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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - May 2012

Welcome to the latest monthly edition of our newsletter, which covers news, tips and advice on effective website marketing techniques and trends.

Google has recently made a number of significant changes to their ranking criteria, in an ongoing attempt to improve the quality of search results for users. This month we look at two of these improvements which are central to the search engine optimisation requirements for business websites. Firstly, we look at the recent changes to the quality of local search results and secondly we review the recent announcement by Google on changes to target 'overly optimised'; websites in the main search results and how this will reward sites that offer unique and compelling content as well as ethical SEO practices.

Finally this month we also look at Google AdWords and how the recent changes to Quality Score transparency within the advertiser’s account will benefit both the advertiser and the end-user in terms of better relevancy and cost effectiveness.

You can read more below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subject. You can also follow us on Twitter for the latest developments during the month, or follow our Facebook page for updates.

On to this month's edition...

Google Improves the Ranking Results for Local Search

Google has recently introduced a significant algorithm boost to the quality of local search results within the main search listings. Codenamed "Venice", this new update will help smaller, localised businesses to compete in the rankings against larger, national companies and will benefit them as the search results continue to become increasingly localised.

Local search results are becoming increasingly important, particularly with mobile searchers, and so ranking positions on both Google Places and Google's main organic results are something that any business with a localised target market needs to consider. Having a localised online marketing strategy, whether it's for just one business location or multiple locations, is a key factor for search engine marketing, and Google’s recent changes make this more important than ever.

Google’s recent "Venice" update uses the signals within the main search results to help trigger relevant local results for the searcher, which is also based on the user’s location so that results should be more relevant to that location, whether or not a location term has been used in the search query. The location targeting is based on the searcher’s IP address location, which is also displayed in the left hand margin on the search results (and can be changed by the searcher if not correct).

This update therefore provides more opportunities for local companies to appear in the search results when relevant to local searchers, and therefore the SEO elements for a website and a Google Places listing become increasingly important. This could benefit local businesses that have previously been disadvantaged by larger firms in terms of their SEO targeting, through some improved optimisation of their sites for localised search terms.

These changes can involve a number of factors, from using the local terms in HTML tags and page content, to including local focused content on the website, and making updates to a website’s pages/architecture and the type of code that is used to micro-format the address. Links to the website that use the local search term in the text link also remain an important factor to support these type of rankings, as does the optimisation of a Google Places listing (which we covered in March 2011).

Therefore, careful localised optimisation is the key for local business marketing through search, as this Google Venice update shows that this is becoming increasing important at levelling the playing field between national and local firms. Businesses need to start developing a plan to deal with it to make sure they stay properly optimised and so take advantage of the opportunities that the updated algorithm change has to offer.

If you would like more information about how we can help to optimise your website to take advantage of this opportunity, contact us now for more details.


How Google’s Recent Ranking Changes Benefit High Quality Websites

At the end of April, Google’s Webmaster Blog announced further changes to their ranking criteria that are designed to target "over optimised" websites and to benefit those that offer unique content and comply with Google’s guidelines. As part of their ongoing efforts to improve the relevancy and quality of results for users, Google’s latest changes could shake up the rankings for some sectors of the market.

Google says that they don’t outlaw search engine optimisation as a practice - in fact they say that effective SEO can make a site easy to index, more accessible and easier to find. "White hat" search engine optimisers - the term often used to define 'ethical'; techniques that comply with Google’s guidelines - are seen to improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines.

However, Google has always targeted "black hat webspam" and is continuing to do so with this latest update to their ranking criteria. Sites that use these techniques are targeting higher search rankings, possibly as a short term gain, and use techniques that don’t benefit users, since the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be to be ranked. The type of webspam techniques that Google targets includes keyword stuffing or link schemes that attempt to propel sites higher in rankings.

Google’s success relies on continually providing good results for searchers. It’s therefore also their policy to try to reward the "good guys" making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded. The recent "Panda" updates over recent month have been focused on returning higher-quality sites in the search results and removing low quality or duplicated content. They have also introduced a page layout algorithm that reduces rankings for sites that don’t make much content available "above the fold" (on the screen before the user needs to scroll down the page).

Google has now just introduced a new algorithm change that targets webspam more intensely. The change will decrease rankings for sites that Google believes are violating their existing quality guidelines. As usual, Google doesn’t divulge the specific signals so there will be much testing and comment by SEO practitioners over the coming weeks as to what factors are being targeted. Google’s advice is still to focus on building high quality websites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.

At the Web Marketing Workshop, we’ve always focused on developing good SEO techniques for websites that won’t fall foul of Google’s penalties. If your site has been affected by these recent changes or you’d like to know more about the likely impact for your business, please contact us now for more information.


Quality Score Transparency Improved in Google AdWords

As we’ve discussed in previous issues of our newsletter, Quality Score is a core component of a Google AdWords campaign and indicates the relevancy of each keyword, which in turn determines the ranking position of your adverts, based on your bid level. Google has just announced a change within the AdWords management interface to show more information about Quality Scores.

Quality Score is measured for each keyword and is an important metric to consider as it's a measure of how relevant a campaign’s keywords are, based on clickthrough rate performance, advert content and landing page content. A high Quality Score means that Google's systems think the ad, keyword, and landing page are all relevant and useful to someone looking at the advert, whereas a low quality score means the opposite. A high Quality Score also means that the advertiser needs to bid -and pay - less to achieve the same or better ranking position.

You can read more about the Quality Score system here. Although this is a key measure of the performance of an AdWords campaign, Quality Scores are hidden from the default view within the AdWords interface and you need to select the column to be displayed to show the scores for each keyword. There has been the option to hover over the keyword status "bubble" to view more information and this is what Google has just improved.

By using the status hover for a keyword in the Keywords view, you can see the 1-10 score level for the Quality Score for that term, plus the new ratings which have just been added in a new format. These ratings have a relative scale so advertisers can see whether their expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance and landing page experience is average, above average, or below average compared to other advertisers.

Although we recommend viewing all Quality Scores for your keywords by adding the extra column in the keywords view, this status hover option can provide more insight for individual terms that aren’t performing so well. The actual labelling against the 3 main criteria is mainly a renaming of the previous status levels, but allows advertisers to consider what aspects need to be improved - whether better focus for the keyword, improvements to the advert content, or the landing page.

If you'd like to know more about how Quality Score can be viewed and managed to benefit your AdWords campaign, contact us now for more details.



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We hope you've found this month's newsletter 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.