December 4, 2008
News & Opinion: Search Engine Marketing, Inc. by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt
The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 16 of 2nd Ed. of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt.
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Explore New Media and Social Media
Just as blogging has started to become well known, you knew it would be time to introduce a new form with yet another name no one understands. So, that's why we need microblogging. Although it shares some characteristics of blogging, in that it's a way to communicate from one person to many people, the short format of microblogging makes it more akin to a public instant messaging system.
The most popular microblogging platform, Twitter (http://twitter.com), asks users to use no more than 140 characters to answer a simple question, "What are you doing?" Now, if your first response to that question is something like, "None of your #%@$ business," then microblogging might not be for you. If, instead, you are excited at the idea that you could pass along tidbits about your day--where you are going, what you are reading, what you are working on, or that new blog post you just wrote--then you are getting the idea.
Twitter is the biggest name in microblogging, but other services such as Jaiku (www.jaiku.com) and Pownce (http://pownce.com) have also developed substantial communities. Social networks MySpace and FaceBook have also introduced a microblogging-like feature called status updates.
Twitter has spawned its own search engines so people can find tweets, the short messages posted by themselves or others, but microblogging messages rarely are found in mainstream search engines today. People looking for tweets can use Tweet Scan (www.tweetscan.com), where the newest results are shown first, rather than being ranked by relevance.
Unlike blogging, microblogging is more ephemeral, again like instant messages. So don't expect your activities on Twitter to suddenly show up as the #3 result in Google. But just as your blog attracts subscribers who pay attention to each of your blog posts, Twitter and its brethren allow you to attract followers who have subscribed to your tweets.
Marketers can use microblogging to pass along your short pearls of wisdom to your audience, pointing them to your blog posts or larger nuggets of content on your Web site. Some use Twitter to make product announcements, publicize deals, and announce other newsworthy information. Others break news to their followers before releasing it in other channels.
If you have the skills to write a blog, you probably can master microblogging, too. Microblogging is a great way to draw more attention to your blog.
If blogs are documents that draw feedback, what would you call a document that can be changed by anyone at any time? A wiki, that's what. Derived from the Hawaiian word wiki-wiki, meaning "quick," wikis can be likened to a group word processor whose documents are always available for viewing and updating.
The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia created and maintained by the public. Proponents laud the wiki's wealth of information, all drawn from the wisdom of crowds. Some question the accuracy of information compiled in this way, but others say wikis are self-policing, with erroneous material quickly corrected.
The truth undoubtedly lies in the middle. Wikipedia has more information than a printed paper encyclopedia, and has more than 30,000 contributors, but just two full-time employees. That's a lot of information without a lot of author costs.
You can use wikis for marketing, too, as shown in Figure 16-2. Wikis can be used to discuss product plans, to solve support problems, to generate ideas for the company's direction--and so much more. Wikis are limited only by your imagination and your comfort in discussing the information in public. Sometimes you might want to use wikis for more private discussions; you can limit access (to your most loyal customers, for example) when needed.
A wiki can provide you a vehicle for expanding the content on your Web site. You seed the wiki with content and invite your customers to improve it. Executive Travel magazine created city guides and other information on its Web site, with a big button that says "You can contribute to this site." The result? More engaged customers and better information. Oh, and better search results.
You see, when the magazine's readers began providing their tips for visiting various cities, you can bet that they added numerous pages containing new search keywords. Every page titled "Best Italian Restaurant in Boston" has a shot at being found for searches that would never have located the Executive Travel site in the past.
Wikis are just one example of a Web 2.0 way of encouraging your customers to contribute fresh content that attracts searchers. Read on for more.
Ratings and Reviews
If you've ever shopped at Amazon.com, you've seen product ratings and reviews, and might even have been influenced yourself by that book that received five stars from a reader. (Ratings and reviews are the most influential factors in a purchase for nearly 40 percent of buyers.) If you're an Internet retailer, you probably already show ratings and reviews on your site--70 percent of top retailers do.
But most Web sites are not Internet retailers, and they don't allow customers to post ratings and reviews of products, due to fear of negative reviews. David Seifert, Director of Direct Marketing Operations for outdoors retailer Bass Pro Shops, sums it up: "You never want to say anything bad about something you sell." But the fear is overblown--"Only seven to eight percent are negative reviews," according to David.
