an additional parameter I added for turning off the standard right click menu. You need to add this in two locations (both object tags) as you’ll see in the code. You can use a number of flash parameters and the SWFObject 2.0 documentation lists them for you. i.e. menu, loop, quality, wmode, etc.

Adding parameters within your object tags.

Click to Activate this Control
I know…Ugh. I won’t go into how or why Internet Explorer 6+ users must click to activate a flash movie, but it’s extremely annoying (especially for flash developers that work hard on creating killer flash movies!) Unfortunately, the standards compliant version of SWFObject 2.0 doesn’t alleviate this problem, where the dynamic versions of both SWFObject 2.0 and 1.5 alleviate the problem! Go figure. If you are looking to get rid of the dreaded “click to activate” message, then use the dynamic version of SWFObject 2.0 or 1.5 (not covered in this post). I may detail using the dynamic version of SWFObject in future posts, but this post is already getting too long! ;-)

Summary
OK, that was a lot to cover, but now you have a way to provide alternative html content for your killer flash content…and the search engines can index the alt content to boot! Again, nobody can guarantee that this is 100% search engine safe…thanks to some bad people who exploit this functionality. That said, if your alt content directly reflects your flash content, you should be ok. Used properly, this enhances the accessibility and usability of your site and will enable your killer content to be found by the search engines.

Just don’t go nuts when providing your alt content… :)

GG

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Link Building Ideas, Teach a Man to Fish and He’ll Bring You… Links


Link Building Tip, Creating Instructional ContentWhen it comes to building high search engine rankings, building links is probably the most important thing you can do. There are obviously many factors that go into achieving high search engine rankings, but naturally building links to your website is the most important way to notify Google and the other engines that you are providing valuable content (and to prove it's valuable, other people have linked to it). Each link to your website is casting a vote for you, and the quality of the sites linking to your content is also important. For example, if you focus on business consulting, then gaining links from other business consultants is much more valuable than building links from comedy websites. I’m simplifying things a bit, but I think you get the point.

OK, I Have A Blog, But What Will I Write?
I hear this question a lot. Whenever I recommend setting up a blog, I frequently get the question, “But what will I write about?” It doesn’t matter which industry you focus on, there are always dozens of angles for blog posts. Do you sell printers? Write a blog post explaining the top ways to troubleshoot inkjet and laser printers. Are you a fitness trainer? Write about the most common ways that people injure themselves while working out and then how to correct those issues. Did you create a new beverage? Write a blog post explaining the top mixed drinks of the year and how to make them, and of course use your product for some of the recipes. :-) There’s a common thread with the examples I’ve been providing. They all teach people how to do something. In my experience with helping clients across several industries, one thing remains constant. If you teach someone to fish (or fix printers or exercise correctly or mix drinks properly), they will bring you links and exposure, which will ultimately help you increase your natural search rankings.

They’re not a flash in the pan…
Believe me, I’m definitely not against many forms of content for link-building, but in my experience, providing instructional content works extremely well. One reason for this is that instructional posts typically stand the test of time. If someone finds your post a year after you write it, you can still generate links. On the flip side, if you create an entertaining post (like a really funny video using your product), you might get a lot of exposure in the short-term, but it will probably fade out after a few weeks (or days). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some entertaining content generate a lot of exposure, but if I had to choose, I would still recommend teaching people how to do something.

Kills Two Birds with One Stone
For those of you not familiar with link building, the content you create is often not intended to generate sales directly. Instead, it’s there to build links and exposure, which can help increase your natural search rankings, which in turn can help you generate sales down the line. That said, the content you develop can definitely increase sales if you directly link it to solving a problem for your target market. For example, if you own an electronics repair company and explain how to perform some quick fixes on the most popular digital cameras, then you could very easily end up landing new customers from that post. They might be so impressed with the information and tips you gave them in the post, that they end up getting in touch with you when they really need their camera repaired. In addition, they might link to that post from their own site or blog and possibly add that post to popular social media sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us, etc. I’m not saying that your link building content will always be a driver of sales, but it could be…

Brainstorm some link building ideas today…
Excited about link building? Then start today by brainstorming some ideas. Think about your customers, what would help them achieve their goals, what’s unique about your products or services, and then clean off that white board! If you find yourself having trouble brainstorming link building ideas, then contact me today. There’s a reason that my office is covered with post-it notes containing ideas for new blog posts! ;-)

GG

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

301 Redirect HTML Files Without Using ISAPI Rewrite


Using 301 Redirects When All Else FailsWhen you run a website, there are times that you'll need to redirect older webpages to newer webpages or you might want to redirect multiple domain names to a single domain name. There are two key ways to accomplish this task, issuing a 301 redirect or a 302 redirect. What you might not know is that a 301 redirect is search engine friendly and a 302 redirect is not. 301’s will safely tell the search engines that one page has been permanently moved to a new location, while 302’s tell the search engines that it’s a temporary redirect (which can cause problems down the line.) This shouldn’t be news for anyone working in the search industry, but might be news for website owners outside of the industry. My post today isn’t about what 301’s and 302’s are, but it’s about a unique challenge I ran into recently with one of my clients. We needed to 301 redirect several HTML files to new pages on the website without using the standard methods of issuing a 301 redirect. Also, the website was running on a shared server, which was an added barrier. By writing this post, my hope is that I can help some of you who might run into the same situation. More on this soon. Let’s start with a quick review of redirects.

