All posts in seo

  • tory burch sells $300 coronas

    Retail roots….and why in-store can’t be matched.  This is a fantastic read.

  • new google local search carousel

    I have seen quite a bit of criticism for the new Google local search carousel that was introduced last week.

    It replaced the traditional local listings that looked like the below screenshot (if I recall correctly this was a screenshot I took when searching for “Del Mar CA restaurants”:

    The new search carousel looks like this: 


    I have a high-resolution laptop display, so my screen definitely shows more results (organic specifically) than most folks would see above the fold.  However one thing you will immediately notice is the prominence of the carousel.  I think there are some great things about it including the listing photo (however since the photo can be user generated through G+ reviews, it is possible it could be a bad photo).  Google says that the photos are randomly chosen through the algorithm.  All of our hotel clients seem to have good photos chosen, however the photos for the hotel restaurant listings aren’t very good (in fact one photo is of a person taking a picture of their face in the restaurant).  From our research this photo predicament seems to be a trend with our restaurant searches, so hopefully Google will change the way photos are chosen in the near future.  Unquestionably the new slider helps many local businesses because they now have higher chances of being placed on page one.  That being said, from an organic perspective, this definitely de-emphasizes the value of the organic listing (especially since many will be below the fold).  There was an article in the Search Engine Journal saying that the carousel is receiving 48% of the clicks, while the map (right side, and didn’t load for me in the above screenshot) is receiving 14% with organic listings receiving lower than that.  I also read articles that show people clicking further to the right rather than the first carousel listings, which is backwards of organic search click distribution.

    Here is a heat map of the click distribution (click on the article to link to the original Search Engine Journal article) :

    I would be interested to see if anyone has pre-carousel data regarding click distribution, because I would assume that local listings would receive a similar percentage of clicks, purely because of appearance   I think the frustration in the mind of many inbound marketers is that Google is clearly focusing on their own products (G+, Google Maps, Hotel Finder, and AdWords) as all of these pieces have the primary placement on the page.  This is certainly the case, but there isn’t much we can do about it: they are in business to make money.  I would also assume they will be integrating an ad unit into the carousel.

    Overall, because we work with predominately travel clients, the carousel has been helping us with competitive keywords where local search receives a large number of clicks.  I would say that  rather than complaining about the carousel as an inbound marketer, we have to find ways to improve client placement with different tactics .  We are working on increasing share of voice on pages (so we have a carousel listing and an organic placement (or multiple organic placements) on the page).  Yes, the organic listing might receive less traffic, but increasing the SOV on the page will still assist brand positioning and assist overall find-ability.

  • title tags and how they have changed

    In case you have been living in a cave, I’ll preface by saying the days of stuffing your page title with keywords are over.  Even just placing a keyword or two in your title can often no longer do much of anything.  The two options I give clients to write titles (or how we now write titles for clients/or when we are in the process of changing titles) is as follows:

    1. If your brand is strong, always put your brand first.  For example, “Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts | Luxury Hotel and Resort Management Company”
    2. If your brand isn’t as strong (a smaller local business, or simply just isn’t known by name), then place your target keyword in the formation of a sentence first, followed by your brand name second.  For example,”Coastal Dining in the Pacific Palisades | Blue Inn Restaurant”

    We do this because when someone searches, if your brand is strong, then they are likely looking for it, and not a keyword first (if there is a keyword first it can throw them off + it just doesn’t look elegant):

    (notice that they aren’t optimizing for the keyword I placed above “Luxury Hotel and Resort Management Company”, rather they are optimizing for ‘Luxury Hotels’, but they still have the brand first.

    (notice the keyword “Santa Monica Restaurants” first, and then the brand name “Upper West.”  Also, as you can see this example doesn’t follow my strategy regarding title creation as they are stuffing keywords into their title.  It is working for them now, but the days of success are numbered.

    The key here is to either use your brand name as a strength, or (if you are smaller) use the search keyword as your strength.  You no longer need multiple keywords in your titles, and rather you should help the search engine understand what content is actually on the page.  Think of Google more as a person.  If you were using Google to find something, you would want the title to easily describe the content that you will find on that page.

    Some other basics regarding titles:

    1. Generally keep titles under 70 characters.
    2. Be concise, but try to keep the keyword structure.  For example if you are targeting “Santa Monica Restaurant” then include it elegantly in your title after the brand, in the description, and also in the page’s content if possible (just don’t over stuff).
    3. If you are writing a description in the title of what the user will find on the page (good idea!) then try to get the keyword in earlier…for example: “Blue Hill Restaurant: Explore our Dinner Menu”

    Another note, and this is worthy of an entirely separate blog post (and I will write one on it) is how titles can affect your sitelinks.  If your site structure is completed well, but you have lousy titles, then Google will have a very difficult time indexing that and therefore will penalize you by very few, or no site links.  Or even if you do get site links they will be impossible for the user to use (because the keywords are all stuffed in the very little real estate you have within the sitelink).  I will write a separate post on how to maximize sitelinks and also how you should structure your site for best practice.

