Friday, July 31, 2009

What Site Owners, Web Developers & SEOs Should Know About The Yahoo Microsoft Deal

Posted byBy now, everyone has read all about the news that Yahoo is replacing its search index with Microsoft’s Bing. In a way, it’s a great story of complete reversal, as in 2002, Microsoft didn’t have its own index and instead used Inktomi. Late that year, Yahoo! acquired Inktomi, which spurred Microsoft to start building its own search index to avoid having a search supplier owned by a major competitor. Now Yahoo is ditching its index (including all of the technology it acquired with Inktomi) to use the very index it motivated Microsoft to build.

We’ve read about what this means for advertisers (more overall traffic from the combined audience, use of Microsoft adCenter for self-serve and Yahoo!’s sales force for premium) and for searchers (they likely won’t notice), but what does the deal means for those who create websites: publishers, web developers, and SEOs?

Web Developers

The hardest hit by this change will likely be developers. Over the last couple of years, Yahoo seems to have shifted its focus from innovating the search index to innovating its developer offerings: encouraging third-party development and creating a “developer ecosystem” for search.

Any developer options that don’t rely on the Yahoo search index may be unscathed. In particular, the non-search development tools and search-related offerings that are solely focused on the user interface may continue to be supported. While Bing will power Yahoo’s search engine, Yahoo will control their user interface and likely will try to continue to differentiate there. That’s means Search Monkey, which enables site owners to enhance how their results appear on Yahoo, is potentially safe.

Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS) likely won’t be so lucky. BOSS is built on the Yahoo index as its foundation. A company can build their own search engine using Yahoo’s underlying technology and differentiate via the user experience. Essentially, that’s what Yahoo is planning to do now with Bing as their underlying technology. No more Yahoo index likely means no more BOSS. Yahoo all but concedes as much: “We can tell you that BOSS will remain live for the time being.” What does that mean for companies like hakia, OneRiot, Daylife, and Cluuz? And for that matter, all of the developers using BOSS who are now filling the Yahoo BOSS message boards with questions?

On the Yahoo developer blog, Yahoo commented that “For SearchMonkey and BOSS, we currently do not have anything concrete to tell you. Clearly, we’ll need to work with Microsoft to determine what makes the most sense for you and for us.” If BOSS’s future is left up to Microsoft, I have no doubt that future will involve migrating BOSS users to the Bing search API. In order to continue to support BOSS, Microsoft would have to completely recreate it to work with the Bing search infrastructure. Why would they do that when they can increase the audience of a product they already have? It’s possible they’ll add some of the unique BOSS features their search API (such as unlimited queries, ability to mash up the data with other sources, and ability to tweak ranking signals), but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The Yahoo BOSS team is just as in the dark as the developers wanting answers. From a message board post: “What specifically does it mean for BOSS? Honestly the team is still absorbing the implications and we just don’t know.”.

BOSS users could switch to Google’s Custom Search API, but it is more restrictive than Microsoft’s offering, and isn’t really well-suited as the foundation of a search engines or other commercial company. Several other companies offer web indices, such as CommonCrawl and Alexa, so perhaps they or a new company will take advantage Boss’s imminent demise and offer matching features.

Any Yahoo offerings that don’t rely on an underlying index, such as the Yahoo User Interface library are likely going to remain. Yahoo confirmed this in their blog post:

“We’ve also received questions about the future of Yahoo!’s other developer offerings, such as YUI, YQL , and Pipes. We wanted to let you know that today’s news does not affect these products. None of our other non-search developer products are affected.” [Emphasis mine.]

However, look for any search index-based offerings (such as the Maps API and Local API) to be deprecated in favor of the Bing equivalents once the deal goes through.

Search Engine Optimizers and Site Owners

What about those who are concerned with getting customer acquisitions through organic search? How will this change impact them? From a traffic perspective, take a look at how well you’re indexed and ranked in Bing. That’s how well you’ll be indexed and ranked in Yahoo. What do your titles and descriptions look like in the results in Bing? That’s how things will generally look in Yahoo. This might not be a bad thing for site owners, as over the last year, Yahoo’s search quality seems to have been declining to the point that I’ve been wondering if their engineering team had already begun to be phased out or least was spending a lot of time at the bar mourning the likely phase out.

Just as you don’t need to optimize separately for AOL since they use Google’s index, you won’t need to optimize for Yahoo since they’ll use Bing’s index. The exception to this may be in how Yahoo displays results. We’ll have to wait and see exactly what this means, but Bing has been trying to differentiate in display and it supposedly, Yahoo will continue to do that as well. This may mean, for instance:

  • SearchMonkey will continue to be important as a way to stand out in the results.
  • Hmm. I can’t really think of anything else.

My guess is that the robots-nocontent tag will no longer be supported, since Bing’s infrastructure doesn’t support it. The search engines have already come together to standardize their support of robots.txt and XML Sitemaps, so site owners shouldn’t worry about changing anything with those.

The bigger issue many SEOs are concerned about is Site Explorer. Site Explorer is one of the more reliable tools for competitive backlink research. You can see a substantial list of links to any site, generally ordered according to value. That’s useful stuff! Both Google and Bing Webmaster Tools provide backlink data, but only for your own sites. Yahoo will be unable to maintain Site Explorer without a search index of their own. Will Bing take it over? Well, it could add the feature to its Webmaster Tools, but Microsoft has historically been moving the other direction. They removed the ability to query their index for link data with the link: operator in 2007 and have never brought it back for competitive research.

Microsoft likely won’t be motivated to add a feature that they specifically chose to remove. And it’s not trivial to build the code to query for competitive links and store the data. Believe me, I know. I managed the process for adding non-competitive backlink data to Google Webmaster Tools. As with the potential end to BOSS, the potential end to Site Explorer opens up new opportunities for third-parties. In fact, the same companies who build a web index could provide competitive link data. Currently, SEOmoz provides Linkscape, which offers some similar features. (Speaking of SEOmoz, Rand Fishkin posted yesterday about the SEO impact of this deal.) Majestic SEO and Exalead provides link data as well.

More generally, will Microsoft step up its efforts with webmaster relationships? Yahoo used to have a fairly significant presence in the community. In addition to Site Explorer, they were a constant at conferences and participated in online discussions. That participation has declined lately, coinciding with the decline in search quality. Microsoft seemed to be rallying with its webmaster relationships with the launch of the Webmaster Center in November 2007. But Microsoft hasn’t updated the Webmaster Center with new features since August 2008. (A minor release in November didn’t add new features).

Microsoft didn’t respond to my questions about their current and future resource investment in this area. They did recently release a rudimentary SEO Toolkit, although it requires Windows Vista and IIS 7.0 to run.

And what about paid inclusion? Yahoo has long offered Search Submit Pro, which essentially enables sites to pay to be included in the organic listings. Microsoft doesn’t offer a similar product and while it’s certainly possible that Microsoft will add this product to their offerings, paid inclusion is quite a substantial shift in overall approach to organic search. It’s less about the ability to implement the technology and more about belief around what constitutes an “organic” index. Danny Sullivan asked about paid inclusion at the announcement press conference. Carol Bartz, Yahoo CEO replied, ” Paid inclusion, we’ll decide on that later.” But it would be difficult for Yahoo to continue the program on its own, as Yahoo will no longer have control over what pages are included in the search index.

In the end, it’s about the traffic

The big question is will this partnership significantly change market share percentages? Depending on whose numbers you use, Google has either 65% or 74% share in the US (more in some European countries). That puts the combined Yahoo/Microsoft share at 28% or 25.5%. That’s substantial traffic, sure, and worth paying attention to. But what will the share look like in three years once the deal is done and we barely remember Yahoo ever had its own index? My guess is pretty similar to how it looks now. Except Google will probably have slightly higher share. I just don’t see anything game changing here that will cause a mass exodus from the status quo. But I’ve been wrong before. What I do know is that site owners who have ignored how their sites were doing in Bing until now do to low traffic numbers will likely start paying a lot more attention.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yahoo-Microsoft Deal a Win for Advertisers

Posted by Kevin Newcomb on 29 July 2009

Many search advertisers will rejoice at today's news that the long-anticipated Microsoft-Yahoo search deal is done. The two sides reached a 10-year agreement that has Microsoft becoming the back-end provider for Yahoo Search and Search Advertising, and Yahoo selling search ads for both Yahoo and Microsoft. Self-serve ads will be done via Microsoft's AdCenter platform.

