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Google Instant not worth your 2 to 5 seconds

September 30, 2010 by  

Google Instant.  You’ve probably heard all about how you’re going to save a load of time with it so you’ll have more time to, oh, I don’t know, use Facebook or Twitter.

Google Instant is now available for Canadians, but only if you have a Google account. So, if you want to check it out, you need to sign up. I’m not sure if that will change or not.

There’s been a barrage of hype surrounding its launch. Is the hype deserved?

Is Google Instant worth a look?

In one word: no. In fact, having a look at Google Instant reminded me that I should always have my Google accounts off when doing searches. I had made sure Google didn’t collect my search history even when I wasn’t logged in, but it seems you don’t have that option now.

I had a look and there was a partial list of my searches for the past month. Hey, nothing sinister, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t want my searches tied to my account in any way.

If you are worried about your privacy, you’re really not going to like Google Instant because right now you’re forced to have a Google account to even use it in Canada.

It seems that  you can pause your search history in your account, but I just don’t trust Google not to collect that information in the background. With the USA PATRIOT Act, all your electronic information is considered fair game to the US government and you won’t ever know.

Google Instant is annoying

Having worked in SEO and in social media for a while now, I’m used to the hype. Oh, I remember when Google Wave came out. Yes, it was going to revolutionize the world. Invites were coveted and if you had one, your other geek friends marvelled at how connected you were. Yawn. If you were in PR and not on Twitter, you were nowhere. Yawn.

Aren’t marketing people annoying sometimes? Unfortunately this kind of hype tends to cause a lot of anxiety for people whose level of Internet knowledge is lagging or non-existent. No worries. If you aren’t on Twitter, didn’t use Wave and don’t like Instant, you’re not going to be relegated to eating with your fingers, using stone clubs and picking nits out of your partner’s hair.

Google Instant will not revolutionize search. It will annoy the hell out of searchers, should they choose to use it, to the point they are going to seek other alternative search engines like Blekko or Bing. My prediction is that Google Instant will be lucky to last as long as Wave, which Google killed.

The only relatively useful part of Instant is the predictive search, which has been around with Google in another form for a while. Where’s the time I’m going to save if I have to scan the results as I type? Every letter could totally change the results. No, I’m going to continue typing my query until it’s done and then look.

Effect on SEO and PPC

To anyone running a website or optimizing them, the key question is “will Google Instant affect my SEO or PPC campaign?”

It seems that the thought that Google Instant would destroy long tail keywords (search queries of three or more words) hasn’t happened; in fact, there have, according to some research, been slight increases in long tail keyword phrases searched with Google Instant. In other words: no effect. Whether or not things continue that way remains to be seen.

Conductor did some good research and, I thought this was interesting, commented that many users find Google Instant distracting and are turning off Google Instant.

In looking at Google’s Instant video one has to wonder if images and videos are going to begin to get more clicks as they’re more easily visible as one types through a query. If you’ve got a bit of expertise, doing more video might not be a bad addition to your SEO campaign.

Google Instant and Adwords PPC

While the effects on organic SEO may be minimal, it may be more important to look at pay per click Adwords campaigns.

There seems to be a bit of a trend in thinking that Google Instant will increase impressions with a resultant decrease in clickthrough rate (CTR). This naturally would lead to a lowering of quality score and an increase in average cost per click.

This is a concern I have had since I heard about Google Instant. There’s another interesting thing I hadn’t considered and that is how people may change how they type a search query. At Practical Ecommerce they suggested that people may begin to add keyword modifiers to the end of the search query such as “shoes brown” instead of “brown shoes” because typing the modifiers first brings up mostly irrelevant searches.

It’s an interesting idea, and while Google says search results will be the same, if searchers begin to enter their queries differently, naturally the search results will be different. The differences in organic search results are often subtle, but they are there when you reorder the same keywords in a search query.

Kind of gets away from Google’s preference for natural language in content.

Conclusion

It’s probably a little too early to tell what is really going to happen with Google Instant. It’s certainly not going to be the death of SEO. If your content isn’t optimized, searchers still are going to have difficulty finding you unless you’re one of the big brands.

