Archive for the ‘google’ Category

Monday, July 4th, 2011

AdWords+ | The Effect of Google+ on SEM and Social Advertising

How AdWords+ Can Work With Google+

I’ve been heavily testing Google+ over the past week, and it’s hard not to be impressed with the new social platform. Google+ is extremely slick, includes outstanding functionality, and I especially like the way that Circles enable you to silo connections to control privacy. I understand that Google+ is new, so it’s not really a fair comparison, but I found myself going to Twitter and Facebook less over the past week. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone. I’m excited to see how Google+ will expand, and the opportunities are easy to see (gaming, local, business profiles, ecommerce, etc.) This is just the beginning of Google taking a serious jump into Social and it’s exciting for digital marketers.

As I’ve been going through Google+, I keep thinking about the business impact for Google (and its competitors). Since Google generates most of its revenue from the AdWords platform (~97%), I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about how AdWords could be incorporated into Google+. Let’s face it, ads are coming (and they should be coming). Google needs to show growth in the face of Social Media booming. And when Facebook has 700+ million members, Google needs to show how it will fight off the giant social network in the coming months and years. If Google could utilize and expand its already incredible advertising platform (AdWords) for Social, then it could potentially give its already strong revenue and profit numbers a serious bump. And by the way, that’s what Wall Street wants to see.

Facebook Ads and Google Social Ads
As many of you know, Facebook has approximately 700 million members. It monetizes its platform several ways, but its ads system is an important component. To reinforce how much Facebook ads has grown, it was recently reported that Facebook will overtake Yahoo in display advertising this year. That’s impressive, but here’s the deal. Facebook hasn’t connected Social with Search yet. Sure, Google hasn’t either, but it could connect the two much easier than Facebook could (since it controls the largest search engine in the world). And connecting Social with Search is incredibly important to advertisers.

With Google+, if Google can attract users at scale, which I believe it can do, then it has an opportunity to marry AdWords with Social in a way that Facebook can’t. AdWords already has a huge base of advertisers, as it has ~70% market share in Search in the U.S. (and I’ve seen this percentage higher with my own clients – across industries). You can bet that advertisers would love to reach more users via Google+, or more importantly, reaching the same users but with the ability to close the loop between Search and Social.

Closing The Loop Between Search and Social
Currently, you can reach users searching on Google, Bing, and Yahoo via AdWords and adCenter . You can also reach users on social networks via other platforms like Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, etc. Both Search and Social advertising can be very powerful, but there was a missing component. That missing component was the ability to track someone from Search and then target them on Facebook (the largest social network that attracts millions of users on a daily basis). Those people also spend a lot of time on Facebook. So, as an advertiser, the person that searches, visits a site, leaves and visits Facebook goes off the grid (from marketing perspective). The amazing thing about Google+ is that it will enable Google to connect Search and Social, and provide advertisers a closed-loop system. You can target users in Search, and follow them to Google+. Yes, you will be able to reach them when they go back to their friends and family to find recommendations or to share information.

This is an amazing opportunity for marketers. You can’t do that with Facebook now. You don’t know where they were before Facebook, and you certainly don’t know what they searched for on Google. But Google can do this, and many of you who focus on SEM already know the mechanism available for accomplishing this. AdWords provides the ability to leverage behavioral targeting across its Display Network. Using remarketing or interest-based targeting with Google+ can open up endless possibilities for advertisers. And as a paid search marketer, I’m darn excited about the opportunities this presents. My clients will be excited too. :) Let’s take a closer look at the opportunity.

Google+ Can Uniquely Close The Loop Between Search and Social
How Google+ Can Close The Loop Between Search and Social

AdWords+, The Behavioral Targeting Opportunity
For those of you familiar with AdWords, you already know how powerful of a platform it is. From paid search ads on Google.com to remarketing on the Display Network to the recently released interest-based targeting, AdWords is a killer advertising platform. Now with Google+, AdWords can finally connect with a Social Network the way that Google has wanted to for some time. Sure, Google had you in Search, but they lost you when you went to Facebook to share information. Now they can close the loop and follow you across Social borders.

They can “follow you” due to their advancements in behavioral targeting, mentioned earlier. I already run remarketing campaigns for my clients where I can cookie users on a website and present targeted ads to them as they travel the web (knowing the site or pages they visited). That’s powerful, but again, I lose them when they hit Facebook. They go off the grid. With Google+, if I could use remarketing to follow you from Search to {enter website here}, and then to Google+, then that provides an incredible opportunity for advertisers. And it’s one that digital marketers have been looking for…

But wait, AdWords+ wouldn’t have to stop there. Since Google controls both Google+ and Search, advertisers would be able to follow you from Social back to Search. For example, when someone leaves Google+ and performs more searches, advertisers can remarket to them again. To quickly recap, AdWords+ could track you from initial Search to website to Social (with Google+) and then back to Search. Again, this is incredible for marketers.

Remarketing Campaigns Could Easily Expand to Google+
Google Remarketing and Google+

More Behavioral Targeting
In addition, the recent interest-based targeting enables me to target a browser and not just provide ads based on contextual targeting. That lets me follow your browser as you travel the web, and Google+, based on your activity on the web. I can then present targeted advertising to you without worrying about the keywords you enter or the content that’s on the page. I just know the type of person you are and then present ads to you. Again, that’s powerful, but can be even more powerful when integrated with Google+.

Google+ Expands Display Network Inventory
Then of course, there’s good old contextual targeting via the Display Network, which can also be incredibly powerful when set up and used properly. Google+ will probably be part of the Display Network, like YouTube is, Gmail, Google Maps, etc. That’s unless it gets its own platform, which is possible. More on that soon. Using contextual targeting, advertisers can target types of content and present ads that relate to that content. So, if you post an update about fireworks on July 4th, I can present July 4th sale ads. Or, based on location targeting, I can present a coupon to my July 4th restaurant specials. If you post about your latest 5K run, I can present ads for the latest running sneakers from Nike. If you are reading an article about baby formula, I can run ads for baby bottles. You get the picture.

This is why I love helping clients with the Display Network. Contextual targeting can be extremely powerful. And with Google+, the amount of inventory across the Display Network can exponentially expand. And, Google will know even more about you, since you’ll be sharing incredible information on Google+ on a regular basis. Think about the types of information you share on Facebook, including updates about friends, family, kids, work, play, location, sports, restaurants, hobbies, etc. Now think about what you share with Google when you search, including queries about health, commerce, clothes, food, local, questions (across categories), etc. Let’s face it, you share a boatload of information when you search. Now combine the two, and you have Google+ advertising, or what I’m calling AdWords+.

Innovative Social Ads
Google+ inherently provides a wealth of opportunity for creating innovate ways to advertise. And with the incredible engineers at Google, you can expect new formats to enter the scene. With Circles, Hangouts, Huddles, Photos, Video, the Mobile App, etc., there are many ways Google can innovate. And again, with behavioral targeting, this could be a huge win for Google and advertisers. I’m excited to see what’s coming, and more excited to implement those innovations for my clients. It’s an exciting time to be in digital marketing.

Advertising+ Meet Privacy+
Can you see why this has incredible potential for Google? Can you also see why this has incredible potential for advertisers? But, can you also see why this presents some privacy challenges for the average person? The answer is “yes” to all three questions listed above… Google needs to be very careful on this front. There are already privacy concerns with Google and there are already privacy concerns with Facebook. Google+ can trigger privacy concerns that dwarf any that has come before it. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

AdWords+ Can Mean Revenue+ for Google
Although it’s easy to get caught up in the impressive social platform Google has developed, we shouldn’t forget that Google is a business. It’s a business that needs to show growth, when Social is impacting Search, which is where Google makes 97% of its revenue, and where it has failed several times before. If Google+ gains traction, the revenue implications could be massive. If you’re a digital marketer, get ready for Paid Search Marketing with AdWords to turn into Paid Social Marketing with AdWords+.

