Tag Archives: SEO

Google Moves the Goalposts – this time for the better

If your organization ranks well on Google, when visitors search on terms relent to what you do, congratulations. But not for too long. Google periodically tweaks its algorithm. Overnight, your high ranking page can be sent back to the Minors.

A sudden demotion in search rankings frustrates and angers some site owners. Sometimes Google’s ranking changes may appear arcane or arbitrary. Its latest change on April 21st makes sense.

In essence it says that if someone searches from a mobile phone, pages in search results, which do not render well on a mobile device, will be penalized with a lower rank.

Not rendering well includes a multitude of issues from a page requiring lateral scrolling to menus spilling off the screen. In the parlance of web design, such pages are said to be unresponsive. Unresponsiveness reduces the effectiveness of a page. Now it also reduces its search rank.

As a start, try viewing the pages on your site from your own iOS or Android phone or tablet. You might be unpleasantly surprised by what you see. Even if the site works OK on your particular device, there may still be problems with some of the scores of gadgets your clients are using.

A convenient way to check is with Google’s “Mobile-friendly” test page.  You just enter the URL of a page you want to test. If the page, such as the one you’re reading now or, say, on a well know site such as intel.com, pass, the test responds with a reassuring
Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly in go-ahead green type. If not, you’ll see a curt Not mobile-friendly in red, a list of errors, and suggestions for designing a more responsive site.

Firms, which ought to know better, such dell.com, had problems on the mobile-friendly test. Firms, with really busy pages, Home Depot comes to mind, nonetheless passed.

Thus Google gives yet another reason for your site to have a responsive, mobile-friendly or even mobile-first design. In southern Africa, where I’m writing this, mobile is the dominant mode of online access. As a recent Pew study reports – mobile is a growing and for some segments the dominant mode of Internet access in the U.S. See graphic below.


7% of Americans Rely Heavily on a Smartphone for Online Access

In both B2B and B2C mobile is where your customers are. Have you checked the mobile-friendliness of your site lately?

When Good Things Happen to Bad Websites

You can find many good deals by searching online. If you’re looking for new eye glasses however, you’d do well to avoid the likes of DecoreMyEyes.com (DME). According to a recent report in the New York Times, the site not only failed to deliver, but harassed and threatened customers who complained about its bad service. Hapless customers found this store by searching for product brand names of eyeglass frames such as “Lafont.”

DME left a trail of irate customers, who fulminated against it on shopping sites and discussion boards. This seems to have left DME undaunted. Bad service or outright fraud are not unfortunately news. What was news was that the volume of these unfavorable mentions may have helped it rise to the first page of search rankings.

This is a new wrinkle on the old saw – it doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as they get your name right. That, at least, is the expressed belief of DME and ironically encouraged its abusive behavior.

An accepted principal of SEO is that web links to a site are in a way like a vote for that site. A site with more inbound links is likely to rank higher in search engine results, so legitimate marketers strive to recruit incoming links. To avoid an implicit vote for a site you mention online, either don’t link, or as Google suggested, modify links to sites you are mention but do not approve of, by adding a nofollow attribute to the link.

For example, instead of writing

Watch out for <a href="http://www.example.com/">Fred's Fly By Night </a> discount pharmaceuticals site.


Watch out for <a href=" a href="http://www.example.com/" rel="nofollow">Fred's Fly By Night </a> discount pharmaceuticals site.

In the case of DME, Google explicitly denied the effectiveness of negative sentiment to boost rankings by DME in a blog post. Nevertheless, it has tweaked its secret page rank algorithm to foil DME’s practices.

Google now suggests that before shopping with an unknown merchant, consumers protect themselves by doing an extra search: the name of the business plus the word “scam.” What happens when customers do that with your business?

Discontent With Content

More fresh content is a reliably effective way to improve the search rankings of a website. Blogs and other social media are among the easiest ways to do this, yet many businesses are reluctant to even try.

It’s certainly not that entrepreneurs don’t have plenty to say about their products and businesses. Start talking to entrepreneurs about their businesses or products and it’s difficult to get them to shut up. The enthusiasm and interesting nuggets of information bubble over. Why won’t they contribute some of it to a blog, tweet, or news release?

Part of the challenge is that we are asking someone to change behavior. Like diet and exercise, content creation is not a one time event.  It’s a way of continuing a conversation with your customers. Thus already busy marketers are asked to become content developers. How can we ask them to add anything to their already overfilled schedules?

Part of the challenge is that blogging with the most popular systems such as WordPress, Typepad, and Blogger is still too awkward, unnatural and difficult for many people. When you do have an idea and a few spare minutes to create that bit of news worthy content, the systems get in the way.

WordPress, with which I manage this blog, illustrates the problem. It offers a surfeit of options in design choices and features. Although WordPress is available as a free download or hosted service, configuring, maintaining and tweaking it take time – sometimes a lot of time. Time is usually an entrepreneur’s scarcest resources. Thus the forest of abandoned blogs with only a few old posts. These don’t help search engine rankings and can give site visitors the impression that nobody’s home.