The negative reviews are a small price to pay for some impressive results. Customers want to see negative reviews; it makes all the other reviews more credible. And that credibility means your Web site becomes more persuasive, which translates into higher sales. The Senior Director of e-commerce for CompUSA, Al Hurlebaus, notes that after the U.S. technology retailer added product reviews to its site, "Every single [product] category improved its conversion rate."
Customer reviews and ratings are moving beyond products into services. U.S. telephone company AT&T has launched reviews on YELLOWPAGES.COM, allowing consumers to rate any business, from a local plumber to a global retailer.
You might be growing convinced that offering reviews is a good idea for product retailers and service directories. After all, if one listing gets bad reviews, maybe customers will buy something else from you. But if a manufacturer posts reviews, might negative ratings send customers to your biggest competitor?
Sun Microsystems says no. The manufacturer of computer servers has put product ratings and reviews for all of Sun's products on www.sun.com--a sign of supreme confidence in what it sells. Sun Vice President Curt Sasaki found that for every bad review the company gets, it gets several good ones. Curt approached the project believing that "the more folks that did reviews, the more it would balance out--it's self-correcting."
Product ratings and reviews are proven to lead to higher conversions, but they also boost your search marketing efforts. David from Bass Pro notes that, "Those reviews are so relevant to the product. When [a customer is searching], that copy ranks extremely high."
Okay, so if blogs are documents with feedback, and wikis are living documents with many authors, and reviews provide feedback itself, then what do you call a conversation among many people at once? Variously known as newsgroups, forums, message boards, and other names, customers start threads (conversations) about a particular topic--perhaps by posting a question or an opinion--and others join in to elaborate, explain, encourage, debate…you get the idea. It's a conversation.
Whether it's a message board, product reviews, wikis, or comments on your blogs, they all serve the same search marketing purpose--free content for your Web site that you did not have to write. If you're struggling to provide fresh content that covers all the different words that people might search for, then let those customers do the work for you. You'll find that customers will use words that you might not have thought of, and those words will be search keywords for others, also.
You might wonder if expecting customers to contribute content to your Web site is realistic, but studies show what's happening. Over one-third of all Americans created Web content by the end of 2005 (and this trend is growing worldwide also). Moreover, these opinionated customers spend more than the quieter ones.
Perhaps more important is that the rest of your customers, the ones who don't create content, are reading the content and being influenced by it. Three-fourths of online shoppers rely on product reviews and ratings, according to
one Jupiter Research report, whereas another reveals that 90 percent of companies believe customer recommendations influence purchase decisions.
So, now you know the basics of Web 2.0. The old idea of a Web site created and maintained by a single company is giving way to a new gathering place for communities that contribute content that modifies that site in new ways. Companies don't control the message as much as offer a framework around which their customers speak with as strong a voice as the company itself.
But that's not the only trend that search marketers must be aware of. The text-only nature of the Web is beginning to give way to all sorts of multimedia. If you want to hang on to your place in the search results, you need to explore this new media for yourself.
Time was that search marketing was all text, all the time. And although text will always be critically important to any search engine, we're gradually seeing rich media become more important to search marketing success.
It stands to reason that searchers want to find this new media with search engines. After all, by the end of 2007, Internet users were watching 10 billion videos a month. Just think about how many images they must have seen!
As faster computers and faster networks become more common, people stop limiting their Web usage to plain old test pages, instead using richer media than before. Gradually, search engines are responding, by including those new media types in the main search results.
As you might expect, with multiple search engines out there, we can never talk about "the" new results page; these changes are being seen in various degrees with each search engine's results pages. So what's happening?
From time immemorial (uh, around 1998), the main results page for each search engine has contained a list of ten organic links to Web pages--period. Each showed paid search ads around those organic links, but those organic results pointed to pages on vanilla Web sites. If searchers wanted images or videos or news, they needed to use more specific searches devoted to those kinds of content.
A few years ago, Google began offering its OneBox capability (such as showing movie times and weather forecasts at the top of its results pages). But that was a small step compared to what the search engines are doing now. The new search results pages break the content type ¬barrier.