Now let me go share this on Google+. :)

GG

Monday, June 27th, 2011

How to Use the Google +1 Button Callback Parameter to Unlock Exclusive Content

Google +1 Button Callback Parameter

Since the release of the Google +1 button for websites in early June, many webmasters have been trying to figure out the best ways to implement it across their sites. In its most basic form, the +1 button is relatively easy to add to a webpage. You can grab two line of code, add them to your webpage, and be on your way. That said, Google has provided several parameters you can use with the +1 button that control how the button looks, what is displays, which URL should receive the +1, and which function you want to call when someone clicks the +1 button. Wait, did you catch that last part? Google added a mechanism for webmasters to trigger a JavaScript function when someone clicks a +1 button. The mechanism I’m referring to is the “callback” parameter of the +1 button, and it opens up a world of opportunity for webmasters. Let’s explore the parameter in greater detail, including what it is, how to use it, and how to avoid problems down the line.

What is the Callback Parameter?
As I mentioned earlier, you can implement the basic +1 button on your site with just a few lines of code. You need to include a JavaScript tag and then the +1 button tag. It’s essentially two lines of code and you’ll have a +1 button on a webpage. But, if you review the Google Code page for the +1 button, you’ll notice several other parameters. You have count, size, and href, which control the display of the +1 button, as well as identifying the URL that should receive the +1. Then you have the callback parameter, which takes the name of a JavaScript function as the value of the parameter. The JavaScript function you trigger can do anything you want (ok, not anything), and I’ll cover more about this soon.

Here is what the google +1 button code would look like when using the callback parameter:

 HTML |  copy code |? 
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<g:plusone callback="helloWorld"></g:plusone>

When you include the callback parameter in the +1 tag, you provide the name of a JavaScript function that will be triggered when someone clicks the +1 button. In this example, the function called “helloWorld” will be triggered. Note, helloWorld() needs to be part of the global namespace, meaning it needs to be included in the page or referenced in the html file via a script tag. The function will receive a JSON object, which includes both an “href” value and a “state” value. “href” will include the URL that received the +1 and “state” is either on or off (where on represents a +1 and off means someone removed a +1). That information is good to know and you can handle each situation separately. More about this soon.

Example: A Simple JavaScript Function
Below, I have included a very basic JavaScript function that’s called when someone clicks a +1 button. It simply throws an alert displaying the state of the button when clicked. Note, this function could either reside in the page itself or it could reside in an external JavaScript file that’s referenced in your html page (via a script tag).

 HTML |  copy code |? 
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 function helloWorld(plusone) {
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	window.alert('+1 Triggered, State=' + plusone.state);
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}
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How the Callback Parameter Can Be Used
Based on adding the callback parameter to the +1 button, Google is enabling webmasters to creatively use the functionality to interact with users. For example, you could reward users that +1 a page on your site. There are some rules, though. Remember, +1’s impact rankings, so you don’t want to “buy” rankings. I attended a Google webinar last week that covered best ways to implement the +1 button and Google made it very clear that you should not pay for +1’s. That means you shouldn’t incentivize users with money, product, or services based on those users clicking a +1 button on your site. Here is the actual language from Google’s policy page:

“Publishers should not promote prizes, monies, or monetary equivalents in exchange for +1 Button clicks.”

The reason Google doesn’t want publishers incentivizing users with prizes or money is simple. +1’s impact rankings, rankings should not be manipulated in any way, and paying for +1’s is like paying for links. Don’t do it.

Unlocking Content is OK
Although you can’t provide products or services, Google explains that you can unlock exclusive content. Here is the language in Google’s policy regarding enabling content and functionality:

“Publishers can direct users to the +1 Button to enable content and functionality for users and their social connections.”

If someone +1’s your new blog post, you could unlock exclusive content for that user (and you can use this approach creatively, depending on your specific industry, business, etc.) For example, you could provide a study that goes deeper into a topic, you could provide additional tutorials on the subject matter, provide additional news about a topic, etc. Just make sure you wouldn’t ordinarily charge for that content. Yes, this seems like a slippery slope, since exclusive content might already have a price tag associated with it. As a webmaster (or marketer), you might need to build new content that could be part of your +1 program.

An Alternative Approach – Catching +1 Removals
Earlier in this post, I mentioned the “state” value that gets passed to your JavaScript function in the JSON object. That value will tell you whether someone +1’d a page or removed a +1. Knowing that someone just removed a +1 is important information, and you can act on it using the callback parameter of the +1 button. For example, maybe you can ask the person why they removed the +1, ask them to reconsider their +1 removal, or redirect them to a page that provides a more creative approach to catching +1 removals. Now, you don’t want to go overboard here. If someone just removed a +1, they obviously had a reason. You don’t want to add fuel to the fire and push the limits of getting that +1 back. That said, the right messaging could act as a legitimate confirmation that a user will be removing a +1, which could potentially save some of those votes. It would be interesting to test this out to see how many +1’s you can gain back by using the callback parameter.

Unlock Content, Get More +1’s?
As you can see, the callback parameter can be a helpful addition to the +1 button code. Depending on the “state”, you can either reward users with exclusive content, or you can address the removal of a +1. Remember, +1’s impact search rankings, so they can be extremely valuable to your organic search traffic. Just be careful about what you’re giving away to users that +1 content on your website. Make sure you aren’t giving away prizes, money, or services. The last thing you want is for a creative use of +1 to get you penalized. And if history has proven anything, you can bet that some webmasters are going to try and manipulate the system to gain more +1’s. As I said earlier, don’t go down this path. It’s not worth it. Play by the rules, be creative, and gain more +1’s the right way.

By the way, have you +1’d this post yet? :)

GG

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

How to Target Product Listing Ads Using Filters and Product Targets [AdWords Tutorial]

In November of 2010, Google rolled out Product Listing Ads (PLA) to all U.S. advertisers. Product Listings Ads were a great addition to the AdWords arsenal, as they provide a stand-alone ad unit for products using photo thumbnails. The thumbnail is presented along with the product title, price, and merchant name. You can see an example of what a product listing ad looks like below.

Click the image below to view a larger version:
An example of a product listing ad in Google AdWords.

Product listing ads are used in conjunction with a Google Merchant Center Product Feed, similar to product extensions (which is an ad extension already available in AdWords). For product listing ads, advertisers don’t bid on keywords like they would with standard text ads. Instead, Google determines if there is a match between a query and the products listed in your feed. If there’s a match, Google may provide your product listing ad in the SERPs. To clarify the difference between product listing ads and product extensions, PLA’s are stand-alone image-based ads where product extensions simply extend a standard text ad with product information. You can see what a product extension looks like below.

An example of a product extension in Google AdWords:
An example of a product extension in Google AdWords.

Basic Setup of a Product Listing Ads
If you want to use product listing ads, you’ll first need an active Google Merchant Center Product Feed that you can connect with your AdWords account. You can connect the two accounts via your Google Merchant Center settings. Once you connect your merchant feed with your AdWords account, you’ll need to add a product extension in the campaign you want to set up product listing ads in. Once you add a product extension in a specific campaign, you can set up ad groups that contain product listing ads (which can then tap into the products in your merchant account feed).

For each campaign that you want to utilize your Merchant Center Product Feed, you’ll need to add a product extension at the campaign level. This product extension will use your newly connected feed as the source of products for both product listing ads and product extensions (if necessary). Note, both product extensions and product listing ads will be available at this point, since both leverage a connected Merchant Product Feed. Remember, product extensions simply extend text ads with product visuals and information, while product listing ads are stand-alone ad units. Both use your merchant account feed for product information.

Filters and Targets for Honing Your Product Listing Ads
OK, let’s say you have your Merchant Center Product Feed connected to your AdWords account and you set up a product extension in order to connect your product feed with a specific campaign. Although it’s fine to use product listing ads within your current campaigns, there are good reasons for setting up a new campaign just for product listing ads. This will enable you to set a budget for specific groups of products, set CPC’s per ad group, use filters and product targets to hone your ads, and create specific promotions for each ad. If you do end up creating specific campaigns for your product listing ads, you will probably want to get familiar with both filters and product targets. Filters enable you to show a subset of your Merchant Center Product Feed, while product targets enable you limit products by category, brand, etc. Both enable you to do some interesting things in your campaign, targeting-wise. Let’s explore both filters and product targets below.