    Quick Recap:

    If your brand is strong, the format for a title should be “Brand | Phrase incorporating target keyword”

    If your brand isn’t as well known, the format for a title should be “Phrase incorporating target keyword | Brand”

    When writing the phrase, think of Google more like a person.  If was searching for a live music schedule, I would probably click on something like “Brand | March Live Entertainment Schedule”


  • the relevant content game

    As marketers we always have a buzz word.  Right now that word is clearly content, and I don’t foresee it going anywhere for a long time.  And frankly, it shouldn’t.  I’m not going to be directly talking about the methods of content marketing in this post, because you can read more of what I have written regarding content creation in the past here and here.  Good content that is relevant, accessible and representative of the brand is key to selling an experience or a product.  People relate to stories, and therefore if you can share stories with them that relate to experiences they have had, then you can create connection, which is obviously an age old method of marketing and advertising. And I suppose that it all comes back to empathy (for your customer), which I will blog about separately soon.

    We are creating a content delivery portal for one of our luxury hotel clients.  We need to create content delivery that is dynamic, sexy, insightful, and drives users to the content they are looking while still guiding them into “what they should be interested in” from a business perspective (converting someone into a customer).  We also want to ensure that the site is always new and interesting.  The challenge with a project like this is that the content creation cost can be quite high.  In the print days people were more forgiving.  For example if an article was a month old, it was fine because the content was printed and therefore could become dated.  With digital delivery, an article that is even a week old can be unacceptable.  People demand relavent content, on demand, that is new on the point of delivery.

    Good content doesn’t have to be expensive, but I certainly understand the challenges that go along with creating good content.  Even if you have a writer or copywriter on staff, it spreads your resources even thinner.  Because of this, I think the best strategy is allowing for guest writers, and contributed content within the sector.  For example with luxury hospitality there are many great bloggers that would love to write guest columns and contribute content to other relavent sources (especially if that work is for a sophisticated brand).  There are some resources like Blogger Link Up, which can put you in touch with bloggers and vice versa.  It is also powerful to use brand ambassadors to contribute content and relavent topics within the sector.  For luxury hotels this could be luxury clothing, cars, real estate, wine, food, jewelry, etc.  One important key is that you don’t want to veer too far away from the purpose of the content.  Was the platform created for guest acquisition or for purely branding.  It is fine to have overlap, but it is key to understand the mission and purpose of the content that you are delivering.

    I think Standard Culture (below) does a great job of delivering relevant, interesting content that inspires reaction.

    Standard Culture

    What I love about Standard Culture is that it isn’t just a blog, but rather an entire content hub.  It communicates the Standard brand so well within interesting stories, interviews, and media.

    Our goal for the content delivery platform that we are building is to create an interactive portal that communicates experiences, memories, and communicates what it is like to be a part of this luxury hotel brand (and the lifestyle that it represents).  If we can create a mix of published content, happenings, and relevant brands (and sew it all together in a superb interactive experience), then I believe we will have created something extraordinarily valuable.

  • visual content and SEO

    As content marketing trudges forward and SEOers understand the value of quality content for improving overall search rankings, we are faced with the question of how successful visual content (infographics, videos, etc.) is.  One major question is how and why it would be important to use visual content?  As a designer this question is easily answered.  It adds elegance to otherwise static and boring content.  It makes content easy to understand and can be viewed quickly.  From a traditional SEO perspective, however, this isn’t always so easy to answer as they feel that Google won’t be able to truly index all of the content.  There are tricks such as video site maps, but at the end of the day, all of that content is not going to be indexable nor findable (some, but not all).  My personal belief is that the combination and variety of quality content (in different media forms) is what is inherently going to improve pagerank, domain and page trust.  I also think that finding other important and relavent content that can be embedded is key because it is the stepping stone to true virality.

    From a holistic approach,we can look at content and say that a variety of content forms provide visual interest and should engage users and potential customers far more than simple text.  Also, with recent Google Algo changes, they are rewarding companies that are content innovators.  Content innovators isn’t just a term for writers, it is someone who both contributes, organizes, writes, and designs content and content plans.  They understand the differences between simply writing great content and writing content that is suitable for the online/interactive experience.  I think that a true content innovator would agree that using a variety of content forms (including infographics for link building) is crucial.

