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When High Visibility = High Vulnerability for Your Brand

March 13th, 2013 No comments

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March 13th, 2013 No comments

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Google+ Local Listings Unveils Layout Update

March 6th, 2013 No comments

We awoke today to an updated local listings layout from Google  Upon first reaching a local page, the layout looks pretty similar, with the exception of a new panel at the top of the page featuring an image and business NAP (name, address, phone number) info.

local listings layout

But if you scroll up, you’ll get a large map. That map exists currently for locations who don’t have a full suite of images uploaded, but this maneuver allows the map and photos to coexist by taking a more creative approach to using page real estate.

new local map

The move is cosmetic in nature, and the way to manage listings doesn’t change, nor do the fundamental components being displayed (NAP, URL, etc.).

What are your action items as a marketer in response to this change? I see two items to address right away:

  • Claim  your location listings if you have not done so already – and remember, effective local search doesn’t just stop with submitting to Google . Ensuring accurate distribution of information across all local search platforms is critical to your success. Not sure how to claim Google+ Local pages or launch distribution with data partners? Contact us today to get started.
  • Upload a full suite of photos to your Google+ Local listings. This move really puts an emphasis on the visual dimensions of the platform, and locations that aren’t optimized with photos need to make this an immediate priority.

With Google being Google, it will be interesting to see what other changes this might foreshadow. For now, making certain you have an aggressive strategy for claiming and optimizing is the top priority.

3 Reasons Yahoo’s Cost-Per-Lead Ad Unit May Change Search in 2013

December 20th, 2012 No comments
Yahoo is rolling out an interesting new ad unit, as seen in this SearchEngineLand article. The ad unit is being sold on a cost-per-lead basis, which sounds awesome. What doesn’t sound awesome is that it resides below your branded organic result. While I always recommend a client hedge their bets by purchasing paid advertising in conjunction with their organic results to multiply their opportunities to drive traffic & conversions, that argument is more about expanding your visibility across valuable portions of the page – not doubling up on real estate you already own.
This new offering from Yahoo doesn’t give you a top paid placement to go with your organic placement, it simply places a mini lead form below your organic result. So you can now pay for a result that you had a very good chance of getting anyway. If this was higher visibility, say an offering in the first or second paid slot, then we’d really be looking at some tangible value. But this feels like paying for what you would have gotten for free anyway.
So if I don’t think the execution of this idea is that great, why do I think it could change search in the coming year? Here are three reasons:
1. Google is in “monetize everything” mode, and I believe they will copy this idea in some form or another. I think they’ll jump on this opportunity to supplement their traditional pay-per-click revenue, and to be able to boast of “driving more leads” for advertisers. 2012 has been a period of serious evaluation of how we value different parts of the search results page – local listings have made many organic listings less valuable, sitelinks have increased visibility for paid ads, and a brand-heavy emphasis + reduction of results in searches has made paid ads on branded terms more valuable (and therefore costly) than ever. This would only serve to throw another wrench into the works.
Google may put their own twist on it as well. Maybe it doesn’t add these ads to the traditional organic results, but instead chooses to insert them in Google+ local listings. We’ve long speculated they’d try to find a way to monetize those listings, so why not use this opportunity, especially since local listings tend to attract searchers who are closer to converting? Or maybe they integrate this with Google+ somehow, in another attempt to force wider adoption of the program.
2. Reason number 1 probably reads as somewhat cynical, and it is. But there’s upside as well – what if Google or Bing rolls something like this out with improvements? Maybe they put it in a higher visibility location? If I were Google, I would look at this model and say to myself “I could sell a traditional PPC click to a plumbing company for $5, or I could sell it to them on a per-lead basis and realistically grab upwards of $20 – I’m integrating 2-3 of these per-lead units into my ad space and exponentially boosting my revenue.” Again, it’s not that this is a bad idea, it’s just the execution of placing by an area you’re highly likely to get a click from anyway that needs improvement. Maybe that improvement comes and this becomes the must-have area of the SERP.
3. Companies that outsource their paid search to agencies already need to be mindful of what percentage of budget is being spent on branded terms, as many agencies will dump too much budget into those terms based on their high likelihood to convert and low cost in doing so. It artificially inflates their metrics and makes it look like they’re doing their job better than they are, when in reality they are siphoning free conversions from organic search and costing their clients coverage on critical category terms.
With an ad unit like this, I could easily see those types of agencies heavily investing on more branded searches and claiming their results are improving. Make sure you’re looking not only at the surface metrics of what the leads and cost per lead are, but what terms are making up the keyword mix for those leads, and what the opportunity cost of the keyword mix is. For example, you may be getting a good volume of leads at a CPL of $10, but what if the 98% of the keywords driving those results are branded terms that you have a strong organic presence and little competition on? This is no red herring – I’ve seen this exact scenario unfold many times. It could be that a more efficient keyword mix would focus on category terms that may cost more to convert, but will actually drive more total conversions across mediums over time, because you’ll still be able to get the leads you were paying for, but now getting them organically. This ad unit has a chance to exacerbate that keyword mix problem.
I applaud Yahoo for trying something different. Their search engine has been declared dead many times over by pundits, and while this may not save them, it’s an idea worth observing and one that may have some interesting ripple effects throughout the search landscape.

