Google Penalty For Low-Quality Writing?

For a while now, I’ve been covering how Google’s increasing focus upon quality measurements are steadily translating into actual ranking factors. Four years ago, I first conjectured that Usability could supplant SEO. Back then, we could see that Google’s human evaluators added quality ratings into the mix, affecting page rankings. Since then, Google added helpful tools for usability testing and page speed diagnostics. This year they’ve continued this progression by incorporating page speed as a ranking factor and the recent “Mayday Update” apparently shifted some ranking factor weighting from keyword relevancy to quality criteria.

Considering Google’s desire to quantify and assess elements of quality in webpages, what are some other possible things which they might attempt to algorithmically measure and base rankings upon?

Syntactic Sentence Structure - Grammar Analysis

One possible area which occurs to me is in testing the text body of pages, particularly that of the main body of articles and blog posts. Continue reading

The Mayday Update Skinny From SMX Advanced

At the SMX Advanced conference in Seattle last week, the keynote session with Matt Cutts has become an expected feature, but it’s also one of the most highly anticipated and attended sessions of the entire conference. The search engines love to take advantage of search marketing conferences to make major announcements, and Matt Cutts has been known to drop both major and minor bombshells during these sessions. For instance, during last year’s session, he stated that the practice of “link-sculpting” (using “nofollow” parameters on links to advantageously design the flow of PageRank within a site) was now pointless, because Google had implemented nofollow such that it did not conserve PageRank, but instead a nofollowed link merely evaporated PR.

Matt illustrates a point at SMX Advanced

It was clear at this year’s “You & A With Matt Cutts” that he and Danny Sullivan had planned in advance to launch directly into addressing one of the top most-recent issues of interest to webmasters: the “Mayday Update” — so-named because the algorithmic shift occurred roughly around the first week of May, and because affected webmasters were left with a helpless feeling after their pages dropped in rank for long-tail search queries.

DSCN9566Matt and Danny opened the session in a really jocular fashion by wearing inflatable life-jackets, as a nod to the Mayday algo change. They followed that up by handing each other caffeine-free sodas, which they quickly deprecated in favor of fully-caffeinated Coca-Colas. (As you may know, Google began rolling out an infrastructure/processing change this year, called “Caffeine”, which allows Google to rapidly absorb fresh content, process it for ranking purposes, and display the new content in SERPs. Some webmasters who were concerned over the Mayday Update had wondered whether it might have been caused as some side effect of the Caffeine change.)

After the lifejackets and soda hijinks were over, Matt stated clearly and seriously that the Mayday Update was separate from and in no way caused by the Caffeine change. His statements further underscored statements he’d made earlier online. According to him, the ranking algorithm development team had decided, after consideration and testing, to publish a change based upon some “quality factors”, reducing the rankings of some deeper content pages for longer-tail queries.

Just as Vanessa Fox had opined in her piece on the Mayday Update, the weighting for keyword relevancy factors was likely reduced some in comparison to quality factors.

One thing that Matt suggested to those who wished to counteract Mayday’s effects was Continue reading

Title Tag Tips To Get To The Top

by Chris Silver Smith

One of the most basic, and effective ranking signals used by all major search engines is the text put into a page’s TITLE tags. The element is so foundational, and so strong that it’s one of the first things that any organic search marketer recommends for non-optimized sites, yet few people know how to do it really effectively. Here’s a few tips for formulating titles that work for a great many common types of webpages.

TITLE Tags - A Top Ranking Signal

Continue reading

Without Usability, You’re Not Doing Advanced SEO

My article covering how Google’s fixation with Usability reveals local search ranking factors published yesterday on Search Engine Land. In it, I described a number of common website elements which few-to-no marketers have ever cited as ranking signals. Some of these elements, such as whether or not a site may have employee profile pages, or whether a site displays prices for products and services offered, might be controversial in search engine marketing circles.

CNNs homepage checked with Google Site Speed

CNN's homepage checked with Google Page Speed - Google introduced Site Speed as a new ranking factor in 2010, and provided tools like this Page Speed extension in FireFox to assist webmasters with Usability improvements.

Other elements I described have been cited by other experts as beneficial for search marketing, even though they may’ve recommended them for reasons other than those I outlined. Inclusion of images, maps and locations pages make sense for multiple reasons in local business websites.

