SiteStream SEO - Online Marketing Blog

Google and Keller Fay Study Word of Mouth Conversations

June 21st, 2011

Apparently there are 2.4 billion conversations every day in the US involving a brand.  What role do various types of media play in these conversations. Before, during and after?  Google and Keller Fay collaborated in a study to find out.

Interesting Findings

  • They found that 82% of Word of Mouth conversations happened Face to Face.  With 12% on the phone that’s a massive percentage of Word of Mouth still taking place in very traditional and very person to person ways.  They found only 5% of these Word of Mouth conversations happening online.
  • The Internet is now the leading source motivating brand conversations.  Surpasing even television. 
  • Perhaps against the grain for Social Media commentators, searches are the number one initiator of brand conversations.  In fact, Search websites feature in 15% of brand conversations.  Conversations informed by search, vs social are more credible and have an increased likelihood to purchase.

Now you’ve got to look at the source here before swallowing this whole.  I’ve got to think that 94% of Word of Mouth conversations happening offline and only 5% online sounds wrong to me.  It makes me wonder how “Word of Mouth” and “conversation” are defined for the purposes of the study.

I’m guessing that the mini-referals of tools such as Facebook likes don’t count.

Still it’s interesting stuff and the complex interactions between search, social and Word of Mouth are without doubt the cutting edge of current marketing strategy.

Online Marketing News this Week – 6th March 2011

May 6th, 2011


Google seek to encourage more emphasis on their local search 

Google Places is offering a free photo shoot to businesses in selected cities in US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. 

“Any business can apply for a photo shoot, and demand will help us decide where to send our photographers next.”

The photos will appear on the businesses’ Google Places pages.   If local search is where your traffic is then you should keep an eye on opportunities to optimise your Places profile.

Facebook add “Send” to go with “Like”

Last week Facebook launched the ”Send” button allowing you to as it were “Like” a site privately.

“The Send button drives traffic by letting users send a link and a short message to the people that would be most interested. They don’t need to leave the web page they’re on or fill out a long, annoying form. Compared to the alternatives, the Send button has fewer required steps, and it removes the need to look up email addresses by auto-suggesting friends and Groups.”

The “Send” button is intended to be used alongside the “Like” button so that visitors can choose to voice their approval of your site publically or “Send” a link to specific people.

Google Shopping in Australia, Italy, Spain and Netherlands

Google added product search in these four countries last Friday.  If you have a Google Merchant account you can submit a new feed into these countries.

Bing partner with Blackberry as Microsoft try to take on Google

Bing will be the default Search Engine on the next generation RIM Blackberry, embedded at OS level.  Steve Ballmer, Microsoft Chief Executive Officer, said that Bing would be “deeply integrated” and would create  “unique experiences for millions of BlackBerry customers”. Ballmer was making a surprise appearance at  the annual BlackBerry World trade show in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday.

Writing for Search Engines or Visitors?

April 6th, 2011

Since search engines have existed, webmasters have asked themselves the same question.  Should I create content for Search Engines or for Visitors?  If you don’t please the mighty Google, then there are no visitors to worry about, right?  It’s a fair question.  Or at least it was, at one stage.

So, should you write for search engines or write for visitors?  The answer is both.  It sort of always has been but it definitely is now. 

We looked at some top Google ranking factors for 2011 in our last post and this question also touches on the evolution of rankings and SEO.  Back in the 1990s people had figured out that search engine traffic was plentiful, valuable and free.  They had figured out roughly how search engines ranked results for queries.  They decided that they should create pages that the search engines would love and that way they’d get rankings.  You served keyword stuffed gibberish to the search engines and gave the user a different page.  One that was attractively designed and had content that helped convert your traffic into sales.

That practice is known as cloaking.  It’s not something you want the search engines to catch you doing.  They don’t like it and they quickly got pretty serious about catching it and punishing sites that do it.  So writing for search engines had to evolve.

Content exists somewhere on a continuum that you can visualise like this:

On the left you have total gibberish written with only the search engine in mind.  As we move to the right, there is more and more effort put into making the content appealing for users.  To the far right is content so great that people want to share it.

You might start with content ideas that are motivated by SEO aims.  You could try to write the ideal page for Google.  Alternatively, there are any number of services that will knock up a couple of hundred words for you on the keywords of your choice and claim they are helping your SEO by providing content.

