Painting the picture:
We’ve all been in the situation where we hear of a brand and want to learn more about their business. Just like any savvy online shopper, the next logical step would be to Google their name and look at the top results. This is a perfect scenario for any business that has a good online presence. Ideally, the potential customer will click through to the main site and learn what the company is all about. This is, after all, the goal of branded SEO.
But what if the main site is crowded by a number of review sites in the search engine review page (SERP)? Here, the potential customer is likely to notice this and want to investigate further. In this situation, the potential new customer will either be persuaded to give their business to the brand, or become weary and look elsewhere depending on the content of the reviews. With an abundance of review sites on the web these days it’s almost inevitable that a brand will run into this problem at some point. Take for example a local coffee shop I recently heard about:
Seeing all of the review sites ranking so high, I was moved to look at the reviews and make sure it would be worth my time to visit this shop. Review sites are mostly built from user-generated content that is out of the brand’s control, but there are ways to somewhat sidestep this issue by taking over as much result page real estate as possible.
In past times, the use of subdomains were a powerful SEO tactic to gain more real estate in the SERPs, however this is no longer the case. Previous Google algorithms were known to allow for two results per host, subdomains included. If all of these assets were ranking for the branded terms, competitors or negative review sites would be pushed down below the fold essentially making them irrelevant. Unfortunately, this method was abused by brands to monopolize the SERPs and the term “domain crowding” was born. This forced Google to push in the direction of greater “SERP diversity” taking away the previous advantage of subdomain usage. Subdomains still hold their place in the web design world for organization of giant sites but in terms of SEO or reputation management, their value is dwindling with every algorithm update.
Sitelinks have been used for quite some time now and are, for the time being, still very helpful in terms of regaining SERP real estate. But what new tactics can be used to take place of the no-longer-useful subdomain usage? Fortunately, the concept of gathering assets to force competitor or review sites down the ranks is not all lost. However these days, instead of using subdomains or multiple top-level domains, brands would be wise to use social media assets and local search. If the business has physical locations, Google+ Local is your best friend. Once your Google+ Local account is set up correctly branded search results will contain a map with the locations nearest to your set location.
If your business has social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. these pages will show up in results pages as well. As an added bonus, if your rel=”author” and rel=”publisher” tags are set up correctly, you can get nice pictures of the author or company next to the results. And if you are active on Google+ and have all of your SEO/SM ducks are in a row, you can gain a giant info box on the right side of the SERPs. As a comparison to the SERP screenshot above, the results for a Starbucks query showing good use of both Google+ Local and Google+ are below:
As you can see, other than the Wikipedia entry, Starbucks owns the vast majority of this SERP. Below the fold and not seen in the screenshot are more local listings, the official Starbucks Twitter and Facebook pages, and because SERP diversity is still in effect, some related news articles. With this much real estate under a brand’s control, it becomes far more difficult to notice any bad reviews or competitors. It is important to note that it’s not as simple as creating an account on as many social media platforms as possible. Each account should be managed closely and used often if they have any chance of ranking high enough to beat out the popular review sites like Yelp or Urban Spoon.
Although SERP diversity makes it harder for brands to completely control branded SERPs, there are still plenty of ways to regain any lost real estate. With the growing importance of Google+ and other social media platforms, we will continue to find ways to once again dominate the branded SERPs.
Whenever Facebook gears up to make an announcement, the tech press goes absolutely ballistic with predictions. Not all that different from a telenovella, the predictions are over-the-top with drama and speculation. In the case of the most recent January 15 Facebook announcement, most tech press seemed to think that the announcement would be something related to search or something related to mobile. In the end they’re all right, even if a bit off.
Today Facebook announced the Beta release of Graph Search, a new way of searching. Before I launch into the list of changes and how they will benefit the Facebook experience of both users and brands alike, it is important to address a few things:
- Facebook Graph Search will not replace traditional search or SEO or take down Google.
