Google’s Matt Cutts & Bing’s Duane Forrester On “Search Police” Panel At SMX West


As an ethical (and effective) search marketer, you spend your time diligently trying to create good content, providing an excellent user experience, and generally striving to delight your current and future customers. But some marketers have succumbed to the dark side, and the black hat tactics they utilize cause major headaches for both search engines and up-and-up marketers alike.

That�s why all major search engines have web spam quality control teams. It�s the job of these teams to keep one step ahead of the bad guys, ferreting out dubious or downright egregious content and making sure it doesn�t show up in search results. And two of the top cops who lead the largest of these enforcement operations are Google�s Matt Cutts and Bing�s Duane Forrester.

You name it, they�ve seen it all, when it comes to trying to bend, break or shatter search engine rules. But they are also well aware that in many instances, it�s mistakes, not ill intent, that trigger alarms. To ensure that their search engines deliver the best results, they constantly strive for a balance between weeding out garbage and doing outreach to educate search marketers about best practices as well as things to avoid.

So, how do they differentiate spam from quality content? How do they spot and identify outbreaks of new black hat tactics? How do they decide whether to penalize or even ban pernicious sites from their indexes? And what signals do they use to determine that innocent mistakes have been made, and then proactively reach out to help marketers and publishers avoid �search engine jail?�

At SMX West 2013, you�ll learn the answers to these questions and more during The Search Police: Matt & Duane�s Excellent Search Engine Adventure. In this session, moderated by Search Engine Land�s Danny Sullivan (who�s also seen it all in the years he�s been observing and writing about the search landscape), both Matt and Duane will share examples of what not to do and why, ranging from accidental mistakes to horrifying spam, as well as general tips directly from the search engines on how to succeed with them.

Don�t have your ticket yet for SMX West? Check out the full agenda here, and make sure you register by February 1 to save with early bird rates!

Confirmed: Google Removes “Not Selected” From Webmaster Tools

Google has confirmed the reports of the removal of the “not selected” filter within Google Webmaster Tool’s Index Status report.

Google’s John Mueller said it was removed because it “was causing more confusion than actually helping webmasters with their sites.”

That may be true, but many webmasters found the data useful. In fact, there were times when John from Google said himself that “not selected” data can be useful in some situations.

Here is the comment from Google’s John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analysts in Google Zurich.

Yep, this was removed on purpose since it was causing more confusion than actually helping webmasters with their sites.

Previously, the “not selected” would mean either:

It redirects to another pageIt has a rel=�canonical� to another pageOur algorithms have detected that its contents are substantially similar to another URL and picked the other URL to represent the content.

This news come shortly after many reports of Google Webmaster Tools having issues with reporting the number of links pointing to a site.

For more details on the index status report, see our article named Google �Reveals Index Secrets�: Charts Indexing of Your Site Over Time.

Optimizing Second Screen Engagement: Lessons for Brands From Twitter

Day 2 of SES New York started off with a keynote by Joel Lunenfeld, Vice President of Global Brand Strategy from Twitter. He went beyond talking about social being the second screen experience and started off with a bang saying Twitter is the second screen.

He started off discussing mobile and how Twitter users are more engaged when they use their mobile devices. For example, the average user will interact with six brands on Twitter. When using their phones, the average number goes up to 11 brands.

While it's not a requirement, Twitter started as a concept for communicating via an SMS-like service via mobile. Today, Twitter users are still very mobile.

Next, Lunenfeld explained that Twitter is the social soundtrack for TV. The "social soundtrack" is a concept that's been around a while. It's basically a commentary that happens on your couch, watching TV, talking to your family and friends. But it's now moving to Twitter.

Lunenfeld presented a graph showing tweet spikes while certain shows are on. Ninety-five percent of all the conversations about TV shows is happening on twitter. Nielsen and Twitter are combining for a new metric in TV engagement. The "Nielsen Twitter TV Rating" metric will correlate TV engagement and ratings. they've already been able to correlate an 8.5 percent increase in Twitter volume increasing the ratings for TV premieres by 1 percent. In mid-season it only takes 4.2 percent increase in twitter volume to increase ratings by 1 percent.

Lunenfeld mentioned several TV shows that engage with their audience. For "American Idol", where you see the bottom third of the screen filled with live Twitter voting, he describes Twitter as a "character" on the screen. "Hawaii Five-0" had a live vote for their "choose your own ending" episode. By voting by tweet, the audience could choose which character was the guilty party. They had recorded three different endings. The winning ending, by Twitter vote, was aired.

But it's not only TV shows. Advertisers are getting in on the real-time action of Twitter. Fifty percent of Super Bowl ads this year used hashtags. TV commercials using hashtags averaged 1.6X higher engagement on Twitter. Lunenfeld told the SES New York audience that brands are using Twitter in three main ways:

Brand taglinesLeverage existing conversations (on air)Campaign specific calls to action.

Taglines are fairly common. You see them all the time with a hashtag - #dothedew for example. Leveraging existing conversations that are happening on TV involves getting the audience engaged with both the show and your brand. You have a live, captive audience who are eager to engage more with the show. The brands don't necessarily need to hijack the conversation. But by being a part of it, you build awareness and bolster your brand's perception.

Lunenfeld gave examples of how brands are engaging directly with people on Twitter. For example, Twitter teamed up with ESPN for both College Football and now NCAA tournament tweeted replays. Each replay included a short 5-7 second commercial just before the replay. This allowed them to reach a captive audience who were eagerly awaiting news and updates on their favorite sporting events.

Lunenfeld next talked about real-time brands. The now legendary Oreo "blackout" tweet. Chobani also did it for the Oscars, too.

Engagement matters. Promoted Tweets translate to higher brand favorability and purchase intent. Purchase intent increases by 53 percent. Think about it. You don't take a screen capture of a banner ad and email it to your friends. But on Twitter, that happens all the time. Real-time marketing is about winning the moment. Big Bird trended on Twitter during the election campaigns when Mitt Romney talked about cutting PBS funding.

By capitalizing on all these engaging moments, brands have a truly unique platform to get creative and conversational with their audiences. With the new metrics from Nielsen, this will only continue to grow in the future.

What Google Personalized Search plus Your World Means for Marketing – SEO Tips

Screenshot from Google's promo video

Google Personalized Search rolled out yesterday revealing a change as significant as Universal Search in 2007. Unlike the major change that brought images, video thumbnails, news and blog posts within search results for all, the Google plus Your World changes are only visibile when logged into Google.

There are many stories to be told here, from Google as a social network to the tit for tat statements Google and Twitter are making. From an online marketing perspective and more specifically, search marketing, the introduction of more Google features only available when logged in will arguably increase the number of searches done when user search terms are encrypted and not available for website owners in their web analytics. The “Unknown” category of keyword referrer for this blog has risen dramatically, which isn’t helpful for future content refinement or optimization.

That aside, here are some observations for you as a marketer as it relates to Google Personalized Search and more specifically, the recommended personal and brand pages.

Many of the initial observations about the Google+ integration with Google search are that Google is favoring it’s own content over others. Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular social networks on the internet are absent. Google states that if those services will share their data, Google would look at including it. From what I’ve read, Twitter decided not to renew their agreement with Google and Facebook isn’t exactly a “fan” of Google’s.

Matt Cutts from Google posted�a response to the initial statements about Google nepotism in the new social Google and to clarify that other sources can appear in personalized results, like Quora or Flickr. What he doesn’t clarify is a preference for Google content. There’s a big difference between the possibility of varied sources appearing and a bias towards certain sources causing them to appear the majority of the time.

The default search option shows a blend of standard web content plus personalized results from the Google+ network connected to the account you’re logged in under. When I did a sample search for “kindle fire cases”, the search results were pretty good. My intent for the query was to find a case to buy for my daughter so the flavor of SERPs towards products for sale was very relevant.

Regular Google SERPs for "Kindle Fire Cases"

However, when I selected the Personalized Results option at the top of the page, the information was hardly useful and not even relevant to the query. �A big reason for that is the data set Google is drawing from: my Google+ social network associated with my Google Apps email account. Don’t get me started on the extremely disappointing snails pace Google has taken at providing a Gmail G+ to Google Apps G+ migration tool. But the relevance here is that over 10,000 people have added me to their circles on my Gmail G+ account. All that content and interaction would provide a richer set of search results, except Google isn’t showing me the Search plus Your World interface when I’m logged in using that much larger network account. Instead, I have to use a Google Apps G+ account with virtually no network and very little content and interaction.

Google Personalized Search Results for "Kindle Fire Cases"

Like all social network focused services, the network effect is critical for the service to be really useful. The more people that sign up for and use Google+, the more rich signal Google will have to provide a better search�experience�based on that network. It’s a wisdom of the crowds as applied to search, so to speak.

While the blend of general results with personalized results is interesting, I’m cautious about how useful it will be. �Search and social networking are two very different consumer behaviors. �Search tends to be more linear, specific and goal focused. Social networking is often a bit fuzzier and random. You can certainly find answers in either channel, but getting to those answers is a bit different. So, does that mean the convergence of search and social network is the answer?

