iMarket Solutions Blog : Archive for the ‘Content Strategy’ Category

Featured Client Blog Post #1: Why Details Matter

Monday, December 28th, 2015

As we close out 2015, digital marketing continues to thrive by amusing and informing customers. If you care at all about organic search visibility, then you must care about keeping your customers supplied with relevant information. Unique, information-based content will entice your readers, give them the opportunity to linger on the page, and gain their trust that you’re a reputable business who cares about what they need.

We provide regular blogging as a service to our clients. Not only does this keep their site regularly updated with new information, but blogging is also great for SEO and it demonstrates authority. This month’s Featured Client Blog Post comes via client request. One of our ace writers, John, wrote it for a long-time client of ours, who had requested a post on the DC Sustainable Energy Utility rebate. Based in Washington, DC, Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. wanted something that would showcase this opportunity to customers in their area.

What Are DCSEU Rebates?

What I like about this blog post is that it tells you what the DCSEU is and how it came about. In a few hundred words, I understand where this rebate comes from (Sustainable Energy Partnership) and what its goals are (the reduction of energy consumption). I also have plenty of external links that will send me precisely to the relevant page if I need additional information. Details impress readers. Without them, this rebate would be a vague proposition. But having the numbers broken down allows me to see the benefits clearly on a single page.

Having a dedicated blogger behind your content marketing strategy is a great way to gain followers and impress customers. Want to know more about our SEO and other digital marketing services? Call iMarket Solutions today at 800-727-3920 for a free demo!

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The Keyword Cannibalization Survival Guide

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

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!

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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.

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The figurative fork in the road: keyword cannibalization

The figurative fork in the road: keyword cannibalization

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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.[/one-half]

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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.

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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?

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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.”[/one-half-first]
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Download Screaming Frog[/one-half]
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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.

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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!

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Adding a Personal Touch to your Content With a Little Help from Al Capone!

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

We love blogging for our clients – but we also love it when you take a little time to get involved to add personal touches to the blogs to make them even more share-worthy.

One of our newly launched clients, Lee’s Foodservice Parts & Repairs went the extra mile this week and wrote their own blog post that involved some history, a famous gangster, and a speakeasy… and the post still had to do with a service call to install a walk-in cooler in Chicago! Here’s an excerpt from the post to grab your interest:

As we walked the site I was told that Al Capone once operated a Speakeasy in the building. Aha, a mystery! Maybe “hit list” was a poor choice of words but now I was really intrigued! Once the client mentioned Al Capone and Speakeasy I was hooked. I always felt that I was born in the wrong era (and if you saw my iPod playlist you would agree). But Chicago in the Twenties, prohibition, Al Capone, okay I admit that suddenly images of old gangster movies started playing in my head…but I digress.

After reviewing the site there were only two options; either run a copper-drain line eighty feet through two walls at an excessive expense to my client or install a Condensate Pan at a much lower cost. Not surprisingly our client chose option two and that was in his best interest and ours. We truly believe we cannot build lasting relationships by only looking out for our bottom line. We are in this together! Okay back to the cool stuff…

Sales Manager Dan Mindo penned the post and has definitely contributed quite a gem to his website’s collection of content.

How can you do the same? We suggest looking around to find the unique or exciting in the everyday mundane details. Sure you go on several service calls, but can you put your finger on something that made it unique? Or are there fun details about other experiences you have had in your industry? Our advice is don’t be shy! Feel free to send your Online Marketing Coordinator a post any time and we’ll have one of our expert SEO Specialists take a look to make sure it has a catchy title and can contribute to your online marketing strategy.

You can also post your own blogs any time if you like – but we’re always here to do it for you.

What original content ideas can you think of? Remember, you’re the expert in your area. What makes it a great place to work and live? Share that with your readers, and the search engines will love it too!

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iMarket Solutions celebrates first year of business with incredible growth

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

iMarket Solutions celebrates its first anniversary July 28, 2011, counting more than 100 businesses to its client roster. It’s been a year of incredible growth for the internet marketing firm, which specializes in HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractor websites.