- Facebook Graph Search will only show results that were visible to others in the first place (read: They are well aware of privacy concerns and no, your privacy settings are not changing)
- This is a beta product that will take years to refine, but has some big implications for marketers and users
- Rollout is effective today, but starting with just hundreds of thousands of users, not millions.
What is Graph Search?
Facebook has 1 billion people, 240 billion photos, and 1 trillion connections. Yeah, you read that right. Graph Search is a way for Facebook users to find photos, places, recommendations, people, interests and events that are relevant to their lives. In an average search engine scenario, such as Google, users have to type
keywords and keyword combinations that make sense. With Google+, a network that I believe will have significant impact on consumer behavior in 2013 and beyond, relevancy and social signals are increasingly more important. With Graph Search, Facebook is allowing its users to find information that is qualified for them – think of it as being a mash-up of Yelp + Bing
How Do You Search in Facebook Graph Search?
Graph search is centered around four use cases: people, places, interests, and photos. When you and I search something like “Apple” via a search engine, we’re going to essentially end up with the same results. The concept, and reality, behind the Graph Search is that when you and I search “Apple,” we’re going to get entirely different results that are focused around our very specific networks of people, places, interests, and photos.
Here are some example queries demonstrated at the press conference:
- Friends who live in Palo Alto, California – returns all friends in that location
- Photos of me and Priscilla Chan – Returns the photos tagged of Zuck and Priscilla, with the photos with the most likes and comments ranking highest
- People named Chris who went to Stanford and are friends with Lars – If you meet someone in real life and you want to connect with them online, you can potentially find them this way
- Indian restaurant in Palo Alto liked by my friends who are from India – This would return qualified recommendations of Indian places I might like in that city.
- TV Shows liked by doctors – Discover new entertainment
- Music liked by people who like Mitt Romney and Music liked by people who like Barack Obama – common search result? The Beatles!
- Movies my friends like – will return not only the movies they like, but video trailers of said movies as well as television shows
How Does Facebook Graph Search Impact Marketers?
While it’s still early, this new way of searching means that marketers will have more insight into their competition than ever before. For example, I could search “hotels liked by Mercedes owners” and figure out which luxury hotel chain is a favorite – and perhaps if there is a potential partnership with like-minded brands.
Location based review services, like Yelp, FourSquare, and even TripAdvisor to an extent, will still play an important part in digital strategy, but should expect to see some traffic decline as people start adapting to finding the recommendations via Facebook itself instead of logging into those third-party sites with Facebook Connect. This means community managers will have to not only work on taking care of the Timeline and comments, but will have to actively monitor other areas of Facebook to help manage reputation, as well.
I personally am not the biggest fan of Facebook, but I love the idea of being able to get personal recommendations and reviews in one place. I love the idea of being able to search past photos or plan future travels via the search functions (and without having to visit 8 – 10 websites to get what I am looking for).
Speaking of how Graph Search impacts location-based social – have you updated your Facebook Places so Facebook Nearby is ready to go? If not, stop reading and do so now.
One of my favorite possibilities is how this search function opens up social to so many new departments. For example, if you’re in HR, you can search for “insert job title here” that are friends with current employees. Nice, eh?
Forthcoming Facebook Graph Search Features
Expect Instagram to play a part in the photo aspects of Graph Search, but not for some time. Right now, this test is only available in English and via Facebook on the web, but Facebook is planning to launch versions in other languages and on mobile in the near future. Also, if search results on Graph Search do not yield
anything specific within a user’s network, Microsoft Bing will supplement the results with a traditional search engine results page (SERP) right in Facebook.
When questioned about whether or not Facebook would work with Google, it wasn’t ruled out, but Zuckerberg noted that Microsoft was much more willing to work with the privacy concerns of the Facebook community than Google at this time.
What other ways will Graph Search impact businesses and Facebook users? Your thoughts and predictions are most certainly welcome!
