Part I – Google Penguin: The Effects, The Uproar and How to Adjust

Google’s recent search algorithm update, codenamed Penguin, was stated to affect only 3.1% of search queries. However, the queries that were affected by the Penguin update were very important for many small businesses across the country. Many companies rely upon Google’s organic search traffic to gain customers and to sustain their businesses. When the Penguin update rolled out on April 24th, these companies were negatively impacted and experienced dropped rankings and a large drop in traffic. In response to this rapid change, over 1000 small business owners and site webmasters have rallied together to form a petition for Google to reverse the Penguin update. I am writing a 3-part series starting with this post on how to tell if your site was hit by Penguin and will continue in future posts on how our clients were affected at Leverage Marketing and how to recover from and protect against algorithm changes in the future.

2 ways to check if your site was affected by Google Penguin

Google Penguin was rolled out very quickly across the majority of Google’s worldwide iterations on or around April 24. A question that many site owners and webmasters are asking is “Was my site affected?”

There are a few ways to tell, to a high degree of certainty, if your site was affected. The best way to determine if your site was affected is to go straight to your impression data. This data reveals how many times your site appeared in Google’s search results. Organic search impression data is available in Google Webmaster Tools. If you see that on or around April 24th your traffic declined by a significant degree, (similar to the change pictured below) your site was most likely affected by the Penguin update. This rapid decline in impressions indicates that Google is serving your website in less optimal positions for numerous search term results. This gives your site a smaller chance to attract traffic from searches.

Checking Google Webmaster Tools for effects of Google Penguin

If you do not have access to Google Webmaster Tools, the second way you can check if you were affected by the Penguin update is in your Google Analytics data (or whichever traffic tracking tool you use) to see if your Google non-paid search traffic follows a similar sharp downward trend. In some cases, the decline in impressions and visits is alarming. Some site owners have claimed to have experienced up to 90% drops in traffic and widespread drop in rankings.

In upcoming posts, I will be discussing how our clients (at Leverage Marketing) were affected and how to recoup if you were affected by the Penguin update.

Remember, Matt Cutts and the team at Google designed the Penguin update to give sites that practice honest, white hat SEO techniques a fair shot for competitive rankings. More importantly, the Penguin update aims at reducing the amount of spam to improve the user experience.

On June 12, the SEO experts at Leverage Marketing Agency (including yours truly) will be hosting a Google+ hang-out on air to discuss the Penguin update and give business owners and webmasters (and whoever else is interested) a chance to ask questions that we will immediately address. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for the link to our hang-out.

Introducing Google’s Knowledge Graph

Do you find yourself staring blankly at the Google Search results not wanting to waste precious time by clicking on the wrong result? Do you find yourself praying that Google will magically pick a link and provide the right information for you? You’re on Google after all; anything should be possible for the search giant. Google should be able to understand each query and deliver the most relevant results, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Google could identify the actual context of your query? Take the Taj Mahal, for example. When conducting a search for Taj Mahal, are we looking for Trump Taj Mal Casino & Resort, the awesome blues musician or the famed mausoleum? Google should be able to anticipate the most relevant results and now, Google can.

Welcome to the Knowledge Graph

In an effort to make Google Search even more convenient for users, Google has recently debuted Knowledge Graph, a small sidebar to the right of the search results. Knowledge Graph supplies users with a quick snapshot of popular information related to queries based on relevant information provided by the vast and ever growing Google knowledgebase. A majority of information is delivered by popular websites such as Wikipedia & CIA World Factbook – some Knowledge Graph results should be taken with a grain of salt.

What Do We Learn With Knowledge Graph?

With Knowledge Graph, Google users now have the ability to find information related to their search query in one easy location. Information such as facts, maps, song lists and events are readily available depending on the nature of the query. One fun aspect of the Knowledge Graph can keep users on Google for an extended period of time, however. Similar to Amazon’s “people who bought this also bought” section, Knowledge Graph also makes recommendations. Recommendations on information pertaining to celebrities, movies, books and event artists are provided based on common searches performed after the initial search.

