Archive for November, 2009

Google Drinks Fighting Problem

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in May 2008.

Google is screwed up. I say that not to be in any way disparaging of the world’s most important search engine and online advertising platform (after all, it’s a major source of my blog traffic!), but rather out of sincere, heartfelt concern. SEOs and online advertisers can no longer dismiss the search giant’s recent acting up as “just a phase,” or a bit of eccentricity; it’s time for some tough love. Yes, our friend Google is in need of…an intervention. Things have reached the point where anyone involved in interactive marketing can recognize the classic signs of a serious abuse problem:

Wild Mood Swings and Erratic Behavior

The search position held by any particular page for any specific term has always fluctuated somewhat over time, but lately the ranking swings have become unusually unstable and pronounced. For example, on one site that I do SEO work for, I watched one page go from 49th position for a particular term, to the #9 spot, then back to page five in a matter of weeks—with no changes made to the page.

That experience is by no means unique. As Jaan Kanellis recently wrote in Google Previous Query Reason For Crazy Google Rankings? on SiteProNews, “I swear I must answer these types of questions two dozen times on forums/blogs every week. ‘Where did my rankings go?’ ‘Why do I rank #4 one hour and then #44 the next hour?'”

Difficulty Getting Along with Others

While search results of course vary across the different engines as each uses its own unique algorithms, one nevertheless expects similarity in results when the search phrase being used has a clear market leader. For example, on a search for “free credit report,” Experian’s FreeCreditReport.com shows up within the top three results on almost any search engine.

To an increasing degree over the last couple of months, however, Google returns very different results than the other leading search engines, even when the others agree. For example, on a series of similar phrases, MSN and Yahoo consistently displayed one particular company’s website on the first page of their results, while Google seemed to have a much more difficult time finding it:

Results like this seem to suggest either that Google’s algorithm is no longer as accurate as MSN’s or Yahoo’s, or an explanation even more sinister, as suggested in The Google Voice: Free Speech in Search, a recent post from StraightUpSearch.

Confusion and Disorientation

Now, one might argue that Google’s results differ from other search engines because its algorithms are actually better than Yahoo’s or MSN’s. Perhaps, and Google certainly has no requirement to return results similar to other search engines—but it should at least agree with itself. But it doesn’t; it’s not unusual for Google to return wildly different results for arcane and extremely similar search terms.

For example, this is how one website showed up in search results across the three largest engines for searches on five very similar phrases. Note that Yahoo and MSN display results that are not only very similar to each other, but internally consistent as well, while Google’s results for this site are all over the place:

There are also instances where the same SEO techniques applied to different pages on a single website produce dramatically different results on Google. Disturbing.

Problems Performing Simple Tasks

The search giant has experiences reporting glitches across it’s AdWords and Analytics toolsets as reported by Ian Lurie in Google Analytics Is Losing E-commerce Data: Don’t Panic?!! on the Conversation Marketing blog. Here’s Google’s acknowledgment of the issue:


And the problems are not only on the reporting side; FTP publishing failed and spit back error messages on Blogger for four days before Google Support finally corrected the glitch. That’s a heck of a bender.

Changing Its Story

It’s not uncommon for someone with “a problem” to tell different stories to different people, or change details over time. This is apparently another warning sign for Google—are external links important or not? They still certainly appear to be, though Google has changed its tune on the issue, as reported on a Marketing Pilgrim post from Andy Beal, Google Officially Removes Link Building from “SEO?”. Why?

And Finally…Denial

The first step is getting help is of course admitting one has a problem. Unfortunately, there have been no signs of that yet from our friend. In Introduction to Search Quality on the Official Google Blog, Google VP Engineering – Search Quality Udi Manber, (a clearly brilliant and no doubt quite decent guy), defends the company’s secrecy, writing that “We are, to be honest, quite secretive about what we do. There are two reasons for it: competition and abuse.” Fair enough, and no one should expect Google to give away its most valuable secrets. But given all of the above—wild rankings swings, inconsistency, glitches in simple functions—is it too much to ask for an explanation of this bizarre behavior?