The introduction of Maps applications has been a godsend. I think back to the days when venturing off to a new store or business involved grabbing a note pad, your local map and plotting out your trip across town. If you got lost you turned back home and either called the business from your dial tone phone, tried searching aimlessly or simply gave up.
Google Maps / Places was introduced and suddenly anyone with a smart phone could receive directions to a destination in minutes. Apple Maps is another Maps application that has been recently released, although to a barrage of negative fanfare. The recent introduction of Facebook “Nearby” has now given us not one but multiple avenues for finding our way to our destination or discovering new businesses to visit. With these new offerings comes new choices, and in this blog post I’d like compare these applications and lay out the pros and cons of each.
By modifying the Facebook “Check-in” feature to include nearby businesses on their map Facebook has now entered the Maps arena. If you’re on the Facebook app on your iOS or Android phone simply tap the menu breakout in the top left hand corner – hit the “Nearby” button and you’re able to see nearby businesses while also searching for your favorite shop as well. After using this feature multiple times I have arrived at the following conclusions:
- You can see where your friends have been and what they thought of their visit. A true focus on social interaction meeting local business.
- There is a wealth of reviews concentrated on one page (doesn’t suffer from duplication).
- Any legit business should have a Facebook page – thus the information is coming straight from the business owner and cannot be changed by the average user.
- There is a click to call feature, granting the ability to call the business right from the “Nearby” result.
- No Facebook Page for the business = no result in “Nearby”
- Once you click the Directions link you’re taken out of the Facebook app and into Apple Maps.
- It’s only available for mobile for now.
- Is anyone aware that this exists?
Overall I love this feature and I’m surprised Facebook hasn’t advertised the release of this new feature more prominently. Hopefully more users will discover this feature because this is one feature on Facebook where more social engagement really does lead to a merrier experience.
Apple Maps has had a tough run of it. From Apple having to publically come out and say that you shouldn’t use this app to Australian police saying Apple Maps could kill you, it hasn’t been easy for this Maps application. Even with all of this I’ve still run across a few friends and acquaintances that vouch for Apple Maps. My experience with Apple Maps resulted in these findings:
- Turn-by-turn instructions.
- 3D flyover is cool
- Working in tandem with Facebook “Nearby” may revive this struggling product.
- Sometimes crowd sourcing the data can be a bad idea. This allows the average user to change what would be correct information to the wrong information – sending you nowhere near the actual destination.
- No Local Business Center to allow business owners to set-up, correct or upgrade their listings.
- Leverages 3rd party data aggregators as the primary data source. These aggregators buy and sell information with no form of fact checking before releasing the data.
- Non-branded queries can show results that are not relevant at all.
It seems Apple has a long way to go here. For what it’s worth, if you know the name of the business and where you want to go Apple Maps will find the business and get you there. (Most of the time)
Google Maps / Places
Google Maps has been around since February 2005 and thus Google has been able to learn from their mistakes and make the appropriate corrections. Google has also introduced a slew of new features to help your business stand out. I would consider myself a pro at managing and using Google Places and here is where I stand right now:
- Google’s customer support and report-a-problem feature allow you to address any misinformation associated with a listing.
- Local Business Center allows you to claim your listing, upgrade it and optimize it for searches – both branded and non-branded.
- The upgrade to Google+ Places brings a more visual aspect to your listings while allowing customers and business owners to interact within the reviews and comments.
- The updated Google Maps app for smart phones now includes turn-by-turn voice directions.
- Crowd sourcing & 3rd party aggregators cause misinformation regularly.
- Duplication is still a huge issue, which fragments not only your information but the social interactions as well.
- I just learned from an employee at Google that multiple users can claim and manage a listing.
- The Google Automated Program can still merge listings that have nothing to do with each other.
- The removal of the “Drop A Pin” feature, which allowed users to easily share their exact locations.