Google now offers Universal Search, where all these content types are blended together on the page. The top search result might be a video or an image, or even a news story, rather than a standard Web page. Yahoo! and Microsoft have followed suit. Similarly, Ask.com has unveiled Ask3D, which stacks the search results so that different content types are shown in separate areas on the same results page. Try typing "darth vader" into each of the engines to see what blended search is like.
These newfangled search results pages have been much ballyhooed, but so far, relatively few keywords get the Darth Vader treatment. Search marketers should expect that these blended and stacked results will affect more and more keywords over time, however, for two reasons:
* The search results are better. Google and friends believe that their new approaches serve more searchers than their plain Web results predecessors. It does make sense that searchers are looking for more than just Web pages.
* Search engines sell more advertising. Some search engines don't like to talk about their monetary motives for new search results pages, but Tim Mayer of Yahoo! has been refreshingly open about his company's goal: to keep searchers on the Yahoo! results pages for as long as possible.
Similarly, these new search result pages often highlight Web properties owned by their parent company. Google shows its YouTube videos, Yahoo! shows its Flickr photos, Ask.com shows its CitySearch results, each of which shows more of its advertising.
As a search marketer, you can't control which results the search engines decide to display, but you can provide the kinds of content that the engines are looking for, and you can optimize that content to make it easy to find. As these new search results pages begin to be seen for more and more searches, search marketers should
* Use what you have. You might feel as though you don't have any of these new content types. But you have press releases that could show up in news searches. You might have TV commercials and other videos that you can post on YouTube and on your own Web site. Don't overlook the existing content assets you can start with.
* Create new content. If Google wants new kinds of content, then feed the beast. Start a blog. Take photos of your products, your customers, your employees--whatever you think people want to see--and post them on Flickr and on your Web site. Put some interviews on video or tape live product demonstrations. Provide opportunities for customers to create content for you, such as message boards, product reviews, and wikis. All this content is the new fodder for search engines.
* Optimize your content. For the content that you create, continue using your target-keywords in titles and elsewhere, just as you always have for old-fashioned Web pages. For nontext content, such as photos and videos, titles and descriptions are especially important. Submit your content to as many aggregators as you have time for, not just YouTube and Flickr, for example. Claim your blog in Technorati (and in other blog search engines and directories). And place social bookmarking buttons on your pages for Digg, del.icio.us, and other sites, so your readers can bookmark your content for other social bookmarking users to see.
Although designing your content with interesting titles, descriptions, and filenames is timeworn advice, it still works. Applying this technique to new content types, such as blog posts and videos, is a great way to start.
And lastly, remember that the content itself must be compelling. Your Web pages have always needed to be interesting to attract the links critical for high search rankings. These new content types are no different. Moreover, some experts believe that search engines are looking beyond links to other indicators of intriguing content.
No one knows exactly what search engines consider in their ranking algorithms, but speculation abounds that relevance ranking for blogs is based partially on subscriber counts. Videos may get a boost based on how many times they've been viewed on YouTube or on the number of viewer comments posted. Expect search engines to continue to use whatever data is available to determine the popularity of each new kind of content; it's not just inbound links anymore.
What's most striking is that marketers who've created the most interesting content are beginning to be rewarded for it by the search engines. For those search marketers who were optimizing only Web pages because that's all the search engines rewarded, they're getting left in the dust by those marketers who have provided the new content types their customers are looking for.
Don't let that happen to you. Check out the four most important new media types--images, podcasts, videos, and widgets--to see what you can be doing today.
Most search engines offer a vertical search purely devoted to images. If you're selling prints of famous paintings, maybe you care about image search, but most Web businesses don't get much advantage from that. Having your image displayed on the standard search results page is what you are aiming for. As blended search begins to affect more keywords, you want your product images to be shown.
Eye tracking studies show that images attract more attention than text. On a search results page, searchers might fixate on an image for the #3 result even before looking at the #1 result that consists of text with no image. It'
s to your advantage to try to get your image on that page. Think about how much more eye-catching that press release will be if you add a picture or two that might appear on the search results page.