What you are really looking to do though is to move your content as far to the right on our scale as possible.  At the very least, you want to create content that not only has a chance to rank but acts as a suitable entry page for your site.  Content that gives the user something interesting or useful.  Something that fulfills the intent of their search. 

The Holy Grail though is to create content that visitors are motivated to share.  Now you have content that goes beyond being keyword rich.  You have content that can generate social mentions and links.  Content that can spread.

Google Ranking Factors 2011 – Top 4 Signals to Watch

March 25th, 2011

So, what ranking factors will be important for Google in 2011?  What should your SEO be thinking about to future proof their work?  We’ve got 4 suggestions below.

What is the challenge for Google?

When Google was created it solved one key problem.  By using links as a measure of quality and anchor text as a signal of relevance, Google bypassed the spam.  If someone puts up a Doorway page for the search engines or stuffs keywords in white text on a white background (1998 spam) and we miss it, no big deal.   If the page doesn’t have quality content, no-one will link to it.

Today, in 2011 the challenge is essentially the same.  Get quality, relevant content and avoid spam.  Google works a lot on speed and UI.  These changes are intended to get users to what they are looking for, quickly.  The important thing being “what they are looking for”.  Google’s job is to match a query to the most relevant, best quality resources in it’s index.

In 1998, when Page and Brin were working on the technology that would be Google, they could provide better results than available search engines with nothing more than Page Rank and Title matches.  The problem of the last 10 years has been that whatever factor you pick to hang your rankings on, that is where webmasters will focus their manipulation. 

Page Rank is important – ok, so webmasters will build links.  Anchor text is important – so they’ll build links with “keyword1 keyword2″ as the anchor text.  As soon as ranking factors are known, they are compromised.  The site with more links is no longer the best site (if it ever was) its the one with the best link building. 

If you are Google, your signals are constantly being compromised.  You spend a certain amount of time fire fighting and protecting your signal with anti-spam measures but you also look ahead.  You look for new ranking factors that are clean.  Here is a quote from the introduction to an SEOmoz post on The Next Generation of Ranking Signals.

“Every 3-4 years, there’s a big shift or addition to the key metrics Google (and, to a lesser extent MSN/Bing and Yahoo!) uses to order competitive search results.

1996-1999: On-page keyword usage + meta data

1999 – 2002: PageRank + On-page

2002 – 2005: Anchor text + Domain name + PageRank + On-Page

2005 – 2009: Domain authority + Diversity of linking domains + Topic modeling + Anchor text + Domain name + PageRank + On-Page”

Take a glance at Rand’s assessment on the development of major ranking factors.  What I want to point out here is summed up in one word: DIVERSITY.  Google has been doing this long enough to understand that today’s clean signal is not going to solve their problem.  It might get them out in front for a while but it will get spammed too.  What can help is diversifying your signals and cross-checking.

1. User Data

User data has several advantages as a ranking factor.  By tracking the reaction of users to the search results, Google gets direct and accurate feedback on the quality of those results.  There are literally thousands of ways that this could be used.  Google has data available from the use of its own site, from its Toolbar, from Analytics.  Plenty enough to be getting on with.

Google has released a Chrome extension allowing users to block sites from their search results but that’s just one new piece of data that they can use.  I don’t have space to go into all of them but here’s an interesting quote from an article on changes in Google’s serps.

“During Pubcon last November, Matt Cutts asked in his keynote how many SEOs where focusing on the snippet found in the search results and doing Click-Through-Rate optimization. Not too many people raised their hand. Matt grinned and said something to the effect that CTR optimization might be worth looking at.”

For those of you who don’t know, Matt Cutts is head of Google’s web spam team and Google’s main link to the SEO community.  Good SEOs have always gone beyond rankings.  So good SEOs have paid attention to Click Through Rates for years because it increases the value of the ranking.  But does Matt’s grin imply that there might be ranking benefits to better Click Through Rates?  Many SEO’s have thought so for a while.

Google’s recent spat with Microsoft over Bing “stealing” Google rankings has finally led them to admit use of Toolbar data as a ranking signal.  Here’s a Search Engine Watch post that looks at statements from recent key hires at Google that give an indication of just how important this user data could be

“In this same Pubcon session, Matt Cutts said that SEOs who try to stay “ahead” of Google will be the most successful.”

