Category Archives: Google

Helpful Google tools and other topics relating to Google

SEO Has Tilted on Its Axis

There has been much talk in the last couple of years about the “death of SEO”. Such words are dramatic and catch your attention, but I never believed, not for an instant, that SEO would die. If you’re a professional in the SEM space you come to understand that the world is constantly shifting, changing, and evolving – not dying. And like any smart species – you adapt to the changes – or you die.

The world of SEO has absolutely shifted on its axis. SEO has suffered some serious earthquakes in the last few years. And in researching some facts for this post I found it kind of creepy that those higher Richter scale quakes started at the same time as the 8.0 earthquake that shook Japan to its foundation in March 2011 and created a catastrophic 30 foot tsunami. That earthquake moved Japan’s coastline by 8 feet and it shifted the Earth on its axis by 4 inches. Incredible.

The same sort of shakeup has been happening in SEO. Google has been telling people for years that “the big one” was coming and they’ve been preaching the decline of the power of the keyword and the increase in importance of outstanding content that is useful to the visitor as well as social presence and activity.

In February 2011 Google released “Panda”, a fairly small SEO earthquake. I bet the tea cups on your website shelf rattled. Panda was an effort to penalize websites whose web copy was not original, i.e. the same copy lives on other websites. Panda also penalized sites that had duplicate or repetitive copy on their pages. Google has made it clear that keyword stuffing on pages no longer games the system and creating a large number of pages just for the sake of trying to get more pages indexed no longer works.

In April of 2012 another SEO earthquake hit. And Google named this one “Penguin”. Penguin was all about untrustworthy and spammy backlinks. Now gone were the days where you would purchase 1,000 links for $100 with the goal of flooding the internet with links back to your site. Google’s algorithms now pick up low-quality, spammy links with the scent of a bloodhound.

And in August 2013 the SEO world experienced a Richter 8.0 earthquake called “Hummingbird” (funny how Google’s animals get smaller as the algorithm changes get bigger…). An article I read on Search Engine Journal likened Panda and Penguin to car maintenance. These two changes were like changing out the spark plugs and replacing the battery. Hummingbird was like replacing the whole engine. All the chirping about Hummingbird has to do with Google introducing “contextual search”. That is, Google wanted to look beyond the base nature of keyword usage and really dive into the INTENT of the user’s search. You can just imagine how this approach takes the conventional keyword, in and of itself, and nearly makes it meaningless. For example, let’s take the keyword phrase “best restaurants san diego”. What is the searcher’s intent here? Do they simply want a list of the best restaurants? Do they want to eat at one and they need directions? Are they just interested in where Guy Fieri, of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, showed up? Google’s mission with Hummingbird is to, as best as it can, match search results with what the most logical user intent is. Quite a feat. It seems to me that Google’s efforts are akin to making a sentient robot.

So….the days of using keyword tricks, meaningless backlinks, and meaningless content are gone. Long gone.

Not only has the META “keywords” tag been useless for nearly 5 years, last year Google switched to secure search and essentially removed organic keyword data from Analytics. Bing/Yahoo followed suit. Their message is quite clear.

SEO professionals and their clients need to understand how this has changed. Websites still need to be optimized, and when that happens, SEO professionals still do keyword research to try and find the higher volume phrases that searchers use. And they’ll take care of all the little SEO tactics; like ensuring that each page has a unique and properly formatted title and description; creating a valid XML sitemap and robots.txt file; ensure that domain names properly redirect for the “www” and non-www variations, etc. But there is no longer any haggling with keywords.

Clients need to understand that their SEO person cannot guarantee that they will rank highly for any keyword. Because ranking algorithms today pay very little attention to the keywords you’ve chosen. They look at how well your site is designed, how well the copy is written, how often you are contributing copy, how many errors your web code contains, what web server you are hosted on, how active you are with social media, how many likes and +1’s and comments you get, how often the content of your site is shared, the age of your domain name, and 100’s of other factors.

