The web is constantly changing. CHRIS THOMAS runs through the top 10 new search tools to help you get found and sell more
By Chris Thomas
The web is constantly changing, and business owners with a web presence need to keep on top of every new improvement in how your customers can keep finding your website.
SmartCompany runs through the top 10 new search tools to help you get found and sell more.
1. Trademarks: The new black
As the battle for sales on the web grows, so too are competitors who try to use your brand to snare your potential customers.
Something that comes up again and again is the issue of trademark protection and Google AdWords. If someone is bidding on your brand or trademarked product name, it’s a real nuisance because competitors are leveraging search traffic intended for you.
Google’s quality score can make life expensive for people who bid on your trademark, but it doesn’t always stop competitors who have deep pockets.
Luckily, Google has a system where you can apply to have AdWords removed from the search results when they’re triggered by trademarked keywords.
So what are the steps to remove competitor’s ads when someone does a search on your trademark?
Obviously the very first thing to do is make sure you have a registered trademark. If you don’t, you can engage a trademark lawyer to act on your behalf (recommended) or if you’re feeling adventurous, go down the DIY path and head over to IP Australia.
If your trademark application is “accepted”, you’ll pay a fee and be assigned a trademark number.
The next step is to lodge the trademark. You’ll find more information from Google’s help section here. There’s also some good local (Australian) information from Google here. And don’t be confused. Even though it says “complaint” you can use it to lodge and protect your trademark as well (even if no-one is actually infringing at present). Visit this link to get the process under way.
Don’t be confused by Google’s trademark infringement process; they make out that you have to print and fill out a form before sending it off in the mail. There’s actually an online form which makes the process a lot quicker and a lot less painful!
Luckily, here in Australia Google is quite strict about trademark infringement in relation to keywords and Google ads. If you’re in the UK, Ireland, Canada or the US, Google is no longer offering protection against advertisers who use trademarks in keyword lists to trigger a Google AdWord. However, they will disapprove an ad with a trademark in the Google ad itself. I’m not sure how long Google will maintain the status quo locally.
When you fill out the form, make sure you don’t kill off your business partner’s Google ads (if you have them). Let’s say you are a large retailer and you have retail agreements with other e-commerce websites who are currently allowed to use your trademark in their Google ads and keyword lists. You will need to exempt them during the Google trademark complaint process so their Google ads still appear. Remember, the idea is to remove competitors, not your authorised partners.
Once you’ve lodged the form, the final step is patience. You just have to do a search on your trademark and wait for the magic to happen. It will take time, but you’ll suddenly find your Google ad is the only one on the page! It’s a long wait, but it is a “hallelujah moment” and it will certainly help your online sales!
2. Using analytics to make more revenue this year
Google’s Analytics is a brilliant way that you can maximise the revenue your website makes for your business. We know that Google Analytics is a great tool; it’s big on features, and really, really low on cost. That’s because it’s free. The only cost is the time it takes to set up an account and copy and paste the special Java script code into each page of your website.
Actually, when you think about what Google’s achieved with Google Analytics, it’s quite simply a stunning feat, especially when you consider the mind boggling amounts of data Google is collecting every second, and you put it together with an engine that processes it all for each customer.
What is the purpose of your website and how/where does it fit in with the rest of your business objectives?
Decide what it is you want to measure; set these as KPIs and keep them to a manageable number (say five to eight). Create realistic targets around your KPIs.
- Regularly compare results against your targets.
- Use the results to test and improve your website.
- Don’t let absolute numbers influence everything you do. Focus and respond to trends.
Also set up a goal conversion funnel, so you can visualise where customers are dropping out of your shopping cart and where they go. You can use that information to help keep folks in your cart and on their way to the final checkout.
For instance, you might find that at the “add your delivery details” stage of the shopping cart process, people are dropping out to visit your “shipping options and costs page”. By knowing this, you might include important shipping information on the, “delivery details” page itself to prevent the click away.
Some e-commerce hints that may help:
- Sending an email to customers who have saved carts but not checked out.
- Adding security logos to increase trust and confidence.
- Bundling products to encourage higher spend.
- Daily competitor analysis.
- Add to cart and product description buttons or links being more prominent.
- Increase your Google AdWords spend!
You can wring the most from your website when you really take the time to analyse how visitors interact with it.