Google doesn’t often give out good SEO advice but this one is a peach.  The job of an SEO is to be in front of  Google and the other engines, not behind.

2. Social Media

We already spoke about Twitter and Social Media as Ranking Signals for Google.  This is definitely one to watch for the coming year.  If your SEO strategy was half way reasonable for 2010 it should have already been taking Social Media into account.  Regardless, it is clear that the search engines are diving into the social graph and believe that social signals can improve the quality of your results.  There is much to explore here and its not clear yet where it will shake out but there is enough to guide the future proofing of your SEO.

3. On-Page

Would you believe that my prediction is that on-page is becoming more important.  What’s more I believe that on-page is already, and always has been, considerably more important than is commonly held among SEOs.  There is a whole generation of SEOs that have learnt their trade believing that because links and anchor text work, they are the only things that work.  They are wrong.

Consider the vast amount of research that is going into understanding the use of language and understanding user intent etc.  Relevance is a big issue.  You have to determine relevance somehow and link text is an extremely poor signal .  Google’s not going to use keyword density or other 1980′s metrics to do that but it doesn’t need to.

In 1998, assessing the page didn’t work for the search engines.  Webmasters were stuffing keywords into the page and the Search Engine’s assessment was so weak that they were fooled more often than not.  But links don’t work either, because we spammed them too.  And Social mentions won’t work because that factor will be the focus of this year’s spamming.

Search engines understand a lot more about language now than they did then and their assessment of page content and relationships between pages goes way beyond keyword density.  The key issue here is DIVERSITY.   Considering this factor together with the others to weed out spam and maximise quality and relevance.

4. Where do local and mobile come in

This isn’t so much a ranking factor as a trend.  If you read the Online Marketing Digest here, you’ll notice that local and mobile just keep coming up.  The increase in smart phone penetration will continue.  The use of those smart phones to look for services near me will continue.  Google will continue to drive development and UI changes to serve those needs. 

In the main search, Google don’t seem quite settled yet on how Google Places will integrate into the web results.  Integration of Google Places, Google Products, News, Video etc. and UI changes to blend in vertical search.  These could radically change your SEO strategy depending on your keyword space.


So, those are our 4 top tips for Google ranking factors to watch in 2011.  It’s important to think of this with diversity in mind.  You don’t formulate this year’s strategy by replacing link work with spamming Twitter.  Links will continue to be important for the foreseeable future but I think we can all agree with Matt Cutts that SEOs who try to stay “ahead” of Google will be the most successful.

Trends in Irish Internet Marketing

March 17th, 2011

Since it’s St Patrick’s day, we’re going to look at Irish trends in Internet usage and marketing.  So what’s happening in Irish marketing this Paddy’s day?  The simple answer is that spends are continuing to migrate from traditional marketing to online channels where you get more bang for your buck.  If you haven’t got your online marketing working for you, you are behind the curve.  You’re not alone though.

Most of the data that I’ll consider in today’s post comes from AMAS and the Irish Internet Association so thanks to them for their State of the Net bulletins.

Digital Advertising Increases as Total Ad Spend Takes a Beating

The first half of 2010 saw the advertising market in Ireland go through some difficult times but digital advertising increased 12.2% to  to €53.9 million.  Google continues to hold the lion’s share with 45% of that spend.
Source: IAB Ireland / PwC Online Adspend Study, first half 2010

Online Purchasing and Sales

AMAS reports CSO figures on business Internet use to show that 87% of businesses have broadband access and 92% use the Internet.  One might have hoped that by 2011 we’d be way beyond the issue of broadband connectivity but apparently not.  68% said they had a website.  What on earth are the other 32% doing? 

As far as ecommerce goes, 23% of Irish businesses with broadband sell electronically.  If they meant actually sell online then I’d have thought that % is pretty high.  If you are thinking about the Internet as a sales channel for your business then the interesting figure is this one: 49% of Irish businesses with broadband buy electronically.  I don’t know if it’s entirely safe to read these numbers this way but it seems we are further ahead as Internet purchasers than as sellers.  Surely there is an opportunity there for B2B businesses to market and sell online.