Let’s Define 301 and 302 redirects:
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect and tells the search engines that the old webpage has been permanently moved to a new location. It basically tells Google and the other engines that you have permanently moved one page from HERE to THERE. If you need to redirect a file on your website, then you should always use a 301 redirect.

A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect, and is not search engine friendly. It basically tells Google and the other engines that the file in question has temporarily moved from HERE to THERE. There have been vulnerabilities in the past with using 302 redirects, which is a reason that 302’s aren’t trusted. If you need to redirect one page to another on your website, then don’t use a 302. Always use a 301 redirect when possible.

The 301 Challenge
Back to the redirect challenge that I recently faced. Again, my hope is that the solution can help some of you who might run into the same situation. One of my clients has a website that’s running on a windows server and contains a combination of HTML, ASP, and ASP.net files. We needed to redirect several older HTML pages to new ASP.net pages, which at first glance would be relatively simple to do. If you are on a windows server, I highly recommend using ISAPI rewrite to issue 301 redirects. This is similar to using an .htaccess file on a linux or unix server. You can issue one line commands using a text file named httpd.ini that sits at the root level of your website. It easily enables you to issue 301 redirects, rewrite URLs, etc. It’s a great utility to have installed…

The Shared Server Problem
Here was the problem. We couldn’t use ISAPI rewrite. The website was running on a shared server and the web hosting company would not install ISAPI rewrite on the server. Some hosting companies will and others won’t…this specific hosting provider wouldn’t after several requests to do so.

Issue the 301 Via ASP.net Code
So, my next move was to issue the 301 redirects via code (either through ASP or ASP.net). There was also a problem with using this technique. The files we needed to redirect were HTML files and not ASP or ASP.net files, so I couldn’t add the necessary VB or VBScript code to the pages that needed to be redirected. Moving on…

Run HTML Files Through ASP.net
My third idea was to run all HTML files on the website through ASP.net, which would enable me to add ASP.net code to each of the HTML files. Basically, when an HTML file is requested, it would run through the ASP.net engine. Then I could issue the 301 redirect via ASP.net code instead of using ISAPI rewrite. Cool, right? The hosting provider made the change on the server (running HTML files through ASP.net), but to our dismay, some of the HTML files on the site were not rendering properly. So, we reverted back to the original setup (where HTML files were not run through ASP.net). Again, moving on…

The Fourth Time is a Charm…
My fourth idea finally worked. The hosting provider basically said we were out of luck, but I wasn’t ready to give up so fast… I knew that Classic ASP is still supported on windows server, even when running ASP.net. Classic ASP was the original version of Microsoft’s server side scripting framework. The next version of the framework was ASP.net, which has also gone through its own upgrades over the years. So, I posed the question…couldn’t we try and run HTML files through Classic ASP instead of ASP.net? My client’s hosting provider made the change and bingo, it worked like a charm. We can now issue search engine friendly 301 redirects on HTML pages. Just to clarify, this meant that I could add Classic ASP code to any HTML file running on the website. For our purposes, I could issue a 301 redirect via Classic ASP code, the HTML file would be run through the Classic ASP engine, and everyone would be happy. :)

The Added Benefits of Using This Solution:
The obvious benefit is that we can now use 301 redirects with any HTML file on the website, when needed. The added benefit is that we can now also use Classic ASP code within any HTML file running on the website. Typically, HTML files can only contain HTML code (no server side functionality.) But with this solution, I can make database calls, provide dynamic content, use session variables, and any other Classic ASP functionality available. It’s a flexible solution, to say the least.

In closing, please remember the following items when you need to redirect HTML files on your website:

1. If you need to redirect a webpage or domain name, use a 301 redirect.

2. Don’t use 302 redirects. If you do, use them at your own peril. {cue mad scientist laughter}.

3. If your website is hosted on a windows server, use ISAPI rewrite to issue your 301 redirects. It's a great utility.

4. If you can’t use ISAPI rewrite and you are in a shared environment, try and issue the redirect via ASP or ASP.net code. If you are trying to redirect HTML files, you’ll need to skip to #5 below.

5. If you can’t add ASP.net or Classic ASP code because you are working with HTML files, then try running your HTML files through the ASP.net or Classic ASP engine. Then you’ll be able to add the 301 redirect code to your HTML files.

Happy Redirecting!