In July 2010, the fledgling company had one client, an aggressive business plan, and three partners who were intent on offering contractors a way to use the Internet to bring in leads. One year later, the firm has a host of clients across the U.S. and Canada and partnerships with some of the biggest names in the HVAC business, including Mitsubishi and Goodman (Amana/Whirlpool). The company has also signed multiple deals with large distributorships and is a member of several national associations, including Quality Service Contractors (QSC) and Plumbing & Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC).

Overwhelmingly, the most popular product the marketing firm offers has been the “Domination” website, which includes a bevy of tools aimed to climb the ranks of the Internet search engines. This package has been so successful because it allows contractors to draw in leads from every town in their service area. iMarket customers that have subscribed to this package have seen the number of leads generated by their website increase by over 100 per month.

“Our sites have been incredibly successful in the Google rankings,” said Nadia Romeo, president of iMarket Solutions, “But more importantly, these sites prompt customers to pick up the phone and call.”

Romeo attributes the success of iMarket’s websites to them being extremely well optimized, but also for containing relevant content. “I’m fond of saying ‘content is king,’ ” said Romeo. “We make sure the sites not only have the keywords that will bring in customers, but we also make sure the content inspires their confidence, so they will follow through by contacting these contractors.”

iMarket Solutions’ websites have drastically reduced the average cost per lead , which for traditional media averages at around $200 nationwide. “Some of our clients have seen the cost per lead drop to a tenth of that,” said Romeo. “They’ve had to add staff to keep up with the demand. In this economy, I’d say that’s a testament to how well our sites work.”

In the last six months iMarket has added numerous staff members and the company is interviewing candidates to fill additional positions. iMarket is conducting a nation-wide search to add another salesperson to keep up with the demand for new websites.

iMarket Solutions has offices in Las Vegas, Seattle and the Burlington, Vermont area. To learn more about the company visit https://www.imarketsolutions.com or email contact@imarketsolutions.com or call 800-727-3920.

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Inbound Marketing: The Future of Marketing Part IV: Maximizing Your Blog’s ROI

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Last week we claimed that blogging is an affordable way for non-professional marketers to enjoy some of the benefits of inbound marketing. This week, we’ll offer some statistics to back up our claim.

Here are some great numbers from the recent HubSpot survey of small business owners and marketing professionals:

  • Most businesses now have a blog – 65%. Businesses without a blog are now in the minority. Chances are, your competitors have a blog – and you should too.
  • 57% of companies using blogs reported that they acquired customers directly from their blog.
  • 55% of respondents said that the leads generated from their blog cost less than the average cost-per-lead for their business.
  • Respondents were more likely to say that blogs were a low-cost source of leads than any other marketing channel, inbound or outbound. If you only do one form of inbound marketing, a blog is the one to choose.

So how do you make a blog work for you? Once again, the statistics have the answer. If you walk away from this article with only one fact stuck in your mind, make it this one:

The more you post to your blog, the more likely it is to generate leads for you.

Fewer than half of survey respondents who posted to their blog once a month or less had acquired a customer through their blog, but 72% – nearly three-quarters! – of businesses that posted once a week had acquired at least one customer through their blogs. This number increased to 76% for respondents who posted 2-3 times a week, and to 89% for respondents who posted to their blogs more than once a day.

If you’re not posting to your blog at least once a week, you’re leaving a lot of leads on the table.

Looking at these statistics, we’ve concluded that for a small business owner who is writing his or her own blog posts, posting once a week hits the “sweet spot” for maximum ROI. If you post less often than that, your lead generation drops off significantly. If you post more often, you will probably get some increase in leads, but you have to invest several additional hours a week to do it, and the ROI might not be there.

However, if your company is larger and has more resources to devote to marketing, the more blog posts, the merrier. You should experiment until you find the “sweet spot” of ROI for your particular market.

(Of course, if no one in your company wants to write the blog posts, you can always hire professionals to write them for you. This is often the easiest and most affordable way to go – and it is usually the best way to be sure that your blog posts stay on schedule.)

Next week: The Yellow Pages – Your Grandmother’s Inbound Marketing?