In Chapter 12, we explained the importance of alternate text, coded on the "alt" attribute of the <img> HTML tag, but you can do even more to highlight your images to the search engine:
* Keyword-rich filenames. Name your image files to show the search engine what they are about. If it is a photo of a product, name the file after the product, such as SnapShot-SLR.jpg. Don't drone on with keyword after keyword in the name; keep it short, with just a couple of keywords.
* Surrounding context. Don't stop at the filename. Make sure that the text that surrounds the image on your HTML page reinforces the same keywords you chose for your filename (and for your alt text).
But don't stop there. Optimizing the images on your Web site is great, but you can improve your results even more when you submit your images to photo sharing sites, such as Flickr (www.flickr.com) from Yahoo!. All you have to do is to upload your image, and give it a title and a description. It's that easy, and it's free.
Obviously, you should ensure that your title and description contain the appropriate keywords to improve your picture's findability; use an <h1> tag for your title if the site allows it. Some sites permit a link back to your Web site, which also can improve your Web site's search results. Just as with images posted to your own site, you should use keyword-rich filenames.
Some of the most important things you do happen after you post your image:
* Tag your photo. Flickr and many of the other photo sharing sites allow you to provide keywords as labels for your pictures.
* Share your photo within the site. Mark you photo as "public" so anyone can see it. Most sites offer groups that you can share your photo with.
* Publicize your photo outside the site. If your photo is noteworthy, submit it to social bookmarking sites, e-mail people who would be interested, and link to it from your blog or another Web page.
Images are becoming more important with each passing year. Don't settle for optimizing your text when you can get traffic from your pictures, too.
Everyone's talking about podcasts, those audio files downloaded from the Web and played on demand using an Apple iPod or any MP3 media player. Many podcasts are just for fun, but marketers are discovering this new way of delivering their marketing message.
In a sense, there's no difference in what you can do with a podcast than with radio air time: you can record a speech, an interview, a commercial, or any other audio. But podcasts are used differently than radio because of their immediacy, their low cost, and their flexible time duration.
First, podcasts can cover the most unusual subjects. If you want to target a few hundred people, it's cheap enough to do with a podcast, whereas a radio broadcast or a mailed CD would be unaffordable. Go ahead and do a podcast interview with a famous photographer about digital cameras. Mention your company a few times as the sponsor; maybe you'll sell a few digital cameras to serious photographers.
With a podcast, you can reach the seemingly unreachable. It's tough to target a message to someone walking to school or riding the subway. Those customers are beyond the reach of most advertising media, but they listen to podcasts. Podcasts are also favored by people under 30 years old, who are becoming harder to reach through traditional print and broadcast advertising.
Podcasts also provide long-form messages that were formerly possible only with infomercials or public relations opportunities. And you can do them fast. Record it today, post it on your Web site, and your message is out there. For these and many other reasons, podcasts are the cool new way to deliver your marketing message.
By now you may be asking, "What does all this have to do with search marketing?" Sure, podcasts get out your message, reach market segments that are tough to reach, help your company seem trendy, and keep your teeth flossed and pearly white, but they don't help your search marketing, right? Wrong.
Podcasts are a great way to get links to your site, and search engines just love links. As we discussed in Chapter 13, they especially love one-way links--links to your pages from Web sites that you don't link back to. Those links seem to be the most unbiased votes for the quality of your content, telling the search engines to rank those linked pages highly for searches that match the pages' words.
To get those precious one-way links, you need to offer content that causes other sites to voluntarily link to yours. Podcasts are a great way to do that. Audio is naturally more engaging than text, and your podcast can contain up-to-the-minute, fresh information from experts with a strong point of view. Done well, podcasts are link magnets for your site. To maximize their drawing power, make sure you place each podcast on a separate page so that you can optimize its title and body text for that one specific podcast. If you lump together many podcasts on the same page, you dilute the subject, reducing its drawing power. You can certainly have a directory page that lists all your podcasts with links to each one's individual page.
You can also use podcasts to give yourself a link. If you submit your podcasts to specialized directories, such as Podcast.net, you automatically get a link back to your Web site. Every little link adds up to help your search ranking.