Microsoft's adCenter platform is widely considered superior to Yahoo's Panama, and with enough volume could offer a viable alternative to Google AdWords. Not a Google-killer, mind you, but a credible place to spend search advertising budget in addition to Google.

Under the agreement, Microsoft's Bing will be the exclusive algorithmic search and paid search platform for Yahoo sites. Presentation of search on the Yahoo sites will continue to be branded and controlled by Yahoo, with a "Powered by Bing" notation at the bottom of search results.

Yahoo will continue to use its technology and data in other areas of its business, such as enhancing display advertising technology. Microsoft will gain an exclusive license to Yahoo's search technology, and will be able to incorporate what it likes into Bing. Display advertising for each company will remain separate.

"This deal is about scale," Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said on a joint Yahoo-Microsoft conference call this morning. "Together, we can offer a real, viable option for users and advertisers." Bartz suggested the increased volume will create a better marketplace for advertisers, as well as better deals for publisher partners.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer echoed that idea, adding that the increased volume of searches and ads being served by Microsoft would greatly accelerate the speed of learning from the marketplace, allowing Microsoft to improve its Bing algorithm and adCenter platform faster than it could on its own.

Many search marketers agree that Microsoft's technology combined with Yahoo's traffic will make this a good deal for advertisers.

"While Yahoo has always had decent traffic volume, their PPC tools have been sub-par. A clunky interface combined with the lack of an offline editor have resulted in a huge barrier to entry for those wanting to do PPC with Yahoo," said Melissa Mackey, online marketing manager at Fluency Media. "On the other hand, Microsoft's PPC tools are extremely robust – more so than even Google's in many ways. However, the lack of traffic volume has historically meant that relatively few advertisers choose to bother with adCenter."

Advertisers would be less happy about the deal if it were Yahoo's technology powering the combined ad marketplace, she said. Besides the technology, the community relations of Microsoft's team has been superior, according to Mackey.

Brad Geddes, founder of bg Theory, agrees: "If Microsoft had to choose between the Yahoo Search Marketing platform and team or the adCenter platform, it's a good thing they chose adCenter," Geddes said. "The issue with adCenter was always volume. It was a great platform, but had so little volume, it was often not worth the time to manage. With the combined search share Microsoft will now command, I have very high hopes for that the adCenter platform and its community will be able to accomplish. If they continue to embrace advertisers like they have, they could be a formidable force and increase advertiser adoption."

But that doesn't mean Google should be scared. While the deal definitely creates more of a threat to Google, creating a bigger #2 search engine, The gap between them will still be fairly large. Will a combined Yahoo-Microsoft be able to take share away from Google? That remains to be seen. So far, Bing has been taking share from Yahoo and other smaller search engines.

Besides that, the deal is still a long way from closing. Microsoft and Yahoo will begin submitting it to regulators in the U.S. and Europe as early as next week, but that process is likely to go on for the rest of 2009, at the very least. Once approved, the transition to Bing will take place over the next 3 to 6 months globally, and the transition from Panama to adCenter will take up to 12 months.

All told, the combined Microsoft-Yahoo search engine is likely 2 years away. That's a long time for things to go wrong, or for Google to step up its game and come out with something to make this deal irrelevant.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Invest Time in Twitter Now for Long-Term Rewards

Posted by Eric Enge on 28 July 2009

There are so many different ways to engage in link building for your site. Social media networks, such as Twitter, are one of the latest vehicles for building links.

But in the long term, Twitter represents much more than just a way to build links. It's a way to establish yourself as an expert in your field, potentially drive significant traffic, and gain "social media authority," which may one day soon factor into the ranking algorithms of Google and other search engines.

Many people have written about what a great opportunity Twitter represents for publishers, and they're right. But it isn't a free ride, and requires serious effort to pull off.

The Opportunity

One of the great things about today's Internet environment is that entrepreneurs launch new types of Web properties all the time. These ventures fail most of the time.

But every once in a while, something new comes along that really begins to take off. Twitter is an example of something that appears to be on that course, although a viable financial model hasn't yet emerged for the site.

Early adopters of these newborn Web properties have a tremendous opportunity. Since they aren't well established, they have a smaller audience, and their long-term viability isn't certain, there's less competition for attention. You can leverage this to establish yourself as a topic-matter expert within this new environment.

Twitter is an environment that's growing in size and scope. New subject-matter experts are already emerging. These people use Twitter to post high-quality content, and are building a large number of followers.

If Twitter develops a stable financial model, which it needs for long-term viability, these people will be handsomely rewarded for the investment of time they've put into Twitter.

Consider the way that blogosphere emerged and evolved. Sites like TechCrunch and Mashable have emerged as major media properties.

The founders of these companies made an investment in blogging before it became mainstream. If they had instead attempted to make a similar investment in launching a new TV network or filming a new movie, their chances of success would've been much smaller. In short, the opportunity is to become a star, or a leader if you prefer, in a new medium.

Finding the ROI

New frontiers create new opportunities, but what's the nature of the opportunity? Some argue that you can get lots of traffic from Twitter. For the most part, these articles talk about getting hundreds of visitors per day to your site from Twitter.

For sites that get tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of visitors per day, that just doesn't move the needle. So where is the ROI? Being a recognized subject-matter expert might be good for your ego, but you want it to be good for your income too.

One way to do this is to consciously focus on following major influencers from other media who are on Twitter, developing relationships with them, and getting them interested in following you based on your interactions. If they recognize you as a leader, you are, in fact, a leader.

In terms of short-term gain, this can lead to links from outside of Twitter (links within Twitter are nofollowed). Those links can drive a handsome return on the time you invested.

Links are still the short-term payout. Will there come a time where "social media mentions" are a factor in search engine rankings? Or will Twitter ever be able to send thousands or tens of thousands of visitors per day to Web sites?

Probably, but for most people it isn't here yet. But links are available now.

Focus on building a topic-matter-specific Twitter account, publish quality content, network with influencers, and you'll get links. If you do this well, and have a bit of luck, some of them may be from highly trusted and authoritative sources. In addition, you'll put yourself in a position where your direct Twitter traffic can grow as Twitter moves towards the mainstream.

Publishing this type of quality content in sufficient volume is hard work. You can't dip your toe in the water, you need to dive in, and you need to be patient because the process takes time. Focus your goals on the right objectives and your chances of success go up significantly.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

International Social Media Strategy: One Size Does Not Fit All

Posted by Erik Qualman on 27 July 2009

Remember when the search world was less defined than it is now? Your business was figuring out strategies for Lycos, Looksmart, Ask,, Baidu, Excite, Inktomi, Dogpile, Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. Today, most companies focus on Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Baidu.

While the social media space is becoming more defined every day, it's still the Wild West; especially when you look to take your strategy international.

Don't fear these overwhelming amounts of international options. Embrace the opportunity, because it may not last long. Consolidation could be just around the corner.

However, we should still have a few years to "play." Many search experts will tell you that it was much more "fun" during the Wild West days because there were bigger payoffs.

Now, with everyone using similar PPC strategies on primarily three search engines -- with Google accounting for 70 percent -- there's less opportunity for that huge win. However, there are still huge wins to be made in social media.

This is particularly true when you take your social media strategy international. Just like search, social media is Silicon Valley-centric.

The U.S. and Canada are great areas to look at to see what is and isn't working and apply appropriately. While it's a good practice to look at the more progressive countries, be careful, as it's not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Vincenzo Cosenza took data from Google Trends and Alexa to compile a map of the largest social networks by country. Facebook dominates in most countries, and is growing, but social network Qzone, or QQ, still dominates in China. Some reports even indicated that QQ has more activity than Facebook.

