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August 2007 Archives

August 1, 2007

Sub-prime Mortgage Woes Mean Lower CPCs? Don’t bet on it.

Financial service products generate some of search’s highest CPCs, particularly for phrases like “auto insurance” and “mortgage” and (so I’ve heard) account for as much as 20% of search revenue. We’ve seen a lot of bad news lately in the sub-prime mortgage market, which even scared stock market investors into a major sell-off. While the sub-prime problems are real, the long-term trend for search CPCs is still in one direction – up. Here are three reasons why growth in search CPCs and total spend for financial services will continue for the foreseeable future.

1. Still Growing Consumer Acceptance

Consumers are still far more comfortable buying retail products online than purchasing insurance or getting a loan, but the gap will continue to shrink. Progressive Insurance, among others, has hastened this trend, with offline promotion of buying online. I think at some point most consumers will actually prefer buying their financial services products online. Sure, it’s slightly scary to tell eHealthInsurance about your recent bout of gonorrhea, but would you rather tell your local health insurance agent who you might see at the supermarket?

2. New Advertisers Are Coming

Many insurance and mortgage companies have been aggressively spending online for years. It may be hard to believe in 2007, but many major players have only dipped their toe in the water or are still sitting on the sidelines. For every online champ like GEICO and Quicken Loans there are great companies like Nationwide and Farmers who have not moved as much budget to search. That means there is still tremendous financial services ad budget coming online and most of it will come to search.

3. Website Process Improvement

Search budgets for financial services are ultimately set based on how many insurance policies are sold and how many loans are closed versus other marketing channels. As insurance companies and lenders pour more money into improving the throughput of their websites, they will sell more policies & close more loans with each inbound search click. Every year, it gets easier and easier for consumers to buy financial services products fully online as sites offer richer user experiences and more streamlined online purchase. And, judging by the pound or two of mail I receive each day, direct mail marketing isn’t getting any easier. Expect to see continued improvement in web throughput and declining direct mail response send more budget over to search.

Jon Kelly is the President of SureHits. SureHits is the ad network for insurance & loans and a boutique financial services SEM.

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Yahoo Paid Inclusion: Thing of the Past?

Many people who are new to web site optimization may be unaware of a small corner of the market known as paid inclusion. Paid inclusion was once a major tool for ranking on Yahoo’s Web Search index, but has become less of a player with more traditional, spider based search products.

What is Paid Inclusion?

Paid inclusion refers to programs that are available that allow your web site to be included in the search results for a fee. Most paid inclusion programs work on an annual basis with some degree of limitations such as a limit of five pages per domain allowed.

Will Paid Inclusion Rank Me Higher?

Ironically, no. Paid inclusion programs allow your site to be seen by the spiders on a predetermined schedule. Yahoo’s Search Submit program for example allows your site to be spidered once a week and included somewhere in the search results. There is no guarantee however as to where your pages will show up.

What are the Major Paid Inclusion Programs?

Yahoo’s Search Submit Basic program, sold as a service through providers like Position Technologies, is certainly the major paid inclusion program available to site marketers.

SSB charges a $49 fee per URL annually, while limiting the number of pages on a domain to five. Overall, the program provides inclusion to the Yahoo Web Search results and is viewed to be the most cost effective option out there.

There are strong arguments though against paying for inclusion to Yahoo. The most notable being — you can have the same, if not better results, for free. Click here for more information on the SSB program.

Other paid inclusion programs exist but offer limited value. No other major search engine provides a paid inclusion program of this nature.

Is Paid Inclusion Officially Dead?

For all intensive purposes, yes. For some extreme cases though where web sites are having difficulties in ranking on Yahoo, it can and should be used. The ultimate bottom line though is that the only program that bears a name worth worrying about is Yahoo — and you can literally get the same results without having to spend a dime.

If you can have it all for free — what’s the point of paying for it?

Sujan Patel is Director of Search at Single Grain, which specializes in Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Marketing

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8 Ways To Optimize For Personalized Search

Personalized search is here and it’s here to stay. With the recent move by Google to make personalized search a default setting, and the multitude of patents from all the major search engines, the complexity of SEO has increased significantly. Staying ahead of the game in today’s competitive market will be the only way to stay afloat. In today’s lesson we’re going to lay out 8 steps you can take to optimize and succeed in the crazy world of personalization.

There is essentially one thing to always keep front and center. Your goal should be to infiltrate everything and be everywhere. The more data the search engines have the better. Let’s begin with your first steps:

1. Make sure your title tags and descriptions are well written and have a strong call to action. Your organic click-through rate will become more important. Take the recent patent application from Microsoft that is using “triplet data sets” to personalize your results based on what users have previously clicked on. I know your first thought…easily spammed right? With the size of the dataset they have now all but the most prolific botnet spammers would be filtered out.

2. Leverage social networks. You should have an official company/site profile on every social network you can, and keep them active as much as possible. The most active users are often prominently placed on the home page which will generate a lot of traffic. This traffic will not convert but that’s not the point right now, it’s building your network. More Friends = More Reputation = Higher Rankings.

