Is SEO Destroying Your Brand?

SEO Fail

In recent years so much emphasis has been placed on improving a site’s search engine visibility but sometimes at the detriment of the brand.

Just why is SEO ruining brands?

Over the past few years SEO has been plunged into the driver’s seat, whilst aspects like user experience have been compromised. Website copy has been the sacrificial lamb for SEOs in their pursuit of rankings. Whilst title tags and meta descriptions have been stuffed more than a Xmas Turkey. And lets not forget the impact of a site usability as users are directed to the additional SEO page’s which has been added to the site and provide users with no real value to the users thirst for information.

Why is SEO resulting in compromising other site objectives?

1. Lack of control internally; In some organisations the job of SEO sits with the IT department. Whilst SEO is somewhat technical, it is difficult to ensure your brand’s key messages are effectively communicated when it is left to those who code rather than manage a brand.

SEO Marketing Techniques2. Lack of knowledge;
Many marketers still leave the specifics of their SEO strategy to their agency without knowledge of what they are doing. If you cannot answer the basic questions such as those below then alarm bells should be ringing;
– Which keywords are you targeting
– Where are your site links placed
– How are my title tags written

Marketers would never let their agency release an advert they hadn’t seen, or distribute a Press Release without their approval, so why do they let the SEO agency do what they want?

3. Lack of accountability; Unfortunately SEO agencies have been too focused on delivering rankings and not focussed enough on driving conversion. The SEO discipline is too far removed from the other areas of marketing and SEOs themselves are too 1 dimensional. It’s time for SEOs to understand the bigger picture and how their SEO efforts fit into the larger strategy.

So how can you ensure it’s not happening to your brand?

1. Ask for transparency; No marketer should stand for an SEO agency who will not reveal the secrets which get a site to rank. It’s your site and your brand and no external party should be entrusted with that much responsibility.
2. Be educated; Marketers must increase their knowledge of SEO, not to become experts but to have enough knowledge to ask their agency the right questions.
3. Take back the power; The IT department is there to support the organisations infrastructure not to implement SEO. It is important that the marketing department plays an active role in the creation and execution of such a strategy.

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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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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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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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5 Biggest Search Marketing Trends in 2009

SEM Trends

In 2008 it is believed that Google made over 400 changes to its algorithm, keeping all of the search marketers out there on their toes.  But just when you think you may have cracked the big time with your search results, the search landscape is changing.

So what may Google and other search engines have in store for us in 2009?

  1. Semantic Search –It seems the next big trend upon us in search is semantic search. Recently Google’s search results have shown preliminary signs of deploying semantic search, and both MSN and Ask have made their intentions in this area known.
  1. Blended Search – Whilst blended search has been in use for sometime it is becoming more and more mainstream. At the SES conference in Chicago in December it was identified that nearly a third of all search results contained some kind of blended result. This had nearly doubled since March 2008.  With web 2.0, interactive content is exploding and it will be those who can optimise video, maps and images for search who will benefit in 2009.
  1. Local Search – The importance of local search results and reviews is more important than even. This is partly being driven by the rise in smart phones to search for on the fly information such as restaurants and entertainment. Optimising for local search should therefore have a greater focus by marketers.

Trends such as localisation as well as personalisation are not only changing the optimisation process, but are changing the way in which we measure SEO.  Localisation and personalisation make rankings less important and results in an even stronger focus onto measuring traffic and conversions.

  1. User Behaviour Metrics – Site relevancy & quality will play an even greater role in search rankings. Click-through rates and bounce rates will be taken into consideration and overtime poor performing sites will be affected.  A natural progression to utilise these metrics seems obvious given Google already utilises these metrics in their quality score for paid search.
  1. Popularity – Link popularity will begin to take a backseat as Google will focus more on the intelligence gained through personalisation, search wiki’s, chrome and social media to determine real popularity.
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Google’s Search Wiki – Power To The people

Google Search Wiki

In late November, Google yet again surprised us with its latest edition to its search engine. As social media has empowered the people, so to has Google with its “Search Wiki”.  Search Wiki allows users who are signed in, to make comments regarding search results, as well as rate search results and add URLs. This is just one of the latest ways that Google is allowing users to personalise their search experience.

So what does this mean for all of us Search Engine Marketers?  As yet the data collected by Google does not have any impact upon search results.  I would not however rule out that the future may see Google add this variable to its already complex algorithm to deliver more relevant results.

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Searchscape – The Latest Innovations in Search?

Online Search Marketing

Whilst Google has a stronghold on the Australian search market and many of the most important global markets, the fight for the search market is definitely not over and innovation continues.

So just what are the latest changes from Google & its competitors?

Wolfram Alpha

A new competitor is set to enter the search arena and it seems there is something special about this new entrant as it has many of the search geeks talking – me included. It is however important to note that Wolfram Alpha is not positioning itself as a search engine but as a knowledge engine.

Whilst many are talking about how the site may provide stiff competition, by trialling the site it is obvious that Wolfram Alpha does differ from Google and thus it may not be a replacement for Google search. Why? The site as it stands is not useful when searching for products and services and conducting research to make purchase decisions. Its purpose and strength is its ability for users to ask factual questions and for the system to compute and return the answers.

The search database is still largely undeveloped, however as it gathers pace it could be a likely alternative to source for key facts and figures that a user usually spend hours searching for on Google.

Microsoft Kumo Search

Microsoft has failed in its attempts to win any sizable market share from Google. In Australia, the Ninemsn platform retains 3 – 4% of the search market which is higher than Yahoo, however still not a sizeable portion of the market. In their upcoming launch of the new Microsoft Kumo search engine (in the next few weeks) the new Microsoft offering is expected to include integration of its semantic search functionality gained through their acquisition of Powerset in 2008.

From the sneak preview it is obvious Microsoft is also placing more importance on blended result. The rise of rich content will continue to see search engines place significant emphasis on blended results thus it is important that site owners/managers look to adopt and optimise rich content.

Google’s New Search Functions

Google has introduced several new search functions to improve the users search experience. The new search options include graphical search and social content filters. Whilst some of the advancements should greatly assist users to refine their search, (and one that was largely missing from the search arena) the question is how many will use these features as the filter options are not easily identifiable on the search results page.

Of particular importance Google has also introduced the rich snippets function;
Rich snippets allows webmasters to enhance their search listing from a standard listing by including information such as ratings, reviews, price range etc. The data is not automatically included by Google, webmasters must add additional mark-up’s to their pages to assist Google to access this data and display it when necessary. Refer to Google’s webmaster instructions for more information

Whilst search may seem to have lost the limelight to social media, innovation obviously continues and there are many exciting developments on the way. Over the coming weeks I will detail the latest search trends and what will emerge from the Next Generation search engines to provide you with an idea of where search is heading.

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