Facebook was recently banned in China, so the folks in Palo Alto, California, are trying to determine the best strategy for playing in this giant market. Still, the company views the Chinese market as an opportunity.

So if, just like in the early search days, you roll up your sleeves and attack, you could win big. Stranger things have happened.

On the search side, Baidu still owns more than 70 percent of the search market, according to iResearch Consulting. In social media, Cosenza's map shows that Orkut is still strong in Brazil and India. Friendster has faded in all but the Philippines, and MySpace is trailing in all but Guam.

Consolidation is happening, and will continue to happen, in the social media space. Until then, where do you place your bets internationally?

If you don't have people on the ground in those markets, then talk with people who do. Many in the U.S. market could tell two to three years ago that the better money was on Facebook. This was done by simply looking at the technology limitations of MySpace at the time and, more importantly, listening to what the younger generations were saying and also doing (i.e., getting Facebook accounts).

Remember, this is a people-driven economy. The same can be done in other markets.

A consultant friend in India was recently looking for help in building out some items on Orkut. She was adamant that it had to be on Orkut. However, other friends in India told me they had switched to Facebook.

I asked her what social networks she used. She said she had an Orkut account, but primarily used Facebook. When pressed for why, she said it had better functionality and her friends were also on it. She then sent me a smile emoticon on Skype as she realized that Facebook may be the better play to test out right now.

This may fail, but that's OK. It was actually easier for her to try and build out and test a Facebook application, as her programmers knew how to do this. After weighing several factors, she realized her best first step was on Facebook.

She may still do something on Orkut shortly, or the market may have evolved further as well. But by keeping her investments light, she can remain flexible and not be paralyzed by "making the right choice."

I ran into something similar in Thailand, when I spoke with a woman who was on Facebook at the concierge desk of a hotel. At the time, Hi5 was the top network there. She indicated she used Hi5 but liked the functionality of Facebook a little better.

Keep in mind, Facebook wasn't translated into Thai at this point! Imagine that, she was putting extra effort in to work around the fact she didn't speak English. So if you don't have people in the markets it's imperative that you either visit or if that's too expensive, have at least some eyes and ears there for you.

Another good place to inquire is with the networks themselves. If you ask enough Facebook reps, you can determine that their growth markets in Europe are Spain and Germany.

The translation issue can be tricky as well, but who knows, maybe you can take a page from Facebook. They set up a Wiki to allow their users to translate the site from English to Spanish -- two weeks later it was done! Buena Suerta!


Monday, July 27, 2009

PPC Bid Management 101

Posted by Ron Jones on 13 July 2009

Those of you who are managing larger PPC campaigns might be looking for an automated solution to help manage the bid process. Especially those of you in companies with large catalogs, numerous demographic and geo targets might need a bid management tool. At some point it becomes too difficult to manage all of the associated complexities.

A bid management tool allows you to manage PPC campaigns across multiple search engines and provides central source for tracking and analytics. This article will look at the tools that are available to help you with this and discuss some best practices for managing your bids.

Should You Use a Bid Management System?

There is a healthy debate out there on whether or not bid management tools are really effective. It comes down to the complexity of your campaigns and whether or not using a bid management tool will help you save time and money. Many times the cost, implementation and complexity of the campaign is too high to justify, given the results.

Basically you need to account for the time and cost associated with managing your campaign, and compare how the various tools available will affect either of those. In most cases, if you feel stretched you should give it a shot. Most tool vendors offer a trial, so you can get a feel for its effectiveness before you buy.

Bid Management Tools Won't Do it All

Bid management can be a useful tool, but it is important to understand that in today's advertising environment, you need to do much more in addition to what the bid management tool can do. For instance, ad copy and landing page testing and tuning will not benefit from a bid management tool. You need to have other processes in place to manage these.

On the other hand, using a bid management tool to manage your long-tail keywords can pay large dividends. For many companies, there is a fair amount of money that is made going after the long-tail keywords. Furthermore, long-tail keywords are less competitive than the major ones, but do require you to implement huge numbers of keywords.

Lets now take a look at some of the tools that are available on the market today. Some of these tools are priced in the $200 - $500 range and others go way beyond that, depending on features.

Google Conversion Optimizer

If you're looking for a tool to help you manage your bids and you are only using Google, then you might want to consider the Google Conversion Optimizer. As with most of Google's tools, it's free if you are using AdWords. However, you need to achieve 30 conversions in the past 30 days to use it.

PPC BidMax

Formerly Dynamic Bid Maximizer, PPC BidMax is a bid management tool designed to help you manage campaigns with the big 3 search engines – Google, Yahoo and Bing.


Another tool for managing your bids with all of the major search engines within one interface is KeywordMax. In addition to its bid management tools, KeywordMax also offer a host of other PPC tools like keyword generation tools.


Omniture has established a great reputation as an SEM tool vendor. They too have bid management tools, as well as a host of others that will help you manage your PPC campaigns. Although they may be a bit pricey, the suite of tools they offer will help you with many other aspects of your campaigns.

I don't have enough space to include them all but here are a few more you might take the time to research: Clickable, Marin Software, SearchForce, Kenshoo, and Acquisio. I have not had a chance to use all of these tools personally, so feel free to share your experiences with any that you have used. Next week I will cover best practices for managing your bids.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Twitter 101: Twitter’s First Major Outreach To Business Users

Posted by From traditional media to blogs big and small, there are countless stories in circulation about how businesses are using Twitter to find customers and serve existing ones. Some businesses have figured out how to use Twitter Search and other similar tools to hear what customers are saying and make connections with local prospects. But Twitter itself has been relatively quiet about all this, letting business owners and marketers find their own way when positioning Twitter as a business platform.

Until now.

Twitter has launched its first major outreach to business users: Twitter 101 for Business: A Special Guide.


Twitter 101 is tremendously well-done. There’s a Getting Started guide with step-by-step instructions to create an account; Best Practices; case studies of 10 companies, ranging from local coffee and pizza shops to huge brands like Dell and Pepsi; and even an invite for business owners to share their own tips and case studies. It introduces important terms like retweets and hashtags, and very interestingly it makes several pushes for businesses to use Twitter search and saved searches to follow conversations about companies, products, and so forth. The guide not only explains how businesses can use Twitter, but also makes the case for why they should.

“You don’t have to run a bike shop or a relatively small company to get good stuff out of Twitter. Businesses of all kinds, including major brands, increasingly find that listening and engaging on the service lead to happier customers, passionate advocates, key product improvements and, in many cases, more sales.”

The bigger picture here, of course, is that Twitter is still looking for revenue streams. Business outreach, particularly in terms of explaining what Twitter is and can become, is part of that process. Twitter is very simple … but deceptively so. When Danny Sullivan interviewed Twitter co-founder Biz Stone earlier this year, Stone shared his experiences in showing Twitter to business owners:

“Then you show them search. ‘What do you want to know is going on? What’s your business? What do you do?’ We show them that, and they say, ‘Whoa, this is crazy. Wait, I disagree with this guy. How do I talk to him?’,” he explained. “We need to reposition the product in a way that’s more relevant to people.”

This Twitter 101 guide, as Stone says on the Twitter blog, is a first step in that direction.

The second step may come as soon as next week. Stone told AllThingsD today that Twitter will launch a new home page with a search box, Twitter trends, and information about how to use Twitter.

If interested, there’s discussion here on Techmeme about the Twitter 101 guide, and Techmeme discussion here about the new home page.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Don't Promote Your Website, Use Your Website to Promote YOU

Posted by Stoney deGeyter on 23 July 2009

In today's business environment, a website is absolutely necessary. It provides an avenue for people to find you and find out more about you as they sit in the comfort of their homes, while waiting in line at the grocery store, sit on the commuter train, or wherever. Unfortunately too many business take the wrong approach to how they build and market their websites.

