Google Search Results Under the Microscope

New York Times Article | The Bella Buzz

The New York Times article that landed on late Saturday evening was the basis of the conversation between Desiree and Joe on this episode of The Bella Buzz podcast. There are so many juicy angles to this story that we go down a variety of roads ranging from black hat seo to content farms, to brand signals impacting the search results pages.

A little background first. The New York Times published a story titled The Dirty Little Secrets of Search in which they uncovered numerous web sites that were linking JC Penney for lucrative keywords. The web sites in question had no relevance to the keywords they were linking, everything from nuclear.engineeringaddict.com to bulgariapropertyportal.com could find you a little link to words like “Evening Gowns” or “Bedding”, things that would put JC Penney on top of the rankings.  The length of time that this has been happening is unclear, but it was certainly taking place throughout the profitable 4th Quarter holiday period, and certainly had an impact on the revenues for the company.

Black Hat Tactics

The company immediately fired their SEO firm, claiming ignorance of the tactics and link buying strategies that they were using.  It raises the question of how companies should be monitoring the work being done on their behalf, and whether the offices on the upper floors understand these sophisticated techniques.

For a great analysis on the webmaster guidelines, read this article from someone formerly on the inside at Google, Vanessa Fox, who does a smart breakdown on the issue for SearchEngineLand.

Desiree has her own direct example of serious black hat techniques that really border on criminal intent.  During the early part of this decade, a competitor purchased links that were pointing to her web site, which in turn caused Google to drop her from the rankings.  This form of corporate espionage should lead to possible charges, however the question is who is the responsible party for handling and prosecuting something like this?  We cannot turn that jurisdiction over to a corporate entity like Google!

One way to determine if there might be something happening that you are unaware of, do a search for LINK: <YOURDOMAIN> to see if there are any questionable sites that you should be looking in to.

Content Farms

This New York Times story broke during a time when Google has been seeing some negative publicity regarding the “pollution” of the search results by Content Farms.  Companies are now crafting business models that follow search trends very closely and craft content that meets that query.  The content is done quickly and optimized professionally so that it will rank at the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

The complaint by many is that this content is of poor quality, provides no benefit to the searcher, and does not meet the standard of “the most relevant information for that search query. Google is struggling with algorithmically weeding out that content.

So, in this discussion and the JC Penney discussion, it comes to light that Google will manually manipulate the rankings according to their internal decision making.  JC Penney dropped quickly from it’s number one perch even though the links had not been removed completely, and now they are asking users to install a Chrome toolbar that will give them feedback about sites that users want excluded from their rankings.  Where does the neutrality come in?  How much control does Google get when dropping a site manually from the index?

The opposite affect of having poor search quality from Google is the gain in trustworthiness of social search.  Each user’s social graph will provide better feedback and information than the standard search engine.  This is a key time in the evolution of search!

Brand Signals

As a small to medium sized business, the only way to make sure that you can compete in this landscape is to be certain your on-site optimization is excellent.  All of the long standing efforts for good meta descriptions, nice designs, optimized images and content, and simple navigation are a solid foundation.

The off-site efforts include the many strategies we have discussed regarding content distribution via social networks, as well as an indication that Google will look at “brand signals“.  Signals would be things that a reputable company would have over the course of operating a business such as employees listed on LinkedIn, a street address in the about page and Google maps, or brand name searches indicating people are looking for that company.  These are the bits of information that compile to give a site a higher listing.

What do you think? Are we seeing a revolution in Search?

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Theme music for The Bella Buzz is Fallen by Digital Chemistry, available for download at the Podsafe Music Network.

You can subscribe to The Bella Buzz directly from ITunes by following this link, and we would be happy to receive listener feedback and ratings at The ITunes Store.

An Affiliate Marketing Conversation with Shawn Collins

Affiliate Summit | The Bella Buzz.com

Affiliate Summit | The Bella Buzz.comOn this episode of The Bella Buzz podcast, Desiree and Joe talk about the basics of affiliate marketing with the Co-Founder of Affiliate Summit Shawn Collins.  We take a look at the strategy from the point of view of a merchant/advertiser as well as how affiliates would approach the various programs and opportunities that are available.