For me, it’s really hard to tell at the moment because Google isn’t showing me the Search plus Your World option with my larger Google+ network. But I’m sure it will be enabled eventually. Hopefully a LOT faster than the Google Apps migration tool for Google+ accounts.

One of the interesting features of the new Google search results appears with very broad queries called Related People and Pages. When I started testing this last night, related people and pages appeared for a variety of terms ranging from art to marketing. Today, they are only appearing for certain terms like coffee. �You can see below that the search results for the coffee query are quite useful and show in the bottom right corner, the related pages and people. �From a search perspective, I’m not sure how many people type in “coffee” vs. a specific coffee shop or brand of coffee. The genric term would bring back such a large number of search results they wouldn’t be useful. However, in this case they are.

When you hover over the identities in the People and Pages on Google+ area, you can add them to your own Google+ Circles. �This is a handy feature and for marketers, it should be something worth considering in terms of optimizing Google+ content and social behaviors in order to attain visibility as a recommended Person or Page in conjunction with relevant keyword queries. Google offers some advice on this and I think the tips that are shared speak to overall Google+ and new optimization opportunities, not just optimizing to become a recommended Page.

One of the key Google+ takeaways for marketers is that the more people who have added your personal or business Google+ page to their circles, the greater the likelihood that your content or activity will appear in their search results. In the way that bots crawling and indexing web pages was the price of admission into the Google index, now it’s sharing and interaction amongst your Google+ network that is necessary (along with relevant content – same as it is with web pages).

Below I’ve listed the 3 tips shared by Google�and have added my own commentary and interpretation as advice for online marketers that want to better understand how to optimize content and social behaviors for more prominent visibility on Google+ and search.

1. Make it easier for people to find your brand by creating your +Page. Make sure to add a high quality photo and fill out the “About” section so people can recognize your +Page.

[Brands need a +Page to be found in Google. A photo and About sections are probably priority content areas (for G+ optimization]

2. Share and comment on the topics you care about and Google will share your posts and comments with your Google+ followers when they’re searching.

[For keywords and topics you'd like to be known for and found with, create and share content as well as make comments along those themes on G+. Those actions can surface your content and activity within the search results of those who have added you to their circles. The more people in your circles, the more who will be exposed to your content and social actions.

3. Once you've created a +Page and engaged with your audience on topics you're interested in, you'll be eligible to appear on the right hand side of search results. The more quality content you create and the more people that engage with your page, the more prominent your +Page will become.

[Social interaction and I'd assume some level of network size/quality of interaction can trigger the appearance of your People or Brand page as a related item on the right of Google Personalized Search results. The ranking of your personal or brand page depends on a quantity of content in combination with the quantity and quality of responses to that content]

In the end, many of the same rules for successful networking with Facebook, Twitter or any other social network apply to Google+. �The question is, how will consumers respond? Do you know enough about your consumers to be able to adjust your content and social engagement approach? Or even your approach to SEO? It’s go time, it’s adapt or die time.



Google Targets Spammy Queries, Bad Mobile Sites With New Ranking Updates

Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts has announced that a new ranking update, one that targets spammy queries is now live. Separately, Google is warning that if you have a bad mobile website, your search rankings will soon be hurting.

New Ranking Update for Some Spammy Queries

The ranking update for spammy queries, which will impact 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent of queries in English, shouldn’t come as a surprise to most. This was one of the changes we were told by Cutts to expect from Google this summer. . Cutts specifically mentioned that the change would affect queries such as “payday loans” on and pornographic queries.

The ranking update is a work in progress, Cutts noted on Twitter, adding that it’s a “a multifaceted rollout that will be happening over the next 1-2 months.”

Smartphone Rankings Changes

Bad mobile SEO will cost you. In a post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, Google warns that “we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.”

Google called out two specific areas in their blog post – faulty redirects (“when a desktop page redirects smartphone users to an irrelevant page on the smartphone-optimized website”) and smartphone only errors (when “sites serve content to desktop users accessing a URL but show an error page to smartphone users”).

Google’s advice on properly configuring your mobile site: “Try to test your site on as many different mobile devices and operating systems, or their emulators, as possible.”

In addition, just as site speed has played a part in Google’s web search ranking algorithm since 2010, you can expect site speed to have an impact on the rankings of mobile sites, Cutts announcedat the SMX Advanced conference.

Google Cuts 100 Recruiters; May Replace Up To 70 Engineers Due To Office Closures

The Google Blog wrote that Google may have to cut up to 70 engineering jobs. Google implied the cuts would be due to the engineers based in Austin, Texas; Trondheim, Norway; and Lulea, Sweden not being willing or able to relocate to Google’s Mountain view headquarters.

Google explicitly made a point to say that their “long-term goal is not to trim the number of people we have working on engineering projects or reduce our global presence, but create a smaller number of more effective engineering sites.”

Why is Google being so defensive? Possibly because of Valleywag’s Google’s Loss of Innocence: 100 Jobs Cut where Owen Thomas seemed to have beat Google to posting the news. Is Google’s blog post a response to Owen, where he described the cuts as a “crushing blow to Google’s self-image?” I am not sure, the timing between the two blog posts were fairly quick.

But we all know Google has been getting a lot of press over the confirmed layoffs of contract workers, that was a rumor lingering since November. As Owen wrote, during the last downturn, Google “quite deliberately kept hiring while almost every other tech company shed staff; they were a legendary beacon of hope for Silicon Valley’s unemployed engineers.” Is Google losing that legendary status? Are they no longer looked at as indestructible? Is Google becoming hard up for money?

Postscript 1: Shortly after the engineering-related announcement, Google posted again to announce that they’re eliminating approximately 100 positions in their recruiting department. “Given the state of the economy, we recognized that we needed fewer people focused on hiring,” says Laszlo Bock, Google’s Vice President of People Operations.

Postscript 2: Google contacted us to stress that they don’t expect to cut 70 engineering jobs. Rather, they have about that many people who might not be willing to relocate when three offices are closed. They hope most will. But if some can, then those people may leave Google — but the engineering positions will be filled by new hires.

How to Conduct a Link Audit

The worst time to conduct a link audit is when you need to. Don’t wait for a Penguin update to wipe out your rankings in the SERPs or an “unnatural links” warning to hit your inbox. The best time to perform a link audit is now.

A comprehensive link audit is the first step in developing any digital marketing plan. Link building is still the most effective way to boost traffic, via rankings. Google wouldn’t be wasting their time creating the Penguin Algorithm and imposing Manual Link Spam penalties if backlinks didn’t still make a big difference.

The end game will determine just how the data is analyzed.

If the primary objective is to recover from a penalty, one needs to focus on GWT and those areas that fall outside of the webmaster guidelines, aka “link schemes.” If developing a program for a new website, the data will be used to find opportunities. If there is a competitor outranking us, we’ll use the data to neutralize their competitive advantages and to find opportunities.

How do you know which links to remove when you get an "unnatural links" message?

For competitive purposes, having access to Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics is nice, but not necessarily a deal breaker. If you're looking to recover from a penalty, then access to GWT & GA is mandatory. Clients have the option to give limited administrative access to a third party.

Collecting the Link Data

The interwebs went nuts after comments by a previously unknown Googler named Uli Lutz. When asked “What is the definitive source for backlinks to look at?” Lutz is claimed to have said “I would concentrate on the links reported in the Webmaster Tools on Google” To put this in context, Lutz was purportedly addressing a question about the disavow links tool, so we’ll begin at Google Webmaster Tools:

If you don’t already have a GWT account, sign up for one, add the code to your site and validate the website. Then:

Select your site

Select Traffic > Links to Your Site

Select Traffic > Links to Your Site > More

Select “Download Latest Links”

Export to .CSV or Google Docs

The backlinks that Google discloses are a “sampling.” It looks like Google may have recently reduced that sampling size. On February 6, 2013 I noticed that over half of the links that once appeared in a client’s WMT backlink sample had “disappeared. Shaun Andersentweeted that same day “Less backlinks available in Google Webmaster Tools by the looks of it - I am seeing about a third of the links once shown.”

To recap: gathering the GWT data is most important when you are looking to recover from a penalty. The most likely “culprits” are the links acquired around the date of the penalty. That said, EVERY link that falls outside of the webmaster guidelines must be cleaned up via link removal, or as a last resort, the disavow tool.

To get a complete backlink profile, you will need a paid subscription to a backlink checker. Everyone seems to have a “favorite”, but any of the “Big 4” SEOmoz, Majestic SEO, Link Research Tools or Ahrefswill do the job. We’ll be focusing on the following link characteristics:

The URL of the page linking to youThe URL on your site that is being linked toThe IP of the URL linking to youThe anchor text usedThe Percentage (Mix) of Anchor textThe follow/nofollow status of the linkA measure (rank) of the link’s trust & authority

To begin, enter the URL to audit into the backlink tool. In this case, Ahrefs was used. You will get an output like this:

Next, export the data into a CSV file. Sort in ascending value (low to high) by domain/trust/Moz/Cemper whatever rank. In theory this will provide you with a list of links in the order of weakest to strongest.