Most companies stop their website development once the site is developed, and then move into marketing mode. The website becomes another product they have to market, rather than building a website that is the marketing vehicle for their products and services. We talk about website promotion quite a bit, which we understand is the process of getting the site visibility on the search engines. But getting people to the website is not the end goal.

The website is just another something the business must have in order to do business, but it never fully succeeds in being a tool that works for them to generate business.

Online marketing is different from off-line marketing, primarily in that you have to promote the very tool you use as a promotion for your business. With radio and TV you don't have to go out of your way to get people to listen. You run the ads and people do or don't. Websites must first be optimized in order to help improve traffic and visibility before they can be used as a business generating tool.

No wonder businesses pour thousands of dollars into traditional forms of marketing (phone book, magazines, radio, etc.,) which often produces significantly less return on the investment dollar. When it comes to properly planning and executing the development and promotion of their website, well, it's a bit more complicated.

Make Your Website Promote YOU.

With some exceptions, every website has its own unique characteristics. When building your site there really is no one-size-fits-all pattern to follow. Your site should be built to fulfill your informational and sales needs, while being effective for your target audience. With that said, there are specific components that almost every website needs in order to be an effective marketing tool.

Home Page

The home page is the online "face" of your company. It may not be the entry door for every visitor, but it is your front door and you need to make sure that you have it right. The home page should provide an all-encompassing view of what you do or offer while helping to establish trust with the new and repeat visitor.

To be effective, your home page must accomplish several things:

Establish your brand: Your home page sets the tone of the visitor's expectation. Everything from brand identity to confirmation that you can provide what they need must be established here.

Display your offerings: Visitors need to be provided a quick overview of the products, services and information they can expect to find as they dig deeper into the site.

Generate interest: The home page must do more than just provide information of what you offer; it must generate interest in those offerings. It must create a desire within your visitors to click further into the site to find out more and see how they will be benefited by your products or services.

Convey trust: Your home page can often be the first impression you give your visitors, therefore it must be able to establish an element of trust. If you come across as a slick used-car salesman, or a less-than-professional hobby site, your visitors will bolt.

About Us Page

Why do visitors go to the About Us page? Its a good question that is often ignored when web developers fill the content of these pages. Too many sites simply do not provide enough--or the right--information on this page.

The About Us page should be used to provide reassuring company information such as how long you've been in business, organizations you belongs to (chamber of commerce, BBB, etc.,) mission statement, bios of the executive staff. The information you provide on the About Us page is designed to help your visitors feel comfortable doing business with your business.

Contact Us Page

Even if you have your phone number, email address, fax number and snail mail address on every page of your website, it's still important to have a full page dedicated to this exact same information. It may seem odd, but many people looking for your contact info will ignore the information on whatever page they are viewing, looking instead for the link that reads "Contact Us."

Your Contact Us page should provide several different ways of contacting you including email, phone, and a web form. You should also include a physical address and possibly even a map. This is also a good place to display hours of operation.

Product & Service Pages

If you sell a product or a service you need pages dedicated to providing details about what you offer. Many small sites can put all their product information on the home page. This is great, but you still need to provide a page with additional details. If you have more than one product, then it's likely you need a page for each and every product or service you sell.

Product pages need to provide your visitors with everything they need to know to make an informed purchase decision. Price, style, expectations, specifications, size, benefits are all required information, depending on what you're selling. Your product page can never have too much information, provided it's laid out in a user friendly format that sells the product.

Site Navigation

Construction of your site navigation can make or break your website's performance. Shoddy and haphazard navigation schemes can easily confuse visitors causing them to make that dreaded click out of your site and onto a competitor. A properly constructed navigation can help visitors easily move from page to page finding everything that they are looking for quickly and easily.

Be consistent: Don't confuse your visitors by changing how the navigation looks or by moving its on-page location to a different area. Be consistent in it's look and placement. There are many different forms of navigational elements: main menus, sub-menus, breadcrumbs, etc. All of them should work together to create a consistent and recognizable flow as the visitor navigates through the site.

Be obvious: Make sure it is impossible for your visitors to get lost on your website. You want them to know where they are at all times and how to navigate back to the current and other main sections. Make good use of breadcrumb links as this provides your visitors a great visual indicator as well as easy navigation.

Be helpful: Large websites with many pages or products can easily create a navigational nightmare. It is essential that visitors don't have to "hunt" for what they want. This can be accomplished by providing clear section headings in your main navigation. You can also assist the visitors by including a site map that can be easily accessed and a properly function site search box.

Putting the Pieces Together

A website is far more than the sum of its parts. While all the components mentioned above are necessary to have a working site, when implemented properly each component compliments the others.

A website, like any ad made for radio, TV or newspaper, it must effectively do the job it was built for: selling. Building a website is necessary for online success, but you have to go beyond the build. Websites must be promoted effectively in order to get the visitors you need, but once there the site must then be able to do its job selling. Too often we promote the site but fail to get the site to promote the products and services we want people to buy. Before you promote your site, make sure your site promotes you.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Link Marketing Opportunities in Your Backyard

Posted by Justilien Gaspard on Jul 23, 2009

You may have spent a lot of time looking far and wide for links to your Web site. But are you overlooking opportunities in your home town? Local business groups, such as a Chamber of Commerce or regional business council, can offer some great opportunities for links to your Web site. (They also present some opportunities to promote your brand locally and network with other local businesses, but that's a topic for another time.) Today, we'll explore the process of finding these link opportunities on local business groups' Web sites.

Local Business Organization

First, put together a list of all local business organization in your area -- even the very small ones. Then spend some time on each of their sites to find the low-hanging fruit, which is usually the member directory. Often, those aren't direct links.

That's when most people stop their search because the obvious link opportunities aren't present. In the process, they fail to notice other valuable links that could elevate your site into the top 10 from the 50s. It only takes a few high-quality links to make a difference.

Back to the site -- did you check their pages related to your industry? Do a simple Google search, using this code for your chamber's site: ( keyword). Replace "" with the actual URL of their site, and "keyword" with broad-based terms related to your industry, such as medical, auto, attorney, etc. You may find pages that mention members in specific industries, or a place where companies in each vertical can display special offers.

Another approach is to look to see if they give direct links when they profile a company in their news section. Or find out if they need sponsors for upcoming events. Does the organization do any kind of community outreach that would draw media attention?

Of course, acquiring these types of links requires more work than simply filling out a form. They may require several e-mails, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings. Yet the effort is well worth it, in order to obtain top rankings.

Let's say you get them to profile your company in their news section. With a small suggestion, you can get a deep link within the content to one of your main product pages with the keywords as anchor text, as well as a link to your home page.

Upgrade those Links

While many would be happy with the above links, why not upgrade them? That's accomplished by getting other sites to link to your new profile page. Every time another site links to your company's profile, it increases the value of those links to your site.

A link obtained from a page with external links to that page is more powerful. Many in the industry search out those existing pages with a high number of external links.

Why not reverse engineer the process? Get the links first, then get sites to link to that page. This is especially useful because sites can be hesitant to link to an e-commerce site. It's more likely that they'll link to a trusted page on a site, such as a Chamber of Commerce.

Now promote the company profile by all means available to build those links. This includes on your own site, press releases, social media, blogs, and personal contacts. It's time to call in some favors. Don't forget your hometown free newspaper, bloggers, and media companies.

Instead of overlooking link marketing opportunities, start exploring sites deeper. Look for more than just the easy links, which often have less value, and go after those less accessible links. The results could just be top rankings in the near future for your company.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

What about the Risk of Social Media?

Posted by Mike Moran on 22 July 2009

Recently, a commenter on this blog asked a question that I often hear, "What do you say to corporate people worried about security risks of social media within a company?" It's one of my favorite questions, because it really exposes the way we look at risk, which is all-too-human and, simultaneously, dumb.

I like to tell people that social media does not involve a risk. It's not a risk that someone will do something dumb someday. Actually, it is a certainty. If you allow employees to use social media, someone at some time will do something mind-numbingly idiotic.

