Google favouring big brands but are SEOs to blame?

Google Favouring Big Brands

Its been a long 48 hours in the field of Search Marketing with many of the SEO experts commenting on what they believe to be Google’s latest shift in algorithm. The experts believe that Google seems to be favouring big brands in ranking results. Although it is American data, it has been witnessed that American airlines have come out of nowhere and are now ranking for “airline tickets” and there are many others that seem to be benefiting from the rise.

So why would Google favour brands?

It seems absolutely out of character for Google to make such a change given that their ethos is centred around relevancy not brand. It seems that recent commentary from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google provides hints to the problem Google is facing.

He says The internet is fast becoming a “cesspool” where false information thrives. “Brands are the solution, not the problem,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”

So this brings 2 key issues in the Web 2.0 world that we currently exist in;
1) As consumers are becoming less trusting of brands and more trusting of their community, it seems absurd that Google would deliver consumers more of what they don’t want – which is more brand messages from the big corporates?
2) How independent will content be that we must consume, if brands continue to push their own agenda?

Black Hat Seo TechniquesAre SEOs to blame?

But inline with the theme of the article, the bigger question really is whether or not SEOs are to blame for the possible change in Google’s algorithm. Search results are not based on what is most relevant to the user, they are based on what SEOs have done to make them most relevant. In particular blackhat SEOs have contributed to the results being littered with junk and somehow Google has to eradicate this.

In a world where user experience/engagement is crucial has Google done what any site would do if they found it would make a significant improvement in their user experience?

Are there any Australian brands that you have seen rapidly increase rankings in the past few weeks?

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Emily Freeman On 2009 Mobile Trends

Mobile Marketing

At the beginning of 2009 I predicted that 2009 was the year for marketers to get serious about mobile marketing.

I am excited to be able to bring you some of the leading mobile predictions from one of the leading and renowned mobile specialists in the industry – Emily Freeman.

So what are Emily’s thoughts on the topic?

1. Everybody builds an App Store

iPhone App StoreEverybody will want an app store in 2009. The iPhone App Store has had more than 300 million downloads globally, with more than 10k apps available as of early December 08.

The appeal of the iPhone App Store is the large, consistent user base, the built in business model and the ‘one-click’ path to getting an application onto a mobile handset.

2009 will bring a variety of me-too App Store experiences, some of which we will see in Australia. Major handset manufacturers will launch their alternative, similar models. (Palm has already launched a software store, RIM is set to do so in March).

In addition Nokia have now launched an app store, called ‘Ovi’ which will eventually be pre-installed on all Nokia handsets, and Microsoft has launched Windows Marketplace. With the new Android operating system from Google soon to be available on a variety of handsets (including the HTC Dream with Optus in Australia), we will see the Android application store presenting some hot competition as well.

2. Mobile Web Usage Tips Over (almost)

In 2009 we will finally see Australia reach the (almost) tipping point for mobile web. It’s fair to say we won’t ALL be browsing the internet from our mobiles, but by the end of 2009 it will be at least as common as MMS is now.

We will see a rush of Australian online properties make their first forays into the mobile channel. In the face of this increased competition, those who are already there (News, Fairfax, NineMSN, LP, ABC, CarSales, Sensis) will make a lot more noise. The classifieds space will start to wake up to the possibilities and we’ll see a lot more from employment & real estate.

With local properties acting as a magnet for the channel, users will find themselves exploring mobile further and discovering the wealth of content & applications available globally. Mobile search engines will contribute to this growth. Where there are users there are opportunists, and we will see a barrage of content suitable for mobile being published in the latter half of 2009 to take advantage of this eagerly awaited surge in usage.

3. We Hear a Lot More about Mobile Ad Networks

Mobile Ad NetworksUsers + Content = Advertising.
In Australia to date a small number of major players have controlled most of the mobile usage and thus the revenue that can be earned from advertising. With usage and content growth expected in 2009, we are set to see several changes occurring in the mobile ad network space as the major players set to benefit from further monetisation of this channel.

In 2009 we will also see one or more start up companies launching in Australia with the goal of aggregating ad serving within mobile content. More mobile content means there could be a genuine need here, but the real opportunity is in building the network, thus becoming an acquisition target for the larger global mobile or local online ad networks.

