Google’s Shift to 4 Ads on Top

Google recently announced that they are dropping text ads from the right sidebar of desktop search results which is currently live worldwide across and its search partners.

As part of this change Google has aggressively started ramping up the number of ads showing at the top of their main search results from 3 to 4 ads for what they deem “higly commercial queries.” Early estimates in a recent study from Dr. Pete Meyers at Moz put the number of search queries with 4 ads up to as much as 36%.

What does this mean for SEO?

The 4th paid ad position is the new position 1 in natural search. Natural search results are continuing to be pushed “below the fold” at a much higher rate. Expect that natural search visits and click through rate could decline as a result. The degree of the change depends on what percentage of ad adverse consumers continue to scroll directly to the unpaid natural search ads.

What does this mean for Paid Search? 

The maximum number of paid ads in search results will be declining from 11 possible ads to only 7. At the same time these 7 ads will be in much more prominent, premium positions. There are a number of theories as to how this will impact paid search as a channel, but the most likely scenario is that over the long term it will drive up competition and increase cost per click rates. The right side rail ads, once seens as a way to get a bargain buy will no longer be available, leading all bidders to duke it out over the 4 positions on top and 3 positions below the main search results.

There is alot of discussion about this change within the industry as with any update like this there is alot of misinformation and hysteria. Ultimately this is a change that will have an impact on the overall mix to natural and paid search. In order to best adapt, I recommend waiting a few weeks until you have a good sample of data and then doing a close analysis of the performance of both channels and develop a strategy  to adapt to the environment and make it work for  you and your organization. On the paid side alot of companies are keeping their bids in place in the short term, so it could be a while before any changes to paid search costs are apparent, but we expect that the SEO impact will be apparent earlier.

Google Search Layout Change


HTTPS and SEO. Should you make the Switch?

With Google’s recent announcement regarding HTTPS becoming a ranking signal we are getting lots of questions from clients on whether they should consider making the move towards deploying SSL across their entire web property. http

While there is no question that broader adoption of HTTPS is a win for consumers and the continued push towards stronger privacy protection it’s connection to SEO is less straight forward.

Use of HTTPS is likely to be a minor natural search ranking factor for quite a while given the wealth of valuable content that will continue to live on unsecured domains due to the complexity and cost of deploying SSL certificates for publishers. Google has even acknowledged this in stating that this change will only effect 1% of global queries.

Whenever Google announces anything that may increase rankings the tendency is to jump to execute as soon as possible. It is important to weigh the benefit vs. the actual cost and level of effort of rolling it out within your IT group.

If you are thinking of moving to HTTPS primarily for SEO reasons, We would ask that you revisit the top 5 actions you could take on your site today to improve SEO performance and consider going after these much larger opportunities before revisiting the HTTPS question. A major move forward on your content strategy or in fixing notable technical SEO issues on your site will have much greater payoffs than the latest fad of the moment.

Mobile App Indexing and SEO

As native app usage continues to surge on smartphones more information seeking and product purchase is taking place within mobile apps than ever before.

Mobile App Indexing in Google

Image Credit: Google

As you can imagine Google is very aware of this trend and is looking to do for mobile apps what they did for traditional websites in making deeper in-app content searchable directly from within their mobile search results.

What does this mean for SEO? 

Mobile App indexing is an emerging opportunity to better engage with existing users of your mobile app by allowing them to open deeper app content when conducting related searches directly from Google mobile search. A couple examples of where this would be particularly valuable is when users have their payment method saved within your app or if you offer a mobile app but do not have a strong mobile website or don’t have one at all.

How to Get Your App Indexed by Google 

Getting your mobile app indexed is done through a process called “deep linking” which includes:

    1. Selecting where in your app you’d like users to access via mobile search and specify intent filters in your app manifest.
    2. Including links to your app within your XML sitemap or by placing app links in the rel=”alternate” attribute of corresponding pages on your main website in the <head> section.

Google currently only supports the indexing of mobile apps for Android devices, but I’d expect them to be exploring rolling out support for iOS devices in the very near future.

We Have Mobile! Now What?

In Forrester’s latest Mobile Trends for Marketers report, analysts Thomas Husson and Julie Ask see 2013 as the year forward thinking digital marketers shift from saying “We have mobile” to saying “Mobile helps differentiate ourselves from the competition.”

Our clients have seen notable mobile device adoption growth for their target audience across the board. Given this continued trend we work with them closely to deploy innovative approaches to serve their mobile users as they interact with search engines and continue to grow their mobile search traffic and revenue. mobile-search

As your organization evolves to a more innovative approach to mobile SEO, here are a few key questions to ask throughout your company and the vendors and consultants you work with.