The thought and methodology behind coming up with these factors is sound, and has allowed me to successfully predict present and future search engine optimization factors where others have not. It makes logical sense that while Google is interested in Usability, they will seek ways to quantify and measure it on websites, just as they have done with Site Speed. And some very easy usability elements to quantify include common website elements such as the About Us, Contact Us, and Locations pages.

Back in 2006, I began predicting that the practice of Search Engine Optimization might become replaced by Usability. Unquestionably, this change is occuring to some degree right now.

I’ve known a lot of top corporations which are involved in very sophisticated paid search marketing and search engine optimization, but few of them are also including usability testing and user-centered design considerations when performing a site redesign. Google has tried to make the importance of user-experience abundantly clear by actually going public with their adoption of page load times in determining search result rankings, but many companies are still not connecting the dots.

Here at KeyRelevance, we have long prioritized usability in our assessments of web sites’ design. When companies contract with us to audit their websites, we offer both a Technical Website Review as well as a Usability Review. However, many companies eschew our Usability Reviews or dismiss them as less-important.

For some reason, people often react to usability recommendations from experts in an emotional way, rather like how a portion of the population avoids going to their doctors for a yearly physical. For some companies, there are already so many dependencies and requirements going into web design projects that they can’t include more without losing impetus. For others, individuals with authority over projects have egos which do not want to lose discretionary control over project decisions which could be altered if usability research ran counter to what they desire to do.

Usability testing can be the difference between a design that becomes highly popular versus one which is rapidly forgotten. Google itself is an example of how user-centered design will translate into success. More design options can be scientifically decided, honing down to interfaces which will maximize ease-of-use and enjoyment-of-use. Instead of being avoided, usability testing should be embraced — after all, in the business world we’re looking to increase the potential for success in our company projects, right?

Knowing Google’s heavy focus upon usability factors, consider that if you’re not doing iterative Usability testing and adjustment for User-Experience, you really may not be doing “Advanced SEO”.

If you’d like a thorough Usability Audit of your site, contact Key Relevance today to schedule our review and get a report of items to consider before your next sitewide redesign is completed.

Also, check out some of the free tools that Google has been providing to help you with portions of usability analysis. Try out Google Browser Size, Google Page Speed, and look at the Site Speed reports in Google Webmaster Tools for your website.

Texas Stadium Implosion Video – Example of Video Search Optimization

Yesterday, I went down to Dallas’s famous Texas Stadium to film and photograph its widely-publicised demolition. I often film and photograph events near me as practice and example for search engine optimization. In this case, my optimization work was fairly straightforward, and the results were spectacular. Here’s the video I shot of the Texas Stadium Implosion:

(This wasn’t the first Dallas Cowboys Football-related spectacle I’ve covered – I previously photographed the tragedy of the collapse of the Dallas Cowboys practice field roof near where I live.)

My video’s quality actually wasn’t all that hot, I must admit. The demolition was to occur a little after daybreak, at near 7:00 a.m., and it was cloudy. I did try to get a vantage point as close as possible where there was very little jockeying for position from the crowd of thousands who showed to witness the event. I also planned ahead sufficiently to prepare by bringing a folding chair, allowing me to stand above the crowd around me.

But, I was unsure how long the demolition would take – things like this can be unpredictable. So, I set my camera (a Nikon Coolpix S51 that I’ve used all the way around the world) to a little lower resolution, “small size 320”, instead of higher resolution. This gave me more minutes of film time, and allowed me room to shoot some photos as well.

Even considering that my video was not of the highest quality of those posted for the demolition, and even though some others had better vantage points, my video became one of the top two most popular posted on YouTube, ranking in searches there as well as within Google, under Universal Search. So, how did I accomplish it in one day flat?

It starts with the title – I predicted that people would search for both “Texas Stadium Implosion” as well as “Texas Stadium Demolition” to find this content. So, I included BOTH of those terms in the title. I also wanted to include “Dallas Cowboys” in it, and try to describe it compellingly to increase clickthroughs, so I mentioned “Epic”. Here’s the title I engineered to attempt to target many of the most popular search query combinations people might use in trying to find videos of the explosion:

“Texas Stadium Demolition – The Epic Dallas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium Implosion!”

