Friday, March 31, 2006

Brand Repair, Do's & Don'ts

In the course of doing business it is a given that you are going to piss some people off. Hey we've all had that one client that you just can't satisfy, right? Consumers, now more than ever, have access to blogs, forums and other means to complain about services rendered.

With that being said, if you do a search for your company name and you see consumer complaints showing up, then this is the blog post for you.

Here are some Do's and Don't when it comes to repairing your brand.

Don't try and defend your brand by going in and declaring that you represent the company. participate in any forums or blogs where they are hammering your brand. Search engines love content and adding to the thread or comments is like adding wood to the fire. You'll end up cooking your own goose and making it a lot harder to repair the damage.

I was approached by a company that had participated in a consumer complaint forum. Not only was there 10 pages in the thread all about the said company but their user name when posting was their company name. Let's put it like this, the forum ranks higher than their company home page.

Don't try and sneek in a few posts that defend the company. You're not fooling anyone when you do that. You can pretty much gaurantee another page of flammage if you do this.

Don't start a thread and link to any bad publicity asking for advice on how to counter it. Raising awarness may fuel the fire as well. Forums are open and word spreads fast. You may not link to it, but a reader looking for a topic to rant about may not be so shy to drop a link or two to the complaint.

So now we know a few of the most important Don'ts lets move on to the Do's.

Do get your name out there. Submit as many good press releases as you can. Open the flood gates on your company in a positive way. Mediawire & PRweb will outrank the complaints since they have tremendous page scores that they pass to their press releases.

Do take the time to internally optimize your site. You should beef up the about us sections in your site (if you have one). Make your company name promenent in the title tag, and use it conservatively in the content. Add a link into the footer of your site using your company name as the link text. That link should go to the optimized page about your company.

Hey there are 10 rankings on page 1 so lets keep going...

Do write testimonials en masse! If you have any business to business partners write the best testimonial and get your business partners to put them up on their sites. You can even add some extra power by linking from your site to the testimonial your wrote for you business friends! Make sure you put your company name in your signature and in the testimonial itself.

Ok so it's all done, plan on it taking a few months, the more you aggressively push your company name, the more you keep the complaints from even reaching that first page!

Now if you are rendering crappy service then uhh April fools I switched the do's and don'ts around.

Monday, March 27, 2006

SEO 101 Refresher Part 5: Link Building

Link building is one of the most confusing aspects of SEO for most people. Many don't realize that it's the links that provide the most weight in rankings for Google with Yahoo having less emphasis and MSN have even less than that. This is one of the reasons why you will more likely first see ranking in MSN, then Yahoo and finally Google.

Link building is the longest and most difficult process of SEO. Creating content is the second hardest. Why? Because, for the most part, who links to you is the part of SEO that you control the least. That's why Google relies on it as much as they do - its the least likely spot to be gamed. It can be done but it usually requires a great amount of resources and/or money.

Links fall into four categories:

1. Reciprocal linking. You exchange a link to a site for a link from their site to yours. More than likely, even if the site is similarly related, there will be very little gained from this kind of link. There are exceptions to this rule covered below.

2. Directory links. There are two kinds of directories:
a. 'Free For All' directories where there is not much of an editorial process and where many of the existing listings are scraped from other sites. This like has about as much quality as the standard reciprocal link.

b. Established editorial directories link The Open Directory Project (ODP or DMOZ) or Microsoft's bCentral that go through an established quality check. These are the best types of directory links. Note: The ODP is a unique directory in that Google pulls information directly from it. This may have an added bonus. A link from the ODP is highly desirable, but is by no means a silver bullet.

3. One way links. Links from relevant web sites to your own that you do not need to return are the standard link that most people seek out. Links from .edu domains and some established .org domains are more sought after than others.

4. Trusted site links. A 'trusted' site is one that Google recognizes as a special site which are usually well established and have a strict editorial process. For example, news publication sites often fit into this category. Why? For an article to be written a journalist has to research the story, talk to experts and witnesses and have their facts checked then have an editor approve the piece. Because of all of the quality check that happens that means that a link from a site of this nature is more likely to be the most legitimate.

