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Posts Tagged ‘SEO’

Google Penguin 3.0 – The Algorithm Refresh That Should Have Been an Update

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 by Matt Dimock

On October 4, 2013, Matt Cutts announced the release of Penguin 2.1 – an update to their infamous algorithm that targets spammy onsite and offsite SEO strategies. Quite a few webmasters in the SEO community reported that the 2.1 update had quite the negative impact on their websites. And due to the nature of this particular algorithm, a recovery is not possible without a manual update, or refresh, of the algorithm being pushed through by Google.

The Google Penguin thug

The Google Penguin thug

Many people perceive the Penguin algorithm as nothing more than a thug, here to force thousands of small businesses into paid advertisement on Google by tanking their organic visibility. So I’m sure you can imagine the unrest within the community as the one year anniversary of the last update passed. But on Friday (October 17th, 2014), webmasters finally got their wish – Google began rolling out Penguin 3.0. Whether or not it was what they had hoped for is yet to be determined.

The Difference between a Penguin Refresh and Update

As I mentioned above, a website that has been negatively impacted by the Penguin algorithm cannot recover, unless Google manually updates the algorithm, or refreshes the current version of that algorithm. So what is the difference between an algorithm update and an algorithm refresh? I’m glad you asked …

What is an Algorithm Refresh?

An algorithm refresh simply means Google has not modified, removed or added any new signals to a previously introduced algorithm. Think of it as running anti-virus software, except that all of the “viruses” (a.k.a. spammy tactics) it finds when it is initially rolled out are not allowed to impact your “computer” (a.k.a. website) again.

But just like with viruses, there are always variations of spammy SEO strategies being utilized, so as to try and stay one step ahead of the “software” (i.e. algorithm). Google can then run a refresh of their algorithm, in hopes that they will catch any new spammy tactics that have been used since the previous refresh or update. However, just like anti-virus software, these refreshes can become obsolete as SEO’s find new ways to avoid the algorithm. That’s when an update comes in handy.

What is an Algorithm Update?

An algorithm update means Google has modified, removed, or added new signals to a pre-existing algorithm, in hopes that these signals will catch any new strategy variations that previous updates had missed. Again, using the previous analogy; it would be just like Norton providing updates to the anti-virus software on your computer, in hopes of catching any newly found viruses, or variations of old ones.

What Do We Know About Penguin 3.0 So Far?

It’s tough to say at this point. Commentary from Matt Cutts and other Google representatives led us all to believe that the next version of Penguin was to be a significant update, which implied new signals would be introduced. Barry Schwartz wrote an article at the beginning of October that suggested a Penguin 3.0 update may come as soon as within a week following his post. Barry made this prediction based on input provided by Gary Illyes, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst who apparently was involved in working on the algorithm. However, it seems Barry may have been a bit too ambitious with his choice of words, as Gary even commented on Google+, “I love how you guys could twist “soon” into this”. Some useful insights on the Penguin algorithm were extracted from Barry’s post though.

Penguin Insights:

  • Gary confirmed that a disavow file (which is a .txt file you can submit within Google Webmaster Tools that pretty much indicates to Google which backlinks pointing to your site you do not want any credit from) are taken into consideration when the Penguin algorithm is updated or refreshed.
  • Disavow files submitted after two weeks prior to Gary’s presentation at SMX East would not be taken into consideration in this next iteration of the Penguin update/refresh.
  • Google is working on speeding up the rate at which future Penguin refreshes will happen.

In a Google+ Hangout session on October 20th, John Mueller stated that as far as he knows, the Penguin update had rolled out completely – but when asked by Barry to clarify if it was indeed an update or just a refresh, he declined to comment. However, that same day, he then followed up with Barry in a Google+ comment stating, “I might have spoken a bit early, hah – it looks like things may still be happening. I’ll double-check in the morning.”

It turns out that John did indeed jump the gun in stating Penguin had rolled out completely, as Pierre Farr (who works at Google UK) stated the following:

“On Friday last week, we started rolling out a Penguin refresh affecting fewer than 1% of queries in US English search results. This refresh helps sites that have already cleaned up the webspam signals discovered in the previous Penguin iteration, and demotes sites with newly-discovered spam.

It’s a slow worldwide roll-out, so you may notice it settling down over the next few weeks.”

Notice the choice of words in his first sentence – Penguin refresh? Although it’s not an official confirmation, it definitely suggests that this iteration of Penguin is indeed just a refresh and not an actual update of the algorithm. He then goes on to state refresh again in the next line, and his definition of what this refresh does pretty much coincides with what you would expect from a typical refresh; not an update. Lastly, he confirms that this refresh (which supposedly impacts < 1%) is still rolling out worldwide, and as such, fluctuations in rankings and traffic can be expected to last for the next few weeks.

What Can Should You Do?

First and foremost, it is of the utmost importance that you DO NOT panic. As we’ve seen with rolling updates (which so far have only been confirmed with the Panda update), they can take some time to impact all websites. And in some instances, we have seen rankings move up, down, and up again over the period of a roll-out (and significantly in some cases).

