The introduction of Google Authorship into Google’s ranking algorithms could seriously shake up the SERPs – We take a look at why, and how you can start to prepare!
In-bound marketing techniques have made quite a large shift in the last few years, as I’m sure regular readers are aware by now – the importance of inbound link building has subsided to make way for a content and usability-based ranking system known as TrustRank.
This shift has, however, brought with it a new breed of unscrupulous strategies – poorly generated content with no real substance, article spinning (the chopping-and-reforming of articles in order to make them appear unique – often with less than perfect grammatical results) and article directory sites full of worthless content that is read by no one, created solely for the purpose of manipulating positioning on search engine results pages.
The Authorship concept was conceived a lot longer ago than you may first think; the relevant patent was approved way back in 2007. Originally dubbed Agent Rank, the patent has now undergone two continuations (the first in 2009), but the most recent continuation is the most significant.
This is the first claim in the most recent update:
“1. A computer-implemented method comprising: evaluating a document that is hosted on a site, the document including a content item to which a maker of the content item has applied a digital signature; determining whether the digital signature is portable; if the digital signature is portable, using a reputation score associated with the maker in calculating a quality score for the document; and if the digital signature is not portable, using the reputation score associated with the maker in calculating the quality score for the document only if the digital signature is fixed to the site.”
(I know, it made my head hurt too!)
The most important bit is the mention of a “portable” digital signature. This allows the author to create content for various blogs, websites and article directories, whilst carrying through their reputation from their other online content. The name of this portable digital signature? The big G’s very own social network, Google Plus.
This allows you to associate all the content you personally produce with your own Google account. Google can then use this to determine how useful your content is, by judging how well received your previous content has been. If you continue to write good, useful articles with meaningful content, then you can expect to see your Author Rank increase, and as a result, your articles will reach higher positioning in search results. If you write rubbish articles with spammy content that are of no use to anyone, then you can probably expect the opposite to happen.
Authorship works by utilizing a new tag introduced in HTML5: the rel=author tag. This tag can be added to any <a> tag to denote that the link refers to the author of the content. Using this tag in conjunction with your Google+ URL allows you to link your content to your Google+ account, et voilà! You’ve claimed your first piece of content.
Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. In order to verify your authorship of the article, you must first add the URL of your blog to the “Contributor to” section of your Google+ profile, in order to prevent people from claiming their content was written by any Google+ user that takes their fancy.
Being able to verify your content with your Google+ account will help your content rise above the sea of poorly written junk-content of the black-hat SEO practitioners and article spinners.
It’s important to remember that at present, authorship doesn’t offer any actual boost to your search engine rankings (although studies have found that the “rich snippets” that authorship can generate can increase your CTR by 30-150%, and there’s another hidden benefit of authorship too!); it is simply just a way of claiming credit for your work. However, Google have frequently voiced their intentions for a method of distinguishing and validating content in search results, so it is extremely likely to become a deciding factor in search engine rankings in the near future. Whilst the introduction of Authorship as a factor in deciding rankings isn’t likely to penalise sites, and it probably won’t have anywhere near the SERP-smashing effects we’ve seen from our furry friends Panda and Penguin, it’s going to carry some sort of weight, and it makes sense to begin preparing for it to come into swing now, as those that don’t are putting themselves at a disadvantage already. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail!
Facebook’s new Graph Search tool could threaten Google’s search domination
This week, the hottest internet news seems to be the new addition to Facebook: Graph Search. Graph search is a new search tool that allows users to search for information based on how their friends (and other users) display information or have interacted with pages. For example, it will allow a user to search for “restaurants in Birmingham that my friends have liked”, or “people in my home town who enjoy fishing”.
Aside from the privacy implications (Graph Search is reported to be fairly invasive when it comes to personal data, and leaves no option to remove yourself from the service), the new addition to the social network could resurrect the Facebook “like” as a marketing metric, as businesses finally see a return on investment for the huge “likebase” they have collected.
This new search tool has the potential to revolutionise the way we trawl for information on the internet, and by extension of this, the way we market and promote online. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has emphasized that (at the moment at least) there is no intention to make money from Graph Search – but it should be noted that it is still in beta.
