About Russ Lubin

Russ Lubin has been working in online marketing since 2005 and has worked as an affiliate, an affiliate manager and as an SEO & online marleting consultant. Russ has worked at ElementsLocal for more than a year offer and has offered scaled SEO & marketing recommendations for franchise companies such as Sport Clips, Weed Man and Maaco.

Prior to delving into online marketing full time Russ Lubin spent 10 years at The Credit Bureau of San Luis Obispo as the Assistant Vice-President of Administrative Services. In 2007 Russ Lubin left the Credit Bureau to work as a contract employee for Pismo Group where he worked with Michael Boyer assisting the company in web design and development.

Russ Lubin graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1997 with a degree in philosophy and currently lives in Arroyo Grande California with his wife and his 3 children who are the most important things in his life. Some of his other interests include writing and social media networking.

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Google Search Plus Your World – Changes bring Changes

Google Plus Your World: Changes bring Changes

We have seen change after change occur, both algorithmically and to the user interface of Google.  All of these changes affect what franchises do to generate leads to at the local franchisee location.  In this article we will explain the impact of Search plus Your World and provide instructions on how to change with the times.

Explanation of Search plus Your World

In January of 2012 Google launched what they called Search plus Your World.  The goal of this algorithm change is to create a very personalized result which they expect will have more value to the user than a more generic general result would.  Google has been offering personalized search results for years, but average users didn’t even know that that they were being provided with personalized search because the difference between them and a generic search result was subtle.  Search plus Your World entirely changes the search results layout and drastically changes the rankings of websites.

In 2010 Google launched a social network called Google+.  What the public didn’t realize at the time is that one of Google’s purposes of this new social media platform was to create a way to authenticate people’s online persona.  By doing so, Google can create rate the value of an individual social persona.  This means that the websites recommended by a recognized industry writer will carry more weight than the recommendations of a faceless IP address.  In the same line of thought, the recommendation from a peer in your circle of friends would be deemed as having more value to you because it is likely that they have the same interests and opinions that you do.

With Search plus Your World, Google brings those recommendations from your circle of friends right to the forefront and it can draw those recommendations from private conversations on their social network.  The changes to the search results can be seen in the screen captures below.  The image on the right shows how even a Google Image search is affected by this recent change.

click image to expand

Googles Search Plus Your World Results Google Images Search Plus Your World Results

The problem is that Google is now showing more preference to their Google+ results than it does to other social networks and websites.  Google draws the data for their personalized search results from the Google+ network only, stating that once other social networks will be included when they sign-up for a long-term partnership and offer up their networks worth of data completely to Google.  Obviously Facebook & Twitter, advertising competitors of Google have serious reservations about both of these requirements.

Google is also bumping up the positions from these personalized results right to the top position.  This might be great if your friends happen to be discussing something completely relevant to what you are searching for, but could also be just a text mention of a product or brand rather than a local store or website that can fulfill your needs.  Take a close look at the image above on the left.  The third result is a personalized result pointing me to the Google+ network to find information on ‘search engine help’.  Well, this Google+ post is about a free tool that can show me where my site is listed on Google, but this isn’t really search engine help, is it?  Obviously this is not the most relevant result I could be looking for and is definitely not worthy of a top result.

Taking Advantage of Personalized Search Results

If you are wondering how your franchise can benefit from Google+ and Search plus Your World, the short answer is that every business can.  Recently Google made a change to their search system that obscures the keyword terms that drive visitors to your website if they are logged into Google, whether that is because of Gmail, Google Docs or YouTube.  So, instead of seeing the relevant keywords you will instead see (not provided).  Now Google also creates a Google+ account profile automatically if you have create and account for any of Google’s online products.  From this, we can see that the percentage of results arriving to your website as (not provided), actually have Google+ accounts and are actively logged in when they have made this search.  According to reports from many companies, the current percentage of searches done by people logged into their Google+ account sits between 10-20%.  One of our franchise client’s corporate webpage is showing over 30% of their search visitors are logged into Google+.  That’s a significant percentage of potential leads and leaving them off the table by not optimizing for Search plus Your World makes no sense.

The link graph is dying.  Obtaining links can be easily gamed.  Recommendations from authentic industry experts and friends within a circle are the new most powerful search signals that Google is using to rate websites in their search results.

So How Can Your Franchise Optimize for Google’s New Socially Guided Results?