Don't panic; organize your SEO strategies!

Don’t panic; organize your SEO strategies!

So before you decide on throwing in the flag, wait to see how your websites traffic and impressions are impacted. If you see noticeable positive increases, then keep on doing what you’re doing, as it’s obviously working at this point in time. And if you see that your website was negatively impacted by Google, then it’s important to understand why, so you can develop a strategy to fix the issues on your website, or within your backlink profile.

Fortunately for us and our client’s, we build the majority of our clients’ websites from scratch, so it would be rare that one of our sites would be targeted as a result of their onsite work. Much more common scenarios are domains that were involved in unscrupulous link building campaigns prior to hiring our services. Nevertheless, we’re adequately prepared to tackle either issue, should they arise, and want any webmasters reading this blog post to be prepared as well.

Below Are Some Steps You Can Take to Help You Recover from Penguin:

Step 1 – Review Your Analytics Data

It is important to know if your site has been impacted, and which pages in particular, before you can devise a strategy to keep Penguin from targeting you. What my team and I do is look at only Google organic analytic’s data, comparing traffic of landing pages for the 2 – 4 weeks following the day the algorithm rolled out to the same amount of time immediately prior. You have to compare apples to apples (i.e. looking at Monday – Sunday vs the previous Monday – Sunday) in order to get an accurate representation of what your traffic trend should look like.

Also, it’s important to look at absolute data vs. average data, as the number of visits lost is much more telling of a sign vs. the average percentage (as you could have a -100% decrease to a specific landing page, but that does not really tell you anything if the page was getting 4 visits in those two weeks prior and is now getting none).

Step 2 – Understand Why Certain Landing Pages Were Targeted

Penguin can and does impact traffic to your entire site, but more often than not, specific landing pages are the cause of you being targeted in the first place (especially if you’re dealing with onsite spam vs. low quality backlinking). So what you need to do is evaluate the pages on your site you have deemed as being targeted and determine why Google thinks those pages are spammy. Are you stuffing important keywords or mentions of a geo-target within the content or headers? Are the Meta tags extremely long and stuffed with near identical variations of a keyword? For further guidance, you can read my previous post on Penguin 2.1, where I specify the instances of onsite spam I would be consider “Penguin bait”.

And beyond onsite, you also have to take into consideration offsite work: backlinks. Using www.MajesticSeo.com, we are able to evaluate the quality, quantity and methodologies our clients’ have used in the past to build backlinks for their website. My blog post on “How to Recover from a Google Unnatural Linking Penalty” will walk you through the steps on not only identifying spammy backlinks, but how to disavow them as well.

Step 3 – Take Action!

As pointed out above, understanding why you have been targeted by Penguin is the key to recovering. Once you have identified the culprit strategies, you need to work diligently on remedying them. If spammy onsite is to blame, then you need to work on cleaning up the SEO strategies you have in place on your website. If spammy backlinks are to blame, then you need to identify what backlinks are harming your site and work on asking the webmasters of the linking sites to remove those links.

And always remember: what may have worked wonderfully in the past will not always work as well in the future, so just appreciate the ride you had enjoyed, implement a revised search engine optimization strategy as soon as possible, clean up what needs to be cleaned up on or offsite, and hope that a future refresh or update of the Penguin algorithm will work in your favor.

The Life and Death of the Google Authorship Markup

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 by Matt Dimock

It was exciting while it lasted, but unfortunately, Google authorship is no longer supported by Google. But first, allow me to shed a little light on the rise and fall of Google’s authorship markup.

Google authorship markup is no longer supported  by Google

A screenshot from the Google Webmaster Tools Help forum, which states, “Authorship markup is no longer supported in web search.”

The Google authorship rich snippet was first introduced by Matt Cutts at the SMX Advanced conference, back in 2011. For those unfamiliar with this rich snippet; it allowed you to identify yourself as the author of the content within a blog post, which would then publish a small thumbnail of your Google+ profile photo directly to the left of your blog post snippet within Google’s search results. In the beginning, the process for setting up authorship on your website and verifying it with Google was quite unclear for many, which proved to be quite the perk for those that were successful in setting up their authorship’s markup early on.

The Benefits of Google Authorship

As mentioned previously, the early adopters of Google’s authorship rich snippet quickly realized that the most obvious benefit was the increased click through rate (CTR) for their blog posts that ranked on the first page of Google. It’s no surprise really; the addition of the photo thumbnail displayed prominently on search results pages, especially when it was the only one showing for a particular keyword.

An example screenshot of the authorship markup in Google's search results

An example screenshot of the authorship rich snippet for Nadia Romeo (the President of iMarket Solutions) within Google’s search results

Another large benefit of having authorship was the ease in which one could find all of the content another had written and associated with their Google+ profile. All you had to do was click on their name within the byline of their search snippet and it would take you directly to a Google search page that listed all of the content associated with their authorship. This was beneficial to both brands and authors alike, as people who followed their work could more easily find other content the author had written which they may have not previously read.