GG

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Site Search in Google Analytics, One More Weapon in Your Analytics Arsenal


Site Search Analysis in Web AnalyticsIf you run an e-commerce website, then you already know how important site search is to your business. As websites grow more complex, visitors love to use site search to find products on your website. So, how good of a job does your site search do at connecting visitors to the products that they are looking for? Did you pause? :) In my opinion, site search analysis is a key component to understanding customer behavior and can greatly help enhance your online business. Google Analytics recently launched its Site Search functionality and I wanted to give an introduction to the functionality and reporting now available.

Why is Site Search Analysis Important?
I’ll give you the quick answer… Because visitors on your site are giving you a lot of feedback about how you handle their questions, but unfortunately, the feedback isn't given directly to you. If you were a salesperson in a retail store, you would get immediate feedback, right? “Excuse me Glenn, I’m looking for an HD TV from Samsung. Can you point me in the right direction?” You would obviously know how well you directed that person or how well your store could handle the request (i.e. you might not even carry Samsung HD TV’s.) On a website, you don’t hear the feedback, you don’t immediately know which “aisle” visitors traveled down, and you might not know how much revenue came from that query. This is where site search analysis can greatly help your efforts. And, you can take action relatively quickly based on the data. Again, this will be an introduction to keep the post from being 15 pages long…but I plan to write more about this in future posts. Let’s jump in…

Finding Site Search in Google Analytics:

Clicking Site Search in Google AnalyticsFirst, I’m assuming you have set up site search in your profile. It’s very easy to do and you can find instructions from Google here. Once you are logged in, click the Content tab in the left side navigation, and then click Site Search. You will be taken to the Overview page, where you are provided with several options. Let’s start with the most obvious report for site search, the actual keywords that your visitors are entering on your website.

Search Terms (or Keywords) Used on Your Website:
Click the link under Site Search for Search Terms to view all of the keywords that visitors are using on your website. Cool, right? Do they match what you thought were the top searches? I’m sure there are some surprises… This is a great way to get a top level picture of what people are looking for on your site. Let’s quickly look at some of the key metrics on this page (Note, I will not cover all of the metrics in this post…)

Screenshot of the Search Terms Report:
Click on the image below for a larger version:
Viewing search terms (keywords) in Site Search

Total Unique Searches - This is the logical starting point. You can easily see the hot keywords on your website and then drill into them when you want to view more detailed reporting.

% Search Exit - What a great metric! This is the percentage of people that exited immediately from the search listings after searching for that keyword. It's very similar to bounce rate and it's a great red flag indicator. Imagine you see a 90% search exit rate for a keyword that matches a product you have! Why is that happening? A quick search on your site could possibly reveal the problem. Then go and fix it immediately! :)

% Search Refinements - Or the percentage of people that refined their search keywords after searching for a specific keyword. This reveals a lot about how your visitors search for products. You will love this metric if you plan on making site search enhancements… More on this later. For example, a visitor might start with HD TV, but then refines their search as follows:
HD TV --> Samsung HD TV --> Samsung HD TV LCD

Revenue Anyone?
And of course you can click the tabs for Goal Conversion and E-Commerce at any time to view revenue per keyword or your site conversions per keyword (like newsletter signups, RSS subscriptions, etc.)

Drill Into Your Top Keywords:
You can click any keyword to drill into more detailed reporting. One of my favorite reports is the Search Navigation report, which you can find by clicking the Analyze dropdown once you drill into a specific keyword. Click Analyze and then select Search Navigation. This will show you the page that visitors started their search on (using that keyword), and then where they ended up. You need to click a page on the left and then Google Analytics will show you the page that visitors ended up on (the destination page). You may find some interesting results, like visitors ending up on pages that you would rather them not end up on given their specific search! For example, if someone searches for Samsung HD TV and they end up the Digital Cameras page, you would want to take a hard look at how that happened…

Screenshot of the Search Navigation Report:
Click on the image below for a larger version:
Search Navigation in Site Sarch


Search Term Refinement:
You can also use the Analyze dropdown to select Search Term Refinement, which will enable you to see how visitors refined their searches after first searching for the selected keyword. Using the example I listed above, you might see that visitors started with HD TV, then added a manufacturer Samsung HD TV, and then added a screen type like Samsung HD LCD TV. The way visitors search may be completely different based on the categories of products you sell. You might end up refining your search functionality by category to enhance your visitors’ experience and to maximize sales.

Screenshot of the Search Term Refinement Report:
Click on the image below for a larger version:
Search Term Refinment in Site Search


0 Search Results
Interested in knowing which search terms result in a 0 search results page? This is not built into GA, so finding this takes an extra step. I typically start by finding high % search exits and then hit the e-commerce website in question to see the results. For example, if you see a 90% exit rate after the search for LG HD TV, you might want to check it out. Finding keywords like this can help you determine problematic search results (like if you really had LG HD TV’s!) It can also help you determine possible new product additions. If you don’t carry LG HD TV’s and you have a lot of visitors searching for them, you might want to consider adding them, right? You get the point!

