iMarket Solutions Blog : Posts Tagged ‘Google’

The Google Penguin 2.1 Algorithm Update Is Here, And It’s Scarier Than Ever!

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Scary Penguin 2.1 algorithm update


All right, so maybe Google’s Penguin 2.1 algorithm update isn’t nearly as scary as the picture above. But with Halloween right around the corner, would you expect anything less?

Go ahead, share it with your friends – you know you want to.

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What Is the Penguin Algorithm, You Ask?

Although Penguin 2.1 doesn’t have glaring red eyes, snarling fangs, and a tattoo on its upper right shoulder, I know many webmasters would rather tango with the beast portrayed above rather than Google’s infamous Penguin algorithm. Matt Cutts, the head of the Google Web Spam team (a.k.a. the Search Quality team) announced via Twitter the launch of the Penguin 2.1 update. And of course, it wasn’t long before the story was covered by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land.

Google first released the Penguin algorithm on April 24, 2012. At the time, many SEO’s largely considered it to be the beginning of the end of search engine optimization. And for many website owners that indulged in paid, spamming or low quality link building or black hat onsite tactics, it was just that. In fact, Matt Cutts reported that the first Penguin algorithm impacted 3.1% of English search queries. Fortunately, Penguin 2.1 only “affects less than 1% of searches to noticeable degree”, again, as reported by Matt Cutts.

Since the inception of Penguin in 2012, there have been four other modifications to the algorithm, with Penguin 2.1 being the fifth and most recent change made to the algorithm. Keep in mind, Google only upgrades the point system a full number when they feel a significant enough amount of modifications have been made to the algorithm for them to consider it to be a full algorithm update. In instances where there were only minor modifications made to the previous algorithm, like with Penguin 2.1, they tend to only change the increments by decimal points; similar to how WordPress categorizes their installation updates.

What Does Penguin 2.1 Look for?

It’s likely that Penguin 2.1 looks for everything that the preceding Penguin algorithms have looked for, but it’s hard to say at this point in time. To give you some history: when the first Penguin algorithm was released, no one knew what to expect. As the months passed, certain characteristics emerged that were synonymous with someone who was negatively affected by a Penguin update being released. But what no one had anticipated was that the first Penguin algorithm likely only analyzed and took action on back links pointing to the homepage (or at the very least, only top level pages of a site). This of course wasn’t discovered until Penguin 2 was announced, and Matt Cutts hinted at the fact that Penguin 2 went much deeper into a website than the original Penguin algorithm.

My personal understanding of the Penguin algorithm, based on my own research and personal experiences, is that it largely targets the following:

  • Low quality links
  • Spammy links
  • Paid links that are not marked as nofollow
  • Spammy or black hat SEO techniques
  • Article syndication links
  • Forum or blog posting abuse (such as planting links within forum signatures, or creating really low quality blog posts on 3rd party sites, like Blogger, for the sole sake of acquiring backlinks)
  • Large amounts of exact match keywords used within external links
  • Large amounts of backlinks coming from one website (usually referred to as site wide links)
  • Widget links
  • Aggressive link exchanges
  • In fact, pretty much anything listed on the Google Link Schemes page, which is a part of the quality guidelines set forth by Google

Keep in mind the Penguin algorithm is just that – an algorithm. There is no human intervention. It follows a formula that was designed by the engineers working at Google, and adjusts how a website or a specific webpage ranks, based on its analysis of that entity. It is my own personal belief that the Penguin algorithm acts as a flagging system for the Google Search Quality team, alerting them to instances of unnatural linking. I believe this is how they were able to assign so many manual actions (a.k.a. unnatural linking penalties) to websites throughout 2012 – 2013. Granted, Google does claim that every manual action is reviewed manually by an actual human being, but too many websites were penalized for this process to not be somewhat automated.

As a side note: if your website is showing you have a manual action within Google Webmaster Tools and you want to better understand what you can do to remove it, read my blog post to learn how to recover from a Google unnatural linking penalty.

How Can I Keep Track of These Penguin Changes and Other Algorithm Updates?

Besides having to troll through countless SEO blogs, in hopes of keeping up-to-date with all the most recent Google algorithm changes or modifications you have a few more options for staying in the loop.