I say “In Theory” as some of the weakest links may be harmless, and some powerful paid links may be killing you. There is no pure algorithmic solution. To do a link audit correctly, requires a manual review.

Analyzing the Link Data

Links that need to be reviewed and considered for removal are the following:

Links that appear on a domain that isn't indexed in Google.

This usually signals a quality problem. A quick way to test for this is to run a “site” command:

If the website is indexed, you will see a result like this:

A website that isn’t indexed returns a result like this:

Then again, sometimes a perfectly good site isn’t indexed, because of a bad robots.txt, like:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

This usually happens when a website leaves the development stage, but the robots.txt isn’t changed to allow the search engines to crawl the site. That’s why a manual review is important.

Links that appear on a website with a malware or virus warning.

This is pretty self explanatory.

Links that appear on the same page as spammy, unrelated links.

Commonly links pertaining to Porn, Pills, Casinos, PayDay Loans, etc:

The Following links appear at

But wait… what’s wrong with this page – these links look beautiful. Yes Ma’am – Until you look at the source code, seen below:

If you want to play at home, run the Google Search Command: inurl:links sex,viagra,payday loans and you can find unlimited hacked pages, too.

Links that appear on a page with Google PageRank that is gray bar or zero.

This usually signals poor quality or low trust, but it could also indicate a new page that hasn’t been updated in the PR bar. Gray PR is not the same as PR 0 (zero). The graybar is sometimes a quality indicator, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the site is penalized or de-indexed. Many low quality, made for SEO directories, have a gray bar or PR 0.

On a side note: if the owner of the monkey blog (my 14 yr old son) is reading this; you can do better than that?

Links coming from link networks.

Link networks are a group of websites with common registrars, common IPs, common C-blocks, common DNS, common analytics and/or common affiliate code. Chances are, if a group of websites shares a common ip, you will also find some of the other characteristics of a link network, so that’s where I look first. If using Ahrefs, you would navigate to Domain reports>>IPs and get a report like this:

Then Drill down to Domain reports>>referring domains, to discover a crappy network

Sitewide Links – especially blogroll and footer links.

Most are unnatural and none pass the juice that they once did.

Watch for exceptions to the rule: After a manual review, I am able to determine that in this case, the first sitewide link found in the tool is natural and there is no need to remove it:. Just one more example of why human intervention is necessary to get a link audit right.

Paid links.

If you are attempting to recover from a manual penalty, every paid link must be removed. No exception. The Google spam team spends all day every day routing out paid links. After awhile, spotting a paid link becomes second nature. That juicy link that you are certain that you can slip by Google will stick out like a sore thumb to the trained eye and will only prolong the agony of a manual penalty.

Beyond specific link types which could be considered “suspicious”, there are new link rules that need to be reviewed and adhered to in a Post Penguin era.

Post-Penguin Link Audit Considerations

Keep in mind that Penguin is just the latest anti link spam algorithm rolled out by Google. They are hammering websites built on link schemes and rewarding sites with a natural backlink profile. A natural profile contains an assortment of link types, pointing to a website. Your audit should turn up a good mix of:

Brand links: Variations include: Your Domain,,, YourDomain.Exact-match anchor text keyword links: These anchor text links should point to the most appropriate page on the website (the one you are optimizing).Partial-match keyword links: It’s important not to over-optimize with exact match keywords, otherwise you could trip a phrase based filter.Generic Links: Like “Read More” or “Click Here.” Keep in mind that good content should fill this need with little if any work required on your part.Page title links: Some of your links should be the same as your page title.

There has been a lot of speculation regarding what the “right” link mix should be. Chris Cemper is frequently analyzing “cheap flights”, so let’s take a look at the #1 SERP in for that phrase:

With the domain, It’s not unreasonable to expect a lot of people to link naturally, using the exact match “Cheap Flights.” That said, when I do a link audit and I see a mix like this, I get more than a little nervous. I would prefer to see more diversity.

Cemper’s Penguin analysis shows that winners have a 46 percent mix of trophy keyword phrases in their backlink profile as compared to 30 percent for the losers. Brand links account for 41 percent of the mix for winners and 48 percent for losers.

This was corroborated by testing which indicated that if: “under 50 percent of your anchor text for incoming links were “money keywords” it’s all but guaranteed you weren’t affected by (the Penguin) update” and “every single site we looked at which got negatively hit by the Penguin Update had a “money keyword” as its anchor text for over 60% of its incoming links.”

There are some good tools on the market like Link Detox and Remove’em to help you with link audits and even link removals. The key takeaway is that no matter what tool you are using, a human review is going to be necessary to “get it right.” Leaving it to metrics alone is a formula for failure.

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Google, I Think I Love You ... So What Am I So Afraid Of?

Author's Note: If you haven’t read Dave Davies’ hilarious post, "An Open Letter to Google", please read it before you read this post. It served as a great inspiration to the following few paragraphs.

On the heels of Google’s earnings announcement, I thought it would be an appropriate time to confess.

It’s hard to admit it, like the first time you’re about to tell your high school sweetheart that you love her. Your pulse hits 180, your palms get sweaty but also cold at the same time, you open your mouth and no voice comes out.

What terrifies you the most is that you will admit it but she won’t, or even worse, she would tell you she doesn’t feel the same way. But you master the courage and you blurb out the dreadful words – “I love you.”

I haven’t always loved Google. Actually, not too long ago, I publicly endorsed findings about Google’s declining paid search usage and encouraged marketers to stop using paid search altogether. I regret it today. Not because I think I was wrong – I was dead on – but because I don’t want to offend Google.

The thing is, I don’t really love Google. I admire Google, but it’s more of a love-hate relationship than anything else. I love hating Google.

But to be truly honest, I’m mostly scared of Google. Maybe scared is too harsh. I am – professionally – terrified of Google.

Google Dominates the Search Market

You're probably familiar with the monthly comScore reports about the search market and Google’s share of the market. Most reports in the last few years have shown a consistent, strong dominance of the market with anywhere from 65 percent to 70 percent market share attributed to Google.

The problem with these search market share reports is that they tell you nothing about your own segment. So we ran our own analysis on the B2B segment and found that Google actually controls almost 90 percent of that market.

Actually, in November 2012, Google exceeded the 90 percent market share with 90.15 percent of all organic search visits to B2B websites coming from Google.

These data points aligned with comScore reports showing November as Google’s strongest month in years.

Organic Search #1 Driver of Traffic

Optify’s annual B2B Marketing Benchmark report also revealed that organic search was ranked as the top driver of visits with 41 percent of visits originated from organic search. This stat, combined with Google’s complete dominance of the Search market, makes Google the single most important referring domain in this segment.

Google is responsible for over 35 percent of all the visits to websites in this segment, and that includes my website. So call me crazy, but I’m terrified.

The Origin of Fear & Love

So why am I so terrified with Google that I’m willing to admit my undivided love? I’m terrified because at any point in time Google might decide that it doesn’t love me anymore. And not that Google ever admitted its love to me, but actions (or data) speak louder than words, and over the years, Google has shown me that it really loves me.

Thousands of visitors, leads, pageviews, higher ranking keywords and better converting paid ads. In the last few years Google provided my company with enough revenue to sustain, grow, and scale the business; I think that’s love.

But sometimes love comes with a price, and in recent years my relationship with Google transformed into a somewhat abusive relationship. Google has punished me for “not playing nice,” prevented me from learning anything about my relationship with its other users and got offended when I decided to play with others.

So I’m fearful. I’m fearful that someday Google will decide that it no longer loves me. It will stop sending traffic my way, it will drop my rankings, it will block my access to more information and more data and it will charge me for what I’m currently getting for free. Can I survive the breakup?

Planning for a New World

My high school sweetheart broke up with me eventually. It was tough and there were tears involved. But I found a way to recover because there are “lots of fish in the sea.” In retrospect, I’m glad it happened because it taught me a good lesson and consequently I met my wife.

But what would happen if Google suddenly breaks up with me? There aren’t that many fish in that sea. What would I do if one day Google decides that it no longer loves me? Would I recover?

I started planning for my marketing world without Google and the future looked grim. More than 40 percent of my traffic, more than 15 percent of my leads, a significant amount of revenue will be gone. If Google, god forbids, breaks up with me tomorrow I’m in trouble.

All I’m left to do is to loudly confess my love, and then cross my fingers and pray to god that Google will love me back.

Google, I love you!

5 Tips for Diversifying Your Marketing CampaignsSyndicate and promote your content everywhere. This is true not just to avoid the Google threat, but to make sure your content gets the most coverage.Start using social media extensively. While social media is still only a fraction of total traffic and leads, it’s gaining momentum and becoming a true contender to search.Directories, bylines, guest posts, referrals. Following organic search and direct traffic, web referrals accounted for a significant share of traffic to B2B websites. To diversify your marketing campaigns, focus on getting mentions, write guest posts, list your company in directories, get reviews and answer questions on Q&A sites (Quora).Run paid campaigns. Yes, I know, we all love and believe in bringing in free traffic, but that doesn’t mean that we need to completely abandon outbound campaigns like email, display, PPC, direct mail, events, etc. In the pendulum of marketing tactics, we’re swinging back from inbound to outbound.Keep your SEO running. Preparing for a world without Google’s love doesn’t mean that you don’t need to keep nurturing your current relationship with it. Keep your SEO running, and don’t forget that what you do for Google, also applies to Bing, Yahoo, and the rest of the irrelevant search engines.

