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Google Secure SearchIn a recent startling move, Google has begun encrypting organic search query data from users signed in to a Google account. The encryption process will take place over the coming weeks as Google rolls out the update to all users. What this means is that Analytics programs will lose the ability to report on site usage statistics by keyword for visits initiated by a logged in user. Instead all visits from logged in users will be grouped under the keyword label “(not provided)”. This represents a major loss of important data used by SEO firms to optimize a client’s online presence.

It’s important to note that this currently only affects a small subset of Google searches as Google Software Engineer, Matt Cutts, has indicated this will affect “single digit percentages of all Google searchers“. This implies that up to 9.9% of organic search data will no longer be attributed to a particular keyword in analytics reporting and represents a major loss of insight to marketers who depend on this data to provide better experiences for users who arrive on websites with particular motivations in mind.

While Google attempted to justify the move in the name of User Privacy, there are two key points that trivialize that justification:

  1. Search query data will still be available for traffic results from AdWords (Google’s paid search product). This seems to send the message that users’ privacy is for sale. This also is a harbinger that paid search could become more important over time as organic search data becomes harder to attain. It also implies that Google could possibly avail marketers this data in a new “Google Analytics Premium” service offering.
  2. Users who are not logged in do not have their privacy protected. Is privacy only important for users with a Google account? This seems to be the message from Google as search query data is not protected for Google users who may not be logged in.

There has been much speculation that Google could not follow through on a move that would have such negative consequences for marketers or that Google will ultimately enable this information to be somehow passed to Google Analytics at some point in the future. However, despite vocal marketer objections, Google has continued to dictate significant changes over time based on their own interests. This further reinforces the fact that becoming over-reliant on Google comes with significant risks. This fact was highlighted earlier this year with Google “Panda” update. Secure searches will only increase over time as more and more users have Google accounts, which leads to the conclusion that it is time to start planning for life without organic keyword referral data.

This isn’t to say that we don’t expect Google to change. We expect constant innovation and changing norms as a prerequisite of doing business online. What we object to are the pretenses under which this update was made. If this change was truly about user privacy, please enact these changes across all products such that user data truly is private. Until then we have no choice but to suspect ulterior motives. SiteLab has joined the chorus of criticism following this update.

It’s no secret that search engines are constantly evolving, the big question is what do we need to do as search engine marketers to keep up. SEOmoz, a Seattle based search engine product provider publishes an annual report with insights based on testing & analysis as to what factors are more relevant to search engines today. Their 2011 report includes interesting takeaways and confirms what many already believe, social and search are becoming even more intertwined.

One of my favorite pieces is the future of search section of the report, as it completely cements notions that most have had for some time. How do websites (that really aren’t that good) rank above my site just because of the domain name? What does all this social media work we’re doing mean for people trying to find me online? How much does having a negative bounce rate hurt my search rankings? These are all questions that have had some light shed on them.

The chart below shows future signals of what will be important for marketers, not only to be aware of but to make sure it’s a focus of your ongoing optimization plans. You’ll see three different colors on the chart, if you have more orange from right to left, then this will be a higher factor for search rankings in the near future. The yellow indicates no change from now going forward and the grey/brown bar indicates that this will lessen in importance as time goes on.

seomoz-search-engine-ranking-factors-2011

Image –Future of Search Rankings — SEOmoz.com

One of the biggest takeaways I see is that it’s going to be easier for sites to naturally rank for relevant keywords. The days of text stuffing and direct match domain names are coming to an end. The more natural and organic the rankings, the better the experience will be for not only searchers but for us as search marketers.

The highest increase from now moving forward is the analysis of a pages perceived value to users. The second highest increase goes to social signals being much larger factors and the next being usage data from things like your analytics. Other major changing factors are things like the readability and design of your site and content, showing the common theme of making sure a site is worthy of each visit being sent. Taking these signals from how much people are sharing the content, how valuable a page is perceived to be for users, and how people respond to the site by review of analytic numbers.

What are the biggest changes for what will determine search engine ranking pages? – Much less emphasis will be on exact match domains and the effectiveness of paid links. It’s long been noted that if you could get the exact match domain you would be much better off on those specific ranking terms, and still it probably holds true to some degree for now. It does however make sense to do away with this ranking factor being so prominent, there could be many sites out there more relevant to what someone is searching for and this queue is too easily manipulated by outside individuals like search engine marketers.