  1. Subscribe to RSS feeds. Fortunately, there’s no getting around it. SEO sites like and are constantly reporting on all things SEO. In many cases, they’ll learn of an algorithm change or feature introduction far before others in the industry will have. Sites like these I was always have an RSS feed which you can sync to your RSS reader, delivering the stories directly to your computer, email, or mobile phone.
  2. Read our blog. We at iMarket Solutions love to read about SEO to help us stay on top of our game, and we equally enjoy writing about it. As such, we feel it’s in the best interest of our clients and our readers to keep them all up-to-date all of the most important search engine related updates. With that being said, feel free to keep an eye on our blog for all of the latest SEO news and tips.
  3. Bookmark the Google algorithm change history webpage. is one of the most trusted sources in the search engine optimization industry. Originally, they started off as SEO consultants. But their love of SEO and helping people grew so much beyond what they had initially anticipated, that they had change of heart; decidedly choosing to help SEO’s become better at what they do so they can better assist their own clients. One of the ways they help SCO’s is by keeping track of all of the Google algorithm update changes – and now you can too, by bookmarking this page.


In Conclusion

One thing is for certain – Google sure has been busy. With the introduction of the Google Hummingbird algorithm, their LARGEST algorithm release in over a decade, it is most certain that many webmasters will see some sort of fluctuation with their rankings, traffic and leads. The important thing is not to panic. If you are an iMarket Solutions client, chances are slim you will be negatively affected by Penguin 2.1, as we only engage in white hat SEO (also referred to as “best practices” throughout the industry), and only pursue organic link opportunities. If by chance you do experience any dramatic shifts in rankings, traffic or leads, do be sure to give us a call. We can have an SEO specialist look at your website to determine what is affecting your website and come up with an actionable plan to reverse the results.

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How to Recover from a Google Unnatural Linking Penalty (a.k.a. Manual Action)

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Unnatural linking is a no-no. Google has made this very clear for quite some time. And yet, even until this day, there are many professional search engine optimizers (SEOs) who simply refuse to believe it. Although many SEOs acknowledge the perils of unnatural linking, they nevertheless continue their black hat methods (I like to refer to them as “the special few”). And do you know why they still condone and practice unnatural linking? That is because to an extent, it still works well for increasing keyword rankings. In this blog post, I talk about why unnatural linking can be more harmful than helpful, give you some information about the various types of unnatural linking I have found to be most common in websites that I have helped recover. I also explain how to recover from an unnatural linking penalty (a.k.a a manual action).

Not All Backlinks Are Created Equal

Although inbound links still play an influential role in Google’s ranking algorithm, I would definitely consider backlink building to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, building backlinks can be a great way of increasing keyword rankings for the keywords targeted within the anchor text of those links. But on the other hand, obtaining those links unnaturally poisons your site. In the more severe cases I have seen, Google has taken manual action on entire websites instead of just specific pages, removing all pages of the affected site from their index completely. Needless to say, not all backlinks were created equal.

Not all links were created equal

For those unfamiliar with the term, manual action; this is the terminology Google uses in-house when referring to their unnatural linking penalties. The Google unnatural linking penalty is a result of a manual action, which means that someone from the Search Quality team personally reviewed the website in question and found it to be in violation of their quality guidelines. However, even with this being a manual process, Google has still been able to target tens of thousands of webmasters (this was confirmed by Matt Cutts on the official Google Webmaster Central blog when they first notified the public about the new unnatural link notifications, and also provided vague examples of unnatural links). I think Google has been able to do this on a scalable level with the help of one of their more formidable algorithms to date, Penguin.

The Penguin Algorithm May Help Google Dish Out Unnatural Linking Penalties

Penguin is an algorithm, which means that it completes its work according to set formulas and adjusts your websites rankings accordingly. From what we know, the Penguin algorithm was designed by the Search Quality team at Google and released for two very apparent reasons: to identify and nullify unnatural links.

The inception of the Penguin algorithm on April 24, 2012 has since forced SEOs to find alternative, more natural ways of link building to keep their clients’ websites ranking above their competition. But I think there is more to this algorithm than I first realized. I think that Google is using this algorithm to collect large amounts of data on unnatural backlinks, which they then use to identify and take manual action on sites which have practiced the most egregious of unnatural link building.