4. Australian Ad Industry puts Mobile on The Radar

With all this activity and advertising opportunity, 2009 will be the year our local agencies start to take mobile seriously. The advertising industry will start to consider mobile more often and earlier in the planning process (but not yet often enough or early enough for my liking!).
Digital agencies will realise they are not truly digital if they don’t offer mobile services, and we will see mobile experts being hired and trained with increasing frequency.

Media planners will be expected to know what’s available in mobile media buying and mobile specific agencies will flourish while digital and traditional agencies figure the space out. Mobile specialists will either do well or be absorbed / acquired. Advertisers will start to ask for mobile and in some cases will even know what it is they are asking for!

Tacking on mobile at the last minute will be rife and we will see horrible mistakes like SMS campaigns pushing full screen web URLs, QR codes that are too big/small/fuzzy to scan and downloadable apps that cost $150k to build and get no usage. There will be talk of mobile being all hype and no reality.

But we’ll also see some really smart & innovative mobile advertising. This will be the year we move beyond ‘banners and brochureware’ and see mobile integrated across digital & traditional channels and applied in scenarios where it’s undeniably perfect – direct, targeted, measurable, interactive conversations.

The global economic downturn will be good for mobile advertising, as it costs less to reach the right people via mobile. Where the target audience makes sense, many advertisers will sacrifice broadcast media for direct, targeted campaigns with mobile integrated.

For organisations who have not dabbled in the world of mobile my top tips for clients considering mobile for the first time are;
 Think about your campaign objectives and select appropriate channels
– are your customers best reached via their mobile phone?
– do they browse the mobile web / use SMS / download games?
 Only buy Mobile Advertising if you have (or intend to build) a mobile site and you want to generate traffic
 Use mobile specialists to design & build your mobile presence – it’s just not the same as online!

Emily Freeman has provided a more in-depth look at Mobile Predictions for 2009 on her blog. To read more about this topic visit
2009 Mobile Trends – Mobilista or if you want to follow Emily Freeman do so on twitter by clicking here.

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Universal Search – Are You Ready For It?

Universal Search Google

Whilst it is not a new concept, it is surprising how little media attention universal search has had in comparison to traditional SEO optimisation techniques.

Have search marketers been missing a trick? The short answer is yes I think they have.

So what is it? Universal search or blended search pulls results from multiple data sources to provide the most relevant results to a user based on their search needs.

At the recent Search Engine Strategies conference in London, it was suggested that 33% of all search results now contain a blended result and this comes as no surprise. Blended results are particularly prevalent in industries where decisions are made with visual aids like that of the travel industry or in situations where instructions are more easily consumed through rich media – such as how do I do the tango – in these situations text descriptions just simply doesn’t cut it.

Search Engine RankingThis alone however doesn’t capture the essence as to why in particular rich media formats are so important within SERPs.

So why else is it important? Firstly it is that blended results present the opportunity to dominate the SERP results. As Google now aggregates content from Maps, Images, Local, Books, News and Video it presents sites with far more opportunity rank on the first page, and not just onsite – but also offsite on sites such as Wiki’s and social media sites. Combine these opportunities and they are far greater than the opportunity than to simply rank in the SERPs through text only optimisation.

What is also more appealing to the end user is results which draw the eye away from text results towards the more visually stimulating content – turning the traditional position=clicks equation upside down. And this isn’t just a theory we have dreamt up. Google has in-fact conducted an eye tracking experiment to prove the changes that universal search is having a major impact on behaviour.

Google Eye Tracking – Universal Search

PR ToolsSo what does this mean for your SEO strategy? The first step is to re-frame some of your pre-existing thinking. With content portability the web is now about people interacting with your brand on and off your site, thus you should look towards an SEO strategy which sees you dominate SERPS on and offsite.

Look at how you can leverage from organisational assets for the benefit of SERPs. For instance do you have images, videos etc that are part of your content strategy – if so how can these be optimised onsite and also used on third sites. Does your PR team distribute news via online PR tools – if so do they feed into Google and Yahoo news results?

