Clients | 15miles

Don’t Let Penguin Chill Your Organic Traffic

May 17th, 2012 1 comment

Hopefully you are not one of the businesses currently claiming that Google’s Penguin update has “ruined my business.” The recent algorithm update, which is unique in that it is by Google’s own admission designed NOT to improve search results quality but instead to penalize links obtained through dubious means, is a great reminder of how important it is to have a diverse and CLEAN link profile. Here are some key facts to keep in mind.

1. Don’t buy links. This is not a new truth that has emerged because of Penguin; you should not have been involved in link-buying for any reason in the past 5-7 years. But with Penguin, many of the sites that had been skating by without penalty have been slammed with a market correction that is costing them traffic and in turn dollars.

2. Avoid link swapping services and schemes. If you have a business partner (such as a distributor of your product), by all means feel free to exchange links with them. But don’t participate in link swapping sites that suddenly lead to your plumbing site serving up links to Joe’s Fly Fishing Emporium.

3. Focus your link-building efforts around CONTENT. Your best bet in having a link blessed by Google is to have it be within the context of content that is genuinely valuable and relevant to the site visitor. This is where having the ability to conceptualize compelling and useful content and being able to get it into the hands of bloggers and news sites is more valuable than ever. This is going to require more time, effort, and marketing ability than many of the more automated approaches to link-building than before, but the stakes and potential rewards of putting in that effort are greater now too.

 If you don’t already have an editorial calendar that is designed to generate story ideas to push out to bloggers, news sites, and other relevant locations, get started on one now. Additionally, if you have a blog or news section of your site, start pushing more content out to it in hopes of having it picked up by other sites that will post links to you. Good content for these efforts include list and tip-focused content.

4. Mix up your anchor text. There’s no better way to raise a red flag to lead to a deeper Google investigation than to have 10,000 links point back to your site, all using a competitive category keyword (e.g. “best used car prices” for an auto dealer). There was certainly a time when I’d have counseled clients to have keyword-rich anchor text on inbound links whenever possible, but that’s no longer good advice

5. Diversify. Google’s been making significant adjustments to the way they credit links for a couple of months now, and you don’t know what signal might be devalued next. So by having your links come in from a number of different resources, you have a much better chance of weathering any storm.

Keep these tips in mind to avoid the wrath of the penguin and to keep your traffic flowing in consistently.

Of CEOs, and Knowing Stuff…

May 15th, 2012 No comments

It has been a sucky week to be a CEO.  First, JPMorgan’s CEO has to mention a $2 billion loss at the same investor meeting where they determine his pay package.  Steve Ballmer gets the dubious honor of “Worst CEO” by Forbes (because he has consistently thrown the baby out with the bathwater), Yahoo’s CEO got “allowed to resign” for falsifying his resume, and – my favorite – the CEO of Time Warner, when asked about getting Internet content on a TV, didn’t know what Apple’s AirPlay was, and said of the Apple TV, “the little thing, the hockey puck, really doesn’t do anything to help enable you to get Internet material on your TV.”

Now, I don’t expect the whole world to know about AirPlay or Apple TV – if you’re a Mac fan, you’re probably familiar with it – if not, it’s Apple’s tool to allow you to stream video you find on your iPhone, iTouch or iPad and stream it to your Apple TV – a sweet little peripheral that allows you to connect to iTunes to rent or buy movies, stream content off your computer or – oh yeah – stream content off your i-Device.  From the Internet.  To the TV.

The CEO’s comment is devilishly stupid for a variety of reasons – but the one lesson we can take from it is even your CEO may not know or understand the online ramifications of their business, to their business.  The JPMorgan guy?  He was hedging against hedges – he knew the risk, and it blew up on him.  Ballmer seems to know his stuff, but has been changing strategies and product streams like I quit smoking (often and with enthusiasm) with the same results (failure).  And the Yahoo guy?  The Interweb has a lot of information on it – you’d think that they guys who ostensibly made PayPal what it is and got the job at Yahoo would know that, in 2012, you’re going to get caught for resume fraud.  All in all, people who know what they’re doing but making dubious choices except for the Yahoo guy – we give him a straight up fail.  Time Warner’s CEO falls on the other side of the inactivity spectrum – he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and thusly doesn’t plan for it accordingly.  He should know about AirPlay – especially when it’s in response to a question about getting Internet content on your TV – which could completely blow up the cable industry paradigm.  He was, apparently, completely ignorant of at least one of the several tools out there that stream from device to TV (and based on his comments, probably all of them).   But the reality is, there are a lot of CEOs in charge of companies that are both massively and subtly affected by the Internet, who don’t understand the impact of the Interwebs on their business.  It’s our job as marketers to educate them so they can make CEO-y decisions.