New Google SERP Layout – A Precursor To…

November 7th, 2012 No comments

Google has once again made a change to the search landscape, this time shifting search filter options from the left rail of results to the top of the page just below the search field. They’ve already announced this is a permanent change as opposed to a beta test, and they are positioning the inspiration behind it being to provide a more consistent user experience across devices. But you’re probably like me – too cynical to accept that answer at face value.

 One change by Google almost always sets up a second or third change by Google, so if there’s motive beyond the “consistency” explanation, what might be coming next?

  • Ads on the left rail? It sure looks odd to see the left rail completely bare, especially if you search a high volume term that has many ads taking up the right rail. Google’s made lots of moves this year to maximize monetization opportunities, and with disappointing earnings recently, they may be eager to tap into the real estate that section of the page offers. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some form of advertising on that side, but maybe something different from their standard pay-per-click text-based unit. Perhaps more image ads (when searches are conducive to them) or some sort of premium local unit?
  • More geo-targeted searches? One of the most interesting things to me about this change is that it takes the location selection field that has occupied the left side fairly prominently for a while now, and hidden it in the “search tools” area of this new top bar. I have a feeling more people are going to have trouble finding that, and this will lead to more geo-modified searches. Not anything of 2007 levels, but I think we could see an increase, which could create an opportunity to buy these terms at lower costs.
  • Google+ content? Google still wants to increase Google+ adoption, and past attempts to push it front and center, like “Search Plus Your World” and converting Google Places pages to Google+ Local pages don’t seem to have done the trick. So what if the left rail contained a sort of newsfeed of G+L content? Perhaps this is a longshot, but it’s certainly a possibility considering the help the platform needs.

 Perhaps Google really is just trying to deliver a cleaner, more platform-consistent experience. But I know that when I look at that empty left rail, I can’t see it staying that way for long – not when there’s money to be made…

Google Makes an “Excellent” Move by Abandoning 30 Point Scale

October 17th, 2012 No comments

A few months back, Google decided to use its acquisition of Zagat data to incorporate a 30 point rating system into its Google+ Local listings. The problem, as a wise man pointed out, was that a 30 point scale isn’t really all that meaningful to most consumers. After all, what’s the real difference between a rating of a 24 and a 27?

Thankfully, Google has taken a step toward user-friendliness by shifting away from the numerical scale and embracing something we all understand and identify with, good old-fashioned words.

There’s still a cumulative score available, but when perusing individual reviews, or leaving a review yourself, you will see more accessible ratings like “excellent” or “poor to fair.” This should deliver a better overall user experience for customers leaving reviews and consuming reviews, and for businesses trying to get a handle on their public perception.

With that conquered, maybe they could look into not overwriting location data based on outdated and inaccurate sources next…

Google’s New 7 Listing Results are More than a Cosmetic Change

October 4th, 2012 No comments

Finally got your arms wrapped around stabilizing rankings in a post-Panda/Penguin/Venice world? Great, because Google has rolled out another major change that will impact your search strategy.

Within the last month or so, Google has been shifting certain keywords to deliver only 7 organic search results instead of the traditional 10. This seems to be impacting primarily branded terms, though there are some non-branded phrases being cited in blog posts as well.

There are some obvious takeaways here, including:

  • If you’re concerned about results for your own brand, this means less first page real estate for your competitors & negative results to appear on
  • At the same time, if you’re trying to rank on someone else’s brand name, or on a term that can be construed as both a brand name & a category term, your opportunity to do was just cut by 3
  • With less overall real estate to be had, having a strong paid presence becomes more important (cynics might say this is the reason for this change – brand terms have always been cheaper buys in the paid search world, so increasing competition by cutting total number of listings could yield increased bids and more revenue for Google. Dastardly.).

But in doing some searching, it seems to me that there’s more to this change that just reducing the number of listings from 10 to 7. You’d think this change would have simply taken whatever term was ranking in slot 8 and push it to the next page. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. It appears the results themselves have been reshuffled, so on some critical terms for clients I work (and as not to reveal their targets or strategy I won’t identify the terms here) with frequently, I’m seeing that what was showing in position 4 before might be on the second page now, and second page terms may be surging to the first page now. Additionally, it seems these results are changing daily (likely a byproduct of the return of the Google Dance).

This isn’t just a revision to the search results page itself; there’s an algorithm change behind it. So not only should you be aware of the obvious takeaways referenced above, you also need to know that what helped you rank for a term before may not do the trick anymore.

In a great (albeit research-dense) post, the folks at SEOMOZ identified what looks to be an important difference between search results that are currently returning 7 listings vs. those currently returning 10 listings: the 7 listing pages appear to be scoring based off domain strength, while the 10 listing pages are scoring off of page strength.