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FeedBlitz Ups Its Game and Creates a FeedBurner Alternative

For years, the only way to get a good understanding of how many people are reading and interacting with your blog feed was to run your feed though FeedBurner.� Now, FeedBlitz has a service to compete.

FeedBlitz RSS claims to offer better branding, more social media integration by integrating Twitter and other social networks, a mobile optimized version of your feed, better SEO, filtering, and additional feed stats.� I was hoping for some screenshots on FeedBlitz’s site, but they don’t currently offer any.

Unlike FeedBurner that is free, FeedBlitz RSS is paid.� The price minimum is $1.49 per month and goes up from there based on the number unique active email subscribers in your account.� This is where it gets a little confusing.

If you use FeedBlitz RSS you don’t need to use the FeedBlitz email service.� In that case your cost would be $1.79 per month.� If you choose to use both FeedBlitz RSS and their feed to email service, the price you pay is dependent on the number of active email subscribers you have.� So if you have 45 email subscribers and 216 RSS subscribers, you will be charged at the 45 subscriber level.

Unfortunately I was unable to see what a FeedBlitz RSS feed looked like, as the examples on their site don’t render any information at the time of this post.� They do offer a 30 day free trial, however you need to enter in your billing information before you can get the free trial; and I wasn’t up for that today.

Along with all the current features, FeedBlitz plans to rapidly evolve the service over the upcoming weeks and months. It’ll be interesting to see what they come out with and if people choose to move from FeedBurner.

Overall, it sounds like FeedBlitz RSS is a promising service.� It’s good to have an alternative to FeedBurner as competition usually makes things better.� I think they just need add some screen shots and make the free trail really free to get more people interested and trying it out.

Have you tried out FeedBlitz RSS?� What do you think?

13 New Sessions Added to SES New York 2013

With 55 sessions on topics covering everything SEO, PPC, social, analytics, local, mobile, video, and much more, the SES New York 2013 conference will once again be a must-attend event for marketers, advertisers, agencies, and business owners of all skill levels.

If you’ve been to an SES event before, you know the conference provides unparalleled training and networking opportunities. The SES advisory board is still hard at work putting the finishing touches on the agenda and speakers, making sure you’ll be provided with the freshest and most up-to-date sessions you’ll find anywhere so you can upgrade your skills and return to work with an arsenal of new ideas.

Already, some brand new sessions have been added to the agenda. Among them:

Mining Your Search Keywords and Social Data for New Revenue Opportunities will show you how to integrate data from search, social, and traditional media to identify new opportunities and revenue streams. (More details)Creative Content Marketing: Winning Hearts, Minds and Wallets will teach you how to get creative while also applying SEO and social media optimization principles to increase reach and engagement. (More details)The Dawn of Convergence Analytics will guide you through the new class of analytics tools that aim to help you understand the giant combination of "big data," access to cloud computing, powerful algorithms, and unprecedented visualization capabilities. (More details)Feed Your Way to the Top of Local Listings will offer tips on how to optimize your local listings and product feed so potential customers can easily find you and convert. (More details)

Other new and noteworthy sessions will include:

Facebook Graph Search and its Impact on Reputation Management, Privacy, Local Search and MoreBringing Together Paid, Owned, Earned MediaBreaking Down the Borders: International & Multilingual SEO4 Steps to Building an Integrated Online Marketing CampaignPutting Your Money Where it Counts: Smart Attribution ModelingDriving Consumer Insights With Mobile AnalyticsFor Good Measure: Brand Measurement in a Digital WorldFollow, Reach, Convert: Smart Retargeting/RemarketingProgrammatic Trading: New Display Opportunities

Also, in a bit of related news, the SES New York 2013 keynote speakers have been confirmed. At SES New York, you’ll hear from:

Mike Proulx, Senior Vice President & Director, Social Media, Hill Holiday and author of Social TVJoel Lunenfeld, Vice President of Global Brand Strategy, TwitterMichael Bayle, Senior Vice President & General Manager, ESPN MobileBrendon Kraham, Head of Global Mobile Sales & Product Strategy, GoogleEric Litman, Chairman & CEO, Medialets

Oh and how’s this for a good deal: if you register for SES New York before Feb. 21, you can take advantage of the Early Bird rate and save up to $600.

Want to bring your whole team? Check out the SES group rates.

Hope to see you there!

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What J.K. Rowling Can Teach PPC Marketers About Reaching Ideal Prospects

After months of agonized waiting, my daughter finally received her Pottermore account last week. In case you’re not a Harry Potter nerd, is the “all Harry all the time” website that J.K. Rowling created to share her copious back story to the Potter universe.

Browsing the site, I discoveref a page dedicated to Professor Quirrell, one of Harry’s first year teachers. On Pottermore, we learn Quirrell’s birthday, the composition and length of his wand, his student house at Hogwarts, his parentage, special abilities, and even hobbies (“travel, pressing wild flowers”).

Rowling writes, “I saw Quirrell as a gifted but delicate boy, who would probably have been teased for his timidity and nerves during his school life. Feeling inadequate and wishing to prove himself, he developed an (initially theoretical) interest in the Dark Arts. Like many people who feel themselves to be insignificant, even laughable, Quirrell had a latent desire to make the world sit up and notice him.”

Wow! All that effort for a rather minor character, one of several hundred to appear in the seven-book series. Why would Rowling go to the trouble of inventing pasts and personalities, missions and motivations for so many of these bit players?

One of the wonderful things about the Harry Potter books is the rich and cohesive universe that Rowling has created. The characters are memorable, and memorably different from one another, largely because Rowling took the time to imagine and refine them far beyond what she shared in the books.

As you prepare search marketing campaigns, you’ll do well to take a page from Rowling’s book and spend some creative time imagining the stories, motivations, and fears of your ideal prospects. Even if this work doesn’t make it into your ads and landing pages, it can still inform the spirit and direction of your marketing and create in your prospects a feeling of being understood and appreciated for their struggles and desires.

Creating an Avatar

My favorite way of approaching the inner life of my prospect is via Avatar creation. Basically, an Avatar is a fictional person who represents a customer type, or niche, in your market.

If you sell minimalist athletic shoes, your Avatars may include a follower of the Paleo diet, a yoga teacher, and an ultra-marathoner who sleeps with a copy of Born to Run under his pillow. For this exercise, let’s choose a Paleo dieter. 

Start by building a general demographic profile that represents the entire niche. Next, invent a specific persona who fits that demographic. Begin with simple demographic descriptors, then fill in something of their inner life and motivation. Finally, write a diary entry in the voice of that Avatar and role-play a conversation in which you become the Avatar.

1. Describe Their General Demographic Profile

If you don’t already understand the people in this market, spend some time surfing the websites where they hang out. Eavesdrop on forums, in Facebook groups, and to blog comments. Notice how other marketers speak to them.

Our paleo dieter is a male, age 30-44, with a college degree and a white collar job.

2. Create a Specific Avatar

Now we get to have some fun. Pretend you’re a novelist creating a paleo dieter character for your next book. Start with the basics: name, age, location, profession, relationship status; you know, the kind of things Facebook asks when you first create your profile.

Then start making stuff up about your Avatar. If you’ve done your homework in step 1, you’ll be more right than you might think. The key here is to not worry about what you don’t known, but just relax into your intuition.

Our paleo dieter is a 32-year-old male named Kevin, who lives in Denver, Colorado. He’s straight and single, and currently not in a relationship. Kevin works for an electronic security firm, where he is in charge of a group of 15 programmers.

Kevin was turned onto the paleo diet 7 months ago by the CEO of his company, a 50 year old ultra marathoner whom Kevin really looks up to. Since embracing the diet and the lifestyle, Kevin has lost 20 pounds and is starting to feel good about his body for the first time since high school.

Kevin was never much of a runner, but since his boss lent him Born to Run, he’s been jogging around the neighborhood a couple evenings a week. He’s thinking of training for a 10K trail run in Boulder in a couple of months. He owns a pair of normal running shoes, but feels like they don’t fit in with his new “caveman” identity.

Kevin kind of realizes that his job and lifestyle are decidedly “un-paleo,” so he’s looking to express his paleo ethos in other ways – hobbies, clothing and accessories, and groups of like-minded friends. Recently he started going to kettlebell classes at a local gym, and met a woman, Carrie, whom he likes. She’s into fitness, but not into the hard-core “caveman calisthenics” that Kevin’s boss recommends.

3. Write a Diary Entry as Your Avatar at the Moment They’re About to Search for Your Product

Spend a couple of minutes sitting quietly, relaxing and centering. Then let your body become your Avatar; take on their posture, their emotions as they begin their web search, their breathing, their degree of muscular tension or relaxation, etc. You can do this all in your head, but recruiting the body gives you access to more of your “gut” wisdom, your intuition and empathy.