Site Search Usage - Let’s take a step back and look at the usage reporting.
Click the Usage link under Site Search in the left navigation. You can see the number of visits to your site that utilized site search versus not using site search. Then you can use the dropdowns to analyze additional metrics. For example, use the dropdown to show revenue so you can see how much money was generated by visitors using site search. Or, you can view number of transactions from site search versus visitors not using site search. On the right side, you can view a pie chart based on visit type (visits with or without site search). For example, use the right dropdown to view time on site (for visitors who used site search versus not using site search). The Usage reporting is a great way to see how much value your site search is providing your business.

Screenshot of the Site Search Usage Report:
Click on the image below for a larger version:
Search Usage in Site Search Reporting


Which Destination Pages Performed the Best?
By clicking the Destination Pages link under Site Search in the left navigation, you can view all of the pages that visitors were taken to after searching for a keyword. You can quickly use the dropdown to view metrics for that destination page, such as revenue, total unique searches, complete orders, conversion rate, % search exits, etc. This is a great way to look at top performing pages versus poorly performing destination pages. For example, you might be able to find certain elements, calls to action, visuals, etc. from a top performing page that you can apply to poorly performing pages. You can also drill into each page to see the keywords that led to the page. And, you can still use the dropdown up top to view key metrics (now by keyword versus destination page).

Start Pages
To view the pages where searches on your website originated, click Start Pages under Site Search in the left navigation. So, why did searches originate from these pages? Is there something you can do to enhance certain pages? Do any of those pages also have a high bounce rate or exit rate? You can click any of the start pages to view the search keywords that visitors entered while on that page. For example, you might find a category landing page with searches for products not listed on that landing page (even though they are part of that category). If you see enough of a demand for certain products or subcategories, you might try adding them to the landing page. Remember, you want to connect your visitors with the products they are looking for as quickly as possible. If you can take a barrier away, like having to search for the product, then do it. Small adjustments might reap great rewards.

Site Search Trending
The last set of reporting I’m going to cover is Site Search Trending, which can be found under the Site Search tab in the left navigation. By clicking the link for Trending, you can easily see data over time for key metrics in site search. Using the Trending dropdown at the top of the report, you can view visits with search, % search exits, % search refinements, search depth, etc. Keep in mind, this reporting is top level and not for specific searches. It will give you an overall snapshot of how your site search functionality is working. For example, let’s say you’ve had a slight problem recently with visitors not being able to easily find your search box. So you made some changes to its location and want to see if that change affected the percentage of visitors using site search. This is a great report for finding information like this… The trending graph enables you to easily view data over time. That was just a quick example, but I wanted to make sure you understood that Trending was at the site level when looking at this report.

Moving forward with Site Search Analysis…
I hope this post helped introduce Site Search Analysis in Google Analytics and gets you excited about digging deeper. Let’s face it, if someone is searching for products on your site, you don’t want to lose them… To use the retail sales analogy I explained earlier, visitors who are using site search are actually giving you feedback. The problem is that they aren't directly giving the feedback to you! You need to channel their approval or frustration through your site search reporting within Google Analytics (or other web analytics packages). It can help you reveal what’s working and what’s not working. You might be surprised what you find!

GG

Related Posts:
* Analyzing Your Holiday Email Marketing Campaigns Using Google Analytics
* The Referring Sites Report in Google Analytics : Know the Value of Websites Linking to You
* A Review of Google Analytics v2

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Migrating to Coremetrics Search Marketing Tools - My Favorite Features


Coremetrics Search Marketing Tools - List of Top FeaturesI think everyone agrees that managing paid search is tough and time consuming. In my opinion, you need to be chest deep in your campaigns all of the time to reap the greatest rewards. With keyword research, copywriting, building landing pages, optimizing your campaigns, etc. it takes a lot of time, to say the least. So, if you could leverage technology to make the process of managing paid search more efficient, my guess is that you would probably do it. Of course, you would need a solid tool that provides a wealth of functionality for it to make sense. You probably wouldn’t make a big change if you just added one piece of functionality…you would need a platform that helps you on several dimensions.

The Vendor UI, Spreadsheets, Text Editors, and 3rd Party Software
Paid Search Management Can Make You Crazy!If you walked into the office of someone managing paid search for their company, you would probably see a process that includes a host of products and services. This includes bulk spreadsheets, the vendor UI’s (going directly into Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. to manage campaigns), using AdWords Editor, Text Editors, and 3rd party software for bid management. Then add a web analytics package for analysis mixed with reporting from the vendor and it becomes a world of multiple touch points that can drive a search marketer insane… and can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome. ;-) So, how can you alleviate the madness of paid search management? Well, alleviate might be a strong term, since the fast and furious process of managing paid search isn’t going away, but you can definitely make it easier for yourself. Enter web analytics vendors that provide paid search management packages. Coremetrics is one of the vendors offering this type of functionality and I created this post to list some of my favorite features of the platform. Note, this post is not meant to cover all of the functionality provided by Coremetrics Search Marketing Tools, so look for future posts that expand on this topic.