Who Needs to Worry About Google Linking Penalties?

There are still many SEO companies and SEO consultants who have ignored Google’s advice. Unfortunately, this means that the clients’ who put their faith into these companies are putting their websites, and consequently the livelihood of their online business, at risk. I have even seen unnatural linking penalties innocently triggered by website owners who were simply uneducated on Google’s strict quality guidelines. This is all the more reason why every SEO and webmaster alike should read the Google quality guidelines. Not doing so can result in a significant loss of rankings, which can lead to a reduction of both traffic and leads.

Read Google's quality guidelines to learn why you may have received an unnatural linking penalty


Here is Your Unnatural Linking Penalty Recovery Plan

This isn’t rehab, but admitting that you have a problem is definitely the first step on the road to unnatural linking recovery. Because Google now confirms whether or not a website actually has an unnatural linking penalty within Google Webmaster Tools, finding out whether or not your site has been penalized could not be easier. Assuming you have already set up and verified Google Webmaster Tools, and have confirmed that your website has an unnatural linking penalty, the next step is identifying the toxic links pointing to your website.

How to Identify Unnatural Links

The process for identifying unnatural links is a long and tedious one. There are many different reasons why Google may take manual action on your website. The following steps will outline some of the ways I have been able to find unnatural links which are capable of triggering manual actions:

  1. Verify ownership of your website within Once you do this, you can gain access to your websites link data (as seen by Majestic SEO) for free.
  2. Once you are logged into Majestic SEO, create a historical report of all links pointing to the root domain of your website (the root domain is your website’s domain name, without the http:// or www preceding it) and identify any links deemed as unnatural. Some things that would classify a link as unnatural:
    1. A poor quality or spammy website. Although a tedious process, manually reviewing each backlink pointing to your website is the best and most failsafe way for identifying unnatural, spammy or low quality backlinks.
    2. A completely irrelevant website. The websites pointing to the target site should relate to that site. And just because the anchor text used to link back to the website is relevant does not make the entire site relevant. If the content of the page linking to you does not relate, the link should be classified as unnatural.
    3. Large amounts of backlinks coming from one referring domain (also known as site wide links). The more backlinks you receive from a website, the less valuable they become. In my experience, large amounts of backlinks are a clear indicator of unnatural linking, as they usually stem from widget or footer links which replicate throughout a large portion or all of a websites pages.
    4. Large amounts of links using exact match anchor text (i.e. “Orlando Plumbing”, “Visit this website”, etc. …). I have found exact match anchor text as probably the most common culprit for manual actions being assigned to a website. When natural link building occurs, it is rare that you will see many instances of the same anchor text being used twice. So you can imagine why Penguin would raise a red flag on your website when it notices half of your backlinks are using one anchor text variation. This is why it’s important you learn how to do keyword research properly before even thinking about starting a link building campaign. And of course, make sure you stay clear of keyword cannibalization.
    5. Paid links (i.e. where a webmaster pays a 3rd party to place a followed link on their own site pointing back to the webmasters own site). Paid backlinks are also one of the more common reasons why webmasters are receiving unnatural linking penalties. It is a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines to purchase links which flow PageRank. If you do pay for any directory submissions or to have a backlink point to your website, make sure the webmaster adds a rel=nofollow tag to that link. This will prevent the flow of PageRank, and will keep you manual action-free (assuming you aren’t partaking in any other forms of unnatural link building).
  3. In my experience, the more backlink data you have to evaluate, the better your chances of succeeding. Some other ways for you to find backlinks to analyze are:
    1. Download the provided sample links within the “Links to Your Site” section of Google Webmaster Tools. Matt Cutts states this is all you need to focus on in order to recover from an unnatural linking manual action, though some in the SEO industry are questioning Matt Cutts’ statement.
    2. Subscribe to or is great for analyzing your backlink data down to a very granular level, similar to what is now possible at as well. And has a Link Detox report which algorithmically calculates the most likely unnatural backlinks within your backlink profile.