How well a website ranks in the search engines has become a very multi-faceted thing that focuses on quality content, social activity, referrals, and relevancy as determined by visitor interaction with the site. Creating a website that ranks well has become a cross-function team effort between web development, social media, internet marketing and the marketing efforts and involvement of the company itself. It’s all pieces working together that ultimately impresses your visitors – and Google.

So… SEO’s and Clients – start focusing on gaining rank by providing quality content that helps your visitors and gets shared and referenced in the social space. Write content that answers your visitors questions – that teaches, guides, informs. Establish better search engine presence by showing Google and others that your website is a valuable “go to” resource such that your content gets linked to frequently and it encourages traffic to your site. Accept the fact that good search engine ranking now take a hell of a lot of effort, on the part of everyone involved.

SEO/SEM’s – start selling your services in this new reality and take time to explain to your customers how things have changed. An internet marketing program cannot be successful if your client thinks one thing and you another.

And Clients – stop yelling at your SEO person about why you aren’t #1 for some obsequious keyword that you and you alone feels is critical for your business. Stop expecting that placing a keyword on your page will get you on the first page of Google. Stop expecting that your marketing person is soley in charge of making things happen and that you and others in your company have nothing to do with it. Start being an involved member. It’s your company, They are your business goals, and you need to be in the driver’s seat.

New world. New rules. New opportunities. And hang tight. The SEO World isn’t done rattling and shaking.

What UTM Tracking Code Are & How To Use Them

How to use UTM codes to track online sales

 

UTM tracking codes were provided by the Urchin Web Analytics platform, which Google purchased and turned into Google Analytics. UTM stand for Urchin Tracking Module. This module allows marketers to add some parameters and values to the end of a URL so that sales and leads from different sources can be uniquely seen within Analytics, as shown in the graphic above.

Google Analytics organizes traffic and sales data initially into “sources” and “mediums”. Google will also track “campaigns”, ad “content”, and keyword “terms”.

The reason why UTM codes were made available is because though Google automatically tracks data from its own properties (Google AdWords, Analytics, Merchant, etc.), data from “external” sources, like Email, MSN/Bing, banner advertising on other websites, AdRoll, Facebook, etc. do not track automatically. With these non-Google properties, you need to use those UTM tracking codes to tell Google how you want it to organize the data.

There are 5 types of UTM codes:

  1. utm_source – this is where your link traffic is coming from, in a general sense. Values here could be “Google”, “Bing”, “Email”, “Social”, “Affiliate”, etc. This parameter and its value are required.
  2. utm_medium – this relates to how the link is referred or delivered. Possible values here might be: “cpc”, “sponsored-post”, “728×90-banner”, “data-feed”, “Facebook-Ad”, etc. This parameter and its value are required.
  3. utm_campaign – this relates to time, day, season or what have you. This could be “Spring-2014” or “March-20-2014” or “Mothers-Day-Promo” or “15%-Off-Sale-April”. Your marketing efforts will generally all fall within a small set of source/medium classifications, but your campaigns should always be a unique name so that you can differentiate them in Analytics. This parameter and its value are not required by Google, but its use is heavily recommended, or you won’t able able to see how individual marketing efforts perform.
  4. utm_content – this parameter is often used to distinguish A/B testing of ads, landing pages, or other comparative sets of marketing. I have also seen it used to store a product SKU or item number. This parameter and its value are not required.
  5. utm_term – this parameter stores the keyword or phrase. You often see this used in pay-per-click programs like Bing.

So now that you know what UTM tracking codes are – how do you use them?

These parameters and their values get attached to the end of a URL in one of 2 ways:

  • If your URL is a search engine friendly (SEF) or “plain” URL, you begin with a ? and then add the parameter=value pairs with an & in between the sets.
  • If your URL is “dynamic” and you see things like a ? or & already in the URL, then you start with the & and add the parameter=value pairs with the & in-between.