The last benefit, AuthorRank, was largely considered a myth up until Matt Cutts confirmed its existence on Twitter after Amit Singhal publicly denied its existence at SMX West this past March.

AuthorRank was the concept that Google assigned quality scores to authors who created a Google Plus account and correctly associated their authorship with content they had written and published to websites. The assumption was that the more authoritative you appeared to Google on a particular topic or topics, the more likely their AuthorRank algorithm was to rank your related content higher in their search results. Many of us in the search engine optimization (SEO) community truly believed AuthorRank was going to be the key to the future of becoming more visible in Google’s search results. But alas, it appeared it was not used to the broad scope that so many SEO’s had imagined.

R.I.P. Google Authorship

On June 25, 2014, it came as a shock to most SEO’s when Google’s John Mueller announced on Google+ that they would be “simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop searches”, so as to provide for a better mobile experience. The simplification turned out to be a mass reduction of authorship photographs showing for particular searches on Google. However, the byline and date of publication still showed below the URL of a search result for those who were affected. The significance of the impact that change had on search results was documented by the MozCast feature graph and can be further reviewed here.

Then just two months later, John Mueller reported that Google had made the decision to remove authorship from their search results entirely. In paraphrasing: he stated Google found that the authorship markup was not very useful to visitors of their search engine, and in fact, was potentially distracting.

A Few Last Words for Google Authorship

For those of you who have the authorship markup installed on your websites; don’t worry about Google punishing you for leaving the code in place. Barry Schwartz, the owner of the popular SEO blog SERoundtable.com, asked John Mueller in a comment on his announcement of the death of authorship if Google would penalize websites which left the authorship markup in place. John confirmed that Google would not punish you for leaving the markup on your website, and that in fact, visitors to your website still might appreciate being able to find out more about you and/or your company through your Google+ profile.

The Keyword Cannibalization Survival Guide

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 by Matt Dimock

As terrifying as it may sound, it is true: keyword cannibalization DOES exist! Even in this modern day and age, websites are falling prey to this foul act left and right. And the scariest part? Webmasters don’t even know what’s happening to them. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can change your content-writing ways, before it is too late. Through the aid of this content survival guide, I hope to teach you how to identify keyword cannibalization, and help you steer clear of it. If you choose to read this survival guide, I encourage you to consider sharing it with your social circles. You may end up saving some people from themselves!

          

     

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

I was first introduced to the concept of keyword cannibalization through Rand Fishkin’s post, “How to Solve Keyword Cannibalization.” You’ll notice that it was written back on March 9th of 2007, and yet even today, the concept of keyword cannibalization still passes unseen by some SEO companies and consultants. Cannibalization goes beyond just similar pages though; internal duplicate content is actually one of the leading causes of keyword cannibalization.

The figurative fork in the road: keyword cannibalization

The figurative fork in the road: keyword cannibalization

 

To put it simply, keyword cannibalization arises when multiple pages on your website primarily target the same keyword or theme. Imagine walking down a darkened street, and coming to a fork in the road with a sign that reads, “This Way to LA”. With no other indicators, you’d naturally assume they both lead to the same destination. So why the additional road? This is the dilemma posed to visitors by keyword cannibalization. Some Webmasters may unintentionally create these near (and sometimes completely) duplicate content pages (“roads”) with the intention of capturing as much traffic as possible. However, this practice doesn’t always lead to the best user experience, since site visitors and crawlers are often left wondering which road might be best for them to take. As a result, Google tends to rank these pages lower, since they want to direct their visitors to the most useful (and relevant) quality content.

In order for your page to rank better (or at all), you must earn the trust of the search engines, and ultimately your community; only then – assuming you have provided other clear signals stating why your path is the best for people to take – can you expect Google to direct visitors down your path. I’ll talk more about this after I have shown you how to properly identify and engage keyword cannibalization.

3 Steps to Surviving Keyword Cannibalization

Now that you have a clearer understanding of what we’re up against, I’ll walk you through the steps for surviving a keyword cannibalization apocalypse. iMarket Solutions actively uses these steps to identify, engage and recover from any potential or confirmed keyword and/or content cannibalization.

Step 1: Know What Tools to Use

Every expert survivalist knows you’re only as good as the tools you use. Over the years, I have encountered many powerful tools that have proven essential to identifying keyword cannibalization in the wild. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them?

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is an SEO spider tool that gathers essential data from all or a specified set of pages within a website. Although it includes many features useful to an avid SEO, I am only discussing the ones that will save your website’s “skin.”


Download Screaming Frog


Google Search

Yes, you read correctly – Google Search represents one of the most helpful tools in discovering keyword cannibalization. Using the “site:” Google operator, you can determine pages within a site that are relevant to a certain keyword or phrase. The proper syntax for this command resembles this: ‘site:domain.com air conditioning replacement’, with the domain and keyword phrase substituted according to your requirements. The returned results include all pages within the specified domain that contain the included keyword or phrase.