Second, I gave the video a keyword-rich description which further reinforced each of the main keyword phrases I was targeting. I custom-wrote the description, mentioning a small amount of the facts outlined in the Wikipedia article for the Texas Stadium.

One subtlety of the description was my inclusion of a link over to my personal blog, where I’d written a matching blog post about the experience, “Texas Stadium Implosion – Huge Demolition Event“. This allowed people who came across the video to read up my longer description of the whole deal.

In YouTube, I did a few other things as well. I specified which of the three video stills would be used as the thumbnail preview for the vid when it appears in search results (oh, how I wish they’d allow more choices or would allow one to upload a custom image for that).

I also set loosest requirements for user interactions with the video page, allowing people to rapidly interact with the page with instant gratification. Allowing instant gratification in this manner can encourage more and faster user-interactions with the page such as comments, video responses, voting on comments, ratings, embedding and syndication. While setting loose requirements often makes major corporations very nervous, my settings show how enabling rapid interactions can push the success of a video, since many of these YouTube components are signals for user-interest and therefore rankings. Having these interactions appear rapidly is more vital under Google’s RealTime Search algorithms.

Finally, I also set the Date to display “Today”, and associated the video with the map location of the Texas Stadium in Irving, allowing the vid to essentially be geocoded to appear in local search results in Google Maps.

Outside of YouTube, I twittered about the Texas Stadium implosion frequently, and also posted my still photos of it on Flickr at “Texas Stadium Implosion“.

In my blog post about the demolition, I embedded the video. I also linked to the video from the Flickr images and from my Twitter updates. I later blogged again from another blog, posting “Texas Stadium Demolition Case Study – YouTube Still Tops For Video Promotion” on Natural Search Blog.

What were the results? Well, the video has had over 55,000 views yesterday, and over a hundred comments!

My Texas Stadium video appears prominently in various related Google Search results:

Texas Stadium Implosion in Google SERPs

It also appears prominently within various YouTube search results, allowing people seeking it to find it easily and interact with it further:

Texas Stadium Implosion search in YouTube

Google automatically is generating a Google Trends graph now, highlighting how “Texas Stadium implosion video” is now one of the top-five trending phrases today:

Google Trends: Texas Stadium Implosion Video

Google Trends - Texas Stadium Implosion Video - Detail

As further evidence that Google has found the terms to be important, Google’s Real-Time Search Results interface has automatically kicked in, scrolling away Twitter and blog mentions of the event:

Texas Stadium Implosion Video in Google's Real-Time Search

All this to show that achieving top rankings in YouTube and Google search results for video search is not rocket science! There are a few other subtle things that I did in performing the video optimizations, but I’ve outlined many of the most-impactful ones in this article.

To get Google Real-Time Search to sing in harmony with keyword search and YouTube search, it’s vital to post content as rapidly as possible as the related search terms first begin trending. It’s also vital to perform solid video SEO, and to encourage rapid/frequent user-generated content on the video’s main page in YouTube.

I know that many of you reading this who are building video optimization tactics for promoting major corporation websites are probably concerned about whether you are too vulnerable to malicious comments on your video pages – and this is a valid concern! If you read the comments on my video page, you’ll see that people have used foul language, insulted one another, gotten into arguments, posted conspiracy theories, etc.

Cool thing is, YouTube provides robust tools for controlling your video pages. You can delete these comments and also go back to change the setting to require that all comments and “video responses” get moderated and approved by you prior to publishing. So, for corporate work, I’d suggest initially allowing the loose interaction rules until your video really goes hot, then circle back around to delete comments you don’t want to appear and tighten the posting to enable your moderation. In this way, you can achieve popular content, then after your video is established, sanitize any content you dislike and lock it down to keep further from appearing. So, your risk of negativity is very temporary.

Using an interlocking strategy of social media, realtime search tactics, and solid video SEO will allow you to maximize the success of your video content, giving you a significant weapon to use in your online marketing arsenal.

How To Rank Well In Google Maps – One Easy Tip

Google LBC Shop Iconby Chris Silver Smith

So, if you’re feeling intimidated by how Google Maps works, and can’t figure out what to do to get them to rank your website higher in the search results, I’ve got a tip for you. This tip is mainly for small-to-medium businesses who are pretty new to online marketing, and this is simply one of the simplest ways to get listed higher than you currently may be.