Filtering Your Merchant Center Product Feed
Filters enable you to limit the products available to your campaign (and all ad groups within that campaign). You can add a filter when adding a product extension to your campaign. The filter you add will be based on your own specific product feed, so it’s important that your feed is well-structured. For example, if you sold men’s shoes, your feed might contain subcategories like dress shoes, slippers, sneakers, etc. If you wanted a specific campaign to only have access to dress shoes, then you could add a filter to make sure only dress shoes were available. Once you added this filter, all ad groups would be affected. That means that your ad groups could only trigger ads for dress shoes (via both product extensions and product listing ads).

Let’s add a filter:
1. Add a product extension at the campaign level.
2. After you connect your Merchant Center Product Feed, click the “filter” button.
Filtering a product extension in Google AdWords.

3. Based on your feed, you can add up to 10 OR statements to filter your products. For our purposes, we’ll use the product_type attribute to limit our feed to just dress shoes. Note, check out the merchant feed specification for more information about the various parameters available. In a perfect world you would match the product_type to Google’s own taxonomy. If you set up a custom taxonomy for products on your site, then you should provide a full breadcrumb trail.
4. That’s it. Now this specific campaign only has access to dress shoes listed in your feed.

More Targeting Via Product Targets
The filter we just set up is great, but filters apply to your entire campaign. What if you wanted to limit each ad group in your campaign to specific groups of products? This is where product targets come in very handy. In our example above, we limited the merchant feed for our campaign to dress shoes, which was a subcategory of men’s shoes. In each ad group, we could then further limit the feed to specific groups of products. Again, this would be based on your own specific feed, so it’s important that your feed is organized properly.

Using this approach enables you to set custom CPC’s for specific product groups, while also using specific promotions as part of your product listing ads. You can create product targets via the Auto Targets tab at the ad group level. If you don’t see the Auto Targets tab, make sure you enable it by clicking the arrow button at the far right of your tabs. Then clicks the checkbox for “Auto Targets”.

Accessing the Auto Targets Tab in Google AdWords:
Accessing the Auto Targets Tab in Google Adwords.

For example, you could set up a series of ad groups that each targets a specific brand or subcategory within dress shoes. Each of those ad groups could use product targets that limit your product feed to specific groupings of products. So, filters can be used to limit products at the campaign level, where product targets can limit the resulting feed for ad groups.

Once you set up product targets, you could adjust CPC’s for each new ad group. This is smart, since various brands of shoes all have different levels of pricing. You might only want t bid $2.00 for one brand, while you might want to bid up to $6.00 for another. Using product targets enables you to do this.

Using Specific Promotions Per Ad Group
In addition, one you have this granular setup, you could set up specific promotions for each ad group. Promotions can be added to each product listing ad as a line of text (up to 45 characters). Promotions should be specific messages for prospective customers and are meant to highlight special promotions. For example, you could add “25% off all orders over $75”, “Buy 2 products, get 1 free”, etc. Promotions are not meant to include product copy or misc. benefits. Again, using promotions per ad group is smart since you might have different promotions and offers per brand or subcategory.

An example of a product listing ad promotion:
An example of a promotion in product listing ads.

Setting Up Product Targets
Let’s quickly set up a product target for an ad group that should only have access to a brand of shoes named Gabe. From what I hear, they are the best shoes around… Very high quality. :) We’ll set up an ad group within the campaign we have already been working in. That campaign has a filter already set that limits the merchant account feed to dress shoes. For our example, let’s say Gabe shoes is a brand within dress shoes.

1. Create an ad group for your product listing ad and don’t add any keywords. Remember, product listing ads don’t use keywords to trigger ads.
2. Click the Auto Targets tab and click the button labeled “Add product target”. Now you need to select the feed parameter you’ll use to limit your feed for this ad group. You can choose “Brand” from the dropdown and then enter “Gabe”. You can validate your selection and then click “Save”.
Adding a product target in Google Adwords.

3. Now you need to create the actual product listing ad. Go to the Ads tab and click the button labeled “New ad”. Then select “Product listing ad”. This is where you can enter a specific promotion for Gabe shoes. Maybe you’re running 10% off all Gabe shoes this month. You can enter that text here, which can show up in your product listing ad. This is why I like having granular control of PLA’s. The promotion can be more relevant and targeted.
Adding a new product listing ad in Google Adwords.

4. That’s it, now your ad group is set up to show just Gabe shoes as product listing ads. You can also set a custom CPC for Gabe shoes, which might be different than what you would bid for other brands. Last, you can present a special promotion just for Gabe shoes. Awesome.

Hone Your Targeting For Product Listing Ads
Like many other things in Paid Search, enhancing your targeting can pay huge dividends down the line. The proper setup can enable you to group products, create special promotions, and bid differently per product target. This will give you greater control over your product listing ads, which will enable you to optimize your efforts. I recommend reviewing your Merchant Center Product Feed to make sure it’s well-structured and optimized. Once it is, I would work on developing a campaign structure that makes sense, given your product line. Product listing ads can definitely give you an edge in Paid Search and I hope this post helps you enhance that “edge”. Good luck.

GG

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Google +1, AdWords, and The Effect on Landing Page Strategy – Will Advertisers Be Penalized for Using Campaign Landing Pages

Google +1 and AdWords, Will Google +1 Impact Landing Page Strategy

As you’ve probably heard by now, Google released its +1 social recommendation engine on Wednesday. There are several reasons Google is doing this, including trying to make search results more relevant, enabling you to recommend pages (and ads) to your social connections, and combating the Facebook Like button. At this point, your social connections are your Google contacts, but this should realistically expand to other networks as well. As I just mentioned, the +1 button is a direct shot at the Facebook Like button, which is now plastered across the entire web. Both Google and Facebook want to gather as much information from you as possible, which can then help fuel their advertising programs (which is how they make most of their money). Many people outside of Search don’t know that Google makes almost all of its money from search advertising. It’s 96%+ of its revenue. Facebook also makes most of its money via advertising, although at this stage, it’s a much smaller piece of the pie (for now).

Organic and Paid +1’s
When you +1 a page in the Google search results, the button will activate and show to your social connections. It can also show to people who aren’t part of your social connections, but only as aggregated data. For example, you might see “95 other people +1’d this page”.

Here is a screenshot showing what a +1 looks like in the organic listings:
Google +1 showing up in the organic listings.

But, this isn’t just possible for organic listings. Paid Search ads in Google can also be +1’d. More on this below, but +1’s can show up in AdWords ads when someone clicks the +1 button next to the ad, or when that page has been +1’d in the organic results. There’s an important piece to what I just explained…

If someone +1’s a page in the organic listing, and that’s the page you are using as your SEM landing page, then +1’s can show up in the ad as well.

SEM and Landing Pages
If you work heavily in Paid Search, then you probably know how powerful landing pages can be. I’m not talking about the standard webpages on a website where some marketers drop visitors. I’m referring to strategically-crafted landing pages, based on visitor intent. Visitor intent is determined by the customer segments you are targeting. Your SEM landing pages might look much different than a typically webpage, even one holding similar content. For example, you might provide stronger calls to action, rearrange content, limit navigation, etc. Remember, your goal in SEM is to convert at the highest level, since you are paying for every visitor.

In addition, dedicated SEM landing pages enable you to use split testing or multivariate testing to increase conversion. You know the traffic source, the visitor segment, etc. and you can easily limit the variables impacting your test. This is part of the reason landing pages can be so powerful. But, since SEM landing pages can contain very similar content to your organic pages, many marketers block the search engines from crawling and indexing those pages. Note, they don’t block Adsbot-Google from crawling landing pages (due to the possible impact on Quality Score), but Googlebot is blocked from indexing and caching the landing pages.