Each of these types of links can and does play a role in most link programs. Trusted links however, are not normally achieved through a link building program but through an interactive public relations campaign. Often it takes public relations folks (or ex-journalists) to know how to pitch a site or a person for an article.

Out of the rest of link types, links from .edu and established .org domains are next on the list. They are usually difficult to get, which makes them carry more weight than standard links.

In addition to the type of links, the link text used will have a significant impact on rankings. Ideally you will want to change out your link text to focus on a diverse keyword list. If you sell shoes you may want to have different link text variations such as:

- Store X - Tennis Shoes, Walking Shoes, Cowboy Boots and Dress Shoes
- Reebok Shoes, Nike Running Shoes, New Balance Tennis Shoes from Store X
- Discount Brand Name Golf Shoes, Running Shoes and Bowling Shoes

To help the process along, link tools can be purchased to help find links, track submittals and track who links to you and who links to your competitors and not to you. Many can be found by doing simple searches in your favorite search engine.

In the end it will take time and persistence to obtain a solid link base. Zunch offers special link building programs that can make the difference in your rankings. Wether your domain is brand new or you have existed for years and are looking to secure your visibility Zunch can help, contact us today.

Friday, March 24, 2006

THE Click Fraud Detective...Jeff Martin

Our very own Click Fraud Detective Jeff Martin has made it into the news on Internet Retailer:

Google’s proposed click fraud settlement: a boon to some

AJAX Predicted to be HUGE

Cedric Beust, an engineer at Google, said: "I think all the pieces are there on the server side. But I think we'll get a whole new ecosystem around AJAX [Asynchronous JavaScript and XML]. It's like a bad cold. More and more people are coming to this thing and we have a whole new excitement for Web sites we never had before, with things like mashups." Source >>

Like flash however AJAX is invisible to the search engine's eyes. MSN's Live uses AJAX to display search results. GMAIL uses it to give you real time email updates while you are logged into the system.

Hopefully Blogs and CMS developers won't use AJAX as a way to feed content to their pages! They'll look cool but they won't rank for squat!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Yet Another Example of Adsense Being Gamed by Click Fraud

Threadwatch broke a news bit about MySpace sites being setup using images of young attractive women to lure guys into going to specific web sites with instructions to "do me a favor" by clicking on their AdSense ads to make sure they work.

The one example site used appears to no longer be serving ads, however how hard is it to spend $8.00 to put another domain up with another MySpace area and start making more money again? What’s worse is that it looks like it took independent folks to point it out instead of Google's team discovering it on their own.

This in addition to news about Google possibly deleting blogs because bloggers ran MSN search makes for yet another day of bad PR for Google.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Spam: Google vs. MSN

While going through ranking reports today I noticed something that was just flat out wrong! I manage a client that has had previous SEO done to their site. As I went through the site I noticed some old spam in the page. About half the coding on the home page was spam.

I instructed the client to move it immediately! In the last two bi-monthly ranking reports I've noticed that the Google Rankings have steadily increased... Now here is the part that is just flat out wrong the MSN rankings have started to decrease...

Now I know that MSN backlinks are easily gamed, anyone can plop a site wide link up for a term and in 2 weeks start to rank for the link text. Now I'm starting to see that the on page content is very prone to spam as well.

Here's a good example:

A search for "Dallas Movers" pulls up a good example of spam in both search.msn.com and live.com

The site h2movers is about as bad as it gets... MSN has a very long way to go if they want to beat out Google. Google is what it is because they've held the #1 search engine position for so long. They have actively had people try and game their system because of that #1 spot. Everytime someone catches on to a loop hole in the Google system, the Google engineers have plugged it.

In conclussion, I can't put the spam back nor will I for the client. A drop in MSN rankings is a loss I'm willing to take for a gain in Google. As per MSN you've got a long way to go before you can over take anyone, I'm sure all the spammers out there are rooting for ya :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Live.com presents challenge for analytics

There's been much said about http://search.live.com in the past couple of weeks, both negative and positive. As the Zunch "analytics guru", I'm not as concerned about the interface as I am about the absence of key phrases in the URL. From what I'm seeing so far, when as user clicks on a result in the SERPs, the referring URL that is passed looks just like this: http://search.live.com. There are no query string variables for tracking programs like zWebTulz to extrapolate keywords from, meaning marketers can't determine which keywords perform better than others.

