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Bing Local Search Drives Traffic to YellowPages.com by Sucking

A significant number of my clients have been deciding not to renew their AT&T  Yellow Pages.com online advertising contracts. I’ve consistently heard two reasons:

1) They are really expensive
2) They do not get significant traffic or leads from the service.

I also have personal experience with AT&T online advertising. I was once a customer myself.

When Bing launched, I immediately went to their local business center and signed up for a listing. By the second week in June I had verified my mailing address. By the second week in August, my listing was still pending review.

I have a web design business located in Pleasanton California,  so I think it would be appropriate for my listing to show up as a local listing on Bing for the search “Pleasanton Web Design.” Here’s what it looks like on Google:

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Unfortunately Bing’s results for the same search contain not one listing of a business located in Pleasanton. In fact, only one of the four has the same area code as Pleasanton:

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Why? Well, lets say I was a searcher looking for a local Pleasanton Web Design company, and all I see in Bing’s local listings are businesses out of the area. Might I be more likely to click on the “more listings” link? I think so.

Once I click on the “more listings” link, I am immediately presented with 3 sponsored links from YellowPages.com, then 10 listings, none of which are located in Pleasanton, then 3 more YellowPages.com ads.

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In fact, if you can believe this blogger  “the traffic to Yellowpages.com coming from Microsoft’s search engine more than doubled since the Bing launch.” That’s good news for Yellowpages.com. Many of their customers are ready to jump ship. In this tight economy, they are finally asking the question: “Why am I paying so much money for so few clicks, when I can go to Adwords and get much better bang for my buck?”  Well, maybe if the YellowPages.com sales people can show some decent traffic to their customers through this partnership with Bing, they can retain more of them. How long can they, or will they keep this up? Your guess is as good as mine.

This partnership is also good news for Bing, who is probably getting a pretty penny for those Yellowpages.com clicks. Certainly more than they would get if someone were to click on my Bing Local Business listing. If it existed, that is.

Google Caffeine Update

Google is in the process of testing a major new update to their search architecture. According to Matt Cutts, the update consists of "rewriting the foundation of some of our infrastructure." It isn't aimed at being an algorithm update, but the algorithm has been updated, so we will see some changes in the search results.

Compare it to upgrading your computer for more speed, memory, and storage. If the change is significant, the software will change as well (for example from XP to Vista). Google claims that their aim is to keep the results set the same as it is currently, but it is hard to believe that they would not take the opportunity to include what they see as "improvements." Factors included in the change may be:

  1. Reaction to Bing, although I don't see anything about Bing they would want to emmulate besides the size of the result set.
  2. Their "Hilltop" paradigm. Google feels the results that need to be served for any particular search will be referenced often in an initial results set. This initial results set will again be sorted by how often the site is cited within the set, resulting in the final result order.  
  3. Anti-spam measures. Google regularly takes counter measures to any effective SEO strategy or practice. That includes making it difficult to determine the effectiveness of SEO changes by upating their results in unexpected ways.

Google has a sandbox set up so that webmasters may test out the New Google > Caffeine Sandbox. It's down now, but should be up by later this evening.

Is the Long Tail Dying on Google?

The long tail, in the search engine optimization (SEO) world, refers to an internet marketing strategy that looks to rank for many niche keywords, rather than for a few common, competetive keywords (referred to as the big head). The marketer hopes that the sum of the traffic generated by hundreds, if not thousands of niche searches will add up to something significant. If properly implemented, this strategy can work well because of two factors:

  1. Natural Search: Google’s algorithm is different for competetive searches than it is for other searches. And by different, I mean easier to optimize small, low authority sites for.
  2. Pay Per Click: When using Adwords, the more competition there is for a keyword, the more expensive the cost per click (CPC) is.

The problem is that Adwords is Google’s golden goose. Google would much rather searchers hit “popular” search engine results pages (SERPs), because those are the ones that contain the expensive ads. Some of the changes that may have been implemented by Google to drive traffic towards the popular SERPS are:

  1. Automatically mixing results for “related keywords” (which happen to always be popular keywords) into the SERPS without asking. This sometimes leads to irrelevant search results.
  2. Adding the “Searches Related To:” links at the bottom of the page.
  3. On occasion omitting a term typed into the search box (usually a third or fourth term), displaying results for remaining terms, and adding a link at the bottom of the page explaining that the results displayed do not include one of the terms you typed in, but you can add it back in by clicking a link.
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  4. In Adwords: Not displaying ads for keywords that don’t have sufficient traffic.

I received the following message recently when diagosing a number of keywords in an Adwords adgroup:

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All but one of the factors mentioned above is a setback for the long tail search engine marketer. These changes were presumably implemented to push searches to expensive Adwords clicks, but they also have the effect of making searching for niche keywords more difficult for the Google users. People don’t want to have their keywords messed around with. And when the driver is Google’s bottom line rather than the searcher’s experience, it can only lead to more and more dissatisfied searchers.