The first step is to setup a Google+ account for your business. Understandably a franchise may be leery about creating another social media account because they already have Facebook & Twitter accounts that they having difficulty keeping current, but Google+ is a game changer when it comes to  search results and if you don’t grab a Google+ account for your business and begin posting to it now you will be playing catchup.

The first thing you should do is add Google+ badges on your website in conspicuous places on your website, near your companies contact information and in places near where your website’s visitors will be interacting with.  These badges will drive interested users to your Google+ account and hopefully the content you post to your circles is interesting enough to them that they add you to their circles.
Secondly, you need to install a +1.  Similar to a Facebook Like, a +1 button on your website encourages visitors to rate your website positively and these positive ratings will be delivered to others in their social circles.

The key to achieving success in Search plus Your World through your Google+ account is by recognizing your audience.  Finding, growing and pruning potential leads and existing clients into your Google+ social circles is pivotal to ranking success.  This isn’t Twitter.  You don’t need millions of followers.  What you should be targeting is your key demographic, people that are deeply entrenched in the products or services related to what your franchise delivers.  Relevant links or Google+ recommendations –- similar to Facebook likes — from authentic industry experts will do more for your company’s search results than thousands of unrelated mentions from empty profiles will.

What do I share with my users?

Now the goal of this social build-up is to get your Google+ page shared with other users through search or having other users share your website material.  By creating high quality relevant content you can increase the odds of getting users to +1 your website’s content.  With every Google+ update you should keep focused on moving the user from your social profile to your website’s lead generators whether those are a contact form or a newsletter sign-up page.  Track those conversions and the sources that led to them and use those metrics to drive your Google+ campaigns.

Keep in mind that a Like, follow or +1 is great and may be something that you can measure by a simple line chart it is not a conversion.  A conversion is an e-mail, a phone call or a join form that turns a user into a qualified lead.

Google Integrates Their Own Social Into Search, Big Deal?

As you’ve probably already read, Google has introduced their new social search which is on by default into their “Everything” search.  Adding social circle recommendations and social media posts within the results is not the problem; Bing integrated Facebook social signals into their results almost a year ago.  Most pundits take issue with the fact that Google is showing great preference to their own Google+ social network in their search results.  Some are even going so far as to state, is that Google is willing to sacrifice relevance and quality in favor of their own social results.

google plusTwitter (General Counsel,Alex Macgillivray) fired a salvo at Google claiming that it is a “bad day for the internet” because Google is displaying unfair practices by giving link preference in their search results to their own properties.  Google publicly stated that the Google+ social network would get no preferential treatment if Facebook & Twitter gave them permission to access all of their content, which of course neither competitor is willing to do.

So is Google using anti-trust techniques to bolster their own properties?  Well, it can be argued that Google does not hold a monopoly on search as they currently hold a 66% of the market share and there is no obstacle for consumers to use another search engine.  So most likely Google is not breaking the law, but we can see how the spirit of the law appears to be broken when the 800lbs gorilla of search is showing a lot of results to their own properties in their results.

By showing Google+ profiles in their search results Google is encouraging their users to sign-up for a Google+ account.  See, Google needs a large scale adoption of their social platform in order to pick up social signals which they can then use to base their search results on.  Google’s use of these social signals, such as quality ratings (+1) from trusted Google+ profiles could very well replace the current link graph system.  The existing system assumes that the more links a website has pointing to it the more popular that website is which speaks to its’ quality, but this can easily be gamed.  This paradigm shift from link graph to social signals for search results is a real big game-changer in search engine marketing.

Two Recent Google Changes That Could Affect Your Website

It seems like Google is always changing things, but generally these changes are behind the scene changes in the algorithm that are generally too obscure and boring to people who are not search engine optimization specialists.  This time, these two new Google changes take place right in your face and they could affect how successful your website is when compared with your competitor’s website.

Sitelinks

The first change is a change to Google sitelinks.  When a website becomes popular enough Google adds additional links to your website below your website’s main listing.  This is supposed to help users more easily navigate your website by quickly locating the information on your website that they are looking for.  For instance, a search of a local museum may produce sitelinks that point users to hours they are open or contact and tour information as these are destinations that searches generally want to find quickly.

