Monthly Archives: January 2013

How Keywords Help You Grow Your Website

Often, the first step one takes to optimize one’s website for the search engines involves keyword research. To be honest, though, you should perform that keyword research BEFORE you do SEO – in fact, you should probably do it before you even build your website! Keep reading to find out why.

I need to tip my hat once again to Stoney deGeyter at Search Engine Guide. He discusses five steps one needs to take to organically grow one’s search engine ranking. I’m in Central Florida, so right now is a great time to think about growing things (or at least starting them indoors before the last frost). And that gardening metaphor is more than apt.

Think about keywords as you would think about the seeds you use to grow your garden. You may start by thinking about what you’d like to grow, but before you even buy the seeds, you’d research what kinds of plants grow well in your area. For example, I like certain homegrown tomatoes, but if I lived further south I wouldn’t dream of growing them except under specifically controlled conditions; South Florida suffers from a serious nematode problem. Which is a pity, because you’d figure the climate is perfect otherwise…well, as long as you keep in mind that the growing season is different because it gets too hot in the summer for tomatoes to do well. (Big surprise to those of you further north, yes?). And don’t even get me started on the soil consistency…

Now before I take this metaphor too much further, let me explain what I’m trying to point out: if you don’t do your research, you could end up with some really unpleasant surprises. You might want to use a keyword that gets a lot of traffic, but also has a lot of competition. You might want to use one particular keyword for your product, but find that your customers use a totally different word for the same thing. Or you could get some pleasant surprises…like the time I grew a tomato plant and had it last for more than two years, when I’d heard that one usually must replant every year. Not in Florida, apparently, or at least not with that particular plant! But you’re not going to know unless you do the research.

You wouldn’t even begin to create a full-scale garden without researching your plants, and you shouldn’t even begin to create a full-scale website without doing your keyword research. Just like the plants, keywords are the key elements to your website; it’s what the site is all about. Yes, I know, it’s all about content and giving a good experience to the user (and helping you conduct your business, of course), but your content grows from the categories you choose, and those categories are your keywords.

Keywords are like tomatoes; raw or cooked, you can use them in everything. And plenty of people do. This luscious red fruit happily goes into salads, pizza, stews, soups, chili, on burgers (as both tomato slices and ketchup), pasta sauce, and so much more. As deGeyter points out, “keywords can help you build navigation, titles, descriptions, content and blog posts!”

Your keywords help you market your website; they tell everyone what your website is all about. And by “everyone,” I mean the search engines, your visitors, your writers, your suppliers, those who create your product or service, and even you. And that’s why you should get that research done BEFORE you build your website. Because if you don’t, you might find yourself fighting to grow tomatoes in July in South Florida in soil that’s full of nematodes. Good luck!

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Chance to Win a Free Pass to Pubcon New Orleans

Interested in getting a free pass to Pubcon New Orleans? We’re giving away a free ticket (valued at $1799). Check out the forum thread today to get all the details on how you can win. But hurry – time is running out!

Read more here.

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Facebook Graph Search Not a Google Killer

Recently, Facebook unveiled Graph Search, its new search engine. The early beta application does not work in the same way that Google works – but Foursquare and Yelp might have cause for concern.

Full disclaimer first: I was not one of the lucky ones who actually got to try Graph Search. When I finally got the Graph Search page to work, after multiple attempts, the button I got at the bottom of the page was for joining the waiting list. Instead, I sifted through a lot of commentary and reviews that demonstrated how the search worked and speculated on its future. I concluded that, in principle at least, Graph Search is neither better nor worse overall than Google; it’s simply different.

So how does it work? Facebook Graph Search taps into the various “likes” and other data that users have entered into the social network, and then returns answers based on what it knows about you and your friends, and what information has been made public. So if you typed in “friends who live in San Francisco,” for instance, you’d get a list of all of your Facebook friends who live in that city. That’s great if you’re planning a visit to the area.

Where the search shines, however, is with all of the modifiers you can attach to it. This reminds me ever so slightly of the search engine Blekko, which uses hash tags to modify its searches. Facebook Graph Search seems to use natural language, however, and seems to be trying to reach a different market.