3. Can I outsmart Google?
So you worked hard to get on the top ranking of Google only to mysteriously return to the bottom of the page. What has happened? There are three parts to a search engine; the robots, the index and the algorithm. I’ll do a very simple re-cap to put it into context.
Remember, the “bots” go out over the internet and find and collect web pages. When they find a page, they scurry back and plonk it into Google’s massive storage system, the index.
The third part of the “engine” is the algorithm, which effectively analyses each page for relevance. When someone performs a search, it tries its best to sort all pages in the index, ranking the most relevant result highest, then the second most relevant page… well, second, and the third and so on.
The problem for you and I is that Google doesn’t tell us exactly how the algorithm works. It can’t really, because for starters, if Google did “give it all away” competitors would no-doubt copy it, and there’d be an optimisation free-for-all by every website owner out there.
It’s Google’s own “11 secret herbs and spices” recipe.
I read recently that in 2007 Google changed or tweaked the algorithm around 450 times. That’s more than once a day! Talk about a moving target! That’s the main reason no-one can ever guarantee a number one position at Google.
I think the most important thing to remember about the algorithm is that while it’s been written and updated by humans, there is no human involvement in a website’s ranking position.
It’s best summed up by Ubi Manber, Google vice president who oversees search quality. “If we find, for a particular query, that result No. 4 should be result No. 1, we do not have the capability to manually change it. We have to find what weakness in the algorithm caused that result and find a general solution to that, evaluate whether a general solution really works and if it’s better, and then launch a general solution.”
While Google might be constantly fiddling around the edges, there are things about the algorithm that tend to remain fairly constant. Over at SeoMoz (effectively the SEO industry’s version of SmartCompany), the world’s top SEO industry experts were invited to vote on what they believed were most important factors to influence Google’s algorithm.
The title tag came in first, followed by body text and headings etc. Certainly, links are also a play a huge factor, and the anchor text of in-bound-links to a site was of “exceptional importance” to all respondents.
Even so, the algorithm doesn’t always get it spot on. So, there’s still some work left for Google to do!
4. Local search
If you haven’t noticed already, Google has made some major changes to its rankings. If you run a local business with a website, this could present you with an opportunity to get to the top of Google without having to do any serious SEO at all!
Google has thrust local search to the forefront of its new universal search results platform by squeezing 10 local results into (what’s been coined) a “local box”.
Local search results used to look like this:
So as you can see, there were three results next to the map. The three local box results were part of the top 10 at Google.
After Google’s algorithm change, here’s what we’re seeing now…
Essentially there are now 20 results on a Google page – 10 local results run alongside the local box and 10 run beneath (as standard results). If you used to rank first, you now rank 11th.
This change has propelled some businesses from “nowhere” into the top 10, and relegated others (who may have invested in SEO) to the bottom 10 results.
Life’s not fair is it?
So how do you give your website a chance at the top 10 with local results?
First off, you’ll need to create a Google account. That will allow you to create a free “local business listing” which allows you to enter all the information about your business. You can also move the map marker!
It certainly doesn’t hurt to think about keyword optimisation while you’re entering your information.
For example, if your business is a local florist in Leichhardt, you should enter “Joes Flowers – Leichhardt Florist”. Try and get important keywords alongside your business name – you won’t get in trouble if you keep it reasonable!
The next tip is to register your business with TrueLocal. Google and NewsCorp have a commercial relationship (hard to believe I know), where TrueLocal results help to power Google’s own local business results. It really helps if you’re included in both Google and TrueLocal.
I have it on good authority from an expert in local search, that at present there is no relationship between a premium listing at TrueLocal and Google rank. I guess that makes sense. If it were true, it would set a worrying precedent. You might at last be able to buy your way to the top of Google! At $900, that’d be pretty cheap in my book.
Finally, optimise your site as best you can. Spend a few dollars and obtain some strong authority links; get included in the Yahoo directory. I’ve seen websites gain dramatic ranking improvements at Google once their Yahoo directory listing was approved (with no other changes).
5. Mobile search and QR codes
Broadly speaking, we’re looking at the evolution of new technology platforms that are changing the traditional methods for web access as well as content; and the way search engines are now allowing us to optimise all our content (video, images, local and text).
In practical terms, mobile search is for now more applicable to certain types of businesses. Industries that should consider getting into mobile search are the ones that are relevant to users who use their phones to find important local information quickly.