3. Build cool widgets with some actual functionality for personalized home pages. All the major engines will eventually have personalized home pages allowing you to add your own tools and services from your favorite sites. At present you can get away with building a simple widget that does some simple searching, but in the long run you’re going to need some creativity. Everyone will have a widget, why should I add yours? Make it stand out from the pack. The more people that have your widget the more trust you will gain, again pushing your rankings up.

4. Prominently market those widgets you just built on your website, and keep improving them. There’s going to be some churn as people add new tools and remove outdated ones from their home pages. Keep gaining new users at a steady rate and keep improving your cool tools to keep people from getting bored and replacing you with the newest gadget.

5. Increase the prominence of your bookmark buttons. Before personalization if your users generally purchased during their first visit and were one time customers, the prominence of your bookmark buttons was less important. Now even if the likelihood of them returning is low, a social bookmark is another piece of data that will build trust in the eyes of the search engines and should be taken advantage of. After they convert casually ask them to bookmark your site on del.icio.us/Furl/Google Bookmarks/Yahoo MyWeb/Whatever. A bookmark is much like the link of old.

6. Concentrate on user engagement and stickiness. Search engines are already measuring events and time stamping those events. Keeping users on your site and keeping them engaged will play a prominent role. Build useful tools and write outstanding content that will keep people on your site (and bookmarking). Pretend like it’s 1998 when content was king.

7. Blog. Consistently. This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. A blog just goes into another network building a significant amount of trust if done correctly and it keeps user engagement at a high level. Reward your users for commenting and keep the conversation going. Don’t automatically delete negative comments but respond to them in a friendly and helpful way. This will go a long way in building trust with your user base, and by association the search engines.

8. Prominently market your feeds. If you think search engines are not trying to figure out how to integrate feed data into their algorithms, you should go sell vacuum cleaners (door-to-door only). This goes back to #7, but if your users can’t find the blog that you’ve worked so hard on there isn’t much point.

That sums it up folks. There are many more ways to optimize for personalized search and this is by no means a total solution. Hopefully these basic steps things will get your brain thinking outside the normal avenues of SEO. It’s all about staying ahead of the game to be successful with your long term marketing goals.

Aaron Chronister, who blogs at The Mad Hat, is an in-house SEO and occassional SEO consultant specializing various forms of search marketing including search engine optimization, affiliate marketing, contextual ads, search arbitrage and web analytics.

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August 2, 2007

The SEO of Everyday Pages

Small is Beautiful - a Column From Search Engine Land

There’s a kind of page that shows up on websites that I think of as everyday pages. These are commonly appearing pages that you might see on almost every website, such as the “contact” page, the “about us,” the “terms of service” and the “privacy policy.” These are pages that I see small business sites not taking advantage of enough.

Often, these pages are sadly underutilized from a search engine optimization perspective, with such imaginative titles as “Contact”, “About Us,” “Terms of Service” and “Privacy Policy.” I’ve also see “Glossary,” “Directions,” and “Frequently Asked Questions,” or “FAQ.” Considering that a page title is one of the most important elements of a page for SEO, chances are that these pages were overlooked as a possible entryway into those sites from search engines.

Click to continue reading…

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Thinking Strategic Search Engine Marketing

One of the things that frustrates me most about the online marketing world is the lack of strategic thinking from search engine marketers. A number of search engine marketers continue to focus on tactics and fail to look at the “big picture”. There has been great debate over whether online marketing is an art or a science. I’m beginning to wonder… I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by some pretty great thought leaders, but it becomes frustrating when conversing with others in the industry about personalization, usability, universal search or the like. Where are all of the thought leaders out there?

So just how do we define a strategic search engine marketer anyway? More importantly, how does a search engine marketer become a strategic thought leader? Here are seven keys to strategic SEM Thinking.

7 Keys to Strategic SEM Thinking

  1. Challenge the Status Quo – Look to push the envelope. While you may currently experience success, don’t rest on your laurels. Link building and on-page site optimization will only get you so far. Strategic search engine marketers tend to take risks and welcome change.
  2. Understand the Power of Change – The only constant in the search industry is that change is inevitable. Looking towards the future and knowing that rapid change is to be expected can help you plan your online strategy. Strategic thought leaders in any industry are those who embrace change and are willing to go that extra mile to generate positive return. To be a successful strategic search marketer you need to be able to forecast change, plan for the change and be willing to take some risks.
  3. Focus on the End User and Not the Search Engines – Strategically speaking, when establishing your online presence, make sure that your website is created with the end user in mind and not the search engines. Write the copy in the language of the user, not in the language of the search engines. Do not insert keywords for the sake of the search engines, make the copy flow naturally after all it is the end user who will convert online (or offline) not the search engine.
  4. Understand that tactics provide a temporary solution and that Strategy can last a lifetime – Tactics are often utilized to provide a quick but temporary solution. Strategic thinking enables search marketers to identify issues that are critical to the long-term success and will help with anticipating the future needs of their clients and their websites.
  5. Focus on Continuous Improvement – Strategic search marketers are visionary and look to always improve on past success or failure. Take, for example, the process of gathering keywords for your client’s keyword basket. Instead of doing a traditional keyword analysis evaluation, consider developing a feedback mechanism to gather popular industry “buzz-words” that your users may be using when searching for your client’s products or solutions. Understanding the language of the user will help you improve future keyword analyses. Strive to provide a better keyword analysis each and every time you visit the process.
  6. Dare to Be Different – thinking outside the box can provide great success. Strategy should be innovative. Innovative and strategic search marketers are willing to explore ideas that are truly different.
  7. Listen Before Acting – listen to your clients. If they are expressing concern over a specific issue, listen to them. Understand their pain and examine why the current “solution” is not working to satisfy this pain. Strategic thinking is not always easy nor should it be. Listening to your clients can provide direction and critical insight that can be utilized when planning an effective online strategy.