Some organizations outsource content development to a consultant or assign it to an intern, either of whom typically know much less about the business than you do. More often than not their output has a familiar “me too” feel. This is evident to your site’s visitors and so doesn’t help converting them to customers.

Just do it (not to borrow a phrase from Nike) can be a good place to start. But how? Don’t think blog: think send a brief email. Even very busy people use email.

How about a content creation tool with limited features and options (so you can’t spend lot’s of time preening and polishing), which works just by sending it an email? Systems like this already exist. One I’ve seen used with some success is Posterous. It’s a free hosted service, so your IT department won’t need to do anything with it (other than perhaps adding a link from your site).

Still don’t have enough time? You can probably reuse  an email message you’ve already written as the basis for your blog post. Maybe what your content creation strategy needs is a Swiss Army Knife with just one blade.

Virtuous Video

A chronic lament of many website owners is “we built it, but they couldn’t find it.”  There’s just too much competition for the first search engine results page. There is an industry – so called search engine optimization (SEO) – of (trying) to make your site stand among the millions of also-rans. Yet not all SEO initiatives are successful.

One problem is that the tricks and techniques, which used to have your site on page one, no longer work as well. As marketers, we have to be continually trying tactics to generate traffic.

A recent research report by Nate Elliot of Forrester Research points out how video on a web site can improve its search ranking. This agrees both with anecdotal evidence and some of my own tests.

Let’s assume you have some video content relevant to your product, project, or cause. If you don’t, see below. It’s easy to add video to your site and even easier to add it to video sharing sites – not only YouTube,  but also Metacafe, Vimeo, Break and many others. None of these charge you for the service.

Video added to your site can appear in “blended” search results. You may have seen this already, where a search engine results page includes not just links, but images, news photos (linking to an article), maps, and video. To see an example of this, search Google on a term such as Cross Country Skiing. By the time you read this, your results may differ somewhat from mine, but you should see blended results.

Although there is a lot of video on the web, it is less common than plain text pages – Forrester estimates 50 times less. Of course, just shoveling moving images into your site isn’t enough. There’s always a catch, but this one is manageable. Namely, help Google as well as your customers by optimizing your video for the web. In doing so, you can gain even more than a 50 fold advantage.

The basic techniques of tagging, titling and adding video to pages with relevant content are similar to what you or your webmaster should do to optimize plain text pages and still images. If you’re not doing this yet you’ve got lots of company. Tagging can give your site an advantage – take it. Video also involves some extra work. To make it easier for Google to find, create an xml sitemap just for video.

There are other video optimization techniques, such as paid web submission services for video, but I have found no compelling reason to use them.

You say you don’t have any video worth showing or no video at all. This is not the time to call James Cameron. You don’t even need a nephew in film school. As with any of your external communications, follow the KISS principal (keep it simple stupid). An inexpensive video camera, a story outline showing what your product does and some rehearsal may be all you need.

If you don’t know where to start or you’d like a bit of polish to video, there are a number of video editing services, which can take your rough footage to the next level. An intriguing option is video production startup Pixability. It is a service, which can provide simple guidelines and even lend you a video camera. You shoot, return the camera, and receive a finished video.

You don’t have to buy a beret and head to film school to boost the visibility and engagement of your online endeavor. Lights, action, …

Unbound Marketing

I recently attended one of those ubiquitous presentations on Internet marketing. This one, hosted by marketing agency HubSpot was on “inbound marketing.” It was one of those real world imitations of a webinar, except they give you sandwiches.

The argument was familiar. The presenter proclaimed that he used double email spam filters, caller ID, the Do Not Call Registry, listened to an iPod rather than radio, had removed himself from mailing lists, and watched TV via Tivo so he could skip the ads. As such, he asserted that marketers can’t reach him (and by implication can’t reach most other customers) through advertising via these “outbound” media. Therefore the alternative – “inbound” marketing – is the way to go. Specifically, Hubspot recommends a marketing mix including their proprietary SEO/SEM service while curtailing what they call “outbound marketing.” Outbound includes such mundane media as broadcast, cable, direct mail, print, and display advertising.

Certainly these are tough times for media and their customers, the advertisers. TNS media estimates that total ad spending declined 14% in the first Quarter of 2009 vs. 2008. Not all media revenue declined at the same rate. For example, network TV was down 4.2%, local newspaper down 14.3%, while ads in national magazines declined 20.6%. Even Internet advertising declined 5% after five years of steady growth, as the chart from the Internet Advertising Bureau shows. As in the past recession, advertising will probably increase as the economy recovers.


Do these declines validate the inbound model? Neither they nor evidence presented by Hubspot get us there. Advertising is not static and it’s becoming ever harder to filter and avoid. Use a DVR, digital video recorder, such as a Tivo to skip ads and the shows have product placements. Get TV programming through web sites, such as hulu, and ads, which can’t be skipped, are embedded. Use social networks like Facebook and MySpace, and ads have crept in.  Listen to podcasts or internet radio like Pandora or Sticher – you guessed it – ads.

The media landscape is changing. Advertising is evolving too, but it’s not going away.