Tag Archives: search engines

When Your Brand Message Doesn’t Match How People Search

Courtesy of SEARCH ENGINE LAND.

SEO is all about words. Which words people search with; how to use them; and where to put them. Choosing the right keywords is imperative to the success of any SEO campaign.

Unfortunately, selecting these keywords isn’t always as simple as it would seem. Many B2B companies have very specific marketing and messaging philosophies that may not always line up exactly with the way prospects search.

What? We Can’t Use Those Words!

This is not a new problem. It is often said that SEO is the art of compromise. There are times when a B2B company is presented with SEO recommendations and the response is, “we don’t want to use that word/phrase on our website”.

While the keyword or phrase may be highly relevant and have great search volume, the phrase itself may not be appealing from a brand message perspective.

For example, your marketing team may refer to your service as “demand creation”, but the vast majority of your prospects are searching for “lead generation.”

Your CEO may be in love with the term “enterprise telecomm services”, but most buyers search for “call center.”

What should a B2B marketer do if their company’s brand messaging does not align with the way prospects search?

Six Factors To Consider

Here are six factors to consider when evaluating whether or not to include keywords in your SEO strategy:

  1. Keyword relevance
  2. Search volume
  3. Competition
  4. Searcher Intent
  5. Market Position
  6. Internal vs External Industry Jargon

Relevance & Volume

First, does this word or phrase describe your business or your products/services? Is it highly-relevant to your business? If yes, the keyword should at least be considered for inclusion in your SEO program.

Second, does research indicate that this keyword or phrase is commonly used?

Look at total search volume as well as the amount of variations of the keyword or phrase. If volume is high for both of these metrics, this phrase is most likely often used by prospects in relation to your business.

Competition

A third data point to consider is whether your direct competitors are using the phrase.

If a majority of competitors use these words on their websites – there’s probably a very good reason why! Be cautious about going against market trends when it comes to common search phrases and the way people describe your products and services.

Searcher Intent

Can you tell if the person conducting the search with this keyword or phrase is looking for your product or service offerings? Or does this word/phase have a variety of meanings and uses?

For example, acronyms often have high search volume, but searcher intent can be hard to determine due to different meanings.  ”ERP ” usually means Enterprise Resource Planning, but it can also mean Effective Radiated Power, and Electronic Road Pricing!

In order for a keyword to be an effective element of your SEO campaign, the intent of the searcher must be to find the exact service your firm offers.

Market Position

The next factor to consider is market position.

If you incorporate a keyword/phrase into your website, will it negatively impact your company’s position in the market? This may be the case if the keyword describes only a small part of your overall service offering or is not entirely reflective of your company.

Overall, if it is not likely that having this keyword (or phrase) on your website will negatively impact market position or audience perception then the risk associated with including this keyword or phrase in your SEO program is low.

Industry Jargon

Finally, the issue of industry jargon must be addressed.

It can be hard to remember that a word doesn’t always carry the same meaning to the whole world that it does within your company. B2B marketers often create a new description for products or services that they believe sounds better than the common name or search phrase.

While it is important to have a unique selling proposition, the new description may not match the way your target audience would describe your product or service.

Remember, successful SEO is dependent upon speaking the same language! Beware of building your SEO strategy around internal marketing jargon – rather than the words prospects actually use to search.

SEO Benefit vs. Market Position & Perception

In my opinion, an effective SEO program requires that a company stand behind all of the keywords and phrases they are targeting. These six considerations can help you evaluate the pros and cons of including keywords in your SEO strategy.

There are times when a B2B company must adapt their brand message and times they should stay the course.

SEO agencies and B2B companies alike must thoughtfully consider the potential impact a keyword can have on SEO results and how this keyword may influence the market’s perception of your firm.

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3 Ways to Supercharge Social Media with Google Analytics

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Courtesy of Chris Wiebesick and SOCIAL MEDIA TODAY.

If your business is participating in social media, dig into Google Analytics to uncover actionable insights that will immediately improve your social efforts. We’ve identified three ways Google Analytics can supercharge your social media initiatives.

#1. Optimize Social Traffic

Create an advanced custom segment to look at the percentage of traffic that came to your website from social media versus other places and what that social traffic did once they got to your site. Then compare them against a control group of people that had not interacted with social media. Go further than just looking at whether Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn is driving the most traffic. Look for how social media compares in areas like lead conversion rates, website bounce rates and time spent on your site.

#2. Find New Customers on Twitter

Google Analytics can help you identify which Twitter conversations you should be listening for. Analyze your search engine traffic to see what keywords people are using most often to arrive at your site. Then, create an automated search feed for these keywords on Twitter to identify conversations people are having using these keywords. These people may be prospects. Tweet with them.

#3. Drive More Blog Traffic

Use your most popular search phrases throughout your blog – in posts, titles, and tags – to generate more blog traffic. Also, if you haven’t already, set up Google Analytics to record people’s internal search queries from your website’s search box. Use these search phrases, too, in your blog.