Google has now increased the number of sitelinks a website can have from 8 to 12 and also added and additional one line text snippet description of that page.  How can this affect your and your competitor rankings?  Well the new sitelinks now dominate the search results which is good for you should you rank at number one for the queried key term, but very bad for you if you rank number 2 or below.

new google sitelinksThe screenshot to the right (click to expand) shows the new expanded sitelinks as indicated by the red arrow.  The Google Place’s result for that specific company appears directly below the sitelinks as indicated by the blue arrow.  All of this pushes down all other rankings below the page fold.  As you can see indicated by the green arrow Yelp, the second place result it shoved way down to the bottom and this example only contains 6 sitelinks when the maximum amount available are 12.  When you think about below the fold results only receiving 10% of search result clicks, this is a major shift in how search results deliver traffic.

Google Related

Google is offering up a new extension for Internet Explorer & Chrome called Google Related.  This extension adds a bar to the bottom of your browser which should deliver additional relevant information to the web page you are currently on.  So the website for your local city may also include a map in the related bar, weekly weather forecast and cities nearby that you may be interested in travelling to.  Neat!

The thing is, Google does not distinguish between an information only website and a commercial website.  In the example website below I am at a local restaurant and when I hover over the additional data in the Google Related toolbar I can see a map to the location (purple arrow).  The next column lists reviews of the establishment taken from Google Places and links to more reviews around the web (green arrow).

In the last column of the Google Related bar, the column that commercial websites will take issue with, is a listing of “Related Places”.  That means when I simply hover my mouse that column I am exposed to local competitors who in this result all have a higher review rating than that of the restaurant whose website I am currently on (red arrow).  Say this restaurant paid a monthly retainer for SEO work or spent money advertising through PPC solutions.  That is an expense that can ultimately end up driving visitors with Google Related barinstalled in their browser to their local competitor’s Google Places page.  Not cool Google.

google related

Google’s New Analytics

While it’s still in Beta, the Google Analytics dashboard is getting a facelift and it’s not all just cosmetic. There are two changes that really interest me, the addition of widgets and the ability to have multiple dashboards.

I have signed up for the beta, but it could take a while until I get access so for now I’m going off of the screenshots I found over at BlogSpot.

google analytics add widget google analytics delete dashboard

From my understanding the widgets will allow you to customize the look and feel of the dashboard.  So you could put in a timeline of views right near the top of the dashboard for those clients most interested in brand awareness or a pie chart of goal success for those clients most interested in goal conversion.  Then with the ability to create custom dashboards you could create both dashboards mentioned above for a single customer in different tabs.

I’m eager to test out the widget options and I’m curious to see if Google will add any new functionality beyond standard charts & graphs and how they work with advanced segments.  For now I’ll watch my inbox for acceptance into the beta program of the new Google Analytics and I’ll report what I find when I get approved.

Google’s Farm Update & How it Affected Franchise Traffic

At the end of February Google released an update to their algorithm that was supposed to penalize and deter content farms (sites that reproduce content from other websites or use low quality content purely for the sake of higher search rankings).  Google claimed that this would affect almost 12% of all US queries.  Some SEO experts have dubbed this algorithm change the “Farm” or “Farmer” update.

Now I’ve seen recent articles out there about the short term effect of the Farm update so I decided to check out some of the Google Analytics I have access to inGoogle Analytics Update Example order to see how a variety of our clients are fairing.  I got a mixed bag of results as you can see in the examples to the left.

While I saw several examples of traffic spiking, falling, bouncing or remaining consistent throughout our network of individual domains more often then not our domains took a noticeable of a dip after February 25th (31% as seen in the bottom example shown) followed by an immediate traffic increase (again in the bottom example shown an increase of over 50% above the average daily traffic). 

It’s all interesting, but what does it really tell us?  A highly trafficked website receives traffic from a variety of sources so a dip in a single traffic referrer - in this case Google - might not show much of a traffic loss.  A small website like our new affiliate blog which receives 90% of its’ inbound traffic from Google would definitely show an impact, but the low traffic volume means that we can’t trust the traffic drop to be directly correlated with the Google Farm update.

For the most part at ELEMENTS we focus on franchise companies which generally have hundreds of websites across the board and we are able to track those websites as a whole.  So how will traffic to 700+ like websites be affected by the Farm update?  Let’s find out.

Franchise A

franchise A traffic

Franchise B

franchise b traffic

Looks to me like there was very little if any effect at all on the overall franchise traffic for these two clients following the February 25th update roll out.  Other franchises I looked up had less than a 10% degree of variance after the Farm update, so thankfully not much changed across our franchise networks.