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Inbound Marketing: The Future of Marketing Part III: Blogs: Inbound Marketing for Everybody

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Last week, we talked about how companies that do outbound marketing are like lions wandering the jungle hunting for elephants, while companies that do inbound marketing are like lions that cleverly wait by the watering hole where all the elephants come to drink.

Of course – to continue the analogy – there are a lot of different watering holes in the online jungle. You need to figure out which ones are worth staking out. You also need to have the right tools to catch your prey when it gets there.

In some cases, the methods for choosing the watering hole and catching the prey can be pretty high-tech and can’t be used by laypeople. You’ll definitely need professional help to use all these tools and run a complete and maximally-successful inbound marketing campaign.

(Some people find inbound marketing off-putting because it requires professional help to do it well. But if you think about it, you need a whole team of professionals – graphic designers, film crews, producers, printers, etc. – to do high-quality outbound marketing. The professional help you’ll need for inbound marketing is usually much less expensive.)

However, even if you can’t afford a professional inbound marketing campaign, there is still one cheap, easy way to lurk by the watering hole: blogging.

Why are blogs so great?

First of all, you can do them yourself. Blogging is the most “low tech” of all the inbound marketing channels. It does require a computer, but it doesn’t require you to purchase expensive software (many of the lower level, but perfectly adequate, blog systems are available free of charge) and it doesn’t require specialized skills. All you need to do to get results is set up a simple blog and post to it regularly.

Blogs are affordable because search engines love to include blog posts in their free results – i.e. if you write some good blog posts, the search engines take care of it from there. Search engines want to deliver accurate and up-to-date information to their users, and a nice fresh blog post fits the bill perfectly. A solid blog post will put your name – and your expertise – in front of people who are already interested in buying what you offer.

Second, well-written blog posts offer searchers what they want: information and tools to help them make a good purchasing decision. Of course, you have to make sure not to ruin the whole effect by giving a blatant sales pitch (the elephants won’t take a drink if the lion jumps out at them before they even get to the water). If your blog offers real information in a low-key way, consumers will start to trust you, and they’ll stick around and buy.

Next week, we’ll look at what the HubSpot survey revealed about optimizing your ROI from your blog.

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Inbound Marketing: The Future of Marketing Part II: Just How Cost-Effective Is Inbound Marketing?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Last week, we talked about outbound versus inbound marketing. Outbound marketing is the traditional marketing that pushes your message out to consumers via print and broadcast advertising, direct mail, unsolicited emails, telemarketing, trade shows, etc. Inbound marketing is online advertising that pulls consumers in when they are already searching for the products and services you offer.

Online marketing expert Brian Halligan, the guy who founded HubSpot and coined the term “inbound marketing”, has a useful analogy. Businesses are like lions hunting in the jungle for elephants. The lions can either wander around the jungle randomly, hoping to find an elephant, or they can hang out by the watering hole where all the elephants come to drink.

Hanging out by the watering hole has two advantages:

  • You use a lot less energy.
  • You’re sure to bag your prey.

In business speak, this translates to a single word: cost-effective.

Let’s look at some statistics taken from HubSpot’s recent survey of business owners and marketing professionals. These three basic statistics show just how cost-effective inbound marketing can be:

  • In 2011, businesses that spent more than 50% of their lead generation budget on outbound marketing had an average cost-per-lead of $373.
  • Businesses that spent more than 50% of their lead generation budget on inbound marketing had an average cost-per-lead of $143.
  • Businesses that focused their marketing efforts on inbound marketing had a 62% lower cost-per-lead than their outbound-focused competitors.

These results are impressive, but at iMarket we’ve exceeded them. iMarket’s “Domination Package” customers have a cost-per-lead of under $75 per lead.

How are we able to do this?

Outbound marketing is actually a very clumsy marketing strategy. You put your message out to everyone, in the hope that the small subset of people who are actively considering buying a product or service that you offer might be watching, reading, or listening at the time when your message is broadcast. The only way to be sure you’ll reach that small number of prospects is to spend a lot of money making sure your message is repeated in as many places, and as often, as possible.