My main concern is for pay per click advertising in Google. It very well could increase ad costs for advertisers with no apparent benefit. I will be watching the Adwords campaigns I manage much more closely now.

Ultimately the important question is: are searchers going to like Google Instant and keep using it? If their reaction is anything like mine, I hated it. I have turned it off. I will ensure I either don’t have my Google accounts open or have another browser open to do my searches. As far as I’m concerned, from a personal search perspective, Google Instant is dead to me. My hope is that it will go the way of Google Wave but I’ll keep an eye on it to see where it goes and how it could affect my clients

What do you think? Have you used Google Instant? Like it? Hate it? Concerns? Raves?

Blekko search engine beta

September 16, 2010 by  

Recently I’ve been exploring Blekko, a new search engine in beta testing now. It’s a search engine that promises to ‘slash through spam’ by allowing users to categorize sites with slashtags and to designate sites as spam, effectively eliminating spam from your search results. It used what they call “/slashtags” to assist in search and eliminate spam. So, what is a slashtag?

Everyday, SEO-friendly search engine

All search engine results are starting to look the same, whether we’re talking Google, Yahoo!, Bing or anything else. Blekko’s search results page gives you the usual Title, Snippet/Description and URL, but also adds a line just under the Title where you’ll typically see: tags, SEO, links, cache, IP, spam.

For most searchers, the only two parts of this line that will matter are tags and spam. Tags allows you to /slashtag a search result. There’s also an option on the page to /slashtag the entire search result.

Spam allows you to designate a site as spam with one click, saying it’s now ‘dead to you.’ I think someone at Blekko is a Sopranos fan.

SEO, links, cache and IP will be of more interest to those in the SEO field or small business sites doing some of their own marketing.

SEO benefits

This search engine will be particularly interesting for anyone working in search engine optimization, as there are slashtags such as /rank, /seo, /domain and more, allowing users to delve into the finer details of why their site ranks as it does. This is quite unlike Google, which is basically a black box in terms of information about how websites rank, aside from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

I like the fact that it also allows you to compare the rankings for four sites at once, giving you a quick idea what those sites are doing and not doing well.

SEO practitioners will also like the /inbound slashtag which allows you to view the inbound links to the website you’re examining. It ranks them according to the value of the link, so finding your most valuable links, and those of your competitors, is pretty easy with Blekko.

Issues

Blekko does a good job at representing your SEO data visually; in this case, a graph of anchor text ratios of a particular site.

When I’m looking at new SEO tools, I always have a look at my own sites and client sites to see them in a different way.  It became obvious that the index Blekko is working with is a little dated and not complete. I don’t consider this a major issue due to their beta status and it’s something I’m sure they will correct once they’re out of beta. I am sure it’s easier to work with a smaller data set.

They do have a few APIs, so there are current results from Flickr, Twitter, Youtube, etc.

I can’t really think of too much bad to say about Blekko. It’s in beta, so I don’t expect it to be perfect. It could be better documented to explain its composite measurements such as rank, and to define some of the items you see, but I’m sure that will happen as Blekko moves toward an official launch.

I think it’s an interesting concept to be quite open about SEO, as Blekko is. As an SEO guy, I know the things I need to do to get a site to rank well. Google guards its algorithm so nobody really knows for sure what Google takes into consideration in determining how a site will rank in search results. Blekko gives us much of that information. I’m not sure if it will extend to the point of making their algorithm available, and I wouldn’t expect it.

Google killer?

Blekko’s CEO bristles at being called a Google killer and has a pretty good explanation of why he rejects that title. That being said, I’m sure there are many in the SEO field and regular web surfers who are interested in using some credible alternatives to the now ubiquitous Google.

I’ve been eager to find an alternative to Google, and I’m cheering for Blekko. I like what I’ve seen so far and I can see it forming a regular part of my day. I have been tinkering with it every day since I got my beta invite.