CEOs don’t have marketing departments because they want to.  We’re arrogant, we ignore dress codes, and often show up with hangovers.  CEOs have them because they spearhead revenue generation for the company.  It’s that simple.  All too often though, I hear from friends that their CEO has made a request of the marketing department that’s simply unreasonable.  Most of the time, simply impossible.  Alas, these requests are fueled by ignorance of the Internet – of how it works, of what it takes to garner visibility and the customers that come with them, and even how the company currently does business on the Net.  The real problem arises when we allow the CEOs to make requests borne out of ignorance and perpetuated by yes men.  “We should be #1 on Google” says the CEO, and the Marketing chief says “yessir” and tries to figure out how to make that happen.  Another one – “I want more business from the Internet”.  It’s an easy thing to say, but a little more complicated to make happen.  The CEO is the nexus of all things in the company – operations, marketing, sales – but if he doesn’t know how it should happen, it’s difficult to expect marketing or sales to make it happen.

Educate your CEOs – especially if online is already a big piece of your business.  They need to know about their business, and they need to know online is still not going away.  Believe it or not – in this day and age, there are still people who have decided that the Internet isn’t worth their (or their company’s) time.  Educate – especially if it’s a hassle.  Educating someone is inversely painful to the amount they know.  If you’re doing business online, and they don’t “get it”, it’s damn sure time they did.  They don’t need to carry a smartphone and they can still have their secretaries print off their emails, but they need to know that B2B and B2C customers are using online to find their business – be it a web site, a phone, or placing an order.  If the CEO of a plumbing company doesn’t get how a customer can find him from a tablet – that’s a problem for the company.  How is he supposed to run the company without knowing how customers are finding his business?  How is he supposed to operationalize a fleet of plumbers when their on-demand status can change – like the Internet – in the span of a second?  At the end of the day, it’s up to all of us to make sure our bosses understand what we do.  Sometimes it’s not easy – if they don’t understand something, they tend to leave the person in charge of that something alone, but it’s simply not healthy for the company.

But whatever you do, don’t send them out to answer questions like Time Warner’s CEO.  That’s just embarrassing.

Bit.ly Releases New Study on Best Times for Social Posting

May 10th, 2012 No comments

One of the biggest challenges in executing an effective social campaign is cutting through the clutter and making your message stand out. You need a couple of factors working in your favor to gain the audience’s attention: a compelling message, and good timing. Bit.ly has released a new study that may help you with the timing aspect, as it suggests the best times to send out social messaging.

  • For Facebook, the most effective times are during 1-3 PM midweek (workers looking for a post-lunch distraction, perhaps?), and the worst times are past 8 pm and on weekends
  • Twitter follows a similar pattern, with Monday-Thursday 1-3 PM being the best opportunity to Tweet, and weekends and post-8 PM weekday tweeting less effective
  • Tumblr recommendations are also included, with the suggestion of posting from 7 PM-10 PM, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays. That recommendation, plus the lack of suggestion against posting on weekends, definitely makes it stand out against Facebook and Twitter.
  • While Google+ was not included in Bit.ly’s study, Interbrand recently released data suggesting that 9 am was the peak time for engagement with G+ posts.

These are definitely helpful guidelines, but as always the best approach is to analyze your own data through your analytics platform of choice, and to know your audience (is there something about your audience makeup that may make them more prone to respond at one time of day over another?).

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When “Chasing the Tail” Is a Good Thing

May 3rd, 2012 No comments

“Chasing your tail” has long been a euphemism for a circular and unproductive activity. But as cost-per-clicks rise and competition in the search space grows more fierce, more advertisers are finding that chasing the long tail of search terms is increasingly successful.

For example, take a look at this recent article in Marketing Sherpa which highlights work 15miles executed with a regional client. Finding itself in a highly competitive industry traditionally dominated by national brands, this client and 15miles teamed up on strategic search efforts that leveraged the opportunity that geo-modified long tail keywords presented.

These terms represent marketing gold for two reasons. First of all, they’re less competitive, so from an organic perspective, you can secure top rankings faster, and from a paid perspective you can gain clicks at a lower cost-per. Second, the rule of thumb with long tail terms is the more specific the query, the higher the user intent. So even though these terms don’t drive the high volumes of more generic phrases, the engagement and likelihood to buy of the user is much stronger.

If you’re looking for a way to boost conversions while stretching your marketing dollars, re-evalute your keyword selection strategy to make sure you’re fully leveraging mid and long tail opportunities.

Finders Are Now Seekers: How Local Has Changed the Game

April 30th, 2012 No comments

Check out this month’s Local column from 15miles on Clickz:

http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2171149/finders-seekers-local-changed-game

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Local Listings are the Most Trusted Local Business Data Source

April 26th, 2012 No comments

Hopefully you were able to attend the webinar last week detailing the results of the annual 15miles/comScore/Localeze Local Search Study. If so, you may have been intrigued by what I thought was one of the more interesting findings: respondents selected local listings as the most trusted local business data source, ahead of organic and paid results.