The “?” character is a programming signal that tells Google “Hey!, We’ve got some data coming through that you need to deal with”. You need to be careful NOT to put 2 ?’s in the URL or it will break.

The “&” character is a programming signal that tells Google that there are different sets of parameters and values.

Here are what each of these URL’s looks like as an example:

The SEF or “plain” URL:

The “plain” URL looks like this:
http://www.yourdomain.com/category/product/some-specific-product/
or this….
http://www.yourdomain.com/category/product/some-specific-product

Adding those UTM codes makes it look like this:

http://www.yourdomain.com/category/product/some-specific-product/?utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_campaign=Valentines-Day-2014

or this…..
http://www.yourdomain.com/category/product/some-specific-product?utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_campaign=Valentines-Day-2014

The “dynamic URL”:

http://www.yourdomain.com/store/products.php?category_id=5&product_id=1234&x=0&y=0

When you have a URL that already has a ? and some parameter=value sets in it, this is what your UTM tracking URL will look like:

http://www.yourdomain.com/store/products.php?category_id=5&product_id=1234&x=0&y=0&utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_campaign=Valentines-Day-2014

Using UTM tracking codes is pretty easy once you understand what they are, what the symbols mean, and how to use the individual codes that Google provides.

Google also provides a handy little tool called the UTM Link Builder that will produce your URLs for you if you supply the “values”.

Some helpful tips and important reminders in using UTM codes are:

  1. Keep your “source” and “medium” values consistent – otherwise you’ll be hunting and pecking all over analytics for your data. For example, Don’t use “utm_medium=Newsletter”, and then use “utm_medium=News” and “utm_medium=Consumer-News”. Think about the different types of marketing you have and try to create stable source/medium “buckets” for your efforts.
  2. Always use unique utm_campaign values, otherwise your sales data will be lumped together and you won’t be able to tell what specific campaign produced what sales.
  3. NEVER use a URL with more than 1 ? in the URL, or you’ll get a nice 404 error message.
  4. Make sure you code every link in your marketing effort, such as in email. Remember to do hyperlinked logo images, social icons, etc. Every link should get coded. Within a particular email, the utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign values can be the same. If you are using utm_content for part numbers or product names, then those would need to change per link.
  5. With Google AdWords, if you have your preference for Auto-Tagging set to “yes”, do NOT use UTM tracking codes. If you want to manually tag your AdWords ads and keyword destination URLs with UTM codes, make sure that auto-tagging is set to “no”. You cannot do both at the same time.
  6. DO make sure to use UTM tracking code with all your external, non-google, marketing efforts to track sales and leads as best you can. The moreĀ  data you have, the better the decisions you can make on how your marketing efforts are performing.
  7. Not sure you did it correctly? Copy/paste your whole http://… link into a browser window and see if the page loads. You should also see all your new UTM parameters and values in the URL, near the end. If you get a page that works – congrats – you did it!

Any questions? Send us an email. This stuff always looks more intimidating than it really is. We are happy to help you.

Google Places, Pages, and Profiles (Just Shoot Me)

Google+ Local is merging with Google+ Pages and this is a critical change for your business. Learn how to transition your prior pages to Google’s new Google+ Business Pages.

What dealing with Google Places, Pages, and Profiles does to you.

Yep – that was me today. Full blown face slam into my desk after spending an eternity trying to figure out how to merge my Business Page with my existing GSD Google+ page I set up 2 years ago. As I was doing this, I thought some of you might appreciate the information I trudged through.

Thankfully, there were a ton of good articles written by good folks who served as ice packs when I was about to kick Google+ in the screen.

The basic jist is that back in May 2012, Google Places listings, those listings that appear in search engine results pages (SERPs) with the orange bubbles, became Google+ Local. The move was a good one and a lot of nice features were added for local businesses.