Dear Diary,

I’m looking for a pair of minimalist running shoes. I know I already have an expensive pair of New Balance 990s, but since reading Born to Run I don’t want to wear them. I feel like a corporate tool, and besides, they’ve got too much padding and support and are screwing up my natural gait.

I don’t want to wear those weird toe shoes. I don’t think Carrie would find them attractive. And besides, they cost like $100 bucks. It feels stupid paying that much for running shoes when I’m all into “minimalism.” It just feels like another marketing ploy. I want to disconnect myself from this flabby consumer culture, not feed it.

What I want is a shoe that looks cool, doesn’t cost more than my 990s, and is from a cool small company, not a name brand. I’ll probably just research online and then head out to the Boulder Running Company to try on a few.

4. Get Some Friends to Interview Your Avatar

Invite two or three friends to sit down with you for an hour. Preferably, choose people who aren’t in your company or line of work. The less they know about your industry, the better. Tell them about your business, the product you’re selling, and your market niche. Then describe your Avatar and read them the diary entry.

Next, ask them to interview your Avatar. They can ask two basic kinds of questions: specific inquiries about the search, and general questions about the Avatar’s life. Examples of the first type are: “How important is durability of the shoe to you?” “How rough are the trails you’ll be running on?” Examples of the second type are: “Do you have a dog, and if so, what kind?” “When you were a kid, what was your biggest dream, and how do you feel about that dream now?”

Your job in this process is to make stuff up without thinking about it. Of course you don’t know if Kevin has a dog. But what’s your first instinct?

“No, I don’t have time to take care of a dog on my own. But that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to when I have a family. I can just see myself and the kids in the backyard playing with a couple of black labs.”

You might be thinking, what the heck does that have to do with selling Kevin a pair of running shoes? The answer might be, not much. But you never know. The point is, by turning Kevin into a (pretend) real person, you get to have a marketing conversation with meaning. One that responds to deep human needs rather than superficial ones.

For example, your answer to the question about the dog might trigger other thoughts.

“You know, the paleo lifestyle is all about freedom from ‘domestication,’ like humans have been turned into sick, pathetic consumers instead of the wild and free creatures that we are. And I really resonate with that. But for me freedom isn’t just about running barefoot in the woods and eating lots of meat and vegetables. It’s about reclaiming human values and dignity in a world that just wants to sell us stuff. When I imagine my kids and me playing with our dogs, I like that because it’s so innocent and natural. We all get to be who we really are.”

If you let yourself, you’ll probably go into several stream of consciousness rants during the interview. Have a recorder handy, or ask your friends to take good notes for you. Some of the stuff you say will contain real gems of insight.

5. (Bonus Step) Ask Your Friends to Write a Couple of Ads for Your Product to Your Avatar

I love this step, partly because I’m a bit lazy, and partly because the whole point of the exercise is to generate new ideas. Your friends who don’t live in your industry will be able to write many more ads than you can, with a lot fewer self-imposed mental limitations.

Instead of the typical boring ads you’ll see when you search for “minimalist running shoes,” like “Perfect Shoe for Minimalist Runners” and “Huge Selection” and “Buy a pair today,” you’ll end up with emotionally charged ads that cut through the clutter and speak to what’s really important.

For trails, not treadmills.
Shoes that are Born to Run.
Feel the freedom, feel the earth.

I’ve done this exercise in workshops with thousands of people over the years, and I’m always amazed at the energy and quality of the output. You can generate six months’ worth of split testing material in 20 minutes of good Avatar work.


We may not be able to write like J.K. Rowling, but we all can access deep wells of creativity, intuition, and empathy. When we draw upon these wells in the service of our prospects, marketing can be a magical thing.

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Viva Las Vegas Tech: A Startup City Blooms in the Desert

As of next month, I will have lived (and loved) living in Las Vegas for eight years. It is a fabulous place to be. Part small town, part big city. Two million people who still think this is a small town and who will say hello to you while you wait in line at the supermarket.

Yet, while many of you have come here (and we thank you) enjoying our many fine hotels, amazing restaurants, donating money at your favorite gaming table, we have been experiencing one of the worst Las Vegas economies since its official creation in 1903.

This led many of us local Las Vegans to wonder how to change our fortunes. After all, we are a gambling town.

Not ones to just sit around, we try to figure out what we can do to change our future, bring back our lucky charm. And Vegas has taken its first big step toward turning that luck around with the new tech scene.

Vegas Technology – What a Difference a Year Makes.

“Watch out Silicon Valley: You have competition just next door. The Nevada desert -- Las Vegas in particular -- is becoming a popular landing spot for tech firms large and small”
– CNN June 13, 2012 (Nevada named top 7 state for technepreneurs)

Almost exactly a year ago four of us; David and Jennifer Gosse of, Shawn Rorick of Digital World Expo and myself sat together at a YardHouse to chat about the struggling Vegas economy, how we could help Vegas, and what we could do to help change Vegas fortunes.

With a 14 percent unemployment rate and the highest foreclosure rate in the country, we knew something had to give. Little did we know what was being born across our valley, at other tables, at the same moment – a grassroots movement commonly known now as #VegasTech.


We knew with our business friendly tax environment, low cost of living, quality of life, inexpensive housing, soon to be legalized online gaming industry, and the existing dependence on technology (plus the obvious synergy between work-life styles of the hospitality and technology industries) tech was the answer. But how?

We knew Vegas wasn't known for tech. In fact, people usually met the combined words Vegas and technology with a smirk or a noticeable grin. Yet, people forget most of Vegas is run on technology. From gaming machines, to sports books, to hotels, to shows – tech makes this city hum!

Yet we also knew technology was everywhere and nowhere. The Vegas technology sector was fragmented at best and so much of what was there was hidden underground.

How would we reach those people and what could do to bring those sectors together? How could we get these people to meet those people, because maybe if we could things could happen.


Soon after, we all went to our corners of Vegas to meet with influencers, innovators, and educators anyone we thought might play a part in this grassroots effort. As we reached out we found other parts of the grassroots movement had also begun and a place where people were gathering, the @VegasJelly.

The VegasJelly is a local co-working session that Zappos people and the Downtown Project had put together. A place where tech people could come together, meet, chat, dream, plan, and create.

Soon, the @VegasJelly soon became an activity hub for all things Vegas technology, fragmentation became cohesion and Vegas was on its way!

It wasn't long after the initial growth of the @VegasJelly came The Downtown Project, a revitalization project for the downtown area announced by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

Vegas and the Downtown Project

Still in its infancy, The Downtown Project is Hsieh’s vision. It will have arts and technology living side by side to create an environment ripe for serendipitous events.

There will be co-working and musicians and artists. There will be an investment in quality of life, not just brick and mortar. And there will be technology. Technology and start-ups and a VegasTech Fund to get it all started.

Now this is where most people outside Las Vegas thought Vegas technology began and ended. Would it be enough?

Yet, there has been another sector in the new technology economy that isn't new at all. Like a flower before spring, it has been sitting there doing all its work hidden from the view of most, quietly humming along… until now…

Welcome the Switch SuperNap

The Switch SuperNAP is truly the Las Vegas game changer, the proverbial icing on the cake for Las Vegas technology.

Not new, but until now, by design not known. Switch is the world's largest and most powerful technology ecosystem.

Swtich clients include local and global alike – companies such as Ebay, Pixar, Joyent, HP, Cisco, Vmware, Nirvanix, Dell, EMC, Mozy, Hitachi, Fox, Sony, MGM, The Boyd Group, Wynn, Venetian, the list goes on and on. A data supercenter with over 150+ patents (and claims) on cooling and data center technologies alone, Switch is a technology revolution of its own.

Switch SuperNAP is the size of 11 football fields. NAP8 is currently under construction and will be bring the total of Switch's data storage to 2.2 million square feet. Switch boasts 100 percent uptime for 12 years now (yes 100 percent). And for those interested in data transmission, 4 milliseconds to Los Angeles; 6 to San Francisco.

While Switch currently only has 140 employees, more than 4,000 people are badged and employed by clients of the SuperNAP to work in the building and add to Nevada's economy. This will only continue to grow as the SuperNAP grows and adds data storage centers.

However, Switch is not only about bytes, clouds, and data.

Another feature of the SuperNAP are its people. Dressed in black and sporting an awesome avatar on their business card (yes they have their own illustrator and yes the Avatars are awesome), I have never met a person from Switch, whether an EVP or regular employee, who was not friendly, helpful and well just fun. They are active in all ways in what was our budding tech community.

Was? Yes was, because Las Vegas is no longer budding. We have bloomed.

No Longer a Bud, Now a Rose

Launch Up Las Vegas took place July 11. Stewart Christensen started Launch Up Las Vegas last year. Part of larger group out of Utah, Launch Up’s goal is to create a community space where people could come together to “geek out” about all things technepreneur.

Launch Up Las Vegas, specifically, is an event that allows start-up companies to pitch their company to others in the community. During their pitch they can focus the community on what they might need –whether it is funding, programming, or another partner to get them to the next step.