Graph Search invites comparison between Facebook and one of the other internet big boys – our good friend Google. After treading on the toes of Facebook with the inception of Google+, Google now risk a very bitter taste of their own medicine, as Facebook encroaches on their primary specialism: searching the internet. Whilst at this stage, Graph Search is only capable of searching Facebook’s own content, partnership with another big rival to Google, Bing, could stand to change all of this. We are already seeing ever-increasing proportions of time online being spent on Facebook, and if the possibility of searching the whole internet via Graph Search becomes a reality, then it could really hurt Google’s traffic, as more Facebook users discover they don’t ever need to leave the site.
Facebook and Bing seem to be operating on a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” policy, too – with Bing’s search results now being bolstered by recent Facebook updates (provided you link your account to Bing, of course). From Bing’s recent blog post:
“Starting today, five times more of your friends’ content on Facebook is searchable in the sidebar – including status updates, shared links, comments and photos from your friends. With the addition of status updates, shared links and comments to the sidebar, it’s now easier to see who knows and what they’ve shared related to your search. So when your friends aren’t around, Bing is the perfect stand-in.”
So, as far as inbound marketing is concerned, how should we approach Graph Search? I think currently the best course of action is simply to watch and wait. The idea is still in infancy, and regardless of statements issued by Facebook, once the platform is more established, paid advertising and other promotion strategies will begin to emerge.
Whilst Facebook Graph Search is not available to the public yet, you can read more about it, check out a video explaining how it works, and sign up for beta testing here.
Image copyright is in the news again – but who has the rights to what we publish through social media?
In the aftermath of the horrendous helicopter crash in central London yesterday, images and videos were shared on social media sites, including Twitter. These photos were then picked up by major media outlets including The Daily Mail, The Sun, The London Evening Standard, The Guardian and Sky News among others, and used in breaking news stories covering the crash. Although there has been a historical acceptance in using so-called ‘user-generated’ content, rules about copyright of images posted on Twitter has changed the stakes.
According to Twitter rules, sharing images on the social media site does not constitute a free-for-all and the owner of the photo still retains the rights to it. News outlets are required to credit the owner and should not use their images without permission and most ethical agencies appear to have a policy which supports this.
So how does this affect you, a web site owner? How can you protect your images online and where should you source your images from in order to protect yourself from potential litigation?
Using your own images
Many companies choose to take their own product or general images for the company web site, either taking a hands-on approach or hiring a photographer to take and edit any images ready for use. This allows you to get exactly the type of image you require and negates the need for lengthy trawling of image banks or seeking permission from other image owners. It is important that if you do use a photographer (whether professional or casual) you discuss issues such as ownership and copyright from the outset. In some cases, you may be happy to share your images but once you do, there is the chance that they could be sold on, leaving you out of the loop. It pays to have a conversation about this and make some sort of formal agreement.
Using other people’s images
In a lot of cases, smaller companies may not have the time, funds or resource to take their own photos and may only need a handful of strong images to populate the web site. It is in these circumstances that you will need to look for images that belong to someone else. Good old Google images makes it possible for us to search for and find a ton of photos which may adequately fit our purpose but DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT be tempted to pinch these and use them on your web site believing ‘nobody will know’. Copyright infringement is big business and it isn’t something you want to get into. Instead choose a reputable design agency who will advise you about which images to choose and will source them ethically for you. Stock images can be bought relatively cheaply (starting at a couple of pounds) and the small investment you will make is pennies in the long run.
The internet encourages sharing, social media is ALL about sharing, but just be careful. Sharing doesn’t mean transferring ownership, so look but don’t touch.
Expanding your SEO strategy for 2013 and beyond.
2012 was a turbulent year for SEO and eMarketing professionals – amongst a slew of algorithm updates and tweaks from Google, we have seen several other game-changing factors that have really tested the adaptability of our dedicated SEO team here at eSterling.
Google have been working hard to negate any unscrupulous SEO activity, as well as reducing the effectiveness of scalable link building strategies such as mass directory submission or article spinning, giving many grey-hat SEO practitioners a major headache.