Google: The Next Generation

As Google’s new Knowledge Graph feature continues to roll out across the US, Google Engineers are hoping this advancement will move Google closer to building a “Star Trek computer.” Although it appears the Star Trek computer is a few years away, we’re glad to reap the benefits of Knowledge Graph as it exists today.

Has Knowledge Graph rolled out to your area? Do you think a Star Trek computer is a possibility? Let us know in the comments below!

3 Simple Techniques to Fix Your Low Quality Score

When it comes to PPC advertising and Google Adwords, the one metric that will make or break your campaign is Quality Score (QS). Every single one of your keywords has its own Quality Score, so when you’re stuck with a low Quality Score problem and you’ve done everything you can to ensure relevancy between the landing page, ad copy, and keywords, then it’s usually easier to just increase your bids and move on to bigger and better keywords. In some cases, however, it is worth taking the time to troubleshoot a few of your keywords, especially when there’s potential for high conversion value.

In April 2012, Google updated the Quality Score dialog box with new Quality Score indicators: Expected clickthrough rate, Ad relevance, and Landing page experience. This dialog box is accessible by hovering your cursor over the dialog box icon in the status column, which pops up a tooltip that includes these indicators. While Google uses these factors and several more to determine your Quality Score, clickthrough rate is considered to be the most important factor—after all, if your ad is relevant to the targeted keyword, then a large percentage of those searchers should be clicking on your advertisement. But what do you do when both your CTR and your landing page are non-problematic, yet you’re still getting a low Quality Score?

With these aforementioned changes to Google’s Quality Score indicators, you can now discern whether or not your ad copy is what is causing your low Quality Score. For example, when you open up the dialog box of a low QS keyword, the ad relevance indicator might say, “Below average,” and now you know the low QS is most likely due to a perceived mismatch between the ad copy and the keyword.

Sometimes this perceived mismatch is not apparent to us and is only apparent to Google’s algorithms. Sometimes, even when you use keyword insertion, making your ad copy include the exact same keyword the searcher typed in, you are still presented with a low Quality Score. This is because there are other words besides the actual keyword itself that can affect the QS. Discovering and adding these semantically related keywords can boost your Quality Score in many situations. Today I’m going to show you 3 simple techniques to find semantically related keywords to include in your ad copy in order to fix your low Quality Scores issues.

1. The Tilde Operator

tilde operator as advanced google search operator

The tilde command is an advanced Google search operator that searches for synonyms of your keyword along with the actual keyword itself. You can tell what these synonyms are by looking at the bolded keywords on the search engine results page.

E.g. Your search query is: ~yacht

Some of the bolded keywords on the first couple of pages are: yacht, yachts, yachting, boats, boat, and sailing.

Now let’s take this one step further and add the same keyword, but as a negative search term.

E.g. Your search query is now: ~yacht -yacht

Now you can see ONLY the synonyms of the keyword “yacht.” Not only do you get to see terms that you may not have seen in your first search, but you also get an idea of which keywords Google considers to be the same as the keyword “yacht,” such as “yachts” and “yachting,” due to the fact that they haven’t shown up.

Now that you know the search terms that Google considers related to your keyword that are not the keyword itself, you can start making a list of keywords to consider including in your ad copy. Furthermore, you can string out your search query multiple times, each level giving you more and more related keywords.

E.g. ~yacht -yacht -boat –sail

Not only can this technique help you fix your low Quality Score, but it’s also great for SEO purposes and gives you insight into Google’s Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) for specific search terms.

2. Google Sets Feature in Google Docs

google sets as a feature of google docs for generating related words

Google Sets was a Google Labs tool that was shut down in September 2011, but it is still available as a feature in Google Docs spreadsheets. In order to use the feature, simply type in 3-5 related keywords down one column, highlight them, and then Ctrl + drag the corner down to generate a list of related words. This is a great method to build a wide set of keywords for keyword research purposes, as well as for generating a list of related keywords for your ad copy troubleshooting.

3. Contextual Targeting Tool

generate related keywords by entering seed keywords in contextual targeting tool

With Google’s Contextual Targeting Tool in Adwords, you are able to generate related keywords by entering one or more seed keywords. Not only that, but the tool also generates these keywords and organizes them into themed ad groups.

