Monday, April 23, 2007

Two Easy Ways to Improve Your Local Search Results

Does your business show up in local search results? If someone types in your location and business type, does your website show up (for example "attorneys in springfield ohio")?
If not, here are couple things you can do right now on Google to help that.
First, let's make sure Google knows about your business:
Step 1. Go to maps.google.com
Step 2. Choose Find Businesses
Step 3. Enter your search, e.g. "Attorneys" and "Springfield, Ohio"
Step 4. Look to see if your business shows up
Step 5. If it doesn't, or the information is incorrect, you can add it for free here.

What if you have more than one location? You can use the same link above to add multiple locations. I have an additional strategy for you as well: Create your own public map on Google Maps.
Google recently introduced a new feature that allows everyone with a Google account ( you can get one free, you already have one if you use gmail/analytics/adsense/adwords) to create custom maps that are public AND included in their search results. So, let's say you are a bankruptcy attorney. You could create a map of attorney practices in your area, and of course include your own practice. This map will show up for relevant searches.
To create your own Google map, go to maps.google.com, choose My Maps and sign in. Make sure you make the map public if you want it to show up in searches.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Make the most out of your error pages

Wow, has it been a long time since I posted. I'll try to do better with shorter posts but more frequent.
Today's topic is the dreaded "404 not found error message". No matter how well you've designed and checked your site, some of your visitors will see this error message. You just can't control if people mistype a URL or if someone links to you with a typo-laden url.
Imagine the experience of a user who comes through one of those bad links. Are they going to find the typo and correct it? Unlikely I say, they'll probably just leave.
The solution is to create a custom error page. Make it look like the rest of the site, include a nice error message, and include links back to your homepage and to search/sitemap pages if you have them. Many webhosts will allow you to set a custom error page through your control panel. On an Apache server, you can also add this feature with one line of code in an .htaccess file. (Google ".htaccess" and "ErrorDocument" for more info). Once you have the feature up, double check that your server is still sending a 404 response (your viewers won't see this, but the search engines will). It's very important that the search engines see this or you might get hit with a duplicate content penalty. You can check your headers here.
I did a google search for pages named 404 to find a good example for you. Check out this video tutorial site. Once there, add a random file name (like ad8df.html) and see what comes up. Much nicer than the standard "404 file not found" page, isn't it?

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Google adds new features to Sitemaps

Google recently launched new features to their webmasters' sitemaps product. For the uninitiated, Sitemaps allows webmasters to submit a sitemap to Google in order to improve how Google crawls your site. In return, Google provides a wealth of information, including any problems it has crawling your site, what keyword phrases your site ranks well for, anchor text of links to your site, and much more.
Today I noticed some new functions:

- A link tab has been added where you can see both external and internal links to your site. One of the frustrations with Google has been that the link command (link:yourdomain.com) shows only a small sampling of the links Google knows about. For example, link:etargeting.blogspot.com shows only one link. For years, webmasters have had to use either Yahoo or MSN to get a better estimate of inbound links. Well, sitemaps now solves that. While the link command in the search box shows only 1 link, sitemaps shows over 60. Now that's useful information!
It also shows internal links. This is useful to understand distribution of pagerank in your site. For example, the page with the highest links on one of my other sites is the privacy policy (because it's in the footer on each page). Not really what I want to be emphasizing. Although Google may be smart enough to "discount" these types of links, I don't want to take chances. I'll be putting a "no follow" on that link from now on.

- More information about how Google crawls your site, such as how many pages it requests a day (including a nice graph of the past 90 days). You can get this from your server logs as well, but this presents it very nicely. Not life-changing data, but it's interesting.

BTW, if you have a blog, you can add it to the sitemaps program as well. You'll have to edit your template to put a verification code in the header, and you can add your xml feed (e.g. atom.xml) as your sitemap.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Link age and search rankings

New websites often struggle to reach top rankings in the search engines until they've been established for quite some time. There are a couple reasons why this happens. For one, it takes a while for the search engines to visit your site and index its pages. Second, it may take a while for the search engines to discover the links to your site (which greatly affect rankings).

But webmasters have suspected something else is going on. Indexing can happen very quickly, and links on influential sites are found very quickly as well. Even if this is the case, new sites still struggle to show up for a couple months. Why is that? Some have theorized that Google has a 'sandbox' where new sites are automatically penalized/quarantined for a set period. Others believe that Google (and Yahoo & MSN) only give full "ranking" value to links that have been established for some time. This makes sense, since it would negate the effects of spammers purchasing short term text links to get a ranking boost.


I don't think there is such a thing as a "sandbox", but I have seen a definite link aging effect. Let's take a look at the referrer metrics for a new site I've been managing. Some info about the site: created in July, fully indexed by the end of July, all links were created and discovered (confirmed by looking at google's cache) by the end of July as well. No new content was created after that month, and no new links were added (if anything some disappeared as they were part of a press release). The topic of the site is not seasonal, i.e. searches for the site's topic should be fairly steady throughout the year.