The Problem for Paid Search Marketers
Jumping back to +1’s for a second, remember that +1’s can show up in your ads when someone +1’d the ad or the landing page in the organic results. If your SEM landing pages are not being crawled or indexed, then they won’t show up in the organic results. If they don’t show up in the organic results, they can’t be +1’d. If they can’t be +1’d, then those potential +1’s can’t show up in your ads. That’s right, you might be penalized by using an advanced SEM strategy… campaign landing pages.

What About the Canonical URL Tag?
Some marketers might be using the canonical URL tag in their SEM landing pages and point back to a page on their standard site that has similar content. Until this can be tested with +1, it’s hard to say how Google will apply +1′s in ads when the canonical URL tag is being used. In theory, Google should apply landing page +1′s to the canonical URL being specified in the tag. But will +1′s at the canonical URL apply back to the landing page you are using in SEM? It shouldn’t, which would still mean problems for +1′s in your ads.

But What About +1’ing Ads?
Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t think many people are going to start +1’ing traditional ads in AdWords. The logistics don’t even make sense. How will you know that you like the content if you are just reading the ad? You won’t. So then you’ll probably click through to a landing page (which might not indexed by Google) and you can’t +1 it (at least yet). Google will be adding +1 buttons for pages, but it’s not available yet. In addition, I’m not sure how many people are going to legitimately +1 a marketing landing page… For example, many marketing landing pages are not equivalent to a thoroughly-written how-to piece (even though it could be). More on that below.

Will Advertisers Run Ads for Organic Content?
My previous point brings up a good question. If +1’s are going to impact organic rankings (which Google said they very well could), then will advertisers try and gain more +1’s by running ads to that content. They might not be interested in the immediate conversion from that content, but the additional +1’s could possibly help the rankings of those pages. I can tell you with almost 100% certainty that this will happen if +1’s impact organic rankings. That’s unless Google adapts and flags +1’s via paid advertising versus +1’s via organic search (or other sources). Yes, this gets complex, like many other things in organic search. :)

Will Advertisers Be Punished for Using Landing Pages?
I’m confident some very smart people at Google are thinking about the paid search impact, and if advertisers will be penalized for using campaign landing pages. Most people in SEM understand that landing page testing is important. Google even has its own product to help you with multivariate and split testing (Google Website Optimizer). You would hope that Google will ensure that +1’s can help your ads, even if you are using SEM landing pages. If not, you might see some paid search marketers revert to just dropping SEM visitors on their homepage or major category pages. Then +1’s can help both organic results and paid search ads (I guess). It seems click-through rate (CTR) might be higher due to +1’s showing up in the ads, but conversion could be lower (since it’s not the most targeted content for the visitor).

In closing, this important step forward for Google Social could end up being a step backwards for AdWords advertisers. That just doesn’t seem right. Let’s hope it gets addressed soon.

GG

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Google Grants and Grantspro, How Non-Profits Can Increase AdWords Traffic and Performance

How Non-Profits Can Manage a Google Grants Account

I’ve had the opportunity to work extensively on several Google Grants, both from a strategy and execution standpoint. Google Grants can be a great asset for non-profits, as they provide $10K per month in free advertising from Google. In addition, non-profits that meet a certain performance level can apply for Grantspro, which offers up to $40K per month. Although offering non-profits a certain dollar amount in free advertising is extremely generous of Google, there are some inherent limitations with Grant accounts that can make it hard to gain traction. I’ve been contacted by quite a few non-profits that have a hard time generating clicks, based on some of these challenges. I’ll cover the core limitations below, including some of the common situations I’ve come across. Let’s start with a quick introduction to the Google Grants program.

Introduction to Google Grants and Grantspro
As explained above, Google set up the Grants program to help non-profits by offering up to $10K per month in free AdWords advertising. In order to be eligible for a Grants account, you must have current 501(c)(3) status, and be headquartered in a country where Google Grants operates. In addition, there are several rules and restrictions your organization needs to comply with in order to stay within the guidelines of a Grant account. For example, there are restrictions related to commercial advertising, ads that focus on specific categories like financial products, and how your ads are written (mission-based ads). You can read more about the requirements and regulations on the Grants website. If you are new to Google Grants, I highly recommend reading the details of the program thoroughly before moving forward. If you feel as if your organization meets the program requirements, then you can complete an application.

If you apply for a Google Grant and are approved, then you’ll be able to run your ads on Google.com for the site specifically listed in the application. Note, the website and specific URL’s you include in your application are important, and you shouldn’t radically change this down the line (as you are managing the account). For example, you can’t suddenly change your ads to point to a completely new website (even if owned by your organization). If you have any drastic changes to your ads, destination URL’s, website, etc., then you should contact the Google Grants team to ensure you remain within the program guidelines.

Grantspro – Increasing From $10K to $40K
While you are managing a Grants account, if you reach your maximum monthly budget for any two months within the last 12 months, then you can be eligible for an upgrade to Grantspro. This can provide your organization a monthly budget of $40K. Actually, you only have to hit $9500 per month for two months, and not $10K exactly. This is due to fluctuations in ad spend during a month based on your maximum daily budget ($329/day). So, the good news is that if you do your job well, and drive a lot of traffic via your standard Grants Account, then you can possibly get up to $40K per month. Notice I said “a lot of traffic”, and not “a lot of high quality traffic”. There’s a difference between the two and I’ll cover more about that soon. Your goal will obviously to be to drive a lot of high quality traffic, which can mean different things to different organizations. I typically help non-profits develop a strong analytics strategy so the can analyze their campaigns based on performance. You can read my post about tracking performance via conversion goals and events in a previous post of mine.

The Two Most Common Situations Non-Profits Experience
When non-profits contact me about their Google Grants account, there are usually two scenarios I’m presented with. Note, the first is the more common scenario, but the second does happen too.

1. Very Little Traffic, Can’t Gain Traction
Based on the complexity of AdWords, combined with the inherent limitations of Grant accounts, many non-profits have a hard time gaining traction with regard to traffic and performance. I’ll cover the specific challenges that non-profits face below, but this scenario is the most common. It’s not unusual for a non-profit that’s new to AdWords to have very little traffic leading to their site each month. After completing paid search audits of those specific AdWords accounts, I can usually identify the core issues pretty quickly. At that point, I develop a remediation plan in order to get the account on track. Needless to say, it can be extremely frustrating for non-profits to know they have up to $10K per month in free advertising, but they are only seeing a handful of visitors per month. This doesn’t have to be the case…

2. A Lot of Traffic, But Extremely Low Performance
This scenario is definitely not the norm, but I have seen it several times. If an organization ended up targeting a wide range of broad keywords (some untargeted based on their own mission), they could experience a surge in traffic. But, I’ve consistently seen this scenario lead to low performance numbers. The reason is because the strategy focused on “clicks” and “hitting budget” versus driving high quality visitors. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a big difference between the two.

Again, when I’m completing an audit, it’s easy to see why this would be happening. For example, an organization might be running ads that would attract clicks, however, driving visitors to landing pages that cannot live up to the ad’s message. This leads to a high bounce rate, low conversion, and a waste of AdWords advertising dollars. In paid search (in general), it’s extremely important to match visitor intent with targeted content. It’s one of the reasons that landing pages strategy and optimization is a core service of mine for SEM.

Let’s take a look at some of the inherent limitations with a Google Grants account, how they can impact your AdWords campaigns, and how to deal with the limitations.

1. A Tough and Challenging $1.00 Max CPC
The most important limitation with Google Grants is the limit on your maximum cost per click (CPC). If you’re not familiar with AdWords, your max CPC is the highest you are willing to bid on a keyword. Some keywords are inexpensive in paid search (if you are lucky), and some are very expensive. For example, I have some clients that pay up to $25/click for competitive keywords in a hyper-competitive market. Needless to say, a $1.00 max CPC is tough to work with if you don’t understand the inner workings of AdWords. You will inherently have problems triggering your ads with such a low CPC (for some keywords).