With inbound marketing, you don’t need to broadcast your message everywhere; instead you make sure that it’s where that small group of actively-searching consumers will see it. At iMarket, we have proven strategies for putting your message right where it needs to be, keeping your marketing budget to a minimum.

Also, there’s another reason why the cost-per-lead is so low for inbound marketing. With print and broadcast media, you pay more for every set of eyes or ears that receives your message. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is digital. With inbound marketing, you create your message for a fixed cost that stays the same no matter how many people read or see it. The more people who see it and the more leads you get from it, the lower your cost-per-lead. (In business-school-speak, the marginal cost-per-customer-acquisition is extremely low for inbound marketing.)

HubSpot’s Halligan says that most marketers today spend 90% of their efforts on outbound marketing and 10% on inbound marketing, and he recommends that those ratios should flip. Based on our experience with inbound marketing, we second that recommendation!

Of course, most inbound marketing requires professional expertise to be really successful. But if you can’t afford professional marketing help, you can still reap many of the benefits of inbound marketing by posting regularly to your blog. That’s what we’ll talk about next week.

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Google Instant: The Rich Get Richer, But So Can You!

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Last week, we talked about Google Instant, and our belief that Google Instant is designed to increase Google’s revenues by guiding searchers and online marketers away from “long-tail” search terms and toward more popular, high-cost search terms.

It’s not only rich Google who will get richer in this scenario. Wealthy companies with big advertising budgets will be able to afford to compete for the high-volume search terms, edging out the little guys who can’t.

Except…

We don’t think Google Instant will significantly inflate the price of local search terms.

In fact, we believe that Google Instant will probably push more people toward local results, and that’s great news for contracting companies.

Searchers these days are pretty smart. If they want a plumber in their local area, chances are they won’t just type in “plumber”. They’re going to type in “plumber” plus the town or county or neighborhood they live in, or their zip code. For naïve searchers who don’t specify a location on their own, Google offers two important prompts to guide them to local results. The Local Search map appears, providing searchers with a visual guide for choosing a plumber close to them. Plus, now Google Instant will suggest search phrases that include the town where the searcher lives, i.e. “plumber burlington vt”.

Of course, this feature of Google Instant makes it important for local businesses to be competitive for the search terms that are most popular in their local area. But in most markets (and certainly in non-metropolitan markets) we don’t believe that Google Instant will lead to a huge increase in competitiveness and pricing for local search terms.

Here’s why:

  • There are only a few reasonable ways for people to search for services in their local area: by town, county, region, zip code.
  • There is a natural limitation on the number of people who want a given service in a given region, and this in turn leads to a natural limitation on the number of people who offer that service. Google Instant is not going to increase the number of people with broken pipes in Burlington, and it’s not going to increase the number of companies that offer plumbing services.

That means that in most local markets, the search terms that are being used, and the number of companies competing for them, are already established. Google Instant won’t do much to change them, which means that the price for local search terms won’t increase.

The only thing that Google Instant will change is the number of people who search for local results.

All this makes us at iMarket extremely confident that iMarket’s unique “town by town” strategy is the perfect way to take on the new challenges and opportunities offered by Google Instant. Our core philosophy has always been to make our clients’ online marketing as cost-effective as possible by bypassing the big-ticket search terms and focus on the local search terms that bring real leads to contracting businesses. Google Instant is going to funnel more people to the local search terms iMarket’s system is designed to dominate.

Yes, Google Instant does make Google richer. But if you’re a strong competitor for local search terms, it can make you richer, too.

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Google Instant: The Rich Get Richer?

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

In September, Google introduced “Google Instant”. You may have seen Google Instant in action already: now, when you type in a search term in Google, text pops up below the box where you’re typing, giving you suggestions for search terms that might be appropriate. The suggestions come from the most popular recent searches using the letters or words you’re typing.

You may also have noticed that as you’re typing, organic search engine listings and pay-per-click ads flash immediately onto the screen – only to be replaced instantly by different listings and ads if your search term changes significantly as you keep typing.

This is certainly a pleasant increase in response time, though Google was already pretty speedy and users’ lives are unlikely to change much as a result of the improvement. (As The Daily Mash noted sardonically, “the average user performs 12 searches a day, meaning they will soon have more than nine extra seconds to devote to work or leisure interests.”)

