The Mobile Search Engine War Heats Up

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In a move that could be only described as a dis, T-Mobile told Yahoo, the previous default server for the wireless network, “thanks but no thanks”. T-Mobile has instead signed with Google to serve as the network’s primary search engine as well as the default server as reported on Monday. Yahoo will continue to server in messenger and mail capacity for the phone company while Google will be doing the majority more

Google Favorite Places – Gimmick Or Serious Business?

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Google has released it’s latest push into marketing for local business with a product titled ‘Favorite Places on Google’. If you’re a small business with an online presence, or considering one, the first question you need to decide on is whether this is just a Google gimmick, or a serious business marketing opportunity?

Favorite Places in a Nutshell

What is it? Favorite Places is really just a gallery of 100,000 US businesses. To get a listing on Favorite Places, your business must be a popular search destination on Google Search or Google Maps and be listed as a local business.

Those businesses that qualify will each receive a window decal with a barcode that they need to display. Visitors and passersby can scan the barcode with an appropriate mobile phone and they will be taken to that business’s Place Page – a mobile version of your local search listing. There they can read about your business; leave comments; and/or star rate your business.

Gimmick or Serious Business?

This is the real issue. Here are some questions to ponder:

  • how many businesses will bother putting the window decal on their shopfront window (if they have one)?
  • how many people will bother scanning the decal to access the business’s Place Page?
  • of those that do scan the decal, how many will bother to rate or leave a comment (and we know people with negative comments are more likely to act than those with positive comments)?

As a reputation management tool it raises more issues. Sure, you can keep an eye out for any negative comments that may be entered. However, another argument suggests that not having a listing keeps that door closed for negative comments.

My premise for this post is to ask whether or not this is another gimmick or a serious business marketing opportunity. I’m sure from Google’s perspective it’s a serious product. If it can realize its full potential, then it could be an excellent business marketing tool.

There are some niches where the potential could be huge. Entertainment and dining out are two areas that come to mind immediately. Outside of those niches, you would need to assess what benefits mobile web browsing brings you your business.

However, we are talking about human nature and can be pretty apathetic to this kind of technology. The bottom line is, while this tactic has the potential to be a great tool, it will most likely become another gimmicky toy that goes nowhere – at least, in the short term.

You can read more about Favorite Places through the official GoogleBlog.

My search box is bigger than yours.

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It’s no secret that companies make slight changes to their products to get you to use more of their products. The most powerful example of this came to me via an old time ad executive who was telling me about an incident in his younger days on Madison Avenue when he was in the office of a very large toothpaste maker.  As a young copywriter, he was brought along to the high-powered meeting with the senior account executives and creative team. The ad agency and the toothpaste executives were trying to figure out a way to create more demand for their toothpaste. Ideas were thrown up on the wall one at a time: increase the media budget, hire a famous spokesperson, testimonials, dentist recommendations, new flavors, etc., All of the ideas had been tried before and were instantly canned. The solution came from the young buck, who blurted out, “why don’t you just make the hole bigger?” Bingo. That was it. Making the hole where the toothpaste came out bigger meant that people would use up more toothpaste faster, thus running out sooner, thus needing to run down to the store and pick up another tube. In other words, creating more demand. The technique was tried and sales increased. Crafty? Maybe. Evil? It’s a dog eat dog world out there. The truth is, companies will stop at nothing if they are trying to increase demand. So when I came across a recent article on Google‘s official blog titled “Now S-U-P-E-R-sized“.  I was not surprised to find out that Google was making a slight change to the design of their homepage. The main design change is the size of the search box. After taking a gander at the old vs the new Google search box It seemed like a tiny change. The reason given for the change is,

“it symbolizes our focus on search and because it makes our clean, minimalist homepage even easier and more fun to use.”

But really? Is that the reason? I did a little digging and found others that had a differing opinion for the change. On Tech.Blorge they suggest that
by making the search box more prominent, users are ever-so-slightly more likely to try a new query rather than thumbing through page after page of results. The post goes on to suggest that they are trying to compete against Bing’s search page. This brought up an interesting question. Who had the bigger search engine box? Who had the bigger hole for the toothpaste to flow through? I took screen shots (from a Firefox browser on a Mac) and compared the two sites side by side. The result is that Bing had a much bigger search box, even after Google increased their size? Does this mean more people will be apt to search more on Bing because the search “hole” is bigger? Makes you wonder. Just like it makes you wonder why you can’t get that darned toothpaste back into the tube.

Moving pictures speak louder than words.