Google site search screenshot

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission.

 

Copyscape

Copyscape is a web-based tool that makes searching for duplicate content a piece of cake! Although this tool is usually used for identifying plagiarism, it’s just as useful at identifying duplicate content within your website: things that might not match exactly, but contain a sufficient amount of duplicate content to pose a threat to your website. Please note that while you can search for duplicate content on a very limited basis using their trial version, Copyscape Premium is much more effective.

Copyscape search screenshot

 

PowerMapper

We have no need for this software at our company, since we build the majority of our client’s sites, and therefore have no need to visualize the URL structure. But for people or SEO agencies with larger websites to optimize that want an easier way to determine the pre-existing URL structure, I strongly recommend using PowerMapper.

A screenshot of a demo PowerMapper sitemap

Step 2: Identify the Enemy!

With the tools needed to save your website now in your possession, we must train you to identify the enemy within. This is in no way a comprehensive list of techniques, only what I consider the best ways to determine keyword cannibalization throughout your site.

Look for near duplicate content.

On the Internal tab of the Screaming Frog interface, you can filter the data to only view HTML pages. Once you are viewing the HTML pages, sort the data by size or word count. Pages with near identical numbers in both of these fields could very well have cannibalization issues. To ensure proper thoroughness, I recommend searching within Copyscape and Google Search as well.

Look for exact duplicate content.

Duplicate content is one of the most obvious versions of keyword cannibalization: easy enough to identify using Copyscape, Screaming Frog and Google Search. Here is a breakdown of how you can use each tool to accomplish what you need:

  1. The best method for finding duplicate content. Copyscape Premium is my go-to tool in this case, as you can easily copy and paste suspected content into their search feature and find pages with identically matching content. This tool will also identify any instances of external duplicate content in the process.
  2. Second place isn’t for losers. Screaming Frog is my runner-up tool, but it is not far behind in pure awesomeness. After running a crawl on your website, click on the URI tab and select “Duplicate” from within the filter section. This exportable report will show you all the pages within the crawled website that have an identical hash tag: indicating that those pages share an identical source code. That’s a surefire way to spot the deadliest of cannibalizing mistakes.

Look for pages that share a theme.

Air conditioning experts and air conditioning specialists – does each keyword deserve a unique page that explicitly describes the target keyword in detail? Of course not. And thanks to Google’s Panda algorithm, we are seeing less and less of these examples slipping through the cracks. Perhaps your own pages have disappeared from Google’s search results, which is why you’re here reading this blog? Then I suggest you make sure you have your online ducks in a row. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Understand the URL structure of your website. Do you have pages in the heating section of your website that also appear in the air conditioning section, such as thermostats or zone control systems? Unless you need to discuss distinct differences, you shouldn’t separate them onto different pages. Screaming Frog can help you crawl and export all files within your website, which shouldn’t take too long to organize if you use proper URL hierarchy. But again, if you’re looking for the quick fix on viewing your URL structure, then PowerMapper is the tool for you.
  2. Understand the intent of each page or post. Google Search, allows you to perform a site: operator search to find pages within your website that mention a specified keyword. Once you have a list of these pages to review, you need to understand their intent. Pages with the same targeted keywords are a cause of keyword cannibalization, and when mixed with identical user intent can be a recipe for disaster.

Look for Incorrect Internal Linking

How websites link to you speaks volumes about how Google ranks your website, but how you link to yourself is equally important. Linking to three different pages with the same anchor text makes it difficult for the search engines to ascertain which page is most useful for anyone searching for that term. So when linking pages within your website to one another, use anchor text accurately and consistently (though not so consistently that you never change up the anchor text).

Screaming Frog can make viewing all internal links within a page much easier than doing it by hand. Have the software spider your targeted website, and then within the Internal tab, select “HTML” from the Filter drop-down box. You are now looking at only the content pages within the website. Go ahead and click on any of the URL’s and select the In Links tab at the bottom of the bottom window pane. Within the below window, you can now see all of the internal hyperlinks used on the URL you previously selected within the top window pane, including their destination page, anchor text, alt text (if the internal link is an image that was assigned alt text) and the nature of the link (follow or nofollow).

Keyword Cannibalization Tip:
Each page on your website should follow a theme, which is reiterated in the content and Meta tags, as well as internal and external linking!

Step 3: Strategize and Launch the Attack Against Keyword Cannibalization

You’ve learned how to identify keyword cannibalization and the most common occurrences of this malpractice. Now it’s time for you to do something about it. Take a stand and let it be known – you WILL NOT fall to keyword cannibalization!