In the meantime, good businesses everywhere were listening to Google and other folks and started setting up Google+ accounts (profiles) for themselves and Google+ pages for their businesses. Google+ Pages are almost always associated with the account.

Fast forward to now, for the US. Google has been slowly auto-upgrading users Google+ Local listings to what they call Google+ Business Pages. This article from the Google Forum details the rollouts and answers many questions.

Admittedly and honestly, I have ignored, as deeply as I could, having to deal with a Google+ business page. I have a blog. I have a FB business page. I have a Google+ account that I set up for the business, under an email address, nearly 5 years ago, and all my circles and contacts are there. I have many customers I need to service and I just didn’t want to have to deal with yet another page. Oh boo-hoo. Right? Yeah, I know. Suck it up buttercup, it’s the way things are now….and that became clearer this week.

In addition to the Google+ Page you might have for your business, Google Local+ is now automatically creating yet another Google+ Page for your business that is different (and probably empty and dark, like mine was). This new Google+ Business Page is what Google is now using when people search for you locally. Your business hopefully pops up with a little orange map balloon, but guess what? The Google+ page link takes the visitor to an echo-ey, empty, boring Google+ page – NOT the one you’ve been building up for the past few years.

Lovely, yes? Thanks Google.

So I immediately had questions for my own business. How do I transfer over my circles? I didn’t have any posts or anything (because I had so dutifully been pretending it didn’t exist), but many of you have reviews, posts, comments. What about those? What about my other pages? I don’t want 3 other Google+ pages running around (Google+ pages are worse than rabbits…)

I spent a number of hours digging and searching for answers to these questions and I came upon a few good resources. No need to reinvent the blog-writing wheel here, so I will gratefully share these with you in the hopes that it helps. Thank you to the many folks who took time to write these articles.

That’s probably enough to make your head spin.

Here is Google’s support document on how to transfer Google+ circles and connections between accounts.

Here is Google’s Takeout Tool, which will allow you to make data transfers pretty easily.

And lastly, here is a good Google Takeout Tutorial.

So there you have it my friends. Like it or not, if you had a Google Places account, which is now Google+ Local, you also have, by default, a Google+ Business Page that Google lovingly created for you.

It behooves you to use that account, as it is tied to your local business listing, and the number of connections that you have there, as well as your routine posting activity, and the reviews you receive will impact your Google+ Local rank in organic listings.

And you know, all this change can be painful. Usually (optimist that I am) the change is for the better. I don’t necessarily like being shoved in any direction like Google seems to like to do. But I have hope that all this screen-kicking and head-banging is worth it.

“Phantom” AdWords Clicks – Number of Clicks for Keywords Doesn’t Match What AdWords is Reporting in the Total Search Line

Google’s products always amaze me. No matter how well I think I understand how the AdWords program works, there are yet more ways to discover information and features I didn’t know existed because I just hadn’t gotten to them yet. Necessity is the mother of invention and the need to explain data is the mother of discovering new things about AdWords.

In a number of the AdWords accounts I manage I have noticed that there area growing number of what folks call “phantom clicks” showing up in the “Total Search” line at the bottom of the keywords display screen within an AdGroup. In some cases, the amount of money being spent on these phantom clicks is substantial.

I did a search in Google for “keyword clicks in AdWords do not match total search clicks” and I came across an article that solved my problem. I also saw a goodly number of other forums where the same general question was being asked, so I thought I would take time to post a couple of solutions.

The first place to look is how you have your campaign set up with regard to keyword variants.

Google has changed the way the campaign settings work with regard to the search network features and keyword matching and they have recently changed the way that “phrase” and [exact] matching works. Phrase and exact matches can now be set to include plurals, variants (-ed, -ing, -tion, etc.) and even closely related words (for example, if you had an AdGroup targeting terms relating to “baseball caps”, your ad might also match for hats, fascinators, and such. Depending on the management strategy you aare using, this could be a good thing for your account, but for me, I don’t like it.