As a final note of advice, this is just the beginning. Universal search will become an even bigger phenomenon as Google and other engines start to test the ability to read videos through voice recognition software thus the true explosion in this arena is yet to be seen. So start to prepare for it now.

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ME 2.0 – Digital Career Management

Digital marketers are at the forefront of a dynamic online industry and with a plethora of online tools and concepts, we are spoilt for choice with web 2.0 offering a plethora of new opportunities.

But how is web 2.0 changing the way in which we need to market ourselves? The topic of online recruitment is an interesting one and one which is a hot topic of debate within the recruitment industry. With job seekers now empowered with new tools such as professional networking sites just how important is the online space to your career? Just what are employers looking for when it comes to hiring digital staff and how can you maximise job opportunities?

Social media has now given rise to new career management tools for the savvy digital marketer. Sorting the best from the mediocre – the future of your next career move will be dependent on how well you market yourself online. If you think about it, it makes sense, if you were to hire a digital marketing professional and wanted to check their credentials then online is the place to start.

So how can you maximise your “ME” brand in the hire 2.0 world?

The modern day equivalent of the resume for a digital marketer is said to be the blog or at least regular blogging on third party sites. Blogs provide the opportunity to display knowledge in your area/s of expertise and allows you to actively manage your ‘ME’ brand. A blog also provides the dimension of credibility and unlike a traditional CV will provide differentiation to put you in a more favourable position than other candidates applying for the role.

Outside of maintaining your own blog, sites like LinkedIn allow users to build up and display knowledge in a specialist area through responding to network member questions providing an alternative route to demonstrate your knowledge.

Social Media StrategyGetting the most from your networks

There is an increasing number of people who are using online techniques to gain job offers rather than utilising traditional online channels such as job sites. Sites like Twitter can provide individual marketers with the opportunity to gain a following online providing industry recognition. This can lead to being approached with new opportunities through the network of followers. LinkedIn can also be a useful source to strike up discussions with professionals in the company you aspire to work within.

Managing Online Reputation

It’s not only big brands which can suffer from a bad online reputation. Online reviews and discussions are indexed by Google and can have an impact on how you are perceived by potential recruiters. Always ensure your online interactions are creating positive outcomes for your ME brand to mitigate any bad PR which can affect potential job offers.

If you have any other tips for ME 2.0, or any experiences where the new social channels have assisted your career why not share them, by clicking on the comments link below.

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Top 5 Outdated SEO Techniques

Outdated SEO Techniques

Many SEO techniques have become outdated despite their continuing use by some specialists in SEO.

This article aims to identify some of the most common ones that you may come across and avoid if you are considering them to be an important part of your SEO strategy;

1. Keyword Density

Long gone are the days of optimising a page to an optimal ratio of keyword content versus overall page content. Too many unethical SEO’s over-optimised site copy making this a redundant part of Google’s famous algorithm.

What now? Optimise with keywords on the basis of relevancy and user experience, and focus on offsite techniques that contribute to your site being seen as a knowledgeable source on given topics.

2. Flash

In the early days of search, Google found it difficult to index flash files thus site owners had to choose between aesthetics or rankings. However webmaster requests for better indexing did not go unheard. In June 2008 Google announced in response to consumer demand they had improved flash indexing.

What now? All of the text that users can see as they interact with a Flash file can now be indexed by Google. Google is also able to read URLs within flash files. For the official word on how to deal with optimising flash content click here;

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/06/improved-flash-indexing.html

3. Paid Linking

Paid linking was dealt a severe blow in 2008, as visible changes to Google’s algorithm became apparent and it was those who engaged in intensive paid linking strategies whose ranking suffered enormously.

What now? Unfortunately links don’t come easy. To establish strong external linking requires quality content and a good social sharing strategy.

Search Engine URL Submission4. Search Engine Submission

The process of submitting a site to search engines is one technique which some unethical SEO’s still attempt to cash in on, but is one technique which is long gone.

What now? If you have a new site, Google will locate and crawl it by following links on the web. Digital Marketing Lab was crawled within a week of the site’s launch, and how? We placed our first link on the free directory site www.hotfrog.com.au and sure enough Google found us.