Google Analytics is a powerful tool. Most businesses really only get limited use out of it, though, because they feel overwhelmed with all the data, struggle to make informed business decisions, or are measuring the wrong things. A Google Analytics Certified Professional may be the answer for you. A Certified Professional can install Google Analytics, determine goals for your website, and monitor the effectiveness of your site and social marketing campaigns. They will also use their expertise to give you actionable insights so you can confidently make informed business decisions.

Anatomy of a Google Snippet

This may be  a bit technical, but it’s important (none the less) to consider how Google (and others) come up with their “snippets” of infomation that they display for each page they index.  That’s why I’m passing along the ONLY article I’ve even run across that discusses this important (but often overlooked) point.

  After all, it doesn’t do any good  to get your page indexed if it isn’t clear and isn’t captivting what that page offers.  So, let’s deconstruct the Google snippet in all its glory — from the Posts/Authors/Last Post line, to the document date, to the Keywords in Context (”KWIC”), to the ellipses, to the inside-the-snippet anchor links.  As explained by Stephan Spencer, Vice President of SEO Strategies at Covario in a recent guest article he wrote for SEARCH ENGINE LAND.

But before we do, it would probably be a good idea to define the term snippet. Google defines a snippet as “a description of or an excerpt from the webpage” that follows the title and precedes the URL and Cached link. Simply put, the snippet refers to the description portion of a Google search listing. It doesn’t include the title, nor does it include the URL. Google engineer Matt Cutts provides a good introduction to snippets and the surrounding neighborhood in this video.

This is a crucially important detail: snippets are determined query-time; in other words, they vary depending on the keyword being searched on, as demonstrated by Wordstream’s blog post about snippet control here.

What are the components of a Google snippet?

First, there is sometimes a gray line of text that precedes everything else. If Google determines that the site is a discussion forum, you’ll see in gray text: “[number] posts – [number] authors – Last post: [some date]“, as you can see in the example below:

If it’s a scholarly article, then the gray text says something like “by J Smith – 2010″ or “by J Smith – Cited by 1 – Related articles.” If a book result, then it’ll show something like “by J Smith – 2010 – Fiction – 333 pages.” If the page is marked up with microformats, the gray text may display structured data on people, locations, events, product ratings/reviews, etc. — this is referred to by Google as a rich snippet.

Rich snippets are relatively rare, so don’t expect that employing microformats will automatically trigger rich snippets. I expect this will change as Google continues to roll out their implementation of rich snippets. Rather than discuss rich snippets in detail here, I’ll point you to an article on the topic written by one of my colleagues here at Covario, Jill Kocher.

Then it switches to black text. Sometimes the snippet includes a date at the beginning followed by ellipses (”…”). That occurs if Google determines there is a primary date associated with the page in question, such as is often the case with a blog post. This does not hold true for blog category pages, because there are multiple posts listed, with a date associated with each.

Google is quite adept at teasing out the date from the page. It doesn’t have to be marked up with some special microformat. I’ve seen dates enclosed in div or span tags with a class name that is anything but standard (e.g. class=”date”, class=”submitted”, class=”posthead”, etc.). I’ve seen dates in dd tags with a label like “Post date” in a dt tag, or simply the words “Last modified:” preceding the date. I’ve even seen dates simply bare in the copy. Google correctly handled them all.

If there is no date but the snippet begins with ellipses, that indicates the snippet was excerpted from a larger body of text (whether part of a meta description or page copy — more on this in a minute) and text preceding the ellipses was omitted. Similarly, when ellipses follow at the end of the snippet, the snippet was truncated for length. The maximum length of a snippet (at least a standard snippet), not including ellipses at the beginning or end, is 156 characters. If the snippet source (e.g. the meta description) is any longer than 156 characters, the snippet will be truncated and ellipses will be displayed to mark where the text continues but was omitted in the snippet view.

Ellipses can occur at the beginning, and/or end, and/or somewhere in between once or multiple times. There is an exception to this 156 character rule: sometimes an extended snippet is displayed for certain listings, like when it’s a more esoteric query. Or, when the listing is buried deep in the search results, where the snippet spans 3 or even 4 lines in the search results instead of the standard 2 lines and thus there can be nearly double the number of characters present (as in the screenshot above.)

How to influence snippet text to use a Meta description

The copy in black text could be pulled from one or multiple of these sources: from the meta description, from the description from the site’s Open Directory listing, from the content of the page body, or even a combination of these. I’ve seen cases where the meta description and body copy were both incorporated into the snippet.

Surprisingly, even hidden (”display:none”) text can end up in the snippet. Rather than leaving your snippet to chance, try to “convince” the Google algorithm to use your meta description instead (assuming it’s good, i.e. is well-written and compels the click through, of course!) by incorporating the popular search terms in the meta description.

