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Personalized Google Search changes SEO

18th December 2009SEO-

I just read a great post regarding the new Google personalized search techniques that I have to share and rant about.  You can read the original article here – searchengineland – Google personalization.  Wow I had no idea that this was happening and as someone who does a little bit of optimization on websites that I design I can see this as very problematic for web designers in general and SEO experts in particular.

Why?  Isn’t this an improvement in Search and doesn’t it mean that I am more likely to find what I want?  Well, no, not unless you are always looking for the same thing or always want the same information.  I am assuming that sites that you like that you want to go back to will be bookmarked as favorites, if you type in a new search – it stands to reason that you will want new results.   You can turn off the “personalization” but again the default is to have it on and most searchers won’t know about it at all.  Many will get upset at the fact that their search habits are being tracked this extensively, forgetting that search habits have always been tracked without your knowledge.  The difference is that now you are getting something that you have not asked for in the form of skewed search results that may not lead you to the answer you wanted.

What is worse….when it comes to little web designers and semi-SEO people, we optimize a site and eventually try to track how it is doing once it finally gets into google.  How do we see if it got into Google?  We search for it and see where it comes up in the listings.  So do our clients when they check to see how their site is doing.  The problem – my list and the client’s list have very little chance of matching.  Or worse yet, if we go to our own site alot, our results will start to skew in that direction, so we think we are number 1 in the listings when really for everyone else we are on page 10.  I don’t know if it will get this bad, but it is something to think about and watch for.

What’s in a Word….

14th September 2006SEO, Web Marketing-

Fantasia Canada WebsiteI had a question from one of my more successful clients that I just had to talk about here.  His concerns bring up some really important points regarding search engine optimization and ranking.  This client’s site is very successful because he works hard at it.  He does Google Adwords and is constantly adjusting to ensure that his ranking stays high for as many keywords as possible.  It took quite a while, almost a year in fact, for his site to appear in the organic listings for Google.  I still believe (despite Google’s protests) that they held his site back from the organic listings to ensure that he continued to buy into the adwords program.  I would venture to say that even though he is now present in the organic listings (non-sponsored or pay per click listings) that he only appears sporadically and not for all his keyword phrases.  But back to the question….

As this site is so successful they are constantly being pressured or chased by newcomers in their field.  My client Fantasia Canada spends a lot of time checking his stats and watching his ranking so he sees these new sites when they appear.  Recently one of these new rival sites appeared in the organic listings for the MSN search engine ahead of his site when he searched.  He sent me an email regarding this matter and wondered if we should adjust or change his title and meta tags so that he could rank ahead of this new upstart.

I quickly did some keyword searches of my own in MSN.

When searching for the key phrase “fantasia home party” : my client is #7 and the rival is #3 and #4
When searching for the key phrase “fantasia party” : my client is #3 and #4 and the rival is #7
when searching for the key phrase “fantasia home parties” :  my client is #7 and the rival is #3
when searching for “fantasia party canada” or “fantasia canada” : my client is #1 and the rival does not show up in the first 10 listings.

It is fairly obvious that one of the key differences that allows MSN to differentiate between the two sites is the title tag which for the rival site is optimized for fantasia home party and for my client optimized for fantasia party and fantasia canada.  Before agreeing with my client I decided to go one step further and find out what the general public is actually searching for.  One good tool to use for this is the Overture Keyword Suggestion tool which tracks actual searches in Overture and Wordtracker. A search for Fantasia and Fantasia Party revealed that the keyword phrase that my client’s site is optimized for – “fantasia party” – receives roughly 3 times as many hits as the keyword phrase “fantasia home party”. Approximately 1300 hits or searches per month versus 315. 

Currently the Fantasia Canada site receives between 7000 to 8000 visitors per month with the average visitor staying on the site for at least 3 minutes and browsing 6 or more pages.  These are really good statistics and because the site visitors stay awhile and view so many pages we know that the website is optimized for the right keywords.  Bonus is that the keywords that work best for this site just happen to be the ones used in searches most often.  I recommended to my client that he leave things as they are a little while longer and he agreed. Changing his keywords to jump above the new rival in the listings might have actually resulted in less traffic in the long run. 

The Overture Keyword Suggestion Tool only compares searches within its own database index and so is not an accurate picture of the entire internet however it can serve as a good relative measure of keyword popularity in comparison to other keyword phrases. 

So I mentioned I wanted to make some important points with this whole story:

  1. It is important to note new competitors as they appear in the listings but don’t focus on just one search engine, try to make comparisons across the big 3 – Google, MSN and Yahoo
  2. You can’t beat everyone for every set of keywords  – try to beat your competitors for the most important or popular search terms instead
  3. Have patience and remember that as long as you were there first and continue to regularly update your site you will always have the edge in Google which receives more than 50% of all search traffic
    (view current stats here: )

An interesting note to add here is that the new competing website has appeared in the MSN listings quite quickly but has not yet appeared in the Google organic listings and probably won’t for some time yet. 

Keeping it Simple

7th September 2006SEO-

My email newsletter this week from Enquiro Marketing contained an article about Keeping your Search Engine Marketing Simple and I thought it would be a good link for those who are interested in SEO or search engine marketing.