These include location-based businesses – restaurants, medical centres, theatres, bars, florists, trades, weather etc. And not so location based – news, sports, entertainment, Facebook, MySpace, Google etc.
There seem to be huge opportunities in mobile search. And there is also broad agreement that the uptake of mobile phone web browsing will inevitably increase as costs come down.
One part of the mobile search technology – QR codes (or “quick response” codes) – have been around since the mid 90s. Unlike traditional product bar codes which are only one dimensional, smart codes introduce two dimensional scanning, enabling much more data to be stored. A traditional barcode can store up to 20 digits, whereas a smart code can contain up to 4300 alpha numeric characters.
Because of this, they can store much more information, including website addresses, text, email addresses, contact phone numbers, phone widgets (applications) and upcoming events. It makes it easy for people to import all that fiddly data into their phones almost instantly.
The principal benefit is your ability to easily create codes and place them on to your printed material, your business cards, posters and even a t-shirt. If you visit this link you’ll see how easy it is to create QR code.
In Japan, smart codes are everywhere. Manufacturers have placed the codes on their newspaper and magazine advertising as well as individual product packaging. This has allowed people to connect with more information about products and services they’re interested in without having to use their desktop or laptop computers.
If you’re more visually motivated to learn, you can see a quick demonstration on YouTube!
I think we’ll see more of these codes around in the next 12 months as the adoption of 3G phones dramatically increases, allowing users to easily access the internet with their phones.
Uptake of mobile phone web browsing (and subsequent use of QR codes) will largely depend upon the cost to consumers of accessing the internet, and currently that cost is extremely high.
The recently launched iPhone is capable of reading QR codes, but interestingly you’ll probably need to install a third party application on your new iPhone to access QR code technology as Apple doesn’t appear to be shipping the phone with it pre-installed.
6. Targeted ads
What a splash accompanied the arrival of Facebook. In spite of all the hype (“guilty your Honour”) about targeted demographic advertising potential, the word from “those in the know” is that click-through rates (CTRs) on banner ads at Facebook are lower than a sewer-rat’s belly.
But I think the other big news story was the deal announced between Google and DoubleClick. It’s been bubbling away under the mainstream news for some time, as various competition authorities globally analyse the deal.
I could be wrong, but perhaps the main reason Google is so interested in “integrating” DoubleClick into its own advertising model is the additional demographic targeting DoubleClick’s technology can bring to Google’s advertising system.
Google’s current AdSense system allows AdWords advertisers to place “contextual” text ads, banner ads and “click to play” video ads on partner websites. Google’s existing robot technology “scans” the content of partner web pages to get a “feel” for their context, then automatically places relevant Google ads from advertisers alongside that relevant content.
DoubleClick on the other hand, uses visitor behaviour technology to decide which banner ads to display. DoubleClick’s system is perhaps best illustrated with an example.
Let’s say you’ve visited a website selling new cars and spend some time checking out a page about a certain model, looking at the specs and colour options etc. If an agency is using DoubleClick technology to show ads on that website, they’ll track your behaviour using cookies.
An agency using DoubleClick’s technology knows that the typical car buying cycle is about six weeks from initial research/interest to purchase.
A couple of days later you happen to visit another website on which the same agency (using DoubleClick) displays banner ads. The system recalls that a few days before you showed interest about a new car, so they serve up a banner ad advertising a new car.
Than as you get closer to the six weeks purchasing point, they really turn it up, showing you as many banner ads from their stable of advertisers about new cars as they can.
Apart from the potential anti-competitive issues investigated by competition agencies, there has also been some concern about the privacy implications of behavioural systems.
However, it looks as if the deal will go ahead, and Google may begin to merge DoubleClick’s online behavioural targeting systems with its own contextual targeting to create super-targeted advertising in 2008.
7. Video on the web
“Never stand in the way of a freight train.” It’s a comment often overheard in stock broking firms, and it usually relates to a sharemarket crash – don’t start buying when everyone else is selling.
Really what it’s saying is “the trend is your friend”, a phrase I’m sure you’re also well familiar with.
In online sales terms, the video freight train is gathering steam and I reckon the best place to be is onboard. With more and more internet users hooked up to broadband, (exemplified by YouTube serving well over 100 million videos per day), and Google embedding video in its new Universal search results, it’s going to continue to grow at a silly pace.