Roger Janik tries to sort this all out in What’s Important to Know About the Google “Dewey” Algorithm Update on PromotionWorld, writing:

    “This past update which came roaring in during March and April wreaking havoc to all SEO’s deserves a name like a great storm- this one named ‘Dewey’…For most SEOs and general web surfers Dewey was extremely easy to spot. It only took a few searches to realize that something was off kilter and to many SEOs totally out of whack…One of the first alarm bells that went off was that many of the quality old sites that we love and nurture suddenly disappeared from the top ranking positions to pages in the tens or twenties of the index. This very unfortunate fact sent many SEOs into panic mode. Many web surfers and SEOs noticed that searches were not nearly as relevant as before. For many, it seemed that Google was tipsy, spewing out half baked results for straight forward queries.”

Given how freakish the last couple of months have been on Google search, perhaps Doozey would have been a better code name. Or Britney.

Therapy Needed

Google is too important to be allowed to slip through the cracks into dysfunction and disrepute. Every day, millions of marketers and tens of millions of searchers turn to Google to provide reliable, accurate search results. Maybe counseling is required, maybe a 12-step program, perhaps even forced commitment. Because, as we’ve all bee told repeatedly, friends don’t let friends drive (web traffic) drunk.

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Study: Webinars, Twitter, Blogs Critical for B2B Social Media

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

The brilliant and helpful team at Business.com have just released a phenomenal, must read research report, the 2009 B2B Social Media Benchmarking Study. The report covers responses from a wide range of company sizes and industries, and breaks the data down by those attributes as well as title and department. Among the most interesting findings:

Webinars and podcasts topped the list of most popular social media resources for business information, followed closely by user ratings (good news for b2b-focused social media sites like FYIndOut.com), company/product profile pages on social media sites, and company blogs. Social bookmarking sites (e.g. Digg, Mixx, StumbleUpon) were viewed as least important, though they are still used by 28% of respondents.

b2b_social_media_benchmarkThose figures hold as well specifically for senior management, with 77% listening to podcasts or webinars, 61% visiting company blogs and more than half participating in online business communities or forums.

Large companies (defined in the study as having 100 or more employees) are somewhat more likely to actively used social media than smaller enterprises, though the difference varied considerably by specific activities. For example, employees at large companies were considerably more likely (84% vs. 67%) to spend time on webinars and podcasts, but only slightly more inclined (64% vs. 54%) to read company blogs for information.

Not surprisingly, marketing and communications professionals are the heaviest users of b2b social media. This group is followed however by senior management, then sales, then—who would have thought it—accounting and finance.

60% of respondents report spending less than 20% of their work time using social media, with the largest single group (37%) saying they spend 10-20% of their day with it. Only one out of five employees spend 30% or more of their working hours with social media.

Most b2b social media users are relative newbies. 30% have used social media for less than a year, two-thirds have been active for less than two years, and more than 80% have four years of less of social media experience.

Even more pronounced, on a company level, nearly 40% of enterprises have been using social media as a b2b business resource for less than a year; 72% for less than two years; and almost 90% for less than four years.

Among the most popular activities for “outbound” (as opposed to research) social media activities for b2b companies, 81% maintain company accounts/profiles on social media sites, 75% are on Twitter, 74% maintain company blogs, and 73% monitor social media mentions of their companies. At the other end of the scale, only 42% advertise on social media sites and just 36% use social media for employee recruiting.

76% of b2b companies report that their social media initiatives are driven by marketing, with 13% saying customer service is the driver. In contrast, the figures for b2c companies are 63% and 26%, respectively.

Finally, there is the matter of social media measurement. Among the top social media success metrics, 68% of b2b companies use website traffic as a key measurement of success, 61% brand awareness, and 60% engagement with prospects. At the other end of the scale, only 37% use prospect lead volume as a success metric (likely because social media is far more effective at brand building than lead generation) and 26% say it provides useful product feedback.