  1. If dealing with near duplicate content – unless there is a small amount of duplicate content, you want to delete this page and then 301 redirect the URL to the next most relevant post you would like to rank within the SERPs. If there is a small amount of content, then consider how you could add content to differentiate the target from the cannibalized page. And if deleting the page is not an option, and there is a significant amount of duplicate content, then you can specify within the canonical tag which URL you would prefer Google to index.
  2. If dealing with exactly duplicate content – unless you have a canonical tag in place informing Google that this page is a duplicate of another, and that they should instead index the latter, you should delete and then 301 redirect this page. After all, you want to provide your visitors with the best possible path to follow!
  3. If dealing with a similar theme – change the intent of the page or post! Remember, each page should target a unique theme. Multiple pages that target the same theme or keywords make it difficult for Google to determine which page is the most relevant, useful and of the highest quality. Just like they say in the UFC – don’t leave it to the refs! If you do, you may be disappointed with the outcome.
  4. If dealing with incorrect internal linking – unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this issue, unless your site is built on a custom CMS with programmed internal hyperlinks. That makes it even more important to develop a content plan that you can consistently maintain in your internal linking. I recommend exporting into Excel a complete list of all HTML pages using Screaming Frog, and enter within the adjacent column of each URL the target keyword or theme of that page. This makes it easier for you to determine which anchor text needs to be changed, if any, when you go through the Screaming Frog UI one page at a time.

Gaining the Trust of Google and Your Community

Now let’s get back to that fork in the road. Google is having a difficult time ascertaining which path is best to send users down. What are you going to do? I hope your answer was, “make it easier for them!” Figuratively speaking, using clearer signs and lighting the path will increase Google’s chances of directing visitors to your website – so let’s bring some life to this semi-fiction! Put yourself in your visitors’ shoes and pave them a road they’d be willing to send their friends and family down. Perform keyword research to identify the best keywords to target, and start building a well-balanced URL structure for your website. That puts you well on the way to building the trust in Google and your community that translates to better organic search visibility.

Are you a contractor who needs help with identifying and fixing keyword cannibalization?

The SEO team at iMarket Solutions is well equipped and experienced at handling technical issues of this nature. Speak to a representative to learn how we can positively influence the online experience for both you and your website’s visitors!

How your Offline Interactions & Expertise Impact your SEO

Friday, June 8th, 2012 by Nadia Romeo

As you receive calls to your business throughout the day, are you keeping track of what kinds of questions come up? Are you having your support staff and technicians report back to you on what your HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, or other customers seem to ask about or care about the most?

It may seem simple: if they need an air conditioning unit, being cool in the summer is important to them. But what questions did they ask? What confused them the most about the whole process of installation or repair?

Being aware of this information can help you market your services more effectively online. Once you have this information, you should pass it along to your representative at iMarket Solutions so we can incorporate this into your online marketing plan!

We recently heard from a plumbing client who saw an increase in calls regarding sewer flies. Our customer contacted us with a request to add a blog post about this subject, and to include some additional optimization for that term on their website. This is already improving the results our client has seen in leads contacting them for service!

What else can you do to improve your SEO?

While we are always on top of your SEO strategy at iMarket Solutions, you can always benefit your business by providing us with details which are specific to your location or expertise.

For example, you may have a page for well pumps and another for main water line repair. Which cities are mentioned on each page? Well pumps are more common in rural areas, so we don’t want to optimize those pages for your metro area cities. Is the information provided on your service-specific pages appropriate for the type of service being covered in the content?

We suggest reviewing some of your more specific service pages and advising your iMarket Solutions representative how we can better target each service for the most appropriate locations.

Local search is a major part of your online success! While we are SEO experts in the HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, and other home improvement industries, we always benefit from the detailed information you can provide about your business to make your site more unique and more effective!

Not an iMarket Solutions client? You are missing out on dominating your market – contact us today for a free consultation about your online marketing needs. We do the hard work so you don’t have to!

Google Places has been replaced with Google+ Local! What does this mean for local business owners?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by Nadia Romeo

There have been a lot of changes at Google lately. The recent search algorithm updates have definitely changed how people searching on the web see results and find exactly what they’re looking for; this latest Google announcement is no different.

Earlier today, Google announced the merging of Google Places into a new aspect of Google+ called Google+ Local. Over 80 million Google Places pages have already been automatically converted to the new Google+ Local format, and more will follow.

The new format is much more user-friendly and will help your business be represented in a more powerful way. Of course, as with any change, you probably have some questions.

What does this Google+ Local announcement mean for your business?

The new Google+ Local listings are a way for you to begin to manage your local business listing with Google in a more meaningful way. Many industry experts believe that this will help solve some of the issues with listings needing to be reclaimed or corrected as often due to inaccurate information.

Is it going to be more work for you?

Not at all. If you are an iMarket Solutions client with ongoing SEO services, we will continue to manage your Google+ Local page just as we have with your Google Places listing. If you do not have ongoing SEO or are not an iMarket Solutions client, contact us to learn more about how we can help!