Chicago Plumbers in Google Maps

This tip is really pretty simple: Claim your business listing!

Yes, that’s right! If you merely claim your business in Google Maps, this factor alone can help you rank higher than other businesses which have not claimed their own listings in Google. This is an open secret amongst local search marketers!

This is one of the FEW ranking factors within Google Maps which Google itself has actually publicly STATED will benefit rankings by some degree. From surveying hundreds and thousands of listings in many cities, I can confirm that this ranking factor appears to be very influential.

There are a few reasons why Google rewards businesses which claim their listings. First, listings claimed by their owners contain information which Google and consumers can trust better Google obtains business listings from a great many sources, and a common problem is that old, stale and defunct business listings get into directories, but it’s hard to figure out what needs fixing without getting input from the business owners.

Second, Google wants to expand information they have about businesses, so when you’ve claimed your listing, be sure to add in other information about your company within the Google Local Business Center interfaces.

Third, Google desires to get lots of small businesses to be very familiar with them, so that one day you might become self-serve advertising clients and purchase some of their ads.

There are other incentives to claim your listing, too. Businesses which claim their listings in Google have a better chance of achieving “Landmark Icon” status, enabling them to appear on more map views when users browse their area.

Also, Google has sent claimed listings “Favorite Places” decals which can enable consumers who pass by your store to grab a digital address to your Place Page in Google Maps with their cellphones.

So, if you haven’t done so already, claim your business in Google Maps and begin reaping the rewards!

New Google Maps Labs Feature May Reveal PlaceRank Secrets

Google Maps blog recently announced how users may opt into their new experimental features by clicking on the “conical flask icon” near the upper right of the Maps pages (when logged-in to your Google account):

Enabling Google Maps Labs

For most users, these will likely be more of a novelty than really useful. However, for local search marketers, one of the new beta features appears to me to potentially reveal a bit more than perhaps Google intended.

Most of us are familiar with the “site:” advanced search query refinement when conducting Google searches. These allow one to list out all pages indexed for a particular domain, or, when including a keyword with the “site:” command, one can see all pages Google’s indexed on a domain which include that keyword. For instance, to see all pages from CNN, one would conduct a search for ““.

One interesting aspect of Google’s “site:” command is that the pages it returns from a domain are generally returned in ranking order. The highest-ranking pages on a domain are returned first, next-highest returned next, etc.

All this goes to show that most of Google’s special search commands will return results in ranking order, with the highest-ranking or highest-PageRank pages returned first. We already know that happens with keyword searches (albeit rank order is not solely based on PR any more — other factors are modifying order, such as various quality criteria and relevancy assessments). But, my point is that within the constraints of many special search commands Google provides, pages are returned to large degree in rank weighting value order.

Back to Google Maps Labs, one of the optional beta features really caught my interest – “What’s Around Here?”:

Enabling What's Around Here in Google Maps Labs

Once you enable this one, a “What’s Around Here?” button is added out beside the “Search Maps” button. It provides a very cool wild-card search capability to the Maps interface. So, if you first search for a map area, then click on this button, you’ll be shown the most-popular places in that mapped area.

From a local search marketer’s viewpoint, this wildcard feature is more than just a means to explore popular attractions in various cities. I think it’s potentially an invaluable tool for exploring what criteria factor into Google Maps’ search rankings. This tool provides marketers with a list of the most-popular business listings for any given city!

I think the “What’s Around Here?” feature is particularly useful for analyzing very small towns, since business listings in small towns have a lot fewer variables feeding into their search rankings. One can easily list out many of the variables between each business that ranks above another business in smaller towns, then compare those variables to isolate down which elements seem to be more prefered by Google Maps above others.

For instance, I love using one of the smallest towns in Central Texas for such comparative analysis – Round Top, Texas. It’s not at all a surprise to me to find Royer’s Round Top Cafe ranking tops for that tiny town, and it’s very telling to see all of the various on-page and off-page elements which factor into its rankings and the other top businesses in that town versus businesses which are ranking lower in Google Maps for that area.