Some of My Favorite Features of Coremetrics Search Tools:

1. Auto-Tagging of Keywords
Halelujah. :-) For those of you who have to tag keywords so you can accurately track them in your analytics package, you will GREATLY appreciate this feature. Whether you manually tag them or you have developed your own application to tag them (which probably isn’t that good…), you will LOVE this feature of Coremetrics Search Tools. Simply copy the keywords you want to include in an Ad Group and click “Add New Keywords”. Wow, that was tough. ;-) Compare that to the painful, vision-killing, carpal tunnel syndrome-creating, insanity of tagging the keywords yourself, and you can see why this one feature may be worth the migration to CM Search Tools. For example, I added about 300 keywords to an ad group last week in about 10 seconds…and tagged the keywords at a granular level (read below).

2. Tagging Keywords at a Granular Level
Even when you tag keywords, sometimes you want to know more about why those keywords are generating sales (or not generating sales…) With the typical tagging hierarchy, you might see something like this in your web analytics package:

Vendor -> Campaign -> AdGroup -> Keyword

Now, that’s fine and you’ll see revenue by keyword, ad group, and campaign, but what if you wanted to see more? Coremetrics Search Tools enable you to go further by seeing a multitude of additional elements. For example, keyword match type, the raw keyword entered into the search engine, the version of the creative that yielded a click through, and whether the ad was displayed on the content network or in the search listings. Having access to these additional parameters will only enhance your decision making when managing paid search.

To show you the difference, let’s take a look at a hypothetical example:

What you would traditionally see with standard tagging:
Google->Sneakers->Nike->Nike Air Zoom

What you can see using Coremetrics Search Marketing Tools:
Google->Sneakers_Nike->Nike_Air_Zoom_Phrase->Search_CreativeVersionA

You can see how granular your reporting can be using Coremetrics Search Tools. Just to clarify the listing, Google = Vendor, Sneakers_Nike = Campaign and Ad Group, Nike_Air_Zoom_Phrase = Keyword and Match Type, and Search_Creative_VersionA = the ad was displayed in the Search Listings along with the version of the ad creative that the visitors clicked through. Impressive, right?

--Update: I've received some questions about the difference between the vendor dynamic values and Coremetrics dynamic values when tagging keywords. To clarify, I use a mixture of both when tagging keywords for paid search reporting. This gives me the best of both worlds.

3. Finding the Raw Keywords that Visitors Used
By seeing the raw keywords that yielded visitors and revenue, you can find valuable long tail terms to add to your campaigns. For example, let’s say you had a keyword set to Broad Match and 550 people clicked through the site yesterday via that keyword. Using Coremetrics Search Tools, you could drill into that keyword to see what people really entered, which can include terms that maybe you never would have targeted. You can then copy those keywords and quickly add them to the Ad Group in question, enabling you to target high quality visitors based on actual data.

To give another hypothetical example:
Let's say you have a broad match keyword like computer for gaming. Maybe you received 100 visitors yesterday from the keyword. Using Coremetrics, you can drill into that keyword and see what people really entered like What’s the best computer for gaming? or Tricking out your computer for gaming. These long tail keywords can be extremely valuable and can help you target prospects at a more granular level. Think about it, you can target what everyone else is targeting or target long tail keywords that your competitors might not even be aware of? I’d go with the latter almost every time. ;-)

4. It’s directly tied to your analytics program!
To quote Hyundai, Duh. :-) This bullet will cover several reporting elements, but having revenue, cost data, click through rate, bounce rate, average position, cpc data, etc. right in your web analytics program makes your life a lot easier. You don’t need to bounce around (no pun intended) to find the data you need. In addition, having Coremetrics Attribution Windows handy enables you to see first click, last click, and average click data all in one interface alongside your paid search statistics. Nice.

So that’s my first crack at letting you know what I like best about Coremetrics Search Tools. Definitely check back soon as I plan to write more about managing paid search using the platform. For example, I didn’t cover bid management functionality, which can really help you automate some time consuming tasks. Actually, that’s probably a large enough topic to warrant its own post!