Google’s Penguin update, which was released in April 2012, focused on eliminating websites using webspam tactics such as spamdexing (squeezing a keyword into a site as many times as possible, often using nefarious tactics such as black-on-black text) and linkbombing (posting a link to the site using a keyword as anchor text in as many locations across the internet as possible) to artificially boost their search rankings, at the expense of website usability. The update penalised these sites by placing them lower in search engine results pages than they featured originally – or, in extreme cases, removing them from Google’s indexing entirely.
Exact match domains (URLs which directly match one of the site’s keywords, for example www.teethwhitening.com) have also felt the pressure, as Google introduced the imaginatively titled Low Quality Exact Match Domain Update. This update, whilst not sounding as cute or cuddly as either of the major updates Panda and Penguin, was no less important. It was an attempt to rid the SERPs of sites which are of low quality, but have used their exact match domain name to push their way to the top of the results pages.
So, if this is what Google has done in the last year to make our lives more difficult, where do we go next?
The good news for us is that this means it is now harder than ever to increase a website’s search visibility with these dubious tactics, leaving much more room for honest, user-friendly SEO strategies, and has shifted the emphasis from building as many links as possible to your site to being much more about the end user – the importance now lies with ease of navigation, increasing usability and offering informative, relevant and up-to-date content.
Google’s actions over the last 12 months could easily be misconstrued as disdain for the SEO profession – this is not the case. Rather, The Big G is trying to encourage webmasters and SEO professionals to remember that the content of their site, not where it appears in search engine results pages, are what is most important to the user – and, by extension of this, to the website owner.
This is not to say that search engine optimisation as a profession is on the way out – far from it, in fact. 6 out of 10 organizations expect to increase SEO headcount in the coming year. The industry is also becoming more widely understood – the same report details that 63% of executive teams are more familiar with SEO metrics than 12 months ago.
The shift has been moved away from SEO as an independent discipline, and it is now becoming a more integral part of constructing an internet presence. For an SEO campaign to be truly effective it must be integrated with other aspects of the business – marketing, sales, design, and social media – must all become one holistic package in order to establish a brand online, as opposed to trying to “pull a fast one” on Google.
To quote Trond Lynbø on Edgyseo.com:
“Many site owners want to do the minimum possible, yet expect awesome results. But the days of ‘quick fix SEO’ are numbered, if not already over. It’s time to see SEO from a different angle, with broader, wider focus. To step back, rather than blindly rush to implement new tactics. To decide where you want to go, and act on a strategy-driven plan.”
Having a strategy for your SEO is becoming more and more important, as simply building up link equity is no longer enough to get by. Social media is becoming increasingly important to every business – more than 1 million websites have now introduced Facebook integration in various manners, and social media now accounts for 18% of all time spent online.
If 2012 has taught us one thing about what lies in store for 2013, it’s that we as SEO professionals need to stay on our toes – major algorithm updates are pretty much inevitable, and they could pop up at any time with little or no warning – but rest assured, the team here at eSterling are ready to rise to this challenge and continue to provide you with a solid internet marketing strategy to see you through the year and beyond.
For more information on our eMarketing and SEO services, click here.
A recent post by Lloyd Shepherd on the Guardian books blog serves to highlight the step-up of importance in social media over the last few years. Lloyd’s book, The English Monster was released in March and his article compares the influence that both traditional sources (newspapers) and unofficial sources (such as reader reviews on Amazon) have had on the sales of his book.
It would seem that official reviews in newspapers are a hugely powerful tool in exposing your work and for a debut writer this is good news, whether the review is positive or negative. Online reviews are a different beast but the negative impact can be catastrophic with one writer citing a 70% drop in sales after a negative review. Social approval or disapproval is exerting a huge influence on book sales and the same can be said of other business sectors.
We have been advising our customers to get on board with social media for a while now, and it appears this will become increasingly important as Google adjusts its position yet again on the way it values web sites and ranks them. The key aspect of social media is that your web site, product or service is receiving an unbiased review from an impartial source. This is seen by Google as being more powerful than a self-endorsement and it follows that the more positive points you get from other people, the more Google will like your site.
It is worth speaking to your SEO provider about pushing your social media campaign forward if they haven’t already. eSterling offers competitively priced social media packages to suit all budgets. Your SEO team will discuss the best methods for you and get you started. You’ll get out what you put in, so be active and concentrate on making those customers happy.