Online Marketing Tactics

So what online formats are most popular with marketers?

Prefered Online Marketing Tactics Ireland


The same study revealed some useful (and quite mature) insights into why Social Media is being used:

Uses of Social Media by Irish Marketers

Source: Marketing Institute of Ireland / AMAS, 2011 Irish Online Marketing Sentiment Survey

Online Marketing News this Week – 3rd Mar 2011

March 4th, 2011


Content is King, Duplicate Content, Content Farms

These are things that are constantly talked about by SEOs.  ‘King’ because the search engines see their task as finding new, original and best content, so you are advised to be constantly generating original, quality content on your site.  ‘Duplicate’ because the search engines do not like it, so don’t repeat content on your site and don’t copy from other sites.  ‘Content farm’ is the name which has stuck to sites which pick high traffic terms relevant or not and then find any way to provide content about them in order to get traffic.  This content is often copied and/or of very poor quality.  Google does not often announce changes to their algorithm but this time they had little choice as they predicted it would affect 11.8% of their search results. (An interestingly exact figure in an imprecise science, particularly given that the dust is still settling with many apparently quality sites claiming to have been unfairly affected.)  If this change does what it aims to do and helps to favour sites with quality information then it will be a good thing.  The SEO advice remains the same: for the sake of your visitors and the search engines, constantly work to deliver quality, original content. 

New look for Google Profiles

This is the new look that Google are bringing out for their profile pages:

Google Profiles New Look

Worth noting the following quote from their blog post:

“While profiles work well for individuals, we’ll continue to work on new ways for businesses to engage with their customers, so stay tuned for updates.”

Developments in ‘Natural Language’ Search

There are many reasons why there can be a big disparity between the language buyers use to search and the language sellers use to sell.  One is that search has developed something of a language of its own based on user experience.  Bing are aiming to provide better results in response to what they are calling ‘natural language’, starting with price.  Here is one of their examples:

‘Air Jordans under $100′

Bing Natural Language Search

Google cannot at the moment ‘understand’ a request like this for example and the implications are many.  I picked this out from the Microsoft blog:

“This is especially handy when you’re on the go, and don’t have time to browse around and click the right refinements.  At the mall and wondering if you’re seeing a bargain? Just fire up the Bing for Mobile app on your phone and say “sony digital camera under $120”. Voila, it’s that easy.”

TV Advertising, Traditional Marketing and SEO

March 2nd, 2011

A couple of days ago I was watching TV and came across an ad heavily pushing a company website.  Today, I’m going to talk about integrating SEO and Social Media with large-scale, traditional marketing like this.

The TV ad that put this in my mind pushes the website as the brand.  It’s not the normal company website, they’ve launched this new one as part of a long running marketing campaign. 

We’ve talked a bit recently about where SEO fits in with an overall marketing strategy.  This ad left me wondering a few things.  They could have picked a name with keyword relevance to give their new website an edge in the search engines.  They didn’t.  It’s not always possible to.  Sometimes other names are just better and they work with the marketing strategy.  What I wonder though is this:

In all the money and effort they spent on that marketing campaign, how much did they put into SEO?

I’m not mentioning what the ad was and I’m not running off to analyse their SEO.  This isn’t about one campaign from one company.  It’s about integrating SEO for the long term benefit of the campaign.  It is fairly common practice to run campaigns across multiple media.  TV and radio and newspapers and billboards.  All mass media hitting consumers and generating awareness but with next to no targeting.  All at a cost far in excess of using search or Internet marketing in general.  Almost always for a lower ROI.

How Would Integrating SEO Help?

Lets say you run the same campaign but integrate SEO and social media into what you are doing.  The cost of adding these would be negligible considering the cost already put into the TV etc.  What would you get for it?

The TV ad is great.  It’s funny and it puts the brand in my mind.  I’d say it has done its job really well.  When the spend is done though, how long will it take me to forget about this company?  They’ve got themselves right to the front of my mind by interrupting my TV viewing with a good ad.  But they’ll go right to the back of it again as soon as they stop paying up for the TV time.