If you like to be hands-on with your local presence on Google, you can continue to manage your Google+ Local page through your normal Google Places login. Google does recommend that you create a Google+ Business page as they will soon release a way to connect the Business page with the Google+ Local listing. iMarket Solutions will be working on this process for our SEO clients.

Will I lose my reviews?

Your reviews will be migrated over to your Google+ Local page. The reviews will be attributed to “A Google User” until the owners of the reviews verify their old reviews can be attributed to their identity on Google+ Local. The good news is that Google will ask users to do this now that Google+ Local is rolled out.

Google will now be incorporating the 30-point review system created by ZAGAT (which Google acquired in September 2011). Reviews will be moving away from the star system to this new scoring system.

Will I lose my photos?

The photos that were part of your Google Places listing will remain part of your Google+ Local page. If you have user-uploaded photos, they will be migrated the same way as reviews.

Does this change how potential customers find my business in Google?

Your potential customers will be able to search for your local business as normal, and their experience will remain consistent whether they are searching in Google, or on Google+, Google Maps, or through mobile apps.

Other changes to expect…

  • You will be able to develop followers and interact with them through posts and messages on your Google+ Local page.
  • The new Google+ Local page is more visually interesting with photos and reviews given a more prominent location.
  • A new “Local” tab has been added for Google+ users making it easier to find local businesses like yours.
  • Google+ Local pages will be integrated throughout all Google search properties.
  • Users will have a more personalized experience with the integration of Google+ Circles to help highlight businesses that their friends and family have recommended. This means if you have a customer who has recommended you, their online connections will be more likely to see your business in a search for services you provide!

Overall, the migration of Google Places to Google+ Local appears to be a positive change for local business owners like you. Please do contact us with any questions about Google+ Local, or your overall SEO strategy for your website. We are happy to help!

For more information on the Google Places change to Google+ Local, we recommend Search Engine Land as a fantastic source of up-to-the-minute information!

In the News: Navigating Google’s Ever-Changing Obstacle Course

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 by Nadia Romeo

Google is constantly changing its search algorithm to give users the best search results possible. The main goal of these changes is to detect spam and find companies that are violating Google’s rules and guidelines, such as those who are purchasing links.  Another big change is social search, with Google + (and the +1 button) personalizing your search results so they are influenced by your ‘circles’.

To learn more about these changes and how your company can keep on top of them, check out iMarket President Nadia Romeo’s featured article in HVACR Business: http://www.hvacrbusiness.com/issue/article/2010/navigating_googles_everchanging_obstacle_course.aspx

Buying Links is Bad Policy

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by Nadia Romeo

You can hear those promises all over the internet: “we can make your website number one on Google.” Any SEO company that makes a promise like that is lying. It is simply impossible to guarantee any particular position for your website in Google’s search results, especially since each unique search will bring up different results. What any good SEO company can do for you: optimize you site with good, keyword rich content. Provide interesting material that people will want to read and find useful.  And update your website regularly with new content, such as a frequently posting to your blog. All of these things are great ways to encourage Google to crawl your website and improve your rankings.

What a bad SEO company will do: buy links to your site. The number and quality of links from other websites helps Google determine how useful people find your site and that impacts how high it ranks in you in search results. Buying links is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and they are very good at detecting these paid links. While it is possible to buy hundreds of links for your site, almost all of these will be from low quality sources that will not help your ranking. And if they do, the effect is only temporary. It will seem to work for the first few months, and then your website will disappear from search results. Why does this happen? Because Google will penalize your company if they find out you are buying links. Here is Google’s Webmaster Guidelines statement about link schemes:

…some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:

  • Links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
  • Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)

A great example of a link scheme gone wrong: J.C. Penny. JC Penny was doing a fantastic job in getting great organic search results for almost anything they sold in their store. The New York Times investigated this phenomenon (read the article here), and found thousands of unrelated websites were linking to J.C. Penny, all using exactly the search terms that of J.C. Penny’s most popular products. When this was reported to Google, they took immediate action. JC Penny went from ranking number one on their main search terms to positions much closer to 78th (which is on the 7th page of search results).  J.C. Penny blamed their SEO firm, Search Dex, who had obviously designed a massive link building scheme.  While buying links definitely did work (at first), it is going to take a long time for JC Penny search results to recover. And the impact of these types of penalties will have much greater effect on smaller companies. (To see a more detailed explanation, check out this article on Search Engine Land)

However, there are some ways that you can help you company rank well without engaging in spam or buying links.

  • Directory listings are counted by Google as citations, and the number and quality of these citations is a part your local search rankings. Optimizing these listings will help you build a consistent web presence which will help your website and to help customers find your business.
  • Create interesting content on your blog that people will want to share will lead to natural links. Examples of this would be local events and funny stories of things that have happened at your company. When people want to share what they read on your blog, you can earn links from other blogs, local websites or industry websites.
  • You can also get your company involved in your community. If you donate money, volunteer for a charity, or join your local Chamber of Commerce, these organizations might link to your website. You did not buy these links; they reflect real relationships and are not counted as spam.