It’s most likely that the meta description will be used by default when the page doesn’t contain the user’s search term and is ranking primarily because of inbound links and their anchor text. Here’s a (perhaps obvious) tip: look at your web analytics for the top search terms driving traffic to the page and make sure these terms are present in that page’s meta description.

Meta descriptions are best hand-crafted, but for a large website, that’s probably impractical. Thankfully, meta descriptions generated automatically based on a recipe can work out well too. For example, an etailer could auto-generate meta descriptions for their product pages whereby all the key bits of information which are scattered throughout the page (e.g. price, size, style, manufacturer) would be gathered together — since it would otherwise be unlikely that a Google-generated snippet would capture all of this information.

According to this Google Webmaster Central Blog post, the meta description is less likely to be used if Google’s automated algorithm deems it low quality. What would cause Google to deem a meta description low quality? If it’s comprised of long strings of keywords, duplication of information that is already in the title tag, content duplication within the meta description itself, or poor formatting that makes the description hard to read.

An Open Directory listing, if you have one, will probably trump your meta description and page copy for your home page. For example, search for “starbucks” and you’ll find the Starbucks.com home page listing has this 1-line snippet: “International chain. Offers store locator, menu, and product information.”

This is the description from the listing for Starbucks in the Open Directory. Despite the fact that the meta description (”Starbucks.com home page”) includes the search term (in this case “starbucks”) and the ODP description doesn’t, the latter is what is chosen for the snippet. If you don’t want your ODP listing to be the basis for your title or snippet, use the meta robots NOODP tag, as explained here.

Search snippets and “Key Words in Context”

Within the black text, you will often see bolded keywords. The bolded words correspond to the search keywords entered by the user. The bolding is referred to by Google engineers in information retrieval (IR) parlance as Keywords in Context, more often by its acronym KWIC. Matt Cutts talks about KWIC (pronounced “quick”) in this video.

Google uses stemming, morphology, and synonyms to relate the searcher’s keywords to the keywords in the document. A different gerund (-ing instead of -ed) could be considered a match by Google’s relevancy algorithm, but it may or may not be bolded as a keyword in context. Doing my own tests, I found cases where queries in a singular form returned plural forms of keywords in bold, and vice versa.

Additional snippet features

After the line(s) of black text, there may be a “plus box.” The plus box could, for instance, be with a stock chart for a publicly traded company’s home page listing. Or a map of a pertinent location if Google was able to extract a primary address from the page.

Sitelinks also may be present after the black text. Sitelinks are not traditionally considered to be part of the snippet. Sitelinks in their standard form point to other locations within the site using text obtained from anchor text or title tags. But there are now anchor-based sitelinks too that point to locations within the same page (when links containing # are present on the page.)

Sitelinks will sometimes be present within the snippet itself (read about this “Jump to” feature here). Strangest of all, the anchor sitelinks is the one that is sometimes attached to forums, detailed at the end of this post. Sitelinks are beyond the scope of this article; I’ll save that for another time. In the meantime, check out this article from one of my New Zealand-based colleagues to learn more about Google’s criteria for displaying sitelinks and how to influence when and how they are displayed.

Occasionally, you may come across a search listing with no snippet. That can happen if the site goes offline or is otherwise not available, such as during a DDoS attack. A more likely scenario is if the page was disallowed by robots.txt. A Disallow directive tells Googlebot not to access the page, but it can still list it in the search results — even though it doesn’t know what is contained on that page. A No-follow directive on the other hand, which is also unofficially supported by Google, will keep the page out of the search results altogether.

5 myths about Google snippets

I’d like to take a moment to dispel several myths about snippets:

The term snippet is synonymous with the search listing and therefore includes the title, URL, Cached link, etc. Not true. Google makes very clear the fact that the term snippet applies solely to the description — and therefore follows the title and precedes the URL and the Cached link.
Google always uses the meta description in the snippet if it’s defined. That is far from the case. As already mentioned, snippets are query-specific and so they are always changing. Even when your meta description includes the search term, there are no guarantees.
Meta descriptions help with rankings — not just the snippet. This is patently untrue. According to Google, “while accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won’t affect your ranking within search results” (from this aforementioned post.)
The bolded keywords in the search listing are bolded because they affected the ranking. Nope. The bolding of keywords (KWIC) is solely for user experience purposes. The meta description, as already stated directly above, does not influence a page’s rankings.
The maximum length of a standard snippet is 160 characters. I’ve seen various SEO bloggers asserting max lengths of 150, 156, 160, 161, and 165. What’s the correct answer? As mentioned above, 156.
I love to see creative snippets. Here’s one of my favorites, from Darren Slatten’s home page (SEOmofo.com):

Speaking of Darren, I encourage you to check out these clever snippet experiments he conducted and his Snippet Optimizer tool. Another useful tool — this one from Google — is the Rich Snippets Testing Tool; just don’t get your hopes up that this means your listings will display with rich snippets anytime soon – unless of course, you’re the size of LinkedIn or Hulu.