Steps to Recover from a Google Unnatural Linking Penalty

Once you have compiled a comprehensive list of unnatural links, you will need to start contacting the webmasters of these links, politely asking them to either nofollow or remove the backlinks from their site pointing to. Keep in mind that many webmasters might get offended when you contact them, implying their backlinks may be hurting your rankings, so word your e-mail as politely as possible. And in some instances, the amount of backlinks is so steep that it may be in your best interest to request that they remove all backlinks pointing from their site to your own vs. just a handful of backlinks you identified. Below is an outline of the exact steps you need to take in order to request removal of an unnatural linking manual action placed upon your website:

  1. Reach out to the webmasters of the sites you identified as having unnatural links. In fact, you need to contact them multiple times via either contact forms or e-mail addresses found on their site, asking that they remove all backlinks on their site pointing to the target site. Sites like and tools like can make this tedious task that much more manageable, as they automate a lot of the initial contact and follow up process.
  2. Document all link removal efforts within a Google Doc sheet. Statistics you should track are the target URL, the dates you attempted to contact the webmaster, and the status of the link at the end of all your efforts. If any of the webmasters request that you make payment for link removal, just disregard them and add that note to your document for the respective website. Remember to make this document available to all, so you can share it within your submitted reconsideration request to Google’s Search Quality team.
  3. Submit a disavow file. Once you have reached out at least three different times to the target webmasters, I would then recommend you create and submit a disavow file, asking Google to disregard all of the links you’ve deemed unnatural. Make sure you read Google’s instructions on how to create and submit a disavow file, so you know that you’re completing this process correctly.
  4. Submit a reconsideration request. After you have successfully submitted your disavow file, I would recommend waiting at least two weeks before submitting a reconsideration request to Google. This should give Google ample time to review the file and disavow the targeted links accordingly. However, please note that it is extremely rare for Google to revoke a manual action after the first submitted reconsideration request.The worst-case scenario could very well be that you may have to wait for the manual action to time out on your website, but that’s not to say Google’s Search Quality team won’t simply apply another of greater magnitude later down the road (which they have been known to do, as verified by Barry Schwartz). Some webmasters have even disavowed all backlinks pointing to their site, but this blanketed approach should not be considered lightly.

My hopes are that this blog post will help you with your unnatural linking road to recovery, but the hard truth is that you may not be able to do this yourself. Identifying unnatural links can be difficult enough, and making yourself available to reach out to webmasters can be a full-time gig on its own. You don’t have to walk this path alone, however. There are plenty of SEO companies out there who have extensive experience in manual action recovery. If you need further guidance or would like to speak with iMarket Solutions about helping you recover from an unnatural linking penalty, feel free to reach out to us. We’d be delighted to steer you in the right direction to a brighter, unnatural link-free future. And as always, if you found this article to be of use to you, please consider sharing it with your social circles.

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The How’s and Why’s of Performing Industry Specific Keyword Research to Maximize Organic Search Leads

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Practically all of us in the Internet marketing industry have heard the phrase, “content is king”, but just because you have written relevant content for your website does not make it worthy of the 1st position in Google search results (a.k.a. the throne). Sure, your website’s content may rank decently for some keywords and phrases. But without performing industry-specific keyword research, your website’s traffic (and the flow of online organic search leads) will suffer in the long run. And with so many factors contributing to a website’s rank at the top of search engines in today’s competitive world, one must capitalize on every possible strategy to gain the competitive advantage. Again, none of this can be achieved without performing thorough and industry-specific keyword research.

We at iMarket Solutions regularly create and manage relevant content on behalf of our clients. But we understand that some of our clients want to proactively perform keyword research to identify any low-hanging fruit for their online marketing campaigns. To help guide them down the right path, I have put together this blog post that will briefly detail why you should perform keyword research specific to your industry, and how you can go about doing so.

Perform Keyword Research Like You Dress for Work: Appropriately

Would you consider flying to Alaska in October without a jacket? The most likely answer: no. The same concept can be applied to online marketing. What may be appropriate for one region or industry may not necessarily apply to all. One must also take into account seasonal changes. For example, “air conditioning” focused keywords are not as popular in Seattle, WA as “heating” related keywords, especially in the winter months. This is why you need to put in the time and effort to ensure you are targeting as many of the most relevant, likely, and widely searched combinations of keyword phrases used to find businesses of your nature.

This is how you maximize your intake of organic search engine leads.

THIS is how you perform keyword research!