So how would Graph Search work in a real life situation? I live in the Orlando area, but later this month I’m going to see the musical “Wicked,” which is playing in Tampa. I don’t get out to Tampa very often, but I do have a number of friends on Facebook who live there. I could use Graph Search to look for the restaurants in Tampa that my Tampa friends liked, so I can get a nice dinner before the show. Similarly, in a video posted on TechCrunch, Josh Constine demonstrated that one could use Graph Search to find dentists liked by your friends. That’s genuinely valuable information – much better than you can get from Google.

You can also use Graph Search to look for photos, posted by your friends or publicly available. You don’t have to limit yourself to recent photos, either. Remember that awesome Grand Canyon trip one of your beer buddies took five years ago that he keeps talking about? Search for photos taken at the Grand Canyon before 2008 and you just might find his pictures. Or perhaps you’d like to see pictures that are even older? Believe it or not, you can find those, too. The article I linked to recommends somewhat whimsical searches such as “photos of me taken before 1990” or “photos of my parents between 1970 and 1979” (if you’re wondering what they looked like when they were “cool”).

You can also search based on interests. So if you want to form a local bicycle club, say, you can search for people in your area who like bicycling. Or if you’re a big Star Wars fan, you can search for friends who share that interest. You can even combine interests, to search for friends who enjoy both Star Wars and costuming (to invade your next science fiction convention in group costumes, perhaps?).

And of course, you can search for places. This is why I said that Foursquare should be worried. You can search for places your friends have been. You can search for photos of places, as I’ve noted above. You can even just search for places by city.

But what if your filtered Facebook Graph Search doesn’t yield any results? The social network has negotiated a deal with Bing . Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he would love to work with Google, but the search giant wasn’t quite flexible enough to protect Facebook’s members’ privacy. To do that, according to Zuckerberg, you need the infrastructure in place to quickly take down photos and such when users change their privacy settings. Apparently Bing offered that, and Google didn’t. (If any of this sounds more than a little fishy or laughable to you, well, you’re not alone).

Just how well will Graph Search work? Steve Cheney points out one of the social network’s stumbling blocks: dirty “Likes.” How many times have you wanted to compete in a contest or get a free sample from a company, but you could only do it if you “liked” the firm’s Facebook page? I’m pretty conservative about that myself, and I know I’ve done it a number of times. But those aren’t real “likes,” if you know what I mean. What kind of answers will Graph Search return when it’s full of dirty data like this? Not very good ones, I’m sure…which is one reason I said that it’s not a Google killer.

On the other hand, advertisers will no doubt appreciate Graph Search, once Facebook figures out how to monetize it. Right now, though, I’d look at it as one search method among many for finding the kind of information you need. Cheney said it best: “Offline we consult different places, people, and resources, and you will do the same with social networks and web services online.”

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What an SEO Can Learn from History

Whether you call yourself an SEO, SEM, inbound marketer, online marketing specialist, or any one of a number of terms, your ultimate goal is the same: increasing sales or conversions for your clients. To do this, you need to bring a host of skill sets to bear. Sometimes, the skills of a historian come in handy.

This thought crossed my mind after reading Mike Fleming’s excellent post for Search Engine Guide on the various “professions” an inbound marketer must, er, employ. Like Fleming, I received a “liberal arts education,” but I majored in history. So when he talked about how he was recently “feeling a bit ‘stretched’ out of my comfort zone when I realized just how many hats inbound marketers are called to wear throughout the daily trappings of their careers,” I felt an immediate pang of familiarity.

Please understand that I don’t do inbound marketing myself, beyond reading and writing about it for about eight years now as a major part of my job. Still, when Fleming listed the “hats” of scientist, psychologist, investigator, consultant, accountant, researcher, writer, speaker, salesman, reporter, customer service representative and (stretching a point a little bit) doctor, I found myself nodding a bit, but waiting for the other shoe to drop. Where on this list is the humble historian?

Not everyone understands what historians do. We hunt for the data; we analyze it and look for trends; we form hypotheses and theories; we try to explain the causes of things at various levels. There’s a reason that history is said to be “the science of that which never happens twice.” In short, historians use many of the skills that Fleming lists – plus one very critical one that can be invaluable to any marketer working with a client.

To explain that skill, however, I need to back up to one of my college history courses. It was a historiography course, and only history majors took it. Historiography, loosely defined, is the history of history. In the case of my course, we examined the causes of the English Civil War – or more precisely, what historians said were the causes of the English Civil War at five different points in history, starting with immediately after the war itself and going through a diversity of eras (such as the Marxist interpretation and others).