No matter how you perceive the changes and insight here, it means good things to come for white hat organic traffic generators.

SEOmoz report on 2011 search engine ranking factors is based from correlation-based analysis – alongside the opinions of a 132-person panel assembled by SEOmoz.

comScore recently released their 2010 Digital Year in Review Report with analysis of many online marketing trends.  There are some great trends in the report we’d like to quickly comment on.  You can request a copy of the 2010 Digital Year in Review Report here.

E-commerce Spending Growth Returning to Past Explosive Levels

The first trend reported shows e-commerce spending by month in 2010, along with year over year (YoY) trends:

2010 Monthly E-commerce Spending Graph

These trends are especially promising for e-commerce spending in 2011 as YoY spending increases continued to accelerate from mid-2010 til the end of the year.  This trend could indicate that 2011 is the year that online marketing spending finally returns to the huge YoY growth figure of years past.

Local/Group Buying Sites Opening New Ways of Consumer Purchasing

The growth of Groupon in 2010 and its implications for group-buying web sites in general, is a very interesting trend that recently developed:

Groupon Growth in 2010

According to this graph Groupon grew by about 600% over the course of 2010…. (more…)

Hot Social Media Trends in 2011

January 18th, 2011
by Jenn

Social Media changes often.  While some of you ride the tides of change with ease, others may be joining the “Bring the old Facebook Wall Back” Facebook page as we speak. Whether you’re one to embrace the changes or prefer to fight fire with fire, you’re sure to appreciate some of the trends that are sure to continue in 2011. In the broadest sense, here are my predictions for the top 5 social media trends for 2011:Social Media Image Courtesy of: http://blog.kyanmedia.com/archives/2008/10/15/get_on_the_social_media/

  1. Group Buying – Just about once a day, my husband says “It’s such a simple business model, Groupon. I can’t believe someone didn’t think of it sooner…like me…I would be a billionaire.” Groupon is simple and saying it’s catching on is an understatement. Gowalla and Living Social are both trying to catch up, and look for others to get in the game in 2011. The whole concept will spread out to more industries to offer bigger (more expensive) products and services. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see more segmentation with Group Buying sites for Luxury, Services, Commodities, etc.
  2. Real-Time Market Research with Social Media – Us social media “experts” have been sharing listening tools and advice to find good content with our clients, and those listening exercises should continue in 2011. However, now with better (and easy to use) poll applications for Social Media, as well as the soon to roll-out Facebook Questions, clients will be able to conduct market research and create content at the same time. For most companies, the big, expensive market research reports are unnecessary and simple market research (at least amongst the brand’s fan base) can be conducted with social media.
  3. More social media integration in websites (replacing content) – As a Web Producer, I remember budgeting several hours for copywriting, collecting Branding and Style Guides from the client before an engagement, painstakingly checking all copy to make sure the italics and registered trademark symbols were just right. Nowadays, that copywriting time is allocated to SEO keyword and Social Media Research and Content Development. With the formatting restrictions of most social media sites, all of those former branding requirements simply can’t happen. In 2011, I think this trend is going to continue and go even further to replace traditional website content with social media content fed in from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites like Cheetos.com.
  4. Niche Location-Based Marketing – Did you try FourSquare? Me too. Not a big fan. But Yelp’s Check-In System? I like it. This is because I already use Yelp on a daily basis to write and read reviews, so checking in using their user-friendly Android App isn’t a big deal when I’m already there to get some suggestions on what to order while I’m there. Facebook, by far the most popular social media site, plans to seriously get into location-based marketing in 2011. Once that happens, LBS is on like Donkey Kong for the mainstream. Checking in to let your friends know where you are isn’t going to be much of a hassle if you’re already on the mobile site checking your news feed or updating your status.
  5. Social Media Advertising – Social Media advertising will be the new Display advertising. Facebook surpassed Google as the most visited website for the week ending March 13,2010 and has over 400 million registered users (Source Hitwise.com)! Social Media Advertising can be highly targeted (Facebook) and reach an audience that otherwise may never be exposed to the brand. I predict in 2011 that Facebook ads will become more sophisticated and/or dynamic, while Twitter advertising will become more widely adopted.

