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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter: March 2011

Welcome to the new issue of our monthly newsletter, which looks at the latest news and developments in the field of web search and online marketing.

This month we conclude our look at Google Places and why this is an important feature for your business, particularly if you are targeting a local market. Following last month's review about claiming your listing, in this issue we cover the process of optimising your business listing and how to see the way that searchers view and act upon the listing.

We also cover 2 of the leading news stories from the search market in the past month - firstly, Google's accusation of Microsoft's cheating, and also the alleged black hat SEO techniques used by JC Penney in the US, which resulted in a Google ranking penalty.

You can read more below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subject. We are also reporting the main news stories during each month in our regular web marketing blog or you can get the latest updates by following our Twitter account.

On to this month's edition...

Optimise your Google Place!

In the second of two articles about Google Places, we review the best ways to manage and optimise your local business listing on Google, to help improve your local search visibility and to see how users are viewing your business details. This follows on from last month's article where we discussed the importance of claiming your existing Google Places listing, or creating a new one to ensure that your business is taking advantage of this feature.

Once you've claimed or set-up your new Google Places listing, there are a number of ways to optimise this in order to increase your ranking visibility. Google provides an interface for listing owners to edit and review the performance of their listing, which includes ways to improve the potential visibility of your business details.

The first point is that you should ensure that you have a business listing right away, as Google gives prominence to older, more established listings. Once the listing is created, the address of your business relative to the centre of the designated search location is important. Businesses that are closer to the "centroid" used to have an advantage, though not so much anymore, although searchers are also likely to be looking for companies closer to their search location.

You need to list your business name in its correct format and add your address details, which will also be used to verify your listing (see last month's article). Include one or more phone numbers, an email address and web address, plus you can add a business description, which should be brief and include relevant search terms in the text.

It's also important to ensure that the 5 categories that are selected for your business are relevant and keyword focused. You have to choose at least one category from Google's existing list, but you can also add other relevant category titles that include the keywords that you most expect your local customers to use to find your business.

Another important factor in optimising your listing is to ensure that there are numerous references to your business in local business directories, as these "citations" re-enforce your business as a well-established local one. The number (rather than the quality) of local reviews on your listing also helps its ranking.

An optimised Google Places listing should aim for 100% "completeness" by including photos, opening times, payment information, videos, other information fields, coupons and more. You can track the "completeness" level of your listing by logging into your Places account, plus you can see data on user activity in the past, such as the number of impressions that your listing has received (which reflects search activity) and how many "actions" have been completed (i.e. the number of users clicking on your listing to visit the website or to find out more information about your business).

So as Google Places listings are becoming increasing important, it's imperative that your business is represented by a fully-optimised one immediately. If you'd like more information, or details about how we can help your business to get the most from a local listing, contact us now.


"Cheating" accusation by Google about Microsoft.

At the start of February there was extensive news coverage and online discussion following Google's accusation that Microsoft had been "cheating", by taking search results from Google to use on their Bing search engine. This debate is likely to run for some time as the two search giants exchange claims and counter-claims about each of their search engine practices.

The story was first broken on Search Engine Land, and stated that Google ran a "sting" operation against Microsoft, catching them using some unique search data that had been set up by Google to check their suspicion that Bing was taking people's search activity from Google and using that data to improve their own search engine's listings.

Bing doesn't deny this and say that they use 'multiple signals and approaches', which seems to include tracking search activity through the Internet Explorer browser and the Bing toolbar. They counter that accusation by stating that this was just a stunt by Google to take focus away from the event that Microsoft was simultaneously holding to discuss the "Future of Search".

The author of the article subsequently stated that both companies approached him to discuss the issue, but remains convinced that the timing of Google's accusation was purely coincidental. He says that undoubtedly, "both Google and Bing play the PR game" and "what's happening right now is that there's a perfect storm of various developments all coming together at the same time".

He concluded by saying that he sympathises with Google's opinion that Bing is "doing something it shouldn't" and that Bing should be truly independent and not use Google as "a tuning fork". He also states that as a result of Bing's alleged data mining of Google's searches, its name now, jokingly, stands for "Bing Is Now Google".

If you'd like to know more about this story and how it might affect your search engine rankings, please contact us for details.


SEO techniques to increase rankings by JC Penney are exposed as "black hat".

The prominent US retailer, JC Penney received a large amount of unwelcome publicity last month following press coverage about how the store's website came to dominate many searches for product items that they sell, even though they might not be the 'best fit' for the searcher. This led to the accusation of the store utilising "black hat" SEO techniques and a subsequent reduction in search rankings on Google.

"Black hat" optimisation is the term given to the range of techniques that could be described as 'spamming' or methods that contravene Google's standards when targeting search engine rankings. These techniques were described as "the most ambitious attempt to game Google's search results that I have ever seen" by an independent online marketing consultant who investigated the JC Penny issue.

JC Penney's SEO agency were accused of using a "link farm" to give the company a benefit from thousands of links placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the web, all of which lead directly to JCPenney.com. A "link farm" is a website or combination of websites containing many hyperlinks, especially designed to increase the index ranking of other websites to search engines and contravene Google's guidelines on ethical SEO practices.

Google's Matt Cutts confirmed that the "link farm" techniques being used violated Google's guidelines and that "corrective action" was being taken. He stated that even as recently as last November, Google had been aware of JC Penney's violations of its guidelines but they hadn't followed up to ensure this was no longer happening.

A JC Penney spokeswoman is quoted as saying: "JC Penney did not authorize, and we were not involved with or aware of, the posting of the links, as it is against our natural search policies. We are working to have the links taken down." They have also fired their search engine consulting firm, SearchDex.

This is yet another high profile case of a major company falling foul of unscrupulous SEO techniques, which although might have gained them some advantage in the short-term, have proven to be a bad investment as a long-term search engine ranking solution.

If you'd like to know more about this story, or how your website can benefit from legitimate SEO practices, please contact us for details.


Recent articles from The Marketing Workbench

The Marketing Workbench is our regular web marketing blog covering news and comment on Internet marketing events and trends. If you want to keep track of current stories you can visit this section of our website on a regular basis, or set up an RSS feed. These are just some of the items posted over the past month:


We hope you've found this month's issue useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.