Google Algorithm Update - June 2009

Starting in June Google rankings started going crazy. We used to call this an Update or “Google Dance.” It was the period when Google updated it’s algorithm and rolled it out to all of it’s Data Centers, so for a week or so it would appear that your site was bouncing back in forth in the rankings, when really you were just at the new position or old postion, depending on which data center you hit, and whether or not it was updated with the new algorithm yet. Google updates are more incremental nowadays, and every change seems to be implemented a little differently than the last. That, of course, is pure speculation, because what Google is actually doing at any given time is a closely held secret.

Back in March, Google rolled out a tweak to their algorithm and called it Vince. This update gave big brands a boost in the relevant searches. So if Company X was the biggest thing in blue widgets, but were lame at the search engine optimization (SEO) of their website, Google started giving them a pass, so they could rank highly in a seach for "blue widgets," and remain lame at SEO.

As I mentioned, back in June the (search engine resultes pages) SERPS starting going wild. This continued for most of the month, and well into July. Now, a month later there still appears to be some movement, but they may finally be settling down.

What are some possible factors that could have caused your site to rise or plunge in the rankings?

  • On June 19th Google began indexing Flash sites that use ActionScript 3. Even if your site doesn’t use flash, perhaps other sites that do have started to enter the SERPS, or maybe backlinks are being counted that weren’t counted before.
  • It has been postulated that low-quality, irrelevant backlinks are getting more of a negative hit. So if you were ranking highly, but had a lot of backlinks from forums, social networking sites, blogs, or link directories, your link authority may have taken a big hit on this update.
  • Another possible change, that I have noticed myself, is that Google seems to be taking a closer look at the backlinking page for overall releveance, not just the anchor text, title tag and text immediately before and after. Pages that I would consider being keyword stuffed appear to be making some progress.

The sad part about all of this is, the results do not look any more relevant after this update. Google results have been getting more irrelevant over the past couple of years, and whatever they are doing to adjust their algorithm doesn’t seem to be geared toward fixing that problem. Personally, I have been using Yahoo and Bing more than ever recently, out of sheer necessity.

Blogging Tips From Google

Matt Cutts, Google's Ambassador at large recently gave a talk about SEO (search engine optimization) for bloggers: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/seo-for-bloggers/

Blogging can be a great way to keep your website content fresh, build credibility and authority for your business, and get targeted traffic coming in. These are great tips, straight from the horse's mouth, about getting your blog at the top of Google.

Use Wordpress. WordPress takes care of 80-90% of(the mechanics of)Search Engine Optimization (SEO)


My plugins (used by Matt Cutts)

  • Akismet
  • Cookies for Comments
  • Enforce www. preference
  • Feedburner Feedsmith
  • WP Super Cache


How does Google crawl?

We crawl roughly in decreasing order of PageRank


What's PageRank?

The number and importance of links pointing to you.


How does Google rank pages?
You want to be relevant and reputable


SEO tips: keywords

  • Think about the keywords that users will type. Include them naturally in your posts
  • ALT attribute are handy (3-4 relevant words)
  • Don't forget image search, videos, etc.
  • What will your visitors type?
  • Keyword tool - brainstorm!
  • Url structure
  • Tweaking titles, urls, content
  • Use categories that are also good keywords


Keywords in url paths: example.com/my-keywords

  • Dashes are best
  • Next best is underscores
  • No spaces is worst


General Blogging Tips

  • Update often
  • Provide a useful service
  • Do original research or reporting
  • Give great information
  • Find a creative niche
  • Make lists ("11 reasons why WordCamp ruled")
  • Create controversy
  • Meet folks on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed
  • Make a video
  • Google tools can help. Webmaster console at google.com/webmasters/
  • Avoid paid posts
  • Keep your WordPress and web server updated!!


Security

  • Automatic updates
  • Protect the /wp-content/ directory


And finally:

rel=canonical . Built into wordpress.com. Download 2.8!

User Friendly Web Site Information Design

Before starting the information design of a business Web site it is important to consider the way a user is most likely to use it. The first instinct of a business owner or sales and marketing professional is to construct a compelling argument to convince the user to buy the product or service. This can be several paragraphs of prose. 

The typical web user is going to see 5 or 6 paragraphs of block text and think "I'm not going to read all that." It's a big time commitment in web terms. So they will read the first paragraph and think "that's just what I'm looking for." They may scan the headings for other chunks of information they seek. Then they will look at navigation or at other areas that are visually set off from the main text.

Web users visit business websites for a reason. If they want to purchase something, they will usually be looking for a specific product. Subconsciously they will be taking in the clues that will tell them whether or not they trust the business behind the website. If the web user is looking for a service, they will be looking for a concise description of services offered, pricing, credentials and contact information.

The secret to creating a user-friendly information design is figuring out what the user wants to do, and making that as easy as possible. To do this you should chunk the information into "bite size" pieces and arrange them so that the user will naturally follow them to your goal, be that a contact form submission, phone call or "complete transaction" button.  That's not to say you shouldn't have depth of information on your site, but in the design you want to create that obvious scanning path to the call to action, and make sure any critical information is included in that path.

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