The ad is for car insurance.  If I was looking for car insurance, these guys are at the front of my mind.  It would definitely influence my decision but I probably wouldn’t go straight to them and buy.  It just doesn’t influence me that much.  Personally, I’d go to Google and search for “car insurance”.  Now.  If they are in the top few results, their TV advertising starts to pay off because I click through and they get a chance to sell me.

What I am trying to say is this.  The short term awareness generated by these campaigns can be great but it would be better if you integrate it with SEO.  More importantly, the buzz that is generated by these expensive campaigns can be converted into fuel to power link building and Social Media.  When the spend is done and the TV ads stop, the social media awareness remains.  The links remain and their SEO benefits remain. 

In two months time when you’re not advertising anymore, I’m still likely to go to Google and look for “car insurance”.  If I see you there, I’ll still remember your ad.  If I don’t see you there, I won’t.

Online Marketing News this Week – 18th Feb 2011

February 18th, 2011


Local Search and competition to sell smart phones

The table below shows market stats from a recent report by comScore. The report also tells us that 63.2 million people in America owned smart phones during the three month period ending Dec. 2010.  This is up 60% on the previous year which represents a market penetration of less than 30%. So there is a huge amount to play for.  The future of local search ‘on the go’, which has been mentioned many times recently on this blog, will be influenced greatly by both the speed of this growth and by the manufacturers who gain and maintain the greatest market share.  RIM (Research in Motion) by the way are the company who make the Blackberry.  Am I alone in being surprised that Apple is in third place?  Clearly Apple and Verizon aim to change that with the iPhone 4 becoming available at $199 this week.


Google vs. Bing ‘handbags at dawn’!

Am I wrong to be amused by the nature of this spat?

From Sphinn’s ‘discussion of the week’ last week:

“Google accuses Bing of copying its search results. Bing calls Google’s sting operation a “spy-novelesque stunt.” Google fires back by calling Bing’s search results a “cheap imitation” and a “recycled” version of Google’s search results. Now that the dust is settling a day later, our “Discussion of the Week” asks a simple question: Who won … Google or Bing? (And yes, there are many ways you can take that question and run with it, so go for it!)”

Social Media and Search Results

This continues to be a hot topic and will remain so.  Google announced further developments in their use of social signals in various search conditions.  The repercussions are way too many to go into in a digest.  For the first of many detailed responses on this subject read today’s post: Twitter, Social Media signals and Google Rankings.  Among the many complications for businesses trying to assess how they are doing in search terms will be the fact that search results will get increasingly personal and therefore unpredictable.  The no brainer is that social media policy and SEO policy must be integrated and, as always, carefully monitored.  That monitoring will need to become ever more sophisticated to take into account personal variations in search results.

AdWords automated rules available for all accounts

Automated rules has been on trial in America since December and became available to all accounts on Wednesday (Feb.16th).  Definitely worth considering with the obvious caveat that it must not lead to your account being under-managed.  However you could for example set a rule to automatically increase your bid by a certain % if your ad falls below a set position.

J C Penney and link spam?

If you are one of the many people who wonder how to build links and where from, or ask yourself why not just pay someone to go get links from anywhere they can, then this New York Times article about JCPenney is worth a read.  We could ask why Google places so much store by links when spammy links are still so hard to detect?  We could ask why assessment of the quality of a link profile is still so hit and miss?  But I think these problems will be solved to the detriment of sites that have indulged in lazy link building strategies.  I prefer to quote a  section of an article by Evan LaPointe at Search Engine Land:

“The sad part is that in the physical stores, you can interact with salespeople. These people will talk to you about what bedding will look good in your home. They will help you dress for your first day at the new job. They will tell you what the bulleted list of product features on a steaming iron actually does for you and your clothes.

What these salespeople don’t do (in most cases) is just blab out some marketing language about each product and have a call to action on their foreheads.”

This last statement is salutary and interesting.  If you want your site to sell better, give your customers more of what they need, more of what a good sales team would give.  It so happens that this will generate good content which the search engines will reward.

Twitter, Social Media Signals and Google Rankings

February 18th, 2011

A couple of months ago Google confirmed that they do indeed count links from Twitter as a factor in search ranking.  The original article was by Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land and we covered it in the online marketing digest.  SEOs have been speculating for months and probably years that social mentions will factor into search rankings but up until now we haven’t been able to get confirmation.  