The only findings that seem somewhat questionable are that 60% of respondents claimed they can demonstrate the revenue impact of social media activities and 57% said they can measure prospect lead volume. This is suspect because ROI metrics for social media are notoriously difficult to measure accurately, and because, if these measures were true, one would have expected different answers to the question above regarding success metrics.

Overall, this report from Business.com is fascinating reading and a valuable resource for anyone involved in b2b social media use. Again, you can download the b2b social media benchmark study here.

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Key to Social Media Success: Just be Nice

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

no-mr-yuckThis post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog June 13, 2005. It was revised and republished here on November 15, 2009.

Even with all of the convenient communications tools enabled by the internet and wireless technologies, business is still fundamentally based on relationships. Social media expands the ability to create and develop business relationships, making them even more important. According to a study commissioned by The Sales Board, the #1 reason that companies (and, for big-ticket items, individuals) choose to buy from one company over another is their relationship with the sales representative. Think about all of the vendor relationships you have. Then think about your favorite vendors – what sets them apart from the others? While it may be a factor such as price or product quality, in many if not most cases, it’s the relationships you have with people at that company.

The first step in establishing a new relationship is, of course, simply being pleasant and courteous. I’ve never seen a situation where displaying rude, hostile behavior results in any long-term advantage. As Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island once put it, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.” Or, for those who prefer their wisdom a bit less homespun, there’s a memorable quote in Mike Stanton’s book “The Prince of Providence : The Rise and Fall of Buddy Cianci, America’s Most Notorious Mayor,” (great book by the way; a tad long as Stanton occasionally delves into unnecessary detail, but overall a fascinating true story well told), ascribed to being an old saying in Rhode Island politics: “Be careful whose toes you step on today; they may be connected to the a** you have to kiss tomorrow.” So, given that my insight above is hardly new or unique, one might expect it to be universal, but it isn’t – quite.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people over the past few years, and by far the majority of them have been wonderful, reaffirming my basic faith in human nature. But it’s amazing that some people, even in positions of influence, just don’t get this basic concept. (I won’t name any names here; the good people know who they are, and the not-so-good don’t care.) There was the agency presentation I sat in on at a client site; the agency personnel were arrogant and condescending to the point of offensiveness. That was appalling, but not shocking. What was shocking was that they won the business(!) over an (at least) equally qualified agency with a better attitude (though the relationship didn’t last long). There was also the CEO I met with – I’ll call her Christine – who repeatedly spoke disparagingly and dismissively of her coworkers; not only subordinates, but even the company founders! Worst of all was the agency head I had arranged a meeting with; after about 45 minutes of what I thought had been a fairly pleasant and productive conversation, I asked him, “So, what can I do for you?” He sneered back, “I don’t know – what can you do for me?” Ouch.

More recently, I’ve had unexpectedly unpleasant run-ins with a couple of well-known bloggers in the social media space. These were individuals who I’d quoted and written of approvingly in my blog. When I asked if they might like to retweet or otherwise help promote these posts (I mean, if someone wrote nice things about you on their blog, wouldn’t you want to help promote the piece?), one replied snidely “Good luck building your blog traffic by rehashing other people’s content” while another bizarrely accused me of thinking my blog was “more important than the suffering in Darfur.” What??

It’s certainly unclear how some of these people attained their positions of power, and clearly uncertain how long they’ll retain them.

But, as I said, by far the majority of the new people I’ve met, online and offline, have been wonderful. There was the agency account rep who provided me with a number of new contacts, and stayed in touch even when I had no business to send his way. There was the vendor account rep who has likewise stayed in touch, providing me with contacts, ideas, and encouragement (not to mention the occasional smoked salmon). There was the managing partner of an executive consulting firm who bought me a cup of coffee and shared his wisdom. There was the CEO who put me in touch with a number of key individuals, including a VC principal who in turn helped open doors for me. And many more.

Although I’ll no doubt continue to meet new people and establish new relationships, I already know some of the people I’ll be doing business with in the future. The business contacts who have established a relationship with me are the ones whose calls I will always return, whose emails I will always open, and for whom I will do whatever I can when they ask. To expand your business, yes, by all means take advantage of the Web marketing tools at your disposal; but nourish and expand your person-to-person business relationships as well. Simply being nice can pay huge dividends.