Buying links is a very risky operation, one which good SEO companies strongly advise against.  The immediate gratification of an artificial spike in rankings may be tempting, but the punishment that comes when you’re caught is worse than starting from scratch. There are many other, less risky ways to ways to improve your company’s rankings, ones that do not violate search engine guidelines. The best links are hard to get, and these natural links are worth a lot more than any links you can buy.

Does Your Business Have a Place in Google Places? It Should!

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 by Nadia Romeo

You may not be familiar with the term “Google Places”, but if you’ve ever used Google to hunt for a local business, you’ve definitely seen Google Places in action. When you search for a local business or type of business, you’ll get Google Places listings at the top (or near the top) of your search results. The listing consists of the business name (or several names, if you searched for a type of business), along with a map of your area with red “teardrop” markers showing where each business is located.

Each Google Places listing has two links. If you click on the “Place Page” link next to a business name, you’ll be taken to Google’s Place Page for that business. The Place Page contains contact information and a link to Google Maps directions. If you click on the name of the business, you’ll be directed to the business’s website or, if the business doesn’t have a website (or hasn’t registered its website with Google) to a “Google Places” page with basic information about the business.

There are also a lot of other cool options on Google Place Pages. For example, on your Place Page you can list your opening hours (very helpful to potential customers); your service area; payment options that you offer; and other information of your choice (for example, as Google suggests, you can let people know if you offer parking, and which brands you carry). In addition to this information, you can add photos and videos to your Places Page, or post to your Google Places page like you would to your blog.

It’s fun to set up a Google Places page for your business, but is there a business case for doing so – and for adding “extra” content like photos and videos? Absolutely. On Google Places, like everywhere on the web, fresh content is king: the more information you provide on your Google Place Page, the more active and competent your business will appear, and the more confident people will feel about contacting you.

Plus, the more complete your Google Place Page is, the more likely it is to move up in the search listings. At iMarket, we make sure that all our clients have complete Place Page listings for optimum Google performance.

Here’s another good way to assess what the ROI might be on any work you choose to put into your Place Page. Do a search for your business type in your area (for example, “electricians Burlington VT”). Check the Google Places listings that come up and take a look at whether your competitors appear in the listings and if so, how much information they offer on their Place Pages. If you offer more information on your Place Page than your competitors do, you’ll have a leg up as consumers consider their options and decide whom to contact.

Since 85% of consumers search for local businesses on the web, you’ve probably already realized that having a complete Google Place Page is likely to generate a lot of leads. So, you ask, how do I get a Google Place Page?

Well, your business might even have a Google Place Page already, because Google often generates basic Place Pages by harvesting information that is already out there on the web. You should do a Google search for your business and see if a Place Page comes up in the listings. If it does, then it’s time to beef up your Place Page. Go to your Place Page and click on the “Business owner?” link in the top right corner. You will be guided through the process of validating and adding information to your Place Page. (To confirm that you are in fact the owner of your business and not a hacker or a competitor, Google will send a postal letter to your physical address. This letter will contain a PIN number that you can use to make additional updates to your Google Place Page whenever you wish.)

If you don’t have a Google Place Page, you can register for one here: http://www.google.com/places/. Note that you will have to create a Google account first if you don’t already have one. However, if your current Google account is for personal use, you will probably want to create a new business account for use with your Place Page. Among other things, having a separate business account will mean that other people edit your Place Page without reading your Gmail.

Google Place Pages have a lot of great features and can really help your business bring in new leads…but what’s the ROI? Are they worth it? You better believe it. Google Place Pages are FREE.  Google doesn’t charge for setup or make you pay a monthly fee. There is absolutely no excuse for not having a Google Place Page.

Google Place Pages also contain another very important feature: consumer reviews. Google Place Page reviews have been a hot topic recently. We’ll explore it in next week’s post.

Bing, SmartPhones, and the Demise of the Yellow Pages: Is Your Website Ready to Keep Up with the Trend Toward Mobile Search?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 by Nadia Romeo

Last week, we made a case that Bing should be taken seriously as a potential competitor to Google. Here is another good reason to make sure that your company’s website is optimized for strong placement in Bing as well as Google: Bing has been busy signing all sorts of interesting partnership deals.

One of the most important deals Bing has made recently is its partnership with Facebook. We’ll come back to that in a couple of weeks.

For now, though, we’d like to focus on another Bing partnership deal. On May 3, 2011, Bing and BlackBerry maker RIM announced that Bing will become the default search engine for all BlackBerry devices. In other words: anyone who searches for a service company on their BlackBerry will do it using Bing.

So, you ask, exactly how many people are going to be using Bing on their BlackBerry? Let’s do the numbers.

In the first quarter of 2011, there were 72.5 million smartphones in use in the US. The total US population is 311,455,000, which means that about one out of every four Americans uses a smartphone.