    One strategic tip regarding infographics is to use the Google reverse image search to find  uses of the graphic throughout the web so you can reach out  to ask for a reciprocal link.  Avoid making an infographic a spammy link farm, however it certainly has the potential to be quite valuable for SEO purposes.

    As an analytics guru, I think that the most important solution to understanding the value of visual content is simply looking at the Google Analytics content report to see how users are finding and interacting with your content.  You can setup simple custom searches to view content pages, and what role organic search is playing in driving traffic.  You can then mold a content strategy to best fit.


  • cross platform publishing and adaptive content

    How do we publish content that is device responsive, yet also serve content that is tailored or best suited for a particular platform?

    The simple answer (yet not most effective) is to have a mobile website and a non-mobile, primary website.  The issue with this is that not all mobile devices are created equally and moreover tablet devices are not mobile experiences.  They are a hybrid between a computer and a mobile device.  People are looking for more information (a complete browsing experience) on a tablet.  On a mobile device someone might be looking for something quickly, or looking for for an address/phone number (address and phone better be simple and accesible on a mobile platform).  The devices are also used very differently and in very different places.  A tablet device might be used in home or when commuting on public transit, while a mobile device is essentially used as the go-to device throughout the day.

    In addition to actually displaying your website, you also have to worry about device responsiveness for e-mail, SEO, SEM, Social, Apps, etc.

    A great graphic, from John Doherty is below (from an excellent presentation here):

    Great example of cross browser

    The best way to understand your users, and how they are interacting with your content is to look at Google Analytics and preview the device and mobile breakdown.  This gives you an idea of how many users are arriving at your site from specific devices.  The next step is to create a custom channel so that you are able to look at a particular mobile or tablet segment of users and see which specific pages they are looking at (images below).  Look at their browsing habits.  Short times on site could indicate frustration or content that isn’t fully accesible via mobile devices.  Long times on site, and a variety of different page views can indicate that your users are engaged and that your site is working for your users.  Of course the best possible solution is to have a site that is responsive to all experiences, but realistically, learning to understand your users and best tailoring the experience to them is a great way to begin.  What you will notice once you launch a responsive version of your website is that traffic, time on site, and pageviews of your website are all going to increase significantly.  If you are selling via e-commerce, responsive content will also increase online transactions and revenue.

    Mobile Device Report

    iOS Page Visits


    Device responsive content is no longer a “nice to have,” it is absolutely critical.  If you are feeding quality content, you must ensure that it is accesible from the plethora of devices used.


  • value

    I had an interesting discussion recently with someone regarding the value of marketing.  I suppose the question was narrower in scope in that it was the value of advertising, but in reality advertising is a key part of marketing (or communication) and therefore I prefer to answer the question as the value of marketing.  If you question the power of marketing on the human mind, then you are questioning the design of the mind as a whole.  We are aesthetic beings.  We appreciate things that are well designed, and the messages that stick (or that we recall consciously or subconsciously) are the ones that were communicated to us in ways that were elegant in someway.  Our minds recall stories, which is why regardless of the channel or medium, storytelling is still how we as humans share messages with one another.  Our brains remember stories, but they do not remember specific facts.  Good marketing is done in a way where a story is told.  And (great marketing) is generally communicated in a way that is aesthetically pleasing.

    So, why is advertising important?  Advertising is important because without it, messages are difficult to communicate.  Without the knowledge that something exists, it is very difficult for people to go ‘there’ or buy ‘it’ (go figure).  Many will say that it is all referrals, but lets face it, many of the original patrons figured out that something exists and then shared it with their friends which is a form of advertising (word of mouth).  It is a very simple philosophy; if something is good, people will inevitably return.  And how about social media’s power over referrals?  Too big of a topic to discuss in this post (but obviously social sharing–and generating new business– is enormous whether on sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, or even Facebook).

    With all of this being said, marketing has now become so much more than simply communication of a message.  Marketing is a data game; it is a design and an artistic competition; it is exceptional content; it is social; it is SEO; and this is just the start of the list.  Marketing, done the right way, is a holistic task that is never finished.  But not to forget, if the message is weak or if the story is weak, then it will fail every single time.

    But, don’t do this!

  • share of voice with SEO

    I work with a number of advertising executives (mostly on the client side) that don’t believe share of voice actually makes a difference when advertising. I respectively disagree, when it comes to both digital advertising, as well as the share of voice on a search engine result page. Digital advertising share of voice is certainly debatable, because some will say that if the message is told clear enough, the presence on the page doesn’t matter. My personal opinion is that the more collaborative the message (using multiple forms of creative on the page), the more successful the campaign (and this is the reason I believe greatly in buying 100% share of voice with digital media).