THIS is how you perform keyword research!

Fortunately, your hard work will not go unnoticed, as this keyword research will pave the foundation for the focus of your content creation – both on the main pages of your website and on your blog (if you have one). For the sake of this blog post though, I will focus primarily on how to perform keyword research to rank better in Google search results.

What Are the Best Ways to Perform Keyword Research?

You can utilize many different techniques to help ascertain the best possible keywords to use for your Internet marketing campaign, but I’ll share with you some of the techniques we use here at iMarket Solutions.

  1. One of the best ways for you to perform keyword research is to watch the top-ranking websites in your industry. After all, they are there for a reason. Chances are your competition has put in the time and effort to determine the most viable keywords to pursue. If you notice any particular competitive websites ranking for numerous keywords you would also like to target, then we suggest you reverse engineer them using a tool like SEM Rush or SpyFu. At no cost to you (besides the time spent researching) you can get a better understanding of which keywords your competitors are ranking for, and an estimate of how much search volume they are receiving as a result of their efforts.

  3. If you have not already done so, set up Google Webmaster Tools. Once you have gathered enough data (we recommend waiting at least one month before viewing the report), you can go to the Search Queries report within the Search Traffic tab and view a list of keywords which your website is ranking for. To better determine the keywords that will drive the most traffic to your site, we recommend you take your filtering a step further by sorting impressions from greatest to least – I refer to this as the “keyword opportunities” report. Search for keywords with large amounts of impressions that are not on the first page, or even better are not in the top 3 positions. At this point, these keywords stand a much better chance at getting to the first page than others, and we have found they can end up being some of the more widely searched keywords in your targeted service area.

    Perform keyword research using the Google Webmaster Tools search queries report

    Perform keyword research using the Google Webmaster Tools search queries report


  5. Even though this SEO tool is being phased out, the Google Adwords Keyword Tool has always been a favorite among SEO consultants and agencies alike. And as it has still not been pulled offline by Google, I figured it was still worthy of at least a farewell posting. The Google Adwords Keyword tool has long been the go to keyword research tool, as it provides data directly “from the horse’s mouth.” Once you have completed your competitive keyword research, you would want to take your list of keywords and input them into “Word or phrase” box. For a more targeted search, you can specify the website you are performing keyword research for, and even choose a relevant category. Additional search filtering options include match types (which allows you to receive search data for broad, exact, and phrase match type keywords), select the location and language of interest, view desktop or mobile search data separately, and even view search volume on either a global or local level.Once the Google Adwords Keyword Tool is phased out, it will be replaced with the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. This modified version of the tool has a much more user-friendly user interface. The most useful of the new features is not only having the ability to combine multiple keyword lists together, but also being able to view and select cities from an interactive map online, making it that much easier to ascertain search volume for targeted keywords in very specific cities or regions.

Help us, help you with your online marketing strategy – call iMarket Solutions today!

Now that you are armed with some basic strategies and tools that can help you further expand your company’s reach on your target demographic, get out there and start researching new potential keywords to use for your site. Once you have a thorough list of keywords to consider, the next thing you need to do is create some awesome content to publish to your website. Not sure where to start? Then learn how to write your own website content first. If you at any time find yourself overwhelmed by any part of the process, or feel more comfortable passing off your duties to a professional online marketing company that specializes in helping HVAC, electrical and plumbing contractors, then consider calling iMarket Solutions.

Internet marketing for electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractors is what we do.

Our SEO experts will build and market a website that can dominate the plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and electrical SERPs in your region – and all with a goal CPL (cost per lead) that will make your competitors weep. Contact us today for pricing.

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

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

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!

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Serve your customers off site? Time to hide your address in Google Places!

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Google has stated that for businesses that service their clients off-site at a client’s home, or “on the road”, the address in Google Places should be hidden. As an HVAC, Plumbing, or other on-location service provider, your business falls into this category. This is definitely a big adjustment but one that is necessary for your optimum success in Google Places and local search overall.

Show your address or hide your address?

Prior to the last few months, it has always been key to have an address showing on your Google Places listing. This was one way you were optimized for the searches in your area for your business. However, we have been noticing some changes in ranking factors, and have had these changes confirmed with Google’s latest update to the Google Places Guidelines, as well as prominent industry information.