In closing, if you are looking to increase your efficiency while expanding your paid search efforts, all while decreasing your chances of getting carpal tunnel syndrome and having to wear glasses for the rest of your life, check out Coremetrics Search Marketing Tools. Wow, heck of a tagline for their product, huh? ;-)

GG

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Buying Your Brand Keywords in Paid Search When You Already Rank in Natural Search Might Actually Make Sense


Should You Run Paid Search Ads For Your Brand Keywords?I love that in web marketing you can test ideas and receive almost immediate feedback. When it comes to search marketing, I focus heavily on both paid search and organic search and although I’m a bigger advocate of organic search, I definitely see the value in running paid search campaigns. For those of you running paid search purely for branding purposes, my paid search philosophy may sound strange to you. I focus on a crazy thing called Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) which means I’m not happy with just visitors…my goal is to generate conversions. ;-)

Formula for Return on Ad Spend (ROAS):
Revenue - Ad Spend / Ad Spend * 100

To Run Brand Terms or Not To Run Brand Terms…
Since organic search and paid search are two very different animals, it’s often hard for marketers to determine whether or not they should run paid search for their brand keywords. Logic tells us that if you dominate the top listing in organic search for your brand terms, then why would you need to run paid search?? It just doesn’t make sense, right? People trust the organic listings, they will see you ranking #1 and immediately click that link and buy from your site, right? For the most part, that’s been my philosophy. Well, the web marketing world changes at light speed and I never thumb my nose at test results (which brings me to the point of this post.)

Offermatica’s Paid Search Test
I recently read an article by Offermatica explaining a test they ran with one of their online retail clients. They basically wanted to test the effect of running paid search for brand keywords when the company in question owns the top spot in the organic listings. Would it matter? They tracked 30 brand keywords over a 2 week period, one week with the paid search ads turned on and the other week with them off. You can read more in the article, but the test showed that although the site received fewer visitors during the week that the paid search ads were turned on, conversions were up almost 23% and revenue per visitor was up 22%. Now, it wasn’t a perfect test…but it did show the value in running paid search for brand terms.

So I said to myself, what the heck…I’m also going to try it out (although not as elaborate as Offermatica’s test.) I performed keyword research for our brand name and found about 40 keywords that we should target. Then I quickly set up the campaigns in both Google and Yahoo. That was a month ago. Then I waited for the data to come in…

What were the results?
Again, I didn’t go to the extent that Offermatica did, but I saw our brand keywords generate sales that far outweighed their cost. The ROAS so far has been 5900%. In addition, during the test, we saw registrations up 31% from paid search and even natural search revenue went up 41%. Go figure. Now, it definitely wasn’t a perfect test, but if you look at the Return on Ad Spend for the brand terms, it makes a lot of sense to keep the ads running (to say the least). Think about it, if I told you that you could net $59 for every $1 of ad spend, would you run the ads? You bet you would! :-) I’m becoming a believer. I rarely argue with data.

Should You Run Paid Search for Your Brand?
Every business is different so you should evaluate this paid search strategy based on your unique situation. However, it’s definitely worth a test. Simply allocate some ad spend for a month to run paid search for brand terms and see how they perform. Then compare the results to a similar month for your business. In my opinion, it’s well worth it. Remember, 5900% ROAS. :-) Worst case scenario, you turn off the ads.

Here are some factors to consider when evaluating whether to run paid search for your brand (even when you own the top spot in organic search):

1. How unique is your brand name?
2. How much competition do you have for your brand name in search marketing (both paid and organic)? You might be surprised to see paid search ads running when you enter your own company name! Yikes.
3. How much revenue do you currently generate from your brand keywords in organic search?
4. You should perform keyword research to see how popular your brand terms are in both organic search and paid search.
5. Are you running any other marketing campaigns where running brand terms in Paid Search would help your efforts?
6. Structure your test so you can pull key data from your analytics package (you will get a lot of questions from senior management regarding your test, especially if senior management leans one way versus another with regard to paid search.)

As I mentioned in a previous post, Paid Search is a tough and gritty online marketing channel, but if you keep a close eye on your campaigns and constantly refine them, Paid Search can be a profitable channel. Testing is the name of the game, so as the Royal Bank of Scotland says, "Make it happen". --Hold on a minute! I just searched for the Royal Bank of Scotland and see they are running paid search for their brand keywords. Do you think that they also read the Offermatica article? Then I quickly searched for the tagline that’s been in all of their TV commercials "Make It Happen", and I didn’t see one ad…ok, maybe they should read the article! :-)

GG

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Top Online Marketing Channels - My Top 6 in June 2007


At least a few times per month I’m asked, “Which internet marketing channels do you believe are the strongest?” It’s almost impossible to answer this question without some context. For example, a company that sells toys is much different than a consulting firm looking for Fortune 500 clients, right? Each business will have its own top online marketing channels, based on their model. That said, below I have provided my top online marketing channels in June 2007. My top 6 are based on data collected from across my clients, as well as for my own business.

In addition, I have provided the personification of each channel, which is basically their famous alter ego. ;-) Please note that since web marketing is extremely dynamic, my top channels may change (even in a few months!)