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I was chatting with a friend who’s an SEO expert and we were discussing the value of video content versus the written word. We both agreed they both have their merits. But let’s face it, video gets the point across in a more condensed way and it infuses a tone that you just can’t get with the written word. The speaker’s mannerisms, way of talking and clarity all effect how you absorb the content. To me, that’s a good thing. But the written word also has benefits. For example, if you’re a fast reader you can easily scan the text to see it’s worthwhile enough for you to read the whole thing… doing that with video means waiting for the vid to download and hoping you can move the slider around with little technical difficulty. My friend and I discussed the power of each format and wondered if the moving picture was more powerful than ink. If you look at the newspaper business versus the news telecast business which one do you think more people prefer? As a test, I thought it would be interesting to wordify / transcribe a video and compare it to the video and see what you get out of each format. The article I have chosen is from SEOmozBlog Whiteboard Friday. Keep in mind that I did not transcribe the video word for word; I left out the conversational bits and wrote it so that you could get the context. Here is a direct link to the video or click on the embed below. When you’re done, scroll down for the text version. Happy reading/watching.

SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday – Generating Unique Content from Scott Willoughby on Vimeo.

Text

SEOmox.org. The Web’s Best SEO Resources.
Whiteboard friday: generating unique content
by Scott Willoughby  Featuring Rand Fishkin/CEO SEOmoz 8:18 sec

Rand Fishkin looked at both the start-up world and large established companies for this video.
He asked the following questions.
What makes content unique.
Why do I have to engage in it
And why do i have to do it.

Why do search engines want unique content?
Search engines want unique unique content because it helps their users.

Users who find repeated results get very frustrated. You see this a lot in the travel world. If you do a search for Kayaks you see the same thing on Expedia and Hotels.com…it’s weak because you get reviews that are coming from the same place. Not a good experience for the user.

Mr. Fishkin mentions a site like Oyster.com , which contains very independent, lengthy reviews of hotels and travel related content.  The search engines want these unique kinds of results and they are very very good at identifying them.

if you think you’re going to pull the wool over the eyes of the search engines, think again. Search engines are very good at looking at a page’s structure, identifying elements that are in common navigationally and picking out the completely unique pieces of content inside the page and then being able to determine what percent of content inside the page is unique then deciding if that makes this a worth while page.

Some pages can have tons of content, and just a little bit of unique content and it gets picked up as being very important. Again, search engines are very good at picking out those sorts of things.

Spammers used to take content, run it through an English to French translation, then a French to Arabic translation and then an Arabic to English translation and then claim it as completely unique.

These days you’ll see spammers getting much more advanced by using things like Amazon’s mechanicalturk.com where they pay writers to rewrite content sentence by sentence a penny at a time. But be wary of this method because the search engines are working on how to identify that sort of thing.

Mr. Fishkin suggest that human beings are pattern oriented creatures  and they have patterns that they build and if search engines can reverse that method they can try to figure out who is trying to spam.

In terms of the user experience you create with unique content..it is a serious upgrade. Finding something that is interesting and unique is valuable for your visitors and the search engines look at this as a good thing.

There’s an unfair advantage that some outlets get just by their presence and size. For example, if you wrote an article that then later got picked up by CNN, guess who would get the credit for it? It’s on your blog, it’s on CNN, guess who will get more links? CNN will because they most likely will have a much larger audience. The engines want to find who is the original source and they also want to make sure the duplication doesn’t create a “citation worthiness” where only the rich get richer and no one who is unique and interesting and small is getting value out of that. They also want to find a lot of diversity in those results. You can take a search results page and listing one through four are all the same…it’s miserable. Nobody wants to see exactly the same thing. They want to see those unique takes.

Finally, Mr. Fishkin covers some strategies in order to take advantage of the unique content demands that the search engines require and figure out how you can scale that and create content for your business. These kinds of content fall under three categories.

1. The first is Editorial. What is editorial? It’s Mr. Fishkin making this video. It’s a blog. It’s coming up with content yourself or hiring out journalists or copywriters to write content for you. Outsourcing it to South East Asia or Eastern parts of Europe where you can find affordable writers to write content for you. Or using sites like oDesk or those types of services. You can have lots of unique content written by humans and it is considered editorially built content. That brings us to the second kind of content.

2. The second kind of content is machine-built content. This kind of content is usually data-driven. Results you would see Inside an Expedia or Farecast (which is now Bing travel). Folks like payscale.com and salary.com do this in the job world. Simplyhired does this around searches for a particular job and how well the market is rising. They take data sources and produce automated kinds of content. You have to be careful with this.  It’s a good strategy because it is scalable, it’s useful and not too expensive. Keep in mind engines can have issues with the uniqueness of the content.  Sites like (one of Mr. Fishkin’s clients) zillow.com create data which becomes content. Users find the data useful.

3. The third kind of content is user-generated content. UGC is some of the best kind of content that you can generate, but it’s tough. You have to build a community, incentivize the content creation and you have to get them to do it for free. You have to get people to contribute. Some examples of this kind of content is Wikipedia, digg, readitt and Youtube. UGC is very powerful, and very scalable but difficult to get to get growing in a large network scale manner.