  • Do you have a clear understanding of the differences in search behavior on your site from visitors accessing your site on mobile devices and are actively building mobile landing pages to search best serve these consumers?
  • If your organization has not built a mobile experience for your site have you analyzed how many visitors are coming to your regular site on mobile devices and leaving immediately out of frustration?
  • Are you analyzing the differences between smartphone and tablet based search queries getting to your site and building separate experiences to best serve consumers different needs?
  • Is your web presence devalued in search engines due to duplicate content issues from serving experiences at different URLs while not implementing the critical SEO coding requirements?
  • Have you done any analysis to understand the differences in your natural search rankings for the keywords most critical to your business for desktop/laptop searches vs. those same terms on mobile and tablet devices?

For more information on general mobile trends be sure to check out Forrester’s excellent 2013 Mobile Trends for Marketers

My SES Chicago 2012 Presentation

SES Chicago 2012 conferenceI recently had the privilege of speaking at Search Engine Strategies Chicago last month on the panel “Integrated Search, Social and Display for Ecommerce Sites” discussing how companies can better measure performance across digital marketing channels and to more effectively collaborate across channels to maximize SEO opportunities and improve performance of all digital channels.

As companys’ digital marketing programs become more complex and categories more competitive, ensuring proper cross channel attribution in web analytics and ensuring regular data and insight sharing across channels will become increasingly important.

See full presentation Integrated Search, Social and Display for Ecommerce

Featured in SEO Ranking Factors Article

I was recently featured in an article from the folks over at Orbit Media Solutions

Check it out here: Social Media, Branding and AuthorRank: Are they SEO ranking factors

Are you providing value or further polluting the web?

You may have sensed it for years now or just recently realized it but natural search engine results are slowly becoming cesspools of low quality information and noise.

Google in particular has been getting a lot of negative press lately about the quality of their search results and more people are becoming increasingly frustrated. As a result Google is revisiting the two biggest problems plaguing their search algorithm currently:

  1. linking schemes
  2. content farms

To those who are publishers/webmasters of sites or those who work in SEO, can you honestly say you feel the work you do is adding value and making the web a better place or are you one of the people responsible for polluting it?

The primary goal of search engines (commercial motivations aside) is to provide visitors with the best, most valuable information corresponding to their search queries.

Are you working to provide great content and user experiences targeted to relevant search queries or are you only manipulating search engine algorithms into thinking your content is something it is not?

Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

SEO is Alive

Over the years it has become a standard task as a professional working in search engine optimization to defend the discipline from those who claim in public or on “the series of tubes” (RIP Ted Stevens) that the service we provide is dead or irrelevant.It's Alive

From what I can tell every time a new innovation in search is introduced individuals rise to proclaim SEO “dead” in order to stir up controversy and make a name for themselves or to be among the first to deliver “prophecy.” Compounding this issue is that these proclaimers typically have an inability or lack of interest in learning what SEO actually is.

Since the beginning of time people have searched for things. (insert story here about early man searching for sticks to rub together and start a fire.)

Nowadays people heavily rely on internet technology to search for what they are looking for and this is not expected to end anytime in the near or distant future.

Over the last 15 years web sites have emerged as leading platforms to deliver information. Search engines followed to give people a way of finding the most relevant websites and pages on the topic they were looking for. Social media then emerged as a way to search for trusted information within their networks and contacts. Location Based Services like Foursquare and Yelp have also started to help people to search and find.

The major search engines all have pay per click search advertising available on their properties that have been enormously profitable, but they also continue devote resources into their natural algorithmic search results as this continues to be a valuable and heavily utilized service by visitors. The last studies I’ve seen still show that 60-70% of all visitors click natural search results first over sponsored or paid listings.

The market leaders Google, Yahoo, and Bing will no doubt continue to more aggressively integrate paid advertising into their search results over the years, but there will remain a strong desire among users to also have access to organic search results where the sites listed haven’t directly paid for their placement. If the major search engines get too aggressive in its display of only paid advertising, this will open up an opportunity for a competitor to emerge who offers better “non-paid” search results.

SEO is not sorcery or a bunch of parlor tricks as many misinformed people think

At its essence SEO can be boiled down to these 4 ongoing activities

  1. Ensuring the delivery of content in a format that can be fully processed by technologies that provide information in response to search requests
  2. Identifying what people are searching for pertaining to an industry or niche and selecting the most valuable keyword segments
  3. The ongoing creation of targeted content focused on meeting the needs of what people are searching for
  4. The marketing and promotion of that targeted content through relevant external resources (Blogs, Forums, Websites, Social Media)

As long as people continue to use internet technology to search for information and natural search results exist where no payment is made to the technology provider, SEO will remain alive and relevant.