Hmm...I guess this may be the one time in my life where I'm recommending dynamic URLs over static. :-)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Follow Up: Google Settles Lanes Collectibles Click Fraud Lawsuit

Well Danny Sullivan beat me by an hour or so with breaking the news last week and now its all over the web radar. Here is the low-down:

Google says that in the entire world there is only 1% of all click fraud activity that they are unable to detect. In addition, over a four year period, Google says that amounts to $90mm dollars.

Hogwash. Heres the between-the-lines for you for Google:

1. We lost our appeal to have the case go to a federal court (that clearly favors large corporations) where we could drag this thing out forever with appeal after appeal.

2. We then lost our appeal to not have to show any data or allow anyone to look at what we actually do to detect and prevent click fraud.

3. We have been losing billions of dollars in market capital.


We decided to throw (very little) money at the problem to see if would go away so we wouldn't:

1. Wind up losing the case
2. Lose a few billion more in market capital
3. Have to show any click fraud experts (who actually have experience in dealing with this day in and day out) our data or what we actually do to detect and prevent click fraud
4. Have to pay out to more lawsuits (unless adverisers opt out of the proposed settlement)
5. So we could: Get to use our spin doctors to say that agreeing to this settlement means there is only 1% of all click fraud we aren't able to detect

Wow. Sounds like a good deal for Google. But what about advertisers? This settlement makes no concessions to changing a system that is shrouded in secrecy and conflicting interests. Google still holds all of their information close to vest. They wont share all of the client's own information much less their own or their methodologies for protecting advertiser's marketing dollars.

Unfortunately it doesn't look like most advertisers will get most of the money they lost back. Whats worse, advertisers only get credits back to use in the Adwords system. So that means advertisers have no choice but to lose even portions of that money to click fraud in the future and it won't be the 1% that Google is spinning.

Google Mars

To add to Google Earth and Google Moon, Google has launched the Google Mars page to show you a detailed view of the Marsian surface.

Google Mars >>

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Google Settles Lanes Collectibles Click Fraud Lawsuit

The court was officialy notified today that Lane's Collectibles and Google have reached settlement in the amount of $90mm dollars to be applied for on a claims-made basis.

More news to come...

Make Me #1!

It's the most common error I see with clients who have been running their own PPC campaign, and the bigger their budget, the more likely they are to make it: They want to be #1 - and they want to be there for anyone who might possibly be searching for what they offer.

I can't blame them. It does intuitively seem like being in the number one spot would be ideal. It does, after all, generate significantly more traffic, and often a high click-through rate. Just think, if you have enough money, of all the people you could direct to your site if you can afford to be in the number one position for your most general term! An auto dealer that's #1 for "car," or a home loan site that's #1 for "mortgage" - assuming they have enough money - surely would benefit tremendously from this kind of placement.

And because of this, it can be difficult to convince a client that their favorite position, as sexy as it seems, may just be the least fruitful. It may simply be scattering their seed on barren earth - and the results it produces may be so costly that they take away resources from more fruitful areas of the campaign.

It's easiest, perhaps, to explain why a general term like "car" is not the best term for anyone in a PPC campaign. Simply put, the percentage of people searching on that term who are looking for what you offer is too small. Even if you rule out, with your ad copy, those who are looking for a review or automotive history - there's still far too much variation in what people mean by "car" in their heads, which didn't make it into the search bar. Even if you do have dealerships across the country, chances that you offer every make and model of vehicle are slim.

People typing in general terms are also generally early in the buying cycle, and doing research. They don't know yet quite what they want, and are unlikely to decide on this visit to your site.

A little harder to grasp is why the number one spot itself is rarely ideal. I guess the main idea to get across is the behavior of searchers. People type in their search - then click on the first result, often without even reading it. Only after getting to your site, and costing you a click, do they stop to notice that it's not what they had in mind at all. People who click on the results further down are more likely to have actually read the ad, and be thinking about what they want before they click. In other words, lowering position, while it may reduce the number of clicks you get - also is more likely to let your ad copy do its job to pre-qualify those clicks.