Most Popular Businesses in Round Top, Texas

When Google Maps dramatically began introducing PlaceRank elements into ranking during the past year, the change not only added Places which may not be businesses into map results, but it also shifted to an algorithm which attempts to assess the relative popularity of addresses and locations within the maps, independent of business listing data. This paradigm shift added a lot of other factors into rankings that are less business-oriented and less-prone to commercial influences, such as Wikipedia pages about places.

Attempting to reverse-engineer Google’s algorithmic ranking methods in order to figure out what factors are more influential or less influential can be very helpful to the marketer or business that desires to change a website to improve its performance, and can make the difference in whether a business achieves landmark icon status in Google Maps versus being lost in the crowd. I think this tip on using the “What’s Around Here?” feature provides really great clues as to what elements work versus what elements are less influential.

I probably shouldn’t have revealed this local search optimization “secret” tactic, but it seems like so much of a no-brainer that I couldn’t resist opening a dialogue about the theory.

For another source of great info on ranking factors in Google Maps, see also David Mihm’s annual survey of Local Search Ranking Factors.

Easy Tactics To Leverage Wikipedia For Google Maps

WikipediaI recently wrote an article outlining how Wikipedia was abruptly rocketed into being heavily influential within Google Maps (see New Behemoth Emerges In Google Maps: Wikipedia). For small businesses everywhere, I predict that this change is going to bring Wikipedia to the forefront of SMB’s attention. With just a little bit of review, I think that small business owners are going to be noticing how Wikipedia has become very ubiquitous in Place Pages for Google Maps, and they’ll notice or suspect that those Places which sport a Wikipedia association tend to rank higher than others.

Once a business proprietor notices this, they may think to themselves, “Aha! Easy as pie! I know Wikipedia allows anyone to edit articles and add articles about any and everything, so I’ll have my clever nephew who does the internets add an article about my business!” Unfortunately, it’s not this simple.

The ease with which Wikipedia allows community user edits has been a prime area for criticism of the service over the years, and Wikipedia has responded by tightening review of whether subjects are notable enough to merit their own articles, and dedicated Wikipedia devotees try to scrutinize all edits to insure that they’re factual, backed up by respectable references, and worthy of mention. So, addition of articles in a willy-nilly fashion without good understanding of the service’s rules and practices will almost certainly lead to deletion of the content added. It may not happen immediately, but it almost certainly will happen at some point.

The brutal truth is that most businesses simply are not notable enough to merit having a Wikipedia article dedicated to them. There is some sense of the arbitrary about what characteristics are required to meet notability guidelines, because there is some element of subjectivity about it. Essentially, a subject likely needs to be historically significant, culturally significant, or be widely known. A highly significant, publicly-traded company such as Google would meet the requirements, while a small clock repair shop in Anytown likely will not.

Small stores can make the cut, such as the Gotham Book Mart, for which I researched and authored the Wikipedia article a couple of years back. But, few businesses have had as many newspaper articles about them, mentioned in books as much, or had as many associations with notable individuals.

"Wise Men Fish Here" sign, Gotham Book Mart
The iconic "Wise Men Fish Here"
sign which hung above the door
of the famous Gotham Book Mart
for decades.

So, what’s to be done if you’re a small business looking to increase your promotional game? Is Wikipedia completely off-limits to you?

No! There are a number of acceptable ways by which one may integrate with Wikipedia in valid, non-spammy ways, and I’ll cover two of the easiest here. These two methods are primarily for those small businesses which do not merit articles dedicated to them in Wikipedia.

Method 1: Set up your own User page and begin authoring and editing Wikipedia articles.

The best way to understand Wikipedia is to begin participating. Here’s an article on how to start. You may validly write up a User page with links to your own sites, and the more you help out with Wikipedia articles, the more important your User page becomes. As it becomes important, your business site may benefit.

Now, User pages and other pages in Wikipedia automatically nofollow external links as they are added, meaning that they are flagged for search engines as not being endorsed by Wikipedia. “Nofollowing” a link was intended to halt it from passing PageRank or ranking value in search engines, and was introduced to help fight spam in sites where users are allowed to add links. There’s a debate among marketing circles as to whether Google chooses to count Wikipedia’s external links in ranking algorithms or not. My suspicion is that as other spam-fighting methods have improved in Wikipedia, the links which have been added and have sustained over time likely do have some rank value — and are therefore likely used by Google for ranking purposes.