Here is the graph of traffic from Google. As you can see, there is a significant spike around December 1st, roughly 5 months after the site was created and links were established.


Here is the graph from Yahoo. You see a similar jump closer to January 1st. Notice the jump is not as pronounced (maybe link age is not weighted as heavily). The fact that the jump was later may indicate a longer aging period, or it may just reflect the fact that Yahoo is much slower at indexing sites and finding links.




Here is the graph from MSN. The jump is much sooner indicating either no link age penalty at all, or a very short one. This is consistent with my experience with other sites as well, any improvements in ranking show up in MSN first, then Google, then Yahoo.



To me, this is pretty conclusive evidence that all 3 (or at least 2) major search engines discount the value of links until they've existed for a while. What can we conclude from this? Have patience! Better search rankings and traffic don't happen overnight, don't be surprised if it takes months. Finally, if you are using sound SEO techniques, stick with it. Eventually it will pay dividends.


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Thursday, February 1, 2007

So long, Microsoft Office

For the past four months, I've been using Microsoft Office 2007 (beta). Today, my beta trial expired. I can still open my applications and open files, I just can't edit them, save them or create something new.

Now, I understand that beta releases are meant to be temporary, so I don't blame them for turning it off, but I am a little peaved that I got no warning (and I'm not the only one). Most trial software I've used lets you know a few days ahead of time. If I'd gotten a reminder, I could have at least saved my Word 2007 documents in an older format. Now I can't read them at all, unless I buy Office 2007.

So now, I'm faced with a decision. Go out in the snow and buy a copy of Office 2007, download a copy and tie up my pc all day, or do something else.
I've decided to do something else. I'm installing Open Office and will use Outlook express for email (for now).
I'll report back in a week on how Open Office compares.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Microsoft Vista and Blatant Self-Promotion

Today is the official launch of Microsoft's new Vista operating system. Let me sum up everything I've read about Vista to date: don't bother. Older machines with modest hardware won't run it (and by older I mean anything with less than a gig of ram, so that includes a lot of newer machines), and there's no compelling reason to switch.

So today I was surprised to see a very positive article called "15 reasons to switch to Vista". Then I realized that I was on Microsoft's own msn.com. I'm a little bothered by it, because msn presents itself as a news source. I'm not saying they shouldn't promote it, but I don't like when editorial content and advertising content is mixed. I decided to check out msnbc as well, thinking they might be more objective since they are clearly a news group (even if partly owned by Microsoft). The article there was a little better (listed a few negatives), but overall it was much more positive than anything else I've read in the press. Here are a few quotes:

"If you’re currently using Windows XP, you can’t go wrong with upgrading to Vista... "
Quote goes on to say you need better hardware. Great. Even if that's the case, I do find something wrong with wasting a couple hundred bucks for very little improvement over XP.

"Windows Vista is the latest, most up-to-date and most improved version of the Windows operating system. It will help you get the most from your current computer"
Applications help me get the most from my computer. An operating system is supposed to help me do that with minimal impact to my PC's resources. An OS that needs a minimum of 1GB of ram (likely really 2GB) doesn't have a 'minimal impact'.

"your next computer will have Vista installed on the hard drive. Soon it will be nearly impossible to avoid."
Big Brother is watching you. You will be assimilated!

Listen, I'm not an MS hater. I'm writing this post on an XP machine running IE7 (my other machine runs Linux), but having dealt with operating system changes in the past (as well as having 'fixed' machines running with too little ram) I strongly recommend against getting Vista. Microsoft will force you to change soon enough.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Buy John Elway's Furniture!

Even though it has nothing to do with online marketing, I have to comment on an ad I heard on sports radio last night.
John Elway has a furniture line at Sam's Club, and they are promoting it with a spot where Mr. Elway thinks they are taking his *actual* furniture. Hilarious (<---- sarcasm!). I fail to see the connection between John Elway and furniture. That got me thinking about why some endorsements are successful and some are not. Here's what I came up with:

- Pick a celebrity where the endorsement makes sense from a product standpoint. Model Kathy Ireland and fashion? Sure. Chuck Norris and fitness equipment? Ok. John Elway and furniture? Uhmm, no.

- Pick a celebrity with magnetic personality. The kind that could sell anything. Works especially well with TV infomercials. George Foreman talking about a food related product. Yes! Yes! John Elway (boring) hawking furniture (boring): No! No! No!

- Pick a celebrity who is hot right now. Think 50 cent and bottled water, J-Lo and just about anything. Elway's heyday was what, ten years ago?

- Pick a celebrity who will appeal to your demographic. Prime example: marketing your Buick to old people? Hire Tiger Woods! Old people love golf, and they love Tiger! (now that I think about it though, Tiger driving a Buick is not very believable. Kind of like him hawking Centrum Silver. Yeah, he's popular, but it's not a great fit).

So where does John Elway and furniture fit into this.
Magnetic personality? Nope.
Hot right now? Nope.
Appeals to demographic? John Elway: appeals mostly to men, especially nostalgic sports fanatics Furniture: primarily women buyers, I would think.

I give this promo a big fat F! ( in case you cared)

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