    In fact, owning a page with creative that all works to communicate a message, can not only drive more conversions, but could also prove very effective with remarketing.  You would change the entire creative based on what the user is most likely to convert with.

    What isn’t debatable is the importance of share of voice with the search engine result page.  I don’t mean to say that position on the page doesn’t matter, but the number of positions that a brand occupies on the search page certainly increases the click through rate.  Take a look at the samples below.

    A separate note is that the number one organic position, which isn’t a venue (but a resource site) doesn’t have a second position in the local search.  This is great to see, because far too often you’ll notice that Google will mistake certain high PR sites and place them in local search.  I am pointing out (with the blue arrows) that having two placements on the page is better than just one (even if you sacrifice the number one position).  For example, on a search page with about seventeen results (seven local and ten organic), having two of those means having about a 12% SOV on the page vs. 5%.  That can be a huge advantage on highly competitive local keywords.


  • why search rankings are still important

    I was recently reading an online debate on whether or not search engine results page (SERP) rankings are still important.  Although, I was surprised to see this question posed, I completely understand why.  Personalized search is changing the way search pages are ranked, formatted, and otherwise looked at.  Because of this, the question of whether or not anyone is actually seeing search engine results pages is the same way as a generic (non-geo’d, non personalized page) is quite valid.  Although we know that personalized search traffic is increasing tremendously (see my article on the rise of not provided numbers in Google Analytics), it is still at generally under about 30% of total search traffic.  So, that leaves about 70% of searchers still seeing generic keyword positioning.  You obviously don’t have to be a marketing researcher to realize that if over two thirds of your customers are still seeing your brand in a certain order it would make much sense to help control that order and work to improve overall performance.

    Another important note is that over 90% of traffic goes to organic search, while only 10% goes to paid search results.  And even more staggering is that there was $40 billion dollars invested in 2012 in paid marketing and only $5 billion invested in SEO/in-bound marketing (from Forrester’s Interactive Marketing 2012 Report).  Yes, doing SEO well and the right way is hard, but it is simply critical. It only makes sense that knowing where you stand within the results of the majority of searches is a no-brainer.

    Because of this, yes, standard search rankings are still very important.  And, finally, here are Rand Fishkin’s (of seoMOZ) reasons as to why (besides knowing where your brand places within the 70% of searchers):

    • Are the search engine optimization efforts making a difference in regards to the broad algorithm (regardless of specific biases like geography/personalization/etc)?
    • Determining how traffic and rankings may correlate and to what degree the impartial ranking position is predictive of potential traffic
    • Measuring progress on keywords that tend not to have geographic/personalization bias (there are still plenty of these out there)
    • Traffic increases or decreases to your site (Did my rankings generally go up/down? Did fewer/more people search for this? Did my listing become less attractive relative to others on the page? )
    • Observing the impact of particular changes or SEO efforts on an individual page (especially for a keyword that may rank in position 30+ and whether efforts can move that up onto page 1 or 2)
  • we need better than captcha

    In case you can’t tell or have been living in a cave, I love WordPress.  There are a number of reasons that I think it is one of the best content management systems available, but I believe that its overall flexibility and customization along with the ease of use for the client definitely takes the top spot.  The new features released in 3.5 in regards to ordering, uploading, and modifying media content are truly spectacular.

    An amazing out of box plugin that is available for WordPress is why I am writing this post (and why we need a better solution than CAPTCHA) is Akismet.  Akismet is a very popular anti-spam plugin that prevents spam from appearing on the comment board of a WordPress website.  It allows you to avoid having a CAPTCHA (which are a total pain in the ass and destroy the user experience).  Akismet runs the comment through a number of filters in their database that gives the comment a thumbs up or down.  CAPTCHA’s are a roadblock that have become necessary because of the vast number of bots delivering spam content.  What I would love to see is a universal plugin that blocks spam comments, contact form requests, and all other online form spam (an all-in-one solution).  I know that there are some current solutions to this problem, but it seems almost every single website I arrive at, whether to comment or collaborate, I find the end-all CAPTCHA.  We have all had the experience where you have to type in a CAPTCHA 15 times because you simply can’t read the image.  There are certainly good and bad CAPTCHAs, but far too many websites make use of this technique and it is time that we change that by delivering an anti-spam plugin for WordPress and Drupal that controls spam through the entire website experience.

    As a UI/UX geek, I just simply despise (a strong word) challenging the user and placing a huge hurdle in front of them.