According to a survey of 30,000 US mobile subscribers by ComScore, an internet marketing research company, the US smartphone market breaks down as follows:

  • 34.7% of smartphones are Android devices (up from 28.7% in the last quarter of 2010)
  • 25.5% of smartphones are iPhones (up slightly from 25% in 2010)
  • 27.1% of smartphones are BlackBerry devices (down from 31.6% at the end of 2010)

Doing one last calculation, we can estimate that more than 19.5 million people – six percent of the population – will now use Bing on their BlackBerry smartphone.

What’s more, Bing is now an official search option on the iPhone, which used to be Google-only. If iPhone users are impressed, as we were, by Bing’s user-friendly layout and features, they might switch their settings and start using Bing on their iPhones as well.

(Of course, Android is a Google product, so Android users are going to be forced to stick with Google on their phones.)

Now, let’s think trends. While it’s true that BlackBerry’s market share is diminishing slightly, the cell phone market in general, especially the smartphone market, is growing. Even more importantly, an increasing number of people are getting rid of their landlines and using their mobile phone as their only phone. There’s also the trend we discussed a few weeks ago: the sharp decline in Yellow Pages use because people are using the web to look up phone numbers.

Add all these up, and you can only arrive at one conclusion: if you’re a service company, more and more people will be using their smartphones to look up your number and call you. More specifically –  going back to the first statistic we mentioned – perhaps as many as one out of four of your customers are calling you from a smartphone.

Of course, you should make sure that your website performs well in BlackBerry users’ Bing searches. But one in four is a percentage you can’t ignore: you need to ensure that your website works well on all smartphones.

Next week we’ll talk about how we at iMarket program our websites to look great and function optimally on mobile devices.

What’s the Difference Between Bing and Google? And How Does iMarket Optimize HVAC and Plumbing Websites for Strong Performance in Both Search Engines?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 by Nadia Romeo

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, it seems pretty certain that Bing is “borrowing” from Google by using the Bing toolbar to record the way searchers interact with Google’s search results.

But that doesn’t mean that Bing and Google return identical results – far from it.

So what are the differences between Bing and Google? How do they arrive at their results? And how do those differences impact HVAC and plumbing companies that use the web to generate leads?

The answer is that we don’t really know exactly how the search engines compute their results, because they keep their secret formulas under lock and key. But we can at least make some educated guesses.

In broad strokes, here are three of the most important differences we’ve found between Bing and Google:

  • For Bing, content is king. For Google, context is. Both Bing and Google evaluate your website on a range of factors, including the actual words that appear on your site, the keywords that are incorporated into your site’s programming, and the way your website links with others. But they use this information differently to come up with their results. Bing seems to be more concerned with “on page factors” than Google is – that is, with the parts of a website that the user actually reads. Google, on the other hand, puts more emphasis on “Page Rank”, which is a complicated algorithm that essentially determines how popular your website is compared to other, similar websites.
  • Google wants to know how many people link to you; Bing wants to know why they link to you. “Backlinks”, or “incoming links”, are links from other websites to yours. Links are extremely important for calculating search results, because they offer insight into what other people think of your website. (The thinking is that if people link to your site, you must be offering something worthwhile.) Both search engines look at two factors when they evaluate incoming links: 1) how many links there are from other sites to yours; and 2) what those links say (i.e. if they contain relevant keywords). The difference is that Google seems to prioritize the quantity of links, while Bing seems to focus more on the quality of links.
  • Google likes new content; Bing likes established content. Bing pays more attention to the “authority” of a website – that is, it gives precedence to websites that have been around for a while or belong to authoritative organizations. Google, on the other hand, seems to value fresh content and is much more likely to list recent blog posts than Bing is.

For more detailed technical information on the differences between Bing and Google, check out webconfs.com.

What do the differences between the search engines mean for HVAC and plumbing companies that want to make sure that their websites get to the top of the search results and stay there?

Well, first of all, it’s important to realize that optimizing for both search engines is not a zero-sum game – that is, if you do well in one, you won’t do worse in the other (particularly since Bing seems to be borrowing Google’s results).

In fact, if your website is programmed and managed according to the best practices that we use here at iMarket, you’ll be well-positioned for strong performance in both search engines.

To make sure that our clients’ sites perform well in both Bing and Google, we start out with the fundamental element of all effective search engine optimization: great content. Of course, our SEO service includes lots of high-tech extras along the way, but content is at the heart of everything we do.

Here’s why:

  • Well-written content that truly describes your company and the products and services you offer will naturally contain good keywords. Both search engines (especially Bing) love strong on-page content with relevant keywords.
  • Well-written, useful content encourages other people to link to you. The more people link to you, the happier Google will be.
  • Adding fresh content regularly keepings those links coming, and keeps Google interested.
  • If you keep maintaining your website and adding content regularly, over time it will become an established, authoritative site, which will earn it the respect of Bing’s more conservative algorithm.

Next week, we’ll talk about how we think newcomer Bing might fare in the long term against industry giant Google.


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