The User pages of those who add a lot of value to Wikipedia gain PageRank themselves, and, even if they do not pass PageRank, the links do pass traffic which can indirectly help increase a site’s rankings in other ways. (For instance, see MONGO’s User page, which has developed a Google Toolbar PageRank of 4 or Durova’s which has a 6.)

If you’re setting up your User page in part to promote your business, I suggest that you consider naming it beneficially with your business name, or a category/keyword name that refers to your type of business. Describe your business briefly. Link to relevant articles about your city or neighborhood. Link to your company with descriptive link text. And, to provide a chance of enabling this to eventually help your listing in Google Maps, include a Geobox in the profile (this addes geocoordinates to the page, a key element that Google looks for when deciding if a page is about a location).

If you’re a newbie at Wikipedia, I strongly suggest you proceed slowly and learn the environment. To get a good grasp of what people edit on pages, check out the History tab on a number of articles and click to compare revisions. This shows how people make changes, what they change, and many ideally provide a super-brief snippet of text to state what they’ve altered.

It’s very easy to find areas where you can add value: read articles of subjects you’re familiar with and interested-in, and you’ll likely find text needing grammatical correction, badly phrased sentences needing clearer writing, factual errors, and articles needing some additional vital pieces of information. Be sure to find and add credible references if adding or altering facts — you should ideally back up all facts with a reference source, just as if you were writing research papers for college.

Method 2: Donate photos of local scenes to Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedia articles.

I’ve written before about how it can be beneficial to employ loose licensing for images so that others may be incented to use them and link back to your site, and this is a variation on that theme (see: Why Free Photos Equal Good SEO).

Chrysler Building - Wikimedia Commons PicFor instance, the photographer who donated this pic of the famous Chrysler Building, David Shankbone, included URLs on the image’s information page which link to his site.

For another example, check out the page for the photo I donated for the Gotham Book Mart of the “Wise Men Fish Here” sign.

Is this allowed? Absolutely. Read Wikipedian Durova’s article on how adding images to Wikipedia is acceptable. Wikipedia desires to have good quality photos donated for use so that they may be used to illustrate articles. This is an area where helping the community can be mutually beneficial for everyone.

This tactic is actually pretty powerful, because releasing images into Wikimedia in return for attribution (a citation when anyone uses your photo, with a link back to you) enables you to achieve a lot of links from other sites as well, depending upon the popularity of and usefulness of your photo and its subject matter.

To figure out what photos to add, I suggest reviewing the Wikipedia articles of famous places in your area, and identifying ones which do not have pics. Then take a Saturday morning with good weather and sunlight, and snap photos to donate. You can also look at Wikipedia’s page for Articles needing images, but many of these may be more specific subjects for which you may not be able to provide photos.

Naturally, there are a number of “don’ts” when adding content to Wikipedia. I won’t expand on all those here, but they probably mostly boil down to “don’t be spammy” and “be polite”. I suggest reading up on Wikipedia Etiquette if you’re just getting started. Wikipedia desires content which is informative, factual, and neutrally presented.

There are a number of more advanced means of optimizing for Google Maps and local search via Wikipedia, for those who are more experienced with the service. I’ll likely be going into more of these tactics in upcoming articles at Search Engine Land and in presentations I make at upcoming conferences. So, stay tuned for more!

Use Newspapers for Local SEO

newspaperNewspapers and search engine optimization are made for one another, but the newspaper industry has been a reluctant participant in the internet age.

Today I posted a marketing advice article geared towards small, local newspapers entitled, “Local Newspapers Need To Embrace SEO To Survive“. Ironically, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, has just stated this past weekend that they’re entertaining the possibility of completely yanking their news articles out of the Google index altogether! This, of course, would be a large mistake because there’s increasing evidence that information resources that are unavailable via the internet (and availability now is largely synonymous with “findable in Google”) are considered by consumers to be less relevant.

I think Murdoch’s idea of creating a walled garden is a bad strategy in this case, although I’m highly sympathetic to the plight faced by large and small newspapers all over the country. With news subscriptions having dropped all over, and advertiser revenue switching more to online and other channels, newspapers companies have been feeling the pinch terribly. It’s my believe that most have huge potential for online, and can turn this around. In my article, I described how the news archives with many papers contain a gold mine of information that a great many people don’t even know exists because it’s walled-off by badly-built sites.