I’m so knee deep in Google Places that I can be hard on their service, but it is really a great offering and one app I constantly have open on my iPhone.
In conclusion I’d still say that Google Maps still has the upper hand when it comes to the battle of the Maps applications. I do not want to discount Apple Maps & Facebook Nearby though. Google continues to struggle to get people to engage socially over G+ Places but puts a premium on functionality – conversely Apple Maps struggles with its functionality but is leveraging Facebook’s wealth of social information. It will be interesting to see how these three giants parry and joust in the future.
Here at Intrapromote we do our best to stay up to date on all the major Google algorithm updates and how each update could potentially affect our clients. During the summer months I noticed very strange things within our client’s data and some very wild ranking fluctuations. Shortly after many of the respected SEO sites started reporting on Google’s Panda & Penguin updates and the comments on these articles seemed to revolve around one issue – is Google only in it for the money?
The specific comments feed I’m referring to can be found in this update announcement from Search Engine Roundtable. If you glance over the comments you can see that the vast majority of the individuals agree that Google is doing something fishy. The comments range from the rare Google supporter saying that their business is built on providing relevant results, to folks who believe that Google is using the updates to cover up other forces at work, to people who strictly believe that Google does these updates to slowly force everyone into AdWords.
So who is right? Is organic SEO becoming a thing of the past as Google continually launches updates that, according to these comments, force business owners to jump on AdWords and pay for their rankings? I’d like to juxtapose the two sides of this issue and debate myself to see if any clear winner can come of it.
Side 1: It’s All About The Money
- Google has been increasing the amount of ad space above the fold. A recent search for “phone headset” resulted in a page where pretty much all of the space above the fold was taken up by Google AdWords ads.
- The (Not provided) Google Analytics problem continues to be a thorn in SEO’s sides, masking data that was once available to all. Oh by the way, you can access that data if you’re on AdWords.
- The long-tail phrases are often where a new small business can find a niche and begin to establish relevance for shorter, more competitive phrases. One comment argues that with recent updates non-commercial sites now dominate this area.
- I completed 3 searches that used queries that were at least 6 keywords long. My findings would concur that commercial sites did not appear and forums did in fact dominate the SERP.
- The final argument I could see being made here would be that organic CTR is suffering due to paid ads. While in the past it was a no-brainer that organic was winning, my research is resulting in a bit of a foggy conclusion. While many sites claim organic gets upwards of 90% of the clicks many people are pointing out that the data doesn’t consider what vertical was searched, what is the intent of the search, and if that data included phrases that shouldn’t have ads to begin with, such as “history” (which is void of any advertising).
Side 2: It’s All About Relevant Results
- While the ad space associated with paid ads has increased, the majority of space on a SERP is still dedicated to organic results. Even still I do believe that Google is doing better at providing non-biased results especially as locality plays more of a part. The quality of sites and their rankings is still to be questioned though. One of my searches was for “vitamins in Denver”, which had this band website ranking first – not relevant at all!
- While we are losing valuable data to the (not provided) issue one would think that the distribution of that data wouldn’t change. So while tracking visits on a keyword by keywords basis is becoming difficult, an SEO should still be able to deduce which keywords are bringing in the most traffic.
- The long-tail argument seems to be hit or miss. Upon looking for an “alternator for a 1969 dodge charger” it does appear that a less established website is appearing for this phrase which would lead me to believe there are more spaces out there for small site owners to leverage.
- While there is information showing how much the distribution of CTR between organic and paid might be closing, all of the research does still point to organic holding the upper hand in that battle.
In conclusion, I understand that Google is a business and in most businesses the bottom line will drive the decisions made on how the product (or search engine in this case) performs. I also understand that in order for Google to hold the lion’s market share in the industry they have to continue to provide relevant, non-biased results to users.
Then again, why do these 2 sides have to fight at all? Couldn’t we work together to help people find, read and buy what they want more efficiently? An article from Search Engine Watch shows that when both organic and paid play well together, the whole team wins.