OK, so far I’ve pretty much stated the bleeding obvious, but the question remains for us SMEs, how do we actually get a video produced that’s any good? Up until now, creating content has been easy. We’ve got a keyboard and website, so creating text-based content (along with a few pictures) has been a snap.
All the articles I’m reading tell me that online video is going to be big – but like you, what I want is some tips and some costs. Let’s have a look at what’s available to us.
As I see it, we have two options:
- Option 1. Head down the DIY path
Yep, grab your trusty DigiCam (or in my case, borrow someone else’s) and start shooting. This option is a little scary. You could potentially do more bad than good. But it’s cheaper, and if you’re pretty handy you could end up with a great result.
One daunting aspect with the DIY path is just how to attack the project. Do you jump in front of the camera yourself or hire someone else? Or instead, just show some footage with a voice over? I guess not everyone wants to be a “TV star”.
Finally you’ll need to invest in some video editing software (and the time to learn it) which will enable you to edit down your video, and add captions, music and voice-overs.
- Option 2. Get someone else to do it for us
You’re more likely to get a better result, but it’s probably going to cost you more to get it. But, like anything in business, I tend to let the people in niche industries do their thing because they’re usually pretty good at what they do. You focus on your core business while the “experts” do their thing.
A quick search at Google shows there are surprisingly few specialist online video content producers. Without endorsing any (seriously, I have no affiliation with any of the businesses below), and in no particular order, here’s a list of the one’s I’ve discovered:
- www.quickclips.com.au/ – prices start from $750 – Sydney.
- www.biztube.tv/ – packages from $1099 – Melbourne
- www.onlineaura.com.au/videoshowcase.htm – Perth
- www.viocorp.com – Sydney
- www.jhm.com.au/streaming/demo.htm – Sydney
- www.channel1.com.au/onlinevideo.asp – Melbourne
- Sensis has gone off-shore to team up with www.videoegg.com/
Makes you want to get into the internet video business, with so few obvious competitors, doesn’t it?
At a recent conference I attended , most of the major web design agencies present signalled they already had, or were moving towards, offering video capability to new and existing clients. So if you’re interested in internet video, perhaps a call to a web design agency may also bear fruit.
Will it help your online sales? I think if it’s done right, you can get much more information across in a 30 second video ad than you can with a whole page of text. But like anything, you’ll need to weigh up your return on investment. Do this by asking:
- What’s my current website’s conversion rate?
- What’s the likely conversion rate improvement if I use a video ad?
- How long will it take me to break-even on the video ad cost?
The upshot is, it should pay off eventually and it might just give you that little “extra” advantage over your competitors to win that next sale, tour, lead, contract, demo, meeting, appointment, [insert your most wanted outcome here]…
8. Link management
Let’s quickly go through four easy ways to get links pointing to your site, to help build your rankings, traffic and profits.
1. Forums are a dead easy way to get optimised links. But you have to be smart about it. Many people are members of internet forums where members post comments and ask for help about a myriad of topics. One I subscribe to is webproworld where webmasters and SEO people congregate to talk all things geeky. The trick with obtaining quality links from forums is to optimise your sig (signature) profile.
Every time you post a comment, your signature is also posted automatically at the bottom of your post. So, in your sig profile, include a link to your website.
The more you post, the more links you get! If you’ve been a member for a while, you can go in right now and change your sig file. Your new sig should appear on all the posts you’ve ever made! How seriously Google counts these links is another matter. But it’s probably worth the effort anyway.
2. Affiliate programs can also boost your link popularity because they have to link to you to earn a profit! However, if you run your affiliate campaign through a portal, sometimes you’ll find that your affiliates will actually be linking to the portal you’re using – so traffic from your affiliates’ link is directed to the portal first (for tracking purposes) before being redirected to your website.
Most good portals now offer SEO-friendly links, so be sure to use one that offers this feature. If you have your own affiliate tracking software, you’re covered.
3. Mini sites can also help you gather really relevant links. Mind you, it can be an expensive and time-consuming way to get them! But let’s discuss it anyway. I’ve had tremendous success creating mini sites to gather one-way links to various sites.
Basically I’ve registered domain names with targeted keywords in them from different domain name registrars. I’ve then built web pages with thematically related content, linked back to the main site I’m trying to promote, then launched the site using different (and cheap) hosting providers from the main site I’m linking to.