Podcasts attract links, as we've seen, but they are more useful than that. Podcasts are full-fledged members of the content community, so why can't searchers find your podcast and discover your site that way? After all, you create Web pages to attract links, yes, but search engines can also directly find those pages. Unfortunately, Google doesn't really "see" your podcasts--yet.
For Google and the mainstream search engines, searching for podcasts is much like searching for images. Google can find a searcher's keywords on the Web page that describes a podcast but can't find podcasts that contain those same words in the spoken audio. That means that a searcher can find your podcast from words in the title or the description that you place on your landing page but not from any other words that were said inside the podcast audio file.
Some search engines look for keywords within the metadata that you can encode inside the actual podcast file, using an audio editor such as Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net). The ID3 standard (www.id3.org) for metatags was designed for music files, but it's the most popular tagging format for podcasts, too. You can use the title and album tags to store the name of your series and the name of your episode, the artist tag to store the name of your podcast's host, and the year tag for, well, you can probably figure that one out. ID3 also offers a free-form comment field to store a transcript or a URL for more information.
Some podcast search facilities, such as Podcast.net, allow you to provide a title and description to their directory. Similarly, Odeo (http://odeo.com) allows you to claim your podcast and provide a description. No matter the mechanism, make sure you provide the right search keywords so that search engines find the landing page for your podcast. You do that the same way you'd choose the words to use when optimizing any Web page--by choosing the most popular relevant keywords and ensuring they appear.
You might suspect that trying to find 15–20-minute podcasts using only the words in their titles and descriptions leaves a lot to be desired. You're best served by adding a full text transcript of your podcast to that title an
d description, but for many people, that's more work than they have time to do.
Wouldn't it be great if search engines didn't need that transcript because they understand the spoken words? It's starting to happen, as a few search engines are expanding their bag of tricks to look for the actual words spoken in the podcast audio. To do that, they translate those spoken words into text.
Nexidia (www.nexidia.com) believes that the best way to make speech searchable is to convert it to phonemes, the speech sounds that correspond to each syllable spoken. Although experts agree that the phonemic approach can be useful for proper names, many believe that true speech recognition--converting audio speech into the actual textual words--provides far better searchability. For example, searching for the name "Stern" might match the phonemes for the words "best earnings" because those words contain the sound "stern" by combining the end of "best" and the beginning of "earnings." Speech recognition techniques avoid this kind of error by matching the audio to the words "best" and "earnings." No technique is ever 100 percent accurate, but useful audio search engines based on speech recognition technology are beginning to appear.
EveryZing (www.everyzing.com) is a search engine that uses the BBN speech recognition technology to find the words inside the podcast audio. AOL Search, through technology originally developed by Singingfish and Truveo, employs speech recognition techniques to find words spoken in audio and video files, including podcasts. Blinkx (www.blinkx.com) is another speech recognition search engine that uses technology from Autonomy. Despite this array of interesting technology, however, none of these search capabilities draw many searchers.
What are the mainstream search engines doing? Yahoo! Podcasts is a beta offering that searches explicitly for podcasts but offers no speech recognition capability yet. Reports are rampant that both Google and Yahoo! are hiring speech recognition experts, so stay tuned. Before long, the major search engines may be finding the words inside your podcasts just as they find the words on your Web pages. When they do, expect your podcasts to require the same attention to search optimization that you provide your Web pages today.
So get ahead of the game now. Perform keyword research before you podcast so that you use titles and descriptions on your search landing page that reflect what searchers are looking for. Moreover, carefully choose the vocabulary of the podcast to also reflect searchers' keywords. That way, you'll be ready for the speech recognition techniques from audio search engines as they become mainstream.
Videos provide the richest way to send a message to your customers, and they might cost less than you expect. We saw how the low costs of podcasts can be targeted at far smaller audiences than radio commercials or mailed CDs. Like podcasts, online video is especially important to marketers targeting younger audiences: 42 percent of individuals between the age of 18 and 34 watch video online at least once a week.
Web video is far cheaper than buying a TV ad or shipping around DVDs. The cost of distributing your video is essentially free, which makes more videos affordable than ever before.