This is typically the top reason why non-profits experience low activity in their Grant accounts. For example, while analyzing some Grant accounts, there are times I only see a handful of keywords in their ad groups, and each has a first page bid that’s clearly higher than $1.00. This doesn’t mean their ads will never show, but they will only show a limited amount of the time. This leads to low impression share, low click-through, and low visits from their AdWords campaigns. This is why a thorough account structure that targets the long tail is critically important (covered below).

2. Mapping Out A Robust Account Structure
When mapping out any paid search account, it’s critically important to map out a solid structure from the start. I explain more about this in my post about SEM Audits, but it’s almost impossible to recover from a poorly structured paid search account. For Google Grants, you want to be thorough, granular, and cover a wide range of keyword possibilities. You definitely don’t want just a handful of ad groups with a few hundred keywords in total. Instead, you should perform extensive keyword research and map out a robust account structure. This might include several core campaigns with many ad groups within each campaign. Doing this will ensure you cover a wide range of categories, subcategories, and keywords within those groupings.

Mapping out a thorough account structure takes time, but can pay huge dividends. Don’t rush into running a small set of keywords with your Grant Account. If you do, I can almost guarantee that you won’t see positive results, both traffic and performance-wise.

3. The Long Tail is Extremely Important
Based on what I explained above about mapping out a thorough account structure, the long tail of Search becomes extremely important for Google Grants. If you’re not familiar with the concept of the long tail, it encompasses keywords that are 3 or more words in length, and aren’t as popular as head terms (and don’t have as much query volume). I’ve included a graph below that represents the long tail in Search. Although each long tail keyword doesn’t have the query volume of a head term, many long tail keywords in aggregate can eclipse head terms traffic-wise.

The Long Tail of Search and Google Grants

For example, a head keyword might be “homeless shelters” where a long tail keyword might be “how to help homeless shelters in Manhattan New York”. The second query contains 5+ words, where the head term contains just two. If you think about this concept across all of the categories and subcategories that your organization targets, you could end up with many targeted keywords in your account (thousands or tens of thousands). Don’t underestimate the power of the long tail. And that’s especially true for organizations with a $1.00 max CPC limitation. :)

4. Quality Score and Its Impact on Ad Rank
I won’t go into great detail about Quality Score in this post, but it’s an extremely important concept for any paid search marketer to understand. Quality Score (QS) impacts both your Ad Rank and your Actual CPC (the amount you actually pay per click). The higher your Quality Score, the higher your paid search ad can rank, and the lower you will pay per click. Based on this, it’s always a good idea to analyze your QS and look for ways to increase it.

Although there are many factors that go into Quality Score, click through rate (CTR) is one of the most important. One way to increase your CTR is by continually looking for ways to improve your ads. If your ad is more relevant to the keywords triggering that ad, then you have a greater chance of someone clicking through. As you increase your click through rate, you can positively impact your Quality Score. As you positively impact your Quality Score, you can increase your ad’s rank, while also lowering your CPC. As a Google Grant owner, the more you can lower your CPC, the more you can fall within that tough, $1.00 max CPC limit.

5. The Impact of Not Being Able to Raise Your Bid Over $1.00
For Google Grants, what I explained above about Quality Score is a critically important concept, as you cannot impact your Ad Rank by simply increasing your max CPC. Ad Rank is the formula used to determine the position of your paid search ads. The formula for AdRank is Quality Score * Max CPC, which means that most advertisers can impact their Ad Rank by increasing their max CPC’s. The problem for Grant Account owners is that they can’t increase their bid beyond $1.00. This can be a serious limiting factor for Grant Account owners trying to trigger their ads more for competitive keywords.

Ad Rank = Quality Score * CPC Bid

For example, you can’t simply jump your bid to $5.00 per click in order to show up higher in the paid search rankings (like some advertisers can do). Therefore, Quality Score is your path to more impressions, which can lead to more click through and visits. As a Grant Account owner, you can impact one side of the equation, Quality Score, but you cannot impact max CPC (beyond $1.00). I find many of the non-profits contacting me about Google Grants don’t address Quality Score, and therefore, don’t give themselves a shot at high performance in AdWords.

6. Ads Will Only Show on Google.com
The last limitation I’m going to cover in this post relates to where your ads will show up. I find many people running Grant accounts falsely believe their ads will show up on Search Partner sites and on the Display Network. That’s not the case, and Google explains this in the Help Center for Google Grants. Instead, your ads will only show on Google.com. This can obviously still get your ads in front of a lot of people, but your ads will not show across Google’s Display Network which provides a huge opportunity for advertisers. In addition, Search Partners like AOL, Ask.com, etc. are not part of the Grants program.

If you want to run your ads across Search Partners or the Display Network, then you should set up a second, paid AdWords account. If you do this, just make sure your ads in the second account don’t compete with your ads in the Grant Account. Mapping out a strong account structure will enable you to effectively use both accounts without running into issues with overlapping campaigns.

Improve the Performance of Your Google Grants Account
I hope this post shed some light on Google Grants and Grantspro, how they can be used effectively by non-profits, as well as some of the inherent limitations involved with managing those accounts. Unfortunately, $10K in free advertising is what everyone hears, but the execution doesn’t always translate into that dollar amount. Planning, research, and ongoing management of the account can pay huge dividends for non-profits with regard to Google Grant performance. If you experience success, you can even bump up to $40K per month with Grantspro. But you’ll need to take a methodical approach to building the account, driving quality traffic, and documenting your results.

If you have any additional questions about managing a Google Grants account, don’t hesitate to contact me. The good news is that you can start refining your account today. Good luck.

GG

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Successfully Revealing the Iceberg – Avoid These Common Pitfalls When Opening Up New Content for SEO

How to open up new content for SEO.

When I’m helping clients with SEO, I often look for opportunities to expand the amount of optimized content they provide on their sites by leveraging information they already own (or that they already have developed). I see opportunities to do this often, since it’s easy to overlook data that’s right under your nose (if you aren’t looking at the situation from an SEO standpoint). This can sometimes be low hanging fruit for companies SEO-wise, and can greatly expand the amount of content indexed by the search engines.

For example, if you had a database full of information relevant to a specific topic, category, or industry vertical, but it’s only used as part of an application (and isn’t accessible to the search engine bots). Or maybe you find content that’s only used for print material or for training purposes. SEO-wise, I consider this “low hanging fruit” because the content is already there, but you might just have it in a form that’s not crawlable or search engine friendly. Once this data is revealed and a plan developed, it might only take a short amount of time to open up that content and have indexation boom on the site. And if mapped out the right way, all of that content can be optimized based on keyword research. I’ve seen this approach work extremely well for my clients.

They Beat Us To The Punch, Or Did They?
Beating competitors to the punch in SEO.
I’ve been helping a client develop a plan to open up thousands of pages of content on their site, based on data that’s currently only used in applications. Based on my estimates, the new content can increase indexation by a factor of 20, which is a huge jump in the amount of content on the site. The plan is to roll out the new content over time, and ensure each page is optimized based on keyword research (and SEM intelligence). This could be a huge win for them, to say the least.

As the project was being developed and nearing completion, I received an email from my client that read, “They beat us to the punch!” with a link to a competitor that made a similar move. It looked like they opened up a lot of content for Search (ahead of my client), which put a damper on things. So I decided to check out their solution in detail. About an hour later, I sent an email back to my client that read, “Don’t worry. None of their new content can be crawled, and to add insult to injury, even if it could, it’s not optimized. Full steam ahead.”

When analyzing the new content on the competitor’s site, it didn’t take me long to realize that they structured a solution that simply couldn’t be crawled easily. All of the links to their new content were in JavaScript, the implementation included some AJAX that wasn’t crawlable, the content wasn’t optimized, and there was a serious lack of drilldown into the content (even if they used straight text links). Needless to say, I was happy for my client. The competitor obviously didn’t have an SEO involved when mapping out the project, which is unfortunately a common occurrence when developing websites or web applications.

