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

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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Even Though We’re Not Fans Anymore, We Still “Like” Facebook a Lot

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Facebook is a terrific way to connect to the demographics service businesses love to reach: educated women between the ages of 25 and 54 with a household income of over $50,000. There are over 45 million Facebook users who fit this demographic, and we’re willing to bet a bunch of them live in the geographic area your business serves.

While the value of Facebook for marketing service businesses is obvious, how to use it is much less clear. In large part, this is Facebook’s own fault, because they seem to have gone out of their way to structure and name their online tools as confusingly as possible.

It’s no wonder so many businesspeople are unsure about how to use Facebook as a marketing tool.

Fortunately, once you get the hang of it, it’s not that bad.

This post will review the way Facebook works and explain the terminology so that you can learn how to participate successfully in this fantastic marketing medium.

The basic idea of Facebook is simple: You join Facebook and create a personal Profile. Then, by sending and responding to “Friend Requests” to and from other real-life friends who have also joined Facebook, you build up a list of Friends. Whenever one of your Friends posts something about what they’re doing, they do so by writing on their own “Wall”. The posting appears in your “News Feed” (which lists all your Friends’ postings, in chronological order). You then have the opportunity to read the postings, comment on them, and/or “Like” them – which means clicking on a little “Like” link to show your appreciation or support. Likewise, whatever you post to your Facebook Wall appears in your Friends’ News Feeds.  If you want more private communication, you can contact a Friend via a personal message or instant messaging chat. These things do not appear on your public Wall or News Feed.

These days, it’s not just individuals who are using Facebook – as with any successful innovation on the web, businesses and activist groups want in on all the amazing networking potential Facebook offers. The principle of the business and group pages is nearly the same as the individual Profiles, but with a few significant differences. The most important is the way the Wall works. Like individual Profiles, business and group Facebook pages have Walls, but the Walls on these pages are only outgoing, not incoming. Something that is posted on the Wall of a group or business page can appear on personal News Feeds, but the things individuals post on their own Walls don’t appear on the business or group Wall. The only way to post on a business or group Wall is actually to go there and type something in.

This seems quite simple, but Facebook has complicated things as much as possible by making the page functionality for groups and businesses quite similar, but with a few small but significant differences between the two.

Facebook “Pages” are for businesses, organizations, brands, celebrities, and products that have an independent existence outside Facebook, and their purpose is to broadcast information to people who are interested in the business/organization/brand/celebrity/product in question. Pages are often created by marketing departments, whose goal is to get as many people as possible to become a “Fan” of the Page (which has evolved into getting people to “Like” the page – see below). Sometimes, though, Pages are truly initiated by fans. A good example of a fan-initiated Page would be the Coca Cola Page, which was created by two regular guys who just really like to drink Coke. (So the company claims, anyway – but considering that Coca-Cola has one of the most slick and extensive brand recognition campaigns in the world, one does wonder about the alleged “grassroots” nature of the Page).

Facebook “Groups”, on the other hand, are online entities initiated by individual Facebook users who care about an activity, identity, cause, etc and want to connect with other Facebook users who share their interest. Groups can be either private or public, and people join them with the goal of interacting online with other Group members – socially or even collaboratively. Good examples would be a college alumni group or an online strategy discussion group for local activists. One of our friends even set up a group so that she could update her far-away friends on the progress of her daughter’s recovery from surgery (fortunately, rapid and full).

Functionally, Groups and Pages are almost identical in the way they function, but there are a few differences. Here’s a summary:

  • Pages and Groups have different privacy settings. Pages are visible to anyone who is logged into Facebook, and no invitation is necessary to join. Pages are even listed in Google search results (though in some cases, you have to log into Facebook to actually see the Page). In contrast, Groups never appear in Google results, and only certain Groups appear in internal Facebook search results: “open” Groups, which anyone can join, and “closed” Groups, which require members to apply and be approved before they can join. There are also “secret” Groups, which are by invitation only and do not appear in Facebook search results.
  • Groups give administrators the ability to send direct messages to the Facebook Inboxes of their members.
  • Profiles and Groups have a limit of 5,000 Friends/members, but there is no limit to the number of people who can connect to a Page. This makes Pages a potent marketing tool.
  • Pages have a variety of applications and widgets designed to help marketers, including promotional widgets for websites and “engagement metrics” to keep track of how many people visit a Page and what they do there.
  • Pages are eligible for “vanity URLs”. These are personalized web addresses that contain the name of the business/organization/brand/celebrity/product that the page is about, such as http://www.facebook.com/cocacola. This is a great help with branding and search performance.

At first, people (professional marketers included) weren’t sure if they should set up Pages or Groups, because the two were so similar. The attractive messaging features of Groups particularly clouded the issue. Over time, though, it became obvious that Pages are better marketing tools. They’re visible to everyone, including Google, there is no limit on the number of ”Fans”/”Likes”, they offer performance analytics, and the vanity URLs preserve branding. And although Groups do offer free messaging functionality, the 5,000-member limit makes this irrelevant for most marketing campaigns.

Then, just as people were starting to figure all these differences out, Facebook confused everything still further by changing the terminology around. Facebook originally called Pages “Fan Pages”. The people who joined a Fan Page were (reasonably) called “Fans”. But then Facebook decided that people (who, we’re not sure, because polls show that the majority of users prefer the old terminology) didn’t want to make the emotional commitment required to become a “Fan” of something. Instead, they just wanted to “Like” whatever it was, just like they could “Like” people’s Wall postings. So now, Fan Pages are simply called Pages, and the people do not become Fans of a Page to join it, they “Like” it. Which makes them…“Likers”? (Don’t get us started on this.)

But, despite the confusing terminology, the same basic Facebook principle applies to Facebook Pages. The people who Like a Page (and web marketers still call them “Fans”, even though Facebook doesn’t use the term anymore) have essentially the same relationship to the business as Friends do to a Profile.

The take-home message: if you want to market your business on Facebook, you need Fans for your Facebook Page, or all your marketing messages will vanish, unread, into cyberspace.

Next week, we’ll talk about the best ways to get Fans for your Facebook Page.

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