In the campaign settings area, under “General”, choose the “type” to be “Search Network Only – All Features”. Then scroll all the way down and under “Advanced settings”, open up “Keyword matching options” and choose “Do not include close variants”.

Essentially what this does is tells Google you want “phrase” and [exact] matching to work the way they traditionally did, which means that your ads will only be displayed when they match those words, in that order, respectfully. For me, this means a lot less time having to research negative keywords and I have observed that it keeps budget spend more steady and predictable.

The second place to look (the one that gave me the big “A-Ha! Gotcha!”) has to do with using AdWords Extensions, particularly the “Product Listings” extension. My clients, like most companies I think, participate in Google’s Merchant Feeds. They export all of their product data, in one big file, and feed it to Google for product display listings. If your client uploads one big, massive product file, and you set up this product file in product extensions and link it to your campaign, then essentially people can search for every product even though your specific campaign focuses on one product group. Let me give you an example.

One of my clients sells drought tolerant perennials. They have Salvia, Agastache, Gaillardia, Penstemon, Delosperma, Achillea, Echinacea, Lavender, and lots of other lovely things. I have campaigns set up around each one of these so that my AdGroups may then focus on species variations and specific cultivars that are popular. They participate in Google’s Merchant Feed and yep, you guessed it, all their products are dumped into one big file. I set up the product listings ad extension on Lavender and within a few days, i saw those phantom clicks start piling up (and it was costing a pretty penny and not converting…) I saw keywords like “yucca” and “buffalo grass” and “christmas cactus” showing up – in my Lavender campaign! I was scratching my head wondering where these were coming from. My campaign had none of these keywords in it and I was not using any broad matches and the variants option was turned off.

I learned today that it is the product listings ad extension that is doing this, because regardless of how I have my campaigns set up, the merchant fee product file does have all these products in it, and if people are searching for those things, my Lavender campaign (and every other campaign I attached the product listing feed to) could show up because it was matching on the product listings. A-Ha!

So, there are two ways to deal with this…

1. Ask the company you are managing PPC for to break out their product file into related groups. Most company database systems store the category level of their products. Instead of dumping one massive file to Google Merchant, break that file into smaller, more targeted pieces, then attach the smaller and more appropriately targeted product feed to the campaign it relates to. This will cut down on the number of clicks for products that are not related to your campaign. This take a little bit more work intially, but clearly it would be worth doing – it’ll save them lots of money and their ROI will increase.

2. The other thing you can do, and probably should do because #1 is not likely to be a 100% solution, is to go see what terms are being matched on with the product listings – and then exclude them at the camapign level (assuming your campaign is tightly focused around a single product group – otherwise, you’d probably have to exclude these terms over and over again at the AdGroup level).

Choose the AdGroup for which you are seeing a lot of phantom clicks. Click on the “Dimensions” tab and just under the row of light green tabs, on the left, click the little down-arrow and choose to view “search terms”. And Aoila! Those clicks are no longer phantom! Here is where you can see where all the clicks are coming from. Jot down all the words or phrases that do NOT apply to your AdGroup and then add them to your negative keyword lists at the AdGroup or Campaign level as is appropriate. This will eliminate these phantom clicks and get things back under control.

I hope this helps someone. If you find this posting and it did help, please post a comment and let me know. Thanks! And Happy Phantom Keyword hunting!

Google’s Changes to [Exact] & “Phrase” Match Types

In the last few days, I’ve seen a lot of negative response around the news that Google will be changing how it handles the exact and phrase keyword match types. Most people don’t like change, and as with other Google changes in the past, the two camps seem to be “I like it” or “I hate it”. I think this change actually makes some sense.

I have been working with AdWords since the platform launched in 2000 and over the last couple of years I have noticed a degradation in the performance of the [exact] match type, while the phrase match has always remained strong. One of the historic benefits of using the exact match type is that you don’t need to worry about related phrases, alternate endings such as “ing”, “ed” “est”, or misspellings. With the exact match type, the need to do copious amounts of negative keyword research is greatly reduced (and so is much of your traffic opportunity).