Always a fun and inspiring event, this year’s Launch-Up was special in its own right.

While the first Launch-Up was held in one of our local casinos meeting rooms, this event, held almost a year from its first, was held at the Switch SuperNAP InNEVation Center. The InNEVation center was one specifically built with the Vegas Technology sector in mind.

What made it special was as I looked around the newly decorated presentation hall, I could see faces from all sectors of Vegas Tech. Suddenly I realized the event was a gathering not of a few people from one fragmented section of town or another, it was of people from all segments – all parts of Vegas Tech were represented. Our defrag was occurring before my eyes, the new InNEVation center held people from all the groups I had been in touch with so many times in many places over the last year.

We were all represented in one place.

Welcome InNEVation

The InNEVation center represents what only a year ago, we only imagined might happen. Vegas Technology was now real.

The InNEVation Center – with its focus to boost and diversify Nevada’s economy and provide incubation, co-working, mentoring, networking, and funding – was now part of the foundation on which our new economy could be built.

All in one place. All at one time.

It was brick and mortar. It was not just a hope or a dream, a conversation over beers or coffee. You could touch it. You could see it. InNEVation made the ethereal tangible. Launch-up made it personal.

Never Bet Against the House

One thing I have learned in Las Vegas: never bet against the house or a Las Vegan. Though nascent, we have firmly landed.

Now it’s go time! From grassroots to launch, one year later, we are here!

But it does not stop here. This is just the start. Just this coming weekend InNEVation will be hosting Start-Up Weekend Las Vegas sponsored by the Kaufman Foundation: 58-hours of intense technepreneurship with a potential $500,000 on the other side.

So if you think New York, Seattle, or Silicon Valley is synonymous with technology and start-ups you better add one more to your list Vegas because Vegas Tech is here. We have proof.

You want to get above the noise? Vegas is where you want to be and remember CNN told you so.

"We're all going to help each other in ways we don't event know yet." -@Gabuduck founder re: #vegastech at @LaunchUpLV #launchuplv #launchup

— Jacqueline (@JackieMJensen) July 12, 2012

Author Note: For anyone interested in learning more about Vegas Technology and Vegas Start-Ups Digital World Expo at the Mirage Sept. 27-29 features a start-up stage and exhibit space with local and national presenters.

 More #VegasTechWhy Vegas is a True Start-Up City #VegasTechCarr and Arrington Go 'All In' On #VegasTech

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Spring Cleaning Your Website

Spring has sprung. The birds are in the trees, the heavy winter clothes are gone. People are up in their attics or out in their garages piling up their old unwanted junk to sell to their neighbors and to make room for the new junk that they’ll be buying from their neighbors.

Why not take this time to take a fresh look at your site and the success of your marketing efforts?

Sometimes you can be so deep into the inner workings of your site that you can forget some of the smaller items that you looked at 18 months ago and decided to fix "later," and sometimes you just don’t notice the little things that have crept in over time.

Search Yourself

For example, when was the last time you actually did some searches for your key terms? Do you see what you expect?

Not a great advertisement for the official site for the top league in the top sport in the UK. Now, Hull were relegated from the Premier League several seasons ago, and the page currently throws up errors when you visit it, so it’s obviously not as well maintained as the pages for those teams that are actively in the Premier League.

However, it still ranks for the key term “Hull City”, and based on the promotion/relegation system in place they may make it back there in the near future, so there’s no need to remove it (a 302 may perhaps be an option, but 3-50 years may be too long to realistically have one in place). That said, the errors on the page and in the description need to be fixed (indeed between writing and publication the description has been corrected, although the on page errors remain).

What about for your actual brand terms? Are your sitelinks still relevant? Has some minor page incorrectly surfaced in the sitelinks? Or has something more sinister happened?

Instant Issues

How about the suggestions in Google Instant? What’s showing up around your brand? Is it something that you maybe need to address? I have to say that I was concerned when I did a search for a hotel I was planning on staying at in NYC and saw the following.

That made me look closer at the results for that search to see whether I really wanted to stay there. The results all stated that there wasn’t a problem at that hotel, and after staying there I have to concur. But one wonders how much business the hotel potentially lost due to that suggestion being displayed so prominently for the time it was.

What could/should they have done? Perhaps a PPC campaign targeted to that specific phrase that went to a bed bugs and the hotel landing page that showed some certification or a clean bill of health from a regulatory body would have been enough to assuage any waverers concerned with the suggested search term.

Eat Your Own Dog Food

When was the last time you went through your purchase process or your registration process from beginning to end? In other words: Do you regularly consume your own products? Or are you waiting on users, or perhaps a drop in sales figures to inform you of issues?

Inspect Yourself Regularly

When was the last time you re-audited your site from top to bottom? Because you fixed things a year ago, do you assume that they’re still fixed now? That no developer has removed something that you put in place because they weren’t aware of its value? Do you re-evaluate your templates? Are you keeping on top of your broken links and redirection errors?

Online marketing is by no means a ‘set it and forget it’ endeavor. The landscape is one of shifting sands that requires a steady hand to ensure that the strategic foundations remain sound.

While it’s great to be able to focus on new and exciting projects to expand your reach, just remember every now and again to lift your head up, and take a look around to see what junk you’ve accumulated that you can get rid of now.

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SEO Into 2014: The Irreversible Changes in Google's Products

Google Maps (and its Yelp-like counterpart, Google+ Local) have undergone significant changes since they were first launched in 2005 and 2010, respectively. At Google I/O 2013, huge changes to the user experience of Maps were announced. Unfortunately, amidst the excitement, it seemed that its impact on search – especially for local – was overlooked.

This article will touch on two key changes in the search marketing industry:

Users are straying from Google to perform more relevant queries on more relevant websitesBecause of this, Google is reengineering their products – such as Maps – to sustain their monopoly on search

As SEO professionals, our work aims to understand and alleviate the pressure felt by businesses in the sphere of online marketing. We provide best practices for SMBs, perform audits, and execute solutions. Our intentions are to support the underdogs in the face of corporate competitors – and oppositely, to ensure big-brand clientele are outperforming their rivals.

Organic search optimization remains the ultimate answer to secure online revenue, broadcast brand positioning and improve discoverability on the web. (Social, I can't help but feel, is an immeasurable farce. At least for the time being.)

But what's interesting is that Google is fracturing our cherished idea of discoverability, especially in relation to unbranded keywords, into search and exploration.

At present, I'm sure the real worry for most is how to react and adapt to recent algorithm update, Penguin 2.0 – but a good SEO professional will always keep the long-term in mind. In the grand scheme of things, Google is not simply tweaking its algorithm.

Google is interested in re-introducing its products to better control and reflect the user behaviors of today. And I have a strange feeling that soon enough these products will no longer only rely on search engine optimization to spit out their results.

To me that is beyond worrisome. But hey, I also like a challenge.

Reaffirming the Idea of Search

Riley Newman, Head of Analytics at Airbnb, recently published a fun and geeky article about their search algorithm. Beneath the latest heat they've been getting in NYC and in parts of Quebec, Airbnb actually has an incredible way of figuring out how to provide their users with incredible experiences.

In his article, Newman writes neatly packed phrases that are as aspirational as they are inspired. Airbnb, he goes on to say:

knows where you want to go in places you've never beenis a system that combines dozens of signals to surface what users want

Whether it comes to knowing where you want to go, or knowing what you need to buy, or knowing when that new restaurant opens – and what your friends think of it – Google is our go-to hub of information for search.

With the relaunch of Maps, and to a lesser extent the handfuls of SERP updates Google has been testing, I want to suggest that Google is straying from being solely a place to search – they're evolving into an area you can explore.

It is heading in a direction where these “dozens of signals” no longer impact some precise query that you're searching for, but instead whole areas of the web that you'll want to explore.

Perhaps what we don't realize is that Google has trained us to search for things (or, more directly, to “Google” for things) – and they are more than capable of training the World Wide Web to follow them in a new, more profitable direction. The new direction of search is upon us. It comes in the form of exploration.

Opening the Door to Exploration

Things like SERP personalization and Google's Knowledge Graph are two examples of how the simple search function is becoming more and more exploratory than about search. But for the purpose of this article, let's focus on a more concrete example – the newly redesigned Maps.

In a keynote given by Daniel Graf, Sr. Product Manger of Maps, he explicitly – yet subtly – makes the distinction between what Search and Maps are to be used for:

“We're going beyond just directions and navigation, maps are also about exploring and discovering places.”

The way Graf spoke about Maps in his keynote, I can't help but think of the similarities between the new functionality and Songza.

Tell me I'm not the only one here.

In the same way that users seek out curated listening experiences by theme – music for “Taking a Sunny Stroll” – they too will be more open to exploring reservation options for “fine dining restaurants Montreal", “Lower East Side boutiques”, or “best veterinarians in the Bay Area”.

We can slowly see how Google's “most comprehensive data set of local businesses” can begin to map out entire experiences – not limited to SERP results, the majority of which are paid for, the remainder of which are a consequence of on- and off-site manipulation. These experiences may not replace the conventional search-buyer intent that we've researched, studied, gamed and made ours over the past decade. But chances are, as our industry matures, these changes are ones we will have to battle – and battle without ignorance.