Whether you are part of an in-house search marketing team or work independently, developing strategic online marketing savvy through innovation can breathe new life into your area of business. The need for innovation and strategic thinking is at an all-time high. Strategic search marketers are highly sought after and are quickly becoming the “rock stars” of the marketing universe. I’m not saying that everyone has to be a marketing maven, just be creative, innovative and visionary.

Jody Nimetz is a senior organic search marketing strategist for Enquiro Search Solutions, Inc. Enquiro provides search marketing and usability consulting specifically tailored for B2B marketers. Jody is also author of SEO-Space, his blog about organic search marketing with a B2B twist.

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Over-optimization Is Like Being a Little Bit Pregnant

100% Organic - A Column From Search Engine Land
Here’s a quick test for you. Don’t worry, it’s only one question. True or false: Today’s SEO techniques could be tomorrow’s search engine spam with one turn of the algo crank.

What do you think? Is what you do to optimize your site going to be considered search engine spam one day because of a change in the search engines’ magic formula?

Click to continue reading…

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How To Master the Google Landing Page Quality Score

So you’re bidding on a keyword. You have the keyword in the title, description, display URL and destination URL. Your click through rate is over 5% and Google still says your quality score is poor? Your landing page has links to your privacy policy and your content is useful and relevant. So what’s the deal?

First of all it is important to understand that the Google AdWords quality score bot is not a person. It is a robot. It is unable to understand the context of text on a web page the way a human can.

The quality score bot does a reasonably good job most of the time, but sometimes we need to point them it in right direction. To do that, we need to structure our web pages semantically and structure our documents logically.

There are two very useful and free tools at our disposal when troubleshooting landing page quality scores. These are the W3 Semantic Extractor and the Google site related keyword tool. What better way to get information about what Google thinks your site is about then using a tool designed by Google to figure out exactly what your site is about?

Google Landing Page Quality Score

Google Landing Page Quality Score 2

What’s the problem?

Let me first start with an example of a landing page that does not correspond or relate to the keywords and ad text used.

The Keyword is: “Directory Submit

Here is the ad:

Google AdWords Quality Score 3

Here is the Landing Page:

DMOZ Directory Submit Guide

They appear to be a perfect match right? Wrong! After 1 day of running this particular keyword/ad with this particular landing page, our quality score went to “POOR”. The CTR was was 7%. The words “directory” and “submit” appear numerous times on the landing page too.

When we run the site through the semantic extractor, we can see that this page does not appear to outline anything to do with a “directory submit”.

Google AdWords Quality Score 4

When we run the site through the site related keyword tool, our keyword does not even show up in the list of terms Google thinks is related to the page!

Google AdWords Quality Score 5

So what can we do?

The above example may seem familiar to you. If you have been “Google slapped”, the first thing you might do is complain that your site is obviously relevant and that Google is just out to squeeze you for every drop of cash you are willing to part with. First of all lets look at an example of what a good site/ad/quality score is:

Keyword(s) targeted: “Search Engine Marketing

Here is the ad:

Google AdWords Quality Score 6

Here is the landing page:

Search Engine Marketing

Here are the semantic extractor results for that page:

Google AdWords Quality Score 7

And here is the Google site keyword tool results:

Google AdWords Quality Score 8

This particular ad/keyword/landing page combination has our quality score at “GREAT” and our minimum bids at $0.01. See the difference?

We need make sure that we have our site marked up correctly. Use headings correctly , utilize at least the h1, h2 and h3 tags and make sure the content of each is related in the semantic extractor outline. So if your site sells shoes, your landing page heading tags would be made up something like:

h1 : buy red shoes

h2: best place to buy boots

h3: why red shoes are better than blue boots

This not only helps Google AdWords identify what your content is about for organic search rankings it also helps the quality score bot understand that your landing page is indeed related to the keywords you are bidding on.

While the above steps and tools are clearly not the only way to help Google understand the content of your site, they are free and a great place to start. The next time you get “Google slapped”, make sure you don’t deserve it.

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