Twitter links are generated by users not by Twitter and they are “nofollowed”.  In the normal run of things that should mean that Google will not count them.  They would be dropped from Google’s link graph of the web and not pass link weight or anchor text value.  Indeed that was the position taken by Google’s representatives right up until now.  Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Web spam team, came out with a video on Wednesday in which he changed his advice from last year to reflect the new position.

What does this mean for your search engine rankings?

The search engines are convinced that social signals (that is mentions and possibly sentiment measures from social media such as Twitter, Facebook etc.) can help improve the quality of their rankings.  You can’t simply count links from Twitter as a normal link though.  That would be spammer heaven.  They’d just put out a tweet and hey presto get a link from one of the most powerful domains on the Internet.  Instead, Google seem to be confirming in Danny’s article the existence of a sort of Twitter Rank.

Imagine a Page Rank like calculation that creates a measure of the most important Twitter accounts.  It could consider not only how many followers an account has but by recursively considering who follows who, stronger accounts would pass on more weight than weaker ones.  Google has already successfully used the theory to measure the importance of web pages.

Armed with this ”Twitter Rank”, Google can assign a value to links from tweets.  Not a value based on the strength of Twitter, which would be stupid, but one based on the authority of the person (Twitter account) who tweeted your stuff.

It would get more complicated than this obviously.  Google could look at how often someone’s content is retweeted and by whom.  They would also need to build in some anti-spam assessments.  It would make sense to look at whether your content is being tweeted repeatedly from one source or from many (me tweeting my article 100 times is not the same as 100 people tweeting my article, right?).  They could also look at the text of the tweet and possibly do topic analysis that says “This account tweets a lot in this content topic”.

You can see how you can use this to improve your rankings.  You get powerful Twitter accounts to link to your content.  You can see how to build the power of your own account too.  Get followed by people with plenty of authority.  Preferably in related niches. 

The weight of these and related factors in the web search results is difficult to assess.  I would expect it to be pretty limited for now although it may have more effect where queries are time sensitive.  Also keep in mind vertical search and blended search.

In the original article when asked, 

3) Do you calculate whether a link should carry more weight depending on the person who tweets it?

The Google response was, “Yes we do use this as a signal … but it is currently only used in limited situations in ordinary web search.”

So this is a factor to watch.  Not something to get your knickers in a knot over but if social signals help the engines then their influence is likely to increase. 

When we looked at SEO reasons to blog, I mentioned that your blog can and should function as the Hub of your social media efforts.  That your blogging and social media strategy should look at creating brilliant content and syndicating it to be consumed and shared via your social media.  Possibly the main takeaway from this post then should be:

The need for an integrated strategy where Social Media is used to enhance your SEO is only getting stronger.


As it happens, there have been a couple of interesting pieces that relate to this subject in the last couple of days, so if you want further reading you could check out:

A Tweets Effect on Ranking – An Unexpected Case Study from SEOmoz

Google’s Search Results Get More Social from Search Engine Land

Where Do Your Customers Spend Time Online?

February 16th, 2011

You want to take a strategic approach to your SEO and online marketing and we’ve already covered defining your market.  Defining your market is crucial because we need to come up with content that meets their needs, that can convert.  Content that they will share. 

Find Your Customers OnlineYou’re going to need to develop content targeted to your market(s) and their needs but how are you going to get it to them?

Where do your customers spend time online?

Where do the bloggers in your space spend time online? 

Are they the same places?

I’m putting forward a fairly simple process here:

  1. Define your markets and understand them in as much detail as you can.
  2. Plan and produce content to meet customer needs and further your goals.
  3. Find your market online.
  4. Engage with them.


Here are some hints to help find your customers online.

  • What are the blogs in your niche?
  • Are there niche forums?
  • Do the industry or trade associations relevant to your market have a web presence?
  • Do the magazines in your niche have big sites with community features?
  • Sometimes there are small, niche social networks.
  • Can you find your customers on Facebook?
  • If you are B2B, are there LinkedIn groups that fit your customer profile?
  • Who are the big Twitter accounts in your niche?

One thing that is surprisingly useful is to take some of your major keywords and do a simple search in Google.  It might be worth going down a few pages further into the results than you normally would.  You are looking for sites like those we listed above.  Sites with user generated content are great because they will often be communities you can take part in.

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