Other predictions for 2011 include more live streaming video, more user-generated contests on social media, less blogging, LinkedIn used for B2B Marketing as much as it is for recruiting, and an increase in usage in QR Codes.

So, other than the trends above, what does your crystal ball say, using social media, for 2011? 

Social Media Image Courtesy of: http://blog.kyanmedia.com/archives/2008/10/15/get_on_the_social_media/

Congratulations to SiteLab Client, Sharp HealthCare, for being cited in the Official Google Webmaster Blog as a great example of title tag usage! A few weeks ago, Google asked webmasters of non-profits to submit their sites to Google’s Search Quality team to analyze as part of a non-profit site clinic.  Sharp applied and was selected as one of the lucky sites to be analyzed. 

We’re happy to report that Google used Sharp’s site as the top example for title tag usage.  Here’s what Google said: 

Before getting into the actual code, let’s first take a look at how a great title element from one of our submitted sites, Sharp, will appear in the search results page:

 
Ideally, a great <title> element will include the name of the organization, along with a descriptive tag line. Let’s take a look at some submitted examples:

 Google Webmaster Blog Title Tag Examples

 

SiteLab is proud of this achievement for our client and we’re glad to see what we know was a lot of hard work pay off in more ways than just organic traffic.  Sharp engaged SiteLab for our top of the line SEO consulting engagement and it’s exciting to see the results continue to come in more than a year later.

Every year, many of our clients seek marketing services from SiteLab to brainstorm and develop sweepstakes programs that attract new product users and retain relationships with their existing fans. Whether it is a simple sweepstakes to raise brand awareness or a more complex contest that requires skill and includes viral outreach for maximum reach, we enjoy helping our clients find the best way to engage with their target market.

Why run an online sweepstakes?  Top reasons why companies run sweepstakes or similar promotions:

  • A cost-effective way to bring traffic to their company’s site
  • Build prospect lists, interest lists and subscriber lists for future follow up
  • They strengthen customer relationships
  • Companies can collect marketing data such as demographic information and customer preferences
  • They build buzz around a new product or promotion launch
  • They are quick to build and can generate a lot of residual PR buzz
  • They are measureable!

How to Start

If you have ever pondered running a sweepstakes before, but thought it would be too difficult to pull off, think again. Let’s be honest – they do require some up-front planning in order to ensure a success but if you want to try one out, here are a few key details to help you start planning:

  • What is my budget?
  • What will my prize be? Your budget will often dictate the prizes. Can the budget include several (maybe 10 or even more?) Runner Up prizes in addition to a really attractive Grand Prize?
  • How long will my sweepstakes run? (Duration can vary widely.)
  • What is the secondary call to action after entering the sweepstakes?

We often find that promoting sweepstakes and contests through social media is a natural fit for most of our clients. If you’ve ever wondered how people will find your offer, search engine optimization is the best way to start and then taking it a step farther with social networks is a good option too. Using Facebook as a way to generate interest can be powerful if your existing fan base is open to such content. Also, consider other ways you can reach your target audience online as well as offline.

Official Sweepstakes or Contest Rules 

Once you have the basics figured out, you then need to start writing the long legal document often referred to as the “Official Rules of Play”. (more…)

When Bing and Facebook announced a new partnership that would integrate Facebook social data into Bing search results, it marked an integral turn towards the ‘social web.’

Theoretically, a social web search would change the way that search results are viewed.  A search engine like Google simply lists results that the algorithms have deemed as relevant to the submitted query without any knowledge of the user’s lifestyle and preferences.  The new features of Bing will take into account what the user’s friends have listed on Facebook as things or places that they “Like,” creating results with direct feedback from opinions that the user would – in theory – trust.

Bing-Facebook Search Results

(Credit: Microsoft)

These results are aimed at bringing offline discussion into the online platform.  Instead of a user seeking out the opinion of a friend about a restaurant in person or by phone, they will see a snapshot of the opinions of all of their friends in the new Bing search results.

But are these results really that useful?

While it may be helpful to know that 40 of my friends are fans of Lady Gaga, or that 57 people I know recommend the movie “The Hangover,” will the new social web benefit the vast majority of searches?  Moreover, if I see that a friend from high school that I have not heard from in 10 years likes eating at the Italian restaurant down the street do I trust their recommendation not knowing anything about their lifestyle or what they look for in a good restaurant? (more…)

Google Instant - Image from PCworld.comA lot of people think Google Instant is search as you type. But it’s actually search before you type.” – Marissa Mayer, Google VP Search Products & User Experience during the introductory press conference for Google Instant.