Without further ado, counting down from 6 to 1:

Colin Ferrell Starring as Social MediaComing in at Number 6: Social Media
Who hasn’t heard of Social Media at this point…heck, there’s even an acronym for it in web marketing (SMO) or Social Media Optimization. Social Media is an umbrella term that includes social news, social bookmarking, social networking, media-driven sites like Youtube, etc. Top social media sites include Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Netscape, del.icio.us, MySpace, YouTube, and dozens of other smaller sites. Using Social Media for internet marketing is hit or miss. Yes, these sites can be huge drivers of traffic and links, but some efforts will simply not take off. I think everyone has seen 1 digg for a story quite a few times… That said, I have seen some impressive results recently from a range of social media sites.

Why Collin Ferrell? You never know which Collin Ferrell you are going to get (or show up), right? You might get the Collin Ferrell who has had a few drinks, smoking a cigarette, and throwing the f-word around. Or, you might get the movie premiere Ferrell who comes sober, has some big names in his entourage that night, and lands a $30MM first weekend. Like I said earlier, Social Media is hit or miss.


George Clooney Starring as BloggingAnd at Number 5: Blogging
In late 2005, a VP of Marketing (yes marketing) asked me rather aggressively in a web marketing meeting, “Tell me…how in the world is a blog going to impact my bottom line?” Uh, I’m sure he would like to take back that question now! :-) I don’t need to spend much time explaining the explosive growth of blogs, their impact on readers (consumers), and how RSS, search engines, blog search engines, other blogs, and social media can all play a factor in helping Jane Nobody from down the street gain rock start status as the premiere mommy blogger! If you are in charge of marketing for your business and you aren’t blogging, start now. I’m not kidding, stop reading this post, walk into your IT department, grab a web developer by his collar, and set up your blog now. It’s cost effective, measurable, viral, and can get you closer to your customers than ever before.

Why Clooney? Top bloggers bring people together, they are industry leaders, can play nice with others, and enjoy sharing their knowledge with the community. Clooney has proven to be a big time movie star, but also gives back to the community and works to help others in this country and in other countries. He’s the closest thing Hollywood has to a future President (other than Arnold, of course!)


Tony Soprano Starring as Paid SearchNumber 4 on My List - Paid Search
A tough, gritty, time-consuming, and dynamic online marketing channel, with a hint of fraud in the mix! I’m a stronger advocate of Natural Search (see below), but based on my experience with paid search, it’s hard to overlook its power. The most popular places to run paid search advertising are Google (AdWords) and Yahoo (Yahoo Search Marketing). You can set up your campaigns fast, you have a lot of control over your message and what people are seeing on your site, and you will view results in hours. That said, you can also see your budget zip away in hours! :-) Effective paid search campaigns take time, skill, experience, and a drive to always improve your efforts. You need to be chest deep in your campaigns all of the time to reap rewards from ppc. From keyword research to building ad creative to designing landing pages to optimizing your campaigns, paid search is not for the faint of heart. Regarding fraud, you can read more about click fraud here, but don’t let the article stop you from trying paid search…just keep it in mind.

Why Tony Soprano? He’s tough, gritty, and results are the name of the game. He’ll give you a wad of hundreds for coming through and then smack you across the face the next day. Welcome to the family. :-)


Michael Moore Starring as Word of Mouth MarketingIn third place, Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)
The power of wom is undeniably incredible. It’s pure viral marketing. You know, where John tells Mary, who tells her dentist, who tells her husband, who tells his friends at work, who tell their clients, etc. Before you know it, targeted visitors increase, sales increase, links to the site increase, organic rankings increase, blog posts about your product increase, etc. Sounds dynamic, doesn’t it? That’s why, in my opinion, WOM is one of the most powerful ways to enhance your business long term. So why doesn’t every company focus on Word of Mouth? It’s relatively hard to implement, it’s hard to track, and hard to determine a budget, which makes it hard to communicate to decision makers. That said, companies that understand its power (long term power), will reap great benefits from fostering word of mouth marketing. And by the way, I’m an advocate of both organic wom and amplified wom. I think both have their place in your web marketing arsenal. Check out WOMMA for more information about Word of Mouth.

Why Moore? Moore targets an issue and gets people talking. Then the grapevine effect of WOM takes over and everyone has an opinion…which leads to popular movies and revenue. I remember seeing Roger and Me in 1994 and telling my coworkers and friends about it. Think about Moore’s movies and the topics they cover. Then think about how you heard about them.


Anderson Cooper Starring as Natural SearchIn second place, the runner up is: Natural Search
I am a huge advocate of organic search, which are the natural search listings in the search engines (unpaid listings). Rank highly for your competitive keywords and you can drive large amounts of targeted traffic to your website. People trust natural search. It’s unpaid (theoretically anyway), and there are third parties (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) that rank listings based on some criteria of importance (their algorithms). Yes, there’s an entire industry out there (Search Engine Optimization or SEO) that help companies rank highly for terms, but it’s not as easy as applying budget to your organic rankings and having that yield top listings. If you have optimized your site for natural search, then compare revenue from your organic search channel with your other channels. Then, take into account ad spend. Natural Search is ultra-profitable (and can help build your brand, increase targeted traffic, increase revenue, and your bonus). :-)