But speed is not the reason Google introduced Instant Search. While users do benefit a little from the convenience, the real advantage goes to Google.

Here’s why:

For the past several years, most well-designed SEO strategies have included what is known as “long tail search”. To understand what is meant by this, imagine the most common/popular search terms about a given subject being the head of a comet, while the more detailed, specific, or offbeat searches relating to the subject trail behind as a “long tail”. Long tail search has become increasingly important as people have become savvier about using search engines and have realized that longer, more descriptive searches yield better results.

Long tail search terms have been a good deal for online marketers. Leads from long tail searches are often highly motivated, meaning that a well-designed website will have a good shot at converting these leads into customers. And the lower popularity of individual long-tail search terms means that it is easier and cheaper to compete for top placement for each term, both in the organic results and the pay-per-click bidding. As a result, most current SEO strategies involve competing for and bidding on a wide array of affordable search terms, rather than spending money on big-ticket search terms.

Here’s an example of what we mean by “long tail” search: If you just type “mortgage” into Google, that’s a broad, generic search. You’ll notice that only large mortgage companies can afford to compete for this high-volume keyword. But many people get more specific, and search on “mortgage refinance” (still quite broad and expensive), “mortgage refinance Vermont” (getting more specific), “mortgage refinance Burlington Vermont”, or even “mortgage refinance no-doc loan Burlington Vermont”. This last is a classic long tail search: it’s really focused, it’s not that competitive (there are only a limited number of companies that offer no-doc loans in Burlington, VT), and it will probably deliver an incredibly motivated lead, because the searcher is clearly someone who has already thought quite a bit about the kind of mortgage they’re looking for.

The only one not to benefit much from long tail search is Google. Google isn’t that interested in having people bid and click on long-tail search terms that bring in maybe 10 cents a pop. Google wants to channel people toward the more popular terms that go for several dollars per click. In our view, this is what Google Instant is designed to do. Google Instant guides users to popular search terms, and steers them away from creating their own, long-tail, not-very-profitable-for-Google search phrases.

Voila! Instant increase in revenue for Google, as more expensive terms get more clicks. The rich get richer with Google Instant…but what happens to the rest of us out there in the online marketplace who have been relying on long-tail search? If you’re a service business, the news may be better than you think – and that’s what we’ll talk about next week.

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Can Google Read Websites Built in Tables?

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Google can read tables, and sometimes it does, but it would prefer not to.

“Tables” refers to a group of HTML commands that are used to set up a grid on a webpage, and then to specify where and how text and images should be displayed on the grid. In the early days of the web, tables were the tool of choice for laying out web pages.

For many years now, though, good websites have been built using a much more efficient layout system called CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Essentially, Cascading Style Sheets are a master template that “cascades” through every page of a website, standardizing the colors, fonts, and layout for the entire site. (Tables still are used for showing actual tabular data, like comparison charts, but everything else is left to CSS.)

There are four important benefits to CSS:

  • CSS makes a website completely consistent – which makes it look really sharp and clean and professional.
  • CSS makes it much easier to adjust the look and feel of a website – you only have to make changes once in the master CSS template, instead of having to change each page of the site individually. (Those of us who were around for the very early days of the web remember how excruciating this was!)
  • CSS makes a website load much faster – the browser only has to read and interpret the layout instructions once and execute them for the entire site, instead of reading and executing them separately for each page.
  • CSS makes it much easier for Google to find and catalogue the actual text content of each page. If a website is built using tables, there are a lot of HTML commands at the beginning of every page to structure the layout, and then there are more HTML commands interspersed throughout the text to make sure that everything appears in the right spot. To figure out what your website is about, Google has to wade through all this bulky HTML – but Google has millions of websites to visit and probably won’t take the time.

Google’s mission is simple: to give people what they’re looking for on the web. It wants to list websites that are up-to-date, easy and pleasant to use, and that provide users with the information they need. A website built in tables is much less likely to have a good Google ranking because it’s old-fashioned, slow and tedious to use, and has content that’s hard for Google’s “spiders” to read and evaluate.

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