But I have learned over the last decade+ that exact match has its downfall, too, in that it tends to be too strict and doesn’t allow for the variation of thought and meaning behind someone’s search process. In my experience, early on, exact match phrases performed the best. These days, they often perform the worst. I would rather have someone who typed [perrenial plants] see my ad and not lose a potential sale because they spelled “prennial” wrong. This change to Google also means I don’t have to have 10 different kewyords in my AdGroup which target mispellings and word variants. It actually will make administration a bit easier.

I have always been a big user of negative keywords to refine performance, so Google’s change doesn’t bother me at all from that standpoint either. With broader matching algorithms, you have to be careful to exclude words and phrases that can be combined with your chosen keyword that make it irrelevant to your campaign. I have always also been a proponent for change, even when fear and dislike for that change run high, because without change, you will never know what opportunities you may have been missing and there is never a chance to improve upon what stood before. Change also challenges us to think in new and different ways – and if there is one thing that’s gospel about the internet marketing realm – as an internet marketer, you never want to be perceived as “out of date” or “irrelevant” in your thinking and approach.

So I say bring it on. Let’s test it. I’m eager to see what difference it may make in the performance of the campaigns I manage. And you know what? If you don’t like it, you can simply go into your Advanced Settings, go to the Keyword Matching section and choose not to include close variants.

Google Tools: Google Correlate

I recently received an email newsletter (as opposed to the dead tree kind) that talked about a relatively new tool from Google called Google Correlate.

Being the math junkie that I am, I found this approach to looking at how search phrases relate to one another pretty interesting. Google Correlate takes a search phrase that you enter, for example “tulip bulbs”, and it will show you other phrases that people also searched for at the same time. The data that Google has spans over 7 years.

The graphic below shows the top correlated words to “tulip bulbs”:

Google Correlate results for "Tulip Bulbs"

Google Correlate results for "Tulip Bulbs"

What I think is really interesting here is the cyclicity of the search. Horticultural products are most certainly seasonal in nature. And it appears that lots of people are searching for phrases related to trees; which makes sense. Fall is the perfect time to plant trees as well as spring flowering bulbs.

From a PPC perspective, if I had a customer who sold spring bulbs as well as trees, I’d make sure that they had an optimized trees campaign as well as a bulbs campaign. From an SEO perspective, it would be good to make sure that the content on their website was optimized and ready for those searches. From a cross-channel marketing perspective, it would be good to consider marketing campaigns that highlight trees and their related products as well bulbs and theirs.

From what I see, Google Correlate has the ability to point out other marketing opportunties that might otherwise have been missed. I do not agree with the author, however, that Google Correlate can in some ways be better than Google Insights or the Keyword Tool. I believe that each of these tools allows search marketers to approach their work from different angles; so that their resulting efforts are, perhaps, more complete. Google Correlate offers another window through which one can research, analyze, and make decisions on good keyword choices.

And, perhaps a year or so from now, we’ll find that “google insights” and “google keyword tool” correlate to “google correlate”

[Google AdWords]

I work with many Google Adwords accounts and I am seeing something very interesting happening. This post is more of a thoughtful musing than informative. I welcome specific feedback from folks who may have particulars about what is going on.

The interesting thing I am seeing is that historically using an [exact match] in Google AdWords, though it limits clicks and impressions, produced the greatest conversion rates at the lowest cost per click. I am seeing quite the reverse trend these days, where exact match phrases I have set up are the most expensive and least producing; and I am finding that 3-word “phrase matches” are performing much better, especially when combined with a healthy dose of negative keywords.

I wonder if the bigger recent algorithm changes at Google have caused what I am seeing. Just as I find that I need to pay closer attention to various social profiles as it relates to organic search engine optimization, so am I finding that the “old standards” that we used to apply to Google AdWords tactics seem to be less effective.