X Marks the Spot

The obvious question is – how do SEO professionals understand and dominate this new side of discovery? What algorithms, if any, will come into play? And further, which tools or practices can we utilize to capture that sweet spot which drives traffic and engagement, branding, and customer loyalty?

Remember, I'm only using Maps as one example. Expect to see similar trends coming from Google Play (and App Store Optimization), Google Shopping (and Shop Engine Optimization), etc.

We have several trends right now that seem to be hovering around some solution:

Content marketing (which is a white lie)Social/Mobile/Local marketing (that thing people call SoMoLo)SEO abandonment (dabbling in PR)

The issue here is that these ideas fundamentally desert what SEO aims to address: “combining dozens of signals that surface what users want.”

This article serves more as a meditation on a significant – and significantly overlooked – change in our industry than it does to provide answers. As these products roll out and are more widely used, only then will we see those familiar best practices write-ups emerge.

Until then, I want to take the time to think about how businesses online can capture, and perhaps recapture the attention of users who are marching in a very new and exciting direction of discovery – and I invite every online marketer to join me.

Jack Allen of iProspect contributed to this post.

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Germany Orders Google to Restrict Autocomplete Results

In a ruling this week, a German federal court said Google must restrict information in its autocomplete when it violates personal rights.

The suit, filed by an unnamed man according to the BBC, claimed defamatory autocomplete suggestions on linked him to fraud and scientology.

The ruling states that if suggestions in autocomplete are untrue, it violates personal rights, and therefore violates the new ruling.

The ruling goes on to say that Google itself is not liable for violating rights, but that it has not taken precautions to prevent data generated by searches that violate rights.

The BBC speculates this new ruling could have bearing on a case brought forth by Germany’s former First Lady, Bettina Wulff, for autocomplete results that suggest she’s linked to prostitution.

Google is often the target for restriction of information. In most cases, individuals or groups say the information is harmful to them in some way.

A U.S. autocomplete suit was filed against Google last year for linking a surgeon to the term “bankrupt” in autocomplete. The plaintiff withdrew the case last month without explanation, according to MediaPost.

In April, a Japanese court fined Google $3,100 for autocomplete suggestions that reportedly linked an innocent man to a crime.

Google recently released data that shows government takedown requests by court order are on the rise, and that Google does comply around 45 percent of the time with U.S. requests.

Legal experts speculate that at least in the U.S., Google would be protected against libel as it relates to autocomplete suits under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, because Google itself is not making the defamatory remarks, rather it’s collecting and presenting the speech of others.

So what do you think: Does censoring autocomplete restrict access to information people have a right to, or is it protecting individuals or groups from defamation that could cause harm?

 More Google Autocomplete Legal BattlesWoman Comes Up Limp Yet Again in Google Search Suggestion FightIrish Hotel Drops Autocomplete Defamation Case Against GoogleGoogle Fined $65K in France for ‘Crook’ Autocomplete Suggestion

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Google China: Congressional Praise; Microsoft Supports Tyranny & Google Eats Poo Cartoon

The reactions to Google’s partial withdrawal from China continue. Yesterday, there were hearings in the US Congress where representatives showered praise on Google while competitor Microsoft was said to be supporting tyranny. Meanwhile, there is a nice round-ups of reactions from China folks on the web, including a great cartoon of something you never see — Google being forced to eat shit.

CNN Money has the congressional rundown where Google received plenty of praise for its move. Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, called Google’s move:

A remarkable, historic and welcomed action.

Smith also had some harsh words for Microsoft:

They [Microsoft] need to get on the right side of human rights rather than enabling tyranny, which they’re doing right now.

Frankly, I’m feeling a little sorry for Microsoft. Google is still providing censored search results to its partners in China — and those partners combined probably have more marketshare than Bing has in China. So Google is probably supporting tyranny via censorship a heck of a lot more than Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Google remains in China overall. It hasn’t pulled out. It’s played a game where it still wants on the ground operations that will produce revenue that in part help support some of that tyranny that Smith is worried about. Despite all this, Google’s cashing in on some nice PR. Maybe that 1500% increase in Google’s government lobbying spending is paying off.

My post from yesterday, So Now Google Thinks Everyone Should Care About Chinese Censorship?, goes into more depth about Google’s half-measures in China. As I say in the post, I’m glad Google has ended most of its censorship. But if the company wants to be a poster child for the world, why doesn’t it fully leave?

As for Bing, China watcher Rebecca MacKinnon has a nice piece about Bing being in China. Rather than supporting tyranny, she seems to feel it has a tough road to walk trying to balance providing good information but complying with government demands. This is the same road that until two months ago Google was happy to walk.

MacKinnon also points to a great round-up of reactions from various Chinese netizens from ChinaSMACK. Some are positive of Google’s move, such as:

Compared to Google, Baidu is simply garbage.

Only knowing how to take money and put advertisements, with all the search results being advertisements for garbage.

The principle of web search is that what you searched for is what is, so manipulated search results is simply garbage.

We can all think, we don�t need other people to tell us what is right and what is wrong, we can collect information from various angles and judge for ourselves, only those people who have done guilty things would screen/filter information.


Google will forever be in my heart!

Some are negative, such as:

Google is only a company, it has no right to make irresponsible remarks about China�s affairs. Those who can observe China�s laws, China more than welcomes, but those who cannot observe, please find another place to go, we definitely won�t force you to stay. During this Google incident, Google has clearly overestimated itself, thinking it can hold hostage the governments of both China and America, only regretting that in the end it “tried to steal the chicken but lost the bait” [started out trying to hurt others but ended up being hurt], and allowed itself to dejectedly be swept out the door.


Google is simply insulting us, repeatedly saying it will withdraw from China, but now running to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is also China�s. This is truly insisting on being shameless. Without you, Chinese people will live on as usual. With you, it is extremely annoying. Hope you will never come back.

Perhaps some of the negative comments are why Google’s now added, as noted by the Los Angeles Times, a link to a statement in Chinese explaining why it moved from to this week. The home page link, as translated by Google Translate, says:

Welcome to Google search in China’s new home

Here’s where it appears on the home page:

The LA Times also noted that Google is running ads to get its corporate message across. For example, in a search for google hates china, I get this:

The ad leads back to the same statement as listed on the home page. Oddly, I don’t get this ad for the same search in Chinese. Similarly, I get it for google china in English but not the same in Chinese.

Google’s commonly run such house ads for controversial searches to explain its positions in the US, including for its initial announcement that it might leave China in January. Google Buys Search Ad In Response To The China Decision has more background on this.

Finally, back to that round-up of reactions. Among them was the comic that I highlighted with one pane above. Here’s the entire thing, apparently showing Google being tired of eating the shit served up by the Chinese authorities that it chooses to walk away from the table, leaving things to other players — Baidu, I assume, along with SoSo and Sogou.

According to MacKinnon, Google’s saying “Too f***ing stinky! I’m not f***ing eating with you guys anymore!”

I haven’t been able to track down the original source� of the cartoon — I’ll update that, if I can find it.

For related news, see Techmeme.

Postscript: I sent a few follow-up questions to Google. Here’s what I received back from Gabriel Stricker with their communications team.

Who exactly are the partners you�re still supplying censored results to?

We have over a dozen syndication deals with partners in China. We obviously have contractual obligations to them, which we want to honor. Over time we will not be syndicating censored search to partners in China, but we will of course fulfill our existing contractual obligations.

I�d like to better understand why you�re simply not out of China entirely. What do you really need on the ground? Why stay there at all?

The issue for us has always been censorship, and the lack of transparency around removals and take downs in China.�Whether we have a sales team or R&D facilities there is irrelevant to this central issue.

We believe that our new approach — serving mainland Chinese users via an uncensored service in simplified Chinese on–will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.

I�m trying to still figure out how we got from Google gets hacked to this turning into an issue over censorship. It seems like you should just be out.

We do believe in engagement over estrangement–and we want to provide our services to as many people as possible globally. When we launched our service in China we did so in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some search results. The recent cyber attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered � as well as attempts over the past year to limit free speech on the web even further � led us to conclude that we were no longer comfortable censoring results in China.

Google: Image Search Overhaul Will Deliver Higher Click-Through Rates

Google will be rolling out an overhaul to its image search function. The revamped image search will provide a more prominent display space for selected images and a new scrolling function to make it easier to look at results.

"You will be able to quickly flip through a set of images by using the keyboard," wrote Hongyi Li, associate product manager in ablog post. "If you want to go back to browsing other search results, just scroll down and pick up right where you left off."

More information on the results will also be displayed, including metadata, the page hosting the image, its size, and domain name. This is designed to increase click-through rates to the sites hosting the images.

Google said in its own tests it's seen an (unspecified) average increase in the click-through as a result of incorporating this information more prominently.

This article was originally published on V3.

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Google: Nearly 50 Percent Of Olympics-Related Searches Coming From Mobile Devices

Even though large sporting events such as the Super Bowl have seen their share of mobile traffic, the current Olympic Games are the first truly multi-platform global sporting event. During the first two days of the Olympics, smartphone and tablet searches approached 50 percent of overall search query volume according to Google. In one case, Japan, it exceeded it (55 percent).