How To Open Content Up The Right Way, and Avoid The Madness
So, if you’re ready to leverage content you already own and have stored away, how do you ensure that new content benefits your SEO efforts? You definitely don’t want to waste time, resources, budget, etc. on a solution that does nothing for you in organic search (especially if SEO is an important reason for opening that content in the first place). Below, I’ve listed some key points to consider while opening up your content for Search. By no means is this the full list, but the following points can definitely help you have a greater chance of success, and avoid the potential madness of what I saw in the example above.

1. Make It Clean and Crawlable
If you’ve read previous posts of mine about SEO technical audits, then you know how important I believe a clean and crawlable structure is. When you look to open up a lot of content on your site that’s currently databased, you need to make sure the bots can easily crawl and index that content. This sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen solutions that throw serious barriers up to the search engine bots. The result is a lot of new content that never finds its way into Google’s index. The worst part is that the companies implementing the new content don’t know that it’s not crawlable until nothing changes SEO-wise. The answer usually comes out during an audit, months down the line (or longer).

In order to accomplish what you need with the new content, you should develop a strong information architecture to ensure that new content is organized logically. For example, depending on the content, you might organize it by category, subcategory, location, vertical, or other dimensions that make sense. Then you can use a robust internal linking structure to ensure the bots get to your content using descriptive text links. Then depending on the content at hand, you can provide relevant links from deeper pages to other pages you are opening up. The goal is to ensure both your users and the search engine bots can find all of the new content, while also influencing that new content via other pages on your site (more on that below).

2. XML Sitemaps Will Help, But They Won’t Save You
If you think that simply providing all the new URL’s in an xml sitemap will instantly give you SEO power, think again. XML sitemaps are important, but they are a supplement to a traditional web crawl. You should definitely use them, but you shouldn’t rely on them in the same way you rely on traditional links from other pages on your site. You can’t influence your new pages via an xml sitemap. For example, you won’t be passing any PageRank to the new pages by simply adding them to an xml sitemap. But you can pass PageRank by linking to your pages via a strong internal linking structure. I find a lot of people don’t realize how you can influence other pages on your site via smart linking. And by the way, this typically helps both users and SEO. I’m definitely not saying to add a bunch of links to the new content just for SEO. A smart internal linking structure is good for usability and natural search performance.

3. Avoid JavaScript-based Links, and Make Sure Your AJAX is Crawlable
If you take my advice and map out a robust internal linking structure for your new content, do not use JavaScript-based links to drill into that content. Use direct text links whenever possible. The reason is because you cannot guarantee that those JavaScript-based links will be crawled effectively. Worst case scenario, all of the links to your new content won’t be crawled at all. And that could leave most of that new content with no way of ranking. To clarify, if it can’t be crawled, it won’t be indexed. If it can’t be indexed, you have no way of ranking. If it can’t rank, you can’t drive targeted traffic via SEO.

Also, in order to create powerful ways to access new content, some companies utilize AJAX in their implementation. That’s fine, but you need to ensure your AJAX is crawlable. If not, you can run into a similar situation like what I listed above with JavaScript-based links. Your content simply won’t be crawled. To overcome situations like this, Google developed a method for ensuring your AJAX gets crawled. The problem is that many companies don’t know that it’s possible, how to implement it, etc. If you choose to use AJAX for usability purposes when opening up new content, make sure you follow Google’s guidelines. If not, you might end up with a lot of new content in theory, when in reality, none of it gets crawled, which of course means it can’t rank.

4. Dynamic Optimization – Optimize Your New Content Programmatically
If you are taking the time to open up thousands of pages (or more) of new content, make sure you take the time to optimize that content. The solution I mentioned earlier (my client’s competitor) implemented the same exact metadata for each new page (across thousands of pages). Needless to say, that isn’t going to help them at all. When you open up a lot of content, you can work with your development team to create a formula for dynamic optimization. You can analyze the database structure and utilize those fields to help optimize the title tag, meta description, heading tags, internal links, etc. If you come up the right formula, then you can optimize all of your new content programmatically. That’s an awesome way to go for database-driven content. Think about it, are you ready to optimize 12K new pages of content manually? Instead, have a developer write code that can leverage the information you have already databased to uniquely optimize each piece of content. Awesome.

5. Avoid (Creating) Duplicate Content
If you don’t map out a sound structure and navigation for your new content, you can run into duplicate content problems. I won’t go into great detail about duplicate content in this post, but it’s not a good thing for SEO. Duplicate content is when you have the same content resolve at more than one URL. As you can guess, this usually isn’t intended. For example, imagine you had one product that’s part of six different categories. When opening up this content, you could very easily have six different product pages versus one canonical product page. Each page holds the same exact content, but resolves at six different URL’s. That’s a good example of duplicate content. If possible, you definitely want to ensure each piece of content resolves at one canonical URL. Using the example from above, it would be smart to have each of the category pages link to one product page.

Bonus: Watch Out For Session ID’s
One issue I’ve seen pop up in projects involving application-driven content is the dreaded session ID. Make sure you are not appending session ID’s to your URL’s when implementing new content. If you do, then you will certainly be creating a lot of duplicate content on your site, which based on what I explained earlier, can be a bad thing SEO-wise. You should never have session ID’s resolve in the URL, and instead, you should use a cookie-based approach to maintaining state. If session ID’s end up in your URL’s, you can end up with thousands of pages of duplicate content (since you might have many URL’s for each piece of content.) In a nutshell, the planning stage is critically important to ensuring you don’t run into a canonicalization problem.

Open New Content, Don’t Bottle It
I hope this post provided some guidelines for ensuring you don’t waste your time when opening up new content on your site. If you find data that’s not being utilized, and choose to implement new content based on that data, then make sure it can help you SEO-wise. Don’t make what could be a boom of new content turn into a squeak of SEO technical issues. Make it crawlable, avoid duplicate content, map out a robust internal linking structure, and make sure your AJAX is crawlable. If you do, you can reap great rewards SEO-wise. If you don’t, you’ll keep the iceberg of great content underneath the water, where nobody can find it.

GG

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Announcing a Premium Webinar on Local SEO and Google Analytics for Search, G-Squared and The Marketing Spot Team Up

Webinar for Local SEO and Google Analytics for Search

When speaking with local businesses about digital marketing, there are two topics that consistently come up (and for good reason). First, with the importance of SEO for generating new local business, companies want to know how to rank highly in local search (and across engines). Strong local rankings can often lead to increased exposure, more targeted traffic, and more revenue. Second, both small and large businesses want to know how to analyze the impact of their online marketing efforts, which can be a daunting experience if you don’t understand the foundational aspects of tracking and analytics.

So, based on the importance of these two topics, I’m happy to announce that I’ve partnered with Jay Ehret of The Marketing Spot to offer a premium webinar covering Local SEO and Google Analytics for Search. Jay is a small business marketing expert and has been helping companies expand their businesses for the past 15 years. He’s a really smart guy, a savvy small business marketer, and I’m excited to be working with him on this webinar. The 90 minute webinar is on February 24th at 1PM ET and you can register now via EventBrite (by using the link listed above).

Google Analytics for Search
My section of the webinar will cover Google Analytics, the powerful (yet free) web analytics package from Google. If you’ve read my blog before, then you know how important I believe tracking your digital marketing efforts is. Without a robust tracking solution in place, you will have no way of understanding the true ROI of your efforts. And if you can’t optimize your campaigns based on performance, you will essentially be flying blind. Please don’t fly blind… there’s no reason to, and it’s why I write extensively about web analytics on my blog, my Search Engine Journal column, and my contributions on other industry blogs.

During the webinar, I will cover a number of important topics, including:

  • An introduction to Google Analytics and the importance of tracking your digital marketing efforts.
  • How to analyze and understand your current SEO performance.
  • How to access important Search-related reports in Google Analytics in order to better analyze search engines, keywords, landing pages from organic search, etc.
  • How to filter both paid and organic search to better analyze your Search efforts.
  • How to easily track your Google AdWords campaigns in Google Analytics.
  • An introduction to the (new) Google AdWords reporting in Google Analytics.
  • How to use Campaign Tracking to identify campaign performance within Google Analytics.
  • An introduction to Conversion Goals and Events, along with how to set them up for your own business.