It might be, as the questioner asks, a security breach. Someone decides that a trade secret would be just the thing to spice of their next tweet. Or it might be something else--making fun of your client, or sexually harassing someone, or telling a politically incorrect joke.

And, in fact, all of these things have been done on social media, and more. The problem, however, isn't social media. It's us. If we don't have the self-control to avoid that kind of behavior, then it will come out in social media or any other place that we operate.

The reason we see social media, or anything new, as risky is as fundamental as human nature. Studies tell us that we always are more comfortable with the status quo than with change, which has probably served mankind well throughout our history.

But risk doesn't disappear just because we are comfortable and accustomed to something. Think about financial risk. Many people were once comfortable with bank savings accounts because their money was growing, but they were running a huge risk that inflation would eat alive their purchasing power. Unfortunately, the risk of changing the investment loomed larger than the risk of staying the course, which seemed safe.

Social media, and just about anything new, is the same. You always have to balance the risk of doing it against the risk of not doing it.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

“Let’s Go” of the Social Web: The New Community Rules

Posted by Lee Odden on 21 July 2009

How to be successful on the social web? Be useful and helpful to others. Few people epitomize this principle better than veteran internet marketer, Tamar Weinberg.

I remember some of my first interactions with Tamar years ago, involving her making sure I had all my questions answered about something I posted on IM. Tamar has blogged about search and social media marketing at 10e20, Search Engine Roundtable, Mashable and many other high profile web sites. A prolific and extremely hard working blogger, social media marketer and techie at heart, Tamar is also a “super user” of the social web. That firsthand knowledge of how to listen, engage and promote is clearly evident in her new book, The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web“, published by O’Reilly.

When I was in college studying abroad, I found my “Let’s Go Europe” guide to be priceless for getting a foundation of information about the cities and cultures I would be visiting. With that perspective, The New Community Rules is a great “Let’s Go Social Web” guide for companies and individuals seeking to better understand the various aspects of social media, sites, tools, and rules of engagement.

Tamar lays the groundwork in the first few chapters with an introduction to social media marketing, listening, reputation management, participation, objectives and strategy. No book on social media marketing would be complete without a nod to Cluetrain and Tamar does a great job explaining the “markets are conversations” principle.

Using numerous examples, the rest of the book emphasizes specific social media including blogs, microblogging (Twitter), social networks, consumer generated media sites, social news, social bookmarking and shared media sites (images, video, podcasts). The final chapter wraps things up with practical advice on putting it all together with process/workflow and thinking outside the social media box.

I think what readers will find expecially useful is the straightforward and example rich approach Tamar takes in explaining how companies and individuals can succeed towards marketing goals through thoughtful participation.

Getting advice from someone who has “been there, done that’ can save a substantial amount of resources, money and shorten the time to get up to speed. Knowing both the explicit rules of engagement as well as the unwritten social rules, helps marketers become more useful and productive with the social media marketing efforts and save themselves from what could be pretty embarrasing moments.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Web Community Building: Making It Thrive

Posted by Adam Singer on Jul 20th, 2009

Last week we discussed some of the reasons subscribers are vital for an online marketing growth strategy. Those reasons included:
  • The ~11% of web users who know to use RSS include the users savvy enough to be web publishers
  • You’ll become a go-to area to link to
  • Subscribers are your sneezers
  • A base of well-connected fans could very well be the cornerstone of your social media marketing strategy
  • Community is what makes sites worth visiting
  • Subscribers will motivate you to create better content
  • A consolidated network presence is the most effective
  • Social proofing benefits
  • Subscribers and a fan base make you less reliant on push PR

Now that we have gone through the aspects of why subscribers are vital to your brand’s digital growth, let’s get into how exactly you can foster this type of thriving community.

Build networking into the content of your site

It’s all about content, but you need to get people to notice it too. Merely publishing is not enough, make sure that in some way your content functions to connect with others. Work it artfully into the system and it can be an almost invisible part of the process. If everything you published were to in some way connect with externalities interested in sharing it your site will experience growth.

Multiple subscription call to actions

This sounds obvious except for the fact that it is so frequently missed. If the goal is community building there should exist multiple hooks to get visitors to join in addition to great content. Onlookers are fine but don’t necessarily get you to the end goal of a thriving community – conversion is key. Unmissable content is of course the real pull for people to opt in to your messages, but it should be combined with clear subscription CTAs. Utilize both areas above and below the fold. We’ve seen data from bloggers seeing twice as many subscriber conversions by applying this.

Be conscious of the law of attraction

The essence of the law of attraction is that people’s thoughts (both conscious and unconscious) dictate the reality of their lives. Let’s update this for web publishing to say that the content you publish (and even link to) dictates the community you will build. Publish snarky content and you will attract a snarky audience. Publish educational content and you will build up an group of people interested in learning. Publish content specific and uniquely useful to an industry and in time you will permeate that industry. If you follow this carefully, as few as 10 people could spark an unstoppable wave of growth. Like minded people are exceedingly well connected online, making this law extra potent.

Resist the urge to go off-topic

Thriving niche communities exist for a reason, people come there expecting a certain type of content. When that expectation is met, the relationship is reinforced. To encourage an active following with the type of subscribers discussed previously you need to consistently meet that expectation.

Study the existing communities

What’s so different about what you’re doing vs. the rest of the world? Find that differentiation point and focus on it. To ensure the differentiation point is something that matters to people within that niche, simply study the existing communities. The comments, discussions and user responses will provide you great clues into what will resonate with the group. Deliver on the topics that resonate most or even go between the lines and focus on more specific, detailed issues than the current community leaders delve into. Create something existing groups can’t ignore and your web community will achieve rapidfire growth.

Position yourself as an ally to other influencers

Ideally you want the current group of influential community leaders to point their own following at what you’re doing. This is most likely to happen when they don’t consider your content as a replacement for their own, rather they see it as complementary. If others sense you are competition or a threat in some manner you probably won’t get endorsements from them. The way around this is to publicly align yourself as an ally of the people you want to share your material. An easy first step to get on their radar is to start sharing their material, but there are even more subtle and effective ways to do this if you get creative.

Create frequent opportunities to connect your community members to each other

When you are not just forging relationships with your readers but they start to form relationships with each other, your community is reaching a mature level. As a natural part of your growth strategy you should be creating opportunities at regular intervals to connect your site visitors with each other. Web communities encourage this naturally by design, but as a leader you should also take the time to actively encourage connections in all directions, not just top down.

Be accessible as a leader

Several of the most popular blogs and web communities are lead by people who are ultra-accessible. This is no coincidence, we follow the ideas of those we have connected with personally closer than those who we only know their name and reputation. Additionally, this allows for a deeper layer of trust to be built and those valuable, lasting relationships to be forged.


The common ingredient of thriving web communities is of course content. Great content then spawns community which in turn creates more interest in the content. It’s an organic process when done properly, but as marketers it is important to be cognizant of the factors at play in order to provide proper consulting to those seeking to build thriving web communities. The best way to learn is to build your own and consider it your sandbox to experiment in. As it evolves, pay attention to the growth factors and social interactions at play at all levels of the development process.


Monday, July 20, 2009

10 Steps to Advanced Keyword Research

Posted by randfish on July 19th, 2009

Some keyword research is surface-level, fire and forget type stuff. If you just need to see relative volume levels, then a basic keyword research tool is all you need. If, however, you want to really dive deep and get the full skinny on your keywords, I'd recommend having each of these data points.

#1 - Relative Search Volume from 3 Sources

There are three sources on the web that I've found to work best for comparative numbers research. These are:

  1. Google Adwords: Keyword Tool - enter any term or phrase and get back data about both the average search volume and the volume from the previous month.
  2. MSN AdCenter: Research Keywords Tool - you need to be logged in to use this, but the data is solid and shows actual counts.
  3. Wordtracker: Keyword Tool - although the numbers Wordtracker shows are frequently less accurate than the two above, they are reasonably decent for estimating comparative search volume. Unfortunately, due to the declining share of Wordtracker's data sources (the Infospace owned search engines - Metacrawler, Dogpile, DoGreatGood, etc.), niche and long tail term volume estimates can be way off.