Google’s newly updated guidelines state, “If you don’t receive customers at your location, you must select the ‘Do not show my business address on my Maps listing’ option within your dashboard. If you don’t hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps.

While we know that you are used to seeing your address on your Google Maps / Places listing, we are sure you don’t want to risk your listing being removed! If you are an iMarket customer, we have already begun to make this change for you.

What if my business has a showroom where clients do come to our location for service and purchases?

If you have a showroom, we can leave your address visible; however, in the future it may be something you want to change. We believe that Google is making this change across all verticals that are known for primarily serving customers at their homes or office locations, not at your brick and mortar address.

We are definitely doing some testing to determine the best course of action for clients who have a showroom. Let me know if you have a showroom and we can discuss your listing.

What if I have (or wanted to have) multiple Google Places listings for different addresses?

We are no longer recommending that you have multiple listings. On a single Google Places listing, you can specify your location and any additional cities / areas you serve. We have 2 options for this:

  • We can list all towns you service one by one.
  • Or we can select a certain radius (in miles) surrounding your location.

Both options will enable you to come up for searches in the areas you service without the need for a separate Google Places listing in each city or region.

If you have multiple Google Places listings we are recommending the additional ones are deleted so that Google does not have to remove them as spam. Remember, Google may remove the one you wanted to keep, and leave up your others, so it’s best that we choose to remove the right ones, and optimize the best one.

What can I do to help my Google Places page rank better?

You can add photos and videos to your Places listing as a start. If you’re an iMarket Solutions customer, you can send your photos and videos to us and we’ll take care of it for you.

Another post is coming soon with even more information about local ranking factors – stay tuned!

We realize this is a lot of new information, so please contact us with any questions you have! iMarket Solutions is 100% committed to you having the most successful online presence possible, and everyone on our team is happy to help you achieve your goals!

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Bing, Facebook, and Google +1: Who’s Going to Dominate Social Search, and What It All Might Mean for HVAC, Plumbing, and Electrical Service Businesses

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

As we discussed in some previous blog posts, Bing is making a bid to challenge Google’s dominance in the search world. We’ve already looked at Bing’s deal with Blackberry, which may give Bing a lot more traction in the mobile search market. Now we’re going to look at Bing’s deal with Facebook, which adds an exciting “social” aspect to Bing’s search results – and Google’s attempt to strike back.

Here’s how it works. Bing search results will now include “Likes” from Facebook. If you’re logged into Facebook when you make a search – say, to find a local plumber – you’ll get a list of plumbers’ websites, and if any of your Facebook Friends have “Liked” any of the websites in the list, you’ll see a little thumbs-up “Like” icon and the name of your friend(s) who “Like” the site.

Of course, when your Facebook Friends make searches in Bing, they in turn will be able to see which websites you have “Liked”. To make it as easy as possible for everyone to contribute their opinion, There’s even a Bing toolbar that lets you “Like” a website right from your browser controls – you don’t have to hunt on the website for the little “Like” icon.

It’s certainly handy to be able to see at a glance if one or more of your Friends “Likes” a website – especially when you’re trying to evaluate something you don’t know much about. Many people rely primarily on word-of-mouth to choose heating, plumbing, and electrical contractors, and “we think consumers searching for service businesses will quickly come to use “Likes” to choose one contractor over another.

But the Bing/Facebook integration goes deeper than that. Bing will actually use your Friends’ “Likes” to help calculate the search engine results it presents to you – that is, the sites that your Friends “Like” will get a higher spot in the listings. And because each person has a different group of Facebook Friends with different “Likes”, Bing will present a different set of search results to each person – a truly personalized search.

For businesses, this means that it will be increasingly important to encourage happy customers to register their satisfaction online. There are some great ways to do this, and we’ll revisit this topic again in future blog posts.

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Why Do People Use a Smartphone to Call a Plumbing, Electrical, or HVAC Company? Does Your Website Give Smartphone Users What They Need?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about the increase in smartphone use and the decrease in Yellow Pages use. As we have already observed in previous blogs, that adds up to two very important conclusions: 1) more and more of your potential customers will be looking for you on the web; and 2) many of those potential customers will be using a smartphone to do it.