A recent example - I took a client from the top spot on most of their keywords, costing them several dollars per click, and lowered them to #2 and #3. They saw their cost per click drop nearly in half - but were uncomfortable about the fact that the total number of clicks also dropped dramatically. However, those who clicked were far more likely to remain on the site - with half as many clicks, their page views went up from 37k per week to 40k. I have had several clients who found that once they moved down to the 4th - 6th position for most terms, their conversion rate went up. Yes, they were getting fewer visitors overall, but a higher percentage of those visitors were making purchases - and at a lower cost-per-click, the cost per acquisition went way down.

One other danger of being in the top spot - especially for a general or popular term - is that this spot is more likely to be a target for click fraud. It's simply easier for affiliate-type fraud, to click on the top spot. And for competitor-type fraud, well, everyone wants to take a shot at the big guy.

There are some cases, however, where being in the top spot makes sense. That's for the company's own name or brand. Potter Barn could benefit from being number 1 for all terms with "pottery barn" in them. It's not always as cost effective as a lower spot, but it is good branding - and if someone is searching for a specific brand name, especially if they offer their own product for service on their website, chances are good that they will be happy to end up on that company's website. I would, however, put a cap on the CPC for those terms, as it's not unusual for someone to try to make it prohibitively expensive for a well-known company to buy their own brand name, by making their max bid absurdly high.

But it can be scary for the client to let go of that top spot, especially when they see traffic dip - so just make sure you have your tracking in place and can demonstrate the benefit in terms of the bottom line... and be prepared to move them back into the top spot if, by some fluke of fickle search behavior, it turns out #1 really is the most profitable place to be.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More Thoughts on Personalized Searching

It was just over a year ago that I remember standing in the SES NY expo hall talking with a guy (forgot his name) about personal search and its implications for SEOs like myself. I told him at that time that it was my belief that personalized search results en masse were not going to appear as quickly as one might think. "Within the year?" he asked. "No, I doubt it," I replied.

For the most part, personalized search has been slow to appear. But I can't help but notice that Google routinely provides personalized search results for me now when I'm logged in. Of course I'm always interested in the difference between personalized results and normal results, and typically there's not much difference. But how much information am I willing to give Google, Yahoo or MSN in return for "better results"? As a user, I prefer the idea of three independent, objective entities giving me their best shots as opposed to one entity knowing my deepest thoughts and anticipating my next move. I suspect I'm not alone in this one, either. With all that these companies are trying to build, there's no questioning their end goal. Just this week we hear more news that Google wants to host all of my computer files. Every website we visit must have an account with a profile,user preferences, favorite foods and, oh yeah...how do you like your coffee?

I've always said, the goal of every search is to stop searching. I'm just not willing to give up more personal info to cut down the time on my searches. With more practice, I'll become a better searcher on my own!

Monday, March 06, 2006

MSN Adcenter not IE 7 compatible

Funny when you try and sign up for a service and you have to jump through a few technical hoops just to get it done. Like when Tyson (SEO Specialist) this morning was trying to create an MSN Adcenter account using IE 7. Adcenter kept spitting out an incompatible web browser error.

Looks like you have to revert back to IE 6 if you want to get anything done in MSN Adcenter. I would suggest not to switch your user agent header to IE 6 using the FF UA switcher either, the styles on all the forms break and you get a lot of form layer overlap issues.

Short list of browsers that Adcenter doesn't support:
  • Anything != IE 6
I thought the days of "you must conform" were past us...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Usability - SEO's Best Friend

Consider the following:
Here you are, just finished optimizing an E-Commerce site. You followed all the rules, did the research and everything fits perfectly. 2 months later the client calls and complains "We haven't sold a thing!".

Well, your first inclination is to look at all your report data and figure out what's going on. People are getting to the site, but no one's staying for more than a minute. After you've conducted your "investigation" you determine that you did nothing wrong....right?

Well, take a look at the site, break out your credit card and attempt to make a purchase....one minute later you instinctively go to another site and forget all about it. But wait!! What just happened? You go back to your client's site and see firsthand that you couldn't figure out where to go, how to select products, how to browse categories or even make a purchase. In short, the site was so unusable that you simply wouldn't waste your time with it and went elsewhere.