Here's why I don't use Yahoo!:

Yahoo!'s Keyword Volume Estimates

From there, rather than build a spreadsheet just showing raw numbers, I like to work in comparative sizes (the real numbers rarely prove accurate anyway). Thus, rather than having a graph of data like this:

Keyword Search Query Volume

I can have one like this:

Relative Keyword Demand

Note how, in this view, I'm showing the relative volume percentage of the demand for keyword "SEO" made up by "seo services" and "seo tools." This graph tells me that while Google thinks "seo tools" and "seo services" are tiny fractions of the volume that comes in for the broad term, "SEO," Microsoft & Wordtracker both say these phrases make up a more substantive percentage. Since keyword targeting is really about choosing one keyword over another and much less about trying to estimate exact traffic, the latter system makes much more sense to me.

#2 - Temporal Fluctuations

When are your queries in highest demand? Knowing the answer can help you predict when competition may ramp up and additional SEO efforts are needed as well as provide insight into your market overall (if demand has been dropping steadily over the last few years, you might want to target some different terms, or even shift product focus). Two sources of data are solid on this front:

Google Trends for Keywords

Google Trends

MSN AdCenter Labs: Keyword Forecast Tool

MSN AdCenter Labs

#3 - Top Ranking Domains

In order to get a full understanding of the competitive landscape, it's essential to know who's ranking for the terms you're targeting. A basic query is a great start, but I like to append those with a bit of extra data, as I've visualized below:

SEO Services SERPs with Data Overlay

Those three are my favorite pieces of link data to append, not because they alone are predictive of rankings, but because the range so perfectly illustrates what's necessary, on both the URL and domain level to be competitive. Nick's been pushing hard to get this functionality automatically included with the SEOmoz Toolbar, so hopefully we can make that happen in the next few months.

#4 - Fresh Web (News, Blogosphere, Tweetosphere) Activity

The fresh web (aka social media sphere) can help to show how often keywords are appearing in content and conversation in blogs, forums, feeds and more. It's particularly valuable for identifying emerging trends which may not yet have search volume (but will if the conversational content acceleration continues). There's a few tools I like on this front:

Facebook Lexicon

Facebook Lexicon Screenshot
There appears to be some correlation between "party tonight" on Friday and "hangover" on Saturday

Twist: See Trends in Twitter

Twist: See Trends in Twitter Screenshot


Blogscape Results for Walter Cronkite vs. Michael Jackson

Google News Trends

Google News Archive Search
I'd love to see some of those 19th century SEO tools!

The real value (and reason for spending time in these sectors) is to:

  • A) Identify patterns or trends indicating a keyword/product/concept is on the rise/fall
  • B) Find content that in the past has attracted large amounts of attention around these keywords (an excellent starting point for viral content development)
  • C) Locate portals on the web or in social communities where your topic may be hot, and opportunities for promotion or links exist

They're not universally valuable for every part of keyword research, and you shouldn't trust the volumes to predict keyword demand (some things get written about more than they get searched), but a good SEO leaves no opportunity un-investigated.

#5 - Vertical Results (and Vertical Opportunities)

It's wise to be aware of where and how your keywords can cross over into vertical search results. The best way to do this currently is, unfortunately, manually. You'll want to:

  1. Search for your target terms at the major search engines
  2. Identify any vertical results that appears in the top 10-20 listings
  3. Employ strategies to reach into the applicable verticals

The most common and highest value are typically:

  • Local
  • Product
  • News
  • Images
  • Blog
  • Video

#6 - Searcher Intent

What are the goals of the individuals searching for your targeted keywords? What phase of the decision process are they in? Answering these questions can give you an excellent idea of the potential ROI from drawing in traffic on a given term/phrase. Many times the highest volume keywords are not bringing in the best traffic.

Some good resources on this front include:

MSN AdCenter Labs' Commercial Intent Detection Tool

Your goal should be to narrow down the potential tasks a visitor who has just performed the query wants to accomplish. This can dramatically boost your site's performance when coupled with delivery of those paths upon arrival.

#7 - Potential Relevance

The best way to determine the relevance between a keyword and the content/service/product you offer is to test. Run a PPC campaign or dig into your analytics and choose only those visitors that have come via the search query. Pull out data like browse rate, time spent on site, conversions, etc.

Page Views / Visit for Keyword "SEO Blog"
The majority of visits who come into SEOmoz for the keyword "SEO Blog" stick around to read at least a couple of pages

Relevance is highly actionable data because it does such a good job predicting which keywords are going to bring valuable traffic. While branded terms often perform highly (and are typically easy to rank well on), longer tail and more specific queries also have this tendency to be more relevant (and, again, are easier to achieve).

#8 - PPC Advertising Data

Even if you're not planning on bidding for keywords through paid search campaigns, it's wise to know what the competition is doing and how much value they're getting from it (and what they're willing to pay). A few good resources for this information include:

MSN AdCenter's Keyword Estimate

AdCenter's PPC Pricing Graph

I really like what AdCenter does with this spiffy graph - showing the cost and estimated clicks in an easy-to-read graphic. Just remember that MSN is the engine with the fewest advertisers, which often means pricing is less aggressive than on Google or Yahoo!

Google AdWords Traffic Estimator

I'm a bit less fond of Google's standard take on the data, but their pricing is the gold standard, as AdWords has the highest number of advertisers and the most traffic by far.

Google AdWords Traffic Estimator Tool Results


A solid tool with a lot of uses, particularly for competitive keyword analysis, SEMRush shows some decent numbers around the average CPC and competition levels for most keywords at the head of the demand curve.

SEMRush Keyword Data

Take the cost-per-click data and competition levels into account when you're considering things like relevance, potential conversion rates and visitor value. Most companies aren't dumb - if they're bidding high dollar values for potential visits, they're converting those visits into dollars and that means you can both learn from them and find strategies to outperform.

#9 - Top Related Queries

Related queries is an easy metric to understand - you want to know what other terms searchers who used these keywords also employed. It's a no-brainer to then add these to your list of potential keyword targets. Many good sources for this data exist:

  • Google shows related searches in both their AdWords Tool and through web search (you'll want to click the "show options" link at the top followed by the "related searches" link in the sidebar)
  • Bing, Microsoft's new engine, shows related searches by default in their web search interface
  • Yahoo! Search has their "also try" list and clicking "more" will give you an interface just below the search box that finds lots of great, relevant keywords
  • The aforementioned SEMRush shows great data on this (though you'll need to sift through as there can be a lot of junk) if you're a paying member
  •'s Search Analytics has good information by query and website, though you'll need to subscribe to their service to get the full value

Get the related queries, dig into the data about them and target those that have enough volume and relevance to help you get increase valuable traffic from SEO.

#10 - Legal Issues

Last, and probably least in most cases, it's wise to do some research into the legalities surrounding the keywords you'd like to target. Using trademarked terms and phrases on your site can cause attorney trouble, and no one likes that. The place to start, at least in the United States, is here - USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System.

Whew... That's a lot of work for keyword research - now you can see why some firms charge hundreds of dollars per hour for this type of deep dive. Put these recommendations to good use, though, and you'll have an impressive set of terms to target - and that can be a serious competitive advantage.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Whiteboard Friday - Market Forces & SEO

Posted by great scott on 17 July 2009

What's the right search strategy for your niche? That's the question we're looking at in this week's Whiteboard Friday. Determining which tactics are going to be most effective for your particular situation is critical for search marketers. PPC, SEO, Social, Viral? Sure they all have their advantages, but depending on the marketplace you're in, some strategies may be much more viable - in both cost and effectiveness - than others.