5. Footer Links

For many years, many of the leading sites created additional site content which was accessible via footer links on the home page of a site. As usual techniques which are over-used by webmasters are those which Google begin to devalue in their algorithm as these techniques are being deployed for the sole purpose of ranking in search engines.

What now? Now more than ever a well thought out internal site structure and linking strategy is important. If you are re-designing a site, conduct keyword research early on and determine how you can deliver useful content and support SEO objectives through a well structured site.

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4 Digital Weeks In Review

Online Content Strategy

Here is my latest edition of what has made Digital Headlines over the past 4 weeks;

1. Google Phone Goes Onsale – From the middle of February, the new Google powered HTC’s Dream phone will go on-sale. The phone will initially be sold only on Optus with 4 plans available – offering up to 3GB download. This will boost Australian’s already strong appetite for internet access on the move.

Other phone manufacturers such as Motorola and Samsung are also
planning to also launch phones in 2009 on the android platform which will bring stiff competition to its rival the iPhone.

For the full article on the release visit;

http://www.smh.com.au/news/digital-life/mobiles–handhelds/articles/first-google-phone-aims-to-ring-the-changes/2009/02/05/1233423373213.html

2. Optus’ Mobile Advertising Platform – In December 2008, Optus trialled its mobile advertising campaign with McDonalds. Optus’ new mobile platform which was then subsequently launched in late January, and has been built to provide targeted advertising opportunities through mobile phones. The mobile advertising platform will utilise user data from the Optus Zoo mobile portal to deliver targeted opportunities to advertisers. To ensure the new mobile advertising network delivers, Optus is launching a major campaign in February to increase subscriptions / data capture on Optus Zoo – to provide even more opportunities to advertisers.

Niche Social Media3. Battle of the Social Networks – It seems Facebook has continued to increase its popularity in the Australian marketplace. According to web traffic monitor Nielsen Online, Facebook had over 4.5 million unique visitors whilst MySpace only registered 2.3 million in December 2008. Businesses looking to benefit from friendvertising may start to re-think directing efforts towards MySpace over the coming months particularly those in SME’s where resources are limited and decisions are made based on placing effort into areas with the highest potential for return & exposure.

For full details click here:

http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/web/australians-ditch-myspace-for-facebook/2009/02/05/1233423387206.html?page=2

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Marketing In The Downturn – Part 2

Online Marketing

Part 2 of marketing in the downturn features how you can get more from your existing infrastructure and most important assets your.

1. Website Usability;

2. Website Success Events & Customer Touch-points

It is often surprising that organisations can liaise with tens or hundreds of customers everyday without effectively making the most of this interaction. As the saying goes, retaining existing customers is cheaper and easier than winning new ones – but if this is the case why does is so much expenditure aimed towards the acquisition process? From an onsite perspective review your current site structure to determine if your key interaction points effectively capture and contribute to your marketing objectives.

Sign Up FormFor example if one of your key objectives is to increase newsletter sign ups, ensure your site is capturing sign ups throughout the site by;

1) Ensuring the sign up button appears throughout the site not just on the homepage

2) Provides the ability to capture sign ups during the collection of contact details for transactional purposes

3) Captures sign ups during an initial enquiry through a contact form

From an off-site perspective, if your organisation regularly speaks with customers ensure that customer data is verified during discussions to keep your data fresh to facilitate ongoing interaction with your clients. This can also be taken further, to leverage all customer touch-points. Start by mapping the interaction process that your organisation has with your customers. By mapping the process you will be able to identify where your company could be missing an opportunity – both revenue and non revenue based.

3. Talk to Your Customers

It may sound simple, but we marketers can become so busy that we often lose touch with our end consumers. In this market consumers are becoming more conscious of where they spend their money and they are more likely to shop around. Now is the time to ensure you are in-tune with their needs, understanding where your product or service is not delivering on its promises. There are many ways you can facilitate such research – via phone surveys, focus groups and online forums. Whatever mechanism you choose ensure that you have identified clear objectives from the outset so the time you invest delivers measurable outcomes for the business.

Our 2 part series is obviously not an all encompassing list of ideas for marketing during a more challenging market. If you have other ideas, why not comment below.

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