So who wins and who loses with this new rollout?  That remains to be seen.  Some have reported (EZineArticles for one)  a loss of up to 40% of their traffic since the Farm update went into effect and Mahalo.com which describes itself as a knowledge sharing service has reportedly laid off 10% of their staff in response to the significant dip in traffic & revenue resulting from the Farm update.  On the other hand possible content farms themselves, eHow and Wikipedia are reported to have seen a traffic boost from the update.  My take is that websites with a strong offline brand (perhaps even some online brands) are not going to see much negative effect from the latest update.

2010 Internet Statistics

I have been sent this article about 5 times from different sources so I guess I better share it on our blog on the off chance you might have missed it.  The below article has estimated statistics of Internet usage for the entire 2010 calender year.

Some notable statistics are:

  • 107 trillion – The number of emails sent on the Internet in 2010.
  • 88.8 million – .COM domain names at the end of 2010.
  • 14% – Increase in Internet users since the previous year.
  • 600 million – People on Facebook at the end of 2010.
  • 175 million – People on Twitter as of September 2010.
  • 2 billion – The number of videos watched per day on YouTube.

You can read the full article at Pingdom here.

Google’s New Places Search Results and How They Will Affect Your Rankings

As mentioned in my previous post Google’s search results have changed.  In order to better understand how these new search results will affect SEO strategies I think it’s best to take a look at Google’s original intent behind these changes.

As you are probably aware Google has a variety of search types available.  One can search for information through Google Images, Google News, Google Maps and more.  Towards the end of October Google rolled out a new type of search they titled Google Places.  The goal behind Google Places was to provide the searcher with a group of local results relevant to their search phrase that conveniently displays information about the business gathered from various sources like Google’s main search, its’ map search and external websites as well.  Google would then blend the information gathered and produce a results page bearing that information along with a map of all of the competing Places on that results page.  This format allows the user to get various information about local competing businesses right from a single search.

google places searchThe image to the right shows the results of a Google Places search I ran for local BBQ restaurants.  As you can see the results provides us with external links to review sites like Yelp, contact information including telephone numbers and physical address, a map location relative to their competitors and a link to the local business’s official website.  Previously, in order to get all of this information about a single business a person would have to run multiple searches and some on external websites as well to find the corresponding reviews, and that was just for a single business.  Now all of that information is displayed for the top local business and its’ nine top competitors.

google search resultThese new search results would appear to be very useful, so useful in fact that when someone searches in the Google “Everything” search the search engine will attempt to determine whether the surfer could possibly be looking for local results. If Google  determines that searcher is looking for local results it will provide a Google Places summary result at the very top of the search results.  The picture on the left shows the results of a search run in Google’s “Everything” search using the same key phrase that we used in the Google Places search above.  As you can see, Google is still giving us a map with competing locations, contact information, a link to the business’ official website and a link to Google’s own Places page which lists offsite reviews, pictures and customer testimonials.  The link at the top of the results that reads  “Places for bbq near San Luis Obispo, CA” will take the surfer directly to a Google’s Places search result, as will the “More results near San Luis Obispo, CA” below the Places summary.

So what do these new blended or hybrid results mean for Google’s general search results and SEO?  It means quite simply that if your business does not receive one of these top Google Places results on the first page of Google then your website’s results are going to slip below the fold of the page and not be seen by nearly as many searchers.  It means that if you have a brick & mortar business the time when you could just focus your efforts on either organic listings in the general search or local search results has passed and you will now need to focus on both.

7 tips to help your website rank well in the new blended search results:

  1. Claim your places page.  While sites can rank well without this effort, it is rare and far easier to have your listings rise to the top when you have claimed your Places page and added content to that page like photos of the business, hours of operation or even your menu.
  2. Place your contact information in a clear spot on every page of your website; somewhere like the header or footer.
  3. Use micro-formatting on your contact information.  Google has stated that they use hCard formatting on contact information to tie websites & places together in their blends.
  4. If you have multiple locations, build a separate website or page for each location focusing your optimization efforts on service & location.
  5. Encourage recent customers to submit reviews of your service to varyious review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor.
  6. Place customer testimonials on your website and label them in a micro format to clarify that they are a reviews of your business.
  7. Verify that your correct contact information is in the various online yellow pages websites and if it is not make an effort to correct it.