Pinterest is without doubt the new hotness on the interwebs. Similar in concept to other social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Sumbleupon, Pinterest lets you to ‘pin’ images of ‘interest’ you’ve found and comment on the collections of others. Opening the site will give you an appreciation of the service as every space of the screen is filled with all manner of knick knacks and items people have discovered and covet.
What has turned heads is the rate of growth Pinterest is experiencing and the demographics using the site. Pinterest reached a userbase of 10 million unique visitors in the U.S. faster than any site in history. It is also driving more traffic to retail sites than YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn combined. The site skews towards a female user base and the icing on that cake for savvy ecommerce site owners is that Pinterest generates conversion rates as high as 20%. If your product is pinned to someone’s board there’s a 1 in 5 chance they’ll be purchasing that item.
Pinterest encourages a browsing and discovery orientated approach rather than the specific product searches you’ll encounter throughout most of the web. This mirroring of real-world shopping behaviour is seen in the correlation of pining and offline purchasing which is even stronger than online conversions. If you are an ecommerce site owner then now is the time to get on-board the Pinterest bandwagon. The first item on your agenda should be the addition of a Pinterest button to your site to allow users to easily pin items to their boards. Now would also be an ideal time to get your product imagery in order. Conversion rates have always benefitted from good, large and clear images being used throughout the site but now that they serve as the focal point it is essential you have the best pictures you can.
The next step is establishing yourself on Pinterest. This shouldn’t just be pure self-promotion with all the pins being items from your ecommerce store. Pinterest is about sharing and engaging with the whole community, pinning items from other sources will ingrain a sense of trust in followers. You’ll want to test your site to make sure that items are pinned correctly. Pinterest works by scanning each page to select the image if there are issues you’ll need to get in touch with your sites developers and discuss your options. Also essential is tracking the traffic you are getting from Pinterest through Google Analytics.
Ideas for increasing engagement and conversions through Pinterest can range from having a sale on the most pinned items through to offering a voucher to traffic arriving from the site. You may also want to think about setting up boards that offer a collection of items that go together – think of something along the lines of IKEA display rooms – which serve as a super-sized related items page. Even adding the Pinterest button to your site and an encouragement to pin can help increase the amount of sales you are getting.
Please be aware that not everything is great on Pinterest. It is increasingly being used by scammers pinning items that link to malicious websites but this is activity that Pinterest says it is actively monitoring. Despite this inevitable spamming of the service there are still users coming up with all sorts of creative methods to pin items.
While big in America, start-up culture doesn’t seem to have quite as much traction in the UK. Sure Dragon’s Den gets the viewing figures but it is little more than reality TV panhandling and doesn’t offer any insights into how to get the next Facebook beater off the ground. Here then is a quick guide to how to build your empire from scratch.
First up. What is the problem you are trying to solve? What possible solutions are there? What key metrics do you need to measure to see if what you are doing is a success? What is your unique value proposition? What advantage do you have that cannot easily be replicated? Who are you targeting? What will it cost? How are you going to make money from it?
Solve genuine problems. Don’t just come up with a list of features and don’t just offer a workaround to common problems offer a complete solution. Interview potential customers and find out what their problems are? What would be your solution? Everyone has that one great idea but it’s execution that counts.
Minimize your total time in getting something in front of potential customers. Launch as quickly as possible in fact you need to be even quicker than that. Your first step is your Minimum viable product, MVP in start-up lingo. This is always less than you think. It could be just a one pager with a sign-up form or a blog outlining your big plans. But you need to get something, anything, out there in front of your potential customer base.
Waiting until something is perfect is a recipe for failure. Things will never be just right and you’ll tinker forever over things that are just not important at all. You ain’t gonna need it is a mantra programmers follow and you should too when cutting features from your product. That’s right, you should always be thinking about what to get rid of next rather than what your next great feature is. Less is more. Keep it simple stupid. You need to find the one feature that customers LOVE. You’ll know you’ve found it when they complain that you’ve taken it away.