Within a couple of months, I’ve seen sites go from the 30s to top three with no other changes. So it seems that it’s not always PageRank but site relevance which appears to be the key when obtaining or exchanging links.
4. Writing a press release is another method used by search engine marketers to promote websites and create one-way links them. There’s a real skill in doing this, so your press release is picked up as real news and not some lame attempt to promote a product or service! If you head down this path, do your home work or hire someone to consult to you about it. Visit www.prweb.com for more information about this topic.
Finally, the best strategy for obtaining links is having a great website with wonderful, compelling content. Links will come naturally and you’ll never have to worry about trying to build your link popularity artificially. Content is king!
9. Optimise your shopping cart
The most daunting prospect for any shopping cart owner is SEOing every single product in their shopping cart.
If you’ve got thousands of products in your site, you can be forgiven for not even attempting to optimise your product pages. Sometimes when a job seems too big and too daunting it can paralyze all initiative!
These tips can improve your online sales, are easily digestible, and (hopefully) actionable.
- Break the job down into small, easy bits. Start by targeting and optimising the top 10 best selling products in your cart. Then do the next best 20 and so on.
- Make sure you include the name of the product or service in your page title tag. You need to format it so you keep the name of the product or service first, the name of your company second.
- The next important page element for SEO is your heading tag. Include your product or service name in your H1 tag.
- Obviously every product or service needs a description. I’m often shocked by how little effort online retailers take to describe their products. Given that Google needs at least 250 to 300 words per page to create a complete “relevance” picture, it’s in your interests to make sure your description is fully optimised and that the benefits of the product or service are blindingly obvious. My 10 cents? Hire a copywriter.
- Product images should also be optimised, so name your image with the product’s actual name, like “blue-widget.jpg”. Make sure that when you include the picture on the page that you use an image “alt” tag that also uses the product’s name.
- If you’re reselling products that are not your own, don’t copy the exact same content from the original manufacturer. Substantially rewrite your copy to avoid having your page penalised by Google’s duplicate content filter. If you have substantially similar content as the original content creator, Google will stop your result from appearing in the search results.
Honestly, if you get into the habit of ensuring your detailed product descriptions are fully optimised with engaging copy which encourages conversions (purchases), you’ll be a long way ahead of most your competitors!
10. SEO: The old is new again
As they say, a great looking website is no guarantee of success.
If potential customers can’t find your website because you’ve compromised its chances of a good search engine rank, you’ll need to resort to expensive pay-per-click and affiliate marketing campaigns for the life of the design.
When you commission a designer to build you a new website, it’s really up to you to make sure they design your new website with SEO in mind. Obviously design and usability is the designer’s job; they want to make your new site look as beautiful as possible for humans. But sometimes designers (and I should also mention developers) overlook how a search engine might respond.
You can have your cake and eat it too, so let’s look at the elements involved in website design that really matter to search engines.
I often see designers create quite ‘image heavy’ designs, particularly on home pages.
Remember, search engines can’t ‘see’ or ‘read’ images, so we need to give a search engine some text to hang their hat on. While you can use image ‘alt tags’ to populate text on to an image heavy site, search engines place less weight on them, so it’s not a genuine workaround.
Search engines typically need a minimum of 350 words per page to get a clear ‘relevance picture’ of the theme for each and every page in your website. Search engines like key phrases in headings, body text and links (in the form of anchor text).
Just as search engines struggle with images, they also struggle with Flash. At the moment, search engine robots can’t access and index content from Flash files. But this is improving, so you may be okay in the future.
If you don’t have a sitemap, search engine robots need to follow links within your site (and from other websites) in order to index all your website pages.
When you’re developing your sitemap, dedicate some thought to keyword research for each directory name and file name. Designers often build your sitemap with quite uninspiring directory names like http://www.autobarn.com.au/products/17/159/
I often use the example of Seek Learning as one of Australia’s best overall websites in terms of design, usability and search engine optimisation.
Seek Learning’s site structure is something to behold, it’s obvious they had significant input from a SEO specialist during the sitemap creation phase of the project. Given that Google does place importance on keywords is directory and file names, it’s vital you do too!
Chris Thomas heads Reseo a search engine optimisation company which specialises in setting up and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns, Affiliate Programs and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.
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