Is anyone else experiencing this?

Helpful Google Tools: Google Insights

Google Insights is a truly insightful tool (pun intended). This hidden gem of a tool is a bit more advanced in nature and can really assist with narrowing in on keyword selections as they relate to geography (states, subregions), category (food & drink, home & garden, lifestyles), and time frame (last year, last 2 years). Google Insights is in beta mode as of yet, but I still thank the heavens for this geeky gem because it has helped me greatly in my internet marketing work.

I work extensively with High Country Gardens. High Country Gardens is “the” source for waterwise, drought tolerant, “high country” perennial plants, low-water lawn grasses, cactus, succulents, and even yucca trees. They have a large nursery and greenhouse in Santa Fe where they grow many of their own plants and develop new varieties. I love this company. They are eco-friendly centric. They care about plants that help the earth. They adore plants that feed butterflies and hummingbirds. They sell hardy grasses for smart, low-water guzzling lawns. They are experts in replacing traditional lawns with xeriscapes, especially for the southwest where lawns don’t thrive naturally. If I didn’t live in the snow-ridden wastes of Maine, they’d be my perennial plant company. But….but….they do sell perennial varieties that will live in my area…things like Salvia, Rudbeckia, Lupine, Columbine, and many others.

High Country Gardens is a very smart company and they are just as fastidious at making their marketing dollars work as they are in providing top-quality perennials that will thrive in your growing zone. They understand that they own the southwestern quadrant of the US. It’s where most of their sales come from. Yet they do get sales across the country. With Google AdWords, it is my sole mission to ensure they the money they spend there is as profitable as it can be – and that means tailoring campaigns, ad groups, and keyword selections primarily to geography. We shouldn’t be showing ads in New Hampshire for Agave Plants. It’s akin to trying to sell meat to a vegetarian. It just doesn’t work.

Google Insights combines the technology of Google’s Keyword Tool with that of Google Maps, Google Places, and a bit of the Display Network. Talk about cross-channel marketing! For geeks like me, this tool is an Internet Kitchen-Aid.

1. I go to http://www.google.com/insights/search
2. I compare by location
3. I select the United States
4. And I filter by Web Search, the search term Agastache, timeframe of 2004-present, and Home & Garden category

and what I see is that searches for “agastache” are very seasonal and cyclical (as is true of most horticultural companies) and that the “big states” are Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, followed by California, Texas and the Great Lakes region and mid-atlantic states.

The results are very different for “agave”, “salvia”, “lupine”, and “rudbeckia”.

(and yes, I know that scientifically these genus references should be capitalized – but bear with me…)

This really lends credence to the notion that geographical segmentation by product line (oh my!) is important for this beloved customer of mine.

Now, that’s not to say to that they don’t get sales from all parts of the U.S., because they do, but there exists some level of the law of diminishing returns where we draw the line and say “It’s not worth advertising to region X or Y, because the effort and cost involved isn’t covered by the sales achieved.” And this is the internet marketer’s challenge – finding that “sweet spot” for maximizing sales given the investment – and that sweet spot changes depending on time of year, weather conditions (as I type, Maine is buckling down for a hefty Nor’easter that is about to dump a foot (or more) or heavy, wet snow on us on April Fools Day!), and product line.

As with all Google Tools, I use Google Insights for it’s richer, deeper focusing abilities, but I don’t use it in authoritative totality. Data must be balanced with experiential knowledge and gut instinct. A hard balance indeed – luckily – I excel at it.

If you are curious how search volume for keyword phrases for your products or service have varied over time, space, and dimension (why yes, I am a Trekkie), Google Insights is your Enterprise tool :-) (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Helpful Google Tools: Google Places

When I talk with companies about helping them improve the visibility of their website and I mention Google Places and what it is, the effect is like presenting a giant lollipop to a child; their eyes open wide and they get this grin on their face.