I quickly learned that the cause of a situation may not be as simple as it first appears. I also learned that others looking at the same situation, and given the same apparent facts, can easily interpret it differently. But most importantly, I learned that the reason for these different interpretations has to do with the historian’s mental filter – that it’s almost impossible to remove yourself from your own time period and its influences, attitudes, or “prejudices,” if you will. This filter is enough to explain differences in interpretation without necessarily assuming the historian has a particular ax to grind (though that’s also possible, of course) or holds any particular malice toward anyone (though again, this is possible).

So how is this useful for SEOs to keep in mind? You come to your client, and approach his data, with a particular view based on what you know. Your client views his business in a particular way based on what he knows. Each of these are filters of a sort. If you want to get your message through to your client, you need to clear your own filter – as much as you can – and look at the data you have collected through HIS filter. If you want to convince him to try something, you need to convey it to him in a way that gets through his filter such that he’ll not only UNDERSTAND it, but AGREE with you about the right course of action.

It’s even more complicated than that, of course. There are other filters you need to keep in mind: the ones in front of the eyes of your client’s customers. And oh yes, there are Google’s filters as well. I could go on, but I’ve run out of space and time – rather embarrassing for a historian, I must admit. But perhaps you can see how this study of the past can help your clients prepare for a better future. Good luck!

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FTC Ends Antitrust Case Against Google

It’s been more than a year and a half since the Federal Trade Commission started investigating Google for allegedly playing favorites with its own services and other anti-competitive practices. Yet the search engine will receive little more than a slap on the wrist.

Search Engine Land explained that there are three parts to the settlement between Google and the FTC. First, Google will no longer be permitted to simply scrape third party content to be included in its own “specialized” search results. Second, Google will be required to make it easier to export AdWords campaigns to Bing and other platforms. And finally, the FTC ordered Google to stop playing games with Motorola’s “standards-essential” patents; the search giant must license them fairly and not use them to block products made by the competition.

It’s rather glaring, however, that the settlement doesn’t address the issues of “search bias” which concerned Google’s competitors the most. According to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, after “an exhaustive investigation into Google’s business practices,” the regulatory body could not find enough factual evidence to support such a complaint. In fact, the FTC was unanimous on this point. What little evidence of search bias Leibowitz and his colleagues did find in Google’s practices was comparable to the kinds of things the search engine’s rivals were doing – and most of what Google did was for the benefit of its users.

Judging from the various reactions to hit the media about this settlement, the only ones happy with it are Google and the FTC. Microsoft, for example, seems more than a little upset. Dubbing the situation “a missed opportunity” in a lengthy blog post, Microsoft vice president and deputy general counsel Dave Heiner stated that “We find it troubling that the agency did not adhere to its own standard procedures that call for the agency to obtain industry input on proposed relief and secure it through an enforceable consent decree.” Heiner also called the ruling “weak,” hinting that it didn’t even adequately address the areas with which it chose to deal., described by Search Engine Land as an “anti-Google lobbying group,” was also highly critical of the settlement. In a statement on its website, the organization described the FTC’s decision as “disappointing and premature” and “by no means the last word in this case…The FTC’s inaction on the core question of search bias will only embolden Google to act more aggressively to misuse its monopoly power to harm other innovators.”

The FTC’s settlement with Google also doesn’t carry much weight abroad. The Guardian reported that the European Commission “has denied that the decision will affect its own investigation into the claims.” Specifically, EC spokesman Michael Jennings said that “We have taken note of the FTC decision, but we don’t see that it has any direct implications for our investigation, for our discussions with Google, which are ongoing.”

So was the FTC’s decision a mistake, or too weak? Information Week  interviewed David Wales, the former head of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, on the matter. Wales points out that the FTC’s other choice was to go ahead with litigation, and hope to win a claim in court against Google. That’s an expensive move with a real risk of failure – thus making a settlement the preferable move. And what if the FTC won? The court fight itself can take years, as we saw the Department of Justice’s antitrust case against Microsoft…by which time the competitive climate would likely have changed, making it very tricky to come up with an appropriate remedy for the anti-competitive behavior.

So does that mean that half a loaf is better than nothing? Perhaps. But Google is an international company, and while this battle has ended, the war may not be over – though one does wonder what the European Commission will do. Meanwhile, SEOs should have an easier time exporting their marketing campaigns from AdWords, at least. And Google…will just go on being Google.

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