Hearing that these results are favored over paid may not surprise you, as searchers have grown more savvy over the years and are able to spot irrelevant ads much more easily. Companies which purchase ads on pretty much any product available (I’m looking at you, Amazon) even if they can’t fulfill the customers’ needs have had a lasting negative impact on paid results.  That’s not intended to be an indictment of paid advertising – I wholeheartedly endorse it as a tactic – but we have to understand the reality of how some customers perceive that section of search results now.

What was interesting to me was the fact that local listings outpaced organic. In business meetings and informal discussions, I often hear how much trust searchers place in organic results, so hearing that they didn’t come in first was surprising. However, thinking about this a little more carefully, I think the issue is again one of users becoming more savvy based on past search experience. The question being asked is in regards to local business listings specifically, and I think searchers have had to endure too many Merchant Circle-type sites showing up high in organic rankings over the years. Think of your own search habits – how often do you search for local businesses and find organic results littered with outdated local directories that feature disconnected phone lines or closed locations? I know I’ve run into this problem over and again.

So what do you as a marketer do with this customer feedback? I think the first objective is to put together a local listings management program if you do not have one in place already. If customers are putting more faith in the local listings they’re encountering on Google or Bing, then you need to make sure you’re supplying those sites with accurate data to pay off those expectations. Second, re-examine your local paid search and local SEO strategies. What can you do to make your ads, meta descriptions, landing pages, and local pages feel like more localized, trustworthy content? What can you do to separate yourselves from the spammers and irrelevant listings out there, so you can gain the trust, and in turn click-throughs, of the customer? The time you invest in an exercise like this will pay off in more leads and sales, making it well worth the effort.

For more data insights like the one discussed above, please download the Local Search Study data and white paper at http://localsearchstudy.com/. Replays of the presentation are available as well.

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Local Listings Management. It Is About the Customer.

April 20th, 2012 No comments

This week, Will mentioned the study released by Implied Intelligence, showing that accuracy on Google is lower than that of internet yellow pages, yet Google actually has broader coverage. In other words, locations are more likely to show up in Google, but the information about them may be wrong.

The important point here is that the study was based on randomly selected local businesses, not targeted to managed programs. We conduct audits of our clients listings across the engines and major iYPs on a on-going basis. What we find is that the accuracy and coverage on Google is much higher than the iYPs. But, we actively manage the location information. This is the key.

There is a saying in tech development, Garbage In, Garbage Out, or GIGO. There is a lot of garbage on the internet. Wrong listings, old listings, even maliciously manipulated listings. Google looks for information everywhere. To ensure they see the good information in greater proportion to any garbage, you have to actively manage the listings.

The question then is, is it really worth it? Ask your customers.

Take a look at the recently release 2012 Local Search Study. People are looking for information in order to contact your locations. The customer experience starts before they ever contact you. It starts with their search for you. If they find bad numbers, wrong addresses, dead urls, this becomes part of their experience with YOU.

Whether you do it yourself, or engage a local search agency like us, you need to actively manage your local business listings program.

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Local Search Accuracy – Who’s The Best and Does It Matter?

April 17th, 2012 No comments

Recently database firm Implied Intelligence (as reported by Greg Sterling) conducted an observational study to see which of the Local Search sites had the most, best data.  As part of the study, they looked at not only the Local Search foundations of Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP), they also looked at some of the visibility or presence as well as any expanded data.  At the end of the day, they determined that the major Internet Yellow Pages sites provided the highest level of data accuracy – here are the results:

1. SuperPages

2. YellowPages.com

3. Google Maps

4. Bing

5. MapQuest

6. CitySearch

7. Yelp

8. DexKnows

9. FourSquare

I love studies like these – they are great general indicators of who’s doing well in the space in terms of systems, data integration, database merges – all parts of the equation we fight every day when we’re assembling local search feeds for our clients, but that’s our job.  And while these are very useful for us (or any agency who’s working through local listings issues in terms of formulating operational strategies and approaches), if you’re a small business owner, a large business owner, responsible for a franchise network or anything to do with an actual listing, studies such as this are the right answer to the wrong question.

If you are that person, or just find yourself in that position, the first important question to ask is, “Where are people looking for me?”

While Internet Yellow Pages sites have a contentious history with 3rd party audience reporting (they rely on a large portion of their eyeballs coming from white labels and partnerships), the overall trend for SuperPages.com has been downward, shedding 33% of their “observed” unique visitors over the past year (down from approximately 16.8 mm uniques in March, 2011 to 11.8 mm uniques in March, 2012 based on Compete.com data).  YellowPages.com shows a different trend, though, rising from 21.7 mm uniques in March, 2011 to 28 mm uniques in March, 2012 – around 33% growth.  That doesn’t suck.  Those sites are number one and number two on the accuracy list.  Number 3 Google Maps ranged between 35 mm and 37 mm uniques in that same time frame – and this is the subdomain that deals only with maps.  This doesn’t factor in the main Google domain (176 mm uniques last month) where the search results are localized if at all possible, providing essentially the same data as in maps.