Not surprisingly, the ease with which you can see good results with a given strategy is inversely proportional to the amount of money and attention being allotted to it. As you'll see in the video, Rand estimates that PPC becomes an extremely difficult tactic to implement effectively in even modestly competitive markets, while Social Media can reap great rewards with little difficulty in highly-competitive sectors. Take a look at this data from the recent Forrester US Interactive Marketing Forecast :

As you can see, PPC controls the lion's share of search dollars, followed in distant second by SEO, with Social bringing up the rear (it's that itty-bitty one down there in green). The degree to which you can be effective in these areas depends a good deal on how big of a fish you can be in the portion of that pond dedicated to your corner of the web.

Does this mean you should ignore any particular tactic? No, it just means you may have to carefully weigh your options, goals, and resources for each campaign to plan your strategy properly.

All areas of online marketing are growing like crazy: Marketing dollars spent on SEO and PPC are projected to double in the next five years (Social will more than quadruple) and make up an ever-larger chunk of business' overall marketing spend. That's great news for our industry as a whole, but it also means increased competition. Get in the habit of considering your strategy in terms of market segment competition now, and you'll be better able to handle (or sidestep) competitive trends in the years to come.

SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday - Market Forces & SEO from Scott Willoughby on Vimeo.

If you'd like more info on Forrester research, you may want to check out Shar VanBoskirk's Blog, she's their online/search guru and writes some great stuff.

UPDATE: I changed the graphic depicting the breakdown of search marketing spend because Seth Godin was kind enough to email me and suggest a more appropriate (and interesting) way to present the information (Thanks, Seth!). He just wrote a great post on how to make graphs that work, I highly recommend you check it out.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Twitter’s Delicate Dance With Google, Microsoft, & Others

A series of private documents reveals Twitter to be a company that’s very careful and detailed about the course it’s plotting, while simultaneously being very nervous and very ambitious about what the future holds. It also reveals previously unknown details of discussions with Google and Microsoft (and possibly Yahoo) that show Twitter considering formal relationships with those companies and others, while at the same time plotting how to beat them and afraid that they might “kill” Twitter along the way. TechCrunch posted some of the internal documents today and, while it’s questionable whether posting private documents is the right thing to do, there’s no doubt the material offers a fascinating insight into Twitter’s delicate dance with Google, Microsoft, and others.

The documents are from a series of Twitter executive meetings between February 12th and June 9th of this year. TechCrunch says they’ve left out “the most sensitive stuff” about Twitter’s negotiations with Google and Microsoft, but there’s still plenty to chew on. Here’s a summary of highlights (there’s more at TechCrunch):

Twitter and Google

February 25, 2009: Search is a key topic during a Twitter strategy meeting, but the company seems unsure on what role search plays on the Twitter platform. One note, “Twitter the product is a vehicle for Twitter search” is immediately followed by a note that says, “People don’t use Twitter for search.” One of the bullet items on the meeting notes just says, “Google is old news.”

March 12: Twitter has a management meeting that discusses a recent meeting with a Google Blog Search product manager. The notes say that the two companies “shared mockups,” but are no more specific than that. Google Blog Search is scraping Twitter, but said to only be getting 60-70% of tweets, and Google wants more complete data.

March 13: According to the documents, Google is offering “search syndication” to Twitter, and Google “can help us with relevancy.” But Twitter is afraid that “Google would kick our ass at finding the good tweet” and wonders, “Can we do to Google what Google has done to others?”

April 16: Google’s Marissa Mayer is on the agenda for a Twitter management meeting. The notes call her a “huge distraction” but Twitter agrees to give Mayer some internal stats “because we are serious about talking to [Google].”

May 7: The notes from another meeting reveal that Twitter has an internal task force to discuss a Google syndication deal, but they’re cautious that Google’s apparently building a competing product.

June 9: In the notes from a management meeting, Twitter says they’ve reached an agreement but still want their own search results to be better than Google.

Twitter and Yahoo

May 7, 2009: In the same document discussed above, Yahoo is mentioned in relation to Hosebird. “Why don’t we test and experiment the best case scenario (Yahoo) of Hosebird,” the notes say. “Implementation with a partner and then see how this product will evolve - Yahoo.” But it’s unclear if there were any formal (or informal) talks with Yahoo. (Hosebird is the name of Twitter’s full API with all user tweets and related info; many companies want access to this data.)

Twitter and Microsoft

March 12, 2009: In the same meeting mentioned above, Twitter talks about an advertising partnership with Microsoft but calls them a “distraction.” The notes show that Twitter was also very concerned about branding issues that might result from a Microsoft partnership. In the end, one note asks, “Why did we start talking to Microsoft in the first place.”

April 16: In the same notes mentioned above, Twitter is apparently preparing to talk to Microsoft. The document says Microsoft is “pushing infrastructure,” but “we don’t want to talk about this right now.”

May 7: Microsoft was also discussed in the May 7th management meeting. The notes discuss an idea that would appear to include celebrity Twitter users in Bing’s “one box” results: “MSFT Celebrity idea - One box person results on MSN live search.”

Final Thoughts

Beyond the search angle, there are notes about Facebook’s interest in Twitter, a discussion on “How could Facebook kill us?,” a possible IPO or buyout in the future, Twitter’s ambition to be the first web site with a billion users, and much more.

Ultimately, the final impression one gets of Twitter is of a company that’s tremendously disciplined in every aspect of its business dealings, very aware that they’re steering a potentially game-changing company, and yet unsure how to navigate the possibly dangerous waters ahead. They know very clearly what the end-game is, but they’re well aware of the fact that one misstep — whether on their own or with a partner — could be their undoing.


Friday, July 17, 2009

The Time Has Come To Regulate Search Engine Marketing And SEO

Posted by Guest Author on July 13, 2009

The following post was written by a well known executive at one of the largest sites on the Internet. The author has requested to remain anonymous - not for dramatic effect, but because of the backlash he would receive from the SEO industry and possibly Google itself. He also doesn’t want his company associated with the post.

He is starting a discussion on the need for government regulation of the organic and paid search policies of Google, which maintains a commanding lead in search market share today. Or at least transparency in how search results are determined. There is clearly growing frustration on the constantly changing “border policies” that are created and enforced by Google and other search engines. It is a fascinating read.

Imagine, if you will, that the entire Internet is contained within a single continent. That continent is filled with countries, states and cities. Each jurisdiction is autonomous, relying on visitors to cross on to their turf to engage in commerce. Now, imagine if the only way to get into this continent involved just two methods: SEO and SEM. Let’s further imagine that the borders to this continent were controlled by a single company. Let’s also hold that the rules for search engine optimization listings and search engine marketing were not only defined but were completely controlled at the whim of this single company. Of course, we all realize that word-of-mouth marketing and viral marketing also contribute to traffic to individual websites. That said, the primary methodology for all users to reach any individual website destination is still search, of either paid or organic listings.

Or suppose the paradigm is the streets of Los Angeles. Let’s imagine that in order to enter the city you had to pass through a single gate. And once you entered that gate, the streets you were or were not allowed to go down — and thus the businesses you were or were not allowed to visit — could be randomly blocked from your access. Blocked to a point where you might not even know they exist; whatever streets were available for you to traverse were in essence the only streets you knew where business could be transacted.

Whatever the scenario, it’s unsettlingly close to the situation that prevails today in search. It’s now conventional wisdom that search engine optimization, representing the organic result sets on any search query, is more voodoo than science. Through an uncontrolled set of factors search engines determine which listings appear at the top and bottom of any individual query. In addition, consumer behavior dictates the top three results on any search page are all that matter. If you happen to own an online business, unless you exist within those top three, the amount of individual traffic you will obtain from organic listings is very, very low. As the proprietor of that business you may hire search engine optimization companies to assist in increasing your rankings on organic results, with or without success. And at any one time, the controller of these borders (that is, the search engine itself) can change and manipulate those rules – and that can substantially decrease or destroy all organic traffic coming to your website, without notice and without your knowledge.