Google Places for Business is a free (yes, free) listing service provided by Google and many companies don’t know it exists. Not only is it free (did I mention that it’s free?), it is also very quick and easy to set up.

1. Go to http://www.google.com/places

2. Click on the blue button on the right called “Get Started”

3. Sign in with your Google account (and if you don’t have one, create one for your business – it’s also easy and free).

4. Click the dark blue text on the right called “List your business”

5. Type in your business phone number in the format (xxx) xxx-xxxx and click “Find business information”

6. If there is no match for the phone number, you’ll be given an empty form to fill out. Fill out as much as possible or as is relevant to your business. If it does find a match, click on the “edit” link and look at the existing listing, and make sure it’s accurate and as completely filled out as possible.

7. One of the important parts of the listing is the “Category” section. Google let’s you define up to 5 categories (and one of them must be one of their suggested categories that appears in the drop down when you start typing). So, for example, if I type in “internet” into the box, one of the suggested categories is “Internet Marketing Service”. So I pick that one. The other 4 categories I can type in something unique or I can select a “pre-filled” match.

8. Also, make sure you fill out the description field. 200 characters. Make it good and include important keywords that you can that describe your company, product lines or services. Save this 200 character description – you can leverage it at the Open Directory, the Yahoo Directory, and for your META description tag on your web pages.

9. Submit your listing and Google will give you 2 options to validate the listing. They will call you (almost immediately) at the phone number for which you set up the listing OR they can mail you a postcard to the business address you specified in the form. The phone call or the postcard will contain a PIN that you will need to complete your listing.

10. Voila! It’s done. Be there or be invisible. Your choice! And psssst – It’s FREE! What’s better than free marketing?

Having a Google Places listing places your company information near the top of the search results with a little reddish colored balloon and a Google Maps location box when someone searches for any of the categories you specified in your listing combined with your city, state or region. This is a great tool for smaller companies who depend quite a bit on local searches.

Once the listing is complete, you have the ability to edit it any time you need to (just log in with your Google account and go to http://www.google.com/places). Just keep in mind that any time you change your listing, you have to validate it again with Google, so be on the lookout for the new PIN each time you submit changes.

Helpful Google Tools: Google Dance

As an SEO & SEM marketing professional, there are a number of tools that I use to help myself and my customers. The majority of those tools are lumped under a single name: Google. I use 8 of Google’s Tools routinely in my day to day and in my work. I thought I’d embark upon an 8-day review of each of these tools, since many of them are relatively unknown!

I’ll start with the Google Dance Tool. A couple of customers I work with recently came to me and asked, “Why is it that if I do a search for XYZ on my computer at home, then I do the same search from my computer at work, the results change? I cannot find what I was looking for earlier.” Along similar lines, I’ve been on the phone with a customer, who is in another state, and been doing a search with them in Google, and we’ve both come up with different results while executing the same search at the same time.

These search results are what internet marketers and geeks call the “Google Dance“.

As you might know (or hazard to guess), Google has an insane number of servers across the universe. we also know that the machines from which people access the internet have different IP addresses and are connected to the internet in different geographical locations. Google spiders, called googlebots, index massive amounts of content on the internet each month, and as you might guess, the spiders crawl forth from their particular “server cave” at different times to index web pages across the globe, which takes several days.

When a person does a search on Google, the results are pulled from more than 10,000 servers. Since it’s not possible for all of these servers to receive the updated monthly index information at the same exact time, some servers contain the old index info while others grab the new info. Google has a much more technical explanation that you can read if you are interested. But basically, two people searching for the same query in the same town may see different ranking results because Google’s updated indexes take time to crawl to the particular data center that receives the updated index.

The Google Dance Tool allows you to see when Google is spidering the internet and, for a particular search query, it will show you when the site you are looking for will rank with Google. Of course, none of this is an exact science. So say a prayer and throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder, just for good luck :-)