One of the best comments in the article is that is that Search Engine Marketing is not simple and requires a combination of marketing knowledge, time, patience and a little luck.  This is something we have discovered over 9 years in the business and especially holds true for those who are trying to get into Google.  Time, patience and a little luck are part of the combination.  Noone really knows how or why Google indexes sites, although there are lots of theories, however they change their setup and programming so often it is almost impossible to keep up. The only things that have not really changed is the basic and yes, simple steps in organic search engine optimization: good titles and metatags, relevant keyword phrases, links using keywords to your own site pages and other sites linking to yours, sitemaps, alt tags, great content and standard coding practices.  Over time and with a little luck, optimization can bring your site up.  When combined with regular updates, your star can rise even faster.  The thing to remember is that it will take time.  Google often takes six months to a year to really get a new site indexed properly the organic way.  Older sites that are not half as good as yours will still beat you in the listings because they have been there longer. This is why it is a good idea to have other temporary strategies in place when you launch your site such as purchasing space in the paid or sponsored listings or sending out a press release, or letting all your customers know by fax, email or letter that you are online.  These steps help to get your site noticed while you are waiting to get listed in Google.

The article goes on to give some good insights into SEO and is worth a read. A sister site to Enquiro, is also full to insights and SEO tips.  This company based in the BC Okanagan takes SEO to the next level for those who are serious about ranking high in the search engines.

Content Strategy Part 3 – Who Writes This Stuff?

5th September 2006SEO, Web Design-

In parts one and two of Building a Content Strategy we identified the importance of knowing your strategic objectives or what you want to write about and identifying where the information or content will come from.  In part three we will discuss who will do the writing for your website.

With small or home based businesses it is easy to guess who will be doing the writing.  YOU.  It is important to realize the time commitment you will be making and determine if the time invested will pay off with increased traffic to your website and/or sales and requests for your services. Statistics on our client websites have shown that website traffic increases sharply soon after a major update – usually because the search engines have indexed the new information and given the website a boost in ranking as a reward.

For larger organizations it is important to get buy-in from staff and identify those who are interested in taking on the new task of content generation before going ahead with your content strategy for the website.   Publishing skills are not that common and the ability to write essays or articles which are short, sweet and to the point is a valuable commodity.  If you have these people already on staff, use them wisely and share out the duties if you can.  If you can’t identify any interest amongst your current employees you can add the requirement for these skills to your new job posting or outsource the service. Recently I learned of a blog which posts jobs for professional bloggers.  There are companies who are willing to outsource the blog marketing part of their web strategy to professional writers and bloggers knowing that it is an important piece of their overal marketing plan but unable to find the time to do it themselves.  If your content is not blog based, considered putting out an ad for a part-time editorial or copy writer to give you a hand.  University and college students can also be a good source of writing talent and are often looking for ways to add to their income.

In conclusion, ensure that your content strategy identifies who will be doing the writing for your website as there is nothing more damaging to your online corporate image than having an outdated website or a blog that has not had a posting since the last century. In our next posting we will discuss some of the more common methods for publishing content to your website or content management systems.

Content Strategy Part 2 – How does your content grow?

24th August 2006SEO, Web Design-

In Content Strategy Part 1 – we talked about setting business goals for your website as the first step in building your content strategy.  Now that you know who you are talking to and what you want them to do with the information, it is time to identify the kind of content you will need and where it will come from. 

If you are in the process of building a new website, the starting content is usually fairly easy to find.  Here are some likely places to look:

  • company catalogs and brochures
  • copies of old advertising supplements and editorials
  • your company mission and vision statements
  • company SOPs and Procedural documents are sometimes useful
  • anything that talks about your company will help your web designer to deliver the right branding image or impression on your website

Most websites contain the same building blocks or pages including the following:

  • About us or Company Profile page which may contain the history of your company, your company mission and purpose, staff profiles, community involvement, management profiles.
  • Services or Products Page which may list the various services that you do or products you sell, often this page is a list with links which leads to more detailed information about each product or service.
  • Contact Page which may simply identify all the points of contact with your company by department or staff member and should include at minimum the full address, phone number, fax and email address.  Often this page includes an email form for prospective clients to fill out which may identify specific areas of interest so you can route the request to the appropriate department.
  • Clients or Testimonial pages are often included on websites and can have quite an impact on the effectiveness of your web marketing.  Listing clients is a great technique especially when you are appealing to a local market who will recognize the names and may even contact them as a reference.  It is a good idea to seek permission from clients and let them know you will be posting their comments or testimonial on your website.
  • Portfolio, Projects or Gallery pages are a great addition to a website and can serve as a visual reference for the work that you do. 
  • A Links page is recommended for most websites as a marketing tool.  It helps to increase your keyword density, provides an important source of more information for your visitors and can increase your page ranking in the search engines.  Quality sites that link to your site can increase your ranking and most quality sites want a return link in exchange which is why you have a links page.  Ensure that you are linking to sites that are complimentary to your product or service but not directly competing with you and always have your link open a new page so that you don’t lose your visitors.
  • If you are setting up an online retail store you will need to add a “how to order” page which includes a listing of your store policies, shipping rates, a brief explanation of how your store or shopping cart works, refund/guarantee details as well as the different ways to order and payment methods.  It is always a good idea to let people order by phone or online and some sites include the ability to fax in an order.  Having several methods of payment is also a good idea.
  • Security and Privacy is also something that your online visitors are concerned about and some explanation as to your privacy rules and the security of your online ordering system is always a good idea.

Almost all websites, large and small, contain the building blocks or pages listed above.  When you are thinking about generating the content for your site, start with the above categories and you will be off to a good start. 

Part 3 of Building a Content Strategy will focus on who will be writing the content and Part 4 will identify some content management tools and the the importance of setting editorial and corporate style guides to control  presentation consistency.