As an aside, I’ve been concerned about how many different facets of my life that Google touches. Google has a great ability to connect the dots and, while I’m not up to anything worrisome, there are good reasons to worry about Google’s reach into our lives.

Google has experienced a couple major problems lately with Google employees spying on users. Another thing that should concern anyone using Google products is the USA PATRIOT Act that gives the US government carte blanche to find out what anyone has been up to.

Conclusion

As a search engine, Blekko shows a lot of promise and I support what they’re doing. With a couple of former Google engineers on board and what appears to be a pretty solid team, they seem to be headed in the right direction. SEO practitioners will love the data they can glean from Blekko. Great job so far!

Mashable article on Blekko – good read

Shrinking PPC & SEO budgets?

December 1, 2009 by  

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How Agencies View Client Search Marketing Budgets

It’s no surprise that with the recession, marketing budgets have shrunk. It’s affecting people with big pay per click marketing budgets and small ones.

I’ve seen it happen with some of my clients and I have talked to many others who have seen the same shrinking online marketing budgets. That’s why I thought Marketing Sherpa’s chart about how agencies view client search marketing budgets was interesting.

There aren’t many agencies out there with clients who have too large of a budget. There’s been an increase since 2008, according to online marketing agencies, of clients whose search marketing budgets for pay per click marketing are too small. I’ve also experienced it on the SEO side where ongoing SEO has been scaled back from planned levels.

It is frustrating because while the initial SEO phase is very important, the ongoing SEO linkbuilding phase is equally as important. Of course I’m not the one at the accounting controls, but the end goal of an SEO campaign is to increase traffic and click through to a client website. Once those visitors are on site, they can become customers.

It’s not a quick and easy process and I think that’s where educating clients is important. There will be ups and downs along the way, but it’s worth the effort in the end. It is an investment and not just a cost.

Recession: time to invest in SEO & website

With this recession, I see it as a great time for companies to invest in their website, making it more responsive to visitor needs and, in so doing, to get those visitors as your clients. Depending on what point those visitors are in their buying cycle, they may not become clients immediately, but may when their situation improves or once they’ve moved through their decision process.

Here in Alberta, with its recently overheated economy, we have swung from some companies saying ‘too busy to do it’ to ‘we don’t want to spend anything.’ It’s funny in a way, but disappointing because they’re missing out on a perfect opportunity to focus on the long-term marketing of their company. I’ve talked with people in a variety of IT sectors that have said the same thing about their segments of the market.

I’m not worried though. The outlook for the economy is improving, and from a search engine optimization perspective, every time I search in Google, I see websites that need to be optimized. Is yours performing as well as you’d like?

Page One SEO is an Edmonton SEO company specializing in organic search engine optimization and pay per click advertising. If you’d like to increase your online visibility, traffic and move your site up in organic search results, contact us for a free online marketing consultation.

Social media and SEO

November 30, 2009 by  

Social Networking Sites May Be Monitored By Security Services

Social media and SEO. You hear about them everywhere these days. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Oh, they’re all great ways to promote your business and you’ll make millions, or so the story goes.

What’s the reality? Social media can be a great tool to promote your business, if it’s done properly. It’s also a great way to connect with your customers and clients. SEO is critical if you want to have your website ranking well in search engines.

If you’re wondering about how to get started in social media, I found a few excellent social media tips to help you get started. What they all boil down to is having conversations with people and you should also realize that social media isn’t going to replace all of your other marketing activities.

I use social media as a marketing tool, but I don’t rely entirely on it. I see social media as an extension of the way business has been done for as long as there’s been business: personal connections. All social media does is make it easier for you to make connections and communicate with them.

I work with a number of clients doing search engine optimization and other services. Social media has been quite beneficial to my business.

SEO benefits

Obviously, traffic doesn’t benefit your SEO directly, but indirectly it can. With consistent writing of great blog posts or articles, traffic will keep coming back to your site (a little promotion doesn’t hurt) and those links will also increase.