Google Instant is part of a long running series of enhancements in Google’s “Let’s Make the Web Faster” initiative (including incorporating site load speed into their search algorithms).  Browse the list of enhancements here.   So, what does this mean for online marketers?  We’ve tackled 3 issues below:

What about long tail keywords?

Theoretically, since results are shown as a search query is being entered, users won’t type out their full search query as often.  For years search marketers have relied on long tail keyword phrases to produce conversion results for their low budget and industry-specific clients.  But with Google Instant, targeting long tail keyword phrases may be a thing of the past, as Google Instant could serve results relevant to a user before that user completes their long tail search. Thus, the importance and quality of short-tail keywords could increase greatly as the cost of general search terms will increase with competition.

Consider a search for “San Diego Hotels” from google.com with Google Instant turned on.

(more…)

July 2010 Search Engine Market Share

August 18th, 2010
by Matt Parisi

Experian Hitwise and comScore have released their July 2010 Search Engine Market Share reports.  Since it’s been a while since we’ve checked in on these stats on the blog, we thought it was an opportune time to comment on the trends we’ve seen since the last post on search engine market share in mid-January this year.

Experian Hitwise Search Engine Market Share Report July 2010

comScore Search Engine Market Share July 2010

As can be seen from comparing the numbers above, both reports show similar relative levels of search traffic with Google #1, followed by Yahoo, Bing and Ask in that order.  What can’t be seen in the above tables is how these levels have fluctuated over time.  On comScore, search engine market share has fluctuated as follows since November 2009:

  1. Google went from 65.5% in November 2009 to 65.8% in July 2010
  2. Yahoo went from 17.5% in November 2009 to 17.1% in July 2010
  3. Microsoft went from 10.3% in November 2009 to 11.0% in July 2010
  4. Ask remained level at 3.8% (after falling below that benchmark)

According to Experian Hitwise, search engine market share has fluctuated as follows since November 2009:

  1. Google went from 71.57% in November 2009 to 71.43% in July 2010
  2. Yahoo went from 15.39% in November 2009 to 14.43% in July 2010
  3. Microsoft went from 9.34% in November 2009 to 9.86% in July 2010
  4. Ask went from 2.65% in November 2009 to 2.32% in July 2010

In general the trends from each source are very similar, with the only significant differences being Experian Hitwise reporting a decline in market share for Google and the Ask Search network, whereas comScore reports a gain in market share for Google and a level market share for Ask.  However, overall, Google and Ask remained about level, while Microsoft increased market share and Yahoo lost market share.  Yahoo can be observed gaining back market share in the last two months, while Microsoft has been holding level.

It is interesting to compare these trends in relation to offline marketing.  Google demonstrates a far more steady position than any of the other search engines, yet advertises with the least reach through offline means.  Yahoo and Bing have demonstrated much larger swings in market share while also advertising with much more prominence offline as demonstrated by Yahoo’s current ongoing TV & radio campaign and Bing’s recent launch advertising and re-branding efforts.  While these facts may seem contradictory, with closer examination these are very predictable trends based on the historical positioning of each search engine.

Google’s position as the market leader has been entrenched over many years now.  In the late 90′s Google’s search engine proved superior to competitors and quickly picked up market share based on a quality product.  In Yahoo’s early days, Yahoo positioned itself much differently, operating more like a paid/edited directory than a true search engine scouring all pages on the internet (Yahoo was originally called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web”).  The search business to MSN in these days was more of an afterthought.  Google’s superior search results were driven by the fact that Google was the only search engine to look beyond on-page factors and use off-page factors (incoming links, the copy of the incoming links, etc) to rank websites against each other.

In the coming weeks Yahoo and Bing’s search engines will be combined to be driven by Bing’s search algorithm.  This represents a major challenge to Google’s position as market leader, but ultimately this battle can only be won through the perception of which product is of higher quality.  Despite offline advertising, which can move the needle but only temporarily, Google’s position has been earned through high quality as opposed to marketing.  Bing and Yahoo’s extraordinary marketing spends must be accompanied by real improvements to the search experience or else market share gains will prove temporary as they have based on the results of their advertising campaign earlier this year.