Your website needs to be smartphone-friendly, that’s for sure.

But what exactly does “smartphone-friendly” mean?

Well, let’s start with the basics: your website must be compatible with Safari, the most common smartphone web browser.

Also, you need to make sure that there’s no Flash on your website. Flash can be cool, but iPhones (arguably cooler) just don’t get along with it. There are work-arounds that let people view Flash on iPhones, sure, but you have to have some technical interest and skill to implement them. Chances are your customers won’t be interested in doing extra work to see your website; they’ll call your competitor instead. Leave the Flash for your teenager to play with on YouTube.

But…even if your website is compatible with Safari and is Flash-free, it might not be truly smartphone-friendly. If you’ve ever used a smartphone to surf the web, you know that on some websites it can be really hard to get to the information you want. Often, navigation points like tabs, links, or buttons are so small on a smartphone screen that it can be difficult even to know what a website offers, much less get there. If there are a lot of navigation points spreading horizontally across the screen, you have to scroll and scroll and scroll to see them all. If “Contact Us” is all the way on the right of all that navigation, will your customers have the patience to travel all the way over to it? And, if the “Contact Us” button is really small, will they be able to press it comfortably or will they hit another button by accident? You get the idea.

To make sure that all our clients’ websites work optimally on smartphones, we’ve created a “quick action” mobile template and install it on every website we build. The experience is seamless for the user: if someone visits one of our clients’ websites using a smartphone, he or she is immediately taken to the mobile version of the website. (There is special code built into the programming that detects the kind of device that the visitor is using.)

To design our mobile website template, we asked ourselves two questions:

  1. When and why are people using their smartphones to call service companies?
  2. What information will satisfy their needs?

Based on our own experience and what our clients have told us about their customers, people don’t use a smartphone to look for extensive information about a service company. They may enjoy your blog, but they’re not going to use their smartphone to read it. When they go to your website via smartphone, they probably have an emergency or already know what they want to do (book an annual inspection, buy a service contract, etc). They want what we call “quick action” information: When are you open? Do you have 24-hour service? Do you fix toilets or do you only do HVAC equipment? How can they email or call you right now?

Our mobile templates put all that primary information out there, literally at users’ fingertips. Then, to make sure that everyone can see and access it easily, we make sure that the logo is big enough to see, the font is big enough to read, and the links and phone numbers are big enough for everyone to click on, even if they have great big clumsy fingers (like our CTO’s).

Of course, our mobile websites also contain a link to the client’s main website in case someone does want to research something more closely or read the blog – because after all, what is more exciting than a blog?

On that note of shameless self-promotion, iMarket’s blogger will sign off for this week. Next week, we’ll look at the other big new market that Bing is trying to break into – social search.

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Google and Bing: A Head-to-Head Review of Local Search Results for Service Companies

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

We’ve been reading a lot lately about how Microsoft’s Bing search engine compares to industry giant Google – and whether industry experts think that Bing has the chops to unseat Google from its top spot.

Certainly, there are some things about Bing that are promising.

In many cases, the user experience is better with Bing. Reviewers – ourselves included – generally prefer Bing’s page layout to Google’s. Bing seems to be able to put more information at the searcher’s fingertips than Google does, and it is more visually appealing. Bing’s results pages have more white space and a layout that is easier to follow and more pleasing to the eye.

Bing has also earned praise for its “Explore pane” with links to related searches, followed by the user’s recent search history, and an easy interface for limiting searches to a particular date range. We think many users will appreciate that last feature, because limiting searches by date can dramatically improve their relevance, and specifying date parameters is relatively difficult in Google.

Most of the search engine reviewers focused on more general searches. Of course, for iMarket’s clients, local search is key, so we did our own head-to-head comparison of the way the two engines perform in searches for local service companies.

iMarket’s home base of Burlington, Vermont, is currently experiencing record flooding, so we started with what’s currently top-of-mind for us: “plumber Burlington VT”.  Then, for something completely different, we tried “furnace Vancouver Canada”.

As with our general searches, we preferred Bing’s visual presentation of the information for both searches. In both cases, Bing’s local listings appeared at the top of the page. In one case Google’s local listings were positioned below a paid ad for a national chain (Roto-Rooter), and in the other, they were interspersed confusingly with national listings. We also thought that Bing’s maps, which had numbered blue circles showing the location of each plumbing company, was easier to read than Google’s “raindrop” icons with letters inside them.