As I mentioned above, Jay Ehret from The Marketing Spot will be covering Local SEO with a focus on Google Place Pages. His section of the webinar will cover:

  • Website optimization for Local Search.
  • An introduction to Google Place Pages and why they are critically important for local search.
  • How to optimize your Place Page.
  • Local reviews and how they can help your business.
  • Understanding outside influences to local search, and what you need to do in order to benefit from them (including data sources, inbound links, etc.)

Pricing, Downloads, and Bonuses – What You’ll Get With The Webinar
Jay and I want to make sure that webinar attendees are in good hands both during the webinar and after. We know that there will be a lot of information shared, along with several tactical lessons included during the 90 minute session. With that in mind, we’ve decided to include the following items with registration:

  • A downloadable video of the 90 minute webinar.
  • A comprehensive workbook with step-by-step instructions based on the lessons provided in the webinar.
  • Bonus 1: A free copy of my online marketing ebook “Taking Control of Your Online Marketing”, a $50 value.
  • Bonus 2: One month free membership to Jay Ehret’s new membership site: The Entrepreneur’s Edge, an archive of marketing resources and tutorials for small business owners, a $69 value.

Webinar Pricing:
The webinar is $79 and you can register now by visiting our registration page on EventBrite.
Early Registration Discount Code: As part of the kickoff, we are offering a special discount code for early registrations. If you register by Sunday, February 13th, you will receive a 30% discount. This means you’ll get access to the premium 90 minute webinar and all of the extras listed above for only $55.30. Yes, that’s a strange total price, but still an incredible value. :)

Webinar Registration:
So don’t hesitate, register for the webinar today:
Use the following discount code to receive 30% off: GSQi_13
Register for the webinar: Local SEO and Google Analytics Webinar

I look forward to seeing you on the 24th!

GG

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Groupon Shows Up in the Clustered Results of Google Place Search. Why This Can Be A Problem For Local Businesses

In October of 2010, Google launched Place Search, which was a big change for its local search results. As part of the change, Google began clustering information in the search results for specific listings. The clustered results include information from a number of sources, including CitySearch, Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. You can see a screenshot below of what the clustered results look like in Place Search. By providing clustered information directly in the search results, Google’s goal was to aggregate rich local information so users could find what they needed without having to dig. This information was usually contained just on the Place Page for a given result, and not in the search results.

An example of the clustered results in Google Place Search:
Clustered results in Google Place Search (Local Search).

Groupon Shows Up, And Why That Matters
As I mentioned earlier, there are several sources of information that Google is pulling from in order to provide the clustered information for local businesses. Additional sources to the ones I mentioned above include InsiderPages, Expedia, UrbanSpoon, Zagat, etc. As I was performing research for a client, I came across an interesting addition to the various sources of clustered information in local search. I saw Groupon showing up! That’s right, the clustered results for some listings provided links to Groupon reviews for the company at hand. To clarify, the link in the clustered results took me to the Groupon page for the specific company. So, if a local business was ranking highly in Place Search, and it had run a Groupon (or multiple Groupons), I saw a link to the Groupon page directly in the search results. See a screenshot below of this happening.

Groupon showing up in the clustered results in Google Place Search:
Groupon showing up in the clustered results in Place Search.

The Problem for Local Businesses
Although my immediate reaction was positive, I quickly started to think about the implications for local businesses. For those of you unfamiliar with Groupon, it’s an extremely popular group buying site. And by “popular”, I mean it’s big (and hot) enough that it turned down a $6 billion offer from Google to buy the company. Instead, they are supposedly preparing for an IPO.

In a nutshell, businesses offer a heavy discount and set a threshold for the number of units they sell. This means that you only receive the discount if a certain number of people buy the Groupon. For example, 51% off X service, but only if 250 people buy the Groupon. So, although there’s a heavy discount, the business knows that they will land a certain amount of revenue (which in theory will make up for the discount). That hasn’t always worked out so well for the business running the Groupon, but that’s for another post. :)

OK, So What’s the Problem With Groupon in the Clustered Results?
Here’s the biggest problem. All of the Groupons I came across were expired. That’s right, when you click through the link in the clustered results, you end up at the Groupon page for the business (with the expired discount staring you in the face.) Imagine a customer searching for a spa treatment, finding your Groupon page (where you provided a huge discount), then finding out they can’t get that discount, and then possibly taking measures based on that fact.

Some people may push for the discount, others may wait for the next Groupon (based on the extreme discount), and others might simply wonder why you offered such a large discount in the first place. None of these situations are great for local businesses, as they can be hurt by their past promotions. Google is essentially embedding links to those discounts into the local results (via the clustered information).

I know several businesses that have run Groupons with varying levels of success, but I’m not sure any of them want their expired Groupons front and center for prospective customers to see.

An example of the clustered results linking to a Groupon page with an expired deal (with a 57% discount):
Clustered results linking to an expired Groupon.

Adding Insult to (Groupon) Injury
My research also revealed something that could be alarming for some local businesses. On the expired Groupon page, there were other LIVE Groupons for competitors! That’s right, prospective customers visit your expired Groupon page, only to realize they can’t receive your discount, and then they are presented with live discounts from your competition. Wonderful. And remember, these are heavy discounts, not 10% or 20% off. Many are over 50% off… See screenshot below for an example.

A link from a company Groupon page with an expired deal to an active competitor deal:
A live competitor deal on a Groupon company page.

Here’s the active competitor deal that was linked to from the expired Groupon page seen above:
A competitor deal page on Groupon.

Recommendations For Dealing With Groupon in Google Place Search:

  • Form a plan for dealing with the “Re-Groupon”. When you launch a Groupon, understand that it can possibly show up down the line (when prospective customers are searching for your services). Have a plan for communicating why customers either will or won’t receive the Groupon pricing they found in the clustered results.
  • Be careful how much you discount your products or services on Groupon. One of the core benefits of Groupon for consumers is the massive discount you can receive. I’ve seen some as high as 70% off. If you offer a discount this high, and it ends up showing up in the search results, how will this reflect on your business? Will it hurt your brand? Will questions pop up in a consumer’s mind about why you were offering such a large discount? And will they ultimately push for that discount, wait for the next Groupon, or worse, find your competitor’s Groupon…
  • If you don’t want your Groupons showing up in the search results, you can ask Groupon for help. Note, I have no idea if they will help keep your Groupons out of the search results, but it’s worth asking. This can potentially apply to both the standard search results and the clustered results in Place Search. Just be aware that this can potentially hurt your Groupon when it’s live. For example, people searching for it on Google won’t be able to find it as easily. Also, Groupon appears to be marking up their pages using rich snippets, which enables Google to collect structured information that can show up in the search results. You can ask Groupon to not mark up your pages. Again, I don’t know if they will do this for you.

Summary – Should Groupons Live Forever?
It’s one thing to have helpful information show up in the clustered results of local search, but it’s another thing to provide links to heavy discounts, for very specific promotions, after they have expired. As a local business, you might end up trying Groupon to see if it works for your company, and that’s a good thing to do. But, you should also understand that the massive discount you are offering could haunt your business for a long time (beyond your Groupon expiration date). That’s especially true if a link to the discount shows up front and center in the search results of Google. For better or for worse, Google never forgets.

GG

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Google Testing Stationary Map Versus Scrolling Map for New Local Listings

Google Testing Stationary and Scrolling Maps for Local Search

In October of 2010, Google launched a major change to its local search listings.. As part of the implementation, there was a potentially big change for paid search advertisers. When Google displayed local listings (based on a query it deemed local in nature), it would show a map in the upper right-hand corner of the search results. That’s fine, but that’s not all the map did… As you scrolled down the page, the map scrolled with you. If paid search listings were present on the right-hand side of the page, then the map covered the paid search listings as it scrolled. As you can imagine, this could have a big impact on the performance of your AdWords campaigns.