Despite the low cost of Web videos, you can't expect to reach people as easily as you would with a TV commercial. With TV, you merely choose the show that matches your target market, plunk down your cash, and your commercial runs. On the Web, customers usually find your video through search, so search marketing is crucial to getting your message seen.
Just as with image and podcast files, optimizing videos depends on the words you use--the keywords you place in the filename itself, and in the title and description text that surrounds your video on the page. (And, the same advice applies as for podcasts: Place your videos on separate pages, rather than lumping several on the same page.) There's more that you can do with videos, however, to set yours apart from the rest:
* Optimize your metadata. You can encode your videos with metadata keywords within the "properties" of the video file itself, by using tools such as Autodesk Cleaner (www.autodesk.com). Video search engines frequently rely on this information when deciding which videos to show in the search results (and in what order).
* Get your videos indexed. Some search sites crawl videos along with all other Web content, so placing all your videos in the same directory (as close to the root directory as possible) can help those spiders find everything you've got. If you are constantly adding videos, consider setting up a Web feed for videos and ping the search engines each time you add a new one. You can also use a Video Sitemap (www.sitemaps.org) to get the same treatment for your videos that you get for your Web pages. (See Chapter 10 for an in-depth treatment of how a Web feed and a Sitemap help your content get indexed.)
* Submit your videos. Video sharing sites, such as Google's YouTube (www.youtube.com), allow you to post your videos right on their site. But don't stop with YouTube. Use TubeMogul (www.tubemogul.com) to submit your clips to over a dozen sites simultaneously (and to track their viewership).
Optimizing your videos for search is not enough, however. Just as getting a #1 ranking for a Web page does not get that page clicked, your video must be watched, not just found. Ensure that videos posted, especially to social networking sites, are marked "public" rather than private. Some video sharing sites allow you some control over the image selected as its thumbnail image--the picture shown before the video is played. Selecting an attractive thumbnail causes more people to watch.
Images and videos have been around for decades, and podcasts are nothing more than a special form of audio. But you should expect new forms of media to emerge on the Web. The first important new media to come along are widgets, small pieces of software that you embed on Web pages to perform a function. You can almost think of a widget as a mini-Web site. And just like every Web site can have a different purpose, so can any widget.
Perhaps widgets are easiest to understand through examples. iLike (www.ilike.com) is a special kind of social network that helps members discover new music. Members can embed an iLike widget on their Web sites that plays the most recent songs they've listened to on their iPods. As more and more people display this widget, iLike gets more exposure, leading to more ¬members.
More examples abound. Amazon offers widgets that show off the information about any book, allowing the viewer to buy the book with a couple of clicks. Cafepress.com, a personalized publisher, offers a similar widget that displays any of the T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other items for sale, again allowing a quick purchase. Widgets are commonplace on blogs, social networks, and almost any kind of Web site; marketers ought not to overlook this new kind of media.
Search marketers, especially, want to consider the power of widgets. As you see in Figure 16-3 (refer to the book), Google (which insists on calling its widgets "Google Gadgets") is beginning to show widgets as part of its search results. Others are following suit, including Yahoo!, which is experimenting with something it calls "Search Monkey" that allows site owners to expand their listings with additional content to the searchers who "opt in" for that site's information.
Widget usage has blossomed in recent years as one of the most passed-around content forms. In the next section, we talk about what you can do to take advantage of social media marketing by persuading your custo
mers to be your brand ambassadors.
Social media marketing is not exactly part of search marketing, but most people schooled in search marketing find social media marketing to be a natural extension of what they already do. So much of social media depends on assigning word labels to content items that those skilled in keyword analysis catch on quickly. Here, we look at what social media marketing is, what you can do about it, and how search marketing itself might be affected by it.
Social media marketing is a new name for something old. People tell other people about your products, and social media is simply the newest way they do so. Just like other marketing tactics, word of mouth marketing has moved to the Web. Eighty percent of companies rely on customers to evangelize other customers, and more and more of those interactions happen online--and with a new online name.
This excerpt is from the new 2nd Ed. of Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Company's Web Site, authored by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt, published by IBM Press, ISBN 0136068685, Copyright 2009 by International Business Machines Corporation. All rights reserved. For more info, and podcasts with Mike and Bill, please visit: www.ibmpressbooks.com/marketing