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The Wonders of WordPress (from a Blogger Bigot)

Friday, November 13th, 2009

When I first started work on the WebMarketCentral blog back in early 2005, I evaluated both Blogger and WordPress. At the time, it seemed that:

WordPress beats Blogger

  • There were a similar number of popular blogs on both platforms.
  • The features and capabilities of the two platforms were roughly equivalent.
  • Blogger was easier to use.

Today, while I’d argue that the last point above still holds true, on the first two items – it’s not even close. It’s hard to even think of any “A list” blogs on Blogger (okay, Paul Dunay’s excellent Buzz Marketing for Technology, but I mean other than that). And in terms of capabilities, WordPress has advanced with each new release, while Blogger seems stuck in the past. And then there are plugins, of course. As the iPhone commercial says “there’s an app for that,” for almost any cool thing you want your blog to do, on WordPress “there’s a plugin for that.”

To consider just a few differences in capabilities between the two platforms:

  • Subscribe by email. This can be accomplished relatively easily with a plugin in WordPress. In Blogger, it can be done, but requires a painful and convoluted workaround using Google Groups.
  • RSS feeds. Both platforms make it easy to set up a single RSS feed for all blog content. But WordPress provides far more flexible options as well, allowing users to subscribe only to specific categories, only to comments, whatever.
  • Use as a CMS. WordPress can fairly easily be adapted for use as a CMS for a general purpose website, with or without a blog. I’m not sure this is even possible with Blogger, much less simple.
  • Add a quick poll. Easy in WordPress. Tried for two years to figure out a way to do this in Blogger, gave up.
  • Set up “who links here.” Automatic function in WordPress, painful manual process in Blogger.
  • Trackbacks. Again, automatic in WordPress. Blogger requires use of a third-party app and another painful workaround.
  • SEO. Don’t even get me started. While WordPress is naturally optimized for search, Blogger seems at best indifferent, at worst hostile to making a blog search engine-friendly.

Perhaps this is unfair to Blogger (feel free to leave comments/corrections below if you think so). I will concede that blogging on Blogger, like most habits, is a hard habit to break. The platform’s quirks and inconveniences can become almost charming. I’ve tried before and failed, but this time I’ve got to quit and take up a healthier alternative. It’s not for me; I’m doing this for the children.

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How to Develop a Keyword List for SEO

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

This post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in June 2008.

It’s critical, when starting work on a new website, to develop a list of the most productive keywords and phrases to work into the content and structure of the site. It can also be a useful exercise for existing sites from time to time; content changes, search patterns change, and a minor content and SEO face lift may be just the thing to reinvigorate traffic growth.

Start by jotting down a list of the obvious search phrases for the site. Try to think like a prospective customer—what phrases would they likely use to try to find the product, service or information you offer?—rather than your internal company jargon. The list doesn’t need to be long; 15-25 phrases is sufficient unless you are working with a very large website.

Next, run your initial list of phrases through a keyword tool in order to 1) determine the relative search volume of the terms on your initial list, and 2) identify high-potential related search phrases. Trellian’s Keyword Discovery is an excellent tool if you can justify the cost; if not, Google Suggest (and the AdWords keyword tool if you have an existing AdWords account), the SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool and Yooter are helpful, free tools. In Reader Poll: Best Keyword Research Tools, search guru Lee Odden reports on the popularity of 15 keyword tools.

Finally, the most important step of all: after combining all of your original and the tool-suggested terms and sorting the phrases by search popularity, apply human intelligence to reduce the list to a final, manageable list of terms to SEO the site for. Not all of the terms that a keyword suggestion tool identifies as “related” to your initial list will really apply to your product, service or information. In addition, some terms will be too broad for SEO but may be use for a search engine marketing (SEM) program (SEO vs. SEM terms will be the topic of a future post).

The final list of terms can then be worked into page URLs, titles, meta tags and content to help the search engine spiders figure out that your site should show up well for these search phrases.

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