Why Aren’t You Scrolling?
As I was testing various local searches this morning, I noticed some strange behavior with the map I mentioned above. I noticed that it wasn’t scrolling for some searches, while it was scrolling for others. After analyzing those searches, it became apparent that the scrolling map functionality wasn’t working when there were paid search ads on the right side of the page (underneath the map). Then I tested searches that yielded no paid search ads on the right side of the page, and the map did scroll down the page. I noticed this behavior on my netbook using both Firefox and Chrome.

Maybe others have seen this before, but I haven’t yet. I ran to my other systems to test this out and I did not notice the same results (the map was scrolling for all local searches, no matter if there were paid search ads on the right side or not). So, Google might be testing the impact of using a stationary map versus a scrolling map (for usability, paid search impact, etc.) This is important, because it could have a big impact on how your paid search campaigns perform. If Google chooses to not scroll the map, then your paid search ads will not be covered (which should improve your click-through rate, visits, sales, etc.) If it chooses to keep the scrolling map, then your ads will be covered part of the time (which could decrease your exposure, click-through, sales, etc.)

Anyway, I took some screen captures of this happening and have provided the short videos below. I apologize for the poor resolution, but I had to take screen captures from my netbook. Regardless, you can still see what’s going on with the map. The first video shows a search for Italian restaurants in new york city (where there were paid search ads on the right side). The second is for a search for pizza in dallas, tx (where there weren’t any paid search ads on the right side).

Needless to say, I’m going to keep a close eye on this. Local businesses should too. :)

GG

Video Showing a Stationary Map When Paid Search Ads Are Present on the Right Side of the Page

Video Showing a Scrolling Map When Paid Search Ads Are Not Present on the Right Side of the Page

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Google Instant Previews – Great Functionality or a Signal Back to the Mothership?

In November, Google introduced Instant Previews, which enable users to trigger previews of webpages directly from the search results. You can trigger an instant preview by clicking the magnifying glass in the search engine results page (which is located to the far right of each listing). See a screenshot below in case you aren’t familiar with how to do this.

How to Trigger an Instant Preview in Google:
Google Instant Previews

According to Google, the core reason for adding instant previews is to offer users more visual information so they can choose the right listing within the search results. During its testing, Google found that users were 5% more likely to be satisfied with the results that they click after using instant previews. I definitely agree that this can help from usability standpoint, since Google shows you the destination page, along with additional information based on your query. For example, Google will highlight text within the instant preview that is relevant to your query (from the destination page.) Google will also present text callouts in orange that are highly relevant to your query. Again, view the screenshot below to see how this looks.

A Sample Instant Preview From 1up.com:
An example of an instant preview in Google

Instant Previews, Another Signal Back To Google
When Instant Previews was released, many SEO’s started immediately thinking about how it could potentially impact rankings. Although Google states that this will not impact rankings, and it’s just for usability, it’s hard to ignore the fact that instant previews can send a powerful signal back to Google about the relevancy of the search results. For example, if a page is ranking near the top of the search results, but really shouldn’t (because it’s spammy, the page owner gamed Google’s algorithm to get there, etc.), then Google could start to identify these pages via monitoring low click-through rate via instant previews. For example, imagine a page with 175K impressions in organic search, with 3500 instant preview triggers, but no click-through. That very well could raise a red flag to Google.

The Data -Should- Impact Rankings
Data like this can be invaluable to Google for cleaning up the search results. Today, most people have come across pages that are currently ranking highly in Search that clearly shouldn’t be. But, most people just move on with their search without giving Google any direct feedback. By using instant previews and then not clicking through, users can send that important feedback to Google. Then, based on collecting enough information about a giving search result, Google could potentially impact the future rankings of that listing. Again, Google states this isn’t the case (at this point at least), but this sounds extremely logical to me.

Instant previews can be just another signal that helps Google provide the right content to the right users, while eliminating low quality and potentially spammy content. Sure, instant previews help with usability, but it’s hard to believe Google doesn’t have an ulterior motive. And I’m totally ok with that. Actually, I hope they are using instant preview statistics as a ranking factor. If it can help weed out spammers and black hat marketers, I’m cool with it.

Instant Preview Observations and Notes
Given what I explained above, you should check your instant previews on a regular basis. You definitely don’t want some type of a glitch to impact your click-through rates. But how do you ensure your previews are strong, or at least functioning properly? I perform a lot of SEO technical audits, which is a core service I offer as a consultant, and I have seen quite a few issues with instant previews during my analysis. So, based on the problems I have seen, I will provide a few important notes about instant previews that you should be aware of. My recommendation is to review these notes and make sure your previews are the best they can be. You never know, your previews could be impacting your rankings. ;)

Instant Previews Tip 1 – Errors in Your Previews, Helping Diagnose Technical Problems on a Site
First, error messages that show up in your instant previews can kill click-through. Think about it, someone is searching for your products or services, triggers instant previews, and starts checking destination pages. The user checks four or five previews and notices a critical error showing on your page (via the instant preview). Do you think they will choose your page and click through? Probably not, and if Google is analyzing this data to weed out poor results, then this can potentially impact your rankings.

If your previews are showing errors, work with your development team to identify why that is. I’ve seen some sites where all of the previews are showing errors. Needless to say, if Google is having a hard time generating previews for your site, or if it is experiencing errors while crawling your pages, that’s definitely not a good thing. Actually, you might find that the errors in instant previews are the tip of the iceberg with regard to overall errors on your site.

An Example of an Error Being Displayed in Instant Previews:
Errors in Google Instant Previews

Instant Previews Tip 2 – Flash and Other Technology Hiding Content in Previews (at least for now)
You should be aware that using flash or other special technologies to provide content on your pages can cause problems in your instant previews (for now). For example, check out the screenshot below for Target.com, which uses flash as a core element on the homepage.

An Example of Missing Flash Content in Instant Previews:
Flash content missing in Google instant previews

As you can see, the flash element shows up as a missing puzzle piece, signifying that the flash element could not be rendered. Again, think about what this can mean for click-through… I’ve also seen certain technologies simply hide content from instant previews (where nothing shows up in the instant preview). In that case, the area is simply blank. On the Google Webmaster Central Blog, Google offers some advice with regard to flash and other special technologies. Here are two quotes worth noting:

“Try to avoid interstitial pages, ad pop-ups, or other elements that interfere with your content. In some cases, these distracting elements may be picked up in the preview of your page, making the screenshots less attractive.”

“Currently, some videos or Flash content in previews appear as a “puzzle piece” icon or a black square. We’re working on rendering these rich content types accurately.”

As you can see, Google is clearly explaining that ad popups and other elements that interfere with usability can cause problems in your instant previews. In addition, they explain that flash and some video content are not being rendered in instant previews. But, since Google owns YouTube, my guess is that this will be short-lived. I’m sure flash and flash video will find its way into instant previews. But, the main point is to ensure your previews clearly reveal your content, while not showing errors, missing content, or “puzzle pieces”.

If your previews are showing errors or hiding content, then you could be crippling your click-through rates. That’s especially true if your competitors have strong instant previews. Remember, most users don’t know you, your company, or the page that’s ranking well in Search. This is your first impression. Imagine meeting someone for the first time while wearing a hood and mask, or wearing an error sign on your forehead. I’m not sure that would go very well. :)

Instant Previews Could Be “Instant Feedback” for Google
As I’ve explained above, instant previews are a great way for users to check out a page before clicking through to the site. Receiving visual feedback, along with viewing text callouts can help you find the right result faster. But, looking deeper into Google’s intentions, are instant previews sending signals back to Google about the relevance and quality of the search listings? Again, I hope that is the case. But, you need to make sure that your listings don’t become collateral damage. Make sure your previews don’t show errors or hide content. That sends a bad signal to users and to Google.

Remember, you don’t want to be the guy at a party wearing a hood and mask, or an error message on your forehead. :)

GG