What do you think? Is Google looking to have you pay for your rankings, or will organic continue to hold the upper hand?
Introduction – by Dylan Price
Last week we asked the greatest social media community manager on the planet, Katie Hehn, to go without the internet in her personal life. Katie is a great candidate for this type of torture mostly for her age, being just barely over double digits when Intrapromote was founded, but also the degree in which she is immersed into social media personally.
The basis of the experiment is simple; let’s see if Katie can survive a week in the “Dark Ages”: an age where no search engines were available, an age where social media was writing a letter and dropping it to the USPS for delivery. Could one of the children of the internet revolution get resourceful in her adult life and accomplish the day’s simple tasks like it was 1996?
This is how it went, from Katie’s journal:
Today was the day that this experiment began! Day 1 is already a bit frustrating: once Dylan changed my Facebook password, I realized that my Spotify account would no longer work. So annoying. I am always signed in to Facebook to monitor our client’s accounts, so I always have access to my personal Facebook account. I’m already missing my Facebook and Twitter…I have no idea how I’m going to get through the next few days!
The week before I gave up the Internet, I tweeted 80 times, posted 12 Facebook statuses, posted 6 pictures on Instagram, and re-pinned somewhere around 200 pins on Pinterest. To say that I am not social media obsessed would be putting it lightly. I am also the type of person that will Google the random questions that pop into my mind throughout the day. I do not watch the news or read a newspaper; I get all of my news from the Internet and social media. I listen to Spotify throughout the work day and have a subscription to Hulu plus. I do not know how to get anywhere without the Mapquest app on my iPhone. I am connected to the Internet in every possible way.
Dylan’s first challenge was for me to find a FourSquare special without using any Internet, including FourSquare. Lucky for me, I knew what area the coffeeshop was located in, so I didn’t need to attempt to use a map or a phone book. Thank goodness. However, I did need to confirm with my mom over the phone that a street number of 2060 means that its on 20th St., not 2nd St. Once I got there, it was closed, but I made it there! Once I was there, I “checked-in” by calling 5 friends, just to let them know I was there. While on the phone with Dylan, he made a good point that if I had the Internet, I would probably have known that the coffee shop was closed.
Living in a world without FourSquare or GPS would be such a sad place. Can you imagine not having the opportunity to check-in wherever you go and possibly be surprised with a “check-in special”? Those specials are such great surprises! I like being able to go on FourSquare and see who I’m beating in points or who I just ousted as the mayor. (Side note: The day before I gave up the Internet, I was outsted as the mayor of the Butterbeer cart at Harry Potter World at Universal!) The friends that I called to let them know where I was were pretty annoyed that I was calling to let them know I was at a random coffeeshop. Could you imagine annoying people letting them know where you are throughout the day or would people just not care? I guess constant FourSquare updates filling up Facebook and Twitter feeds can be annoying too, so with or without FourSquare, you are still annoying people. But doesn’t everyone want to know where everyone is every minute of the day? We need to figure out a happy medium.
I haven’t gone crazy yet, but I really just don’t know how people survived without Facebook and Twitter. I keep thinking “oh, I should tweet that”, but nope. I can’t.
The big news has finally been released – Google+ is going to allow vanity URLs for large brands much like Facebook & Twitter do. The product manager at Google, Saurabh Sharma, released this post announcing the change and gives examples of what your brand’s URL could look like.
I immediately think back to a blog post I wrote on the initial Google+ Places rollout and how Google was against both linking Google+ social pages to Google+ Places pages as well as assigning vanity URLs. Both have come to fruition. I guess nothing is ever set in stone at Google.
Learn more about connecting your Google+ social profile to your Google+ Places profile, which essentially involves going through the same PIN verification process you’d have to go through for verifying your Places listing, only for your Google+ social page.
I’ll follow-up again on this subject as Google begins to offer vanity URLS to a wider audience.