Even so, it’s my opinion that newspapers continue to have a role in our day-to-day lives, and they have an important place in local marketplaces, both online and offline.

Small businesses who desire better exposure online need to keep their local papers’ websites in mind as one component of their online marketing. If you’re a small business desiring better rankings in Google, examine your local newspaper sites closely to see if there are opportunities for obtaining valuable links. Some tips:

  • Pages of newspaper sites which rank well in search engines are desireable places for you to obtain links. See what pages are exposed to the search engine, and find out what opportunities there may be to get a link to your business website from them.
  • Consider traditional promotion activites to obtain newspaper articles about your business! The old methods can still work today. Just ask the reporter really nicely if they can link to your business website at the end of the story — that makes the story more useful for their own users, too, so there’s a good reason for them to do this.
  • Link to the news story(ies) about you! So, if your local newspaper site is one of the badly-built ones, and the story about your business isn’t indexed by Google, help it out by linking to the stories about you from many other places on the internet such as from social bookmarking sites, your personal homepage, and other places. If the URL is publicly available, you can help the page get indexed by linking to it, and if it mentions you or links to you, the reference citation can only help your business site!
  • Don’t forget the classifieds! Online newspaper sites have online classifieds, frequently, and many people forget to make use of them. This can often be a free or low-cost option for you to further promote your business and business site.
  • Newspaper yellow pages? Many newspaper sites include helpful local directories of businesses, and these are places where you want to claim your business listing, expand your business profile, include links to you, and even consider spending advertising to improve your reach.
  • Comment! User comments on news stories online are also another way that one may be able to effectively interact with newspaper sites. You could comment on a news story about your business, thanking the reporter involved. You could comment about other news stories that my be related to your interests in some way. Interestingly, some major newspaper sites allow links in comments and they are not all “nofollowed”! They can do this since they may review/moderate comments prior to publishing them. In other cases, comments may not be good for links and many news sites don’t allow much customization of user profiles. Still, the references to your business are worthwhile, so consider interacting with the local news audience via comments.

So, while newspapers may be struggling to adapt to the internet age, and their sites may not be search-engine-friendly, they can still be valuable components of your overall local marketing mix.

Leverage Google Custom Maps As A Long-Tail Tactic

When Google introduced their customizable maps feature two years ago, I thought to myself, “Cute, but who has time to be messing around creating special maps in most cases?” Now fast-forward to 2009 and I’ve turned into something of a technical evangelist for the feature, touting it at the SMX East conference last week and publishing an article today on Search Engine Land which highlights it as a long-tail marketing tactic for Google Maps.

The premise is fairly simple, although I see relatively few companies and individuals using the custom maps (“My Maps”) feature in Google Maps to help market their website or business.

Many users are generating custom maps, some of which garner tens or hundreds of thousands of views, depending upon how well they’re optimized and how much they target subjects of general interest. There are maps pinpointing crimes around cities, maps to find wifi locations, tourist points of interest, and maps showing where to go for certain types of shops or charitable organization donation dropoff locations.

Here’s one example of a entrepreneur leveraging My Maps effectively in Google:

Crafty Portland - Custom Map in Google

The user, “Sister Diane”, has provided a very helpful map for people interested in her industry. The map shows stores where one may obtain various craft supplies all over the Portland, Oregon area. When one of her location listings is clicked, the information bubble that pops up on the Google Map contains a great description and address, and for some locations there are pictures, phone numbers and URLs.

She also filled out her Google Profile, so when her username is clicked or moused-over by the cursor pointer, map users can see her website URLs for her blog and another site where she writes articles.

This is a really good example of how developing and providing useful content within Google Maps can help to further promote your own content by exposing you to more consumers. While crafts in Portland is very much a small niche, Sister Diane’s map has achieved over 28,000 views since its creation two years ago.

Custom maps may be created by hand, using the simple tools for editing My Maps on Google. For larger lists of locations, I highly recommend creating a KML file as per Google Maps and Google Earth documentation, and either manually uploading the KML or submitting it via a geositemap from your website.

For more examples and tips on how to effectively leverage this long-tail marketing tactic, ready the full article at Search Engine Land, “Google Custom Maps: A Goldmine For Local Businesses“.