Google Local Results Are Finally Changing

google local resultsWe touched upon the upcoming changes to local Google results in our article here, and it looks like those changes are finally taking place.  Currently local results are mostly moved over to the new format as you can see in the image to the right, but there are still some areas that haven’t received the new format roll-out yet.  The major changes are the move of the map to the right sidebar, the merging of the Google Places info with the organic result and the preview text of a user review is no longer seen in the result but instead just the number of reviews.

If you would like to check out the new format but it is still showing the old style results in your area, you can check it out by clicking on this link.

Link Location Matters to Google

In 2004 Google filed a patent that was just recently granted to them on what they dubbed their “Reasonable Surfer” model, which is really just a way for them to determine a link-importance hierarchy on any given web page. The idea behind their patent is that links that are reasonably more interesting to surfers should carry more weight and be of more value in regards to their website ranking system.

“This means that certain links, like footer and sidebar links in particular, are likely to be devalued. And it’s as they should, right? If a link is tucked away in the footer, the webmaster is stating that he doesn’t care much for it – or it has little value other than for extraneous pleas to the search engines.” Search Engine Journal

Well it makes sense as the sidebar and footer are often populated with paid or reciprocal links, neither of which Google views in a positive light. Sure there are instances when those sidebar links are more valuable or should carry more weight than inline links but no system is perfect. But is that the end of the implications of Google’s “Reasonable Surfer” model?

Link location is just one of the many factors that could influence the importance of a link on any given web page, at least in Google’s eyes. Font-size could certainly point to the importance of a link with smaller fonts being less important than larger ones. Do links above the fold carry more weight than those only a paragraph or two below? What about the number of words in the anchor text, could that effect link weight?  In all honesty we don’t actually know, but we can conjecture and make best practice judgements based on the patent’s inferences.

This actually isn’t anything new, it was just something most folks didn’t really consider too much until the publishing of the patent brought it to the media’s attention. Of course, we also cannot say that Google’s determination of a link’s quality ends with a six year old link-heirarchy strategy. What this patent is however, is a patent reminder that inline links that we as a surfer might click on are far more important than throw-away links in a web page’s footer.

Should Your Facebook Presence Be Part of your SEO Strategy

Should your Facebook presence be part of your SEO strategy?  In short, yes!

Social media platforms are all the rage nowadays because they provide an easy and mobile solution for users looking to socially express their thoughts and statuses. If trends continue, early next year Facebook should reach over 600 million members and over 3 million businesses will be marketing through the Facebook platform. Nobody denies the benefits that a well managed viral inducing Facebook campaign can have on any given product or brand, but what most miss out on is that Facebook can be leveraged to drive traffic to your website and brands through search engines as well.

In fear of becoming antiquated Google is adding more social media content into their search results.

… we’re excited to share a few new innovations in the areas of real-time, mobile and social search that we feel are important steps in the evolution of information access.

.. Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of our new partners that we’re announcing today: Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku and Identi.ca – along with Twitter, which we announced a few weeks ago. The Official Google Blog

That being said, a company planning to create a Facebook presence should put some best practice SEO methods into their social media efforts.

Currently, search relevant Facebook images can be found near the top rankings in Google Images and sometimes in the general results as well. It makes sense to upload images to your Facebook albums on a regular basis that have optimized image names with a splash of relevant keywords in the comments below the picture. That possibly means more views on your brand coming directly from ‘search’ which is known for its’ great goal conversion ratio. It’s also possible to get the company’s Facebook Wall or other informational Facebook page listed highly in the search engine results as well. The Facebook and Twitter accounts of well entrenched or unique brands often land on the first page results in Google.

Facebook is also a great example of leveraging offsite optimizations to increase the view-ability of your company’s websites. Facebook itself has a very high authority ranking and is a trusted source which means that links to your corporate or franchisee websites inside of a text rich status update or comment can inject a little bit of Facebook’s link juice into the destination website, and every little bit of link juice helps.

While applying best practice SEO methods into your Facebook campaign will not make you rich overnight, any planned Facebook marketing strategy should include optimizing your text, links and images for maximum benefit.

Our Elements Local platform allows a franchisor or their franchisee’s the ability to manage Facebook campaigns directly through the content management dashboard built into our software. Our built in Facebook tools maximize the benefits of the company’s Facebook campaign strategy with a minimal amount of training and effort.