Traffic - So, you just wrote a great blog post, titled “Top ten online marketing tips for…” Great. If you’ve got a blog with loads of traffic, people will see it quickly. Maybe you don’t have a lot of traffic, but it really is a great post. Why not promote it on Twitter or LinkedIn? Of course it should be a topic that potentially appeals to your audience. Social media is a great way to pull traffic in to have a look at something you’re promoting. With people potentially retweeting and hopefully linking to your great article or blog post, it helps to raise the profile of your site.

Links - As anyone familiar with search engine optimization knows, inlinks are one of the SEO elements that are helpful in increasing your search engine rank for desired keyword phrases and building your Page Rank. If your post really is a good one, there is the potential for those viewing your article deciding they like it enough to link to it from their website or blog.

Articles written with the goal of gathering as many links as possible are often known as “linkbait.” In the eyes of search engines, more links means more authority. More authority means higher search engine rankings.

In the articles I have listed at the bottom of the page there are good discussions about the value of links from within social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. There are some benefits from these links, but they’re limited.

I’m not sure I’d really rely on links coming directly from Twitter results. First, I just don’t see that many search results from Twitter when I’m searching in Google. Second, those results don’t stick around for that long even when you do see them.

There’s always a bit of a honeymoon effect for Twitter results. They may rise quickly, but then disappear almost as quickly. Not only that, but I believe that Twitter’s database may only go back a few months. Apparently Twitter management has indicated they’re saving your Tweets, but they don’t seem to be accessible for a great length of time in search engines.

Social media: not hard to use

Social media can be a great for promotion, conversations and brand building, as well as SEO. I’ve found myself recommending it more and more to clients as a way of promoting their businesses as well. It’s not hard to use social media, but you definitely have to be aware of some of the pitfalls in using social media tools for promotion.

If you’re considering getting into social media and aren’t familiar with it, do some reading. It may be worth getting some social media coaching to help with your social media strategy. Like any kind of marketing activity, it certainly pays to get it right. It can hurt to get it wrong.

More reading on SEO and social media:

Can’t separate social media and SEO

Where social media fits into the SEO equation


Keywords meta tag – Use it or lose it?

October 8, 2009 by  

Matt Cutts talks about Google not using the keywords meta tag

Matt Cutts talks about Google not using the keywords meta tag

One of the ongoing controversies in the search engine optimization field is whether or not you should use the keywords meta tag.

Recently word came from Google, apparently confirming that they do not in any way, shape or form, use the keywords meta tag.

Bing recommends the keywords meta tag. While people may write Bing off, it is only going to continue to increase in popularity. It’s certainly got the financial clout of Microsoft behind it. The Bing Webmaster Center team also talks about using the meta keywords tag here.

Yahoo also indicates that using the keywords meta tag is good practice to obtain good rankings. I think it’s safe to infer from this that they use the data in the keywords meta tag, otherwise, why would they say anything about it?

Gone are the days where you only optimize for Google. If you can make a small change in how you do SEO (add the keywords meta tag) and start ranking better in 10 per cent of the search market, why not? You’re building a foundation for the future.

With Yahoo at nearly 20 per cent of the search market, if you don’t use the keyword meta tag, you’re turning your back on almost 30 per cent of the searches out there. Can you really afford to do that? How about your clients?

SEO is a bit of a competitive field and you’re bound to find lots of strong opinions out there about using keywords meta tags. You’re likely to find incendiary blog posts saying that SEOs that the keywords meta tag are idiots and likely the reverse as well.

Let’s get one thing straight: there isn’t an SEO person out there who actually knows what is in the algorithms of the major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. While those same search engines may say they do or do not use a particular metric in their algorithm, there’s no independent method to verify it.

The algorithms of all the search engines have changed over time and hopefully improved. There are also examples of search engines making substantial changes in how they handle things such as nofollows, like Google’s admission recently.

Running a search engine company is extremely competitive and they don’t like to give out any information they don’t have to. Do you really think you absolutely know one way or the other exactly how the search engine algorithms operate? Good luck with that.