Shawn and his business partner Missy Ward have established a global reputation by developing the preeminent bi-annual conference in the industry.  They have also diversified into additional ventures such as FeedFront Magazine, a vast YouTube Channel and a textbook publishing business at Velocity NYC. Shawn can be found blogging on a regular basis at his AffiliateTip site.  You can also listen to his weekly podcast Affiliate Thing with Lisa Picarille on his podcasting network called GeekCast.fm.

We begin by letting Shawn define what affiliate marketing is all about, introducing us to the concept of performance based compensation and ultimately what it would take for a small or medium sized business to establish a program.

One strategy he suggests is to become an affiliate of a competitive company as a way to determine how they work and help design your own program.  There are certainly costs involved in a good affiliate strategy beyond just the commissions paid to converting partners. There are creative costs required to develop good banners and graphics, there might be the fee paid to an Affiliate Manager who will act on your behalf to acquire and manage affiliates, and there is the technology that you will use to handle the transactions.

Technology providers include the Affiliate Networks such as Google Affiliate Network, Shareasale, Commission Junction, Buy.at, Linkshare, and many many more.

Affiliates are going to open up many marketing channels for their merchant partners, and will certainly take advantage of all of the proven as well as emerging strategies.  A good affiliate partner will help a business reach a target via everything from email to PPC, from coupons if appropriate to the latest social shopping trends.  Letting good affiliates help uncover new customers is a win-win for businesses who can take advantage of a large reach.

One of the common themes of The Bella Buzz podcast is our advice to create great content and distribute it through social networks. Shawn is a big advocate of this as an affiliate as well as a business owner.  He is speaking in Austin at an upcoming Meetup on the topic of using Twitter to create a million dollar business.

A few resources that Shawn gave us that might help businesses to better succeed in their online marketing efforts include:

AWeber – where he repurposes blog post entries into a subscription based email newsletter.

OpenX.org – Ad serving technology that allows web sites to better manage their ad inventories.

WhichTestWon.com – a site where you can get real-world case studies of best practices, by viewing side by side comparisons of A/B tests. How good is your gut?

To start reaching out to others in the affiliate marketing space, you can visit the new Forum that has been launched in conjunction with Affiliate Summit.  You can ask questions, view ongoing conversations, and start networking with others.

We’d like to thank Shawn for taking some time with us to discuss affiliate marketing, and we look forward to future conversations.  If you have any specific questions about using affiliate marketing strategies, please don’t hesitate to leave us a note in the comments!

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Theme music for The Bella Buzz is Fallen by Digital Chemistry, available for download at the Podsafe Music Network.

You can subscribe to The Bella Buzz directly from ITunes by following this link, and we would be happy to receive listener feedback and ratings at The ITunes Store.

Check Your Facebook Account Security Settings for New Features

FB Account Page | The Bella Buzz Podcast

In a down and dirty presentation on this episode of The Bella Buzz podcast, Desiree and Joe discuss the recent change to the Facebook Account settings.

FB Account Page | The Bella Buzz PodcastFrom the menu Account > Account Settings > Account Security, Facebook is rolling out the option to select “Browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) whenever possible”.

In the Fall of 2010 a white hat hacking tool known as Firesheep brought to light the concerns about using unencrypted wifi connections in public places.  Coffee shops, hotels, airports are known for the ease of getting internet access, but also providing opportunities for private information to be intercepted. Anyone using the Firesheep plugin in an open wifi area could simply and easily capture your Facebook account.  With this browser plugin, posts could be made on your wall or your friends wall, any privacy settings that you made could be altered. Literally anything you do on Facebook could be hijacked. This is not simply a Facebook issue, it is any web site where you are providing personal information in an unsecure setting.  Most banks and e-commerce sites have long ago used SSL certificates to set up secure browsing sessions, but with the rapid growth of social networking, these services have lagged behind. Facebook officially responded to the issue with a massive development overhaul, which is finally being rolled out across the entire network.

Within the same portion of your Account Settings, you are able to see all of the recent activity on this account, including any devices which have logged into the account as well.  It would be a good random exercise to view this history to make sure that there is no access to the account from unfamiliar machines.

If you are looking to keep up with good information about all of the features, business models, and activity in the Facebook universe, subscribe to InsideFacebook.com to stay informed. Let us know in the comments, have you changed your Facebook Settings?

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Theme music for The Bella Buzz is Fallen by Digital Chemistry, available for download at the Podsafe Music Network.

You can subscribe to The Bella Buzz directly from ITunes by following this link, and we would be happy to receive listener feedback and ratings at The ITunes Store.