Iterate rapidly. Launch your MVP. Measure the analytics. Test your assumptions and trust in the data. Make the changes you need, optimise your product and launch again. Rinse. Repeat.
Fail Fast. You need to know if your product is succeeding or failing. This is why it’s essential to iterate and not go with the big up front product that is perfect. If you do and it fails you’ve thrown away months of work. Get the MVP out there and measure. If it fails start over again with the data you’ve got in hand.
Don’t feel guilty about making your product pay to play. It can be a big mistake to offer up all your work for free in the hope that someone might pay for it down the road. By charging money you’re telling people you think it’s worth something. By giving it away you’re telling them it’s not worth anything yet. Maximise your user acquisition, make your current customers happy and they’ll work as your viral marketers. You also did remember to set up your Twitter and Facebook accounts right ?
Don’t let customers get away. If you’ve converted someone through a signup you have their details. Follow up. Send them a personal email asking why your product didn’t meet their needs, what problems they encountered. If it’s viable then consider it for the next iteration.
Once you have found a fit between your product and customers you need to transition to growth and riches! Possibly. If you do make it to be the next Mark Zuckerberg just remember who gave you the advice…
Now that Facebook timeline is in full swing after becoming a default setting, some budding designers have started using the new layout to promote their brand in the most creative ways possible. A new trend has emerged for designing customised timeline images that really stand out from the crowd and capture the attention of the person stopping by at your profile.
Timeline has a lot of potential when it comes to promoting your brand, as you can use the large banner at the top to place a large image of a product – or customise a graphic with your contact details or company information.
Take for instance Jessica Barnard’s profile below. She has customised her personal profile to promote her brand and uses the banner to showcase her style of work. Very quickly, we learn that Jessica is a ‘web designer & self-professed technology addict’ with a sense of humour, who leans towards a vintage or retro style. She’s even had time to promote her Twitter and Pinterest pages.
A banner like Jessica’s can be put together fairly simply using Photoshop or Illustrator. All you need is a little imagination and a clear idea of what your brand is about. Or you can let eSterling do the hard work for you and talk to us about a customised Facebook timeline graphic.
Here’s a run down of some of my other favourite Facebook timeline graphics:
1. Robert Falken:
2. Neils Langeveld
3. Tiffany and Co.
The issue has raised its head on a bug opened on the official Github Bootstrap repository wherein Bootstrap is described as not working with JSMin, minification software created by Douglas Crockford. Commentators say the issue could easily be resolved by adding the semi-colons. Crockford himself comments on the thread, his opening gambit being, “That is insanely stupid code. I am not going to dumb down JSMin for this case.” Lines are drawn, sides taken and insults thrown around.
However Ruby developers are also seen as San-Fran livin’, fixie riding, floppy haired hipsters with giant egos who are more concerned with image that substance. Developers who are concerned with making code “beautiful”, as if programming were a medieval art like glassblowing or being a blacksmith. People who wear T-shirts proclaiming them to be “Code Poets”; programming Lord Byron’s. It is unsurprising then to find that Bootstrap is the output of Ruby developers.
The bug has now been closed with no resolution and a lot of acrimony, the debate will, we are sure, continue.
The Easter break is looming and that means a long weekend – hooray! If like me you’re making the most of this and taking an extended holiday, the last thing you’ll want to worry about is looking after your blog and social media accounts.
Luckily there are simple things you can do to make it easier to run your accounts during your down time and keep things ticking over whilst you are tucking into your Easter eggs.
The key here is preparation – make sure you plan any blog posts or social media campaigns early so that you’re ready to roll come Good Friday.
- Write any blog posts before you go away. Most blogs (WordPress and Blogger included) have a schedule function, so that you can set a date and time for your post to show.
- Consider linking your blog to your Twitter and Facebook account. This will then automatically alert your followers to a new blog post.
- Go mobile using your smart phone and tweet or post to Facebook on the move.
- Try Twitter scheduling software to post tweets for you automatically. Hoot Suite and Tweet Deck are popular choices.
You could also see the Easter break as an opportunity to get creative with your social media accounts. For example, a virtual Easter egg hunt using your social media accounts could be a way to engage followers during the holiday.
Whatever you decide to do with your social media accounts – eSterling wish you a Happy Easter!