But what about the quality of the information? In general, it wasn’t very different. Both Bing and Google’s local listings for Burlington-area plumbers included phone numbers, addresses, and map locations. Google offered seven listings, while Bing had only five, but both provided a link that we could click to get more listings, and those extra listings were fairly comprehensive. For furnaces, Bing offered five local listings, with an obvious link to get more listings, while Google offered only four listings with a less obvious way to get more.

Bing’s much-touted “Explore” pane was no help at all for our Burlington search. The only links it offered were to touristy destinations in and around Burlington. If we’re looking for a plumber, chances are we live here and don’t need to stay in a hotel, and if our basement is flooded, we’re probably not in the mood to check out any upscale local restaurants. For the furnace search, the Explore pane was slightly more helpful, because it contained links to major national furnace brands.

There was one other important difference between the results presented by Google and Bing: Google provided links to reviews when they were available, while on Bing reviews were conspicuously absent on the search results page.

We agree with the online marketing experts who argue that Bing has to be significantly better than Google in order to woo searchers away from Google in large numbers. And so far, at least for local search, Bing and Google (in our view) are about even.

However, Bing isn’t done yet. It’s just signed major deals that will help it compete in two major emerging areas: mobile and social search. We’ll talk about those deals next week and how service companies should react to them.

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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

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

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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Google Instant Preview: Our Initial Assessment

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Google Instant Preview, which offers an instant snapshot of a website right from the search results page, is designed to help searchers make rapid assessments about the quality and relevancy of a website. It’s a new technology and the data is still coming in, but after reviewing the research, we have come to the following initial conclusions:

  1. There’s no guarantee that Google Instant Preview be widely adopted by searchers. Many searchers are not even aware that Instant Preview exists, and it seems to be confusing even to those who do know about it. And, preview features do not have a history of success in the search world. had a similar preview feature back in 2004 that is no longer available today, and Microsoft’s Bing has offered a text preview feature since its inception. Bing and have a combined market share of less than 15%. Clearly, previews have not so far been of much interest to searchers.
  2. If Instant Preview does take off as a technology, it may lead to an increased focus on organic search results. Instant Preview is available only for organic search listings, and Google has stated publicly that it has no plans to offer it for paid listings. If searchers do begin to use previews as part of their search process, they will likely focus on the organic results for which previews are available. To compound this effect, previews visually obscure the paid search ads, making it less likely that a searcher will see them. This, plus Google Instant’s tendency to push more search results below the fold, makes it extremely important for your business to have a dominant position in the organic search listings.
  3. Instant Preview may increase the quality of leads that come to your website, both through natural search results and paid listings. With Instant Preview, searchers can evaluate websites without even clicking (previews appear when users simply move their mouse over the magnifying glass icon). Preview users will probably “shop around” on the search engine results page, starting with the organic results, but then moving to the paid results if they don’t find what they’re looking for. This means that the searchers that do come to your website via previews are likely to be highly-qualified leads who have already selected you over your competition. Pay-per-click advertisers benefit too, because they will probably get fewer erroneous or frivolous clicks.
  4. Instant Preview may (somewhat) counteract Google Instant’s tendency to focus users’ attention on the top two or three results, because people will be able to preview all top ten search results quite easily. However, we think that scrolling is always a barrier and that top placement remains extremely important.
  5. Instant Preview may alter your website metrics. If your website is designed so that people can get the most important information about your company directly from the preview image, fewer visitors may click through to your website. Google doesn’t count an Instant Preview viewing as a click on your page, so your web analytics program may show a reduction in visitor numbers, even as the number of leads you get from your website stays the same or even increases.
  6. Top placement in the search results is important, but it isn’t enough anymore. Users will be able to quickly evaluate your #1-ranked website – and if it isn’t up to standard at the very first glance, they will go elsewhere.
  7. Good website design is more important than ever. You only have a brief moment to impress Preview users with the quality and relevance of your website. Also, you now need to make sure that users can get the most important information about your company directly from the preview.

Next week: How to design your site to work well in Google Instant Preview.

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