While the tool is intended to be used to help you build display campaigns, it also provides another level of insight for finding what Google considers to be semantically related keywords—something that is especially important with new search terms that pop up which have not existed before, due to the fact that Google has less data to go off of. In cases like these, it may be beneficial to go ahead and check for what Google “knows” about a particular keyword because it’s still going to affect Quality Score if there’s a perceived lack of relevancy by the engine, even if we as humans can see that our ad is relevant to the keyword.

While it would be too time consuming to use these techniques for every single low Quality Score case, these are great options for making the most out of the current keywords in your Adwords campaigns and improving your QS by including semantically related keywords in the ad copy. Use all three methods in conjunction with each other rather than relying on any single one. By using all three methods, you’ll be able to find reoccurring keywords and patterns that will allow you to make better decisions about how you should change your ad and the direction you should take when creating fresh ad copy.

Bing Being Minimalist

There was once a boy named Bing who was rich. However, there was a more popular boy named Google who was notably richer. Bing strived to reach the opulence that Google had attained and became known for, but all of the new toys Bing bought did little to bring him closer to the eminence of the beloved Google. Bing eventually got weary of being unsatisfied with the return on his investments, and took the bravely modest step of becoming a minimalist.

You’ve heard the maxims: less is more, money can’t buy happiness, the best things in life aren’t things, get rich or die trying. Well that last one is a bit different than the others, and one that Bing has rescinded from its favorite quotes section on Facebook. The Microsoft owned search engine is moving away from the feature heavy, everything-you-could-ever-need-in-your-face approach, and embracing a cleaner, less cluttered version of its search engine results pages. This is a drastic change in direction, evidently with the purpose of completely differentiating from the highly decorated Google SERP.

The most salient changes are concerning the evisceration of the left sidebar, which previously hosted related searches and search history, as well as a simplified and more subtle logo and top navigation.  The related searches have been relocated and now reside beneath the ads on the right sidebar.

Compare that against the old Bing results page:

The new Bing embraces widespread white space, and places actual search results center stage with zero distractions.

What kind of impact will this have on paid search ads? Ads could potentially benefit from this change, as there is really nothing else to look at other than search ads and organic search results. The previous Bing design, and the current Google design, included various options above the fold that essentially competed with search results for the eye’s attention. I could see Bing ad click through rates improving due to less overall click options.

Perhaps Bing is coming to terms with the stark realization that their algorithm will never be as technologically advanced as Google’s, so the logical strategy is to now rely on display aesthetics to win over searchers. Interestingly Bing is not providing the option to revert to the old format, but is instead fully embracing the uncluttered cleanliness of the new design. There is backfire potential here, as some Bing loyalists that may have been in love with the old display are now feeling forced into this new design that they didn’t ask for.

Time will tell if the minimalist spirit will manifest and amplify Bing’s market share to lofty new heights. It will also be interesting to see how Google reacts, if at all. Bing has claimed that they are not yet finished with the design, so we will likely see more alterations soon. It is now the time for us searchers to choose what we prefer, more or less.

Eleven Must Read Tips for Effective Mother’s Day Advertising

We have a newer Mother’s Day marketing post– check out all the latest tips here!

While most of us know that Mother’s Day is coming up on May 13th, many advertisers don’t seem to take full advantage of this big day. Mother’s Day has become the second largest shopping holiday, with many people not only shopping for gifts for mothers but also wives (19.6%), daughters (9.6%), grandmothers (8.0%), sisters (8.4%), friends (7.3%), and godmothers (1.8%) as states. But advertisers not only forget to take these target audiences into consideration in their advertising strategy, but also don’t speak to the emotions that are surrounded by this holiday. Instead, they take ads that would usually be used to promote other holidays and replace the words “Christmas” and “Halloween” with “Mother’s Day”.  Moreover, they use phrases like: “Don’t forget it’s Mother’s Day” or “Mother’s Day Specials”. While most of us have a strong bond with our mom, we also want to give her a gift that emotionally connects us with her and that shows her how much we really love her. Therefore, the advertising strategy needs to tap into the emotions of the customers and promote the product as the emotional bond between the customer and the recipient.