This may seem like the worst case scenario, and i'm sure that a lot of other factors apply in the real world, but it's still all too common nowadays.

Imagine having a Food Store in a stripmall with great parking a big huge glowing sign, even a guy that opens the door for customers and greets them in a fancy british accent. Sounds like THE place in town to go shopping for food right? Let's imagine you put a labyrinth inside the store where customers have to find their way around to get the items they need - i.e. you won't sell much anytime soon.

Usability testing should be a vital part for any SEO campaign. In fact i consider it important enough to be second in line after determining if Blackhat SEO practices are present. (given a usual client analysis)

What it boils down to is that better usability translates to better conversions. Making it easy for consumers to purchase what they want or get the information they need just makes sense.

Google SiteMaps Update

Google SiteMaps Update

(1) Your average position by your top search queries. This is basically a site ranking report for the your top keywords, the keywords people search to find you on.

(2) If you have mobile enabled site, you will also now see your top search queries on mobile devices.

(3) You can now download "details, stats, and errors" to a SV file that you can then do what you like with it.

More details at Google Sitemaps Blog. Source SEW Blog >>

Barry Schwartz posts an update about the Google Sitemaps program over on the SEW Blog.

Webmasters should note that this service is free and easy to use. Support on the other hand is still the well known Google Blackhole. If you can find the email address to be able to send a question don't be surprised if you get anything back :)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Limiting Competition

Yahoo announced that they will no longer allow bidding on competitor's trademark terms. This announcement has generated a little bit of confusion as to where Yahoo stands on allowing trademarked terms as keywords.

I was asked, for example, whether this meant that agencies would have to start getting permission from clients to use the client's trademarks.
Not according to my understanding of it.

I feel qualified to answer this - since I was an editor at Yahoo, and was on the special team that was dedicated to reviewing trademark terms.

As it stands, on Yahoo you can advertise under any trademarked name as long as you have content on your site supporting it – such as a comparison of your product to your competitor’s. There is nothing in the change which indicates they will not allow advertising under the trademark name associated with the website doing the advertising.

This is designed to be sure that Geico can’t advertise under the keyword “progressive” – even if they have a page of facts comparing themselves to Progressive. This is designed to protect the interests of big name corporations who don't like PPC because competitors can use it to show up in search listings when a potential customer is looking for them.

Geico, whether directly or through an agency, will still be able to advertise under “geico.”

The place that trademark terms get sticky is on Google – where you can buy the term, but not put it in the ad unless you have written permission from each trademark holder – and while that is meant to prevent this kind of competitor advertising, often it ends up with situations where someone selling a product can’t use the name of that product in the ad. For example: MLB (major league baseball) is copyrighted. AcmeTicketReseller.com sells MLB tickets, but can’t say “MLB” in the copy. Or AcmeShoes.com - they are unable to use “kenneth cole” in the copy, even though they are selling kenneth cole shoes. If a shoe site sells 200 brands, getting written permission for each is somewhat prohibitive. These hardly seem like the kind of uses of trademark terms which threaten their integrity - since they make the trademark holder money, but that's how it's handled.

On the other hand, on Google, Geico *can* advertise under the term “progressive” – as long as they do not say “progressive” anywhere in the ad copy or imply in any way that they are Progressive. Now, this seems to me to be exactly the kind of thing that the big corporations want to prevent - their direct competitor showing up when a user is searching on their brand name.

Yahoo does not restrict trademark terms in this way – and it sounds like the limitation will ONLY effect competitors, not resellers. This has actually been a change they’ve talked about for over a year, as it was under discussion while I was still working there. The lawyers were evaluating it while I was there, trying to balance the choice between free speech and attracting large-name companies’ business. I personally would have preferred to see them lean in the other direction - as some legitimate consumer comparisons will end up getting shut out by this.

(addendum - per Yahoo, sites that offer a comparison can still advertise under a trademark term as long as they don't sell a product that competes with this... this will mean that some sites will get sneaky and try to hide their relationship to the product sales - but should protect legitimate consumer comparisons - BUT it means they will rely on editorial review heavily for these decisions, and editors, being human and having quotas to meet, do make mistakes.)