On Wednesday, June 16th Sitelabbers Rion Morgenstern (@rionSD), Matt Parisi and Jenn Barber (@jennichols) attended the 6th annual Interactive Day at San Diego’s Hilton Bayfront. The San Diego Ad Club set a new record for attendees (420) by nearly doubling last year’s attendance.san-diego-interactive-day-passes The Ad Club’s outstanding planning and organization brought us thought leaders from Facebook and Google, marketing agencies, and media providers who led us though sessions and panel discussions workshops.

The sessions were very informative and tactical but it was in the main sessions that the strategic thinkers were heard from. The keynotes started off in the morning with Jack Myers of the M.E.D.I.Advisory Group and a call to innovate. The lunch time keynote was given by Paul Ollinger of Facebook who believes the future of the internet is defined by authenticity and relationships (provided Facebook can get the privacy thing figured out). In the wrap-up panel discussion, Brian Lynch, an Account Director from Yahoo! summed up the day by saying the future was Social, Mobile, Video; we think he is right on target. SiteLab has seen a strong uptick in new business and client requests for this kind of content. Most recently we launched a mobile site for Hass Avocado Board (Mobile Site) to help you select an avocado and our Social Strategy practice has had great success with Sunkist (Facebook).

Here are some highlights from our team:

Rion Morgenstern (Director of Business Development)

Highlight of the Day?

For me personally the highlight of the day was listening to Paul Ollinger, Regional VP of Sales at Facebook speak during the Luncheon Keynote “The Identity Web”. I believe in a strong community strategy and his vision fits right into that idea. Recap on the Interactive Day Facebook Page.

What did you learn?

According to Google, paid search (PPC) gets 14% of clicks on a result page with the balance (86%) going to the organic search results yet the allocated budget numbers are skewed. Last year $20 Billion was spent on PPC yet only $2 Billion was spent on SEO. This teaches us that customers wanting to get the most value from their online marketing budget need to look to an Organic strategy before blowing the bank on PPC.

Matt Parisi (Search Marketing Specialist)

Highlight of the day?

Rand Fishkin from seomoz.com was right on during his Advanced SEO session. He drove home the fact many people believe SEO to be about playing games and tricking search engines, when in reality it’s more about creating valuable content and ensuring it’s in position to be found. This is a belief that we have long held and used to benefit our clients.

podiumWhat did you learn?

The session Google Analytics: “Must Know” Features (Google’s Joshua Knox) reaffirmed how important it is to stay on top of the new developments like the new Google Adwords Search Funnel Reporting. It is clear Google is working on ways to break down the “last click” mentality that exists in online marketing, where only the last click gets credit for a conversion/sale; also, measure and monitor the whole visitor/customer experience.

Jenn Barber (Interactive Media Strategist)

Highlight of the day?

I loved how Jack Myers, Founder of M.E.D.I.Advisory Group, started the day with a vision for 2020: It’s hard to motivate a crowd to think “innovation” at 8:30AM, but Jack did a great job by defining the issues that face each of us today as agencies, marketers, and media companies. Today, companies spend somewhere between 0 and 30% of their operating budget on innovation with most woefully falling below 5%. When asked why not more, companies answer that it’s all we can afford. Jack answers that to be around in the future, you can’t afford not to.

What did you learn?

How to answer a popular question from our clients: “How do we decide which marketing channels to invest in?” thanks to the Marketing Convergence-Are You Ready? session with Warren Raisch of Digitaria. Answer: Start with the most measurable medium first to more easily see and report early successes.

So what do you measure? You measure 3 things – your Brand (image and reputation), Direct (Lead generation and sales conversions), and Social Activity (Customer Engagement). Most importantly, measure from a holistic point of view and don’t just jump to conclusions.

The team came back from Interactive Day San Diego energized and informed. Moreover, we brought some great information to help our clients and new customers succeed online. If you are a Facebook member you can check out the recaps and notes from the day  on the Facebook event page. You can check out the twitter stream from the day by searching for #IDSD. In addition, SiteLab has put together a one pager that has key resources from the day as well. If you would like a copy, use the contact me form and put #IDSD in the address section and we will send it to you in an email.

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