Will Google be all paid results in 10 years? Maybe.. But if so, will they still be the market leader in search?

Will SEO still be called SEO in 10 years? Maybe not, but regardless passionate professionals will remain to harness technology to help people find what they are looking for using methods fundamentally different from paid advertising.

Why I picked a .info domain for my site

Many people have asked me, why I selected a “.info” TLD (top level domain) for my site? It’s a good question because it is still an obscure and sometimes awkward domain extension, so I thought I’d address it today.

The simple answer is given the fact that my name is short and somewhat common, the obvious choices like have been taken for top level domain car

The more fun answer (depending on your definition) is being a specialist in SEO and having previously worked in the web hosting and domain registration industry I am always interested in how search engines treat some of the newer top level domain extensions (Others you may heard of include, .tv.) So that said I decided a couple years ago to use a “non-traditional” domain on my personal blog as an ongoing experiment and challenge.

A lot of SEO consultants would advise you to never to build a site with a domain extension other than the big 5- .com, .net, .org, .gov, or .edu (if targeting the US)

Part of the reason for this recommendation is based on the realities of working with a website that uses a newer domain extension or even a new domain period. Even though people now generally understand that SEO is a long term process rather than something that can immediately generate high volumes of traffic overnight, anyone who is making a significant investment in search engine optimization services is many times not prepared to deal with the notable extra time required to get a website with a obscure domain extension to start ranking. (understandably so)

The .info domain in particular has gone through deep discounting over the years and because of which it has been popular among spammers and other nefarious businesses, but it is also home to sites that clearly rank for competitive terms.

Here is an official quote from Google on the matter:

“This is no preference between TLDs like .com and .info in ranking, Google’s focus is on the content of the site.” Kaspar Szymanski, Search Quality Strategist, Google –  March 15th 2010

While I don’t believe that quote is 100% true since Google clearly focuses on many other factors than just the content of the site and Google/MSN/Yahoo seem to require more time for .info names to build trust and authority; this much is:

People & organizations overcome handicaps everyday in many different ways.

If you find a quality domain name that you want to register that makes sense for your business, hobby, or personal blog then do it. Certainly I would recommend you consider a .com domain before you start looking at other extensions but don’t let that stop you.

Ranking well in natural search results is based on many different factors, but nothing is more important than being passionate about the topic of your website and developing quality content over a sustained period of time.

We are likely going to see new domain extensions being introduced at an accelerated pace over the next few years, as all variations of .com continue to be snapped up and I anticipate this question will continue to come up even more often as it pertains to SEO. Delivering on the core SEO tenets of content, site architecture, and link popularity will continue to be far more important and effective than what domain extension you have.

How Selling Newspapers and Writing Title Tags for SEO are related

Nearly every weekday morning I walk from the train station to my office in downtown Chicago. When taking my usual route I nearly always encounter at least a couple people selling the Chicago Tribune.  Some newspaper salespeople are better than others but everyone I see typically uses a similar variation of the same sales pitch. They shout things like “Get today’s Chicago Tribune only 50 cents” or “Brand new, easy to read Chicago Tribune get yours today for only 50 cents.”

A couple months ago a new Tribune salesmen started on one of the corners and his first few weeks sales seemed to be off to a slow start. He too used the same familiar pitch “Get yer 50 cent Chicago tribune.” The other day though I noticed he started using a different approach. He scanned the front page of the newspaper, found the most interesting story of the day and shouted its headline as part of his pitch. I noticed an immediate change in people’s attentiveness as they walked by, engaging with the salesman and yes, larger problems with the newspaper industry aside, seemingly purchasing more papers.

The funny thing is this is not some new groundbreaking idea. This is how it used to be. The local newspaper boy or the “town crier” used to be the first person you’d hear the latest news from.

That said I thought this was also very applicable when thinking in terms of SEO

Think of the <title> tags on every page of your website as a newspaper salesmen shouting to anyone who will listen why they should click through to your website and read your content. Write a relevant title that is applicable to the content you are providing and both search engines and visitors will reward you.

For those of you new to SEO and web design in general the <title> element is an html tag that should be added to the source code of every page on your site because it is what search engines use as the titles in natural search listings. It is also what ultimately entices the user to click on your listing over another site.  In the screenshot below the title of the natural listing in Google is “How to sell more newspapers.” which can be found in the source code of the document as <title>How to sell more newspapers</title>.

The <title> tag has been and continues to be one of the most important on-page SEO ranking factors and it is essential that you put a lot of thought, research, and testing into what is the going to entice users to click through, while also being targeted at keywords that will drive the most targeted visitors to your site in the highest volumes.


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