SEO isn’t a field like chemistry where there are bedrock scientific principles we can rely on to make decisions. So, we make educated guesses about what is or is not the case. Sometimes you can count on explicit statements by the search engine companies, and sometimes you can’t.

My experience with the keywords meta tag

I’m not going to sit here and take pot shots at one SEO practitioner or the other and say they don’t know what they’re talking about. I think it’s probably better to base our decisions on whether or not to use the keywords meta tag based on evidence.

I actually do use the keywords meta tag and how I use it has changed from the time I started doing SEO until now.

I look at it this way: I don’t know the algorithms the search engines use and, as far as I know, it’s not hurting the search results of my clients.

One argument that could be raised is that by stuffing a keywords meta tag with all your keywords, you’re just giving your competition a leg up and allowing them to take advantage of your hard work. There’s some truth to this.

The best practice, according to my research and talking with other people in the search engine optimization field, is to use 5-7 keyword combinations in the tag. Varying from that isn’t going to hurt you, but that’s more or less ideal.

Listing dozens of keywords in the keywords meta tag will certainly make life easier for your competition. I’m not giving away the company store by telling you that one of the first steps in SEO is to see what your competition is doing. If you’re not doing that, then what are you doing? It’s just good practice in any business.

On the other hand, just because you research your competitors and drop all their keywords into your list doesn’t mean you’re instantly going to rocket to the top of the search results.

I’ve had good success getting my clients ranked well for the keyword phrases that I feel will work best for them. I’ve done it while using the keywords meta tag.

Evidence Google uses the keywords meta tag to determine rank

Just this past summer I had read something that indicated that Google does use the keywords meta tag in its algorithm, but only a small part. It’s one of over 200 factors Google uses apparently. Think I can find that now?

It stuck with me because that runs counter to all I’ve heard. I’m quite sure it was an official source too. I PDF almost every article I read, but I can’t find it now. And I would have bookmarked that. Typical!

I’ve also read anecdotal evidence from others where they’ve just changed the keywords meta tag and have had their rankings in Google shoot up. Of course I can’t independently verify that, but it is interesting.

Use the keywords meta tag or lose it?

I am going to err on the side of using the keywords meta tag. It doesn’t take that much extra work to construct it and unless I hear that Google and the other search engines are actually dropping pages because of it, I’ll continue to use it.

I’ve found explicit statements by Yahoo and Bing that they factor the keywords meta tag into their ranking decisions, so it makes sense to continue using them.

I’m not worried that my clients’ competitors are going to be able to siphon huge amounts of competitive information from the keywords meta tags. There’s not that much there for them. There are other ways of figuring out what the best keywords are and they’re not necessarily going to be the same for everyone, even in the same industry.

I’m also not going to criticize other SEOs for using the keywords meta tag or not. I would like to hear about why you use it or why you don’t. Like I said earlier, this isn’t physics or chemistry. We don’t really know the ‘laws’ that govern SEO in any firm way.

As long as we’ve got competitive search engines, we’re not likely to either. Even if we only had one search engine, they’re not going to tell you how they rank sites because they know there are thousands of people out there who will try to game the system.

Official launch of Page One SEO

June 2, 2009 by  

istock_000006518705xsmallIt’s taken a while to make it official, but this is the launch of Page One SEO.

I’ve had the name picked out for a while and have been busy with a variety of search engine optimization, copywriting and communications projects. I’ve been like the cobbler whose children don’t wear decent shoes.

No longer! I decided I needed to have my site up so people who are curious about what I do can come and have a look.

Things won’t change for my clients, except the name. And for those of you who might be interested in becoming clients, please look around and feel free to ask me questions.

Talking about SEO & Internet marketing

I really like to write, so I’ll be using this space to talk about search engine optimization and Internet marketing topics. That pretty much gives me free reign to talk about almost anything!

I’m a big fan of social media and it can be quite useful for SEO purposes. I’ve done a fair amount of writing on social media in the past and will continue. A few of my favourite social media platforms are: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

So, keep checking back as the site grows and I add more content here! Thanks for stopping by.

Alain