Rand recommends that you sit down and strategize which kind of content is appropriate to your business. For small sites, editorial makes sense. If you are trying to go big and dominate a niche or industry, you will need machine-built and UGC or maybe all three forms of content depending on your strategy.

It pays to have that strategy in mind before you set out to create content instead of while you’re doing it or even after. Strategize and pick the solution that’s best for you.

OK, as you can see, it’s a lot of text considering that I left out a lot of the conversational words. I first viewed the video and then went back and transcribed as best as I could. I have to admit, watching the video was a more pleasant experience. I was also surprised the video was a little over 8 minutes long. It seemed much less. Maybe that’s because the experience was so effortless, whereas reading (or writing) took some effort. Who likes to read when you can sit back and absorb? What do you think?

Brandcasting. Build a strong and SEO-friendly site. (Part 2 of 7)

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Having a branded website is the first step for getting online visibility. Think of your website as the foundation of a house or a base camp. Every element of your Brandcasting campaign will link back to your branded website.  Your website is an extension to your brand, so make sure you build it right the first time.

When building a website, consider having three experts on hand:

1) An SEO expert. While employing an SEO expert can be expensive, it really is the foundation of a good Brandcasting strategy and is worth the cost. But do your homework first. There are some SEO solutions that promise you way more than they can deliver. If you want to know what to avoid when choosing an SEO expert, click here.

2)  A solid programmer who understands SEO and SEM. I can’t tell you how many times clients come to us with websites with broken links, absent meta tags or are built entirely in flash and are literally un-findable by search engines. Clients then proceed to tell us that they hired a professional designer. Some coders are not aware of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM). If ever there’s a time to hire the experts, now would be it.

3) A knowledgeable designer who builds sites for a living. Make sure you choose a designer who has a working knowledge of what good design means for both a human and a web crawling bot. For example, you may want to make sure your content is text instead of images to get the best optimization for your site. That happens on the design level and a good User Interface (UI) designer will know that. If you want to go it alone on the designing of your site, solutions like Lynda.com offer how-to videos that can be an affordable, albeit a time consuming option. However, I would not suggest taking on programming or SEO work yourself if you have no background or knowledge of either field.

Here are some things to keep in mind when building your main site.

“¢ Make sure your site is well designed, easy to navigate and is structurally sound. This is where a good coder and designer can pay dividends in the future. Keep in mind that it’s not enough to look good to the human eye. Your website must be sexy to a web crawler too. For example, it’s very important to make sure all your links work. If they don’t, web crawlers may stop at a broken link and may never see all the great content you have past that one link. Not sexy. Another thing you may want to consider doing is to have a site map that lays your entire site out in simple HTML code. Sexy, sexy.

“¢ Update content on your website often. The more often you have new content on your site, the more often bots will crawl it thus increasing your website’s visibility and rankings on search engines. If your content is refreshed daily, web crawling bots will visit your site more often. Placing articles or daily blog posts on your site are some of the most common ways to offer up daily content.

“¢ Have a keyword strategy. Having good keywords can make or break an online branding campaign. Having keywords built right into your URL can mean added optimization. For example, if one of your top keywords is “widgets” , it might not be a bad idea to name your site “widgetsforless.com” or some URL with the keyword worked into it. Again, you can see how having a strategy upfront can have implications for the life of your brand in the long run, so it’s always a good idea to get an SEO expert involved from the get-go.

“¢Â Position your brand. Doing a competitive analysis of keywords can help you level the playing field within your industry. Positioning your brand with keywords can mean helping get your site the right kind of traffic. If you are selling widgets, for example, you want to focus keywords around the words that people who are searching to buy widgets are most likely to use. That makes sense, right? A good SEO expert can help you determine what keywords people use when they are looking for your goods and services. Having a list of the right keywords will help you be more findable when searched for. Also, sprinkling your keywords in all forms of content that you release on the Internet will help you rank higher for those keywords and can be a great way to build links back to your main site.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about different forms of content that can help kick-start your Brandcasting campaign.

Bing clawing away at Yahoo market share

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When Bing came on the scene, I posted an entry suggesting that Bing was capitalizing on weaknesses of how users interact with Google’s search technology. Recent data, however, suggests that Bing may be eating into Yahoo’s market share instead. The numbers show that Bing gained.04 percent in market share while Yahoo lost .05 percent and Google held steady, neither gaining nor losing. The indication here is that Bing is giving Yahoo some heated competition. Can this mean that Yahoo may be ready to come to the table and make a deal with Microsoft? According to the rumor mill at blorge.com “An entourage of high-ranking Micrsofties have reportedly been seen strutting around Yahoo’s Sunnyvale Headquarters” .  I’ll believe it when I see it. Being a Yahoo shareholder myself, I can’t tell you how many times rumors of deal making between the two tech giants has affected stock prices and the hopes and dreams of shareholders like me. But the numbers don’t lie. Bing is experiencing an increase in web traffic and Yahoo is lagging. Sounds like deal making time to me.