What does that mean? Conventional wisdom for SEO has always been “find target terms, choose the best page for those terms, optimize the hell out of that page, move on to the next one.” And the reason for that is Google will typically only list one page per search term. That concept still works for the 10 listing pages, or more easily put, category terms, but for branded terms, your whole site is going to need strong overall authority, and to radiate brand relevance throughout the site in order to rank, because one strong page alone can’t deliver your ranking.

Is the domain vs. page-based scoring the only element in play here? It’s not clear yet, but we’ll continue testing & monitoring to see. And I’m sure that, as soon as that code is cracked, Google will have 2-3 new major changes for marketers to adjust to.

Take a Cue from Facebook & Start Attributing Your Offline Sales

September 27th, 2012 No comments

There’s something ironic about a company who seeks to unify the world under its digital ecosphere embracing offline activity, but Facebook is doing it, and they’re quite wise to. The question is, will you follow their lead (if you aren’t doing so already)?

We’re all wrestling with the idea of proper channel attribution these days. But all too often the discussion stops with “should I credit my paid ad, organic listing, display ad, mobile site, or social interaction for my sale,” and doesn’t carry off the screen and onto the phone. Many brands that I’ve worked with over the years see significantly more offline conversions than online.

If you’re not tying offline activity to online activity, you’re making a big mistake – one that could severely skew your budget allocation practices. After all, those folks calling your local or toll free line had to hear about you somewhere. For many companies, simply correctly attributing a few more sales to a paid search program per week could paint a much stronger ROI picture. The same goes for other mediums as well. There’s a wealth of great data to be extracted by tying offline to online. What are some things you can do to make that connection?

  • Call Tracking Lines: This is the most obvious solution, and one of the most effective. Call tracking options vary in levels of sophistication of implementation. On the higher end, you can configure your site’s landing pages so that call tracking lines are dynamically inserted, and then through your internal call center tracking, tie the call to future revenue produced. Or you may opt for a lower tech implementation with call tracking lines placed on static landing pages or simply in ads.
  • Click-to-Call: Google has introduced click to call technology for AdWords, featured not only on mobile but on PC-targeted ads as well. These are managed through a bidding/relevancy process just as any other AdWords ad, and the great benefit here is that in addition to simply seeing how many total calls came from your paid search ads, you can tie a call back to a specific keyword, and then make future optimizations based on the most successful terms.
  • Offer Codes: Another old standby, offer codes can range from low-tech implementations such as having channel-specific codes that customers can recite to the call center or mention in person, to more sophisticated offerings like Google Offers for local businesses. The mobile arena is one that’s especially fertile for this sort of activity, and an area where measurement is especially important.

 These are just a few of the more popular and accurate ways to improve attribution of online activity. Are you testing out other methods as well and finding success? Just think of how many calls your call center receives every day, and then ask yourself what you are doing to maximize the information that lies in all that activity. Take it from Facebook, sometimes to truly understand the value of online efforts, you need to go offline.

iPhone 5 Brings the Need for Responsive Design to the Forefront

September 13th, 2012 No comments

Think that just because your site is optimized for previous generation iPhones that it will render perfectly in the new iPhone 5? Think again. As described here, the display upgrades in the iPhone 5 will leave some sites rendering at a less-than-optimal level in landscape view. That’s because rather than adopting a truly responsive design, designers and developers have planned only for the existing iPhone sizes.

For the uninitiated, responsive design is a design that adapts seamlessly to any screen size thanks to style sheet functionality. While in the past you could develop one version of your site for the desktop/laptop experience and one for mobile, that’s no longer the best option. As more fragmentation occurs in the mobile market thanks to the introduction and adoption of new tablets, smartphones, and hybrids of the two, the concept of a “standard” screen size is antiquated. To deliver the best possible user experience, your site needs to leverage the larger amounts of real estate offered by tablets, phablets, and to a lesser degree the iPhone 5.

With every data point indicating that the importance of mobile and tablet activity to your business will only continue to explode, it’s imperative that you develop a responsive design strategy immediately.

Last Call to Optimize Location Listings for Holiday Shopping

August 30th, 2012 No comments

At this point you’re certainly aware of the increased importance location listings play in your marketing mix. Their increased visibility in search results (which is based on consumers’ ever-increasing appetite for local content), their importance to mobile searches, the high trust factor consumers ascribe to them, and the high user intent behind local search (72% and 86% of searchers on mobile and tablet devices respectively go on to make a purchase after conducting a local business search) make them a valuable asset in holiday season marketing strategy.

But what you may not realize is this is effectively the last chance to get your listings claimed and optimized in time for the holidays. The timing involved in getting listings approved and published online is such that you need to act now or else risk missing out on significant online and offline traffic. Google takes 4-6 weeks at its fastest to validate & publish listings, while data aggregators (which are key in correcting information found on traditionally spotty portals like Yahoo Local and Internet Yellow Pages sites) can take a bit longer than that. So if you get a program in place now, you can still get accurate, optimized data pushed out to many key platforms in time to capitalize on the huge spike in searches that will be occurring in November & December.

Where to begin? Contact 15miles today and we can help you establish your local listings program at an affordable rate, including implementing tracking & reporting to gauge the impact on your business. Don’t miss out on the chance to leverage local to reach your holiday sales goals!