So what should you consider including for an effective advertising strategy for Mother’s Day?

Gift Suggestions: Create a Mother’s Day category on your website with gift suggestions to help buyers decide on how to show their love. These suggestions should include the bestselling products for women, Mother’s Day specials etc.

Upselling, Cross-selling & Bundles: It can be hard to sell additional products or services to your customers when they are only looking for one certain product/service on your website. Therefore, you should use emotional holidays like Mother’s Day to promote higher priced items and combine products/services to one special offer. You never know, those ideas may become customer favorites and a bestseller, not only on holidays.

Timing: While most retailers don’t get their Mother’s Day promotions up and running until two weeks before the big day, you can use this time to get the attention of buyers, using gift suggestions, incentives, contests and giveaways.

Contests and giveaways: In these times of social media, it is relatively easy to promote contests for free products or service giveaways via Facebook, Google+, Twitter as well as on your website. Ask people to write a short story about their mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers, etc. and explain why they deserve to be appreciated on that day above everybody else. With potential buyers sharing contests and giveaways with their social network, your company will get some welcomed and (virtually) free exposure.

E-mail: Focus your email marketing/newsletter on Mother’s Day – include ideas of how the reader can make their Mom feel special and how your products or services can be of help in doing this. If you know your email recipients’ demographics, you can also send out specifically targeted offers such as: “How [Your Company Name] can help make your Mom feel special!” And don’t forget to highlight other fun and interesting things to do on Mother’s Day so your readers can surprise their Moms.

Partner with other businesses or applications: Include a link or application on your website, social media, and newsletter to help your customers create an ecard or let them write a short story that they can send to their special someone on Mother’s Day. Think about partnering with daily deal companies, like Groupon, LivingSocial, etc. to offer discounts on your product offerings.

If you have a local store, partner with other local businesses to create a special deal that attracts customers to shop your store and create advertisements in the local newspaper that highlight “How to Celebrate Mom”.

Get customer’s opinions: Conduct an online survey or use your social media channels to get ideas on what customers would like as Mother’s Day gifts. Combine it with a giveaway or contest and you will get an additional opportunity to collect customer information you could use for your newsletter list.

Common Theme:  Implement a common Mother’s Day theme in all your online channels as well as your offline Marketing efforts. Make sure that people know that you are offering a Mother’s Day special or specific gift ideas for Mother’s Day on your website. Don’t make them have to click through your whole website to find the information they want.

Pay attention to the audience: As mentioned above, customers are not only looking for gifts for their mom but also their wives, sisters, grandmothers etc. Be sure to have specific ad copy written to all these audiences and don’t just take the easy way out with replacing other holiday ad copy with “Mother’s Day”. Also don’t forget about the Mom’s themselves. While they might hope that they get the gift they deserve, they will also search for ideas on how to best treat themselves. So create advertisements specifically targeted to the Mom’s in the audience and use their special interest sites to do so, ie Pinterest, Blogs etc.

Last minute buyers:  Depending on which stage of the buying cycle the customer is in, advertising should be coordinated to these stages. A last minute buyer is certainly looking for a gift idea, he/she can purchase right away. Special deals and offers will help to make the decision for him/her in your favor. Also be aware where buyers are looking for ideas. As last minute customers don’t have much time to research ideas, think about advertising on daily deal websites.

Display efforts:  Use the Display Network to get the attention of your buyers with emotionally designed image ads. Advertisers should also use the opportunities of a Remarketing campaign. Not only can they follow their visitors around the net to keep a permanent presence with them. But they can focus on special promotions to catch the eye of the customer on other websites.

While Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to say thank you to your mom’s, advertising efforts should be aimed at establishing a continuous relationship with these customers year-round. Let the emotions speak to separate your efforts from the usual Mother’s Day advertising crowd.

What are your experiences? What advertising efforts were most successful for you? Let us know in the comment section below.