The net result of this analysis?  IYPs are important places to make sure your data is right, but the necessity and opportunity lie elsewhere.  If your listings are wrong on Google, or you don’t have expanded information on Google, then that’s going to impact your business more from sheer visibility potential.  Factor in that “free listings” on IYPs live well beneath the fold for most significant commercial headings, that any errors will be corrected on IYPs will be corrected with a good fundamental feed program, and it becomes obvious that every business interested in local search should be focusing heavily on Google, where the information is universally spottier, where there are many more chefs monkeying with the recipe on a regular basis, and where there are a lot more eyeballs.

 

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Over-Optimized Linking, or Over Reacting…

April 11th, 2012 No comments

…depends on what you’ve been doing.

We have seen this play before, many times. Google makes a change and everyone starts to scramble. The thing is, this is not really new. Google has always had some level of penalty for bad linking practices. Now, you are at least warned about it, though you are more likely to get caught.

With each of these updates, a common theme comes through… Solid SEO practices, though not really sexy, are and always have been the best way to build your natural traffic. There are several advantages to the tried and true, besides just sleeping better.

With a good, wholistic SEO approach, you don’t become dependent on one tactic. We all know that SEO is comprised of many tactics, each lends strength to the other. As the algorithms shift, solid SEO programs should already be in place, mitigating any harm, and perhaps leveraging the new direction. Bells and whistles are fun, but the basics drive results.

You have a solid base from which to test new tactics. As Google implements changes, many SEOs are spending their time trying to prevent damage. By maintaining a solid approach, you can use these changes as a time to improve your rankings rather than trying to mitigate damage. If you want Google to blow you off the cliff then focus on one or two hot tactics, but if you want to climb the rankings, stick to solid SEO practices.

I know it is not sexy. Sales folks generally don’t like my “stick to the basics” approach… it doesn’t lend itself to flashing  PowerPoint presentations. But, they love the results that good, basic SEO lets them show.

The Great Google Trademark Quandary of 2012

April 10th, 2012 No comments

The entire issue around trademarked search terms is back in the news again. Rosetta Stone, the proprietors of the language software that you can buy at the mall – and apparently online, has been granted “go-forward” status on their trademark lawsuit against Google. The meat of the suit is the age old (at least Internet age old) question regarding use of trademarks as search terms or search triggers. That is to say, can anyone display their ad on any search term, even if it’s a protected trademark being searched?
The history on this is pretty heavily layered – from nearly day one, people have complained about the Goog’s laissez-faire approach to trademark terms. The ability to use them as advertising triggers is both vexing and tantalizing to search marketers. There is a subtle schizophrenia around the issue – everyone wants to use their competitors, but everyone also aggressively defends their own and would like to cut off their use by competitors. And by cut, I mean slice.
Years ago – and Google’s rules are essentially unchanged – we advised clients to not bid on their competitors terms if their terms weren’t being bid on. I, and the other marketers that espoused the same advice, thought that this particular détente provided a gentleman’s agreement of sorts on brand terms – arguably the best value in the search space. As these agreements were broken one by one, competitor terms rapidly became the first place to capture traffic. Great brand traffic is great brand traffic – these are customers who are ready to buy and have selected their provider – all you or your competitor has to do is snipe them. However, the down side is that the best value in the search space just became another highly competitive keyword.
Interestingly, Binghoo has taken a very different tactic on the trademark issue. They have virtually outlawed competitive trademark usage (see how friendly that sounds?) across the board.
So why the difference? Simply put, the more expensive it is for advertisers, the better it is for Google. Their defense is that the keywords are simply search triggers, and the advertisers keyword selection is up to them. If there’s controversy around it, then the advertisers should sort it out betwixt themselves.
Where do I stand on the issue? I’m no expert in trademark litigation, but the tangental issues of MegaUpload could bear out to an extent here. “Just playing the host” hasn’t played out well in front of Grand Juries (ask Kim Dotcom), but the results of that remain to be seen as well. Also, is an ad served as the result of a trademarked search the same as a movie or an album just waiting to be downloaded? Not at all, but the “we’re just the facilitator” defense will be used in both.
At the end of the day, though, I anticipate the days of cheap brand traffic will remain a thing of the past. In the context of search, a keyword is a result trigger. The results are the results – whether they be paid or organic – limiting paid when organic is unfettered proves itself – relevancy dictates the result.
As for how we settle trademark disputes, I’ll put this in the same category where I house the resolution of patent disputes: Thunderdome.