Australia, the UK and US all saw mobile (tablet + smartphones) query volumes reaching into the high 40s: 45 percent, 46 percent and 47 percent respectively of total search queries.

Google said, “at some moments during the Games, there have been more searches performed on tablets and smartphones than on computers.” Some of this activity is in the context of the so-called “second screen” phenomenon of people watching TV and using smartphone or tablet devices to gather more information about what they’re watching or to avoid commercials.

In particular Google documented this during the Paul McCartney performance of the Beatles’ classic song Hey Jude during the opening ceremony.

Just as American Idol “taught America to text,” these Olympics are establishing new — or new levels of — mobile usage and viewing behavior among US and global audiences.

While NBC has been roundly criticized by many pundits and bloggers for its coverage of the Games, the BBC’s multi-screen coverage, as the NY Times pointed out, has given the world (those who can watch) a glimpse into the future of TV coverage.

.EDU Link School: Tips & Tactics for Snagging Authoritative Links From Higher Ed

When it comes to link acquisition, SEO professionals and link builders have this long-standing infatuation with .edu links.

Much of this preoccupation stems from a belief that Google bestows magical SEO powers on .edu top-level domains (TLDs). But that just isn't the case.

In fact, Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts is on record saying that .edu TLDs don’t carry more weight than other extensions.

Even though an .edu may not be inherently superior to other extensions, getting an .edu link can still be valuable. Most universities are trusted, authoritative brands with robust backlink profiles, which are exactly the types of linking domains we search marketers covet.

What’s more, there are a ton of ripe link opportunities at schools, if you know where to look. Here are a few actionable and high probability tips and tactics for snagging .edu links.

EDU Link Building TacticsFaculty Spotlight Links

One of my favorite methods for netting a .edu link is to interview or spotlight a faculty member (or members) from a university. You can find really interesting professors and researchers at a school who are conducting compelling studies, have written books, are noted experts on a specific topic and who would likely be of interest and relevant to your core audience.

The link opportunities for spotlighting a university faculty member are pretty abundant. You can acquire:

Links from their faculty page: Nearly every faculty member has a dedicated faculty page where they host syllabi, course updates, background information, published works, notable accomplishments, etc. Many also cite websites and online pubs that they’ve been featured in, which could spell a linking opportunity for your site as well.Links from news pages: News items can really be a few different opportunities since most universities have a few separate news streams. There’s a university level feed, with more campus-wide news, and each college or school within that university generally has a dedicated news page that highlights accomplishments of students, faculty or staff members specific members of that school as well, like news on from the School of Humanities or the College of Engineering. Interviewing or writing a feature article on a professor often qualifies as a newsworthy event.

Examples include:

University news page: news page: page:

You may need to get creative here too, in the event that a stand-alone interview isn’t link-worthy enough for the school you’re targeting. For example, I ran this post a few years ago "The Best Search Marketing Research Papers." Even though it was run in 2009, that page still shows a few solid .edu links are still in place.

Alma Mater Links

One of the higher probability methods of acquiring .edu links is getting mentions for former students. Every university has an alumni association with its own dedicated website, and nearly all publish an alumni news section with notes about the accomplishments and milestones of former students.

Alumni associations are generally news-starved and will publish most items on former students, provided the info is somewhat noteworthy. And like the general news sections at universities, many schools have alumni news sections at both the university and school level. Some of the potential link opportunities include:

Class notes: Has anyone in your organization done anything noteworthy recently? Have they done any fundraising, run a marathon, received an award, wrote an ebook, earned a big promotion, had a baby? Find out where they went to school, what year they graduated, what their major was and submit your news item.Alumni profiles: Gather the school, year, major information from the executives or thought leaders in your organization, the company founder, the CEO, etc. Write a flattering spotlight about them and their accomplishments and submit it to their alma mater as a profile. Writing something up ahead of time means a better shot of getting it published.Group interviews: If you use group interviews in your content marketing efforts (and if you don’t you should be), there’s another opportunity here. Now even the participants aren’t employees of your organization, you should still ask for their alma maters so you can shoot a note to their alumni associations to say they’ve been featured as an expert on your website.

Examples include:

Alumni news article: profiles: profile: former

Helpful search operators you can use:

Alumni news: inurl:edu "submit alumni news"Alumni profiles: inurl:edu "alumni profile" or "alumni profiles"Career Services Links

Nearly every university has a career services department, where students can get help with everything from building their resume, to simulated interviews, to career counseling. Like the examples provided above, the career services section of a university website presents some fruitful link opportunities.

Internships: Foster the career development of today’s youth and help them get some real world experience by starting an internship program at your company. Most career services offices will drop a link to you on their websites. Link example: advice: Offer free career information and guidance to students in the form of potential career opportunities at your company for each major or general options for what students can do with a specific major (FYI that site has 450 unique .edu linking domains). Link example: a mentor: Check out the results from this search operator [inurl:edu "current mentors"] That’s nearly 4,000 results, which means a slew of link opportunities.5 EDU Link Opportunity Tips1. Focus on Smaller Schools

By smaller schools I mean the junior colleges, the community colleges, the commuter schools, etc. They may not be as authoritative as larger Ivy League schools or major universities, but they’re generally more receptive to outreach and more appreciative of any press or publicity they get because they often don’t get much as the big schools. Plus, they often have a lower bar for what might be considered link-worthy.

2. Schedule Outreach Accordingly

Most colleges shut down almost entirely from end of finals or mid-terms to the start of a new semester, and during semester breaks as well. Even though staff members don’t exodus the building with students and faculty, they tend not to be as "productive" during these breaks. So plan accordingly and schedule outreach for peak activity periods to increase response rates. Best outreach months are generally January through April and September through November.

3. Send Out a Press Release

When you publish your faculty interviews or spotlights, shoot out a press release and mention the school. Most schools are monitoring press mentions, so this is a quicker way to get on their radar, especially if you’re having trouble finding a direct contact.

4. Leverage Social Media

Just like a press release helps get on a school’s radar, so too does mentioning the school’s Twitter handle in a tweet: "NEW Interview with Domestic Terrorism Expert Professor X [link] from @XSchool"

5. Figure Out What Universities are Linking to and Why

Ahrefs has a feature called "linked domains," where you can see which sites a domain is linking to. So if you’re looking for more link ideas, figure out which sites and documents these schools are linking to and why. University news subfolders offer some pretty fertile ground for link opportunity ideas (hint, hint).

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Apple Makes Bing The “Default Search Engine” For Siri

One of the things that you might have missed if you weren’t paying really close attention to the live blogs of the Apple WWDC keynote is that when iOS 7 comes out Siri will be able to directly search Twitter, Wikipedia — and Bing. From a search perspective that’s potentially huge news.

I’m speculating that you’ll still be able to ask Siri to “search the web” and it will use whatever search engine you’ve chosen for Safari (still Google unless changed by the user). However Siri is now much more a legitimate “search engine” with Bing as the index.

Integration of web search more directly into Siri was a missing piece and the thing that made it weaker than what Google has recently put together with Google Now and “conversational search.”

In a way the new Siri-Bing relationship is very much like Yahoo-Bing. Yahoo is the UI on top of the Bing index. Now Siri is the UI for Bing results on the iPhone.

Of course Siri pulls “answers” and content from numerous other sources. How those other sources will interact with Bing results, if at all, remains to be seen. What happens if I ask for movies, sports scores, weather or restaurants? These are all categories where Bing has content but there are existing third party data providers for Siri.

I’m also making the assumption that in iOS 7 if users ask a question without literally saying “search the web” the resulting answer or information will be provided by Microsoft. One could thus argue that Bing now becomes the “default search engine” on the iPhone (more like the default “Siri engine”).

Saying “default search engine” isn’t entirely accurate however. That’s because most people don’t use Siri to search the internet today. Most people use Google either through the browser or the Google app. But as Siri’s capabilities and utility expand it may see increasing volumes of search queries. This partnership could be instrumental in that change.

Here’s how Microsoft describes how it will work:

Starting this fall with iOS 7, Bing will power Siri’s new integrated web search. When users ask Siri a question either the specific answer or web search links will now be delivered automatically so users can find information even faster.�

Bing was designed from the outset to be a great place for web search helping customers quickly find what they are looking for and get more out of search. We are thrilled that all the great results people have come to know and love on will now be available to Siri users on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.��

We won’t know until we can get our hands on it what the Bing integration into Siri truly looks like. But it could be quite significant for both parties. If it’s a well-done integration it could also start driving lots of search volume for Bing. In order for that to happen, however, Apple and/or Microsoft will have to educate users about the capability.

We’ll wait and see what the actual user-experience is like (recall the promise vs. initial reality of Apple Maps) but this could be a very big deal for search on the iPhone.

Postscript: Danny speculates (perhaps correctly) that this deal may well be a prelude to replacing Google on Safari as the default search engine. However the consumer preference is still strongly for Google, which may prevent that from happening any time soon.