Search engine marketing now faces a similar challenge. Although anyone can open an account to buy paid search listings, the rules on each account are arbitrary. Accounts can be shut down at any time, without notice to the website owner. In other words, if you haven’t successfully obtained enough traffic to your site from organic listings and you decide to rely on paid search, you still face a situation where regardless of how much you bid per click you may or may not show up at the top of the paid results. That’s because paid results that are displayed on any query are not only determined based on the price the buyer is willing to pay. Unlike other auctions that are completely priced-based, these results are determined and sequenced not only on price but also on quality of advertising and click-through volume. For example, if company A was willing to pay $1 per click on a certain term and company B was willing to pay 10 cents but company B’s ad generated ten times as many clicks as company A’s, the yield to the search engine would be identical between the two.

The second factor is that the search engine can, at any time, determine that either company A or company B may or may not buy traffic within its index. And without notifying the company and with no path toward recourse and statement, the search engine can disable the paid search account from either business. Returning to the continent metaphor, this ends up looking quite a bit like free trade. Various businesses (call them sellers), operating within this continent, wish to conduct business with the rest of the world (that is, the population of buyers). The border — which in this case is the search engine — thus has complete control of who can transact and how often. And at its discretion, the search engine can decide to increase, decrease or completely disable access between buyers and sellers. Because search is the dominant methodology for consumers to find what they are looking for, whether a product or a service, the unilateral control that search engines wield enables them to control billions upon billions of dollars of consumer spend every year. It also gives them the ability to completely determine which companies become more successful — or less so.

The situation we face today is unique. Due to Google’s dominance — and the fact that it controls such an enormous amount of consumer behavior through paid and organic search listings – the company in essence governs commerce on the web. And any company that falls out of favor with Google, whether for reasons of bad practice or simple disagreement, can find itself at risk of going out of business.

This system also benefits the few in a host of other ways. Because the rules of organic and paid search change frequently – and remain undefined — agencies and other traffic brokers can win big; through their experience, they’re capable of reverse-engineering these rules. This means that, as this market matures, individual businesses have a diminishing chance to actually compete and gain search market share. That, in turn, puts them in a position of not only needing to hire an agency in order to find any traffic, but also making it more expensive overall to build businesses on the web.

I’ve worked with many businesses who feel they are playing in Google’s world — behaviors from product decisions to marketing strategies rely completely on appeasing these undocumented and often mystical Google desires. I’ve seen companies choose to not work with Google’s competitors for fear that by building those relationships, they’re damaging the ability to be indexed properly on Google and are anxious that result sets will be compromised. Many likewise believe that by having a monetization relationship through Google, they will somehow achieve higher quality listings through organic search. I’ve also witnessed companies who, in addition to using Google for monetization, have preferred relationships with purchasing traffic through Google Adwords. By supporting this dual relationship, they appear to want to live by two sets of rules – those that exist within the Adwords marketplace and those that apply to the Adsense product. And because they’re walking on both sides of the (Google) street, they feel they have a strategic advantage — as though the Adwords product will enable them to acquire traffic at both a lower cost and with a looser rule set than their competitors.

Here’s where the parallel to free trade breaks down. There are no perfect paradigms looking at free trade and import/export laws that exactly define or address this challenge. Neither would a secret relationship between the government and the search engines solve the problem. The only real solution is disclosure. Transparency. Those traffic generators that use rule-based algorithms to determine result sets must publicly disclose their methodologies. That is the means by which all businesses can compete freely in the organic and paid search marketplaces. If we lived in a world where Google didn’t hold sway over such a significant portion of consumer behavior, this kind of regulation wouldn’t be necessary. The market would be self-correcting, and we could trust the individual decisions of a healthy and competitive search industry. Regrettably, due to search dominance, the industry can’t be left to its own devices.


Entrepreneurs growing optimistic, increasing use of SEO

Posted on 16 June

While the economy continues to sputter along, a growing number of small business owners are increasingly optimistic about the future with many already increasing their use of search engine optimization (SEO).

That's the assessment of a study from Entrepreneur magazine which found that 42 percent of entrepreneurs said their business experience had been "not as bad as it could have been" over the last six months with another 25 percent saying they had done "surprisingly well."

Although many have been forced to cut costs to make sure they stay afloat during the recent economic downturn, it appears that their spending on technology has not waned dramatically during that period.

The study found that 76 percent of entrepreneurs said they are putting more emphasis on the web, especially in the fields of marketing and sales. Of those increasing their use of the web, 42 percent said they had increased their use of search engine optimization (SEO) or worked on their website.

Although a growing number of small businesses appear to be using search engine optimization (SEO), some say many SMBs are missing the boat when it comes to the marketing tool.

In an interview earlier this year with, Andy Leff, CEO of 7 Mainstreet, said not using search engine optimization (SEO) was one of the biggest mistakes these businesses make when they create a website.ADNFCR-1513-ID-19268942-ADNFCR


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Direct Marketing Getting Social

Posted by Lee Odden on 15 July 2009

In a past career of mine where the nature of the business required educating and evangelizing as a sales process, a colleague related a “vintage” story to me about phases in which new ideas or concepts are adopted by mass markets. It involved the introduction of the refrigerator in a time when ice boxes were the norm for keeping food cold. The idea was to show how not everyone “gets” a new product because of how they make decisions, biases and fundamental resistance to change.

The story went something like this. Representatives from a refrigerator company made appointments with consumers and presented a compelling offer: swap the ice box for a refrigerator and make payments no more than what was being paid to the ice delivery man.

The majority of those provided this offer accepted. Another 20% or so needed to hear from their friends that this was a good idea before accepting. Yet another 20% needed to see that most people were switching to the refrigerator, i.e. it became the norm, before making the change. The remaining few percent held out, resistant to any type of change.

Whether the story about the refrigerators is literally true or not, I don’t know. But it brings up an interesting way of understanding how people have been influenced to change by marketing in the past that wouldn’t work so well today. Traditional marketing tactics would emphasize making an offer that makes so much sense, like swapping a messy icebox for a modern refrigerator at the same cost; consumers would “buy in”.

The problem with continuing to rely on that model of marketing is increasing numbers of consumers ignore formal marketing messages and offers. If they don’t notice the offer, they can’t respond to it.

As the social web eliminates physical boundaries for making connections with friends, family, like minded individuals and even the brands people buy from, there’s more interest in a participatory or social marketing process. Consumers connect about things of interest to them and brands have an opportunity to listen and engage in conversations in a way that demonstrates the value of their products and services. There’s an opportunity to provide value, before seeing a direct return. The give to get principle for social media participation by brands results in goodwill, educated consumers and buzz.

A good example of that includes creating social network groups to provide consumers a place to socialize and for brands to introduce new products, gain feedback, crowd source ideas, “energize” brand evangelists and listen/respond to concerns. Mashable has a good write up on brands that use Facebook Fan pages that do this such as Pringles, Coca Cola, Starbucks, Addidas and Red Bull.

This is not to say making compelling offers to a relevant audience doesn’t work, because it certainly does in the right situations. The direct marketing industry is alive and well, albeit going through many changes. Many of those changes involve the need to understand the social nature of persuasion in digital marketing and what new online influences motivate consumers to make buying decisions.

One effort at facilitating this change is the formation at the DMA of a new Social Media Council. Open to employees of DMA member companies, the Social Media Council is a special interest group within the DMA that will serve as a source of awareness, information, discussion and advancement in knowledge of how direct marketing practitioners can better evolve social web best practices to meet the needs of the changing marketplace. In conjunction with HeadMix, the DMA SMC has already begun conducting research and reporting results.

I’ll be involved with this group as the founding chairperson, so you may see a few posts here in the future about DMA social media research and education efforts. In fact, if you’re attending the DMA Annual conference in San Diego this year, the DMA SMC will be having an introductory meeting and discussion panel that will provide a platform for attendees to discuss issues and join the DMA’s core efforts in the social media space. When that event draws near I’ll post more details about the who, what, why and when.