Why Anderson Cooper? He’s a younger and edgier version of news anchors from the past. He has built enormous credibility (like natural search engine results), but you know there are decision makers above him that help mold the message. You trust him, but not 100%. :-)


Pete Sampras Starring as The In-House Email ListAnd our winner, my top Online Marketing Channel:
The In-House Email List

This is probably the most important marketing asset you can have at your disposal. It’s not trendy, flashy, or sexy, but with it, you have a solid base for any campaign you decide to launch. Used properly, you can count on a certain amount of revenue per month from your in-house list. You also can tap into this list for qualitative data from surveys, focus groups, and other customer feedback mechanisms. In addition, you can segment your list for more power. For example, you might know which customers want to learn more about categories A versus B, they might buy during X months versus Y months, and spend $x per transaction versus $y per transaction. Then you can base your campaigns on this data and you’ll see the true power of your in-house list.

Without a solid in-house email list, you are forced to use other channels to drive campaigns and sales. And, good luck with gaining feedback! “Hello Mr. Transient Paid Search Person, can you tell me what you think of our website?” Come on! For those of you with new businesses or small in-house lists, start to think about ways to increase your list. Launch campaigns to increase your list. Then when you have a solid list, take care of the people on that list. They can make or break your business. Literally.

Why Sampras? Pete Sampras was beyond talented, but he was humble. He dominated the competition, but he rarely made headlines. He won championship after championship, but the reporters ran by him to snap photos of Agassi. Pete was a winning machine, and was completely under-appreciated. But if you needed someone to come through, I wouldn’t want anyone else ready to serve the ball. That’s your in-house email list.

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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Monday, January 01, 2007

SEO and ROI - Return on Investment of Search Engine Optimization



In addition to rich media marketing, wom and buzz, I've been heavily working on SEO and SEM projects over the past several years. It's an exciting area of online marketing and the SEO part has been enlightening. (It's also fun, which is an added benefit!) That said, I've had several executives ask me, "What would be the return on investment (ROI) for launching an SEO initiative for my business?" That's not an easy question to answer and one that cannot be answered in a short amount of time. There is a lot of work to be done up front before you can even attempt to answer that question, from performing a thorough SEO assessment to keyword research to mapping out technical changes to analyzing the competitive landscape. Then, you might find out that the website needs to be revamped before any significant changes can take place. For example, if a site lacks a robust text navigation, which will enable each page to be properly accessed and indexed, then you've got some technical hurdles to overcome (especially before telling a CEO that he can expect a 250% SEO ROI).

When it comes to hard ROI (revenue-driven), you need a robust web analytics program that provides detailed reporting on your SEO initiative. I've been working extensively with Coremetrics recently and I can tell that it does a phenomenal job at tracking your organic listings. Once in the application, just click through to "Natural Search" and you are given a drilldown into your organic terms broken down by search engine, conversion rate, sessions, sales, orders, and new visitors. That alone would make most executives happy. I've been part of enough internet marketing strategy meetings to know that everyone thinks a given set of organic terms are their "money" terms. With Coremetrics, you can call them on it! The report I am looking at right now has 120 pages of organic terms, sorted by revenue. Drill down into a given term and you can see the search engines that visitors came from, and then you can select the terms for trending. Click the trending report and you can see revenue over time for the selected keywords. Now give that report to someone who thinks their terms rule! :-) I guess my point is that you don't have to guess anymore. When starting an SEO initiative (or any online marketing initiative for that matter), the first thing you need to do is to get your web analytics situation in order. Without it, you are flying blind.

More Detail on Organic Search Analytics in Coremetrics:
There's more to learn in Coremetrics than what I listed above. Using Clickstream reporting, you can take a hard look at pages that rank highly for organic terms. Run a clickstream report and you can see where people are going after visiting that page. This will enable you to notice trends in visitor behavior, which can help you increase conversion on your e-commerce website. For example, if you saw that one page is ranking highly for a competitive keyword, then you could set up a clickstream report to see where visitors go after hitting that page. You can keep drilling down to see where the highest abandonment takes place (where people leave your site). Maybe there is a flaw in your navigation, calls to action, or creative.

The Obvious Benefit:
Well, the completely obvious benefit of using a robust web analytics program to analyze organic search is that you get to see all of the keywords that visitors are entering to get to your site. I'll bet you had no idea that you ranked well for some of those keywords. Then you can take a look at your site to see why that is, tweak other pages to rank higher, and to help your SEM campaigns (like turning off keywords you are paying for in AdWords or YSM when you rank organically for them!) Don't laugh, this happens more than you think...

In closing, SEO shouldn't be solely about ranking for keywords (even though it is fun to see a website start to rank highly), it should be about the return on investment of the project. Set up your analytics, track your natural search terms, and document everything. Then you can show off your cool rankings, but back them up with hard numbers...and dollar signs!

GG

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